My photo
Annandale, Virginia
Social Studies teacher with 2 years experience as a substitute, 1 year as a student teacher, and 6 years of volunteer work in various roles. I specialize in differentiated instruction, data driven curriculum, and authentic assessment. A New York State certified teacher, I graduated from Fordham University with an MST degree and high accolades. Finally, I hold membership with Kappa Delta Pi and NCSS as well. It is my intention to grow student confidence and widen content knowledge for students of all backgrounds, cultures and abilities through modeling literacy comprehension, critical thinking and communication skills. I believe each and every student is a valuable asset to the learning community, capable of achieving academic success. I am able to lead these young people to such success. Please click on the links on the right to learn more. You can also email me at I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

We've Moved!


As you might've noticed, I haven't written anything here in an eon. Perhaps you have been experiencing sleepless nights in anticipation of my next post. I am sorry about your insomnia, although I would've thought reading the posts would remedy that :) Well, I have hard news to share with you, so you may want to sit down and grab a few tissues. I won't be posting on this page anymore. But before you cry out "Why, Why!!!" in lament, allow me to share some good news.

I have moved into a bigger and better location! So please put down the tissues, and grab a pencil and paper. You can now find me at

This site allows me far more options in designing a page as I wish, in sprucing up its decor, and in spouting off in my usual way. But I spout off with a purpose: to discuss cutting-edge and important issues in education and education reform. So, grab a tasty beverage, listen to your favorite tunes, and come visit my new home. I have plenty of reading material to keep your attention, and links to market myself (shameless plugs of my skills for you administrators that need a good teacher for your school).

See you there!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What is Being Done About the Shortage of Qualified Special Education Teachers in the Public School System?

The following is the second of two articles I posted on another blog during my graduate studies at Fordham University:

"What is Being Done About the Shortage of Qualified Special Education Teachers in the Public School System?"
Eric Joseph Nally
July 12, 2009

Over the last several years, school districts throughout the nation have struggled with finding enough qualified special education teachers to meet their needs. These shortages occur for a number of reasons, but seem to occur mostly in urban and low socioeconomic (SES) areas. Several recruitment plans have been attempted, however relatively unsuccessfully. Research suggests why this problem continues, why recruitment solutions are ineffective, and more successful ways to decrease this issue.

It is necessary to ask why a deficit of qualified educators exists. One reason is that the number of students classified with the need for special education services is increasing over time—especially in poorer student populations. A second reason for such shortages is the increasing credentialing requirements for special education teachers—probably linked to the expectations stated in No Child Left Behind (NCLB). A third reason is attributed to the high rate of teacher turnover in urban schools (Zascavage, Winterman, Armstrong, & Schroeder-Steward, 2008). Nedra Atwell (2007) explains that much of the observed turnover stems from unqualified teachers who: 1) are placed in classrooms due to the already existing shortages, 2) are in unsupportive teaching environments, 3) receive inadequate skill preparation for those teachers, and 4) transfer to easier schools. Therefore, the issue of unqualified special education teachers increases.

How have school districts been addressing these concerns? Not effectively, according to research on special education. Some recruitment incentives attempted in Texas, for instance, have included college scholarships, tax credits, and student loan forgiveness for general education teachers who pursue dual certification in special education. Other ideas implemented include the expansion of teacher education programs by incorporating special education courses, as well as financial support for paraprofessionals to encourage the completion of bachelor’s degrees (Zascavage, Winterman, Armstrong, & Schroeder-Steward, 2008). Some states, such as California for example, offer alternative incentives to untrained teachers. The two primary incentives in California are emergency special education permits and internships. Both programs, supplemented by professional development, result in certification (Esposito & Lal, 2005).

While many education experts think the recruitment attempts mentioned above have accomplished little in eliminating these teacher shortages, they do offer further solutions. As Zascavage, et al. (2008) claim, effective solutions can only work if the general perceptions of special education change. The authors think that change must occur from within—through students themselves. By establishing peer tutoring programs and social support groups in high schools, an informed and eager new generation of teachers can develop. Such programs provide positive and rewarding experiences for teens, who may choose to pursue special education as a future career path. If special education and general education students can interact academically, more acceptance of the former can occur, therefore eliminating the stigma that often is placed on special education.

Esposito and Lal (2005) suggest a new idea to increase the recruitment of certified special educators from the pool of existing classroom teachers. The authors propose an innovative and accelerated alternative credentialing program for the state of California. This program specifically is modeled after the Profession Development School (PDS) model, and targets low performing Title I districts. The main features of this accelerated program include retention of current special educators, recruitment of general educators who wish to transfer into special education, and accelerated credentialing through preparing professionals to work in multiethnic, multilingual, and low-SES schools. The hope is that through this accelerated credentialing program teacher comfort will increase and turnover will decrease.

In closing, special education’s needs increase over time, and so demand for qualified teachers increases, too. A paradox exists in that the schools with the greatest needs often repel the most qualified educators. If more effective recruitment, development, support, and retention programs are instituted, special education programs in low-SES urban schools might increase the likelihood of attracting highly skilled teachers, keep those teachers, and increase student achievement. Only skilled and supported educators can create skilled and supported students.

Atwell, N. (2007). Increasing the supply of highly qualified teachers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Western Kentucky University. (ERIC Document). Retrieved from

Esposito, M. C., & Lal, S. (2005). Responding to special education teacher shortages in diverse settings: An accelerated alternative credentialing program. Teacher Education and Special Education, 28(2), 47-50.

Zascavage, V, Winterman, K., Armstrong, P., & Schroeder-Steward, J. (2008). A question of effectiveness: Recruitment of special educators within high school peer support groups. International Journal of Special Education, 23(1), 18-29.

Challenges to Parental School Involvement in Multicultural Communities

The following is one of two articles I posted on another blog during my graduate studies at Fordham University:

"Challenges to Parental School Involvement in Multicultural Communities"
Eric Joseph Nally
July 17, 2009

One of the most-discussed issues within modern education circles is parental involvement in schools. Teachers want to get their students’ families more involved; parents want to know how to do so, given many perceived obstacles; and students want to know their parents care about their achievement. However, involving parents in the school community is not an easy task. Teachers and parents differ on what it means to be involved, and parents perceive roadblocks in their involvement. To compound this problem, most school systems lack concrete implementation of organizational goals when it comes to families in the learning community (Zarate, 2007). This essay looks at parental involvement within the Latino community, since this group provided many examples of how cultural differences can inhibit and challenge parent-teacher-student communication.

Generally speaking, Latino parents tend to view their school participation as mostly concerning life involvement, although – to a lesser degree – parents also see academic involvement as important. Life involvement refers to nurturing a child’s moral development, monitoring his/her peer groups, and ensuring his/her safety. Academic involvement, of course, refers to attendance of parent-teacher conferences, asking questions, monitoring homework, and holding their children to high academic standards. Latino parents see themselves educating their children in a joint endeavor with their classroom teachers (Zarate, 2007).

While those expectations theoretically place parents as very active members of the learning community, they often face challenges that limit connectivity to their children’s learning. One limitation identified by Zarate (2007) is interactivity in student homework. Since several parents in the author’s study were not high school graduates they did not feel equipped to assist their children as a result. Also, many of the parents spoke Spanish fluently and English very little, so perceived a communication hindrance.

Another limitation to parent participation the school community involves work demands. Many Latino parents in Zarate’s (2007) study were hourly workers who would need to sacrifice time and money if they were to attend school events during the day. Fear of job loss was a huge factor related to this challenge.

While these limitations are presented within the context of one culture group, they do exist in many other culture and socioeconomic groups. The obstacles mentioned above tend to frustrate many educators, because they tend to view potential involvement (i.e. parent-teacher conferences, open houses, and back-to-school nights) as essential for parents. Therefore, a conflict exists. Zarate (2007) provides examples that amplify this conflict. She tells about three incidents in which educators treat parents of honors students better than parents of other students because of their abilities to attend afternoon school events and to contribute more financially to schools. So the level of parents’ concern for their children’s education was wrongly being judged based on uncontrollable circumstances.

Parents and teachers become further frustrated by the above struggle when students’ expectations of their parents enter the equation. In her study, Zarate (2007) also spoke with the children of the Latino parents, previously interviewed, to learn how the students want their parents involved in their education. Some common expectations include: 1) following up about the students’ school day, 2) giving encouragement, and 3) providing discipline and structure. These comments closely track with the ideals their parents appear to hold, but are often unable to fulfill. What is to be done about this situation?

I want to suggest how middle ground can be found in this dilemma. First, Zarate (2007) mentions implementing training classes, where educators provide curricular, language, and communication skills that parents need to keep up with their children’s classwork. Second, schools should employ translators that can aid in parent-teacher conferences and similar meetings. Third, schools need to plan events and activities during times most convenient for parents. Finally, Zarate urges schools and districts to implement measurable standards that explicitly mention what it means to be actively involved in education. I personally view all four suggestions as very crucial to building a functioning learning community.

