Author: Silvija Topić

Teachers Rejoice Over Imminent End of Devos’ Tenure as DepEd Head

Educators are elated over Joe Biden’s forthcoming assumption of office as the new U.S. President, partly because it signals the end of Betsy DeVos’ tenure. Devos as the Secretary of the U.S. Education Department is considered by educators as the number one enemy of public schools.

As Biden’s win was declared by broadcaster nationwide, teachers’ unions, educators, school officials, and parents rejoiced by organizing and throwing a DeVos a retirement party by way of social media. Many of the ecstatic celebrators posted videos and photos of rejoicing by popping bottles of champagne and creating memes depicting the Education Secretary as Cruella De Vil and many other Disney movie anti-heroes. .

In his victory speech, President-elect Biden raised the hopes of many actors in the education sector by immediately proclaiming his moment of victory as a great day for the country’s educators. The former Vice-President was especially proud in saying that the soon-to-be first lady Jill Biden, is a teacher by profession and very much a part of the National Education Association.

Why is DeVos Hated by Educators ?

Betsy DeVos has been frequently ranked at the top of the list of the most disliked Cabinet members of the Trump administration. It is aggravated by the fact that she is also one of the longest serving Trump officials in an administration were turnovers of cabinet members are frequent. To stay long as a Trump cabinet member, one simply has to obey and not run aground with his presidential directives and personal wishes.

DeVos failed to make considerable progress in carrying out government during her time as Education Secretary. Her notoriety as Education Secretary is highlighted by the record-number of lawsuits filed against her. All of which are connected to her failure to supervise the Education Department in accordance with the guidelines prescribed by education-related legislative Acts.

In fact, her promotion of the school choice approach, which encourage parents to enroll their children in private or charter schools as an alternative to public school education, was a major issue raised by public school teachers during their nationwide walkout strikes. Mainly because school choice promotion also encouraged the proliferation of numerous for-profit charter schools entitled to receive federal funding, which diverted federal money that traditionally were allocated among public school districts.

Furthermore, she was a frontrunner in reversing or rewriting the guidance and regulations put in place by the Obama administration. The most controversial of which is Title IX, which aims to ensure the protection of the rights of the victims of campus sexual assault, including transgender students.

Her notoriety included ignoring the fraudulent acts of for-profit colleges that were without accreditation from Education Department. DeVos did not do anything to assist the swindled students who took out of education loans in order to pay the tuition and enrollment fees collected by the fly-by-night school operators. That is without considering that said students come mostly from cash-strapped, low-income families. .

Among Devos’ most despised decisions as Education Secretary is her cancellation of discipline guidelines that schools must observe in deciding disciplinary cases involving colored students. The eliminated guidelines were aimed at preventing cases of adverse student behaviors, from advancing toward the school-to-prison pipeline.

Educators and parents were teary-eyed in celebrating the end of Betsy Devos’ term as secretary of a critical sector. Her termination was something that a number of lawmakers have been calling for during the past three years of the Trump administration.

Florida’s School Reopening : Increased COVID-19 Hospitalization and Deaths in Children

Florida’s K12 schools forced to physically reopen by Fla. Gov. DeSantis had sent the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations among children soaring.

In the past two weeks after reopening, over 7,000 school children tested positive, which increased the more than 600 cases of under age 18 that have been hospitalized since March 2020. Based on the Florida Department of Health’s pediatric reports, 47,489 Floridians under the age of 18 have tested positive since March, eight of whom have died.

Last Friday (Aug. 21, 2020), a six year old girl from Hillsborough County became the youngest victim to die of the infectious disease. In July, the youngest recorded death was that of 9-year old Putnam County girl who also had no underlying health problems.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis had pressured schools to move forward with in-person school reopening or face the consequences of losing their school district funding. As of this writing, Gov. DeSantis has not responded to news reporters’ request for comment with regard to the 6-year old girl’s death.

