A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the US Senate might actually respond to the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans when it comes to sensible gun control. It seemed as if the Senate, the more deliberative body of Congress, would pass a bill that would at the very least help to prevent some felons and violent individuals from easily acquiring guns.
But yesterday, the Senate voted 54 to 46 on an amendment requiring background checks before a gun could be purchased, falling six votes short of the 60 needed to prevent a filibuster. The proposed legislation’s other amendments — banning high-capacity magazines and assault weapons suitable for military combat — were also defeated.
The Senate’s decision drew a swift and angry response from President Obama who referred to it as a “shameful day.” In a news conference after the vote, Obama said the National Rifle Association had successfully convinced some conservatives that the law would lead to a national registry for gun owners, even though the law specifically stated the opposite.
Hints of trouble surfaced when Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida made a whirlwind press tour last Sunday on all of the news shows. When asked about whether he would support universal background checks, he offered the obligatory sympathy to families of the victims of Newtown, Connecticut. Then he complained about the violent culture promoted by Hollywood filmmakers.
Florida should be outraged at his absurd response to such a serious problem. The citizens of Florida aren’t strangers to gun violence. But voters in many states should be outraged at the abdication of responsibility some elected officials showed concerning their chief responsibility: doing everything humanly possible to protect and ensure the safety of the American people.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote in his column about the lessons gleaned from the Senate’s vote: as horrified as the American public is by the Newtown massacre, it is not enough to stop business as usual in Washington.
And senators, most Republicans and some Democrats, saw the 2014 election in front of them and voted for job preservation.
We also know now that we can’t depend on this Congress to work together for sensible and pragmatic compromises on virtually anything — not immigration, the economy, or a balanced approach to resolving the nation’s debt crisis.
When elected officials vote in favor of aiding felons and violent individuals in their efforts to purchase high-powered weapons of war, something has gone terribly wrong.
A dysfunctional partisan government may pose a worst threat to the American people than anything to do with the Second Amendment.
It's not exactly an experience you'd expect people to line up for, but PETA wants to give University of Rochester students a taste of what it's like to be a pig confined in a factory farm.
Tomorrow, the organization's youth-oriented arm, peta2, will set up an inflatable tent on the campus's Wilson Quad. Inside the tent will be a sow gestation crate, which the organization says in a press release is so small that pregnant pigs can't turn around or take two steps inside of it.
Students will also be able to watch the anti-meat industry documentary "Glass Walls," and to receive samples of vegan food and pick up vegetarian-vegan starter kits. The exhibition is part of peta2's national tour of college campuses.
The peta2 representatives will be on the quad from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lately, there’s been a lot of chatter about charter schools. Rochester, with some of the lowest-performing schools in the country, is a market ripe for an explosion of charters, according to some local educators.
Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has on multiple occasions talked about the decline in student population, which is largely attributable to charter schools. The district has lost about 3,200 students to charters, and a continued decline would have a serious impact on almost every aspect of city schools, he says.
Fewer teachers and non-teaching employees would be needed. Fewer schools would be needed, which raises questions about the massive $1.2 billion schools modernization project under way.
The big question: How many students could the district potentially lose? The answer could be thousands.
Most of the charter schools that have opened here are small schools developed by local educators, some of them expatriates of the city school district. But what if Rochester attracted more attention from the larger charter management organizations like Kipp, for example?
These are companies managing a portfolio of schools with resources, methodology, and a track record — something attractive to business leaders and investors.
Joe Klein, chair of Klein Steel and former treasurer of True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School, has created E3 Rochester, a company that could radically change the education landscape in the city. E3 recruits successful charter management organizations. Klein has so far attracted the interest of at least two organizations, and each has applied to open a school in Rochester in 2014.
Klein says E3 will be driven by quality, and not growth for growth's sake.
At a meeting last night, Vargas said he knows of seven more charter schools that will open in the district over the next two years. Rochester's hospitals aren't reporting a boom in the city's birthrate, so you can see where this is going.
Let’s assume Vargas is right, and let’s also assume that none of the existing charters close; the drop in the district’s student population could be substantial over the next decade.
It’s too early to say whether that’s bad or good.
The comment period for the state's Hemlock-Canadice forest management plan ended Monday. Now it's up to Department of Environmental Conservation officials to respond.
The DEC received more than 400 comments on the management plan for the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest. Hemlock and Canadice are the only two Finger Lakes with undeveloped shorelines: a distinction they hold because the city uses them for its drinking water supply. The city bought up land along the shores starting in 1896, and sold it to the state in 2010 for permanent preservation.
