Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Turnaround on Diabetes?

Researchers have made some considerable headway in creating an artificial pancreas.

WebMD notes:
Research on the development of an artificial pancreas has traditionally focused on delivery of insulin. But the new design introduces another hormone called glucagon to the equation.
People with type 1 diabetes do not produce any insulin, which is needed to regulate blood sugar levels. Glucagon is another hormone that is produced by the cells in the pancreas to help control blood sugar levels. People with diabetes do produce glucagon, but not efficiently. As a result, they are at risk of developing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) in response to excess insulin.
The artificial pancreas described in the new study comprises a continuous blood sugar monitor and two pumps that communicate with each other via a computer.
"We measure blood glucose on a laptop and have pumps to deliver insulin and glucagon, but there is continuous glucose monitoring, which will send wireless signals to the laptop that wirelessly controls the pumps that give insulin and glucagon," says study researcher Steven J. Russell MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Center in Boston. "It adds the capability to give glucagon, and that hasn't been available before and is pretty important."
"It is well known that people with type I diabetes don't make insulin, but they also have a deficiency in making glucagon," Russell tells WebMD.
If researchers get this right, "the benefits will be that people spend a lot less time thinking about and worrying about their diabetes and parents will worry less about their children with diabetes when they are away," he says. "It will improve blood glucose control and reduce risk of developing complications of diabetes."
Uncontrolled blood sugar levels wreak havoc on the body, causing such complications as eye, nerve, and kidney damage among people with diabetes.

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on slavery.

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Wall Street's Woes

Paul Krugman on Wall Street reform.

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Articles of the Day

What will the guest worker program look like?
FDA starts regulating drug pumps more.
The iPad goes to college.
How to lay people off with a bogus excuse.

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Are Doctors Telling Patients About Health Care Reform?

The New York Times talks with doctors who are confused about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and are unsure what to tell anxious patients. 

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UM Medical School Takes Disclosures Seriously

Policy and Medicine blogs about the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami streamlining their disclosure information. It will now be much easier to see which faculty are being paid by big pharma and others. Kudos to Miami.


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The Man Behind Kaiser Family Foundation

The LA Times profiles Drew Altman, head of the Kaiser Family Foundation, about the organization's dedication to nonpartisan research and communication.


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Articles of the Day

Huckabee on Arizona's new immigration law.
Merrick Garland, SCOTUS nominee, takes hits from both sides.
Sacha Cohen is about to get really rich.
Why Denver chose Tim Tebow.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Steele Still Talking Straight on Race

"You really don't have a reason to, to be honest -- we haven't done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele made those comments this week at Depaul University. I recently talked about Steele's penchant for straight talk on race, and these comments just back that up. They also give his detractors more fuel to pour on the fire. It'll be interesting to see how much fortitude Steele has.

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What's Up Doc?

Why do some Ph.D. programs take so long? And are graduates benefiting as much as they could? The New York Times digs into it. 

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Articles of the Day

Getting an early start on implementing HCR. 
No, Tebow. Jerry Jones really doesn't like you.
Mental health law awaits overhaul.
From crap to caffeine...literally.


