New York Times: Freebies for the Rich By CATHERINE RAMPELL Published: September 24, 2013

September 30, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Max Russell had always been a conscientious student, but when his father died during his junior year of high school, he had to take on a 25-hour-per-week job to help his family pay the bills. The gig inevitably ate into the time he spent on homework, and Russell’s G.P.A. plummeted from 3.5 to 2.5, which complicated his ability to get the aid he needed to attend a four-year college. So he ended up at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis. Last year, after finally qualifying for student loans and cobbling together some grant money, he transferred to Purdue University, one of the state’s top public schools.
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1. Merit-based aid is replacing need-based aid.

2. This might seem like a good business idea.

3. But it’s an extremely shortsighted one.
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At Purdue, Russell reconnected with Christopher Bosma, a friend from high school. Bosma’s family was considerably wealthier, but his entire tuition was free — as will be medical-school costs. An outstanding high-school student, he received a prestigious merit scholarship that covered both. Russell told me that he believed the two friends are about “equivalent in intelligence” but acknowledged that Bosma studied much harder in high school. He was unusually driven, he said, but it probably didn’t hurt that Bosma had the luxury of not having to help support his family.

Over the years, many state-university systems — and even states themselves — have shifted more of their financial aid away from students who need it toward those whose résumés merit it. The share of state aid that’s not based on need has nearly tripled in the last two decades, to 29 percent per full-time student in 2010-11. The stated rationale, of course, is that merit scholarships motivate high-school achievement and keep talented students in state. The consequence, however, is that more aid is helping kids who need it less. Merit metrics like SAT scores tend to closely correlate with family income; about 1 in 5 students from households with income over $250,000 receives merit aid from his or her school. For families making less than $30,000, it’s 1 in 10.

Schools don’t seem to mind. After years of state-funding cuts, many recognize that wealthy students can bring in more money even after getting a discount. Raising the tuition and then offering a 25 percent scholarship to four wealthier kids who might otherwise have gone to private school generates more revenue than giving a free ride to one who truly needs it. Incidentally, enticing these students also helps boost a school’s rankings. “The U.S. News rankings are based largely on the student inputs,” said Donald Heller, dean of Michigan State University’s College of Education. “The public universities in general, and the land grants in particular, are moving away from their historical mission to serve a broad swath of families across the state.”

This is obviously troubling for the students who need help, but it is also bad for the state economies that public colleges are supported by and are supposed to help advance. While merit aid sounds like an effective way to combat brain drain, there is no conclusive evidence that it works. One recent study by economists at Cornell and the University of Chicago found that “nearly all” of the spending on state merit-based scholarships had little effect on keeping students in state after they graduated. Merit aid may not even be a good deal for those who earn it. A recent study by researchers at Harvard Kennedy School looked at a scholarship program in Massachusetts in which high-scoring students get tuition waivers at in-state public colleges. It found that taking the scholarship actually reduced a student’s likelihood of graduating because they ended up at a school with a completion rate lower than one of the other schools they could have gone to. Peer effects matter, it turns out. The long-term costs of going to school among those who are more likely to drop out could outweigh the upfront benefits of a cheap education.

Financial aid, however, has a hugely positive impact on whether low-income students graduate. Among needier kids, the six-year graduation rate is 45 percent when grants cover under a quarter of college costs versus 68 percent when they cover more than three-quarters, according to Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher at Edvisors.com, a network of college-planning Web sites. If you look at comparable stats for high-income students, the amount of aid makes almost no difference. Their graduation rates are around 78 percent either way.

The share of Americans with college degrees has risen significantly in the last few decades, but almost all of the growth has been among children of wealthier families. The share of 24-year-olds from families in the top-income quartile who hold college degrees rose from about 40 percent in 1970 to 70 percent in 2011. The share from the bottom quartile, however, remained pretty flat, edging up to 10 percent from 6 percent, according to Tom Mortenson, a higher-education policy analyst with Postsecondary Education Opportunity. These graduation rates also matter. Not only is the gap between the earnings (and employability) of college grads versus high-school grads widening, but an increasing amount of research shows that having a higher density of college-educated workers boosts wages of even those around them without college degrees. Economists refer to the ripple effect as the “positive externalities” of higher education.

By devoting more aid dollars to the likely college students rather than to more marginal ones, states are limiting the overall pool of residents who will be able to obtain college-level skills. Perhaps just as important, they are also limiting the economic prospects of their entire populations. The institutions that try to maintain their commitment to needy students like Russell, even in the face of state-budget cuts, recognize that extending access to college isn’t just about altruism. It’s about investing in your future tax base. And that’s thinking outside the box.