But the management plan has brought scrutiny from environmentalists, lake users, and water consumers because of its language about gas and oil drilling. The draft plan doesn't directly state that drilling won't be permitted on the land, but rather suggests that it won't. Of the 400 comments the DEC received, the majority were about gas and oil drilling, says regional DEC spokesperson Linda Vera. She says that many of the comments were form letters. On Monday, anti-fracking activists rallied outside of the DEC's offices in Avon to urge changes to the plan.
The comments to the draft plan will be considered as the DEC develops the final unit management plan.
"The final UMP will clarify that the state has no intention of allowing any sort of drilling in the Hemlock-Canadice State Forest," Vera says.
This is a corrected version:
Nearly 200 teachers in roughly 70 schools appear to have been involved in another widespread city school district cheating scandal. This time, however, the “wrong to right” erasures may have happened during the tenure of the grande dame of education reform: Michelle Rhee, founder of Students First.
In a report called “Reign of Error,” PBS education reporter John Merrow questioned on his blog "Taking Note" why cheating in Washington, D.C. schools was not thoroughly investigated when Rhee was chancellor.
The erasures were discovered by a DC school official in charge of testing, writes Merrow. But what he says caught his attention is a memo that allegedly shows Rhee ignoring the official’s concern about reading scores at one school that jumped by 29 percent and scores in math that jumped by 49 percent.
Rhee handed out more than $276,000 in bonuses based in part on the higher scores. Though she said on the PBS television show "Frontline that she didn’t know the details about cheating in DC schools, but that she would look into it. Merrow hypothesizes that Rhee never pursued an aggressive investigation because the cheating simply didn’t fit her branding narrative.
Talk to teachers in elementary education today, and almost all will tell you that high-stakes testing is creating enormous anxiety. That’s partly due to the new teacher evaluations, where 20 to 40 percent is based on student test scores. There’s a lot of concern about whether test scores can fairly determine a teacher’s effectiveness.
And there’s even greater concern about what high-stakes testing is doing for students if teachers are spending too much time preparing for tests. The big question: What are students really learning?
Rhee continues to advocate for high-stakes testing and test scores as a measurement of teacher success. And politicians and education policymakers in many states have bought her neo-liberal reform agenda.
A coalition of environmental groups is calling on the International Joint Commission to move forward with its proposed Lake Ontario levels management plan.
The IJC, a bi-national commission that handles issues involving water bodies with shared US-Canadian borders, is meeting today and tomorrow in Washington, D.C. And the environmental groups are asking the commission to schedule public hearings on plan Bv7, the proposed lake levels management plan.
The coalition includes Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Nature Conservancy, Audubon New York, and Save the River. The groups say they've collected 9,170 "expressions of support" — letters and petition signatures, essentially — for the plan. (The Nature Conservancy's website devoted to the plan is available here.)
The IJC has used the same lake levels management plan since 1963, according to its IJC website. But that plan never took the environment into consideration, and shoreline wetlands have suffered. It also doesn't take climate change, which will likely have its own impact on water levels, into consideration.
The company looking to build a grocery store in the future College Town project on Mount Hope wants sales and mortgage tax exemptions. Meliora Provision Co. will be making its case to the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency at noon on Tuesday, April 16, in the Watts Conference Center, 49 South Fitzhugh Street.
It will be interesting to see how COMIDA handles the application in the wake of the just-passed state-level IDA reforms, which limit exemptions for retail projects. Meliora says its project qualifies because “it will provide a product or service to the area that otherwise would not be available, and it creates jobs.”
One local reporter calls B.S. on the first part of that argument.
According to the application, the 20,000 square foot grocery store would create 44 full-time jobs. Cost of the project is approximately $2.7 million, and Meliora is asking for $179,897 in exemptions. Christine Carrie Fien
The Rochester school board will meet on Superintendent Bolgen Vargas’s proposed budget for 2013 to 2014 at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16.
Some parents and teachers have raised questions about art and music programs in elementary schools, since the budget recommends increasing offerings in some schools and decreasing them in others to provide more consistent districtwide coverage.
The meeting is in the district’s central office at 131 West Broad Street.
There will be special Parent Academy meetings to educate parents about the new statewide Common Core curriculum. The new curriculum will raise the education standards in core subjects, according to state education officials.
Meetings are on Thursday, April 18; from 10 a.m. to noon and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.; and on Saturday, April 20, from 10 a.m. to noon. All meetings will be held at 30 Hart Street. To register: call 262-8621 or online at www.rcsdk12.org. Tim Louis Macaluso
Two events this week will focus on scientific aspects of high-volume hydraulic fracturing.