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Friday, April 23, 2010

Misreading Health Care Costs

Fortune takes a look at insurance rates for a 40-something-year-old who shares residency between NY and AZ. 
Let's look at the great deals Anthony found, then handicap whether they'll flourish, or more likely, vanish under the new law. Anthony commutes back and forth from New York City to the Phoenix area, where he started a real estate business. He's a handsome, strapping six-footer in his early 40s. Anthony first looked for individual health insurance in New York. The rates shocked him: around $1,200 a month for a basic HMO plan from carriers like Aetna and Empire, and over $1500 for a point-of-service policy that allow customers to choose out-of-network doctors in exchange for higher co-pays.
To make matters worse, Anthony wanted an inexpensive, high-deductible policy, but he couldn't find a suitable one in the New York individual market.Last year, thanks to his youth, good health history and newly tamed cholesterol, Anthony qualified for a $5,500 deductible plan with a premium of just $100 a month.
(The policy in Arizona closest to the New York point-of-service coverage costs around $300, versus $1500.) "The system in Arizona gave me a major financial incentive to improve my health," says Anthony.
What accounts for the huge price differences between Arizona and New York?
Two regulations enormously inflate prices in New York (and, incidentally, rates aren't much lower in Albany or Syracuse than in Manhattan), especially for young, healthy folks such as Anthony -- just the kind of people who must buy in for the insurance pools to succeed. The first regulation is Guaranteed Issue. In New York, and several other states including Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, carriers must accept all customers regardless of their medical condition. It would be illegal in New York to offer the deal Anthony got in Arizona -- a lower rate in exchange for lowering your cholesterol.
The second premium-swelling rule is Community Rating. In New York, all customers pay the same rate regardless of either their age or medical status. As a result, someone Anthony's age or younger pays an identical premium for the same policy as a 64-year-old customer, although they actually cost a fraction as much in medical claims. So older patients effectively get a big subsidy, and the young pay far more then their actual cost.
It gets worse. Because of guaranteed issue, patients know they can enroll in a plan anytime they get cancer or diabetes, so they have little incentive to sign up when they're healthy. Community rating assures that they can re-enroll at premiums far lower than the actual costs of the tests and procedures they require. Hence, the pools of the insured in states like New York and Vermont consist of an extremely high proportion of sick people. (This PricewaterhouseCoopers report describes how the guaranteed issue and community rating could drive up premiums.)

There are a couple of problems with this. Boiling down the increased health-care costs between NY and AZ to only two things is possible, but the author sure didn't do it effectively in this piece. For one, community rating — while defined correctly — has been implemented in other countries (e.g., Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands) without the inflated costs the author suggests.

Furthermore, if the author presumes guaranteed issue pushes up prices of individual rates yet doesn't compare how many individuals in NY and AZ are on Medicaid or uninsured, then he isn't truly presenting a fair cost breakdown. Sure, rates individual rates could be much lower in AZ, but is the uninsured rate higher? Is Medicaid underfunded due to individual rates being unaffordable? We would need to see all of that information in order to come to the conclusion he did.

Professor Uwe Reinhardt details here how community rating has been implemented and why it can in the U.S. as well.



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Biggest Benefactors of Education?

It may not be who you think it is.

Freakonomics blog notes: 
A new study finds that the students who are least likely to go to college (based on family background, abilities, and friend group) are the ones with the most to gain from a degree. Jennie E. Brand and Yu Xie find that the unlikeliest male college graduates earned 30% more over their lifetimes than comparable men who earned only a high school degree. In contrast, male college graduates most likely to go to college earned only 10% more than their non-college-educated counterparts.“For students from disadvantaged groups, college is a novelty that demands economic justification,” Brand said. “By contrast, for students from advantaged backgrounds, college is a culturally expected norm. Economic gain is less of a motivation.”



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Health Care Costs in Black and White

The New York Times looks at health-care spending from a different perspective. 
There are two basic reasons for the absurdly large administrative employment in health care. First, our health care system — with its actuarially focused multiple health insurers, paper-based record keeping and multiple billing systems — is bound to create a lot of administrative work. Second, the way the payment system is structured, there is little incentive to make the system more efficient.

There is a lot of “money spent doing things that in no other industry do we tolerate,” as Dr. Cutler explained in a Big Think video last year.
There are some policy initiatives intended to address these inefficiencies and reduce paper-shuffling, including a big chunk of the stimulus package going toward electronic health care records. Whether such measures will be sufficient to streamline the industry is anybody’s guess.


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Do Better Teachers = Better Education?

Knowledge@Wharton interviews Linda Katz, founder and executive director of Children's Literacy Initiative (CLI). "CLI has been working with school systems across the country to overhaul how teachers are trained, hired and mentored," Knowledge@Wharton says.

Knowledge@Wharton: CLI works closely with children, and your goal is to close the gap in literacy between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers, as your website says. Could you explain the nature of the problem?
Linda Katz: We work with teachers, and that is the nature of the problem. We have under-invested in training teachers. We have under-invested in figuring out how to hire good teachers. We have not looked at the kind of workplace they are in. And we keep coming up with the wrong solutions to fixing the huge problems in a broken human capital chain. We work with providing professional development for practicing teachers. We are working on what are called "pipeline issues" of how you get trained to be a teacher. We try to speak up as much as we can about certification, tenure and other issues that affect this whole broken chain. We try, above all, to make the point that the problems we are facing in this country are fairly dire.

