Libraries help with internet access

Libraries help close the digital divide. Stephen Barker, a librarian in Prince Georges County, describes the vital role of libraries play in providing internet access. Librarians can try to assist with on-line job applications, but sometimes are frustrated by poorly designed on-line applications. “No one should have to spend hours on dysfunctional Web sites to find an entry-level job,” Barker says. “How many unemployed people have thrown up their hands in despair and joined the ranks of the long-term unemployed?”

His op-ed in today’s Washington Post says we must do more to eliminate the digital divide:

As a nation, we have to do more to make computers available to all people. While public libraries are one part of it, local librarians can’t do it all. The government should increase grants to schools, libraries and community centers, especially in low-income and economically depressed areas. Community colleges could make some computers available to the public and offer free computer classes to adults, as Prince George’s County Memorial Library System does.

Project Momentum replaces Priority Schools Initiative

County schools overhaul support program addressing low test scores. Kate Yanchulis explains that administrators of Fairfax County Public Schools have changed the approach and the name of the Priority Schools Initiative to Project Momentum. Many of the 47 Priority Schools will continue to receive some additional support through Project Momentum, “but the majority of resources will be focused on a small group of 15-18 schools judged to have the largest academic needs.”

The funding in the FY 2016 budget for Project Momentum is $4.3 million.

Former educators face overly harsh penalties for a cheating scandal

Twenty years? It is ridiculous to even threaten former educators with that amount of jail time due to a cheating scandal.  AP reports they have been locked up in Fulton County jails as they await sentences that could send them to prison for years.

The teachers, a principal, and other administrators “were accused of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs in the 50,000-student Atlanta public school system.”

“This is a huge story and absolutely the biggest development in American education law since forever,” University of Georgia law professor Ron Carlson said. “It has to send a message to educators here and broadly across the nation. Playing with student test scores is very, very dangerous business.”

There are a lot more dangerous threats out there that the government should spend its time protecting people from. Yes, cheating is wrong. No question about that. But how does this scandal morph into an episode of America’s Most Wanted?

There are other ways of sanctioning cheating without resorting to incarceration.

Getting rid of zeros in grading students

Fairfax schools consider new grading policy that would eliminate zeros. Megan McLaughlin, the school board member who represents Braddock District, told the Washington Post she supports the proposal to replace zeros with a 50 percent for F grades.  “Digging out from a zero is a whole lot harder for kids than a 50,” she said.

Using a zero as a grade is very counterproductive.

 

Snow days and deciding whether to close schools

The Sunday weather in the Washington area has caused icy conditions on area roads and sidewalks. All activities in Fairfax County public schools or on school grounds scheduled for 1 p.m. or later today are canceled (Condition 8).

Today’s Washington Post has a good article describing how school transportation directors decide whether to delay or close schools on snowy days.

As part of their decision-making process, they check with their counterparts in other school systems. Tom Watkins, director of transportation for Montgomery County indicated that while everyone does what’s best for their districts, no one wants to be “the lone school system that erred and stayed open when it should have closed, or vice versa.”

Watkins reported a noticeable change in the public mood about snow decisions. “As recently as the 1980s, he said, buses carried chains, because the mindset was to forge ahead in snow.”

“There’s just no tolerance to do that these days,” he said.

Snow day update

Here are the weather-related delays and closings for today . Fairfax and seven other school systems first announced two-hour delays, then switched to closing the schools. Despite these last-minute changes of plans, Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang praised the decisions made today by the local authorities: Congratulations, D.C.: We conquered a commute snowstorm.

Schools made the right calls. Based on the forecast and current conditions, they delayed and/or closed, keeping school buses, parents, and young drivers off snow-covered neighborhood and secondary roads.

Nutrition Advisory Committee updates advice

The Executive Summary of the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee says that its advice is for Americans ages 2 years and older. “The Committee integrated its findings and conclusions into several key themes and articulated specific recommendations for how the report’s findings can be put into action at the individual, community, and population levels.”

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently submitted its recommendations to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) will consider this report, along with input from other federal agencies and comments from the public as they develop the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015, to be released later this year.

The public is encouraged to view the independent advisory group’s report and provide written comments at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov for a period of 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. The public will also have an opportunity to offer oral comments at a public meeting in Bethesda, Maryland, on March 24, 2015. Those interested in providing oral comments at the March 24, 2015, public meeting can register at www.DietaryGuidelines.gov. Capacity is limited, so participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans was first published in 1980. Beginning in 1990, Congress mandated that HHS and USDA release a new edition at least every five years. The Dietary Guidelines contain the latest, science-based nutrition recommendations for the general public with the goal of preventing disease and promoting healthy, active lifestyles. It is written for and used primarily by nutrition and health professionals, policy makers and educators, and is the foundation for federal nutrition efforts, including education initiatives and food assistance programs.

The value of bake sales

Don’t take away our kids’ cookies and cupcakes: Bake sales have value. Petula Dvorak cites the lessons children can learn from a bake sale.

Let each school decide what can be sold at bake sales

Senator J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) says that bake sales should be left to the discretion of local school boards. He supports legislation in the Virginia General Assembly to direct the state Board of Education to allow some waivers to the federal guidelines on which foods are allowed to be sold at bake sales during school hours.

I support this legislation. I also hope that if local school boards are given more discretion on this, they would allow each individual school to make its own decision.

It is an overreach for the federal government to dictate rules about bake sales in schools. Granted, there is concern about which foods are healthier and which are less healthy. However, the federal government is not omniscient in knowing what is best for children (or adults). The new scientific consensus overturning previous advice on subjects such as fat and cholesterol was mentioned in an op-ed yesterday in the New York Times. “Since the very first nutritional guidelines to restrict saturated fat and cholesterol were released by the American Heart Association in 1961, Americans have been the subjects of a vast, uncontrolled diet experiment with disastrous consequences,” Nina Teicholz wrote. “We have to start looking more skeptically at epidemiological studies and rethinking nutrition policy from the ground up.”

However, even if there is a consensus about the relative health benefits of certain snack items, it is not the business of government to make decisions for local parents and schools. A donut is not a cigarette. The government has no business trying to ban donuts in schools.

Let schools be in charge of their own bake sales. The federal government, the state government, and even the local school boards should refrain from trying to micromanage the operation of bake sales in schools.

Cold weather has presented challenges to bus drivers

The Fairfax Times reports on the difficulties faced by school bus drivers in Fairfax on cold days.

The school system has heat rails at some of its bus lots. Buses can plug into these and heat their engines over night, keeping the oil and fuel warm and making the buses easier to start in the mornings. But the school system only has enough heat rails to serve about 500 buses each night, less than a third of the fleet.

Also, “when winter weather threatens, the school system also calls in its bus drivers 30 minutes early. Drivers arrive at their buses between 4:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. to get their vehicles started.”