Monday Morning Open Thread

First of all, Happy Memorial Day! I hope you all are enjoying a day off from school and/or work. We are having one of those unusual — but welcome — days of doing NOTHING. A lot of our friends are out-of-town so we’ve had the rare opportunity to hang out as a family. What are you up to today?

In other news: Michelle Rhee, self-described education reformer and controversial figure in the politics of public education, will be speaking next Friday in nearby Mountain View, California.

I have read and written so much about her and despite my trepidation, I RSVPed for the event. I will definitely fill you in!

I am wondering how all her work on the road is actually helping students. Also, I wonder what brings her to California. If you had the chance to meet her, what would you ask her? Thanks in advance!

Now that I got that off my chest, I want to rant about something that’s been bugging me for a while: calling the Democratic Party the “mommy party”. Really, what is wrong with that? Apparently everything to certain quarters of our country.

Most recently, the conservative Texas Civil Justice League disseminated a flyer that read “Don’t Expand the Nanny State,” and had a graphic picture of a child suckling a woman’s bare breast, according to the Texas Tribune. The group has since apologized for the “inappropriate” image, but what most irks me is this thinking that being caring, nurturing — gasp, a mother! — is somehow undesirable. Eff you, Texas Civil Justice League!

On the flipside, this ABC News clip at Mombian had me in tears. ABC News sent actors pretending to be gay parents and a homophobic waitress at a diner in a conservative part of Texas. Contrary to a similar experiment in New York City, an overwhelming number of Texans stood up to the waitress in support of the gay family. Go Texas!

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

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Well, the kid sister is back! She returned from a few months of travel in South America in January and has stayed with us ever since. DH was like, “She never told us how long she’d stay and she has been helpful with the kids. Should we just invite her to stay for good?” No matter. She made herself at home and the kids adore her. What can I say? We grew up on top of each other in a multi-generational household. We find comfort in each other’s company, and I am thrilled my kids will grow up with such an involved tia.

These are the types of news stories that Ari loves: archeologists and geologists are certain that they have found the lost city of Atlantis, which legend says was wiped out by a tsunami, off the coast of southern Spain, according to MSNBC.com.

Also on MSNBC.com: Nestlé Prepared Foods Co. announced a recall of Lean Cuisine Simple Favorites Spaghetti with Meatballs after reports that some consumers found red plastic pieces in the meatball portion of the dinner.

Forbes just released the names of the world’s richest women. This is what gets me every year: at No. 1 and No. 3 are billionaire heiresses Christy Walton and Alice Walton whose late husband and father, respectively, founded Wal-Mart. They are worth $26.5 billion (Christy) and $21.2 billion (Alice). Yet, most Wal-Mart employees are uninsured, live below the poverty line, and their children qualify for free school lunches. I just find this disparity so icky. I swear the greed in this country is almost sociopathic.

In related news, four out of ten American millionaires do not feel that $7 million is enough to be considered “rich,” according to a Fidelity Investments survey quoted by Reuters. As one commenter noted, “If $7 million isn’t ‘rich’ anymore then 99% of us are actually poor.” Seriously.

Vouchers are rearing their head again as legislators in Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania have introduced bills for them, according to the Wall Street Journal.

As I have stated here a zillion times before, I don’t doubt that taking the poorest children — according to the WSJ story, those living below the poverty line — and putting them in private schools isn’t beneficial to them. However, I wonder if vouchers would be properly funded and non-discriminatory towards special needs children, who are often the most expensive students to educate. A $7,000 voucher, which WSJ listed as the higher amount, wouldn’t begin to cover a private school education, much less for a child with special needs.

In many urban centers, a secular private school like Sidwell Friends, which is where President Obama sends his daughters, costs around $30,000+ per year. Not only would a $7,000 voucher not cover the tuition for a student with a voucher, but it wouldn’t help a private school retrofit its building for wheelchair ramps or hire additional staff to meet the needs of special education students. This is a big omission on the part of WSJ.


In other education news: I smiled when I saw this picture in the Dallas Morning News as I know that our Lisa in Austin attended this rally against school funding cuts.