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The Wall Street Journal THE SATURDAY ESSAY September 27, 2013, 7:17 p.m. ET Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results By JOANNE LIPMA

September 30, 2013 at 1:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I had a teacher once who called his students “idiots” when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.
[image] Kupchynsky Family

Mr. K began teaching at East Brunswick High School when it opened in 1958.
The Saturday Essay

A Nation Built for Immigrants (9/21/13)
America, Syria and the World (9/14/13)
The Ultimate End-of-Life Plan (9/7/13)
Hard-Wired for Giving (8/31/13)
The Failed Grand Strategy in the Middle East (8/24/13)
In Defense of Football (8/17/13)
Take Back Your Pregnancy (8/10/13)

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn’t explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.

We’re in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?
[image] Luci Gutiérrez

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K’s methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It’s time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here’s the thing: It works.

Now I’m not calling for abuse; I’d be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names. But the latest evidence backs up my modest proposal. Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids’ self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as “drill and kill”—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. And the following eight principles—a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research—explain why.

1. A little pain is good for you.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson gained fame for his research showing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice, a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers.” But an often-overlooked finding from the same study is equally important: True expertise requires teachers who give “constructive, even painful, feedback,” as Dr. Ericsson put it in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. He assessed research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess. And he found that all of them “deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.”

[image] Arthur Montzka

Mr. Kupchynsky helps his daughter with her bow stroke in 1966.

2. Drill, baby, drill.

Rote learning, long discredited, is now recognized as one reason that children whose families come from India (where memorization is still prized) are creaming their peers in the National Spelling Bee Championship. This cultural difference also helps to explain why students in China (and Chinese families in the U.S.) are better at math. Meanwhile, American students struggle with complex math problems because, as research makes abundantly clear, they lack fluency in basic addition and subtraction—and few of them were made to memorize their times tables.

William Klemm of Texas A&M University argues that the U.S. needs to reverse the bias against memorization. Even the U.S. Department of Education raised alarm bells, chastising American schools in a 2008 report that bemoaned the lack of math fluency (a notion it mentioned no fewer than 17 times). It concluded that schools need to embrace the dreaded “drill and practice.”

3. Failure is an option.

Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better. In a 2012 study, 111 French sixth-graders were given anagram problems that were too difficult for them to solve. One group was then told that failure and trying again are part of the learning process. On subsequent tests, those children consistently outperformed their peers.

The fear, of course is that failure will traumatize our kids, sapping them of self-esteem. Wrong again. In a 2006 study, a Bowling Green State University graduate student followed 31 Ohio band students who were required to audition for placement and found that even students who placed lowest “did not decrease in their motivation and self-esteem in the long term.” The study concluded that educators need “not be as concerned about the negative effects” of picking winners and losers.

4. Strict is better than nice.

What makes a teacher successful? To find out, starting in 2005 a team of researchers led by Claremont Graduate University education professor Mary Poplin spent five years observing 31 of the most highly effective teachers (measured by student test scores) in the worst schools of Los Angeles, in neighborhoods like South Central and Watts. Their No. 1 finding: “They were strict,” she says. “None of us expected that.”

The researchers had assumed that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion. Instead, they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. “The core belief of these teachers was, ‘Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it’s my job to do something about it—and I can do something about it,'” says Prof. Poplin.

She reported her findings in a lengthy academic paper. But she says that a fourth-grader summarized her conclusions much more succinctly this way: “When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teachers coddled me. When I got to Mrs. T’s room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she’s right. I need to work harder.”

5. Creativity can be learned.

The rap on traditional education is that it kills children’s’ creativity. But Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg’s research suggests just the opposite. Prof. Weisberg has studied creative geniuses including Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Picasso—and has concluded that there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.

Prof. Weisberg analyzed Picasso’s 1937 masterpiece Guernica, for instance, which was painted after the Spanish city was bombed by the Germans. The painting is considered a fresh and original concept, but Prof. Weisberg found instead that it was closely related to several of Picasso’s earlier works and drew upon his study of paintings by Goya and then-prevalent Communist Party imagery. The bottom line, Prof. Weisberg told me, is that creativity goes back in many ways to the basics. “You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline. It is built on a foundation of learning the discipline, which is what your music teacher was requiring of you.”

6. Grit trumps talent.

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has studied spelling bee champs, Ivy League undergrads and cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.—all together, over 2,800 subjects. In all of them, she found that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent.
image
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Arthur Montzka

Tough on the podium, Mr. K was always appreciative when he sat in the audience. Above, applauding his students in the mid-1970s.

Prof. Duckworth, who started her career as a public school math teacher and just won a 2013 MacArthur “genius grant,” developed a “Grit Scale” that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like “I finish whatever I begin” and “I become interested in new pursuits every few months.” When she applied the scale to incoming West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher were less likely to drop out of the school’s notoriously brutal summer boot camp known as “Beast Barracks.” West Point’s own measure—an index that includes SAT scores, class rank, leadership and physical aptitude—wasn’t able to predict retention.