And it's not just me saying they are fairly dire. It is the United States Army. They have just issued a report saying that education in this country has become an imminent and menacing threat to national security. Why do they say that? Because in the 17 to 24 age group, 21% of our youth cannot pass the reading test to get into the Army. I'm not talking about the Air Force or the Seals. The Army. Another 21% have to be waived in -- their credentials and ability to pass reading tests are not so hot.

Knowledge@Wharton: Why is the system broken?

Katz: The system is broken because we have been blaming teachers and not teaching. Other countries, like Finland and Japan, have looked very closely at teaching. In this country, there is the belief that you come in as magical Mary Poppins from nowhere and it's all good, or not. Either way, there is nothing that can be done. We haven't recognized that there are standards of practice for instruction -- not instructors. This country just went through 15 to 20 years of war between people who advocated phonics only and people who advocated comprehension only. Can you imagine? What was that all about? Obviously you need both. But we were so far apart because we have not developed a good idea of effective practices.



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Real Talk on Elementary Education


Interview with Shaun Johnson
Shaun is an assistant professor of education at Towson University in Baltimore, Maryland. At the Chalkface, his blog and podcast, focuses on “teaching, schools, curriculum, research, and policy.”
Policy Diary: Welcome Shaun. I’m glad to speak with you about issues in elementary education.
Shaun Johnson: Glad to speak with you as well.  Thanks for having me and reading my work.