Let’s end with some celebrity news, shall we? I was thrilled to learn in Vanity Fair that Robert Pattison and Reese Witherspoon are playing the main characters of one of my favorite novels, Water for Elephants. Come next month, I will be seeing that one in the theater! In other celebrity news: Canadian singer Bryan Adams is expecting his first child at the age of 51, according to the New York Post.  

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

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Schools Cost Money to Run

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, a group that advocates for lower taxes and less government spending, has called approximately 350,000 households urging families to encourage their representatives to cut school budgets — but not the teaching staff, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“Right now, public education bureaucrats are threatening to scare parents and teachers by threatening the classroom,“ Sullivan says on the call. “Superintendents and school board members say they’ll start making cuts by letting teachers go. That’s irresponsible. The classroom must be protected. … Tell your state legislators to stand firm on cutting the budget and tell them that cuts must be made outside the classroom.“

As someone who has sat on the board of a start-up school and had to look at the economics of running a school, I was left scratching my head. To borrow a phrase from an infamous Texan, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility seem to be relying on “fuzzy math.”

Even with cheap rent, no buses, no school cafeteria or even custodial staff, at least 2/3 of your budget is going to be teachers. And the lower the class-teacher ratio is — something favored by many parents — the more expensive it is.

Let’s take an hypothetical kindergarten classroom, in which your teacher is paid $35,000 a year plus benefits. Let’s say she has 25 students, which is A LOT and IMHO not very conducive to learning. Nonetheless, taxpayers have to pay $1,400 per student just to pay that teacher’s salary. Notice that this does not include money for benefits, the principal’s salary, the person-answering-the-phone/writing-the-tardy-slips’ salary, or any “extras” like the P.E. teacher, the art teacher or music teacher. I haven’t even touched on the bus drivers or cafeteria lady or custodians or money to power the school’s building. Or school supplies. Or furniture.

The truth is it costs A LOT of money to run a school that bake sales just don’t cut it. I know this isn’t very politically palatable and can’t be easily mentioned in a robo call, but if you want educated children — eventually adults — you have to pay for it.

In somewhat related news, the New York Times ran an article about the disrespect towards teachers. Even as many struggle to pay back their student loans and make a living off of teaching, politicians are scapegoating them and protesters are holding up signs with these gems: “Oh you pathetic teachers” and “You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.” Then we wonder why our kids feel entitled. Jeez.

Any other thoughts on the state of education in our country?

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

First, let’s wish our tjb22 a very happy birthday!

In other news: former First Lady Barbara Bush wrote a compelling column for the Houston Chronicle calling on parents to do their part to help their children’s schools and for those who drive by schools every day to go inside and help. Texas is facing some harsh budget cuts at a time when teacher salaries, SAT scores and high school graduation rates are all low, the former first lady said.

Glad to see it isn’t only women who suffer from “maternity leave envy.” Here is a dad’s letter to Carolyn Hax:

Silver Spring, MD. : Not to get too progressive on you, but I’m a new dad and I’m having maternity leave envy. I did not expect this at all, but I am jealous that my wife gets to spend this time at home with our gorgeous 6-week-old daughter. Looking back I kind of resent that she scheduled this leave without even considering an alternative arrangement–such as half her, half me. Am I just being a dope?

Carolyn Hax: If you nurture this into full-blown resentment, then, yes, you’re being a dope–especially since it doesn’t sound as if you considered an alternate arrangement, either. At least not until now, after the fact.

You are not being a dope if you are just nuts about your new kid, want to be more involved, and use this smitten energy to figure out some way to do that. Talk to your wife, look at your family-leave policies at work, check your account balances and see what you can do.

Two of the best things parents can do for their kids is to want to be with their kids, and to want to be together. Don’t make a lunge for one at the expense of the other.

Did you or your spouse suffer from maternity leave envy?


I love this quote by political commentator Mark Shields that landed on the PBS News Hour, Time magazine, and even my e-mail box as a forward:

We saw a white, Catholic, Republican federal judge murdered on his way to greet a Democratic (Jewish Congresswoman) woman. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year-old Mexican-American college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon. And then it was all eulogized and explained by our African-American president…That’s a remarkable statement about the country.