Prof. Duckworth believes that grit can be taught. One surprisingly simple factor, she says, is optimism—the belief among both teachers and students that they have the ability to change and thus to improve. In a 2009 study of newly minted teachers, she rated each for optimism (as measured by a questionnaire) before the school year began. At the end of the year, the students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains.

7. Praise makes you weak…

My old teacher Mr. K seldom praised us. His highest compliment was “not bad.” It turns out he was onto something. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being “smart” became less confident. But kids told that they were “hard workers” became more confident and better performers.

“The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash,” wrote Prof. Dweck in a 2007 article in the journal Educational Leadership. “If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not.”

8.…while stress makes you strong.

A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience. Psychology professor Mark D. Seery gave healthy undergraduates a stress assessment based on their exposure to 37 different kinds of significant negative events, such as death or illness of a family member. Then he plunged their hands into ice water. The students who had experienced a moderate number of stressful events actually felt less pain than those who had experienced no stress at all.

“Having this history of dealing with these negative things leads people to be more likely to have a propensity for general resilience,” Prof. Seery told me. “They are better equipped to deal with even mundane, everyday stressors.”

Prof. Seery’s findings build on research by University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier, who pioneered the concept of “toughness”—the idea that dealing with even routine stresses makes you stronger. How would you define routine stresses? “Mundane things, like having a hardass kind of teacher,” Prof. Seery says.

My tough old teacher Mr. K could have written the book on any one of these principles. Admittedly, individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students’ ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.

Decades later, Mr. K’s former students finally figured it out, too. “He taught us discipline,” explained a violinist who went on to become an Ivy League-trained doctor. “Self-motivation,” added a tech executive who once played the cello. “Resilience,” said a professional cellist. “He taught us how to fail—and how to pick ourselves up again.”

Clearly, Mr. K’s methods aren’t for everyone. But you can’t argue with his results. And that’s a lesson we can all learn from.

The Wall Street Journal THE JUGGLE ON SUNDAY, BY LAURA KREUTZER September 29, 2013

September 30, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Should Parents Let Their Kids Quit an Activity?
Our child wants to drop her dance class because she says it’s too hard

By
LAURA KREUTZER
CONNECT


Columnist’s name

As I put away my daughter’s laundry several weeks ago, I came across a crumpled mass of glittery pink polka-dot splendor: her dance-recital costume.

After three years of dance classes, our 8-year-old daughter informed us that she wanted to hang up her leotard and tap shoes.

When Neva told us that she wanted to quit dance lessons, a part of me rejoiced. No more schlepping back and forth to the studio. No more cajoling on the days when she lacked the energy or desire to attend class. Even better, no more shelling out nearly $1,000 a year in tuition and costume fees. I began to picture myself curled up on a new couch.

But then Neva told me why she wanted to quit.

“It’s getting too hard, Mom,” she told me.

Suddenly, my vision of a microsuede sectional gave way to a vision of my teenage daughter dropping out of school and living in an old car as she followed the Phish revival tour, because it was all “getting too hard.”
***
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Nathalie Dion

When things start to get difficult, Neva’s first inclination is to throw in the towel, and we often let her do it. She quit swim lessons once she mastered the dog paddle, showing no desire to learn the more challenging strokes. She abandoned soccer after one summer, because she didn’t like all the running. And when she’s on the losing end of a board game, she’ll often suggest we just stop playing. (For the record, we don’t.)

Although I realize that a part of her attitude is age-appropriate, another part of me doesn’t want her to grow up believing that it’s OK to just give up when things get difficult. I don’t want to be the crazy tiger mom who pushes her child so hard that she burns out by the time she’s a teenager. However, I also don’t want to raise a kid that just gives up at the first sign of trouble. I want Neva to experience the satisfaction of overcoming challenges, of mastering something that isn’t easy.

My husband, Clay, is less bothered by our daughter’s love-it-or-leave-it attitude. He argues that at her age, Neva should be allowed to experiment, so she can figure out what she enjoys before having to commit. Quitting certain things now, he says, doesn’t mean that she will become a quitter later in life.

He also points out that when Neva truly wants something, she’s usually willing to put in the effort, as she did with learning to ride a bike. If she really doesn’t like dance, then forcing her to go is probably only going to turn her off to it even more.

My aunt, an elementary-school teacher and mom to two wonderful young men, offered several points.

When she was raising her kids, the most important question that she would ask was, “Who else will be affected by your quitting?” If, for example, the rest of the team was counting on them, quitting was usually out of the question.

Still, she said, parents have to teach their kids to develop and respect their own belief systems—and accept that sometimes that will lead to decisions that may conflict with our own desires or belief systems.