PD:  You’re welcome. What do you feel are the definitive issues in elementary education that we are currently facing? How would you rate the Obama Administration’s efforts thus far?
SJ:  That’s a huge question and I suppose it depends on who’s answering it.  I think an educator, policymaker, legislator, parent, and even a student would come up with very different answers.  So, one broader challenge is to achieve consensus with these parties in order to work toward some simple and common goals.  As for me, I see the big issues related to curriculum, teacher autonomy or professionalism, and even the status of elementary education itself.
For curriculum, math, reading, and now STEM content areas clearly won the day in recent years.  Schools have been turned into “reading academies” in many ways.  That is, they are more invested in teaching children to read than they are anything else and at the expense of everything else.  I do not want to diminish the importance of learning to read, but the vast majority of school resources, human and capital, are spent on teaching reading and math.  These are the primary tested subjects.  Additionally, this is not reading as a cultural act, so to speak.  Reading instruction is at its most rationalistic, atomistic, and scientific.  Rather than creating critical, intellectual, and curious readers, students experience reading almost as a series of steps or stages, much like a mathematical formula.  I don’t see a lot of students really enjoying their reading or seeing it as something they can enjoy.  The other consequence of this is the marginalization of so many other curricular areas.  In the schools I have worked in over the last decade through the darkest days of NCLB, all instruction in science and social studies was eliminated to prepare for testing.  Specials were cancelled.  ESL students were not pulled for language instruction.  In more extreme cases, recess and lunch were cancelled to include more test preparation.  The students ate, but they ate in the classroom.  And limiting the curriculum in such ways is an inherently conservative view of education.
In terms of the second, teacher autonomy, teaching is still considered a low status profession.  Sure, we give it a lot of lip service, but it is poorly remunerated relative to other people with college and graduate degrees.  Moreover, it is seen as being a last resort for some people or a perfect job for those with families, but not a sincere intellectual pursuit.  Don’t even get me started on elementary education.  Teaching high school still holds some cachet for those with subject area backgrounds, say in math, science, or English.  Elementary teaching is associated with the lowest status forms of care and nurturance.  But teachers are now receiving more scripted curricula and do not participate in much of the decision-making.  Administrators are considered the curricular and pedagogical gatekeepers.  More substantial decisions are left to superintendents and even legislators with nary a nod to those that actually implement those decisions.  By and large, those outside of education do not hold teachers in very high esteem, except in terms of sacrifice, nobility, and so forth.  It is considered an act of service rather than an actual profession, almost like the Peace Corps.  Teachers must then exercise what autonomy they have within and between the margins.  And trust me, likely much to the chagrin of those higher in the educational hierarchy, teachers and students mediate curriculum in all sorts of interesting ways, so they can try to standardize as much as they want.  It does not necessarily translate to that at the ground level.
Finally, and this overlaps with my last point, most of the reforms and innovations you see occur at the secondary level.  I don’t see much mention of elementary educators.  There has been some push for early childhood education so students can enter public education on a somewhat level playing field.  But there is this black hole between first and fifth grade, maybe even through middle school, which a lot of reformers and researchers seem to ignore.  I’d like to see more attention paid to elementary education.  And the sincere lack of attention on elementary teaching is evident in the make up of the profession.  The vast majority of elementary teachers are white, middle class, straight, women.  This totally contradicts the demographics in this country.  So how can we expect children to learn to live in a pluralistic and diverse society when they see the same faces for their first five years or more in education?  I think this points to a couple of things.  First, this demonstrates the lack of status that teaching actually has as a profession.  Second, it reveals a nearly complete ambivalence with who teaches our young children.  Seriously.  Other than this vague term “quality,” do you get the sense that anyone cares about who these persons are?  I don’t get that sense.  
PD: What strategies do you feel may be successful in combating those issues?
SJ:  These are larger issues, so I cannot be totally sure.  Maybe one solution that I am working on is just getting my voice out there.  I don’t have all the answers, but I do know a great deal about curriculum and pedagogy.  I know more than many of the people you see commenting about education on CNN or other networks.  I know more than your average education blogger and I know more than so-called education journalists who profess to know what is going on out there.  It’s easy for professors of education to get cloistered in their own little worlds, doing the research, and publishing articles.  This takes in most cases a tremendous amount of time to begin a research project.  Publishing the findings can be a yearlong process, waiting for the article review and revisions.  I am not discounting the research; I depend on this stuff to justify my decisions.  Yet, there must be a way we can interact and engage with the conversation in more immediate ways.  Starting this podcast, and ultimately the blog (which I was reluctant to do at first), I’ve tried to make my way through the larger conversation on education.
Teacher Innovation
PD: There has been a lot in the news lately regarding teacher effectiveness, innovation, and, specifically, how to quantify teacher impact. For instance, in Florida, Senate Bill 6 would require that more than 50 percent of a teacher’s pay would be based on performance measures. Do you believe that a teacher’s impact on their students can be measured? If so, do you support bills such as this one that seek to overhaul the tenure system?