Regarding measurable standards for involvement, there appears to be a lapse between the district level and the state level. This lapse is apparent through information provided by Agronick, Clark, O’Donnell, and Stueve (2009). The authors claim, “The basic tenets for parent engagement are laid forth in the NCLB Act and Title I registration.” For example, the Connecticut State Board of Education in 2006 called for the development and provision of programs that address parental literacy skills and student safety within schools. Further, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) in 2001 created "Parental Involvement Policies for Schools and School Districts," which acknowledges parental need for guidance in learning how to best help their children, and, “encourages schools and districts to communicate such strategies.” NYSED also attempts to hold districts accountable to parental involvement programs by requiring them to report progress results. According to Zarate (2007), generally speaking, these requirements are being overlooked. My question is this: How effective are the state and federal agencies in maintaining accountability with districts? Unfortunately, my research leaves this question unanswered.

In reflecting on parent-teacher communication breakdown in multicultural environments, and based on research, my bias tends to lie within the parents’ point of view. Parents should not be judged as unconcerned or apathetic about their children’s academic achievement simply because their life constraints differ from those of schools or of other cultures. Further, I tend to adopt the Latino point of view mentioned earlier in that parents and teachers should work together to holistically raise children—with the parents’ primary focus being life involvement and students’ primary focus being academic achievement. As such, I believe it indeed does take a village to raise a child, and that providing academic guidance is my role in the village. To gain a better sense of my students’ challenges and strengths, I need to consider factors outside of the classroom. Communication with parents and other family members is crucial in that case. In order to do so, schools and teachers need to provide realistic opportunities for parents to participate in the conversation.


Agronick, G., Clark, A., O’Donnell, L., Stueve, A. (2009). Parent involvement strategies in urban middle and high schools in the Northeast and Island region. Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands Region. (ERIC Document, ED505024). Retrieved from

Zarate, M. E. (2007). Understanding Latino parental involvement in education: Perceptions, expectations, and recommendations. Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. (ERIC Document, ED502065). Retrieved from

Friday, October 30, 2009

In a Substitute Teacher's Spare Time...

When I returned to Virginia to embark on being a substitute teacher once again, there was one thing I upon which I never bargained: Spare time! To those readers who are unfamiliar with this term - and wonder what language I'm speaking - you are not alone. I, too, had forgotten this state of being years ago and only recently has become reacquainted with it. Spare time is a block of time in which a person is devoid of obligations, destinations, or expectations. It is free. As I progressed in my adult life, I carried the assumption that spare time would be less and less frequent as the years continued. I was apparently wrong (as I have time to write this article).

In the time since I was last a substitute, I had managed to forget one truth: subbing is not steady work. I entered this academic year thinking that if I were to be employed by a large enough district, and opened myself to enough grade levels and subjects, I would receive a placement each day that I wanted one. One week and many early mornings later, I have learned the flaw in my logic. As was the case as a two-day-a-week substitute in previous years, the role has a supply-and-demand basis. If there are no teachers out, there is no need for substitutes. Further, if there are more available substitute than available assignments, someone is without work. Nothing has change with respect to this rule of common sense. Perhaps my financial situation, linked with my strong desire to be in a classroom everyday, has blinded me to reality: I will not teach every day in which I want.

It's not until today that I've become okay with that reality.

So the result is extra time on my hands. Ever since I began undergraduate studies 15 years ago, I've been conditioned to think of all time as useable. It wasn't a matter of choice for me; I just always had something expected of me and somewhere expected to be. I enter unchartered waters and ample ticks of the clock. For the first time in my adult life, I must actually see this experience as a set of choices. The following words illustrate the choices I have made.

I continue to wake at 5:30AM and prepare for a potential teaching day. While middle schools do not open until 8:30 and high schools do not open until 9:00, I live between twenty and thirty miles away from them. Awaking early provided sufficient time to prepare for such opportunities. When I do not receive a call, I spend a few extra minutes in bed - something of which many readers may become envious and I see as a wonderful gift. Who doesn't say, "If only I had fifteen more minutes"?

Already prepped for the day, I have a second cup of coffee and make choices about how best to spend this unexpected time. As I don't currently have internet at home, I drive to the local Starbucks and borrow some bandwidth. After catching up on emails, I visit the usual sites (Facebook, Twitter, Blogger) to catch up on world events and the lives of my friends and peers - the result of which has been starting thought-provoking discussions on Facebook. These discussions have been very interesting, and help to hone my skills of facilitating discussions on social issues - a top skill I practice when given the opportunity to teach. Further, I write articles - such as this one - to voice my thoughts, ideals, and visions as an educator. Admittedly, this task is also a marketing ploy for me to advertise myself to potential employers, colleagues, and administrators. Here, I not only post my thoughts, but direct these key individuals to my online professional portfolio (see the links on the right of this page). Cheap in that it is free marketing: yes. Devoid of care or seriousness: far from it. I hope whoever you are, you see something that will enrich your day.

FInally, the remainder of my otherwise-spent-in-the-classroom day is spent calling upon resources that may lead to my eventual and ultimate goal: becoming a permanent classroom teacher in social studies. As stated in yesterday's article, I'm not merely a warm body hoping to fill a void left by someone else's misfortune, I am a determined and driven professional who wants to make a difference in the lives of those who may not think they can make one. It is more than a job, it is a state of mind and heart. In sum, this state of mind and heart drives most everything I say, do, and think. That is why I blog, that is why I start discussions, and that is why I market myself. So free time can be viewed as a lack of income or a lack of on-the-job training, or it can be viewed as an opportunity to learn, improve, and teach in other ways. Decide for yourself which option I've chosen.

Take care and remember: no matter where you are and what you do, little ones are watching you and learning from you. Be careful what you teach them!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Dying Stigma of Substitute Teachers

When I was in elementary school, there existed a certain stereotype about having a substitute teacher in the classroom. This person was usually expected to be nothing more than a warm body, given the responsibility of taking attendance and passing along the busywork for us boys and girls - as recited from a written lesson plan left by the usually classroom teacher. Usually this substitute didn't have content knowledge of the subject or grade - let alone a teaching license. She (and I say "she" because they were usually women back in the day) were part-time stay-at-home moms or retired teachers whose professional development dated back to before her students were even born. The results of this situation were an adult in the classroom who could offer no academic assistance, had no authority to manage her students' behaviors, and had no aspirations of making teaching a career - so no investment in the students or in her career.

Let's fast-forward about twenty years to the present. Substitute teachers are still very much in demand - as they always will be. As long as teachers go on vacation, have doctor's appointments, become ill, or have children, the sub will be an asset to any school district. As I entered the world of teaching about three years ago - as a substitute - I noticed a huge shift in the expectations of this set of educators. Yes, before I mentioned "teacher" (which I use very loosely), and now I mention "educator" (a professional dedicated to the education field). This statement is meant to be bolder than perhaps it sounds on the surface. Now, with the advent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) - which I have issues with, in part, for other reasons not mentioned here - teachers are to be held to higher standard than previously. As schools and districts are rewarded for possessing Highly Qualified faculty, they are held accountable to having classrooms staffed with licensed educators, teaching in the field in which they are credentialed. Where this higher standard crosses paths with the role of the substitute is in the higher expectations placed upon them in many school districts.

While attending a substitute orientation for Fairfax County Public Schools back in 2007, I noted an emphasis on substitutes only teaching subjects in which they believe they are qualified. I thought it was the greatest thing I'd heard in a long while. In fact, I practically had to look through my orientation materials to make sure I was at the right session. This new ideology shook my world - suggesting that substitute teachers should NOT be just warm bodies. This district wants all teachers, substitutes included, to offer their expertise to students in the classroom. A BA in English teaching English, a BS in Math teaching Calculus, or a BA in History and Geography (like me) teaching Social Studies. Warm bodies be gone, and enter the "Substitute Educator"!

It's difficult to become a classroom educator, and rightfully so as educators carry with them great responsibility. However, with the recent recession and often-accompanied budget constraints, becoming an educator with his/her own classroom has become an exceedingly daunting pursuit. As witnessed in cities like New York and Washington, these budget constraints have caused mayors and chancellors to crash under the pressure and make some really ridiculous choices. I will be kind to these leaders here, as I've bashed them plenty in other venues.

The result most relevant to this article is that MANY qualified teachers are without classrooms. This is amplified by the false claim by many at the dawn of the recession, "Go into teaching, the education field is always in need of good teachers." Hence, career changers flooding a field already supersaturated with able educators. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing these career changers at all (after all, I'm one of them!). So, the collective body of substitute educators in our nation's school districts are these qualified educators, awaiting the opportunities for classrooms of their own, and hoping in the meantime that their skills and talents will be discovered by impressed administrators. Therefore, classrooms possessing substitutes who are very serious about their professional practice, who go above and beyond in making a positive impact wherever they're assigned, and who see substituting as a stepping stone rather than a fallback way to earn easy money and have summers off.

