Lots of new listings and pictures:
As state lawmakers consider legislation to establish a new Office of Early Childhood, a report released today finds that funding for early childhood has remained stagnant in recent years. However, the report points to signs of progress, including increased investment in the current fiscal year and improvements in some measures of quality.
“While the stagnant level of early care spending over the last few years has been disappointing, we are very encouraged by plans approved by legislators last year to increase investment, quality, and access,” said Cyd Oppenheimer, Senior Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices and co-author of the report. “Further, the legislative proposal to create an Office of Early Childhood would position Connecticut as a leader among states in ensuring all children have access to a high quality early care and education system.”
The fourth annual early care progress report, which focuses on early care indicators through Fiscal Year 2012 (July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012), finds:
· Total spending on early care and education decreased by $2.6 million (1.1%) between Fiscal Year 2011 and 2012, primarily because of state budget cuts. Overall spending declined 5.3% from FY 2009 to FY 2012, and total spending on early care remains 11% below the level a decade ago in Fiscal Year 2002.
· As of October 2011, Connecticut was providing state-subsidized care to 9,274 infants and toddlers and 33,512 preschoolers. However, more than 80% of low-income families (earning less than 75% of the state median income) who have infants and toddlers, and about 30% of low-income families with preschoolers still did not have access to any such subsidy for early care and education.
· Connecticut is making progress on some measures of quality. A greater share of young children who receive state subsidies participate in accredited early care settings, and more program staff have college degrees and early care credentials. However, spending on quality and infrastructure (e.g., coordination, planning, and data collection) remains low, at only 4% of the total early care budget, despite research highlighting the importance of high quality for improved educational outcomes.
· The percent of kindergartners held back from the first grade in the state’s poorest school districts fell for the third straight year. However, kindergarten retention rates for children in poor communities are still twice as high as the statewide average and nearly four times the average for rich communities.
The report pointed to significant new funding and proposed reforms that begin to address problems raised in previous early care progress reports. While this report focuses on trends through Fiscal Year 2012, it found promising signs in increased funding budgeted for the current Fiscal Year (FY 2013, beginning July 2012), including funds for 1,000 new School Readiness preschool slots, quality improvements, and capital improvements for early care facilities. If the funds are spent as budgeted, this would represent an increase of 8% over the previous fiscal year, the largest amount spent on early care and education since 2002.
In addition, during the current 2013 legislative session, the Governor and state legislators are considering the establishment of a new Office of Early Childhood that would consolidate funding streams from multiple agencies into one office with the authority to better coordinate early care services. Connecticut Voices’ previous progress reports have called for reforms to Connecticut’s patchwork of early care and education programs to create a more coordinated and comprehensive system. Connecticut’s publicly-funded early care and education programs rely on multiple funding streams controlled by multiple agencies with varied reporting and eligibility and data requirements, creating confusion and complications for providers and parents, according to Connecticut Voices.
The report recommends that state policymakers:
· Approve the legislation creating a new Office of Early Childhood.
· Use the new Office as an opportunity to better coordinate funding, eligibility guidelines, and reporting requirements for early care programs and make them easier for parents to navigate and access.
· Increase funding for early care programs to create more slots for children, improve quality, expand opportunities for professional development for early care and education staff, and increase compensation for early education teachers in order to attract and retain high-qualified individuals.
“Integrating Connecticut’s early education programs under one roof will be a good start,” said Sarah Esty, Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices and co-author of the report. “But the real benefit for parents will come if the state’s diverse and confusing set of programs and funding sources are streamlined and simplified, and parents can easily access information about the quality and availability of programs.”
Lawmakers should oppose three bills being considered in the General Assembly that would undermine current and future regulation of telephone service. Currently being pushed through the General Assembly by AT&T, cable companies Comcast and Cablevision, and the right-wing, pro-corporate American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the proposed legislation would eliminate state oversight of telecoms and effectively end universal service.