Wow.

Anyone who thinks that President Obama is a socialist should read this Huffington Post story, which is actually an AP story. According to AP, the percentage of the nation’s economy that is taxes is at its lowest levels since 1950. For the third straight year, families and businesses in the U.S. will pay less in federal taxes than they did under former President George W. Bush. AP also does a good job of breaking down all the ways families are saving in federal taxes. Of course, they are paying for it in local tax increases, bond measures and less social services.

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

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Good and Bad News on Achievement Gap in Texas

First, the bad news: there is still an achievement gap between white students and their minority peers in Texas that will probably take years to close.

But the good news is that gap is closing, at least in math, according to the Houston Chronicle.  

Researchers noted the gains made in Texas by black and Hispanic eighth-graders in math. Last year, 74 percent of the Hispanic students passed the math test, up from half in 2005. The passing rate for black children grew from 44 percent to 66 percent.

White eighth-graders also improved though at a slower rate, from 75 percent passing the state test to 88 percent.

The researchers cautioned that the data don’t tell the full story. Their analysis of average scores on the TAKS — rather than the more commonly cited passing rates – found that the achievement gap widened in some cases, such as in fourth-grade reading.

Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency, attributed the gains in scores in part to the state law requiring extra help for students who fail the TAKS in grades three, five and eight. She also said training in literacy and algebra instruction for middle school teachers has helped, as have pre-kindergarten classes that give students a head start.

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

The DREAM Act may come up for a vote this week. Here is a list of Democratic and Republican legislators whose votes are up in the air. Please call if any of them are your members of Congress.

In somewhat related news, the Pentagon released a report stating that 70 percent of U.S. service members believe repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have little or no effect on their units, according to the Washington Post. Also in the Washington Post: in one of the few bipartisan votes during this Administration, the Senate passed a sweeping food safety bill to ensure that less Americans get sick from salmonella and other food contaminants.

Yesterday, I reviewed relationship expert Laurie Puhn’s book Fight Less, Love More. Coincidentally, she also had a column in the Huffington Post about the root of divorce. Also from Puhn’s Expecting Words blog: she wrote a response to the responses she received to a column she wrote about a hospital doing away with the nursery. She thought it was unfair for a tired mother to have to care for her baby round-the-clock while she was at the hospital. What is your take on this?

The number of adults in Texas with diabetes is expected to quadruple over the next 30 years, according to the Texas Tribune. Demographers are attributing the spike in diabetes cases to an aging population and obesity.  

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

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

New Hampshire was ranked the healthiest state for children, although the ranking did not include an increase in poverty rates due to the recession, according to a report covered by the Associated Press. Minnesota and Vermont ranked No. 2 and No. 3 respectively on the list.

On the other end of the spectrum, the same foundation that issued the report, found that Texas has the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

The New York office of the commissioner of investigation for city schools has recommended that high school history teacher Nathan Turner be banned from teaching in the public schools for taking students to Cuba in 2007, according to the New York Daily News. The students were detained in the Bahamas for the unauthorized trip, although their parents allowed them to go.

Struggling cities in the United States are offering free land to encourage people to settle there and pay taxes, according to MSN Money.

The Chicago Tribune ran an article on how technology is cutting into teenagers’ precious sleep.

PBS Kids will air a science special that features the Cat in the Hat on Labor Day, September 6. The show will air at 8 a.m. You can view a clip at Facebook.

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

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Thursday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

This is sad. Thirty-two U.S. soldiers killed themselves last month, the highest number in a single month since the Vietnam era, according to CNN. Also in CNN: some parents in Helena, Montana, are peeved at a proposed health education curriculum they say are teaching their children about sex too young. I was proud of this mom defending it: “It sounds like they are teaching body parts and things that are facts of life,” (Cathy) Areu said. “I feel more comfortable with my daughter learning about this in a classroom than from a boy in the hallway.” Amen.