SJ:  Measuring teacher effectiveness and impact is incredibly complicated.  I am not well versed in all the research on this topic.  However, I will state for the record that I do not support linking teacher pay to standardized test scores because I know what high-stakes testing does to schools.  Perhaps not all schools, and those I’ve worked in do not make a representative sample, but I have a hard time believing some of the small things I saw are extraordinary.  Case in point.  The State of Maryland requires an exceptionally low number for sub-groupings for AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress]; many states have different thresholds.  In Maryland, it’s only five.  That is, you only need five students in a certain identity category of which you are accountable.  Basic math tells you that each student in that group is worth 20%.  If one student fails in that subgroup, the entire school does not make AYP and is therefore listed as a failing school.  This was a few years ago at least; things may have changed.  Nevertheless, in one school with which I am familiar, there was a rather high Hispanic and White population, but few African-Americans.  In one grade level, there were only eight African-American students, a small sub group, but a sub group nonetheless according to the state.  Teachers and administrators were concerned about these eight students because they weren’t the highest achieving group.  There was one student though that was especially bright in that group, but this student was mixed race, with one white and one black parent.  The principal called a meeting and encouraged the student via the parents to bubble in African-American on the demographic form so that the sub group could acquire the student’s likely high test score and better ensure meeting AYP.
As an outsider, I’m not sure what this anecdote tells you.  Maybe not much.  But this is a small example of the gamesmanship and strategy that goes into getting higher test scores.  It’s not just about measuring fairly student and school performance.  Additionally, how is it that standardized tests in public schools are considered a fair measure of performance if all they do is practice for them?  Does this now skew the results to the positive?  Because of this example and others, I do not support attaching teacher pay to test scores.  If the powers that be are going to make decisions that affect their livelihood, then they are going to have to come up with something a bit more innovative than looking at a test score.  I realize that qualitative measures are more costly and time-consuming, but maybe they can weigh the decision a bit more heavily, as if they care about the actual teacher workforce, rather than dismissing their work as easily measurable by a single test score.  
PD: Do we know what motivates teachers? I mean, we have organizations such as The New Teacher Project which has sought to take leaders from other fields and transfer their success to classroom instruction; we have The Equity Project that has sought to get better results from paying teachers $125,000 a year (recently opened in September 2009). Will these programs prove effective? If so, can we broaden their impact?
SJ:  I know a thing or two about that TEP school, but that is another story.  I don’t know yet if these programs can be successful, time will only tell.  But I have a couple of reactions.  There is the assumption that success in a discipline means you can teach it.  That’s just not true.  There are plenty of experts who make lousy college professors. I’m sure the same would be true of K-12 teachers.  I think there is sort of an elitist sentiment to this, that education is not really a discipline.  It’s more of a vocation.  And I think the more elite institutions agree with this since many of these schools do not have specific education programs.  Actually, the education school tends to be the least prestigious part of the college campus.  So, it is better to master a specific subject, like English, History, Physics, or something, and then learn some pedagogy.  It demonstrates that you know a thing or two about learning a subject, that you’re successful, and that you can translate these successes for students.  I think this sentiment underscores Teach for America.  They’re not really interested in education students.  They want subject matter specialists, give them a six or eight week dose of pedagogy, and shove them into the toughest classrooms available.  Now, if subject matter is key, I don’t see how this translates to the elementary school.  It makes sense at the secondary or middle level where specific classes cater to specific subjects.  But how does being a history or business major help an elementary teacher?  You teach all subjects.  You make connections and integrate content, at least that’s what is supposed to happen.  I think what is going on here is that people believe there are fundamental dispositions of a successful teacher and part of that means being able to be successful in a liberal art or science or something.  Get a four-year degree in an actual “study” and we can fill in the teacher stuff.  If you just study education, you’re not really studying or learning anything, maybe a bunch of skills, but no actual content.  So if you don’t have “real” content knowledge, how can you teach others?
Do we know what makes an effective teacher? Teach for America has been doing extensive research on their corps and has learned that variables that should lead to student success, do not necessarily do so. Correlates like undergraduate major,  and GPA have no discernible effect in student achievement (although an upward trend did).
SJ:  Yes, Teach for America again.  You know, I don’t like them, and I don’t know why.  I realize that former “corps” members open schools and do some great things.  I get it.  But I cannot help but feel that the people that go into it are simply looking for a resume boost before law school.  I know this sounds terrible now that I type it, but I want to be honest with my feelings on this one.  They might want their “street cred” before going into some profession only tangentially related to children or young persons.  I also take issue with the idea that teaching is a service and that these corps members are doing this for America.  Words are important and I think reference to service for our country diminishes teaching as a profession with many educators having advanced degrees.  I don’t want teaching, elementary in particular, to be conflated with service or volunteerism.  Even though teachers do make sacrifices, I also don’t want to allow teachers to feel that they need to sacrifice everything that their profession is all about sacrificing themselves for the achievement of the students.  Those goes back to the origins of the teaching profession itself as reformers pushed for teachers to be mainly women because they were an expendable population. 
Above all, I don’t think we can be sure what makes a successful teacher.  For me, I know one when I see one.  This sounds thoroughly unscientific.  And I this might be a significant failing of the education research community in general.  I think we need to find more information on this and do it soon.
Race to the Top