“These bills are full of giveaways to AT&T and the cable companies that will raise rates, put senior and rural phone service at risk, and destroy consumer protections now and in the future for emerging technologies” said Cheri Quickmire, Executive Director of Common Cause Connecticut. “The legislature must reject them.”
“It’s important that Connecticut consumers know the truth about these bills,” said Lindsay Farrell, Executive Director of the Connecticut Working Families Party. “The fact that corporate interests are writing legislation that strips away any outside checks on their behavior and gives them a grab bag of goodies should be a wake-up call.”
The three bills closely mirror model ALEC legislation written by AT&T and others and already passed in 20 states around the country. As noted in the recent Connecticut Citizen Action Group report Raising Rates, Slashing Service: The Hidden Cost of SB888, HB6401 & HB6402 on Telephone Customers, rates increased in 17 out of 20 states following the deregulation measures. In some cases, service rates doubled.
By effectively eliminating the guarantee of universal service, the bills would also give AT&T free rein to cancel services in unprofitable areas, putting service for seniors, rural residents and businesses that depend on landlines at risk.
The bills would also eliminate annual auditing, removing protections against companies setting up shell companies in other states to dodge state taxes.
In addition, the proposed legislation would pre-emptively deregulate emerging VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology that routes calls over the Internet rather than through a landline network. Already used by roughly half of Connecticut’s phone customers, digital phone service is the future of telephone technology. By permanently surrendering current and future oversight, consumers would be left with no protections for higher rates, excessive fees or poor service, and there would be no guarantee of access for customers in remote or rural areas.
“Permanently surrendering oversight over the predominant emerging form of telephone technology is extreme and unnecessary,” said Robert Master, Regional Legislative and Political Director for the Communications Workers of America. “This is a stealth attempt by the telecom industry to prevent the possibility of any common-sense consumer protections in the future.”
“If we learned anything in the aftermath of Sandy and Irene, it’s that utilities can’t be trusted to police themselves,” said Tom Swan, Executive Director of Connecticut Citizen Action Group. “We’ve seen the destructive impact deregulation has had in other states. AT&T should not be allowed to get away with it here in Connecticut.”
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has called for a moratorium on the stakes associated with Common Core assessments until the standards are properly implemented and field-tested.
Weingarten said a moratorium is necessary on the consequences of high-stakes tests to allow for midcourse corrections, as needed, in aligning the standards, curriculum, teacher training, instruction and assessments.
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, but some states and districts, including New York, are giving students assessments based on the standards before they have been implemented, without giving teachers the tools and resources they need to make these instructional shifts, and based on content students may have never seen, Weingarten said.
Weingarten made clear that this is not about stopping the tests, it’s about decoupling the tests from decisions that could unfairly hurt students, teachers and schools. Right now, nationally and in New York, test scores may be used to determine if a student advances or is held back, to designate a school’s performance, to evaluate educators and even to decide school closures.
“The fact that the changes are being made nationwide without anything close to adequate preparation is a failure of leadership, a sign of a broken accountability system and, worse, an abdication of our responsibility to kids, particularly poor kids,” said Weingarten. “These standards, which hold such potential to create deeper learning, are instead creating a serious backlash as officials seek to make them count before they make them work. They will either lead to a revolution in teaching and learning, or they will end up in the overflowing dustbin of abandoned reforms.”
“Can you imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained in it or provided the necessary instruments—simply being told there may be some material on a website? Of course not, but that’s what’s happening right now with the Common Core.”
Weingarten called for a moratorium on the stakes linked with Common Core assessments for students, teachers and schools until an implementation plan is developed in partnership with teachers, parents and community and is field-tested in classrooms. She said that during this transition period, states and districts must work with teachers to develop a high-quality curriculum and professional development, provide teachers and students with the time needed to try out new methods of teaching to the standards in their classrooms, commit financial resources to ensure its success, and engage parents and community. Then, the assessments should be field-tested to ensure that the curriculum, teaching and testing are actually aligned.
Charter schools may be public, but they can shape their student enrollment in surprising ways. This is done though a dozen different practices that often decrease the likelihood of students enrolling with a disfavored set of characteristics, such as students with special needs, those with low test scores, English learners, or students in poverty.
