Oct 312014

Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. Become a fanAuthor of The Call to Teach and editor of The Edvocate, www.theedadvocate.org

Posted: 10/30/2014 12:57 pm EDT Updated: 10/30/2014 2:59 pm EDT

Black families want more for their kids and would embrace more challenging PK-12 paths to achieve it.

This is evidenced in the latest Education Post poll on how parents and grandparents feel about educational standards for their kids.

Some of the highlights from Black respondents that were the most powerful:

  • 88 percent said that they support “higher standards and a more challenging curriculum” for students.
  • 93 percent said that they support “more accountability for teachers and principals.”
  • 84 percent said that they support “teacher evaluations that use test scores, classroom observations, and surveys from parents and students to help teachers improve.”

It’s clear that Black families want stronger academics to prepare their students for college, the workforce and an better quality of life. To get there, we have to reject the idea that low-income students automatically translate into low-performing schools.

There are examples like George Hall Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama, proving that higher standards can have outstanding outcomes for students.

At Hall, 99 percent of the 549 students in grades PK-5 are African American. 99 percent of them are categorized as low-income. Still, they outperformed the state average in 4th grade reading, 96 percent to 83 percent, in 2011. Ninety-seven percent of the students exceeded 5th grade math standards in Alabama that year (compared with just 69 percent of white students).

Another school, Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in New Orleans, has achieved similar outcomes. Of the 376 PK-6 students, 94 percent are African American, and 95 percent are low income. In 2012, Bethune was in the 76th percentile for the entire country for the academic achievements of 6th graders. The state average of 6th graders put Louisiana in just the 51st percentile.

The list of schools could go on. These two schools are among many across the country – district, charter, and private – that are disproving the “imminent failure” narratives that use race and poverty to assign black and brown students to lowered expectations. These success stories are proof that despite challenging circumstances outside the classroom walls, these students are succeeding — and at a higher rate than peers that have other advantages.

Eric Mahmoud, the successful school leader of the Harvest Network of Schools in Minnesota talks broadly about closing “belief gap.” In his report on the belief gap, he suggests we need to combat low expectations by highlighting success stories and countering the “myth that our children cannot succeed.”

When one school succeeds, the others will believe that they too can rise to that level too.

How can we do it?

Beyond developing a community-wide belief that these schools can in fact succeed, what tangible ways are successful African American schools making strides? And how can these tactics be applied to the educational community as a whole?

In the case of George Hall, several initiatives have contributed to the upswing in students success, including complete restaffing, accelerated reading programs, extended school days, and increasing experiential learning opportunities.

At Bethune, an emphasis on recruiting experienced teachers and building-wide accountability has helped lift scores and overall achievement. This wasn’t easy in the years following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

There are likely many methods for lifting academic outcomes for African American children. But, they pathway there probably mirrors the poll findings for African Americans: higher standards, strong teaching and curriculum, and accountability for outcomes at all levels.

That, and the belief that our schools can meet the aspirations black communities know their kids deserve.

Follow Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lynch39083

Oct 312014
by Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist   |   October 30, 2014 10:00am ET

Measures taken in the current Ebola outbreak may hold some clues for how to handle samples brought back to Earth from Mars, a place that could potentially host extraterrestrial microbes.

The 1971 sci-fi film “The Andromeda Strain” dramatized the idea of alien organisms infecting the Earth. Based on a novel by Michael Crichton, the film depicts the spread of an alien germ brought back to Earth by a satellite. An elite team of specialists responds, relying on protective hazmat suits, decontamination and disinfection safety levels, and a secret, high-tech underground facility named Wildfire to study and deal with the deadly extraterrestrial organism.

NASA officials have wanted to build and launch a robotic lander that scoops up some Martian samples and returns them to Earth. Similarly, a human expedition to Mars would surely hunt for past or present evidence of life on the Red Planet. Hauling back Martian samples means potentially dealing with biological “hot property,” as well as public concern about creepy crawlers from Mars eating away at Earth’s biosphere. [The Search for Life on Mars (A Photo Timeline)]

Space.com asked some key astrobiologists if today’s Ebola outbreak might have any lessons for future sample-return plans from Mars.