In this case, that means I have to ask myself how important is it to me that Neva continue with dance lessons. If it’s truly important, then maybe it’s worth taking a hard line. However, if it isn’t something that is important to me, then I should perhaps trust her instincts in this case and just let it go.
***

In the end, I have decided to let it go.

For one thing, I doubt that Neva will suffer as an adult if she’s not able to master a shuffle-toe combination. Also, she is definitely not letting other people down through her quitting: The dance season at the school starts in September and runs until early June, when they have the big recital.

However, Clay and I decided that we do want her to commit to one extracurricular activity and stick with it, at least for the school year. So far, she’s narrowed down the top candidates to karate and voice. (Ideally, it will be both, and I could become mom to the world’s greatest female singing ninja.)

We are also signing her up for a few more swim lessons. It’s a life skill that she will need, especially given the amount of time we spend around the water during the summers. She doesn’t need to become the next Michael Phelps, but she does need to master the crawl. Once she’s done that, she can choose whether or not she wants to continue. Who knows? Maybe she will rediscover a love for it.

I understand all too well that our time with Neva will pass faster than we think. One day, she will venture out into the world, training wheels off, with all of the hills and valleys of life ahead of her. When she hits that inevitable pothole, rather than sitting down and weeping in defeat, I hope that we will have taught her how to get right back up, hit the pedals and climb.

Texas has incredible power with the book publishing companies…watch out!

September 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

September 28, 2013
Creationists on Texas Panel for Biology Textbooks
By MOTOKO RICH

AUSTIN, Tex. — One is a nutritionist who believes “creation science” based on biblical principles should be taught in the classroom. Another is a chemical engineer who is listed as a “Darwin Skeptic” on the Web site of the Creation Science Hall of Fame. A third is a trained biologist who also happens to be a fellow of the Discovery Institute, the Seattle-based center of the intelligent-design movement and a vice president at an evangelical ministry in Plano, Tex.

As Texas gears up to select biology textbooks for use by high school students over the next decade, the panel responsible for reviewing submissions from publishers has stirred controversy because a number of its members do not accept evolution and climate change as scientific truth.

In the state whose governor, Rick Perry, boasted as a candidate for president that his schools taught both creationism and evolution, the State Board of Education, which includes members who hold creationist views, helped nominate several members of the textbook review panel. Others were named by parents and educators. Prospective candidates could also nominate themselves. The state’s education commissioner, Michael L. Williams, a Perry appointee and a conservative Republican, made the final appointments to the 28-member panel. Six of them are known to reject evolution.

Some Texans worry that ideologically driven review panel members and state school board members are slowly eroding science education in the state.

“Utterly unqualified partisan politicians will look at what utterly unqualified citizens have said about a textbook and decide whether it meets the requirements of a textbook,” lamented Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, which monitors the activities of far-right organizations. The group filed a request for documents that yielded the identities of the textbook review panelists as well as reports containing their reviews.

Publishers including well-known companies like Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and McGraw-Hill submitted 14 biology textbooks for consideration this year. Reports from the review panels have been sent to publishers, who can now make changes. Mr. Williams will review the changes and recommend books to the state board. Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Williams repeatedly declined requests for an interview. The state board will vote on a final approved list of textbooks in November.

The reports contained comments from Karen Beathard, a senior lecturer in the department of nutrition and food science at Texas A&M University, who wrote in a review of a textbook submitted by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that “Students should have the opportunity to use their critical thinking skills to weigh the evidence between evolution and ‘creation science.’ ”

In reviews of other textbooks, panel members disputed the scientific evidence, questioning, for example, whether the fossil record actually demonstrates a process of mutation and natural selection over billions of years. “The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification,” one reviewer wrote. Among the anti-evolution panelists are Ide Trotter, a chemical engineer, and Raymond G. Bohlin, a biologist and fellow of the Discovery Institute.

By questioning the science — often getting down to very technical details — the evolution challengers in Texas are following a strategy increasingly deployed by others around the country.

There is little open talk of creationism. Instead they borrow buzzwords common in education, “critical thinking,” saying there is simply not enough evidence to prove evolution.

If textbooks do not present alternative viewpoints or explain what they describe as “the controversy,” they say students will be deprived of a core concept of education — learning how to make up their own minds.

Historically, given the state’s size, Texas’ textbook selections have had an outsize impact on what ended up in classrooms throughout the country. That influence is waning somewhat because publishers can customize digital editions and many states are moving to adopt new science standards with evolution firmly at their center.

Even in Texas, districts can make their own decisions, but many will simply choose books from the state’s approved list. “It’s a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” said David Anderson, a former official in the Texas Education Agency, as the department of education is known, and now a consultant who works with textbook publishers.

Four years ago, a conservative bloc on the state school board pushed through amendments to science standards that call for students to “analyze and evaluate” some of the basic principles of evolution. Science educators and advocates worry that this language can be used as a back door for teaching creationism.