I am one of those hopeful substitute educators. I love teaching, and I love helping young people succeed and believe in themselves. Despite the current economic situation and overpopulated industry, I will gladly take on the garb of the substitute. While the students I face will not be the same from day to day, and while it will not be my own classroom in which I teach, my dedication, devotion, professionalism, and love will not wane. Yes, I admit that this is in part for want of impressing the right person at the right time, but it is also because my devotion to kids existed long before I ever received a paycheck for my efforts, and will continue to exist even if I never see another paycheck. Although if you're reading this article and are an administrator, a classroom and a paycheck would be nice :)

Take care and know no matter where you are and what you do, little ones are watching you and learning from you. Be cautious of what you teach them :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Activity-Based Teaching Improves Motivation

Hi there! I've not been very frequent in my posts lately, as I currently do not have internet access at home. This situation is a change from that of my residence in New York, where I spent perhaps too much time online. Also, I don't usually write my own pieces on this page, but would like to discuss an educational topic that has become very relevant to me over the past month: Activity-based teaching.

I grew up in the days where activity-based learning entailed filling in blanks on lecture notes distributed during class. I am convinced that the only purpose for this activity was to prevent 20 heads down - half of which whose snoring would drown out any teacher. While I was one of the fortunate (or unfortunate) souls to remain upright during class, I regret that I didn't learn a thing from the lecture-and-notes exercise. This is how history was taught to me through my second year of undergraduate studies. It is also why I disliked history up to that point in my life.

When I transfered to a 4-year college junior year, I was pursuing another major, and for several reasons I abandoned that major for one in history. Despite having learned basically nothing from my previous history coursework, there still existed something in me that liked the study of the past. Usually, however, this interest was separate from the material taught in the classroom. However, upon taking courses at this new university, I discovered something new about the way history was taught as well. As opposed to the lecture-only methodology espoused in high school and community college, upper class studies included seminars around discussion topics, assignments that allowed students to take on the perspective of certain historical figures, and ample choices of the topics explored due to the plethora of courses available. I finally had a say in what I learned and how I learned it. Therefore my love of learning about the past could be expressed through the classroom and through organized study.

It is through this pedagogical enlightenment that I arrived in graduate school - to learn how to teach history. In addition to my small wealth of learning activities and content knowledge, my professors, peers, and supervisors added fuel to the fire. At the end of that year, I walked away with a library of learning strategies, materials, and links to more of the same. I also walked away with a new lens upon which to teach social studies: current and relevant social issues.

We live in a world in which adolescents must take on some very challenging responsibilities. They must be expert managers of time, trustworthy caretakers of siblings, and are expected to make crucial life decisions based on there abilities to think critically and successfully. The latter responsibility must be nurtured and encouraged in the classroom, so that the former responsibilities can be achieved - along with others. Simply teaching social studies through rote memorization and recitation won't give students the tools to face those responsibilities. Giving students the tools to think and act for themselves will. In turn, it is our responsibility as social studies teachers to do so, and this can best be accomplished through interactive, relevant activities. What is more relevant than the world in which these students live? They live in a world of social issue after social issue. They live now, without really understanding how we got to "now". History and social studies provide the context, examples, and road that lead to today's complex and important issues. It is through understanding these past precedents, people, and events that they can make informed choices in this "now" world.

The above philosophy is how I see history as relevant to the lives our the young men and women in our classrooms. Through activities that allow student to discuss their own values, thought, and feelings, lessons curriculum becomes connect to their lives. Additionally, we live in a very diverse world which is also seen in the schools. By facilitating discussions and other interactive activities in the history classroom from a number of perspectives, our students can better understand why events are important to them, and why they are important to those events. History should be about "us" and not "them" in order to matter, and in order to see the complete and bigger picture of the discipline.

Thanks for reading these brainstormed thoughts from my caffeine-filled mind. Please feel free to comment. Just as I want to know what's on the minds of my students, I want to know what's on the minds of my peers. You and I are part of the bigger picture, too!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar? Parades Get Dumped, the Holiday Renamed; Brown's 'Fall Weekend'

Wall Street Journal Online
October 10, 2009

Arrivederci, Columbus Day.

The tradition of honoring Christopher Columbus for sailing the ocean blue in 1492 is facing rougher seas than the NiƱa, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Philadelphia's annual Columbus Day parade has been canceled. Brown University this year renamed the holiday "Fall Weekend" following a campaign by a Native American student group opposed to celebrating an explorer who helped enslave some of the people he "discovered."

And while the Italian adventurer is generally thought to have arrived in the New World on Oct. 12, 517 years ago on Monday, his holiday is getting bounced all over the calendar. Tennessee routinely celebrates it the Friday after Thanksgiving to give people an extra-long weekend.

"You can celebrate the hell out of it if you get it the day after Thanksgiving -- it gives you four days off," says former Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter.

In California, Columbus Day is one of two unpaid holidays getting blown away by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as part of a budget-cut proposal. In Washington, D.C., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid canceled this year's weeklong Columbus Day recess so the senators can buckle down on health care. (They still get Monday off, though.)

Another obstacle: Columbus Day hasn't transcended its original purpose, as some other holidays have. Sure, Columbus Day celebrates one of the world's great explorers. But Memorial Day and Labor Day also do double duty as summer's official bookends, whereas Columbus Day is stuck in mid-October, halfway between summertime and Christmas. And many Americans apparently prefer more days off around Christmas.

So some employers have turned to "holiday swapping." In Calimesa, Calif., the city council recently voted to swap two holidays -- Columbus Day, and a day honoring labor organizer Cesar Chavez -- for one floating holiday and day off on New Year's Eve.

Mayor Jim Hyatt says the swap is partly a reward to give workers more flexible use of their time off. "Nothing against Columbus Day," he says.

In Wilmette, Ill., teachers and staff are working this Columbus Day, but they get a make-up day off on Dec. 23. Ray Lechner, superintendent of Wilmette District 39, says the reality is that Columbus Day is a low holiday priority. "We would not mess with religious holidays," he says.

Columbus Day itself was created during a holiday switcheroo. Back in 1968, Congress passed the Monday Holiday Law, which not only established Columbus Day on the second Monday of October, but also moved three other federal holidays -- Memorial Day, Veteran's Day and Washington's Birthday (a.k.a Presidents' Day) -- so that they always fell on Mondays, too. And the golden age of three-day weekends was born.

The fact that this year's holiday falls on the actual date that Columbus is believed to have landed is mere coincidence. It won't happen again until 2015, assuming the holiday exists.

A spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, the fraternal society founded in 1882 with the explorer's name, said: "So far as we're concerned, it's quite obviously an appropriate holiday."

Columbus Day used to be a big deal in Columbus, Ohio. But it has been 11 years since the city had an official parade for its namesake, in part because of the controversy swirling around Columbus. There were fireworks and a beauty contest.

"It was the biggest parade in town," says Joseph Contino, a local who flies tanker jets for the national guard and is trying to refuel the idea of celebrating the big day with a big parade.

The city isn't helping, Mr. Contino says. "Their reaction is as if it was the Ku Klux Klan."

A city official says that's not right. "The mayor thinks a parade is a great idea and thinks that the Italian community should take the lead on that," says Dan Williamson, a spokesman for Mayor Michael B. Coleman.

"It would be stupid to pretend there is no controversy around Christopher Columbus," he adds. But the mayor of Columbus isn't taking sides.

The holiday isn't under threat everywhere. New York City's longtime Columbus Day parade will still be marching up Fifth Avenue this year, as it has since 1929. The bond market takes the day off, too.

But 22 states don't give their employees the day off, according to the Council of State Governments. And in other places, Columbus Day is under attack. "We're going after state governments to drop this holiday for whatever reason they come up with," said Mike Graham, founder of United Native America, a group fighting for a federal holiday honoring Native Americans.

His group's agenda: Rename Columbus Day "Italian Heritage Day" and put it somewhere else on the calendar, then claim the second Monday in October as "Native American Day." South Dakota already calls it that.

Other organizations want to rename the day "Indigenous Peoples' Day," as several California cities, including Berkeley, have done.

Columbus's defenders aren't prepared to watch their hero's holiday sail off the edge of the earth. They say he should be celebrated for risking his life to explore the world and for forging modern ties between Europe and the Americas.

His supporters acknowledge Columbus took slaves back to Spain and opened the door to conquistadors who killed Native Americans. But much of the criticism is built on "judging a 16th century man by 21st century standards," says Dona De Sanctis of the Order Sons of Italy in America, a group of half a million Italian-Americans that tries to defend Columbus' legacy.

At Brown University, the rename-the-holiday activists "stressed this was against Columbus, but not Italian-Americans," says Reiko Koyama, a junior who led the effort to persuade the school to change the name to "Fall Weekend." Brown happens to be in Rhode Island, a state with the largest proportion of Italian-Americans in the U.S.

