Capitol Comments

You might be surprised to learn that 99 percent of all soybeans produced in Nebraska are exported to Mexico. Or that more than 8 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada alone, equal to 4.4 percent of total U.S. employment - or 1 in 23 American jobs. And over the past decade, Vermont’s exports to China grew by over 4,300%.

Where education is concerned, these long, languid days of summer – with apologies to Charles Dickens – can be the “best of times” and “the worst of times.” Many schoolchildren anticipate the next summer vacation almost as soon as a new school year has begun. Summer means pools, amusement parks and family holidays, as opposed to school time, which they associate with books, exams and homework.

However, for educators, summer vacation can have a vastly different meaning. They often view a traditional 10-week-long summer break as a time when the knowledge and competencies students have absorbed during the previous school year are often lost – resulting in days and weeks teaching remedial skills at the start the new school year. Academic research has pointed to a connection between summer vacations and so-called “learning loss,” particularly among low-income and at-risk students.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that enough signatures were turned in by leaders of tea party groups to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to exempt Ohio from the individual mandate of federal health reform.

Over a two-week period in June, a bipartisan group of state leaders from across the political spectrum in both North Carolina and Ohio came together in their respective states to enact comprehensive, data-driven legislation resulting from justice reinvestment initiatives. The bills in both states will increase public safety and reduce crime by making probation more effective, ensuring, for example, that those people who are most likely to reoffend are not left unsupervised. Both bills increase sentence lengths for certain high-risk property offenders or the most serious and violent offenders, while expanding sentencing options for nonviolent and first-time felony offenders.

Earlier this week, Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill (SB 193) making Connecticut the first state in the nation to require certain businesses to offer paid sick leave to their employees. The new law seeks to address a potentially serious public health issue - when confronted with the possibility or losing pay or possibly their job, many employees come to work even when sick. 

U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica and other Republican members of the panel held a news conference today in Washington to introduce a proposal to authorize federal transportation programs for the next six years that would rely on the amount of revenue deposited into the Highway Trust Fund during that time. Here’s a quick rundown on what’s in the Mica proposal and a few resources where you can read reaction and get additional information.

The U.S. Department of Education has set a deadline of 5 p.m. EDT Monday, July 11 to comment on guidelines for the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge. Those wishing to provide input, including data and relevant research, on the draft criteria should visit http://www.ed.gov/early-learning/elc-draft-summary.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s agrees with state officials in South Dakota, Montana and Idaho that the federal education accountability law commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is broken and needs to be overhauled by Congress. However, that doesn't mean he's willing to accept plans by those states to thumb their noses at NCLB guidelines and use their own accountability measures instead of those imposed under NCLB.

In many states and local school districts, education leaders have taken the mantra, “time is money,” literally. The New York Times reports in an effort to cut costs, thousands of school districts across the nation are gutting summer-school programs, condensing the school calendar into four-day weeks or otherwise shortening the school calendar, even though virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time.

With national initiatives in place to increase educational standards (specifically the No Child Left Behind Act) there comes the inevitable need for progress assessment.  Many class subjects lend themselves well to a more traditional “multiple choice” testing format, but science assessment has struggled to employ this technique effectively.  Science education combines a mixture of rote memorization, which can be tested by traditional methods, with an understanding of the scientific method, problem solving, and deeper scientific inquiry, which are difficult to summarize for the purpose of answering “A, B, C or D”.

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