USDA sets guidelines for healthier school meals

School meals for millions of children will be healthier under obesity-fighting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards unveiled on Wednesday that double the fruits and vegetables in cafeteria lunches – but won’t pull French fries from the menu, Reuters reports. In the first major changes to school breakfasts and lunches in more than 15 years, the new USDA guidelines will affect nearly 32 million children who eat at school. They will cost the federal government about $3.2 billion to implement over the next five years.

“Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step to building a healthy future for our kids,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement…

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Opinion: Require kids to stay in school? Not so fast….

Anytime you hear government officials mandating new behaviors to a broad swath of the population, that mandate is likely to run afoul of the First Amendment, says Sam Chaltain, a D.C.-based educator and strategist, for the Washington Post. And so it is with President Obama’s announcement in his 2012 State of the Union address on Tuesday night that all states should “require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Although Mr. Obama made other pronouncements about education –see Dana Goldstein’s good summary analysis in The Nation — the stay-in-school mandate was the one that caught my ear, since enforcing it would run afoul of both the United States Supreme Court and our historic commitment to religious liberty. The case that established the precedent originated in Wisconsin, where a group of Amish families were convicted of violating the state’s school attendance law by withdrawing their children after they graduated from the eighth grade (the law required kids to stay in school until they turned 16)…

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Report tracks states’ progress toward Common Core standards

A new survey outlines states' progress as they implement the Common Core State Standards.

As the Common Core State Standards continue to gain momentum, states say they are more rigorous than previous standards, but many cite challenges in fully implementing the standards, particularly where funding is concerned.

Year Two of Implementing the Common Core State Standards: States’ Progress and Challenges,” a new report from the Center on Education Policy (CEP), sheds light on states’ progress as they work to implement common standards in English language arts and mathematics, and it identifies areas in which states anticipate a struggle as they implement the standards.

Full implementation of the Common Core State Standards is “a complex undertaking that will take time and affect many aspects of the education system,” said Diane Stark Rentner, director of national programs for CEP and co-author of the study. “Looming over this entire process is the major challenge of adequate resources. Policy makers should be aware that funding problems could cause states to curtail or delay some of their plans.”

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics as of January 2012.

CEP has tracked states’ implementation progress through surveys of deputy state superintendents of education or their designees for the past two years.

From October through December 2011, CEP conducted another survey to gain more information about states’ most recent strategies, policies, and challenges as they worked through their second year of implementation. In addition to policy updates and challenges, survey questions also addressed financial concerns and other relevant issues.

In all, 37 states and the District of Columbia responded to the CEP survey, which counts D.C. as a state for ease of reporting. At the time of the survey, 35 of the 38 respondents said they have adopted the Common Core State Standards in English and math, one had adopted English standards but not math standards, and two had not adopted standards in either subject.


Dell Social Innovation Challenge supports student entrepreneurs

Dell is now accepting applications for the 2012 Dell Social Innovation Challenge, a program that gives students from around the world the chance to bring their entrepreneurial ideas to life to solve some of the world’s most challenging issues.

For the sixth consecutive year, Dell is partnering with the University of Texas at Austin’s RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service to help fuel the entrepreneurial spirit of the best and brightest minds through this program. During the past six years, more than 3,000 inspiring social innovation projects stemming from 90 countries have been submitted through the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, which provides mentoring, tools, and more than $350,000 in cash prizes to teams of student entrepreneurs from across the globe.

The program’s newly developed site allows students to upload their project ideas directly and encourages judges, mentors, and other interested parties to vote for their favorite ideas. Students have until Feb. 14 to submit their project proposals.


Obama challenges lawmakers to strengthen education

"I intend to fight obstruction with action," the president said.

In a State of the Union address that was as much a campaign speech as a call to action, President Obama touted his administration’s success in spurring school reform and challenged lawmakers to build on this success by investing more in education and research to “prepare for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Facing a deeply divided Congress, Obama appealed for lawmakers to send him legislation on a host of issues, including education, clean energy, housing, and immigration reform—knowing full well the election-year prospects are bleak but aware that polls show the independent voters who lifted him to the presidency crave bipartisanship.

