National News

Parents weigh the lessons of Common Core testing

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 10:20
In a small brick house in Glen Burnie, Maryland, 9-year-old Thevy Mak sits at the piano, practicing before a lesson.

Small and thin, with long dark hair, Thevy is a little girl caught up in a big fight playing out around the country. This week, her fourth grade class will take the first round of the new PARCC assessment; standardized tests tied to the Common Core education standards. Thevy won’t be joining them.

“I was glad I didn’t have to,” Thevy says. “Sometimes the questions are really hard and I get really confused.”

Thevy's mom, Sheena Mak, tried some sample questions from the test and felt they were beyond Thevy’s grade level. Mak also doesn’t like what she views as corporate-driven school reform. Pearson, a multi-billion dollar education company, helped develop the test. Not that she went into all that with Thevy.

Sheena Mak (center), with daughters Sophia, 7 (left), and Thevy, 9. Thevy is not taking standardized tests tied to the Common Core standards this year. Amy Scott/Marketplace

"As a parent it is my duty, it's my responsibility, to make the decisions for my children that I think are in their best interest,” Mak says.

Thevy is among millions of students who are scheduled this month to take the first round of tests aligned with the Common Core standards.  Depending on the state, the tests have different names and take different forms. They’re all designed to track kids’ progress toward college and careers. And no matter where you live, there are likely to be families who will refuse to let their kids be tested.

As more parents make that choice this spring, they’re wrestling with what it will mean for their kids. After all, the kids are the ones who have to show up and refuse the tests.

“The first thought that came to my mind was, ‘Boy this puts a kid in an awkward position,’” says Joanna Faber, a former teacher who runs workshops about how to communicate with children.

With all the drama about testing — parents shaming each other on Facebook and protesting in front of schools — Faber says kids may feel torn between two authorities: parent and school. She suggests giving children a choice.

“If your child’s very uncomfortable about the idea of opting out, you might tell her, ‘Listen, if you want to just sit and take the test, that’s okay. I can protest in other ways,’” Faber says.

Parents should let their kids decide whether to take the Common Core tests.
Lynne Rigby wanted to opt her kids out of Florida’s new Common Core test. She says it’s taking too much time away from learning. But she worried about how her seventh grader would feel going against the grain.

“He's such a rule follower and I expected him to want to take the test,” Rigby says.

So she let him and his older brother decide.

“I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable, and they’re not here to fight my battle,” she says. “They’re 13 and 14. They’re capable of making those decisions.”

Both boys chose not to take the tests. So did lots of other students at their school, Rigby says, so they didn’t stand out. Other parents worry about how that decision will affect kids later on, though, when they confront other challenges like in college or the workplace.

“I think it’s actually very destructive in a deep way to signal to kids that a test is hard or scary or that they can’t do it,” says Amy Briggs, a mother of two in Brooklyn, New York, a hotbed of the opt-out movement.

Briggs works for a nonprofit that helps teachers implement the Common Core, so she doesn't share the distaste many in the opt-out movement have for the standards themselves. As a mom, Briggs says she’d rather see her kids fail a test than be protected from taking it.

“I feel like my job is to cheer them on,” she says. “I’m not going to remove every obstacle. Tests are part of the deal.”

A lot of parents think they shouldn’t be part of the deal — at least not so many of them — and that test scores shouldn’t play such a big role in how schools are rated, whether get kids ahead, and whether teachers keep their jobs. They say opting out teaches kids a different lesson about standing up for their beliefs.

Public school parents and teachers remain closely divided when it comes to their overall attitudes toward the Common Core standards, split between positive and negative impressions. Kelsey Fowler/Piktochart

Brooklyn Ritter, 9, will sit out testing at her public Montessori school in Baltimore.

“I decided that I didn’t want to take it, because I am no good at tests — especially when it’s being timed,” she says.

Her mom, Elena Ritter, says Brooklyn was so worried about the test she didn’t want to become a third grader. That’s when annual state testing begins. But Ritter says refusing the test is not about saving Brooklyn from something scary.

“I always say ‘90 percent of fear is between your ears,’” she says. But if I can’t get behind the test myself and they don’t want to do it, I didn’t feel like I could push them to do it.

In the end, the lesson a kid takes away from opting out may depend more on the kid than the parents, says Faber.

“If your child feels empowered by it, then it’s empowering,” she says. “If they feel awkward and frightened about it, then it’s not going to be empowering.”

With kids taking 113 standardized tests, on average, by the time they finish high school, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to think about it.

Fed Sends Clear Sign On Raising Rates, But Says Hike Unlikely In April

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 10:06

In a statement, the Federal Reserve dropped a pledge to be "patient" before raising rates.