AAP Released New Report about Rise in COVID-19 Cases Among Children Since School Reopening

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has presented information that in-person school reopening had spurred increases in cases of COVID-19 infections among children below 18 years old. Where in-person classes were widely believed as doable because of reports that children are relatively at low risks of contracting the COVID-19 disease, the AAP’s new report disclosed contrary information.

Between July 9 and August 13, the overall cases of of American children who tested positive with COVID-19 has doubled from around a previous 200,000 to more than over 406,000. The AAP attributes the increase to the physical reopening of schools, which also led to the rise in the number of children with severe symptoms, which in turn accelerated the widespread transmission of the infectious disease in communities.

Why Schools Cannot Join the Reopening Bandwagon

Although some states have already reopened, gradually allowing businesses to open, communities won’t be seeing K12 schools, colleges or universities reopening soon.

Globally, the public health threat is still not over and if there is one country that has yet to show improvement is the United States. As of May 12,2020 the latest U.S. tally shows that 17,776 additional cases have been added to the 1.38M active COVID-19 cases, while the death toll of 81,491 has increased by 836. The number of recoveries of about 220k has not changed.

Simply stated, the COVID-19 pandemic still poses as a grave threat and enclosing students in classrooms does not present an ideal scenario in which safe distancing measures can be practiced. In New York and California, the hardest hit states also have the largest school districts in the cities of NY and Los Angeles, their respective governors have announced that educational institutions will stay closed for the rest of the year.

School Reopening Requires Careful Planning

Since safe distancing of at least 6 feet apart must still be observed, the number of students in each classroom will be reduced by at least 50%. That being the case, it is likely that physical attendance will be on a staggered basis, combined with the use of technology for remote learning.

On the part of educators, there will be extra effort needed as discussions for subject topics will be conducted twice since they will be holding lectures for smaller groups. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, most schools have been experiencing a shortage of teachers. The situation is not likely to improve if teachers are also faced with additional problems, including child care.

Another matter that needs workable solutions are students who do not have access to Internet services or for that matter, are staying in shelters and other public housing facilities. The matter of giving schools the funding they need may have answers via the CARES Act, but in both public and private, will the funds be enough to sustain the schools? Education budget cuts have been common, more so now that the coffers of most states have been depleted.

Funding is also needed in providing students with protective masks as well as in making sure that every school has a quick-response team who are properly trained and equipped for COVID-19 responses; including monitoring and contact-tracing of potentially infected students and faculty members.

Simply stated, the COVID-19 pandemic still poses as a grave threat and enclosing students in classrooms does not present an ideal scenario in which safe distancing measures can be practiced. In New York and California, the hardest hit states also have the largest school districts in the cities of NY and Los Angeles, their respective governors have announced that educational institutions will stay closed for the rest of the year.

School Reopening Requires Careful Planning

Since safe distancing of at least 6 feet apart must still be observed, the number of students in each classroom will be reduced by at least 50%. That being the case, it is likely that physical attendance will be on a staggered basis, combined with the use of technology for remote learning.

On the part of educators, there will be extra effort needed as discussions for subject topics will be conducted twice since they will be holding lectures for smaller groups. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, most schools have been experiencing a shortage of teachers. The situation is not likely to improve if teachers are also faced with additional problems, including child care.

Another matter that needs workable solutions are students who do not have access to Internet services or for that matter, are staying in shelters and other public housing facilities. The matter of giving schools the funding they need may have answers via the CARES Act, but in both public and private, will the funds be enough to sustain the schools? Education budget cuts have been common, more so now that the coffers of most states have been depleted.

 

Funding is also needed in providing students with protective masks as well as in making sure that every school has a quick-response team who are properly trained and equipped for COVID-19 responses; including monitoring and contact-tracing of potentially infected students and faculty members.

Differentiating Astronomy from Astrology

Astronomy is different from astrology even if both concepts share the same roots, traced as far back as the ancient times of Babylonia and Mesopotamia. That is why simply citing definitions would not be enough to understand the difference between the two.

