Weekend Open Thread

What’s up?

Since our baker baker is in on the secret, I will go ahead and remind you all that we are collecting funds for a communal MotherTalkers baby gift. MTer Rachel is collecting money via paypal at mtrachel at gmail dot com. To snail-mail money or a check, e-mail Sara at capasb at gmail dot com. The deadline is Sunday (tomorrow). You women rawk. Thank you!!

This is sickening. Haiti’s death toll following the earthquake is at 230,000, according to the BBC. I tried so hard to just donate and stay away from the coverage, but my jaw still dropped upon reading the headline. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti.

In other effed up news: An Iraq War vet waterboarded his 4-year-old daughter because she refused to recite the alphabet, according to CBS News.

In case you missed it, our fierce first lady Michelle Obama unveiled her initiative to combat childhood obesity, according to the Washington Post. Also in the Washington Post: Education Secretary Arne Duncan is urging the Senate to overhaul student lending practices. So far, the Democrats in the House have passed a bill cutting out the middlemen — like Sallie Mae — and letting the government lend money to students directly. The move would not only save taxpayers money, but also lower interest rates for students needing money for college.

There has been a lot of news on the autism front. As our Katy over at Non-Toxic Kids pointed out, the controversial study linking autism with the MMR vaccine has been pulled. Also, at least this Washington Post columnist cast uncertainty over celebrity claims that their children’s autism was cured by diet alone.

On the diet front, have you noticed the explosion of gluten-free products and friends who can’t eat this protein? Can you tell I live in Berkeley? I have tasted gluten-free pasta before, and I am sorry, just. can’t. do. it. I love food too much to restrict myself this way. But I am glad to read it is not all in my head that it is becoming a common allergen and new products are lining up store shelves. Check out this article in the Daily Spark about it.

My friend Peggy wrote an article for the Berkeley Examiner about an issue dear to my heart: the achievement gap. Despite the number of African-American and Latino students educated in Berkeley’s public elementary schools, only 12 percent of African Americans and 6 percent of Latinos take AP courses at Berkeley High School. The grand majority of AP students are white kids, many educated in private schools.

The west topped a list of the “drunkest U.S. cities,” while east coasters were the least likely to indulge, according to USA Today. Fresno, California, was the drunkest city while Boston was the most sober.

Mamapedia ran an essay on being a stage mom. Have you gone on auditions with your children?

Finally, in case you missed it, Costa Rica elected its first woman president, according to CNN. Go them.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Berkeley Teachers Fight Proposed Charter School

At least in Berkeley, California where I live, some public school teachers and charter schools are at odds. An activist group that includes an organizing middle school teacher in Berkeley is viciously attacking a proposal for the first ever charter school in the city.

From the Berkeley Daily Planet:

Called Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement, or REALM, the charter school, as the Daily Planet reported Sept. 3, was the brainchild of Victor Diaz, principal of Berkeley Technology Academy (the district’s only continuation school), and Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA), who want to provide students with a project-based, technology-oriented curriculum that would make them ready for the 21st-century job market.

Diaz and BOCA argue that students often feel stigmatized by attending B-Tech, simply because it is often viewed as a dumping ground for students who were kicked out of Berkeley High for either failing their classes or having a criminal background, leading them to have low morale and little interest in applying for colleges or jobs.

The majority of B-Tech students are black or Latino and hail from low-income families.

According to Diaz, a charter school would provide a fresh start for students who feel they don’t belong either at B-Tech or Berkeley High.

Curriculum would include new topics such as gaming and 3D movies, digital portfolios, virtual spaces, social networking and website design.

At the Berkeley Board of Education meeting, called specifically to discuss an alternative secondary program, (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary) BAMN members said they opposed a charter school.

“For decades, Berkeley has been a model for integrated public education that works,” said Yvette Felarca, BAMN organizer and a teacher at King Middle School. “And for the last six years, this city has successfully defended itself against legal challenges to its integration plan. But instead of expanding upon our success, this proposed charter school attempts to institutionalize and make a model out of segregated education in Berkeley.”

BAMN organizer and UC Berkeley School of Education alumnus Ronald Cruz contended that public schools were the only way to provide integrated, equal education.

Under REALM, one of the proposals is to convert B-Tech into a charter, which would enroll students from seventh grade onward, according to the Daily Planet.

The King teacher Felarca said there would be no public accountability of charter schools since they are privately run.

My reaction: Why are we afraid of competition? This visceral reaction against charter schools reminds me, on the other extreme, the knee jerk opposition against a healthcare public option. Many on the right are arguing that we should not have a public option because public health insurance sucks. Why not let consumers be the judge of that?

The same goes for education. Felarca and others claim a charter school would offer an inferior education. Why not let families be the judge of that?

Also, I chuckled at these teachers’ insinuation that the Berkeley Unified School District is peacefully integrated. Racial tension is so thick at Berkeley High School that there was even a play written on it. The other dirty secret is Berkeley High School is so huge that only the brightest and those students who have parents advocate for them are the ones likely to thrive. Because of this, the kids falling through the cracks are low-income and African-American or Latino.

I will say though that I am thrilled to see Victor Diaz take the lead on this charter school initiative. His daughters attended Ari’s school for a while and I know he is tough. If anyone can speak his mind and stand up to the education monopoly that is BUSD — excuse me “BAHM” — it is him.