“It is like lipstick on a Trojan horse,” said Ms. Miller of the Texas Freedom Network.

Parents are worried that their children will not be able to compete for jobs that require scientific backgrounds.

Jessica Womack, who traveled from near Houston this month to participate in a rally before a public hearing on the books, recounted how her daughter, now 14, had been shamed by a third-grade teacher for raising her hand when the class was asked who believed in evolution.

The publishers are considering changes. A spokeswoman for Pearson said that the publisher had made some adjustments but that they “did not compromise the integrity of the science.” She added, “Our book has always been honest that evolutionary biologists don’t have all the answers nor does evolution provide all the answers.”

A spokeswoman for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said that the publisher had not yet received any requests for corrections, but that the company’s textbook was of the “highest quality based on research.” A spokesman for McGraw Hill declined to comment.

Across the country, textbook publishers are likely to increasingly tailor materials to the new science standards developed by a consortium of 26 state governments and several groups of scientists and teachers.

Already seven states — California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island and Vermont — have officially adopted the standards. This month, after a legislative committee in Kentucky voted to reject the new science standards, Gov. Steven L. Beshear overruled the decision and said he would use his executive powers to put the standards in place.

But educators note that standards and textbooks can be overridden by teachers who themselves question evolution.

“Most educational decisions are made in the 17,000 school districts and by individual schoolteachers in the classroom,” said Joshua Rosenau, programs and policy director at the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit group that defends the teaching of evolution and climate change. “And it is really hard to know what is happening there.”

In a survey of more than 900 high school biology teachers conducted by Michael Berkman and Eric Plutzer, political scientists at Penn State University, one in eight said they taught creationism or its cousin, intelligent design, as valid scientific alternatives to Darwinian evolutionary theory.

In Texas, the debate has each side borrowing from the other to make its point. Those who challenge evolution invoke the scientists Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, while those who plead for the sanctity of science cite Genesis and the Book of Job.

At the public hearing this month, Michael Singer, a biology professor at the University of Texas who teaches courses to nonscience majors, said his students were often nervous about learning evolution. “I tell them that the Book of Job says that their faith will be tested,” he said. “You don’t need faith to believe what the evidence suggests. You need faith to believe what the evidence doesn’t suggest.”

Then he pulled out a £10 note from his native Britain to show the audience: on one side was a picture of Queen Elizabeth II, on the other, Charles Darwin.

September 27, 2013 Lacking Rules, Insurers Balk at Paying for Intensive Psychiatric Care By REED ABELSON