Practice, practice, practice

“While the Ebola situation bears no resemblance to a sample-return mission to Mars, there is a concern that the public could link the two if not purplearrowproperly informed,” said John Rummel, a professor of biology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina.

Rummel is a former chair of the Panel on Planetary Protection of the International Council for Science’s Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), and is a member of the NASA Advisory Council’s Planetary Protection Subcommittee.

Rummel told Space.com that a Mars sample would be contained from the time it leaves Mars until it is proven not to pose a biohazard threat.

“Even more important than the containment facility in which the testing will be done is the fact that scientists will ‘practice, practice, practice’ to ensure that the sample is contained until shown to be safe for release,” Rummel said.

False negatives

The “very tragic set of events” of the current Ebola outbreak may indeed raise public fears about handling potentially infected samples, said Catharine Conley, Planetary Protection Officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington DC.

“In that context,” Conley said, “it is true that the greater public awareness of issues related to hazardous materials not being contained properly, and particularly the unfortunate examples of false negatives — like the person not appearing to be sick when he got off the plane in Dallas — do make it easier to communicate similar concerns in the area of planetary protection.”

The current outbreak also highlights “the need to have good protocols in place prior to bringing potentially hazardous materials back to Earth, and having a very careful and well-tested plan for how to determine that they are ‘safe,’” Conley told Space.com.

“This is something planetary protection has been working on for quite a while now … but recent events demonstrate how important it is for Earth safety to avoid false negatives, as well as avoiding false positives to protect human activities at Mars,” Conley said.

Mass reaction

“I see many issues that we know are a problem being illustrated by the mass reaction, kerfuffle, and misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding Ebola,” said Penelope Boston, an astrobiologist and director of the Cave and Karst Studies Program at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro.

Boston is a geomicrobiologist and astrobiologist with more than 35 years experience.

“If I were personally going to deal with an agent like Ebola I would go train for six months at a Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) containment facility before I trusted myself to work with the virus,” Boston said. “I would always have a safety officer bird-dogging my every movement — the buddy system — that is employed in so many hazardous military and civilian contexts,” she said.

Safety procedures

When going into dangerous and potentially deadly environments, like the sulfuric acid cave in Tabasco, situated in southern Mexico, Boston said, a dedicated safety monitor is part of the exploration team.

“That’s because no person can both keep their mind on the intensive scientific work they are doing and be absolutely assured of their own adherence to very fussy safety procedures,” Boston told Space.com.

“And of course, with spacecraft, we also have the issue of organic chemical cleanliness to deal with, because that could seriously affect the results of highly sensitive life-detection experiments,” Boston said. “So the space exploration case is a double-whammy that we are developing protocols to deal with.”

Quarantine and containment

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has guidelines for all types of biological pathogens, and NASA has worked with the health agency in planning for Mars, said Margaret Race, a senior research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

Race focuses on the scientific, technical, legal and societal issues of ensuring that missions to the Red Planet and other solar system bodies do not either inadvertently bring Earth microbes to Mars, which would complicate the search for indigenous extraterrestrial life, or return any microbes to Earth. [Mars Myths and Misconceptions: A Quiz]

The CDC has designated different levels of containment. The most virulent agents are kept in Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) and have “special” protocols.

“The CDC generally works with known pathogens, but also oversees all types,” Race said. “If in doubt, keep it contained and continue to study it,” she told Space.com. “Quarantine and containment requirements are updated as needed, for example in response to things like Ebola.”

NASA developed its draft Mars sample handling and testing protocols in coordination with experts from CDC and other regulatory agencies, Race said.

Red Planet protocols

NASA’s protocols for Mars samples will take into account both safety and scientific accuracy, Race said.

“Clearly, science considerations also apply,” she said. “According to studies by the U.S. National Research Council, the risks of Mars sample return materials are deemed very low, but not zero.”