Ground zero of the Columbus battle has been Colorado, home to the nation's first official Columbus holiday about a century ago. Columbus Day parades in Denver have faced acrimonious protests for much of the past decade. Marchers have been on the receiving end of dismembered dolls and fake blood strewn across the parade route. Dozens of protesters have been arrested over the years.

This year, the attacks took a new twist: A prankster sent an email to local media -- purporting to be from parade organizers -- saying the event had been canceled.

"I consider it much more than a hoax. This is a personal attack on me," says Richard SaBell, president of the Denver Columbus Day Parade Committee. "As in years past, we are undeterred. The parade will not be stopped."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ceremonies to honor September 11 victims

Photo courtesy of

CNN Online
September 11, 2009

(CNN) -- Solemn memorial services in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on Friday will mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Eight years ago, al Qaeda terrorists hijacked airplanes to crash them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- twin symbols of America's financial and military might. Another hijacked plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania -- its intended target was the White House or the Capitol.

New York will honor the 2,751 people who lost their lives after American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. The commemoration will include the reading of names to honor the dead.

In Washington, President Obama, the first lady and White House staff will observe a moment of silence on the South Lawn at 8:46 a.m., the moment Flight 11 hit the north tower.

he president will then go to the Pentagon, where he will make remarks and participate in a wreath-laying ceremony for the 184 victims killed when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the building's west wall.

In Shanksville, a ceremony will be held just before 10 a.m. to remember the 40 passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, who died when the hijacked plane went down in a field there. The passengers and crew, aware of the fate of at least some of the other hijacked planes, fought the men who had taken control of their aircraft, leading to its crash.

Country singer Trace Adkins will sing the national anthem. Colin Powell, former U.S. secretary of state, will give the keynote address.

A $58 million memorial is being constructed at the 2,200-acre site and is to open on the 10th anniversary of the attack.

On the eighth anniversary of the attacks, the level of concern about terrorism in the United States is roughly half of what it was immediately after September 11 and is down 20 points since the five-year anniversary in 2006, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll.

Thirty-four percent of Americans think an act of terrorism is likely in the United States over the next few weeks. More than six in 10 are confident in the Obama administration's ability to protect the nation.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Leaders Gather in Poland to Remember Beginning of World War II 70 Years Ago

Linda Young - AHN Editor
All Headline News Online
September 1, 2009

Gansk, Poland (AHN) - World leaders from at least 20 nations gathered at Gansk, Poland Tuesday to remember the beginning of World War II there, at least 6 million Poles lost there lives in that conflict.

War broke out 70 years ago, on Sept. 1, 1939, when the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the fort at Gansk. At the same time, Poland was invaded by German forces from east, west and south.

Those attacks brought Britain and France into the war with both nations declaring war against Germany two days later.

WW II raged on until Sept. 2, 1945 when Japan, Germany's ally, signed an unconditional declaration of surrender.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Personal Note on Questioning in Teaching

Usually in this spot, you might expect to find a social studies relevant article I had cut and pasted into this blog. Typically, I do this action to keep up to date with the world around me and to encourage discussion about the topic at hand. However, something different popped into my head this morning.

While sipping coffee in bed and listening to sound of the rain on my concrete courtyard, I began reflecting on a news story I heard about Facebook and its use. Some of you who frequent my profile page on the social networking site note that I post news stories I find intriguing. Lately, you probably have also noticed that when I post these stories, I also post a list of questions. There are several observations that can be made about this article-and-questioning idea.

First, I pose questions because doing so catches my friends' attention. Seeing a controversial set of questions draws people in - everyone likes controversy. It's a similar phenomenon to our innate need to stare at a car accident on the highway - 'cyber-rubbernecking' if you will. Second, the list of questions invites the reader to click on the link and read. It motivates people to stay current with the important events of the day. Third, the list of questions makes the reader analyze and synthesize his/her own meaning from the information I post. The reader then creates a unique opinion and uses his/her critical thinking skills in doing so. Finally, posting questions with my articles on Facebook creates more interactivity and participation on my profile page - which is something from which I derive a bit of joy. By doing this activity, I am facilitating learning by questioning in my readers.

Using learning by questioning techniques on a social networking site allows me to also hone my questioning skills in the classroom as a practitioner of learning in younger people. Just as questioning gets the gears turning in our adult minds, so it does in the minds of adolescents who's opinions need to be heard. These young people are entering the stage of life where their cognition is transforming from the concrete into the abstract. They want to be heard and should be heard. But as a teacher, I need to give them the skills to make informed opinions about the world and events around them. Using questioning in discussions and written activities is the key to showing these young men and women how to arrive at analytical, informed, and creative ideas.

Questioning is the link to real and lasting learning. If you have young toddlers, you know their favorite question is 'why?'. In all honesty, 'why?' is the question we ask throughout our entire lives - and we never tire of asking it. This three-letter word is the gateway to a lifetime of discovery. So next time you hear a child ask, 'why?' don't ignore them - they are exhibiting a need inherent in all of us that must be fulfilled.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sen. Ted Kennedy's Legacy

August 26, 2009

At times, it seemed Kennedy and his abundant energy would last for years. But last May, he suffered a seizure at his Cape Cod home and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

By August 2009, he was too ill to appear in public and missed the funeral for his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and his being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

Kennedy is credited with several legislative efforts, most notably in the fields of civil rights, welfare and education. He was key to passing Head Start as part of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, the centerpiece of the War on Poverty. Kennedy fought for Title IX equal access for women and more student aid for GIs .

He proposed increases in minimum wage, championed the Family and Medical Leave Act, shepherded the No Child Left Behind Act, led the fight for passage of hate crimes legislation and sought protections against discrimination for gays and women.

He supported nuclear reduction treaties, enlisted labor unions and backed unrestricted access to abortion even in late term and for teens crossing state lines. He also stood proud despite some failures, including sponsorship of the Equal Rights Amendment, support for a doomed immigration reform bill and opposition to the Iraq war and several Supreme Court nominees, including current Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

He has spent the better part of his career trying to institute a nationalized health care program though he has been absent this year as Congress debates President Obama's plan, which was largely embraced in a Senate version with Kennedy's name on it.

Despite his inability to sway the daily debate, Kennedy's legacy will live on.

During the Aug. 15 Presidential Medal of Freedom award ceremony, Obama recalled a story the senator frequently told of an old man who throws starfish back into the sea even though each toss made only a small difference in the big picture.

Obama said for 50 years Ted Kennedy has been "making a difference for that soldier fighting for freedom, that refugee looking for a way home, that senior searching for dignity, that worker striving for opportunity, that student aspiring to college, that family reaching for the American Dream. The life of Senator Edward M. Kennedy has made a difference for us all."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Report: North Korea Invites U.S. Envoy For Talks

by Associated Press
WCBS-TV 2 Online
August 25, 2009

Seoul, South Korea (AP) - North Korea has invited top envoys of President Barack Obama to visit the communist nation in what would be the first nuclear negotiations between the two countries under his presidency, a news report said Tuesday.

North Korea recently offered the invitation to Stephen Bosworth, special envoy to North Korea, and chief nuclear negotiator Sung Kim, and the U.S. government is strongly considering sending them to the North next month, Seoul's JoongAng Ilbo daily reported.

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul said it had no comment on the report.

The JoongAng report, citing an unidentified high-level diplomatic source in Washington, said the U.S. diplomats might be able to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il during the visit, considering Pyongyang's recent conciliatory attitude.

Yonhap news agency also reported that the North has invited the two officials.

Pyongyang has long sought direct negotiations with Washington about its nuclear program and other issues, hoping to boost its international profile. The U.S. has said it is willing to talk bilaterally to Pyongyang, but only within the framework of six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

"We are sticking to our existing position that we will continue faithfully carrying out U.N. resolutions while urging North Korea to return to six-party talks," Seoul's Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said regarding talks over the weekend between Bosworth and South Korean officials.

Pyongyang has long sought direct negotiations with Washington about its nuclear program and other issues, hoping to boost its international profile. The U.S. has said it is willing to talk bilaterally to Pyongyang, but only within the framework of six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

"We are sticking to our existing position that we will continue faithfully carrying out U.N. resolutions while urging North Korea to return to six-party talks," Seoul's Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said regarding talks over the weekend between Bosworth and South Korean officials.

Washington has been keeping up pressure on Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs, sending a senior official to Asia to seek support for stringent implementation of the U.N. sanctions meant to punish the North for its May 25 nuclear test.

Separately, South Korea launched its first space rocket Tuesday in its quest to become a regional space power, along with China, Japan and India. North Korea has warned it would be "watching closely" for the international response to the launch after its own launch in April - suspected as a disguised test of long-range missile technology - drew a rebuke from the United Nations.

Over the past year, North Korea stoked tensions with nuclear and missile tests while boycotting international nuclear talks. But in recent weeks, the North has become markedly more conciliatory.

The North freed two American journalists following a trip to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton earlier this month. It also released a South Korean worker it held for more than four months, agreed to lift restrictions on border crossings with the South, and pledged to resume suspended joint inter-Korean projects and reunions of families separated during the Korean War over five decades ago.