This is brave. Unlike their parents’ generation, undocumented college students are standing up, protesting and letting everyone (including the police) know that they are undocumented, according to the Washington Post. They are drawing awareness to the proposed Dream Act, which would give undocumented students — brought to this country as babies or young children — a temporary work visa.

The Texas Board of Education will decide this week whether to allot money for charter school facilities, according to the Austin American-Statesman. And whoa: four in 10 Texas teachers held second jobs to make ends meet, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Doctors in the UK are trying to link childhood obesity with neglect, according to the Guardian.

Sorry I have been quiet in the threads lately. But I have been preparing for the Parents Caucus, which is tomorrow, by the way, at 10:30 a.m. in the Miranda 5 room of the Rio Hotel & Casino.

Also, DH and I have had some much-needed alone time. What did we do with our time? We went to lots of restaurants, went to the movies and fit in a show, Jersey Boys, which was incredible.

I admit, that initially Jersey Boys was a back-up as we couldn’t find anything better. I wanted to see Cher and DH wanted to see Jerry Seinfeld — but they are off right now. So Jersey Boys it was, and I was enthralled. I found myself bobbing my head, kicking my leg and eventually standing up to cheer for the actors who played Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. It was great music, good plot, excellent acting that I didn’t even notice the time go by. Afterwards, I had to google “Frankie Valli” and the other members of the group to see what they were up to nowadays and find out their reaction to the musical. (They actually helped promote it.)

Now it’s time for work, although I always enjoy Netroots Nation because it is basically a reunion of friends. I will definitely keep you guys in the loop on what’s happening.

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

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Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Good news: the Senate voted 60-40, pretty much along party lines, to extend jobless benefits to millions of people unemployed for more than six months, according to the Washington Post. Also, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted, pretty much along party lines, to send Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, according to the Washington Post. If she gains the approval of the Senate as she is expected to do, Kagan will become the 4th woman nominated to the highest court of the land.  

Have a healthcare question for U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS), Kathleen Sebelius? You may post it at the MomsRising website.

The Texas Tribune ran an article on how fewer Mexican students are applying to border universities like the University of Texas in El Paso in favor of colleges further north like the University of Texas in Austin.

E-book sales are already outnumbering hardback book sales at Amazon, according to the New York Times. Also in the New York Times: small businesses are turning to health insurance plans with fewer doctors to choose from as a way to cut costs.  

The Momologie newsletter offered these natural remedies to remove stains from clothes:

• Hydrogen peroxide based products and non-chlorine bleach can help keep things really white without the noxious fumes. We also love Borax for keeping whites, white.
• Drying out in the sun has a wonderful bleaching effect on clothes. Boost the results by adding lemon juice to the rinse cycle.
• If you have hard water, which can yellow your clothes, add vinegar to your rinse water.

What other tricks do you have up your sleeve?

Non-Toxic Kids ran a guest post on how to keep your baby safe in the summer heat. In case you missed it, Kellogg’s had a massive cereal recall, including 28 million boxes of Corn Pops, Honey Smacks, Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks, for a petroleum-based compound in the packaging. Katy Farber, editor of Non-Toxic Kids, has the details.  

Finally, congrats to Argentina for becoming the first Latin American country to legalize gay marriage, according to the Huffington Post.

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

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Friday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

Good news: the House Education and Labor committee passed a bipartisan Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill by a 32-13 vote. The bill would improve on school lunches. Jill Richardson over at La Vida Locavore is not confident it will receive all the necessary funding though.

Washington D.C. has the most educated people of any major city, according to a study covered by the Washington Post.

Back-to-school shopping is the biggest season for retailers after Christmas, and so far, things are not looking good. Sales are expected to fall short that retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and others, plan to offer specials and contests to lure parents, according to the Dallas Morning News.

From my Texas newsletter (just so you all don’t think I watch FOX News!): Texas Gov. Rick Perry is proposing denying driver’s licenses to high school dropouts, as well as a $1,500 tax break for employers who aid a worker in earning a diploma, according to Houston’s FOX affliliate. What do you all think of this proposal?

And ain’t this the truth:

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

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