NASA will take a deliberately conservative view in handling pristine returned Martian materials, Race aid. This is both for planetary protection considerations, as noted in Outer Space Treaty requirements that are promulgated by COSPAR, and to protect the scientific integrity of the samples.

“Protocols will be updated well in advance of any sample return mission from Mars. There’s already a comprehensive process of review and integration of planetary protection requirements that has been endorsed for implementation well in advance of any sample return mission,” Race emphasized.

“Obviously, any Mars sample return plans will comply with the most up-to-date CDC and other requirements,” Race concluded.

Leonard David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. He is former director of research for the National Commission on Space and is co-author of Buzz Aldrin’s 2013 book “Mission to Mars – My Vision for Space Exploration,” published by National Geographic. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

Oct 312014


Published: Oct. 31, 2014

Cheating concerns force delay in SAT scores for South Koreans and Chinese

By Nick Anderson and Valerie Strauss

Concerns about possible cheating on the SAT in Asia have led test overseers to withhold scores for students from China and South Korea who took the college admission exam nearly three weeks ago.

The nature and extent of the alleged security breach were unclear Thursday because the College Board and its contractor, the Educational Testing Service, revealed few details about the unfolding investigation. But the score-reporting delay could affect thousands of students seeking admission to U.S. colleges as November deadlines loom for early applications.

“Based on specific, reliable information, we have placed the scores of all students who are current residents of Korea or China and sat for the Oct. 11 international administration of the SAT on hold while we conduct an administrative review,” the College Board and ETS said in a joint statement. “The review is being conducted to ensure that illegal actions by individuals or organizations do not prevent the majority of test-takers who have worked hard to prepare for the exam from receiving valid and accurate scores.”

An international admissions counselor and the leader of an admissions and counseling network told The Washington Post that some students at test centers in other Asian countries reportedly were caught checking smartphones to get cribbed answers to SAT questions while taking the exam.

The alleged cheating cast a spotlight on a critical academic pipeline. China and South Korea are the top two suppliers of foreign undergraduates in the United States. There were more than 93,000 Chinese and 38,000 South Korean undergraduates in U.S. colleges in the 2012-2013 school year, according to the Institute of International Education.

The College Board has declined to say how many students per foreign country take the SAT. But it is likely that most Chinese and South Korean applicants do. For many, Oct. 11 was a key test date because it was the last administration of the test before early applications start to come due on Nov. 1.

Matthew Lee, of Fairfax County, an education consultant for college-bound students in Korea, said his clients were “devastated” when they heard the Oct. 11 results were delayed. Some worry that scores will be invalidated and they will have to take the test over again.

“They worked so hard over the summer,” he said. Lee said some parents wonder if their children should register for the test in another country, in case colleges harbor any suspicions about scores from tests taken in South Korea.

The College Board, a nonprofit organization based in New York, sought to allay concerns. It said scores “will be returned as quickly as possible” in November. “The College Board will make universities aware of the circumstances and can supply students with a letter to share with the schools to which they are applying,” the organization said in a statement.

At George Washington University in the District of Columbia, which recruits heavily from China and South Korea, a senior official said that a delay in score reporting would not disadvantage applicants from those countries. “We don’t want prospective students who’ve done nothing wrong to be worried about a negative impact on their applications,” said Laurie Koehler, GWU’s senior associate provost for enrollment management.

The College Board said the SAT is given in more than 175 countries, at more than 1,000 testing centers outside the United States. The only testing allowed in China, officials said, is at international schools. That means Chinese students typically go to Hong Kong or another country to take the SAT.

Scores are being withheld for all Chinese and Korean residents, according to the College Board, regardless of where they took the test.

College Board and ETS officials said the rules for test administration are no different whether it is given in San Francisco or Seoul. Cellphones and other portable computing devices are prohibited, with an exception for approved calculators during the mathematics assessment. Test proctors enforce rules, sometimes with help from private security firms.