South Korea's Unification Ministry said Tuesday the recently released worker was forced to admit to some false allegations during "coercive" questioning in North Korea.

Also Tuesday, Pyongyang accepted a South Korean offer to hold Red Cross talks from Wednesday to Friday to organize a new round of reunions of separated families, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said. The North also restored a direct telephone line via the border village of Panmunjom, he said.

North Korea has long balanced stoking tensions with conciliatory overtures to extract concessions and head off sanctions.

(© 2009 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

US wins trade case against China

August 12, 2009

The US has won a ruling at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against China's restrictions on the import of American DVDs and other media products.

The WTO ruled that China's current policy of only allowing the goods to be imported by state-run organisations broke global trade agreements.

However, the WTO upheld China's limits on the distribution of US films, and made no ruling on Chinese censorship.
US Trade Representative Ron Kirk called the ruling a "significant victory".

"These findings are an important step toward ensuring market access for legitimate US products in the Chinese market, as well as ensuring market access for US exporters and distributors of those products," he said.

Chinese officials, who can still appeal the ruling, have yet to comment.

'Landmark ruling'
The WTO also said China was breaking trade rules by preventing US music download firms from offering their services directly to Chinese customers.

Its ruling also covers the export of US books, magazines and computer games to China.

The WTO said it had now instructed the Chinese government to make the required changes.

Tom Allen, chief executive of the Association of American Publishers, called it a "landmark ruling".

"It protects legitimate creators of valuable content and offers them fair access to this extremely important market," he said.

China's current limitations on the import of official US DVDs and other media products has created a large domestic counterfeit industry, much to US annoyance.

Study: Evolution Gains Bigger Foothold in Science Standards

By Mary Ann Zehr
Education Week Online
August 12, 2009

Evolution is being covered more extensively and better in state science standards than was true nearly a decade ago, according to a review of the standards in 50 states and the District of Columbia by the National Center for Science Education. But the reviewers are concerned that at the same time, "creationist jargon" has increasingly been included in science standards. My story on the review was just published at

Some may question if the reviewers are overly sensitive about what they deem to be "creationist jargon." The head of the Texas board of education, who voted for the new Texas science standards, by the way, says the reviewers are dead wrong in concluding that her state's standards contain creationist jargon.

One example of creationist jargon in the Texas standards, the report says, is that students are asked to "analyze and evaluate scientific explanations concerning the complexity of the cell."

But Anton Mates, a co-author of the 50-state review of how evolution is included in state science standards, contends that he and the other co-author are not reading too much into things.

"Creationists have become more sophisticated in their language," he said. "We're looking for language that allows teachers to bring in materials that attack evolution."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Recovery School District to lay off dozens of teachers today

By Sarah Carr, The New Orleans Times-Picayune
Monday August 03, 2009, 7:15 AM

Two years ago, New Orleans school officials in desperate need of teachers scoured job fairs across the country, advertised online, partnered with nonprofits and offered recruits hefty relocation bonuses -- all in an effort to ensure that the city had enough teachers in its classrooms when school opened.

Then last year, the district found itself in nearly the opposite posture: awash in resumes, with 24 applicants vying for every spot in teachNOLA, a teacher training and recruiting program.

With intense competition the new norm, even at some of the city's historically hard-to-staff schools, the Recovery School District, which opens most of its schools this week, has arrived at a crossroads that would have been unimaginable two years ago: District officials are poised to lay off dozens of teachers today -- many of them veterans.

Predictably, the situation drew howls from several educators facing the prospect of unemployment.

"There's room for the young and enthusiastic, God bless them, but not at the expense of the people who have been here for many years and understand the culture, " said Maryjane Potts, who taught art at the RSD's Sylvanie Williams Elementary School last year but has not yet found a teaching position for this year.

Recovery District Superintendent Paul Vallas called any implication that the district favored hiring new, young teachers false, and said hiring authority lies with principals.

"They make the decision to hire: lock, stock and barrel, " he said. "We don't guarantee any teacher, veteran or (new), a job."

Last spring, district officials put Potts in a "surplus" teacher pool when they consolidated Sylvanie Williams and Laurel elementary schools. Many of the 187 surplus teachers were victims of school consolidations or the transfer of portions of some RSD schools to charter school operators.

Surplus teachers did not lose their positions because of poor performance.

District officials encouraged these teachers to seek out new positions with the Recovery District or dozens of independent charter schools in the city. About 80 of those teachers had no luck -- at least with the RSD -- and received letters last week informing them that their jobs would be terminated today. Another 30 staff members, including clerical workers and teacher's aides, also received the notices.

"If you are going to do a reduction in force, why not just say that's what it is, " Potts said, adding that Sylvanie Williams teachers were told they would have positions at the consolidated school. "Don't come in and blindside everyone the last week in July."

Vallas said the surplus teachers were never guaranteed jobs but that more than 100 of them found new positions in the Recovery District, including most Sylvanie Williams teachers. He added that many of the district's principals prefer veteran teachers, noting that more than two-thirds of the new teachers hired by RSD principals have teaching experience.

The principals' hiring "reflects their desire to have more mixed staff in terms of experience, " he said.

Principals have power

New Orleans public schools now feature completely decentralized hiring: Seniority guarantees nothing, collective bargaining does not exist, and teachers keep their jobs only at the discretion of their principals.

For many officials, including Vallas and several principals, the new system rightfully puts the power in the hands of the people who know their staffs and their campus needs best.

"I think hiring this year has been really great in the sense that principals are having really candid conversations about what their expectation is for the school, why a teacher may or may not be a good fit, and what the year will look like, " said Kira Orange Jones, the executive director of Teach For America's operations in the Greater New Orleans region. The program places elite college graduates in disadvantaged school communities for at least two years.

But to Daphanne Poole, a surplus teacher who has yet to find a job, the hiring process seemed unfair from the start. Poole, a longtime New Orleans educator who taught at Frederick Douglass High School for the second half of the last school year, said the number of job applicants dwarfed the number of openings at the job fairs and networking events she attended. Some schools did not even send representatives, she added.

Through professional contacts, Poole had leads on two possible positions in the Recovery School District. But, in both cases, school leaders told her before formal interviews that the district's central office had sent someone else over to take the job, she said, a concern echoed by other surplus teachers.

Last month, Poole missed one of the final local job fairs because of a medical procedure. Though she had wanted to attend the fair, Poole kept her appointment, fearing she soon would be without health insurance coverage, she said. Now, she's applying to districts as far away as Alaska.

Vallas denied that the district ever asked principals to choose some teachers over others. He said Recovery District officials suggested that principals first look at the list of surplus teachers when filling vacancies. The district also provided resumes of surplus teachers upon request to principals trying to staff hard-to-fill vacancies, Vallas said.

250 new arrivals

In interviews, four surplus teachers said they felt that Teach For America candidates were given preference over veterans in the RSD's hiring process, something Vallas and Teach for America's Orange Jones strongly deny.

"I went to the job fair and stood for hours in line. I called all the places they said were going to need people. I went through the whole process, and I got nothing, " said one surplus teacher who did not want her name used for fear it would make it harder to get a job.

The teacher said she checks the job-vacancy list every day, but whenever "you call the principals they say, 'Oh, we've already filled the position.' "

Orange Jones said her program's teachers are in the same straits as veteran educators, and are not guaranteed jobs by the RSD. She added that many of the Teach For America applicants have been turned away by multiple schools, and that some also ended up in the surplus pool.

The Recovery School District has hired about 20 new Teach For America teachers for this school year so far and has a contract to hire as many as 30 teachers through the program, though Orange Jones and Vallas say the contract does not mandate that the district hire that many.

In all, about 250 new Teach For America instructors arrived in the New Orleans region this summer to work in the Recovery District; New Orleans charters; and the schools in St. Bernard, Jefferson and St. John the Baptist parishes.

Dozens of those teachers don't yet have jobs, though Orange Jones said her organization is "used to teachers getting hired right up until the first days of school, " she said.

Brian Thevenot contributed to this report.

Sarah Carr can be reached at or 504.826.3497.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Social Skills Training Gives Urban Children a Brighter Future

By Crystal Phend, Staff Writer, MedPage Today
Published: December 01, 2008
Reviewed by Zalman S. Agus, MD; Emeritus Professor
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

SEATTLE, Dec. 1 -- Early attention to social development of children from high-crime urban areas may yield long-term benefits for mental and sexual health and educational and economic achievement.

So found J. David Hawkins, Ph.D., and colleagues at the University of Washington here when they followed children taught impulse control, nonaggressive ways of getting what they want, and other life skills in elementary school.

After 15 years of follow-up in the study, the extended intervention group had significantly fewer lifetime sexually transmitted diseases and psychiatric symptoms as adults as well as higher income (P<0.05), the researchers reported in the December issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Although these young adults also tended to achieve higher levels of education and have more responsibility at work and in the community, the training did not reduce substance use or criminal behavior.

