TIME Education

Department of Education Walks Delicate Line on Single-Sex Classrooms

classroom
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Guidelines won't make it easy for schools to create them

The Department of Education doesn’t have much to say about the science of whether boys and girls’ brains work differently. But if you read between the lines of its guidance on single-sex public education released Monday, it’s clear the agency is not sold on it.

Taking up only about a page of the 34-page guidelines, the Department of Education says only that “evidence of general biological differences is not sufficient to allow teachers to select different teaching methods or strategies for boys and girls.” It stops short of either condemning or praising single-sex classrooms.

But if the agency avoided taking an official stance, the guidelines [PDF] are clearly designed to slow the trend towards separate classrooms by describing a fairly complicated legal pathway that school districts must follow in order to create them without violating the U.S. Constitution or equal rights laws.

That’s likely due to the fact that separate classrooms are at the center of a white-hot debate in education circles today.

Led in part the conservative school choice movement, advocates for single-sex education base their case on scientific studies about how girls’ and boys’ brains are “hard-wired” differently, and argue that separating the genders would improve learning outcomes. While specific methods differ by state and district, they mostly hinge on the idea that girls learn better in emotionally supportive, collaborative groups and may not be as good at grasping abstract mathematical concepts, while boys thrive in competitive environments and tend to struggle with reading and art.

For example, one professional development session in Florida this year instructed teachers to engage boys “in higher level discourse,” while focusing on connecting emotionally with girls. “Girls will learn better if they believe a teacher cares about them,” the program stated, according to the ACLU. Another Florida program designed for kindergarten teachers was called “Busy Boys, Little Ladies.” Outspoken psychologist and physician Leonard Sax, who has written extensively on the issue, says that girls do not respond positively to stress and so should not be given time limits on a test, while boys should be challenged with competitive activities and required to play sports.

For many social scientists, the idea of teaching children separately — or even differently — because of their gender boils the blood. One widely-cited 2011 study, “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling,” dismissed the studies used by people like Sax as “deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” And a February 2014 meta-study by the American Psychological Association, which looked at 184 studies of more than 1.6 million students around the world, said there is simply no reason to believe that girls and boys learn better when they’re separated from each other.

While some state and district-level studies indicate that children in single-sex classrooms have improved more rapidly than their co-ed counterparts, social scientists caution that the success of some single-sex programs can often be attributed to other variables, such as increases in funding, more parental engagement, and changes in discipline techniques.

Civil rights advocates have picked up the fight. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union called on the DOE to “make clear to schools across the country that sex segregation based on … blatant sex stereotypes violates the law.” The ACLU has filed cease-and-desist letters to at least a dozen states, including Alabama, Maine, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia and Florida, in the last few years calling on them to stop separating boys and girls on the basis of “junk science” on how the two genders’ brains work.

The ACLU has also launched a nationwide campaign, “Teach Kids, Not Stereotypes,” which argues that promoting entrenched ideas of what it means to be a girl or a boy is harmful. For example, in one Florida school, according to the New York Times, the boys’ classroom is decorated with race cars and football iconography, while the girls’ classroom, lined with animal prints and pink accoutrement, admonishes girls to “Act pretty at all times!” This year, the ACLU filed a federal complaint with the DOE on the basis that several counties in Florida are using “junk science about difference between boys’ and girls’ brains” to promote sex discrimination.

The DOE’s recent guidelines gave a nod to the ACLU on that much. If teachers of single-sex classes “became aware of” studies suggesting that girls’ hearing is more sensitive than boys’ hearing, for example, and then implemented a teaching method of “talking loudly” in all-boys classes, that would be a violation of equal rights legislation, the DOE guidelines read. In order to be legal, teachers must rely on “evidence that directly linked that particular teaching method or strategy to improved educational achievement for boys,” rather than on “purported biological difference…to conclude that the particular teaching method or strategy was appropriate,” they said.

Meanwhile, the number of single-sex classrooms, as well as entirely single-sex public schools, continues to grow. In the 2001-2002 school year, only about a dozen public schools offered single-sex classrooms, according to the National Association for Choice in Education (NACE); by the 2011-2012 school year, there were about 500. Now, there are about 750 public schools that offer one or more single-sex class, and 850 entirely single-sex public schools around the country, according to government data. One reason for the growing trend toward single-sex education is former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ 2006 decision to push through new rules on single-sex classrooms and schools, which gave states and public school districts more leeway in creating and funding single-sex learning environments. This year, for instance, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed new legislation to provide more training for teachers who work in all-boys or all-girls classes.

