TIME Education

High School Seniors Lagging in Math and Reading, Report Card Shows

New federal education data shows record high school graduation rates haven't translated into higher achievement in math and reading. The Nation's Report Card revealed that between 2009 and 2013, students made no significant progress in math or reading

High school seniors haven’t made progress in math and reading achievement levels in recent years, according to a new report, a sobering counter to recent data that showed U.S. graduation rates reaching the highest levels in decades in 2013.

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the Nation’s Report Card, shows that 12th graders in public schools stagnated in reading and in math in 2013. Between 2009 and 2013, students made no significant progress in math or reading, according to the report—in fact, 12th graders in 2013 performed a bit worse in reading when compared to students taking the first assessment in 1992. About 26% of high school seniors perform at or above “proficient” levels in math, meaning they grasp challenging concepts. In reading, about 38% perform at or above proficient, two percentage points less than students in 1992.

“Despite the highest high school graduation rate in our history, and despite growth in student achievement over time in elementary school and middle school, student achievement at the high school level has been flat in recent years,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.

Between 2005 and 2013, African-American students’ math scores jumped by five points and white students saw their scores go up by four points. Asian/Pacific Islander students and Hispanic students experienced the highest gains, with math scores increasing by 10 and seven points, respectively. Yet achievement gaps persist between racial groups and genders. Boys scored an average of three points higher than girls in math, and girls scored about 10 points higher in reading than boys. Whites scored 30 points higher than blacks in math and 21 points than Hispanic students. In reading, whites scored 30 points higher than blacks and 22 points higher than Hispanics.

“We project that our nation’s public schools will become majority-minority this fall—making it even more urgent to put renewed attention into the academic rigor and equity of course offerings and into efforts to redesign high schools,” Duncan said.

Students who reported discussing reading material every day or once or twice a week in class scored higher than those who reported discussing reading material only sporadically. In math, 50% of the highest performers had taken a calculus course and 58% of those who scored the lowest had only taken up to Algebra 2.

TIME Transportation

WATCH: Teen Stowaway Exits Plane After Freezing, Low-Oxygen Flight

Newly released security footage shows Yahya Abdi descend from the undercarriage of Boeing 767, looking only slightly worse for the wear after 35,000ft journey

His legs dangle from the plane’s belly and he jumps down to the concrete below. He sits on the ground and then walks slowly to the front of the plane, wobbling. The 15-year-old Californian is tired: he’s been sitting in a jet’s wheel well in freezing temperature and low oxygen for nearly five-and-a-half hours.

Security footage recently released by the Hawaii Department of Transportation shows a teenaged Somali immigrant, Yahya Abdi, at the end of his unbelievable journey from California to Maui airport in the undercarriage of a Boeing 767.

Abdi ran away from home on April 20, jumping a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport and climbing into the nearest plane. Remarkably he survived the flight at 35,000 feet.

Abdi is being cared for by Santa Clara County Child Protective Services after being flown back to California, and may face charges.

In the video, Abdi pauses briefly in the 40 seconds it takes him to get to the front of the plane, talking with an airport worker in a cart before the two walk away together.

[AP]

TIME cities

Beverly Hills Joins Celebrities in Condemning Brunei’s Anti-Gay Laws

The city council joined Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres in calling for the boycott of the iconic Beverly Hills hotel owned by the anti-gay sultanate of Brunei

The Beverly Hills council has joined Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres in condemning the government of Southeast Asian sultanate Brunei, which owns the iconic Beverly Hills Hotel and has passed new laws targeting gays and woman.

Brunei’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah introduced harsh anti-gay penalties last week that will eventually include death by stoning for homosexuality and adultery. The government owns the Beverly Hills hotel, which has seen the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Tom Cruise and Ozzy Osbourne and is a celebrated part of Los Angeles life.

The Beverly Hills City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night urging the government of Brunei to divest itself of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties in the area, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The council was divided, however, on whether to boycott the hotel, the BBC reports, which employs 600 people, and pays about $7 million in bed taxes and $4 million in city taxes annually.