Thousands of years ago, ancient civilizations had looked up at the sky with fascination and wonder; whilst trying to find meaning on why the cosmos is constantly changing. Back then, people did not have higher knowledge of how the universe and the celestial bodies work. Yet through observations, they came to understand that unseen mystical forces changed the placements of the moon and the stars.

Mesopotamia, being the region where the first known civilizations arose, had kept records of those observations. Most of the tablets containing those records were found in the city of Babylon. In believing that the movement of the stars held some parallel meaning to the events that transpired on Earth, the Mesopotamians built a religion around those unseen forces; worshipping and calling upon them as gods.

The process of observing and proving that the celestial bodies moved to certain positions at some point in time is the foundation of astronomy. Try as they might, the scholars back then were unable to clearly understand nor explain how the cosmic forces work. The belief that the forces are divine prevailed, since no other explanations could be offered, on how cosmic forces affect earthly life.

In ascribing to such belief, interpretations and predictions of what the gods wanted were based on the movements, and the positions of the moon and stars. This practice was the root of Mesopotamian astrology, which was from time to time modified to suit the current rulers of the Mesopotamian region.

Yet primitive astrology as practiced by the ancient Babylonians, was different from the astrology later developed by Mesopotamians.

A Glimpse of Babylonia’s Primitive Astrology

The foundations of zodiacal astrology were said to have been developed by later Babylonians who divided the sky into twelve sections, to which all zodiac signs known today are linked. They then devised a zodiac calendar that kept track of the time in which movements and shifts in celestial positions occurred.

Primitive ancient astrologers made predictions based on the zodiac calendar and observations of how movements coincided with favorable and adverse events that transpired on Earth.

Babylonian astrology may have been primitive, but the practice made links to the movement of the stars, and not the concept that events were caused by cosmic forces. Babylonian astrologers foretold future events based on signs gathered over time.

In later years, even Greek philosopher Pythagoras is known to have supported the belief that everything that has ever happened before, will happen again in the future at a predetermined time.

Basic Difference Between Astronomy and Astrology

After explaining the roots shared by astronomy and astrology, we now have a basic difference between the two.

Astronomy follows the goals and processes of science. It tries to understand how nature works by conducting meaningful experiments and establishing theories derived by testing and weighing of possibilities, as a means of presenting evidence.

Astrology on the other hand is a practice that furnishes interpretations and predictions of the cosmic occurrences, based mainly on beliefs.

Through thousands of years, there was no distinction between the two, until in the 1600 hundreds, Sir Isaac Newton, presented evidence of how the celestial sphere affects the physical processes that people experience on Earth. Through scientific processes, Newton gave proof that a force, which we know today as gravity, is linked to the forces created by the celestial sphere.

Astronomy, from then on was established as a completely different field from astrology. Unlike astrology that bases predictions on beliefs and observations of celestial phenomena, astronomy made a difference by furnishing explanation or predictions backed by scientific experiments.

U.S. Homeless Population Includes about 1.5 Million Students Attending Public Schools

Homelessness, a growing problem affecting millions of people across 29 states in the U.S. spares no age, race or gender. One group that has noticeably been increasing in the count of homeless people are the public school students.

A recent study by the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) revealed that during the 2017- 2018 school year, over 1.5 million students became homeless, with the state of California showing the highest number of 263,000 homeless students. Their ages range from pre-kindergarten levels at 3 years old to grade 12 levels, 18 years old and above.

Reasons Why Students Count Among the Homeless Population

Loss of the family’s primary housing due to economic hardship was the main reason; to which some also attribute loss of homes to natural disaster combined with inability of their family to find a new home.

The continuing rise however could not be arrested in states that have seen economic prosperity. Economic boom spurred increases in rental costs and home values, which only the middle to high income people can afford. Students coming from low-income families suffer from homeless conditions after their family had been evicted by landlords or foreclosing banks.