The uptick in single-sex classes and schools is also due to the fact that beliefs about how boys and girls brains work remain deeply entrenched in the mainstream. In 2005, former Harvard University President Larry Summers famously, or infamously, suggested that perhaps there were “issues of intrinsic aptitude” among men and women in the sciences. On its website, the National Education Association offers an even-keeled assessment of the pros and cons of single-sex education. The DOE’s guidance Monday also didn’t take sides.

In some ways, this discussion is not new. In the ‘90s, advocates of single-sex classrooms cited studies indicating that girls were intimidated and distracted by their male counterparts’ louder, more confident answers in class, and therefore tended to become less active participants in learning environments. In the 2000s, as girls’ test scores and grades skyrocketed, eclipsing the boys’ more incremental improvement, advocates for single-sex classrooms simply shifted their theory, citing other findings indicating that boys are unable to fairly compete in classrooms where supposedly “feminine” skills, like sitting still and writing neatly, are rewarded.

Critics of single-sex education argue that such shifting justifications should be a red flag. “These are the kinds of ideas that have historically been used to push boys and girls onto very different educational tracks,” said Nancy Abudu, ACLU of Florida’s Director of Legal Operations, in a statement. They are “exactly what anti-discrimination laws are supposed to protect parents and students from.”

TIME Crime

Violent Crime in New York City Hits 2-Decade Low

The number of homicides is down by 7%

Violent crime in New York City has declined to its lowest level since 1993, city officials said Tuesday.

“Thanks to the NYPD and the leadership of Police Commissioner [William] Bratton, crime in New York City is at historic lows,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “But this administration doesn’t rest on its laurels.”

The number of homicides decreased by 7% from this August to November compared with last year, while the number of robberies was down 14%.

The decline was even more dramatic for low-level marijuana arrests. The total decreased by 61% after the launch of a be Blasio program to issue tickets instead of arresting people in possession of small quantities of marijuana.

TIME energy

Why America’s Fracking Revolution Won’t Be Hurt (Much) By Low Oil Prices

Fracking In California Under Spotlight As Some Local Municipalities Issue Bans
David McNew—Getty Images Pump jacks and wells are seen in an oil field that uses fracking on the Monterey Shale formation near McKittrick, Ca. on March 23, 2014.

The conventional wisdom has it that many U.S. oil producers can’t make money with oil prices below $85 a barrel. Here’s why the experts may be wrong

For U.S. consumers, there’s plenty to like about plummeting oil prices. After all, the cost of gasoline and home heating oil is falling dramatically as well. Since June, the price of WTI crude has dropped from about $101 a barrel to a recent price of $65, or roughly a 35% decline. And the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in the U.S. has plunged to $2.76 from $3.27 a year ago, according to AAA.

But don’t falling prices threaten America’s fracking revolution? A lot is at stake. Since 2008, U.S oil production has risen from about 5 million barrels a day to more than 9 million—an 80% increase. As fracking boomed, the U.S. oil industry has helped the country become more energy independent and has created slews of high-paying jobs—President Obama, in fact, once said fracking has the potential to create as many as 600,000 jobs.

Conventional wisdom says the threat to fracking is real. “Tight” oil is the term the industry uses for petroleum produced through fracking because it comes from geological formations of low permeability, such as tight sandstone or shale. Tight oil has produced most of the growth in the global supply in recent years, and helped lead to the current glut. Experts have said that U.S. tight oil needs to sell at $85 or $90 a barrel to be profitable. With oil recently trading at $65, it looks like the industry is in peril.

The experts are right—up to a point. That $90 figure applies only to less than 20% of all “tight” oil fields. Says Jim Burkhard, the head of oil market research at IHS, a highly-respected industry research firm: “There’s a spectrum of break-even costs. Wells can perform differently in the same field.” A new study by IHS concludes that about 80% of the tight oil estimated to be pumped next year will still be profitable at between $50 and $69 a barrel.

Producers, it turns out, have gotten more efficient in designing and operating their fracking wells. Burkhard points to two factors at play. One is an increase in productivity due to a new technology called “super fracking,” where drillers pump a lot more sand into their wells when they fracture the oil shale. Productivity at some super-fracking wells has risen from 400 barrels a day to 600, lowering the break-even cost. The other factor is the oil service industries. Says Burkhard: “They’ve built up capacity over the past years. If there’s a decline in drilling due to low oil prices, we’ll see excess oil-drilling capacity and that puts downward pressure on the cost of producing tight oil.”