“They won’t stop the implementation of the new laws,” Christopher Cowdray, the hotel group’s chief executive said of the boycotts and protest but rather would “only hurt the [hotel’s] employees.” Cowdray added that Brunei had no plans to sell the hotels.

[L.A. Times]

TIME Immigration

Commerce Secretary Wants to Help Highly Skilled Immigrants

Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in Mexico City
Penny Pritzker, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in Mexico City on Feb. 4, 2014 Tomas Bravo—Reuters

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told reporters that two regulations proposed by the Obama administration show the U.S. wants to make it easier for highly skilled families to find work and become a more attractive location to attract and retain talent

The Obama Administration wants to make it easier and more attractive for highly skilled families to work in the U.S., officials said on Tuesday.

The Administration is proposing two regulations, Reuters reports.

The first regulation would allow the spouse of an H-1B visa holder — typically working in science, engineering or technology — to work while their partner’s green-card application is being processed.

The second regulation would make it easier for employers to demonstrate that highly skilled immigrants are among the best in their fields.

The purpose of the proposed regulations is to keep and attract highly skilled immigrants in the U.S., officials said.

“These individuals are American families in waiting,” Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said on a conference call with reporters. “Many tire of waiting for green cards and leave the country to work for our competition. The fact is we have to do more to retain and attract world-class talent to the United States, and these regulations put us on a path to do that.”

The new rules, which could come into effect in around two months, would benefit close to 100,000 persons this year and around 30,000 annually in the coming years.

[Reuters]

TIME Crime

Legal Experts Call for ‘One-Drug Protocol’ Following Botched Execution

A leading legal think tank says using "pharmaceutical cocktails" to execute prisoners is risky and should be abandoned in favor of the administration of a single drug, which is considered more humane

A panel of legal practitioners and policy experts have called for the implementation of a “one-drug protocol” governing capital punishment following the bungled execution of an Oklahoma inmate late last month.

The recommendation was one of 39 suggestions presented in a 165-page review of the death penalty in the U.S., which was published by the Constitution Project this week.

The broad-ranging assessment of capital-punishment procedures in the U.S. had long been in the works and shined a light on the occasionally problematic practice of using elaborate pharmaceutical cocktails to execute inmates convicted of capital murder.

The publication of the report comes a week after the botched execution of Oklahoma death-row inmate Clayton Lockett, who convulsed violently after being injected with an untested concoction of drugs from a nondisclosed source. He later died of a heart attack, 43 minutes after being injected with the unknown drugs.

“States are urged to adopt a one-drug protocol that achieves death by an overdose of a single anesthetic or barbiturate, as opposed to the three-drug method,” read the report. “The one-drug method is also preferred over the three-drug method by veterinarians for euthanizing animals because the one-drug method is more humane and less prone to error.”

The study also called on state officials to “base their choices on the latest scientific knowledge” when considering drugs to be used for executions.

States relying on pharmaceuticals to execute prisoners have had an increasingly difficult time sourcing necessary drugs as European pharmaceutical firms object to supplying their products for execution purposes. The shortage of such drugs has pushed states to increasingly reach out to undisclosed sources for lethal pharmaceuticals, drawing ire from criminal-justice experts and death-row inmates.

Following the muffled execution of Lockett last month, President Barack Obama ordered a Justice Department review into capital punishment nationwide.

TIME Health Care

Pharma Company Behind Meningitis Outbreak to Shell Out $100 Million

A $100 million settlement was reached on Tuesday, between New England attorneys and a pharmaceutical company that produced tainted drugs responsible for the deadly meningitis outbreak in 2012, to provide compensation to insurers and victims

Attorneys in New England reached a proposed $100 million settlement on Tuesday with the owners of the pharmaceutical operation that produced tainted drugs responsible for the 2012 nationwide meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

The $100 million deal will provide compensation to insurers and victims of the outbreak in accordance with a Chapter 11 plan filed by the owners of New England Compounding Pharmacy Inc., according to Bloomberg.