PD: Race to the Top is the biggest funding initiative in the history of federal education. What do you feel the effect will be? Will it be long-term?
SJ:  Money always makes an impact, but I don’t agree with this whole competition setup.  Why make states pit themselves against each other?  Are we not all in this together?  Is not one child in Colorado worth as much as a child in, say, Maine?  Well, then why must their educations rely on the ability of their state leaders to come up with some kind of innovation plan that meets these arbitrary criteria?  Additionally, some of the innovations that I see just seem lazy.  There’s no mention of curriculum, equity, it’s all just about firing teachers, making those tough-guy decisions, as if teachers are undeserving of our esteem.  Overall, I think the effects on the states that are receiving funding will help, but I wonder what will happen to the plans in the states that were rejected.  What of those reforms?
PD: The first round winners were Tennessee and Delaware. Both sought to highlight the consensus that existed amongst the stakeholders. Delaware had 100 percent support from unions and Tennessee 93 percent. What effect do you believe that will have on the plans both have put forth? Do you think it is far more likely reforms will be enacted? And what about those states that are unable to garner such high support?
SJ:  I mean, it depends on the state.  When I taught, I did not care one lick about what my union did.  Sure, when I needed them the most, if I was sued or fired unfairly, I’m positive I’d ask for their support.  But the union did not really have an impact on my life, I didn’t think about it.  So, when I see all this stuff about unions in the news, I get the impression that people think teachers communicate with unions on a daily basis.  We consult our union reps before making instructional decisions.  I don’t get the obsession with unions and the AFT [American Federation of Teachers] and all of that and I don’t really see the impact of what these organizations are doing. 
I’m sure it will help to have support from various stakeholders, although I am not sure what the difference is between 93 and 100 percent support.  What does that seven percent mean?  Is that like four out of five dentists approve of our toothpaste?  Well, what does that one dentist have to say about it?  What’s their problem?  If there is broad union support, then they can reach out to individual schools and teachers to make sure they understand the reforms.  Yet, I wonder what is so important about support.  What if the plan is really good, really innovative and courageous, but not well liked?  Many people don’t like change, but sometimes we have to do it.  I think a lot of people had reservations about NCLB [No Child Left Behind], but that was still enacted, so I’m not sure why the emphasis on support.  Can we not judge the plans on their merits rather than their popularity?  I’m sure there’s a legitimate reason that I can’t think of right now.
PD: Which states do you feel are best positioned for round two and why?
SJ:  I’m not really sure about this one, although I’d like to see states considered that need the most support.  California is one of those.  DC gets a lot of attention, so I’m surprised not to see it there.  I wonder if politics will fit into all of this, so maybe we’ll see Illinois or a Republican state in the mix.
PD: You’re a vegan, and you’ve looked at the link between students’ nutritional needs and their ability to learn. What do you feel schools – and communities, for that matter – need to do better in this respect?
SJ:  This country is addicted to cheap and unhealthy food.  If you look at most urban areas, many in low-income communities live in what are called “food deserts.”  There’s no access to healthy food and oftentimes families need to ride several buses to get to a grocery store.  The easy alternative is to go to a fast food restaurant; there’s one on every block it seems.
Americans have a problem with food.  We rely too much on cheap garbage.  We don’t spend enough on our food and expect value over quality.  Our food system is skewed towards these cheap processed foods and lobbies prevent substantial changes.  Schools have done little to nothing to change this, especially since pressures to teach only what is taught remove most of these kinds of discussions from the classroom.  Parents have also failed and most of our kids cannot even identify common fruits and vegetables.  There is no connection to where our food comes from or to our agrarian roots.
My views are a bit more extreme because I believe our food system allows cruelty and suffering at unimaginable levels.  The industrialization of our food and the concomitant lack of transparency about how it is produced have created significant environmental ruin and damaged our health.  Life expectancy has dropped and many young people suffer from diabetes and obesity.  But I do not recommend going into classrooms and talking about animal rights.  Do you not think it odd that children are so compassionate about animals, that their stories involve animal characters, yet we encourage them so often to eat them?  We need to tell kids the truth: that they are not eating chicken nuggets.  This was an actual animal and there are consequences.
I do think we need to create a greater connection to our food with children.  One of the ways we can do this is through gardening and agricultural programs in schools.  In Baltimore alone, there are numerous organizations that establish community gardens and teach children about food.  The Baltimore City school system does a Meatless Monday.  And on my campus, I worked with a group of undergraduates to get approval for a campus vegetable garden.  We have about 2000 square feet of space and we’re breaking ground this Friday.  I plan on connecting this garden to my social studies methods course, where we’ll talk about issues related to food, and then encourage my students to volunteer in garden to meet their service-learning requirement.  I’ll also see about connecting this to the schools in which I supervise, so much is in the works to get this issue out there.
PD: Thank you again for participating. You’re welcome to come back and assess the round two winners of Race to the top or let us know of some other things that you are working on. Lastly, was there anything that you wanted to add?
SJ:  Nothing else, really.  Listen to the podcast At the Chalk Face, download for free on iTunes, and read the blog at shaunpjohnson.wordpress.com.  All my contact info is there, so feel free to get in touch. 
Thanks.