Lower oil prices, however, will slow the rate of growth of tight oil as energy companies grapple with market uncertainty and volatility. While today’s $65 a barrel might seem low, remember that in early 1980s, new production from the North Sea, Alaska’s North Slope, and Mexico drove prices down to $10 a barrel. And from the mid-1980s to September 2003, the inflation-adjusted price of a barrel of crude was less than $25.

With oil prices dropping, IHS estimates the growth in U.S. tight oil production will slow next year to 700,000 barrels a day, down from million a day in 2014. (That estimate is based on a $77 a barrel. If oil goes to $60 next year that 700,000 projection will be cut in half to 350,000.) Even so, the U.S. will still be adding a significant amount of new oil to a global market where demand is weakening. That makes any price spike— short of a blow-up in the Middle East or OPEC suddenly getting its act together—unlikely.

The fracking boom is maturing, but it’s not likely to go away any time soon.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME cities

Detroit Hit by Massive Power Outage

Michigan Gov And Detroit Emergency City Manager Orr Discuss Bankruptcy Filing
Bill Pugliano—Getty Images A view of Downtown Detroit on July 19, 2013.

Fire stations, schools and office towers among the approximately 100 buildings without power

A sprawling power failure in downtown Detroit forced widespread closures and evacuations of buildings across the city on Tuesday.

City officials confirmed that a power grid went down Tuesday morning around 10:30 am, plunging courts, fire stations and office towers into darkness, according to reports by ABC News affiliate, WXYZ Detroit. A spokesperson for DTE Energy told USA Today that roughly 100 buildings had been affected.

The outage has forced some fire stations to switch on back-up generators, USA Today reports, and prompted a growing number of schools to close for the day. Wayne State University listed more than 40 buildings on campus affected by the outage.

Pictures of darkened buildings were shared on Twitter throughout the morning. The exact cause of the outage is still unknown.

 

TIME

Supreme Court to Determine Workplace Pregnancy Protections for Moms-To-Be

The court will hear a discrimination case that seeks to make clear what accommodations employers must make to expecting mothers

Should a pregnant worker have the right to workplace accommodations, such as a chair to sit on as she works a cash register or more frequent bathroom breaks during her job as a call center operator?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was supposed to make the answers to those questions—in both instances—crystal clear. Congress passed it to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision that pregnancy discrimination is not sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But over the years, employers have reached differing conclusions about how the Act’s language should be interpreted—specifically the line that says employers must treat pregnant women the same as “other persons not so affected [by pregnancy] but similar in their ability or inability to work.” Some companies have read that phrase to mean that they must meet the needs of pregnant women the same as they would meet the needs of any other worker who’s similarly physically restricted. But other employers believe that so long as their policies are pregnancy-neutral—which often means considering pregnancy the same way they would an off-the-job injury that garners no special treatment—they’re in the clear.

United Parcel Service abided by the latter interpretation in 2006, when it denied former truck driver Peggy Young’s request for light duty during her pregnancy, which forced her into unpaid leave. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear Young’s case and ultimately rule on what accommodations employers must make under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a decision that could touchthe lives of the 68 million working women in the U.S. and the 62% of new moms in the last year who were part of the workforce.

“This case is of particular importance because so many working women are now working well into their pregnancy,” says Katherine Kimpel, a lawyer at Sanford Heisler who specializes in gender and race discrimination and who filed an amicus brief in the case supporting Young. In the U.S., 65% of working, first-time mothers stayed on the job into their last month of their pregnancy, Kimpel says. Among full-time workers, that figure surges to 87%.

All the while, pregnancy discrimination cases are on the rise. In fiscal year 2013, 5,342 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commissions and state and local Fair Employment Practices agencies, up from 3,900 in 1997. “For those reasons, how employers think about accommodating pregnancy really matters,” Kimpel says.

Peggy Young started working for UPS in 1999; in 2002, she took on a part-time role as a truck driver, picking up air shipments. Four years later, she took a leave of absence to receive in vitro fertilization. When she became pregnant and a midwife instructed her not to lift packages over 20 pounds, Young asked to return to UPS to do either light duty or her regular job as a truck driver, which seldom required her to lift heavy boxes. According to Young’s Supreme Court petition, her manager told her that UPS offered light duty to workers who sustained on-the-job injuries, employees with ailments covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act, and those who had lost Department of Transportation certification because of physical aliments like sleep apnea; not—the manager said—to pregnant workers. UPS wouldn’t allow Young to return to her former role either since her lifting restriction made her a liability. As a result, Young was required to go on extended, unpaid leave, during which she lost her medical coverage.