The outbreak, which infected more than 700 people, was largely blamed on a steroid administered by spinal injection that was produced by the company.

A judge must still approve the settlement along with a system that will distribute the funds to victims awaiting compensation.

TIME Australia

How Australia Beats the U.S. for Graduating Low-Income College Students

Forty percent of Australians ages 25 to 34 whose parents did not earn a degree have themselves graduated from college. In the U.S., the figure is just 14%. Here’s how the Lucky Country became a leader for social mobility among developed nations

Students in polos and plaids streamed into the auditorium at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) as Lorde’s “Royals” blasted on repeat. While she sang about having “no post-code envy,” hundreds of low-income high school seniors and students who would be the first in their families to go to college took their seats. Ahead of them was a day of panels and information sessions on college and careers put on by Fast Forward, a UWS program that reaches out to economically disadvantaged groups.

They listened as the keynote speaker, UWS professor James Arvanitakis, told them about attending his first class — bringing a Tupperware container full of lamb so he could make friends and a passport in case he needed identification. No one in his family had ever attended university and no one knew what he should take with him.

Thanks to Fast Forward, a federally funded program started in 2004, the students at the conference will be more prepared. In 2013 half of participating high school seniors went straight on to a bachelor’s-degree program at a university. At least another 20% had plans to get into the schools through nontraditional routes such as technical education programs or preparation courses.

“Fast Forward opens up doors,” said Jaqueline Bowring, a senior-year adviser from Elizabeth Macarthur High School, who had brought more than a dozen students to the conference. “It provides information to students that they would not otherwise have access to.”

The Australian government has invested hundreds of millions into programs like Fast Forward to reach low-income, first-generation and rural students and their parents. Essentially anyone who wants to go to university can do so through a number of alternative pathways — even if he or she has done poorly in high school or dropped out. Universities have been required to increase supports for these students — to get them in and then to graduate them.

The result is that Australia does a better job than the U.S. at graduating first-generation and low-income students. In fact, Australia is one of the leaders among developed countries in social mobility, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Of adults ages 25 to 34, 40% of Australians whose parents did not earn a college degree have one themselves. Although the numbers are slightly inflated because of how international students are measured (and Australia has many of them), that’s double the OECD average. In the U.S., according to the OECD, just 14% of those comparable first-generation students graduate from college.

Australia also has more success with low-income students. About 30% of Australian students who are in the lowest socio-economic quintile (as defined by a variety of factors, including where they live) enroll in a university, according to the Longitudinal Surveys of Australian Youth. Based on historical graduation rates, nearly a fifth of this quintile will earn a degree, according to estimates from the government-funded National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. By contrast, just 20% of low-income students who start college in the U.S. will stick with it through graduation — or 8% of all those in the bottom income quartile, according to research by Iowa-based Postsecondary Education Opportunity.

In all, Australia enrolls about 630,000 students in its 37 universities. Only three of those universities are private, which means the government can play a major hand in shaping policy.

The Obama Administration has called for the U.S. to lead the world college-graduate rates by 2020 but has not specified how that should occur or how to ensure the inclusion of low-income students. Right now the country enrolls about 11 million students in thousands of universities. Some states are tying funding to performance at public universities and colleges, but there is no systematic way learning institutions are held accountable for national enrollment or graduation goals.

In Australia, each university was required to sign a compact with the government detailing how its own targets and plans contribute to the government’s goals on higher education. In 2011 each school was given nearly $95 million to try to meet these goals and up to $32.5 million more for doing so. All universities were also promised a share of $946 million over five years — from the Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program — to create programs catering to disadvantaged students.

In 2012 the government lifted enrollment caps on universities, meaning they could take as many students as they could handle. “They opened up the gates,” said Sue Trinidad, director of the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. “They wanted that social equity.” According to the center, low-income-student enrollment in higher education has risen nearly 28% since 2007, while total enrollment has increased only 20%.