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Articles of the Day

The oncoming controversy of gene patents.
Teacher pension crisis.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Quote of the Day

“They’re [The Tea Party movement] being treated with a lot more respect than the anti-war movement was...[t]he anti-war movement has always been treated as a fringe movement – even though at the height of our movement we had hundreds of thousands of people at protests and the majority of public opinion on our side,” Cindy Sheehan

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Looking at High Risk Pools

A look at how Minnesota's high risk pool has been successful and determining if it can be replicated.

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What Can We Learn From Other High-Achieving Countries?

Linda Darling-Hammond, professor and researcher at Stanford University surveys the state of education in various countries.


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A Charter's Beginning — Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts



Interview with Antione Green, CEO, of Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts 

Antione Green is the Chief Executive Officer of Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts , a charter school set to open in July in Richmond, Virginia. In March he resigned as president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters, a nonprofit civil rights organization with an accomplished history in Virginia politics. Antoine also ran in the June 2009 Democratic primary in House District 69.
Policy Diary: Thanks for stopping by Policy Diary.
Antione Green:  Thanks for inviting me.  Your readers may also be interested in knowing that I was born and raised in the Richmond, Virginia area.  Although, when I was 2 years old, my mom moved my sister and I took the ‘burbs, so that we could get a ‘better’ education.  The idea of people leaving the city limits to get a better education is not a new idea.  It’s just a cycle that’s been going on for 30 years and needs to changed.  I have always been a believer in school choice.  Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts is just that.  A school choice.  Education is not a ‘one size fits all’ and providing an alternate way of learning for the children of this city through PHSSA is the first step in broadening our educational landscape. 

PD: Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts will be opening in July in Richmond, Virginia. It will be Virginia’s fourth charter school. Tell me a little about what the Richmond community has shared with you about its opening.
AG:  Well, it’s also important to note that this will be the first charter school in Richmond.  Getting the school open has not been easy.  I’m part of a great Board of Directors at PHSSA, but we’re going through this process for the first time.  In addition, Richmond Public Schools, our local education authority, is a first-time authorizer.  The process is new for everyone and therefore, holds that many more challenges.
As you may know, a charter school is a public school that is given the autonomy to use progressive teaching methods and practices and governance under its own board of directors, in exchange for maintaining exceptional academic standards.  This autonomy is allowing PHSSA to offer a hands-on integrated curriculum, outdoor classrooms, a year-round calendar, and school uniforms.  This is unheard of in public schools in Richmond, and yet the parents are embracing it.

Many parents we hear from tell us that the curriculum is exactly what their children need.  The integrated model teaches all subjects through the Science SOLs in a style that not separate the subjects, but weaves them all together in a natural way that presents the lessons in as a more intuitive method of learning.

PD: In a December 2009 opinion article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, you mentioned that there will be a “required family/guardian involvement” and that the school’s curriculum will be an “integrated curriculum heavily concentrated in science.” How do you plan on verifying the family involvement? What do schools need to do in order to better assist parents?
AG:  Families are required to donate 6 hours of time to PHSSA per quarter.  Those hours can be earned by attending PTA meetings, taking home prep work for a teacher, or helping out in a classroom.  When students enroll, the parent and the student will sign a parent/teacher/student contract, committing to the 6 hours of time.  You can view a copy of this contract here. The purpose of the contract and the required involvement is not to put a burden on families, but to make them an active participant in their children’s educational experience.  If a family cannot meet their requirements or if they have other issues in their lives that are preventing them from fulfilling this requirement, the family will work with the principal and our PTO to reach a compromise.  It is possible for extended family members or friends to help with the requirement.  As long as a good-faith effort is being made from the family, PHSSA will respect the intent of the contract.  
PD: Aside from Richmond children earning relatively poor science scores compared to those in other counties, was there another reason for the curriculum focus?
AG:  Instruction at PHSSA is differentiated to meet the needs of all learners. It centers on the science of the natural world, promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Using an interdisciplinary science-based curriculum, required family involvement, a progressive quarter calendar and hands-on outdoor lessons, PHSSA will meet the educational needs of Richmond city children, enabling them to competitively participate in college preparatory classes.