Exactly what prompted the investigation is unclear. The College Board/ETS statement on Wednesday denounced “organizations that seek to illegally obtain test materials for their own profit, to the ultimate detriment of all students.” That indicated a concern that test questions were circulating illicitly in advance or during the exam.

Paul Kanarek, a senior vice president for the test-preparation company Princeton Review, which has operations in Asia, said the educational culture in China and South Korea puts a huge premium on test scores. He said some tutors will try any tactic, including stealing questions in advance, to help their students get an edge. “There is enormous pressure and incentive to take advantage by hook and by crook,” Kanarek said.

On Thursday, there were signs that test integrity questions were being raised outside of South Korea and China.

Ffiona Rees, president of the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling, wrote in an e-mail:

“From what I understand from our Facebook group, there were several cases where our members (not in China or Korea) found significant instances of student fraud — including a student with entire pages of the SAT scanned on the phone. The student had the entire test with answers and essay already completed.”

Joachim Ekstrom, a counselor at NIST International School in Bangkok — a site where some Chinese visitors took the test — wrote in an e-mail that one student was caught using an iPhone.

“Her mistake was that she checked the notes on her phone during testing, and one of the proctors noticed it,” Ekstrom wrote. “As I searched her phone I saw that it was full of messages including the day’s ‘correct’ test answers for each section.”

Tom Ewing, a spokesman for ETS, said he could not discuss specific reports of possible cheating. He also declined to elaborate on the scope of the investigation. “We’re really not . . . detailing how many students are affected,” he said.

Michael Alison Chandler contributed to this report.

Oct 302014


By Jane Dail

The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

While the board of trustees approved a budget for the 2014-15 school year, Pitt Community College officials are planning for budget cuts in the near future.

PCC President Dennis Massey said the college already plans to talk to the legislature about the two-year budget, which would start in July.

“We are already developing our agenda for the long session, which begins in January,” he said.

Massey said the college already has been asked by the N.C. Community College System to set aside a 2 percent reversion, about $895,000, for this fiscal year in case there are revenue problems at the state level. He said Gov. Pat McCrory also has asked for another 2 percent cut next year.

“We would prefer not to put that completely on the students in terms of tuition increase,” he said. “We’ve made it a blend, a proposal if taken. It’s a blend of tuition increases and cuts to programs. The reality is that across the state there is an effort to slim down, and we’re doing everything we can to minimize the cuts here.”

Massey said he believes PCC is in a better position than many other community colleges because of enrollment but also because of the faculty and staff.

“They’ve really gone the extra mile, and I think we are doing a good job in serving the area and following through with the (strategic goals) of the college,” he said.

The board also accepted a budget for this fiscal year of $120,085,754, which is $1.5 million higher than previous year. Board member Tyree Walker said one of the main reasons for the increase was due to a $1,000 salary increase and additional funding from McCrory’s Closing the Skills Gap initiative.

The board of trustees also discussed an audit conducted for the 2012-13 year, which had two findings related to continuing education.

One finding was that the college was granting inappropriate fee waivers to members of the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps. Military personnel are not listed in the state general statutes as able to have fees and tuition waived in community colleges.

The other finding was that in the spring of 2012, hours were miscalculated and over-reported for the budget for full-time students for non-regularly scheduled classes.

Walker said those items have since been corrected.

Rick Owens, vice president of administrative services, also reported that PCC started its process of reviewing criminal background checks for all employees last year and will continue to do it this year.

He said since the checks started, PCC officials have found eight “adverse actions,” where people were not hired due to past convictions.

Meeting documents stated potential employees and federal work-study students were not hired for reasons including number of convictions, nature of convictions relative to position, time elapsed since conviction, evidence of successful employment in a similar position since conviction and whether the applicant would pose an unreasonable risk.

Owens said the personnel committee has been discussing ways to ensure consistency.

“(We need to ensure) if we have two individuals with the same backgrounds are treated the exact same,” he said.

Other items discussed at the meeting include:

  • PCC is still in talks to purchase a Bank of America building in Farmville for a possible location there, although board Chairman Charles Long said this has not been finalized yet.