At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, the Rochester Committee on Scientific Information will host two presentations. Richard Young, a geological sciences professor at SUNY Geneseo, will make a presentation titled “Hydrofracturing: The Geologic Discussions are too Superficial.” And Thomas Shelley, a chemical safety and hazardous materials specialist, will make a presentation titled “The Health Effects and Other Hazards of Hydrofracking.” The event will be held on the RIT campus, in the Xerox Auditorium, which is in Building 9.
At 2 p.m. Friday, Karl Korfmacher, associate professor of environmental science at RIT, will present a seminar: “Assessing Emissions from the Transport of Sand, Water, and Waste in High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Activities.” The seminar will be held in 2-110D Dewey Hall on University of Rochester’s River Campus. Jeremy Moule
School districts across the state will begin administering standardized English Language Arts tests next week to students in third through eighth grades. The following week, students will begin taking math and science tests. But not every student will participate, including the son of Rochester school board member Willa Powell.
Powell's son is a student at School 23 in the Park Avenue neighborhood.
Powell is among a group of parents in the Rochester region who have counseled their children on how to respectfully refuse to take the test. Powell will hold a press conference at 4 p.m. today at the Ryan Center, 530 Webster Avenue, joined by other Monroe County parents who are taking the same stand.
In a telephone interview earlier today, Powell said her son has already been given enough assessment tests. And she said she knows he's performing at grade level.
“I want parents to know that they have a choice,” she said. “These tests do not measure what a child has learned in class; they contain material taught in the Common Core curriculum, and the Common Core has not been fully implemented yet.”
New York is one of more than 40 states rolling out the Common Core, which is meant to implement a uniform curriculum. Students will need to demonstrate what may be a higher level of proficiency in subject matter at every grade level.
But Powell said that the upcoming set of tests is not assessing her son’s grasp of English and math; the tests are more likely to be used by the state to create a benchmark for future tests, she said.
Powell is also protesting the fact that data from the state exams, including personal student information, is being forwarded to corporations in the private sector, such as inBLOOM, without prior parental consent. Pearson, the company that helped to develop the Common Core, also publishes the tests.
Powell said she does not recommend that parents keep their children home from school on testing days, and she said that she is not against all standardized tests.
If you’ve lived in the Rochester region for a few years, the scores on ACT Rochester’s recently released annual Community Report Card probably won’t shock you. Most of us already know that the nine-county Rochester region, overall, is doing better than the state in some areas — the economy, education, health, and housing.
But when the report focuses on the city, however, it exposes stark disparities involving race and ethnicity. And correlations between different sets of data become more evident.
One of the most obvious is the relationship between educational outcomes in city schools and housing.
For example, third grade English Language Arts scores on state tests show that 61 percent of white students in the region are proficient at reading and writing, compared to 34 percent of white students in city schools.
But only 35 percent of African American third graders in the region are proficient at reading and only 23 percent from city schools.
The problem gets worse as the students age, with 60 percent of eighth-grade white students in the region proficient in reading and writing and 35 percent in city schools.
But just 26 percent of African American eighth graders in the region are proficient and 15 percent in city schools.
The data, which is drawn from 2011, follows a similar pattern when examining math scores for grades 3 and 8.
But how does this relate to adults?
The Report Card does not track students to adulthood, but an interesting thing happens when you look at a comparison of rent as a percent of income by race and ethnicity.
About 12 percent of a white person’s income goes to rent in the Rochester region, and about 34 percent of their income goes to rent in the city.
But African Americans struggle, with 45 percent of their income going to rent for those living in the region. And 49 percent of their income goes to rent if they live in the city.
The federal guidelines for housing say that housing costs should not exceed 30 percent of a person’s income, regardless of whether it’s rent or a mortgage. The data, which was collected from 2006 to 2011, indicates a need for more affordable housing, especially in downtown Rochester and Monroe County.
But it’s also a future indicator: many of today’s lower-achieving city students will likely become tomorrow’s lower wage earners struggling to find affordable housing. And if the data does nothing else, it shows just how deeply embedded the concentration of poverty is in Rochester, and how long it will take to address it.
This afternoon, State Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Fisher heard arguments in a lawsuit against the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He's not issuing a decision today but will do so by the end of next week, says Eileen Buholtz, the attorney that filed the legal challenge.
Buholtz is suing to invalidate the results of the RPO's annual meeting, which happened on January 23. In particular, she wants the results of the board member elections thrown out. Buholtz, who ran as a write-in candidate for the board, alleges that the RPO didn't properly notify all of the members who would have been eligible to vote. She also alleges that the RPO board failed to recognize the write-in ballots submitted at the meeting.
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