Without outreach programs like Fast Forward, attending a university seems out of reach to many disadvantaged students and their parents, educators said. Take the students at the Fast Forward conference; their peers who had not been chosen to take part in the program are exposed to universities only if they attend an open house.

To be nominated to take part in the program, students either had to be from a low-income or single-parent family, be the first in their family to enter a higher-education program, have at least one unemployed parent or be in foster care. All 450 attending the conference started with Fast Forward in ninth grade and over the next three years learned about study skills and how to apply to college. They went on campus visits and were introduced to scholarship opportunities.

In February, a week into their final year of school, the students were spending a day going to sessions like “Thinking About a Career in Law?” and “How to Build an Effective Résumé.” In “Everything You Need to Know About University,” they learned about studying abroad and scholarships. A session on “Applying to Uni” attempted to debunk some myths about applying to college.

The traditional determining factor in university admissions is the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, or ATAR, which is given to students based primarily on how well they do on a series of tests during their final year of high school. All universities have cut-off scores. If you score higher than the cut-off, you’re in. That can make the end of high school stressful, students said. But Fast Forward also had shown them there were many other ways to reach the same goal.

Salina Buk, a student at Emmaus Catholic College, always knew she wanted to go to university, but estimated that only half of her high school classmates felt the same way before their Fast Forward experience. Part of the reason they were convinced they could go is because they learned how to take advantage of other ways into university. “If we don’t get the ATAR, we can make it happen,” she said. “If we all work hard [it will] be O.K.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

TIME

Jail Where Inmate ‘Baked to Death’ Had Known Heating Problem

Hot Cell Death
Alma Murdough and her daughter Cheryl Warner hold a photo of Murdough's son, Jerome Murdough, at her home in the Queens borough of New York, March 12, 2014. Jason DeCrow—AP

Jerome Murdough, an inmate at Rikers Island, was found in a pool of blood and vomit in an overheated cell one day after employees prepared multiple requests to fix the heating problem

Jail authorities knew of an heating problem and requested repairs one day before a mentally-ill inmate died in an overheated cell, though the repairs were delayed because of a long weekend.

According to the Associated Press, two repair requests prepared on Friday, Feb. 14 weren’t received until the following Tuesday because the maintenance department does not process work orders on weekends and because that Monday, President’s Day, was a federal holiday.

Jerome Murdough, a 56-year-old former Marine, was arrested one week before his death for trespassing onto a Harlem public housing project while seeking warm shelter from a cold night. Four hours after his body was found in a pool of blood and vomit in a Rikers Island jail cell, his internal temperature was 103 degrees.

A spokesperson did return the AP’s request for comment.

In March, one of four anonymous jail officials interviewed by AP said that Murdough “basically baked to death,” though the medical examiner’s office have not yet determined an official cause of death.

The interviewed officials said Murdough was on anti-seizure and anti-psychotic medication, which may have made the inmates especially vulnerable to heat, and that he did not open a vent in his cell to cool down, as others in the jail did.

[AP]

TIME Crime

World Trade Center Parachuters Plead Not Guilty

Three skydivers, who are facing felony criminal charges, did admit to spending four hours atop the One World Trade Center before parachuting into the night, which police say is a violation of laws and a disgrace to 9/11 victims

Three skydivers who admitted to parachuting off the top of the One World Trade Center skyscraper in September pleaded not guilty to felony criminal charges.

James Brady, Marko Markovich and Andrew Rossig said on Tuesday that they spent four hours on top of the unfinished building before jumping off on Sept. 30, the Associated Press reports.

While Rossig insists they did not endanger anybody with their middle-of-the-night jump, authorities have said the parachuters clearly violated laws against such stunts.

Last month, police commissioner William Bratton said the jump dishonored the memory of those who died on Sept. 11, but some surviving families of the tragedy say the jumpers pointed out security concerns at the site.