Young sued UPS in October 2008 for allegedly violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act since the company failed to provide Young with the same accommodations it gave to employees who were not pregnant but equally unable to work. Young has lost the two previous rulings in the case. A district court decided in February 2011 that UPS’s decision not to accommodate Young was “gender-neutral” and ruled in the company’s favor. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed that decision, ruling UPS had established a “pregnancy-blind policy.”

Since the Supreme Court decided to hear the case in July, UPS has announced changes to its policy for pregnant workers. Next year, it will offer temporary light duty to pregnant workers who need it. Despite that reversal, UPS maintains that its denial of Young’s light duty request was lawful at the time and that its policy change is voluntary and not required by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief supporting UPS, calling attention to companies that offer pregnant employees “more than what federal law compels them to provide.”

Young, meanwhile, has received support from across the political spectrum. Pro-life organizations as well as groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have filed briefs backing Young and calling on the high court to rule in favor of workplace accommodations for expecting mothers.

The justices will hear Young’s case nearly six months after the EEOC issued new guidelines to employers on how to treat pregnant workers amid the increase in bias complaints.

“There are lots of women like Peggy Young who need temporary changes at work during pregnancy and too often, even if employers are routinely accommodating disabled workers, pregnant workers are pushed out to unpaid leave or fired,” says Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel of National Women’s Law Center. “This case is really about whether pregnant women will continue to be asked to make the impossible choice between their jobs and their health.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Military

Obama Leans Toward Tapping a Retread to Run the Pentagon

Ashton Carter
Lee Jin-man—AP U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter listens to reporters' question during a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul on March 18, 2013.

Ash Carter has spent years in near-the-top Defense Department jobs

The Obama Administration knows what it is getting by preparing to nominate Ashton Carter to be its fourth defense secretary. More importantly, Ash Carter knows what he’d be getting into.

That’s because the whip-smart doctor of theoretical physics served in Obama’s Pentagon from 2009 to 2013 (as well as Clinton’s Pentagon, from 1993 to 1996, as assistant secretary for international security policy.)

He knows all about the commander-in-chief’s purported micromanagement—something that Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, Obama’s first two defense chiefs, complained about. He has apparently concluded it’s not as bad as they assert—or, even if it is, it’s something he can live with.

“Carter was a veteran of the department who had worked for and advised many secretaries, and was the rare leader who understood both the policy and budget sides of the agency,” Panetta wrote in his memoir, Worthy Fights, released in October. “He was a wonk, a nuclear physicist and author, but he’s also a compassionate commander who would slip out on weekends to visit wounded soldiers at Bethesda and Walter Reed.”

Carter is by far Obama’s safest, most predictable choice (sure, his nomination has to be confirmed by the Senate, but even with Republicans in charge beginning next month, that’s not going to be tough—after all, the Senate already confirmed him as deputy secretary).

Carter has been a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School and an adviser to Goldman Sachs. Since September, Carter has worked at New York’s Markle Foundation, a tax-exempt charitable organization dedicated to improving national security, technology and health care.

Several leading contenders for the post to replace Chuck Hagel already have dropped out. Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a West Point graduate, said he wasn’t interested shortly after Hagel announced his departure. Reed will have to be content serving as the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee (he would have become chairman, following the retirement of Carl Levin, but the GOP landslide last month dashed those hopes).

Michèle Flournoy, who served as the Pentagon’s No. 3 civilian official before leaving in 2012, also took herself out of the running last week. While she cited family concerns, she plainly would prefer to run the Pentagon under President Hillary Clinton. That’d make her the first woman to run the Defense Department, and under a female commander-in-chief, to boot.

Carter’s 2011-2013 background as the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian, largely responsible for the building’s day-to-day management, primes him for the military’s tough budget environment. He’s also an expert on nuclear weapons and military technology, having served as the Defense Department’s top weapons buyer from 2009 to 2011.

Carter is a graduate of Yale—bachelor’s degrees in physics and medieval history—and Oxford, where he earned his Ph.D. in theoretical physics. In 2006, while at Harvard, Carter and his mentor, former defense secretary William Perry, urged President George W. Bush to threaten to destroy North Korean missiles that might be outfitted with nuclear warheads.

Unlike Hagel—who served as an Army sergeant in Vietnam and was wounded twice—Carter has never worn a U.S. military uniform. And, also unlike Hagel—twice elected as a Republican senator from Nebraska—Carter hasn’t engaged in partisan politics.

Of course, given Hagel’s vague tenure and unceremonious dumping from his Pentagon post, the value such experience affords may be dubious.

