Author: Silvija Topić

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.”

Queensland Bushfires Sent Australia Reeling and Dealing with Catastrophic Fires

Australia remains in the throes of disastrous fires that have been spreading throughout the country, ever since bushfires started in Queensland in as early as August 01, 2019. It is now touted as one of the worsts to have hit the country, as the devastating effects have spread widely in neighboring areas during the months that followed..

In addition to Queensland, four more of Australia’s six states, namely Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia, are experiencing catastrophic fires, with the east coast being the hardest hit. Firefighters and volunteers in New South Wales are still battling the fires that continue to engulf the region.

In fact, the Australian government has sent requests for assistance to the U.S. and Canadian governments. Yet so far, only Canada has responded with a pledge to send at least 30 oe more firefighters.

Recent Surge of Heat Wave Causing Further Aggravation

Since 2017, Queensland and New South Wales have been experiencing shortfalls in precipitations. According to Rosa Hoff , Bureau of Meteorology Forecaster, the prolonged period of dryness had escalated the risk levels for severe fires and raised temperatures in Queensland.

Ms. Hoff added that although the smoke haze that has engulfed the region as a result of the Queensland bushfires is starting to clear out, while on its way toward the sea, there is still a good chance, it could blow back and affect the state. Unless Queensland receives the badly needed significant and widespread rains, it will be long before the smoke haze enveloping the region altogether disappears.

It is quite unfortunate as well that severe heat wave has been gripping most parts of the country since mid-December 2019. The hottest day on record comes at an average high of 41.9 degrees Celsius or 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit. The continuously rising temperature is only causing aggravation to the fires that continue to spread in neighboring regions.

In Victoria, the Foote Tk – 2 kilometers southeast of Lake Condah, is till raging and not yet under control. The same is true with the The Wingan River bushfire, to which the townships of Genoa, Gipsy Point, Genoa, Karbeethong and Mallacoota are still under severe threats of destruction by ongoing active fires. In Coopracambra National Park, a new fire about nine kilometers of Chandlers Creek, has been identified.

Australia Government Gives Advice on What to Do

The government gives advice for people to stay alert and constantly monitor the fire risk alarm level as well as keep track of fire movements happening in real time. The most reliable sources of information is the Digital Earth Australia (DEA) and the Bureau of National Warnings. The DEA uses satellite data in detecting physical changes that are transpiring across regions in Australia. .

People living in dangerous areas who are not prepared and planning to leave must do so now while the roads are still clear. Also families who are not prepared to actively defend their home against wildfire must take final preparations in saving possessions they can salvage. The government warns that since the main water systems can be affected, preparations for defending one’s property include having independent water supply.

Ever since it became apparent that the blaze started in Binna Burra in the Sunshine Coast in September, 2019 could not be controlled, many had acted early by calling on contractors for furniture removals gold coast area. That way families could at least save their belongings before the raging fires tore through their homes, seeing that the uncontrollable bushfires were headed toward Numinbah Valley.

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.”