Although the NCHE reported that over 182,000 students were awaiting foster care, or either lived in shelters or transitional housing, the number of students without homes rose to 102,000 during the last 3 years. They were found in unsheltered conditions in streets or in some campsite. The US Department of Housing and Urban and Development corroborated the NCHE figure in its 2019 homeless report, The nation’s homeless population spiked by 3% or an increase of 567,000, to which 107,000 comprise youths under the age of 18.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat. who has been Portland, Orgon’s mayor since 2017 remarked that

“Although the economy has never been stronger, inequality is also growing at an alarming rate.” “The benefits of prosperity are mostly concentrated on fewer hands due to the growing disparity that has affected a lot of people throughout the U.S.”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos Facing Congressional Inquiry and Lawsuits filed by 2 Student Advocacy Orgs

As House Democratic Representative Bobby Scott leads investigations on the role played by the U.S. Department of Education, in enabling unaccredited non-profit schools to mislead students, two (2) student advocacy organizations have also filed independent lawsuits against Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education.

Under Ms. DeVos’ management, U.S. Department of Education oversaw the sale of 100 for-profits schools by Education Management Corporation to Dream Center Education Holdings in 2017. The sale included two for-profit schools, the Art Institute of Colorado and the Illinois Institute of Art (IIA), which at the time of the sale was already about to lose full-accreditation effective January 2018.

To make matters worse, the Department of Education allegedly did not take immediate action that would prevent the two schools from continuing their for-profit operations. As a result, the 2 non-accredited educational institutions, were able to mislead students, whilst helping them get access to student financial aid and loans as a means of financing their enrollment.

The colleges were later shutdown, but only after Dream Center Education had already collected millions in federal financial aid dollars. On the other hand, those who availed of student loans are burdened by debts that they invested on a college education that will, in no way, bring them any future benefits.

Around 900 student-loan borrowers who enrolled say they were scammed. Although, they have sought assistance from the Department of Education to cancel the federal student-loan, they have not received any response from the department regarding the matter.

One group of students will be represented by Harvard Law School’s “Project on Predatory Student Lending”. The other lawsuit, will be handled by the National Student Legal Defense Network.

Charter Schools Draw Attention Anew as More States Grapple with Cases of Public Fund Embezzlement

Charter schools have been drawing attention for years not because they have gained popularity as a better alternative to traditional public schools. Supported by federal educational funds, whilst exempt from certain regulations governing traditional private and public schools, a number of charter schools located in different states have been found culpable for having embezzled the funds provided by the government.

According to a recent study conducted by the National Education Policy Center, more than 430,000 students are reported to have enrolled nationwide in charter schools. A total of 501 operate as virtual schools, while 300 offer a mix of virtual teaching and traditional in-classroom time, usually for lower grade levels, The study also showed that out of those numbers, charter schools operated by for-profit entities, account for four times more than those operated by districts and non-profit organizations.

In terms of performance, the study also revealed that students enrolled in district-operated virtual schools have shown far better accomplishments than students taking up studies with charter-operated virtual learning sites. In light of such findings, the study concluded with a recommendation for states to slow down, if not put a stop to the proliferation of virtual charter schools in their region. The study also recommended for the abatement of student-to-teacher ratio, as well as impose sanctions on schools that show poor performance.

However, Greg Richmond, CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers contend that the public school education laws in the U.S. do not apply to students attending Internet-based classes conducted by virtual schools. He cites that most states do not have clear legislations for governing charter-operated virtual schools. Add to that problem the understaffing issues faced by oversight agencies, as well as confusion over who enforces enrollment and attendance policies over virtual charter schools.

CEO Richmond expounded that under all those conditions, individuals with ill-intentions can use them to their advantage, which is exactly what has been happening in several states. .

States in Which Charter Schools Were Found Culpable for Public Fund Embezzlement

In California, state prosecutors recently indicted 11 operators and employees of a charter school management company called A3 Education, who was supposed to be running a series of virtual charter schools. Multiple criminal charges were filed against the individuals for allegedly stealing more than $50 million in government funds by enrolling students in non-existent virtual charter schools.