"Public schools, available to all children in the U.S. beginning at age five or six years, are a potentially powerful setting for preventive intervention," they wrote.

The researchers had previously reported benefits of the intervention in their Seattle Social Development Project in childhood and adolescence.

These findings -- for follow-up at age 27 -- were encouraging because the mid-20s are important years, when individuals adopt adult roles through education and employment, the researchers said.

In their nonrandomized controlled trial, children at 15 Seattle public elementary schools were exposed to a full intervention from first through sixth grade, late intervention in grades five and six only, or no intervention.

The participants were diverse (26% African-American, 22% Asian heritage, and 6% Native American) and frequently from low-income families (56%).

All children in the full-intervention group were from high-crime neighborhoods.

In addition to instruction for the children, their teachers received extra training in instructional methods and in teaching cognitive and social skills.

Their parents were also offered courses on child behavior management skills, supporting their child academically, and reducing risks for problem behaviors, which a minority of parents attended.

For the 598 participants followed through to adulthood, the full intervention significantly improved the composite score on all eight outcome measures at ages 24 and 27 compared with controls (P=0.014).

For the individual outcomes, children given social development training throughout the primary school years had the following effects at age 27 compared with no intervention:

More frequently at or above the median in socioeconomic status (93% versus 84%, P=0.021)
A trend for more responsibility on the job (P=0.088)
Marginally more likely to have more than a high school education (34% versus 22% associate degree, P<0.06, and 20% versus 14% bachelor's degree, P=0.311)
A trend for a higher degree of civic engagement measured by involvement with community groups and volunteerism (P=0.072)
Fewer symptoms of mental health disorders on the disorder criterion index (P=0.008)
Lower prevalence of meeting diagnostic criteria for one or more psychiatric disorders (P=0.027)
Lower likelihood of ever being diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (23% versus 35%, P=0.026)
No difference in substance abuse or dependence (P=0.739)
An unexpected trend for higher prevalence of prior-year criminal activity (P=0.081), primarily minor theft (9% versus 4%) and drug selling (8% versus 3%)
These effects were most significant among males and those with a background of childhood poverty.

Most outcomes were consistent with a "dose" effect, the researchers said. The late treatment group fell between the full treatment and control groups for most outcomes, but it did not improve the overall composite measure of social achievement by young adulthood compared with no intervention (P=0.808 to P=0.737).

The researchers noted that the study was limited by its "quasi-experimental" design, geographically limited scope, and heavy reliance on self-reported data from participants.

Primary source: Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine
Source reference:
Hawkins JD, et al "Effects of social development intervention in childhood fifteen years later" Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2008; 162: 1133-1141.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Astronaut Armstrong recalls moon landing
July 20, 2009

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The first man on the moon marked the 40th anniversary of his historic achievement with characteristic understatement Monday, calling the program that put him on the lunar surface "a good thing to do."

Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong joined crewmates Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin at the National Air and Space Museum, capping a day of commemorations that included a stop at the White House. During brief remarks at the museum, he said the mission was the climax of a "staggeringly complex" endeavor that "required the very best in creativity, determination and perseverance that could be assembled in the American workplace."

"Those successes were very impressive 40 years ago, but they were not miraculous," Armstrong said. "They were the result of the imagination and inventive minds of the people in the Apollo project since its inception eight years earlier."

The July 20, 1969, moon landing followed four test missions and came just two years after a fire that killed the first Apollo crew. Six lunar landings followed. A seventh flight, Apollo 13, was forced to abort its landing after an oxygen tank explosion crippled the spacecraft; the crew used its lunar lander as a "lifeboat" for much of their harrowing return to Earth.

Armstrong called the Apollo program "a superb national enterprise" that "left a lasting imprint on society and history."

"Our knowledge of the moon increased a thousandfold and more," he said. "Technologies were developed for interplanetary navigation and travel. Our home planet has been seen from afar, and that perspective has caused us to think about its and our significance. Children inspired by the excitement of space flight have come to appreciate the wonder of science, the beauty of mathematics and the precision of engineering."

He concluded, "Apollo was a good thing to do."

While fellow moonwalker Aldrin appeared on an episode of "The Simpsons," wrote a memoir that frankly discussed his bouts with alcoholism and depression and once punched out a conspiracy theorist who argued the landing was faked, Armstrong retreated to quiet obscurity after leaving NASA. He taught engineering at the University of Cincinnati in Ohio in the 1970s, was chairman of an aviation computer company until 1992 and served on the commission that investigated the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.

He has given only occasional interviews in the intervening decades and stopped signing autographs because he discovered his signature was being sold for profit.

Collins, who flew the Apollo 11 command module Columbia while Aldrin and Armstrong took the lander Eagle to the lunar surface, went on to serve as director of the Air and Space Museum. Columbia is now a prize exhibit at the facility.

Earlier, the crew met with President Obama, who hailed them as "genuine American heroes" and "the touchstone for excellence in exploration and discovery." Obama said the landing continued to inspire young people to study math and science in hopes of becoming astronauts.

As a boy in Hawaii, Obama recalled, he would go out with his grandfather to welcome back astronauts from missions that concluded with Pacific Ocean landings.

"I remember waving American flags and my grandfather telling me that the Apollo mission was an example of how Americans can do anything they put their minds to," he said.

Later, at the museum commemoration, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Apollo "fundamentally changed how humankind views its place in the universe."

"What you achieved will never be forgotten," Bolden said. "Centuries from now, future generations will remember it was you -- you -- who took humankind's first steps beyond our planet."

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sarah Palin resigns as Alaska's governor, raising speculation on 2012

By Chris McGreal
Friday 3 July 2009 23.02 BST

Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice-presidential candidate who electrified her party's campaign last year, has resigned as Alaska's governor in a dramatic decision that has fuelled speculation she is positioning herself to run for president.

But after an at times rambling speech in which she compared herself to battle wounded American soldiers in Kosovo and said only dead fish go with the flow, Palin's critics accused her of a "flaky" decision and walking away from her post.

Palin, who built strong support among conservative Republicans as John McCain's running mate last year, said she will step down in three weeks because she can contribute more away from politics.

"We know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time on another scale and actually make a difference for our priorities," she said.

But Palin also hinted at continuing political ambitions when she repeated a quote she attributed to general Douglas MacArthur: "We are not retreating, we are advancing in another direction."

For someone who is supposedly stepping back from politics, Palin's resignation speech was weighty with policy specifics which prompted speculation that she is positioning herself for a 2012 presidential bid or seeking another office which would move her from distant Alaska to the heart of Washington politics.

But the timing, coming during one of the biggest American holidays of the year, independence day, raised questions among some of Republicans who accused her of attempting to escape falling poll numbers in Alaska as a series of economic problems and ethics investigations take their toll.

A prominent Republican strategist, Ed Rollins, who directed Ronald Reagan's election campaign, said Palin had made a serious mistake.

"She was a shooting star who dimmed in recent months and now she's crashed," he said.

Another Republican strategist, Tony Blankley, disagreed and said Palin appeared to have made a smart move to position herself for a run for president.

"It looks like she's moving down a path toward it," he said. "It frees her up. The normal rules don't seem to apply to her. She's a fascinating character who seems to do things her own way."

Blankley said that it makes sense for Palin to resign as governor if she is seeking higher office.

"This is going to be a pretty tough time for incumbents the next couple of years in America with everything going to tell and this may be a pretty good time not to be in office," he said.

Blankley also said that Palin faced particular difficulties trying to juggle a national campaign with being government of Alaska.

The geography is bad for her because it is several time zones and the better part of a day's travel from Washington. That limits her ability to maintain her profile by dropping in on important campaign states for short visits to whip up backing for a run for president. Quitting as governor will give her an opportunity to travel and court the Republican base among which she retains considerable support. Palin will also need to spend time in the capital developing relationships with key Republican strategists.

Palin remains a front runner among Republicans nationwide as a potential presidential candidate.

But other Republicans were more critical including John Weaver, a long-time confidant of McCain.

"We've seen a lot of nutty behaviour from governors and Republican leaders in the last three months, but this one is at the top of that," Weaver told the Washington Post.

Palin's resignation was swiftly criticised as "flaky" by her Democratic opponents who said it was part of a pattern of "bizarre" behaviour.

The Democratic National Committee said she is "leaving the people of Alaska high and dry ... or she simply can't handle the job now".

The timing of the announcement on the eve of independence day led some critics to accuse her of trying to bury the news of her resignation. But given that almost nothing else was going on it might have been a move to dominate the news bulletins as it forced Michael Jackson's death from the top slot.

"Some are going to question the timing of this, and let me say this decision has been in the works for quite a while," Palin said.

Palin addressed the numerous ethics investigations launched in to her alleged misuse of office by saying that taxpayer money was being wasted and deriding them as part of the "superficial political blood sport" against her since she shot to prominence as McCain's running mate.