September 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE first time Melissa Morelli was taken to the hospital, she was suicidal and cutting herself, her mother says. She was just 13, and she had been transferred to a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed for more than a week. Her doctors told her mother, Cathy Morelli, that it was not safe for Melissa to go home. But the family’s health insurance carrier would not continue to pay for her to remain in the hospital.
The second time, the same thing happened. And the third and the fourth. Over the course of five months, Ms. Morelli took Melissa to the hospital roughly a dozen times, and each time the insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross, refused to pay for hospital care. “It was just a revolving door,” Ms. Morelli said.
“You had not been getting better in a significant way,” Anthem explained in one letter sent directly to Melissa, then 14, in July 2012. “It does not seem likely that doing the same thing will help you get better.”
Desperate to get help for her daughter, Ms. Morelli sought the assistance of Connecticut state officials and an outside reviewer. She eventually won all her appeals, and Anthem was forced to pay for the care it initially denied. All told, Melissa spent nearly 10 months in a hospital; she is now at home. Anthem, which would not comment on Melissa’s case, says its coverage decisions are based on medical evidence.
Melissa’s treatment did not come cheap: it ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Ms. Morelli said. Patients often find themselves at odds with health insurers, but the battles are perhaps nowhere so heated as with the treatment of serious mental illness.
It was not supposed to be this way. A federal law, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, was aimed at avoiding fights like this over coverage by making sure insurers would cover mental illnesses just as they cover treatment for diseases like cancer or multiple sclerosis.
Long a priority of Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, it was squeezed into a bank bailout bill with the help of Christopher J. Dodd, then a Democratic senator from Connecticut, after Mr. Kennedy learned that he had brain cancer, which turned out to be fatal. The law requires larger employer-based insurance plans to cover psychiatric illnesses and substance-abuse disorders in the same way they do other illnesses.
But five years after President George W. Bush signed the law, there is widespread agreement that it has fallen short of its goal of creating parity for mental health coverage.
As enrollment in coverage under the Affordable Care Act becomes available on Tuesday, the rules underlying mental health coverage in general — for both private insurers and the new health care exchanges — are still unclear, mental-health patient advocates say, leaving patients and families to grind through the process as best they can.
DECIDING how mental illness should be treated — and at what cost — is no easy matter. Unlike some physical ailments for which there are reams of studies suggesting a relatively clear standard of care, there is often little accepted medical evidence to support the range of treatments for many mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and severe depression.
“It’s very different from the approach to a bypass procedure or a hip replacement,” said Karen Ignagni, the C.E.O. of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade association representing the nation’s health insurers.
At issue is not coverage for run-of-the-mill care like prescription medications for depression or a few visits with a therapist. Insurers generally cover these costs the same way they cover medications for, say, high blood pressure.
But when patients need months of residential care, for example, or meetings with a therapist several times a week, insurers balk. The insurance executives say that the medical benefits of such treatments are not clear and that the industry is essentially being asked to write a blank check.
Mental health accounts for a small part of total health care spending — by one estimate, $113 billion annually, or less than 6 percent of the $2.6 trillion overall health care bill. But pressure is intensifying on insurers under the Affordable Care Act, which includes mental heath care as an essential benefit, because they are already trying to keep the premiums they charge for plans on the new state marketplaces as low as possible. Insurers are concerned about the potential for new costs, while patient advocates worry that mental health will be neglected.
Both sides say Washington is partly to blame. The federal government has yet to write the mental health act’s final regulations for insurance companies, leaving a crucial gap between the intent of the measure and how it actually works.
Senator Kennedy’s son, Patrick J. Kennedy, the former congressman from Rhode Island who was one of the law’s main backers, said he worried that the Obama administration had delayed the rules because officials were preoccupied with the president’s broader legislation and needed the insurance companies’ support.
President Obama “needs the private insurers to implement this law or it’s not going to work,” said Mr. Kennedy, who has talked openly about his struggles with depression and bipolar disorder. He has held hearings on mental health issues across the country to talk to patients and their families, including one earlier this year where Cathy Morelli spoke.
Insurance companies, for their part, say they would welcome final rules under the 2008 law.
“We think it may create better clarity,” said a spokeswoman for Aetna, which says it fully supports the 2008 parity law.
The administration says it will draft the rules by year-end. While the act was clear about preventing insurers from setting strict time limits on treatment, it is vague about how parity is to be achieved. The most contentious areas are intensive treatments at a doctor’s office or clinic as well as potentially lengthy hospital stays. If an insurer does not typically limit outpatient medical treatments, for example, there is debate over what standard it can then apply to outpatient therapy sessions that could go on for months, if not years. It is those kinds of details that the final rules are expected to address.
LIKE many others, Cathy Morelli fought for a child’s care outside of the courts, but some patients and their families have filed lawsuits against large insurance companies. And they cite the 2008 law.
Jonathan Denbo, the director of marketing for CBS Sports Network, filed a lawsuit against the UnitedHealth Group earlier this year. Mr. Denbo, who had generalized anxiety disorder, began seeing a therapist twice a week after his mother died. The sessions cost $250 each, according to his lawyer. Last year, UnitedHealth told him that it would no longer cover his treatment, saying he was “generally functioning quite well,” and that he should be able to manage his condition on his own or through community resources, according to the suit.
“The use of multiple weekly therapy sessions is limited to acute exacerbations of illnesses or in the context of a clinical urgent situation in order to prevent a higher level of care,” UnitedHealth said in a letter sent to Mr. Denbo.
The psychotherapist for Mr. Denbo said UnitedHealth was violating the mental health law because, under the employer’s plan, the insurer does not require prior approval of out-of-network outpatient care. Mr. Denbo declined to be interviewed for this article. He and other patients are now plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against UnitedHealth that is seeking class-action status.
In another case from the same lawsuit, Brad Smith, a marketing associate at the Seattle subsidiary of Sysco, a food product distributor, was urged to consider residential treatment for his teenage son, who was suffering from severe depression. Last March, the young man was involuntarily hospitalized at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where the staff recommended residential treatment.
UnitedHealth agreed but then stopped paying for the care nine days after the young man was admitted. In its letter to the boy’s parents, UnitedHealth said stopping the treatment created only “limited risk” that the teenager would return to the hospital. There is “no expectation of further improvements in the shorter term,” the letter said, suggesting that it would not pay for care that would not result in his getting better anytime soon.
Mr. Smith nonetheless continued with his son’s care and, he says, he and his former wife have spent $100,000 trying to help him.
“I’m currently way over my head in debt,” he said. He recently sold his house at a $31,000 loss. He now lives with his sister. His son came home in August, and Mr. Smith says he thinks the treatment was successful. “It was, oh my God, we’ve got this kid back,” he said.
The idea that UnitedHealth would cover care only if patients could show that their conditions were likely to worsen without it represents a clear double standard, said D. Brian Hufford, the lawyer representing plaintiffs in the UnitedHealth case.
Mr. Hufford is now seeking a preliminary injunction for some of his clients, who, like Mr. Smith, cannot afford to pay for continuing treatment.
UnitedHealth declined to comment on the lawsuit, which it is seeking to have dismissed. UnitedHealth says that it uses case managers to help patients find alternatives when it will not pay for certain treatments and that it is pushing for additional research into what treatments are effective.
Regulators have also raised concerns. In another case that is not part of a lawsuit, and which involves a young woman from California, Anthem Blue Cross cut off benefits for residential care after five days. The facility temporarily placed the woman in a conference room.
“I was very confused the whole time,” said the woman, whose parents hired an expert to help appeal the Anthem decision. An independent review, authorized under state law, found that Anthem had to cover the treatment. Anthem tried to deny the care again but was overruled.
The cost of her treatment was around $100,000. Regulators concluded that Anthem did not comply with the state’s insurance law, which is similar to the federal act. Anthem declined to comment.
Determining what the 2008 law requires “is challenging,” said Brent A. Barnhart, the director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, one of two regulators overseeing health insurance in the state.
In late June, Mr. Barnhart’s department fined the state’s largest health plan, run by Kaiser Permanente, $4 million for deficiencies that limited access to mental health care under California law. In one location, the state found a Web site that seemed to indicate members could not get care if they had a “chronic mental illness.”
“What we found was they were falling way, way short,” Mr. Barnhart said. “The fine was intended as a wake-up call.”
Kaiser, which says it is has addressed the department’s concerns, said it was in discussions with the agency about the fine.
Mr. Barnhart said he worried that other plans might also make it hard for people to get treatment. Insurers, he said, seem to continue to view mental health as “secondary to all other health.”