“The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” is by Kevin Welner, Professor of education policy at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education and director of the National Education Policy Center.
To describe the strategies, Welner’s Teachers College Record article identifies 12 different approaches, using lighthearted category names such as “The Bum Steer,” “Location, Location, Location,” and “Mad Men.” But the subject itself is of crucial importance, since it raises vital issues concerning equity as well as the reporting of research outcomes.
Researchers and governmental authorities have long known that charter schools generally under-serve a community’s at-risk students. Welner’s article builds on this research to explore the charter school practices that result in those enrollment outcomes.
When charter schools fail to serve a cross-section of their community, they undermine their own potential and they distort the larger system of public education. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” says Welner. “The task for policymakers is to redesign charter school policies in ways that provide choice without undermining other important policy goals. For instance, being innovative doesn’t require being selective or restrictive in enrollments.”
“These practices,” Welner explains, “also make it difficult for researchers to accurately compare the effectiveness of charter and non-charter schools.” High-quality research studies make great efforts to include a comparison group of non-charter school students that matches charter school students in key ways such as race, free and reduced lunch status, and gender.
Yet the many ways charters influence enrollment create daunting obstacles for researchers. Welner cautions researchers and policy makers: “These studies cannot account for all these practices merely by research design or statistical adjustments. Studies of charter school performance are almost surely attributing results to charter school instructional programs that are caused in part by charter school enrollment practices.”
Welner says that he started to write this analysis after reading a February 2013 article written by Reuters reporter Stephanie Simon. Her article described a variety of ways that charter schools “get the students they want.” “I sought to build on Simon’s excellent work,” Welner said. “After reading the Reuters article, I started noticing a variety of other ways in which charter schools influence the makeup of their enrollment.”
He added, “I’m not sure if my ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of practices is complete. There may be others. And readers should keep in mind that some of these tactics have also been used by non-charter public schools.” After decades of market-based and accountability reforms, all public schools now face the same incentives around cost and test-scores. “The difference, of course, is that many of the tactics described in this article are simply not available to non-charter public schools.”
The new article is not an indictment of all charter schools. “There are plenty of charter schools that try to enroll a diverse and representative group of students,” concludes Welner. “But there are plenty of others that use a potent combination of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ practices to shape their enrollments in ways that flout our societal understandings of public schooling.”
by Jon Pelto from Wait, What
It was one of the first non-bid contracts that Bridgeport’s “Superintendent of Schools,” Paul Vallas pushed through. Using a half-baked “sole-source” rationale, Vallas hired a company that he had worked with in Chicago and Philadelphia without using any bidding process.
The contract promised Bridgeport a state-of-the-art special education software program “for free,” as long as the Public Consulting Group was given a lucrative Medicaid reimbursement contract.
The new software was scheduled to come on-line July 1, 2012.
Soon, free became $100,000 plus with more “option costs” to come.
July 1, 2012 came and went…with no Easy IEP software
Then August, September, October, November, December 2012 and still no software.
January February and March 2013 came and went without a working version of the Easy IEP special education software.
Finally, Easy IEP was scheduled to go live on April 1, 2013 with a complete shift by the end of April.
Here we are in May 2012 and multiple Bridgeport teachers and professional staff have reported that the “state-of-the-art” software is such a mess that special education teachers are relegated to hand-writing their IEPs and producing reports in the same way they were doing it 40 years ago.
This is the most important part of the year for updating IEPs and meeting state and federal mandates for special education reporting.
Instead of the promised comprehensive system, teachers and staff are reporting chaos.
Not only are students in need of special education services being short-changed but the cost to Bridgeport and Connecticut taxpayers could be astronomical.
Just take a look at the news out of New York City when the software system implemented by the Bloomberg Administration fell apart;
The city doled out $38.5 million in back pay to schools staff who were wrongly required to work overtime on a buggy special education data system, according to payment details released today by the education department.