PCC officials discussed participating in a regional Workforce Summit on Oct. 2, which helped businesses and industries communicate with community colleges.

  • The college hired an assistant vice president of information technology, the last senior management position that was empty.

Contact Jane Dail at jdail@reflector or 252-329-9585.

Oct 302014


By Abbie Bennett

The Daily Reflector

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Nearly 200 people gathered in downtown Greenville to celebrate the growth and progress of the city’s central district during the State of the District annual meeting.

A detailed presentation was given at the event Tuesday by Uptown Greenville Director Bianca Shoneman to bring attendees — including government officials, business owners and others — up to date on the progress in the city’s downtown area. Ron Mitchelson, interim provost at East Carolina University, also gave a presentation on the urban geography of the area.

The presentation focused on the landscape of Greenville, particularly the property tax base. About one third of the property in Greenville is not taxable, largely due to government-owned properties, Vidant Health’s properties and East Carolina University, Mitchelson said.

There are about 138,391 taxable acres in Pitt County, he said. The total taxable value is about $9.9 billion. About $5.1 billion of that amount is in Greenville. Greenville has about 9 percent of the county’s land, but about 51 percent of its taxable value, Mitchelson said.

In a breakdown of taxable value per acre by district in the city, Uptown Greenville found that the downtown district is valued at about $1 million per acre, the East 10th Street area is about $485,000, the medical district is about $282,000, west Greenville is about $208,000, Dickinson is about $170,000 and the airport is about $109,000 per acre.

Taxable value per acre by land use showed the most valuable was in the shopping category, at about $567,000 per acre, followed by office uses at about half that value, service, warehouse, residential and other.

Since 2013, Uptown Greenville reported more than $50 million in private investment downtown, including 162 new full or part-time jobs created, 20 new businesses and 14 building improvements.

Residential units downtown include about 524 available beds with an additional 545 in development for a total 1,069 expected in 2015.

Mitchelson called the downtown area the heart of the city, and said a healthy, vibrant downtown was key for the city and ECU in attracting new businesses, residents and students.

The downtown area attracts about 78,000 people, equivalent to about 87 percent of the municipal population to the district with more than 50 events annually, a 14 percent increase from 2013. Uptown Greenville had about 700 volunteers in the last year, Shoneman said.

More than 20 restaurants call downtown Greenville home, with more on the way. More than 50 retail establishments also are located downtown, with five opening in 2014.

Uptown Greenville officials advised that in order to continue residential momentum, the downtown area needs additional housing designed to attract the millennial and baby boomer populations. Preferences include smaller units with attractive pricing and access to diverse transportation options.

Future goals for the district beyond residential growth include a performing arts center, hotel recruitment and restoration of the downtown theater.


Contact Abbie Bennett at abennett@reflector.com or 252-329-9579. Follow her on Twitter @AbbieRBennett.

Oct 302014


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The academic scandal involving student athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill should be inspiring a wave of recognition among other universities that the economic culture within college athletics must change. For anything positive to come from this unfolding disaster for modern academia, there must be a mutual reckoning among all who have looked the other way — to any degree — rather than upset the golden goose of big-money college sports.

Investigator Kenneth L. Wainstein’s report on the scandal, released earlier this month, details how “paper classes” in UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies were used for nearly two decades to boost grades for student athletes in danger of losing their team eligibility. A former U.S. Justice Department official, Wainstein estimated that 3,100 students — about half of them athletes — took the classes, which included practically no instruction and required little work.

This story reflects directly and terribly on UNC, which maintains an otherwise proud tradition of academic excellence as one of the nation’s oldest and most respected public universities. Plenty of other schools have weathered scandals involving inappropriate grades given to star athletes. But in terms of measuring official misconduct in providing academic success where none was earned, it appears that UNC has achieved the highest score.

Coincidentally, the UNC scandal broke during the same year — 2011 — as one at Penn State. While the two are not comparable in terms of abhorrent criminal behavior, the root cause for the escalation of each scandal is the same: money.