Read TIME’s interview with one of the jumpers.

Here’s a video of the 1,776-ft. (541 m) jump, shot using a helmet camera, which the parachuters released in March:

[AP]

TIME Environment

National Climate Report Is a Study in Extremes

A car sits in dried and cracked earth of what was the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir on Jan. 28, 2014 in San Jose, California.
A car sits in dried and cracked earth of what was the bottom of the Almaden Reservoir on Jan. 28, 2014 in San Jose, California. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The newly released National Climate Assessment grimly shows that warming is already upon us and extreme weather could become the norm

The White House pulled out all the stops for today’s rollout of the new National Climate Assessment (NCA), including making President Obama available to talk to local and national weather people about global warming. The report itself — download the whole 839-page paper here — is an incredibly impressive piece of work, detailing the current impacts and projected effects of global warming in the U.S. across a range of geographic regions and economic sectors. Even better is the government website dedicated to the NCA, which offers fascinating interactive and multimedia tools to help anyone see how climate change will affect their life, their community and their country. The entire document is much easier to understand — and much bolder — than the increasingly antiquated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments. If the U.S. were as good at stopping climate change as we are at studying it, we’d have nothing to fear.

But we’re not—and we do. It’s worth exploring the NCA on your own — start with the highlights — but what struck me is this: to understand what climate change has done and will do to the U.S., you need to understand the extremes. There’s something about the very term “global warming” that makes it seem as if climate change is something that will happen gradually and uniformly, like boiling a pot of water. The NCA finds U.S. average temperature are expected to rise 2°F (1.1°C) to 4°F (2.2°C) over the next few decades, which on the face of it can seem easy to adapt to. The difference between an 83°F (28.3°C) and an 87°F (30.6°C) summer day is barely noticeable.

But those averages can hide dramatic changes in extremes. Heat waves have become more frequent across the U.S. in recent decades, with western regions setting records in the 200s, while the number of extreme cold waves has reached the lowest level on record. The number of record low monthly temperatures has declined to the lowest level since 1911, while the number of record high temperature days has increased to the highest level since the 1930s. And that’s expected to worsen — by the end of the century, what would have previously been once-in-20-year extreme hot days are projected to occur every two or three years across much of the country.

That’s true for precipitation as well. On average, precipitation is expected to increase across the country, which makes sense — warmer air can hold more water. But increasingly that rainfall is coming in very heavy precipitation events. (That’s a once-in-20-year day of rainfall.) In the Northeast, Midwest and upper Great Plains, the amount of rain falling in very heavy precipitation events is more than 30% above the 1901–60 average. If carbon emissions keep growing, those extreme precipitation events could occur up to five times more often. Even in regions where total precipitation is expected to decrease — like the parched Southwest — what rain that does fall is more likely to fall in heavy events. “It’s not the average changes we’ll notice,” said Jerry Melillo, the chairman of the National Climate Assessment Committee, at the White House event this afternoon. “It’s the extremes.”

That’s because it’s extreme weather that really tests our resilience. A prolonged heat wave leads to a spike in electricity demand as people turn up their air conditioning, which in turn can stress out our vulnerable electrical grid, leading to brownouts and blackouts. Those who don’t have access to cooling—especially the elderly and the poor — are at direct risk for heat-related health conditions. Extreme precipitation events — like the one that struck much of the Southeast last week — can lead to devastating floods, which have been on the increase in the eastern Great Plans, parts of the Midwest and much of New England. The inland floods from Hurricane Irene were devastating for much of the Northeast, destroying farms and infrastructure. Those costs will compound over time as we keep adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The red-carpet rollout of the NCA wasn’t by accident — later this year Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will put forward regulations designed to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants. It’s in his interest to make the scientific threat of climate change crystal clear — and the NCA does that. But the science is the easy part. “We all have to come together and turn these words into actions,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head Kathryn Sullivan at the White House event. That’s the tough part.

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