Nearly 30,000 therapists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, social workers and psychologists received the overtime payments this month after an independent arbitrator ruled in January that the Department of Education violated the United Federation of Teachers’ contract. The first round of payments, on April 12, totaled $2.6 million for 1,700 occupational and physical therapists and the second and final payment — $35.9 million — went out to the rest of employees today.
The total number of educators who qualified for overtime far exceeded UFT’s estimates, which hovered at around 10,000. The UFT filed the labor complaint in mid-2011, charging that staff should not have been required to work outside of their contractual school day.
The unintentional overtime centered on time that educators spent plugging data into the Special Education Student Information System. According to teachers and union staff, the program does not have basic functions that are routinely found in other computer programs, such as an ‘auto save’ feature.
In a statement today, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that SESIS continues to be unnecessarily time-consuming for teachers and a wasteful example of the city’s pricey technology contracts.
“Thousands of hours that teachers could have spent helping kids were wasted trying to get this boondoggle of a computer system to work,” Mulgrew said. “But just as CityTime cost the city millions of dollars year after year, until SESIS is fixed or scrapped it will continue to be a money pit.”
Department of Education officials defended SESIS, which tracks student attendance and keeps a record of services that special education students receive.
“Keeping accurate and complete records on services provided to special needs students is necessary to ensure that we are providing quality services, and we are working to ensure that all staff are properly compensated in accordance with the arbitration award,” Connie Pankratz said.
Meanwhile in Connecticut, neither Mr. Vallas nor the Bridgeport Board of Education have explained what is actually happening with Vallas’ “no-bid” special education software system in in Bridgeport.
Men with prostate cancer who take cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins are significantly less likely to die from their cancer than men who don’t take such medication, according to a study published online in The Prostate. The risk of death from prostate cancer among statin users was 1 percent as compared to 5 percent for nonusers.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health tested 32 different lipsticks and lip glosses commonly found in drugstores and department stores. They detected lead, cadmium, chromium, aluminum and five other metals, some of which were found at levels that could raise potential health concerns. Their findings were published online Thursday, May 2, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
A study appearing in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry demonstrates that grapes are able to reduce heart failure associated with chronic high blood pressure (hypertension) by increasing the activity of several genes responsible for antioxidant defense in the heart tissue. Grapes are a known natural source of antioxidants and other polyphenols, which researchers believe to be responsible for the beneficial effects observed with grape consumption.
Elderly people who played just ten hours of a game priming their mental processing speed and skills delayed declines by as many as seven years in a range of cognitive skills. The groups that played the game at least 10 hours, either at home or in a lab at the university, gained at least three years of cognitive improvement when tested after one year, according to a formula developed by the researchers. A group that got four additional hours of training with the game did even better, improving their cognitive abilities by four years, according to the study.
The study comes amidst a burst of research examining why, as we age, our minds gradually lose “executive function,” generally considered mission control for critical mental activities, such as memory, attention, perception and problem solving. Studies show loss of executive function occurs as people reach middle age; other studies say our cognitive decline begins as soon as 28 years of age.
The largest study to date finds that eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, chicken and salad dressing and avoiding saturated fats, meat and dairy foods may be linked to preserving memory and thinking abilities. The research is published in the April 30, 2013, print issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study found that in healthy people, those who more closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 19 percent less likely to develop problems with their thinking and memory skills.
Three new studies involving tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts) were presented at the Experimental Biology Meeting in Boston, MA. Tree nut consumption was associated with a better nutrient profile and diet quality; lower body weight and lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome; and a decrease in several cardiovascular risk factors compared to those seen among non-consumers.
A high heart rate (pulse) at rest is linked to a higher risk of death even in physically fit, healthy people, suggests research published online in the journal Heart. A resting heart rate – the number of heart beats per minute – is determined by an individual’s level of physical fitness, circulating hormones, and the autonomic nervous system. A rate at rest of between 60 and 100 beats per minute is considered normal.
To Commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day, Workplace Safety Group Pushes for Reforms for Temporary, Immigrant, Energy Workers, Among Others
More than 4,600 workers were killed on the job in 2011 – the latest year for which we have complete data – spanning many ages, industries, and causes of death, an analysis by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) has found.
The report, “Preventable Deaths: The Tragedy of Workplace Fatalities,” released today, pairs government data with heart-breaking stories about worker fatalities to portray the need for worker health and safety reforms.
The report comes just before Workers’ Memorial Day, which falls on April 28 and commemorates workers who have been injured or killed on the job.
“Each worker killed is a tragic loss to the community of family, friends and co-workers – and the worst part is, these deaths were largely preventable,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of National COSH. “Simply by following proven safety practices and complying with OSHA standards, many of these more than 4,600 deaths could have been avoided. But as companies decry regulations and emphasize profits over safety, workers pay the ultimate price.”
For example, the death of 21-year-old Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis on his first day on the job as a temporary worker at the Bacardi Bottling Company in Jacksonville, Fla., highlights the need for adequate training and protection of temporary workers – which now comprise 25 percent of the workforce – from workplace hazards.
Massachusetts recently passed the Temporary Worker Right to Know Law, implemented this year, which requires temporary staffing agencies to give each worker a written job order, providing information that every worker has a right to expect before going to a job, and protects temporary workers against retaliation.
“There’s been a meteoric growth in temporary workers who labor in our most dangerous jobs – often with scant information about hazards, safety training needed, even the name of their employer,” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and coordinator of the Reform Employment Agency Law (REAL) Coalition, which worked with Massachusetts lawmakers in passing this critical legislation. “This law will bring essential sunlight to the shadows where employer abuses have taken place, and help ensure fairness for workers and employers who follow the state’s labor laws. The Massachusetts law can serve as a model for others states wanting to enact similar legislation to protect our nation’s temporary workers.”
The report also points to the alarming rate of immigrant worker fatalities in comparison to native-born workers. More than two Latino workers were killed on the job every day in 2011, many of whom were immigrant workers.
“Immigrant workers toil away in some of the most dangerous jobs in the most dangerous industries in attempts to live a better life in the U.S., and unfortunately, a disproportionate number of immigrant workers perish on the job,” said Jessica E. Martinez, assistant director of National COSH. “We as a nation must pass comprehensive immigration reform, which will help immigrant workers – regardless of their legal status – to come out of the shadows and speak out about unsafe conditions in the workplace.”
Other issues discussed in the report include:
· Health and safety for workers in the energy sector;
· The prevalence of workplace violence;
· The dangers on the job for young agricultural workers;
· Fines from regulators for workplace safety violations so low they are unlikely to act as a deterrent;
· Heat stress for agricultural, construction, and other workers; and
· Whistleblower protection and retaliation issues.
Case studies are provided about each of these topics.
The report points to the following reforms that are needed:
· Meaningful immigration reform, which would bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and give them protections afforded to all workers.
· A stronger Occupational Safety and Health Act, which would make felony charges possible when repeat or willful violations result in a worker’s death or serious injury, and would increase the penalties OSHA can impose on negligent employers.
· An Injury and Illness Prevention Standard, which would require employers to find and fix health and safety hazards in the workplace.
· State legislation to protect temporary workers on the job, which can be modeled after Massachusetts’ new Temporary Workers Right to Know Law.
· State legislation to implement minimum penalty amounts for serious safety citations related to workplace fatalities, which can be modeled after Minnesota’s legislation that requires its state OSHA program to levy fines of no less than $25,000 for every serious violation and, in cases involving repeat or willful violations, no less than $50,000.
· And many other reforms reviewed in the report.
“With 13 workers being killed on the job every day, it is essential to enact reforms to ensure that workers make it home safely at the end of every shift,” said Barbara Rahke, executive director of the Philadelphia Project on Occupational Safety and Health (PhilaPOSH) and a National COSH board member. “Together, we can point to regulatory and employer shortcomings and push for reforms to make workplaces safer – for all workers in all industries.”