Universities large and small cannot afford to further ignore the economic realities and social responsibilities attached to the millions of dollars flowing into their budgets from the cable television phenomenon that college sports has become. East Carolina, with its successful football season, is reaping those rewards now. Amid the excitement of watching the Pirates on a national stage, ECU and its fans should view the troubling revelations at UNC as a sobering reminder to play by the rules.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, who took the flagship wheel in July 2013, told The Washington Post last week that gaps in oversight led to the paper classes being allowed to continue for 18 years without high-level administrators knowing. It is unlikely that such a culture of low scrutiny regarding academic eligibility requirements for athletes is confined to UNC.

The legacy of UNC is forever tarnished by this scandal. The legacy of the scandal should be that it forever changed the way all universities accommodate, promote and benefit from college athletes and athletics.

Oct 302014


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I would like to thank Ken Wainstein and his 131-page report for confirming what many have known for years: The “Carolina Way” is the greatest joke ever told. It will be interesting to see what the UNC Board of Governors will do in light of the report. For some reason or another, I haven’t read much (if anything) from the Board of Governors regarding the improprieties and attempts to obfuscate knowledge thereof by “the flagship.”

I wonder if anyone will question ACC commissioner John Swofford. If my math is correct, the former UNC football player was UNC’s athletic director at the time the fraudulent classes began. Maybe he didn’t see it as a problem considering Dean Smith, the author of the “Carolina Way,” was head basketball coach at the time. Who knows what his reasoning was, but it would be interesting to hear what he has to say.

I wonder if The Daily Reflector will interview Pitt County’s own UNC BOG member and former UNC announcer Henry Hinton regarding this issue. It would be interesting to hear what he has to say because of his ties to UNC. I have a feeling that all the other UNC system schools will not go unscathed in the BOG’s attempt to protect “the flagship.” Methinks some banners need to come down from the Smith Center rafters.



Oct 302014


Published: Oct. 30, 2014

Ebola prompts new UNC, NCSU travel rules

By Jay Price

RALEIGH — UNC-Chapel Hill tightened rules Wednesday for official travel to the three West African nations that have been hit by the Ebola epidemic – banning such travel outright for students and requiring more layers of approval for faculty and staff.

N.C. State University plans to issue similar restrictions Thursday.

Officials at both schools said such travel was unusual but that it made sense to have policies in place that follow the evolving federal guidelines on dealing with Ebola risk.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that all education-related travel to the three countries be postponed until further notice.

Faculty and staff can get waivers from UNC but will need advance approval from their school and also from a new review panel. Employees of the health care system must get advance approval there.

A key goal is to make sure that those traveling to help with the crisis – as some faculty already have – are aware of the full range of risks, including the potential that on their return they could face new local, state or federal quarantine rules, said Katie Bowler Young, director of Global Relations for UNC Global, the office that oversees UNC-CH’s international programs.

The university already required faculty, staff and students planning international travel to register their plans. A check of the registry Wednesday, Young said, revealed no travel or planned travel to the three affected countries from August to February.

Travel to and from that area on official business was already being carefully monitored, and faculty and staff had to have their plans reviewed by the provost’s office, she said.

The policy also says students or university employees who are thinking about travel to the affected countries for personal reasons are “strongly discouraged” from doing so until the epidemic ends.

At NCSU, the new restrictions also will probably have minimal effect, since the university has no study abroad programs in the affected areas, said spokesman Mick Kulikowski. NCSU officials aren’t aware of any students doing independent study or graduate research in the affected areas.

The UNC travel ban came on the same day as the weekly update by state health officials on preparations across the state in case the deadly virus makes an appearance here.

There still are no known or suspected cases of Ebola here, but issues surrounding the handful of cases that have appeared elsewhere in the country mean it’s important to “overcommunicate” information about the disease to the public and health care workers, said DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos.

A new DHHS website, www.ncdhhs.gov/ebola, provides regularly updated information on the disease and has already logged more than 18,000 visits.

Price: 919-829-4526