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September 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund

September 28, 2013 at 12:10 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Doctors told Jaime Gonzalez’s parents that his birth defects were so severe he probably wouldn’t live to age one. When he did, doctors told them next that he’d probably never walk. He did that too—though it is still difficult even after a series of surgeries. “[My parents] both pushed me,” Jaime said. “When I was little and didn’t want to try, my mother said, ‘Don’t say you can’t. You can.’ That became my attitude, and even when it was hard—I’m in pain even now—it’s never been an option for me to quit.”

Others also sold Jaime short. He was put in special education when he started kindergarten in South Central Los Angeles even though his mother had already taught him to read and write. But after his mother switched him to a new school, his first grade teacher saw his abilities and ­persuaded the principal to put him in the second grade. He eventually attended magnet programs throughout middle and high school, graduated seventh out of his class of 500, and received a full tuition scholarship to the University of Southern ­California in an eight year combined bachelor’s degree and medical school program.

Jaime—now Dr. Gonzalez—is part of the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s network of young servant leaders who are devoting their lives to serving the next generation of children. Winning a CDF Beat the Odds® scholarship in high school for demonstrating academic excellence despite great obstacles helped Jaime with living expenses in college, and getting involved with CDF’s efforts to enroll children in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) shaped his medical goals. He added a year to his education to get a master’s degree in public health along with his medical degree. He lost a year when his mother was shot while taking out the trash, and he saw her through two surgeries. After completing his residency Jaime is planning to return home to serve the Spanish-speaking underserved and uninsured population. “That’s where there is a need,” he explained, and unlike 90 percent of his medical school classmates, he speaks Spanish.

Growing up in Minnesota Katie DeSantis overcame a different set of terrible odds. At the age of three she witnessed her drunken father beat her mother. When her battered mom crawled into bed with her on another occasion, Katie consoled her by saying everything would be okay. But it wasn’t. Her mother escaped the abuse and moved Katie and her younger sister to Minneapolis, but then there were new problems.

The family was homeless seven times in Katie’s childhood. “My mom couldn’t hold down a steady job or a place for us to stay. We would live somewhere for six months to a year and get evicted and end up in a shelter.” There was often no privacy in the shelters and it was hard to do her homework in a loud and crowded area. Plus it was embarrassing, especially for a teenager in high school: “I would have the bus drop me off around the corner and I never invited anyone to where I lived.”

School became Katie’s refuge and the place where she excelled. When she too won a Children’s Defense Fund Beat the Odds® scholarship award in 2006, it was a turning point: “Beat the Odds really helped me to be able to tell my story and not be ashamed of the life I had lived.” Katie went on to graduate from Gustavus Adolphus College in southern Minnesota. She now works for Head Start in Minneapolis as the coordinator of its Project Secure for homeless children: “I was one of those kids and that’s where my heart is. They didn’t do anything wrong. I want to make sure they know that.”