In 2016, an Internet-based charter school operated by a Virginia-registered, for-profit company called K12, Inc expanded their online virtual school in California. Inc.However, state investigators found the company and its affiliates liable for misrepresentations, and running false advertisements that led to unfair competition. The company agreed to pay a $168.5 million settlement to avoid state prosecution.

In 2018, the largest online charter in Ohio, shut down in imd-school year after being questioned over public funds and student attendance. The Ohio attorney general sued the founder and other officials of the charter school in order to recover millions of dollars of government funds received by the charter organization.

A similar case of inflated enrollment numbers was exposed by the state auditors of Indiana in two online schoolS, who have purportedly received about $40 million as government funding. A similar case has been unraveled by state investigators of Oklahoma, to which investigations have been ongoing for years.

The Epic Virtual Charter Schools in Oklahoma, founded and operated by two tech-savvy Oklahomans who also runs a for-profit company that manage and recruit enrollees for Epic Schools. The two receive a 10% commission on every recruit, which state investigators later found out as ghost enrollees.

An Earlier Survey Shows Medical Students Experience Stress-Related Neck and Back Pain

While neck pain (NP) and back pain (BP) are problems common to adults, it is surprising to note that among the younger population, NP and BP are also prrevalent among medical students.

The findings were based on a survey conducted in 2013, by researchers at the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Spine and Scoliosis Service, at Well Cornell Medical College in New York, and the Department of Orthopedics, Balgrist University Hospital, University of Zurich. Print surveys were directly administered to 221 medical students out of 506 enrolled at accredited medical schools. Of the 221 who received the questionnaire, 210 completed the survey, which represented a completion rate of 96%.

The survey questions were formulated by a mix of fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon, a research fellow on orthopedic spine service and a medical student. Anonymity among participants was maintained, while Body Mass Index (BMI) and age were limited to what has been established as risk factors of musculoskeletal pain conditions. Lifestyle of the survey participants were evaluated based on the hours per week spent on studying, sleeping, exercising, walking and sitting.

Results of the survey revealed that 51% or 107 of the 210 students said they experience neck pain, back pain or both. Thirty-five percent (35%) of the 107, disclosed suffering from NP, while 47% reported suffering from BP. The rest, representing 31 %, suffered from both NP and BP.

Analysis of the Survey Results to Determine the Cause of NP and BP Among Medical Students

Results gathered from the survey were said to be a reflection of the highly stressful environment that students face when taking up medical education. Stressful conditions are present from as early as pre-med studies, in light of the competitiveness of medical school admissions. Apparently, the mental and physical demands of medical education courses can cause musculoskeletal pain; to which marital status and older age increased prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms.

Medical students advancing to the academic level where they have to take the initial phase of the United States Medical Licensing Exams, manifested signs of experiencing the most stress. Stress being related to anxiety over the possible results of said test; being the determinant of their eligibility to apply for specific medical subspecialties. Another notable analysis of the results, is that there was not enough evidence to support a correlation between the number of hours spent sitting, to neck pain and back pain.

Apparently, neck and back pain among medical students were more or less connected with mental stress rather than physical. On a relatively frequent basis, neck pain and back pain are accompanied by headaches. The information gathered can be useful on performing studies about the efficiency of medical students while in a related medical environment. The purpose of which is to work toward the improvement of the musculoskeletal health while undergoing medical training.

Those who would be interested to know more about neck pain and back pain caused by musculoskeletal disorder, can find additional useful information at the website of the Central Texas Spine Institute in Austin.

Charter Schools : Are They Really Serving Their True Purpose?

Charter schools are being opposed on all sides, with the leading 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants aligning their plans with the views of those against charter schools. Senator Bernie Sanders vows to ban all for-profit charter schools if he gets elected. Sen. Elizabeth Warren includes a promise to name a public school teacher as the head of future Department of Education.