Palin will hand power to her deputy, lieutenant governor Sean Parnell. The next election for Alaska governor is in 2010.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Senate Deadlock Hits New York Schools

Wall Street Journal Online
July 2, 2009

New York City officials scrambled Wednesday to re-create a system of school governance that hasn't existed in seven years after a deadlocked state Senate failed to renew the mayor's control over public schools before a Tuesday deadline.

For three weeks the state Senate has declined to tackle controversial bills, including one that would have renewed Mayor Michael Bloomberg's control over New York City schools. Without that approval, the city was forced to revert to its 2002 system, hastily choosing a city school board. But there are no provisions in place to establish such entities as local school districts, creating a situation, the mayor said, in which the city could be accused of running the schools illegally.

The state senators -- locked in a 31-31 tie after two Democrats defected and then one returned -- have repeatedly met in their respective party conferences only and then adjourned, since neither party has enough votes to make law. For a while the crisis seemed to have minimal impact beyond exasperating government officials and amusing political pundits. But now the Senate's refusal to agree on its leadership is starting to hit cities.

In addition to the school-control legislation, the Senate didn't vote on Mr. Bloomberg's request to increase the city's sales tax, depriving the city this month of $60 million -- roughly the amount the city spends to employ 600 police officers, the mayor said. The gridlock also is threatening billions of dollars in federal grants, state aid to municipalities and tax increases that would have balanced local budgets.

Gov. David Paterson has obtained court orders compelling the Senate to meet, but most days it has been unable to get a quorum of 32 senators in the room at the same time to vote. Wednesday, as he has every day for nearly a week, the governor ordered the senators into a so-called extraordinary session, asking them to consider, among other bills, the New York City schools issue. The senators have rebuffed his pleas.

Gov. Paterson said Wednesday afternoon that he would keep the special session going through Monday, compelling the senators to spend the holiday weekend in Albany.

Early Wednesday, the mayor and the city's five borough presidents appointed a seven-member schools board, made up mostly of allies or employees of the mayor -- and thus likely to vote to disband itself should the Senate eventually affirm his control.

Some who oppose Mr. Bloomberg's control are scrutinizing the newly created board, questioning its resolution Wednesday to allow Chancellor Joel Klein to approve all contracts on its behalf.

"I don't know if they have the right to sign away...their fiduciary duties," said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, an advocacy group that is critical of mayoral control.

The state Legislature allowed Mr. Bloomberg to take control over the city's schools in 2002, after city officials argued that the politically divided board of education had failed to improve school quality. The mayor has argued that schools have improved, with better standardized-test scores and graduation rates.

But Mr. Bloomberg's control has drawn the criticism of some parents and many teachers, who say the system leaves no room for the views of community members.

The state Senate is considering a bill to create a school board that, supporters say, would make teachers and parents partners with the mayor. A key Democratic Senate leader favors that setup.

Senate Republicans said they support renewal of mayoral control "and are prepared to pass it as soon as possible," said Scott Reif, a spokesman for Sen. Dean Skelos.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

House Passes Climate Change Bill

by David Welna and Melissa Block
All Things Considered, June 26, 2009
NPR Online

The vote on a historic bill to fight global warming passed by just a seven-vote margin. The measure sets up a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage greater use of clean energy.

In a triumph for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed sweeping legislation Friday that calls for the nation's first limits on pollution linked to global warming and aims to usher in a new era of cleaner, yet more costly energy.

The vote was 219-212, capping months of negotiations and days of intense bargaining among Democrats. Republicans were overwhelmingly against the measure, arguing it would destroy jobs in the midst of a recession while burdening consumers with a new tax in the form of higher energy costs.

At the White House, Obama said the bill would create jobs and added that with its vote, the House had put America on a path leading the way toward "creating a 21st century global economy."

The House's action fulfilled Speaker Nancy Pelosi's vow to clear major energy legislation before July 4. It also sent the measure to a highly uncertain fate in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was "hopeful that the Senate will be able to debate and pass bipartisan and comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall."

Obama lobbied recalcitrant Democrats by phone from the White House as the House debate unfolded across several hours, and Al Gore posted a statement on his Web site saying the measure represents "an essential first step towards solving the climate crisis." The former vice president won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work drawing attention to the destructive potential of global warming.

On the House floor, Democrats hailed the legislation as historic, while Republicans said it would damage the economy without solving the nation's energy woes.

It is "the most important energy and environmental legislation in the history of our country," said Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts. "It sets a new course for our country, one that steers us away from foreign oil and toward a path of clean American energy."

But Rep. John Boehner, the House Republican leader, used an extraordinary one-hour speech shortly before the final vote to warn of unintended consequences in what he said was a "defining bill." He called it a "bureaucratic nightmare" that would cost jobs, depress real estate prices and put the government into parts of the economy where it now has no role.

The legislation would require the U.S. to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020 and by about 80 percent by mid-century. That was slightly more aggressive than Obama originally wanted, 14 percent by 2020 and the same 80 percent by midcentury.

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are rising at about 1 percent a year and are predicted to continue increasing without mandatory limits.

Under the bill, the government would limit heat-trapping pollution from factories, refineries and power plants and issue allowances for polluters. Most of the allowances would be given away, but about 15 percent would be auctioned by bid and the proceeds used to defray higher energy costs for lower-income individuals and families.

"Some would like to do more. Some would like to do less," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in advance of the final vote. "But we have reached a compromise ... and it is a compromise that can pass this House, pass that Senate, be signed by the president and become law and make progress."

That seemed unlikely, judging from Reid's cautiously worded statement. "The bill is not perfect," it said, but rather "a good product" for the Senate to begin working on.

And there was plenty to work on in a House-passed measure that pointed toward higher electricity bills for the middle class, particularly in the Midwest and South, as well as steps to ease the way for construction of new nuclear reactors, the first to be built since the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979.

The bill's controversy was on display in the House, where only eight Republicans joined 211 Democrats in favor, while 44 Democrats joined 168 Republicans in opposition. And within an hour of the vote, both party campaign committees had begun attacking lawmakers for their votes.

One of the biggest compromises involved the near total elimination of an administration plan to sell pollution permits and raise more than $600 billion over a decade — money to finance continuation of a middle class tax cut. About 85 percent of the permits are to be given away rather than sold, a concession to energy companies and their allies in the House — and even that is uncertain to survive in the Senate.

The final bill also contained concessions to satisfy farm-state lawmakers, ethanol producers, hydroelectric advocates, the nuclear industry and others, some of them so late that they were not made public until 3 a.m. on Friday.

Supporters and opponents agreed the bill's result would be higher energy costs but disagreed vigorously on the impact on consumers. Democrats pointed to two reports — one from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the other from the Environmental Protection Agency — that suggested average increases would be limited after tax credits and rebates were taken into account. The CBO estimated the bill would cost an average household $175 a year, the EPA $80 to $110 a year.

Republicans questioned the validity of the CBO study and noted that even that analysis showed actual energy production costs increasing $770 per household. Industry groups have cited other studies showing much higher costs to the economy and to individuals.

The White House and congressional Democrats argued the bill would create millions of "green jobs" as the nation shifts to greater reliance on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar and development of more fuel-efficient vehicles — and away from use of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.

It will "make our nation the world leader on clean energy jobs and technology," declared Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., who negotiated deals with dozens of lawmakers in recent weeks to broaden the bill's support.

Pelosi, D-Calif., took an intense personal interest in the measure, sitting through hours of meetings with members of the rank and file and nurturing fragile compromises.

At its heart, the bill was a trade-off, less than the White House initially sought though it was more than Republicans said was acceptable. Some of the dealmaking had a distinct political feel.

Rep. Alan Grayson, a first-term Democrat, won a pledge of support that $50 million from the proceeds of pollution permit sales in the bill would go to a proposed new hurricane research facility in his district in Orlando, Fla.

In the run-up to the vote, Democrats left little to chance.

Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif., confirmed by the Senate on Thursday to an administration post, put off her resignation from Congress until after the final vote on the climate change bill.

Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who has been undergoing treatment at an undisclosed facility, returned to the Capitol to support the legislation. He has said he struggles with depression, alcoholism and addiction, but has not specified the cause for his most recent absence.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

No Longer Letting Scores Separate Pupils

Published: June 14, 2009

STAMFORD, Conn. — Sixth graders at Cloonan Middle School here are assigned numbers based on their previous year’s standardized test scores — zeros indicate the highest performers, ones the middle, twos the lowest — that determine their academic classes for the next three years.

But this longstanding system for tracking children by academic ability for more effective teaching evolved into an uncomfortable caste system in which students were largely segregated by race and socioeconomic background, both inside and outside classrooms. Black and Hispanic students, for example, make up 46 percent of this year’s sixth grade, but are 78 percent of the twos and 7 percent of the zeros.

So in an unusual experiment, Cloonan mixed up its sixth-grade science and social studies classes last month, combining zeros and ones with twos. These mixed-ability classes have reported fewer behavior problems and better grades for struggling students, but have also drawn complaints of boredom from some high-performing students who say they are not learning as much.