La’Mont Geddis’s path to servant leadership started with a call to CDF’s headquarters from a pay phone after he heard a professor talk about the Freedom Schools® program during a lecture: “I’m a student at Howard University and I want to get involved in Freedom Schools. I want to make a difference.” That was 18 years ago, and La’Mont has since proved to be a truly valuable asset in the public schools of Washington, D.C. La’Mont always wanted to be a teacher and studied education at Howard, but believes much of what he knows about how to reach children comes from the training and experience he received as a servant leader intern, or teacher, in the Freedom Schools program, whose model curriculum provides summer and after-school enrichment that helps children fall in love with reading, increases their self-esteem, and generates more positive attitudes toward learning.

La’Mont’s first teaching job after Freedom Schools—a fourth grade class that had had six teachers by the time he got there in October—was so difficult he almost quit. But he remembered the message Freedom Schools instills in both its teachers and its students: You can make a difference. “I ended up loving that class and vice versa. I’ve followed some of them through college.” His career has since included serving as a principal and school leader, and he has never lost sight of the lessons he learned from Freedom Schools: “Teachers can become almost like robots. You go through the lessons without bringing in passion or creativity or empathy for the students. I’ve heard teachers say, ‘I don’t give parents my personal number’ and ‘I don’t make home visits.’ No. You’ve got to bring the school into the community and put all you’ve got into it. That’s the heart of Freedom Schools values. Teaching is not a profession. It’s a ministry.”

Jaime, Katie, and La’Mont are three of 40 young servant leaders whose stories we are celebrating as part of our 40th anniversary celebration—each representing hundreds, even thousands, of other young servant leaders who have come up through CDF’s leadership training ranks and who are making wonderful contributions as doctors, lawyers, educators, service providers, and parents in their communities and nation. I am so proud of them all and so grateful for all their good work. They are a reminder that we must never ever give up on any child and that the most important responsibility every generation and nation has is to prepare its children—all of them—for the future.

September 24, 2013 at 9:23 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.
— John F. Kennedy

Comments from Marion Wright Edelman of the Childrens Defense Fund

September 22, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate…I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.” – Dr. Janis Orlowski, MedStar Hospital, after treating gunshot victims of the Navy Yard massacre

At only 24 years old Timothy Dawkins was already well respected in his hometown of Washington, D.C. as a young leader and youth organizer wise for his years. His colleague Trayon White, a District of Columbia State Board of Education member, described him to a reporter this way: “Tim was just very different. You’re talking about a young man who went to seminary school when he was 21. Someone who got married when he was 21. . . He was an old soul; a soldier.”

Every July, clergy, seminarians, religious educators, young adult leaders, and other faith-based advocates for children gather at the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)’s Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee for the annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. It provides five days of spiritual renewal, networking, organizing and movement building training to address the urgent needs of children and examine what faith and community institutions can and must do to meet them. Timothy was there this year as part of CDF’s Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT®) program, which connects young leaders committed to protecting children, and to social justice from across the country. Our 2013 theme was “Beating Swords Into Plowshares: Ending the Violence of Guns and Child Poverty,” based on a biblical passage from the Hebrew prophet Micah: “[God] shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

For Timothy the training to end the violence of guns and child poverty was deeply relevant: he was an activist in one of the District of Columbia’s poorest and most violence-stricken neighborhoods and he had already dedicated his life to answering the call to people of faith to combat violence and make a difference. In his spare time he could be found studying in the neighborhood library emulating role models like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sadly, just a few weeks after Timothy attended our training, he was shot and killed walking in his Southeast D.C. neighborhood at 6:30 on a summer evening.

Police quickly suspected the gunfire was meant for someone else and not the unarmed seminary student known in the neighborhood as a peacemaker. But what difference does that make? His friend Trayon White said, “Unfortunately he was a victim of ignorance. . . He was truly an example for our young people, and we need more examples, especially Black men, standing in the gap, because we’re lost out here.” Timothy left behind a wife and a two-year-old son. He also left a neighborhood and community that are richer because of his dedication and presence but also much poorer because of his senseless death. And he left a city and nation that have yet to stand up to the scourge of gun violence that kills or injures a child or teen every half hour and has killed more people in America in our unremitting civil war fueled by guns than all the declared wars against external enemies in our history.

Just this week—extremely personal to all of us at CDF because a beloved colleague was among those in lockdown in the Navy Yard’s tragedy—a man with mental illness wielding a sawed-off shotgun killed 12 people and injured eight before being killed himself in our nation’s capital. And today opened with news of a mass shooting attack at a pick-up basketball game at a Chicago park that injured 13 people including a three-year-old boy who was left in critical condition.

What is it going to take for us to stand up and say enough to this internal gun war of American against American? What is it going to take to create a mental health system that prevents such tragedies from happening over and over? What is it going to take for us to pass and enforce adequate gun safety laws? What is it going to take to love and protect human life, especially children more than guns? Is the doctor right that this is not America? Or is she calling for the America we must create together with urgency and persistence?

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September 21, 2013 at 11:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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