Other Democratic hopefuls are less aggressive in their stance but are currently voicing commitment in upholding traditional public schools. Most promises focus on giving public school teachers higher pays and dramatically increasing funding for poor students.

Opposition to charter schools is also coming from local and state officials across the country. Operators looking to expand their charter operations in Midland, Texas and Pender County, North Carolina, as well as in other locations, have withdrawn their applications as a result of community protests. In Chicago, the new mayor has pledged to suspend action on applications for new charter schools.

In light of the 7-day teachers’ strike that took place in Oakland, Los Angeles and Sacramento early this year, California’s Department of Education included in its report a recommendation to impose restrictions on charter schools.

The rising state-level movements against charter schools, has in fact influenced federal lawmakers, particularly Democratic Congressional members. Congress is citing lack of oversight in the use of the $440 million federal funding for the charter school program, posing as sources of the millions of dollars being raked in by operators of said schools.

About Charter Schools in the U.S.

The state of Minnesota was the first to pass state laws recognizing the legality of charter schools. Back in 1991, the concept of charter schools was founded on the premise of establishing a new kind of educational institution where innovations on learning methodologies can be tested. If charter initiatives are proven efficient and effective, traditional public schools can replicate such innovations as a way of improving the outputs of low-performing school districts.

Run autonomously by founding operators, approved charter institutions in different school districts, can hold longer school days or number of years than those observed by traditional public schools. As part of a charter’s experimental nature, a school can introduce new curriculum, employ a dual-language program or any other teaching program that deviates from conventional educational arrangements.

Strong Arguments about Charter Schools

Those in favor of charter schools contend that their educational institution provides an alternative learning environment, as opposed to trapping students in a non-performing school within a district. They are calling attention to charter school data that show exceptionally high rates of college enrollment and graduation achievements by their students.

Those against, accuse charter schools of siphoning government money that can find better use in traditional public schools. Accusations include culling of brightest students with the most involved parents, as a means of artificially creating impressions of high level performance in terms of student achievement
.

What are Charter Schools and Why the House Appropriations Committee Proposed a Lower Budget for the Program

Charter schools are educational institutions similar to public schools because they receive government funding, and therefore do not charge tuition fees from students. Yet unlike public schools that offer free education from kindergarten level through Grade 12, charter schools offer only primary and/or secondary education.

Moreover, charter schools may be founded by a for-profit organization or by a non-profit organization composed by a group of teachers or parents, or in some cases, a group of activists. That being the case, charter schools operate in accordance within the bounds of a charter or written contract entered into with the body that approved its operation. The approving body may be the state or district in which it operates, or by the authorizing entity or sponsor.

The operation and administration of a charter school therefore are governed by the charter, a condition that may exempt the educational institution from several government laws and regulations imposed on public schools. Still, charter schools are subject to periodic review and assessment by their respective authorizer. In case a charter school continuously fails to meet the standards specified by its charter, authorization of its operation is revoked, giving reason for the closure of the institution.

Although charter schools have grown in popularity, they are currently being criticized for having loose regulations with regard to public accountability and implementation of labor laws. Oppositions to charter school operations arise mostly from state education agencies, unions or local boards, as not a few public school systems are now airing complaints about losing substantial amounts of funding to charters.

House Appropriations Committee Proposes Reduced 2020 Budget for Charter Schools

Recently, the most critical backlash is being directed against the U.S. Education Department. The Inspector General’s 2018 review of the USED drew focus on the department’s oversight of the Charter Schools Program, a matter that has been reported since 2016. Up to the present, the Inspector General reported that the department has ignored recommendations for improvement regarding the Charter School oversight issue.

In light of the matter raised by the USED Inspector General, the House Appropriations Committe has reduced the 2020 budget appropriation for Charter Schools by $40 million. The committee’s reason for the sharp cut is that

“The Education Department has not acted as responsible steward of taxpayer dollars used to help the charter movement.”