The results illustrate the challenge facing this 15,000-student district just outside New York City, which is among the last bastions of rigid educational tracking more than a decade after most school districts abandoned the practice. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Stamford sorted students into as many as 15 different levels; the current system of three to five levels at each of four middle schools will be replaced this fall by a two-tiered model, in which the top quarter of sixth graders will be enrolled in honors classes, the rest in college-prep classes. (A fifth middle school is a magnet school and has no tracking.)

More than 300 Stamford parents have signed a petition opposing the shift, and some say they are now considering moving or switching their children to private schools. “I think this is a terrible system for our community,” said Nicole Zussman, a mother of two.

Ms. Zussman and others contend that Stamford’s diversity, with poor urban neighborhoods and wealthy suburban enclaves, demands multiple academic tracks, and suggest that the district could make the system fairer and more flexible by testing students more frequently for movement among the levels.

But Joshua P. Starr, the Stamford superintendent, said the tracking system has failed to prepare children in the lower levels for high school and college. “There are certainly people who want to maintain the status quo because some people have benefited from the status quo,” he said. “I know that we cannot afford that anymore. It’s not fair to too many kids.”

Educators have debated for decades how to best divide students into classes. Some school districts focus on providing extra instruction to low achievers or developing so-called gifted programs for the brightest students, but few maintain tracking like Stamford’s middle schools (tracking is less comprehensive and rigid at the town’s elementary and high schools).

Deborah Kasak, executive director of the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform, said research is showing that all students benefit from mixed-ability classes. “We see improvements in student behavior, academic performance and teaching, and all that positively affects school culture,” she said.

Daria Hall, a director with Education Trust, an advocacy group, said that tracking has worsened the situation by funneling poor and minority students into “low-level and watered-down courses.” “If all we expect of students is for them to watch movies and fill out worksheets, then that’s what they will give us,” she said.

In Stamford, black and Hispanic student performance on state tests has lagged significantly behind that of Asians and whites. In 2008, 98 percent of Asian students and 92 percent of white students in grades three to eight passed math, and 93 percent and 88 percent reading, respectively. Among black students, 63 percent passed math, and 56 percent reading; among Hispanic students, 74 percent passed math and 60 percent reading.

The district plans to keep a top honors level, but put the majority of students in mixed-ability classes, expanding the new system from sixth grade to seventh and eighth over three years. While the old system tracked students for all subjects based on math and English scores, the new one will allow students to be designated for honors in one subject but not necessarily another, making more students overall eligible for the upper track.

The staff of Cloonan Middle School decided to experiment with mixed-ability classes for the last eight weeks of this school year.

David Rudolph, Cloonan’s principal, said that parents have long complained that the tracking numbers assigned to students dictate not only their classes but also their friends and cafeteria cliques. Every summer, at least a dozen parents lobby Mr. Rudolph to move their children to the top track. “The zero group is all about status,” he said.

Jamiya Richardson, who is 11 and in the twos’ group, said that students all know their own numbers as well as those of their classmates. “I don’t like being classified because it makes you feel like you’re not smart,” she said.

The other day in Jamiya’s newly mixed social studies class, students debated who was to blame in an ancient Roman legal case in which a barber shaving a slave in a public square was hit by a ball and cut the slave’s throat. At one point, Jamiya was the only one in the class of 25 to argue that it was the slave’s fault because he sat there at his own risk — which the teacher said was the right answer.

Cloonan teachers say they had not changed the curriculum or slowed the pace for the mixed-ability classrooms, but tried to do more collaborative projects and discussions in hopes that students would learn from one another. But Joel Castle, who is 12 and a zero, said that he did not work as hard now. “My grades are going up, and that’s not really surprising because the standards have been lowered,” he said.

In a recent social studies class, the top students stood out as they presented elaborate homemade projects about Roman culture — mosaics, dresses, weaponry — while several of their classmates showed up empty-handed. One offered the excuse that his catapult had disappeared overnight from his bedside.

“A catapult thief?” questioned the teacher, Mimi Nichols, in disbelief before directing him to find his project by the next day.

Afterward, Ms. Nichols said that the less-motivated students had still learned from their classmates’ example. “That in itself is valuable,” she said. “For children to see what is possible.”

Friday, June 19, 2009

Schools 'too safe' teachers say

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Nearly half of teachers questioned for a survey believe the health and safety culture in schools is damaging children's learning.
When questioned by Teachers TV, teachers complained about a five-page briefing on using glue sticks and being told to wear goggles to put up posters.

Others said pupils were not allowed to enjoy the sun or snow without taking health and safety precautions.

Teachers TV surveyed 585 subscribers to the channel by questionnaire.

Around 45% of those who took part thought health and safety precautions had a negative effect on teachers, as well as on students' personal development and learning.

However, 45% said they did not think health and safety regulations were too restrictive.

And just over 10% of teachers surveyed thought accidents in schools had increased during the last five years.

The teachers were also asked about general safety - their own and that of their pupils.

More than half of those who responded - 56% - said they had had to deal with a situation where they suspected a child was being abused.

More than two in five said they were afraid to be alone in a room with a pupil in case they were falsely accused of inappropriate behaviour.

Just under a third of respondents said they were under-prepared in this area.

Questions regarding weapons checks in schools appeared to divide teachers.

Exactly half said they favoured weapons checks in schools and half opposed it.

Chief executive of Teachers TV Andrew Bethell said: "The more extreme examples [of health and safety] are thankfully not the norm but schools still need to take into consideration the workforce's concerns when trying to protect pupils.

"It is worrying that almost a third of the education workforce feel under-prepared to deal with the very complicated issues surrounding abuse and potential abuse."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pilot Dies Flying Plane to the US

June 18, 2009

"The captain of Continental Airlines flight 61 has died while flying the plane from Brussels to New York.
The plane made an emergency landing at Newark Liberty International Airport shortly before 1200 (1600 GMT).
Two co-pilot was in control of the plane, according to Federal Aviation Authority spokeswoman, Arlene Salac, quoted by the Associated Press.

The captain apparently died of natural causes, a Continental Airlines spokesman told CNN.
He was a 61-year-old man with more than 20 years of service to the airline, a spokesman for the airline said.
The plane is a Boeing 777 carrying 247 passengers."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Political Tiff Blocks D.C. School Reforms

Will the corruption in the Washington, DC Public School District system ever disappear. Mayor Adrian Fenty et. al are really trying to reform the education system of our nation's capital, but a council of personal agenda stands in the way. Read more in this May 21, 2009 article by Marc Fisher of Washington Post Online at:

Assessment Overview: Beyond Standardized Testing

Assessment Overview: Beyond Standardized Testing

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Larks and Owls: How Sleep Habits Affect Grades

Larks and Owls: How Sleep Habits Affect Grades

One Killed In Shooting At U.S. Holocaust Museum

June 11, 2009

WASHINGTON (RFE/RL) -- An elderly man walked into the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and opened fire on security guards, fatally wounding one before two guards returned fire.

Both the assailant and his victim, who was identified as 39-year-old Stephen Johns, were taken to the hospital in serious condition. The wounded guard died a few hours after the attack, according to law enforcement officials.

The U.S. Park Police said the gunman walked into the museum on June 10 carrying a "long gun," and fired on a guard, before being shot by other guards. A law enforcement source said the gunman was shot in the face.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum is near the National Mall in Washington and is one of the capital's most popular tourist attractions. At the time of the shooting, the museum was full, with about 2,000 visitors inside, according to the museum's director, William Parsons.

Law enforcement authorities have declined to identify the gunman, but several media outlets, including the Associated Press, have identified him as 88-year-old James von Brunn.

Von Brunn has a racist, anti-Semitic website called and wrote a book called "Kill the Best Gentile."

Local media quoted police as saying that they also found a notebook in von Brunn's possession that lists other possible targets.

Joseph Persichini, assistant director in charge of the Washington FBI field office, said a team had been dispatched to the suspect's home to check his computer. He said they are investigating this as a possible hate crime or domestic terrorism.

In 1983, Von Brunn was convicted of attempting to kidnap members of the Federal Reserve Board. He was arrested two years earlier outside the room where the board was meeting, carrying a revolver, knife, and sawed-off shotgun.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Jonathan Peled, said: "We are shocked and saddened by today's shooting incident at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The Embassy of Israel condemns this attack and is closely following the situation."

At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was "saddened" by reports of the shooting. The Department of Homeland Security and FBI is providing the president with updates on the situation, Gibbs said.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic acts have been declining in the United States. In 2008, there were 1,352 incidents of vandalism, harassment, and physical assault against Jewish individuals, property, and community institutions. That number represents a decline of 7 percent from 2007.

The U.S. Holocaust Museum has heavy security and all visitors have to pass through metal detectors and have their bags screened.

The museum receives approximately 1.7 million visitors annually. Staff said the museum will be closed on June 11 and its flags will fly at half-staff.