The president contrasted the selflessness and teamwork of the American troops who took out Osama Bin Laden with the gridlock that exists in Congress.

“Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example,” he told a packed chamber and tens of millions of Americans watching in prime time on Jan. 24. “Think about the America within our reach: A country that leads the world in educating its people. An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs. … An economy built to last, where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded.”

Later, he said: “I intend to fight obstruction with action.” House Republicans greeted his words with stony silence.

Read the portions of Obama’s speech that deal with education here.

Attempts to rewrite the 10-year-old No Child Left Behind law are one example of how Congress has been unable to reach an agreement, despite widespread consensus on the need for reform. Several bills addressing NCLB have stalled in Congress.

Obama talked about the value of good teachers and called on policy makers to stop “bashing them.” He offered lawmakers a deal: More resources to help teachers succeed, in exchange for more flexibility to help schools “replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

The president also suggested that states pass laws requiring students to stay in school until age 18 or when they graduate, and he called on colleges to end “skyrocketing” tuition costs. If they don’t, he suggested that federal funding to colleges may go down—though he didn’t offer specifics.

Obama said his administration has “put more boots on the border than ever before,” resulting in “fewer illegal crossings.” But he asked Congress to create a path to citizenship for children who come to the United States with their undocumented parents if they complete college.


Guns at school? Colorado Republicans say ‘Yes’

Colorado state senators on Monday rejected legislation proposed by Republicans that would allow concealed weapons on school campuses, KJCT 8 News reports. Colorado Republicans proposed five pieces of legislation in both the state House and the Senate that were either similar or identical to previous pro-gun bills that have failed in the past, according the Colorado Statesman. Two nearly identical bills introduced in the House and Senate would ease restrictions on carrying concealed handguns and firearms by lifting permit requirements, the Statesman reported.  Other sets of bills would prohibit authorities from confiscating weapons during emergencies and would eliminate the requirement that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation perform backgrounds checks on potential gun owners because they are already screened once by weapons dealers…

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Remarks by President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union Address

…Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic.  Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College.  The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training.  It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.

I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did.  Join me in a national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.  My administration has already lined up more companies that want to help.  Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, and Orlando, and Louisville are up and running.  Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers -– places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

And I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need.  It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.

These reforms will help people get jobs that are open today.  But to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier.

For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation.

But challenges remain.  And we know how to solve them.

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers.  We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.  A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.  Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.  Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies — just to make a difference.

Teachers matter.  So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.  Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones.  And in return, grant schools flexibility:  to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.  That’s a bargain worth making.

We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.

When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college.  At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.


NY bill would make crimes out of SAT cheating

New York would make felonies out of cheating on the SAT college entrance test under a bill released Tuesday as part of a legislative investigation into a scandal in an affluent New York City suburb, the Associated Press reports. The measure proposed by Sen. Kenneth LaValle of Suffolk County would create new felonies of facilitation of education testing fraud and of scheming to defraud educational testing and create a misdemeanor of forgery of a test. The felonies would apply to a test taker who impersonates someone else for pay. The bill also calls for photo identification and other ways to prove the test taker matches the name on the test. Other potential test security measures include fingerprinting and retinal scans…

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Watch: Bishop slams public schools: Hitler and Mussolini ‘Would love our system’

Religious leaders in Philadelphia are frustrated with the battle over school choice, to the extent that Harrisburg Bishop Joseph McFadden says fascist leaders Hitler and Mussolini “would love” our education system, the Huffington Post reports.

In totalitarian governments, they would love our system,” McFadden told WHTM-TV. “This is what Hitler and Mussolini and all those tried to establish a monolith so all the children would be educated in one set of beliefs and one way of doing things.”

In response, Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, notes to the Scranton Atheism Examiner that public school systems don’t indoctrinate children, as they are told to be neutral on matters of religious belief, whereas Catholic schools can teach Catholic faith…

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