Another key aspect of the curriculum is the proximity of the school to the James River and Forest Hill Parks will give students a unique place in which to study environmental science.  Each grade will be given an environmental  “Big Question” to study in a year-long project.  For example, kindergarteners will examine what impact do we have on the environment in regards to our home and school, and that class will be responsible for school-wide recycling.

PD:  Governor Bob McDonnell (R) of Virginia has been a vocal supporter of charter schools. His secretary of education, Gerard Robinson, is the former president of Black Alliance for Educational Options, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting and increasing school choice. Do you feel as though it is now or never in the Virginia charter school movement? Do you envision a time when you’ll have more institutional support?
AG:   ‘Now or never’ isn’t too optimistic, so I’d prefer to say ‘long overdue.’  The low number charter schools   in Virginia – four including Patrick Henry – is embarrassing for a state this size..  I feel that part of the resistance to charter schools comes from a lack of knowledge about what a charter school is.  A charter school is a public school that is given the autonomy to use alternative and progressive teaching methods in exchange for higher academic standards.  So the first step for Virginia is educating the public about what a charter school is and how it would benefit them.  Then, the laws need to be changed to make it easier to get a charter up and running in this state.  In a recent report from the Center on Education Reform, Virginia scored and “F” on their charter school law.  Since then, the Governor sponsored bi-partisan legislation this spring that is a good start to making the process more standardized and more supportive for charters, but more work needs to be done.  Having both a governor who supports this cause and a President who endorses charters makes me hopeful that we will see more positive change for charter schools in the coming years.
PD: I want to talk about the Virginia Education Association and teachers for a moment. VEA President Kitty Benoitt has countered charter school supporters who say there is not enough choice by saying, "Just in the Richmond area alone we have schools that specialize in arts, engineering, communication, languages, humanities, technology, International Baccalaureate,  IT, leadership/government and global economics, military, and science/mathematics and technology…[W]e have governor's schools, magnet schools, centers for the gifted. The list goes on and on."   What would you say to that argument?
AG:   Yes, Richmond has a variety of public schools featuring different specialities.  Most of these schools have academic requirements to be admitted.  In addition, most of these specialized schools are at the middle or high school level.
 PHSSA is an elementary school, open to grades kindergarten through fifth grade.  PHSSA is open to all residents of the city of Richmond in those grade levels, with no academic requirements.  Studies show that providing an alternate education model so early in a student’s education provides a solid foundation,  and therefore more successful, in the later years of their educational experience.  Keeping the school open to everyone, without academic requirements, makes admission random and based on a lottery system.

PD: Will teachers at Patrick Henry be affiliated with the Virginia Education Association?
AG: This is a choice solely for our teachers. We will honor their wishes.  
PD: What do you feel is the biggest barrier to increased teacher effectiveness?
AG:  Today’s teachers are overworked and underpaid.  I think increased parental support and active participation and interest in their children’s education and school could help to make teachers feel like they are part of a larger educational community, where the common goal is to provide a great educational experience for their children.  In addition, increased community support and ongoing partnerships with community groups could encourage teachers to think ‘outside the box’ and to engage their students in untraditional ways.
PD: Florida recently debated Senate Bill 6, which would essentially do away with  teachers’ tenure in favor of one-year contracts. Renewals could be denied for any reason by the district. [Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed ultimately vetoed it.] Do you feel this model could work in Virginia?
AG:  I have no current position on the proposed legislation. I understand it was recently vetoed by the Governor.  I believe he agreed with the bill's intent of providing greater teacher accountability, but he had other reservations about it.  Be that as it may, I support legislation here in Virginia that promotes teacher accountability and innovation, including a state version of President's Obama's merit or performance-based pay plan.   

PD: Both Tennessee and Delaware were recent winners of the first round of Race to the Top. The knock on Virginia’s application was that it “should better demonstrate its efforts to boost teacher quality and adopt common standards and assessments.” What are your thoughts on how Virginia could implement this advice?

AGI understand there will be legislative and regulatory efforts underway to address this very issue overall.  I suspect there will be an opportunity for public input from the various stakeholders. I think this will represent a good first step in working towards the implementation of this good advice. 

PD: Thank you very much for chatting with Policy Diary. We would love to talk with you again this summer after the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts opens. Is there anything you would like to add?
AG:   Thank you for the opportunity to talk about education in Virginia.  Looking forward to talking again soon!


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