TIME Crime

Poll: Americans Evenly Divided on Ferguson Grand Jury Decision

A protester holds up a sign while demonstrating outside of Macy's in Herald Square during the Black Friday shopping day in New York
Brendan McDermid—Reuters A protester holds up a sign while demonstrating against the grand jury decision in the case against Darren Wilson in Ferguson, outside of Macy's in New York City on Nov. 28, 2014.

48% of adults approved of the decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager

Americans are evenly split on a recent grand jury decision not to indict the Ferguson, Mo. police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, but answers varied along racial and partisan lines, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted by the Washington Post, shows that 48% of American adults approved of a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson while 45% said they disapproved of it.

These figures varied dramatically between racial groups and party affiliation. Fewer than 10% of African Americans said they approved of the decision, while nearly 60% of white Americans said the same. More than three-quarters of Republicans agreed that Wilson shouldn’t have been charged, while 27% of Democrats agreed.

Still, the poll suggests that there is less of a divide on police handling of the protests that erupted after the shooting and the subsequent grand jury decision: just under 40% of all Americans approved of law enforcement’s handling of the situation.

TIME Retail

Walmart Breaks Single-Day Sales Record on Cyber Monday

Christmas shopping season starts with Black Friday
Bilgin Sasmaz—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images People shop on Black Friday, Nov. 27, 2014 in New York.

The retailer is calling this week “Cyber Week,” touting a handful of tech gadget promotions that will run for several days

Walmart said this year’s Cyber Monday saw the most online orders in a single day in the retailer behemoth’s history, with a bulk of traffic in the early days of the holiday season derived from mobile devices.

The retailer said customers viewed more than 1.5 billion pages on Walmart.com between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday — an industry term for the Monday that comes after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Mobile accounted for about 70% of the traffic over that five-day period, Walmart said.

Though the numbers look rosy, Walmart didn’t provide any sales specific data. And while shoppers appeared to give retailers a lift on Monday with online sales rising 8.1% over last year’s numbers according to preliminary data from IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark, the increase wasn’t as strong as expected.

Reuters noted that observers had projected an increase between 13% to 15%. The growth also trails what was reported last year, when observers estimated that Cyber Monday sale rose as high as 21%.

Walmart is trying to milk the Cyber Monday lingo for as long as possible. The retailer is calling this week “Cyber Week,” touting a handful of tech gadget promotions that will run for several days. That highlights what observers have noted this year: with deals spread across a longer stretch of time, the significance of sales on any one single day could be diminishing.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Crime

Suspect in Four West Virginia Slayings Found Dead

West-Virginia-Shootings
Ben Queen–AP Westover Police vehicles are parked outside Doug's Towing in Westover, W.V.,, Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, after three separate shootings left four people dead on Monday.

A police manhunt for the suspect had lasted all day and led to lockdowns at multiple schools

Officers hunting for a West Virginia man suspected of fatally shooting four people found him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Monday evening, police said.

Jody Lee Hunt, of Westover, W.Va., was found dead in his Ford truck parked in a wooded area of the state, after an hours-long manhunt, the Associated Press reports. The 39-year-old was suspected of killing four people in three separate incidents on the morning before his death.

“The suspect in today’s shootings has been located and declared deceased,” read a statement from Monongalia County Homeland Security Emergency Mangement Agency, posted on Facebook.

Hunt, who ran a business called J&J Towing and Repair, in Westover, is believed to have killed a man identified as Doug Brady at a nearby tow truck business on Monday morning. Police contend Hunt then killed Michael Frum, 28, and Sharon Berkshire, 39, at their home in Morgantown.

A third victim, identified as Jody Taylor, was also killed near Morgantown, the Los Angeles Times reports.

TIME Courts

Judge Overturns One of 9 Convictions Against Former Virginia First Lady

Former Virginia Gov. McDonnell And Wife Appear In Court For Federal Corruption Case
Mark Wilson—Getty Images Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen leave the court in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 24, 2014

However, eight other convictions stand

A federal judge on Monday overturned one conviction against Maureen McDonnell, the wife of the former Virginia governor, but allowed all other convictions against the couple to stand.

McDonnell and her husband, Bob McDonnell were found guilty in September of collecting more than $165,000 in gifts from a dietary supplement producer, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., in exchange for boosting the product’s reputation, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. A federal jury convicted the former governor on 11 of 13 counts and his wife on nine of 13.

The pair had sought to have the charges overturned or to win a new trial.

The former first lady is now guilty of eight charges. The tossed out charge, for obstruction, relates to allegations that she sought to cover up the corruption in a note to Williams.

The couple are expected to be sentenced on Jan 6.

[Richmond Times-Dispatch]

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