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Attorney General Holder Jokes Republicans Have 'A New Fondness For Me'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:45

The Senate has delayed confirming Holder's successor Loretta Lynch. Sen. Durbin says she's been "asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar."

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Mesa, Ariz., Police Seek Active Shooter

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:38

A police spokesman said at least four people have been shot. He said police are looking for a bald white male in his 40s, wearing a gray shirt, black pants or shorts and with a tattoo on his neck.

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Risks Run High When Antipsychotics Are Prescribed For Dementia

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:35

Results from an analysis of veterans' health records show a higher risk of death among people taking antipsychotic drugs for symptoms of dementia than has been documented before.

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Video Break: Soaring Through An Immense Vietnamese Cave

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:21

American photographer Ryan Deboodt says he filmed Hang Son Doong on his third visit. The world's largest cave features a river and huge "skylights" that have allowed trees and wildlife to flourish.

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Yik Yak, privacy settings and the anonymous economy

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 09:16

In South by Southwest Interactive’s idea exchange, the goal is often trying to get some pattern recognition. Brands, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, academics — everyone is trying to get a sense of what is happening right now, and what is the Next Big Thing. Right now, data privacy is a huge issue. Over 100 events at Interactive tackle privacy as a topic, from drones to health care.

One of the week’s privacy-focused events was the release of a new login management system from Yahoo. The company is calling it an “on-demand password” system where, every time you want to login, you get a new code texted to your phone. For a company that has been pulling in user data — and fielding “change password” requests — for years this seems to make a lot of sense. But it’s also part of a larger recognition at Yahoo that users increasingly understand the value of data protection and control.

“It’s really important to provide our users with the tools and the ability to control what they share with us,” says Dylan Casey, a VP of products at Yahoo. “And, be as transparent as possible about what we do with it.”

Other people at Southby are here to talk about anonymity. For Yik Yak, one of the hot startups making an appearance at the festival, anonymity is a key feature. The app lets college kids share anonymous comments publicly with the entire campus community. There has been plenty of criticism leveled at Yik Yak for allowing racism, sexism, and worse to be posted without much accountability. Co-founders Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington say they are combating that content by adding filters for certain language. But they tout the app for recently alerting students to a campus shooting nine minutes before the college’s emergency alert system. And their promise of anonymity for users is bringing in cash.

“The company's at about 35 people working on Yik Yak,” Droll says. “We've raised about 70 million dollars and we have a presence at just about every college campus in america.”

Yik Yak is one of many increasingly popular apps that offer anonymity as a big selling point. But many of these startups don’t have to worry about revenue yet. For Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and Amazon, data is an incredibly valuable resource. Which is probably why those larger companies are trying to offer more general controls and protection--not anonymity.

Is there a way to mine data and offer some anonymity to a growing number of users who don't want their email messages used for marketing ploys, or something worse? Security specialist at the company Rapid7 Nicholas Percoco says it depends on what you really want from your technology.

“By nature of using the device or service,” he says, “the benefit of that is that it’s tracking you.”  

Location based rewards, mapping, recommendations and more convenience based on the data we’re giving up is already here. And even if you do decide you do want anonymity as a user and are willing to do the work to get it, it might be a quixotic quest. Percoco says as time goes on, companies that pull in our data get bought and sold, along with our information. Take a bit from data column A and a bit from data column B, and a company, government or hacker can turn anonymity into your positive ID.

Oh, for the want of a decent copier

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:57

A lot of reporters use the Freedom of Information Act — FOIA — to request documents from the government.

Last year, I asked the State Department for copies of some correspondence related to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And it took me a while to hear back.

I received a response last week. 

Evidently, there's a huge backlog at the State Department in the office that handles requests like mine, and we now know why.

An inspector general looked into the matter and provided an explanation: "The office lacks copy machines that can handle the volume required."

There aren't enough copy machines. At the State Department. In 2015.

 

Dallas Seavey Wins Third Iditarod in Four Years

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:44

The 28-year-old Seavey finished the race early Wednesday. He completed the 1,100-mile sled dog race in 8 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes, and 6 seconds.

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Netanyahu's Campaign Puts Him On The Path To Confrontation

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:33

If the Israeli leader follows through on his campaign pledges, he could face increased friction with the Palestinians, the Obama administration and the international community.

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Alarming Number Of Women Think Spousal Abuse Is Sometimes OK

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:16

In many countries, more than a third of women think a husband is sometimes justified in beating his wife. Researchers say this attitude contributes to the high rate of domestic violence worldwide.

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Obama Picks Kentucky To Win NCAA Tournament, Mixes In Politics

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:04

President Obama predicts Kentucky will be crowned college basketball champion and cap off a perfect season. He also picks three top seeds and one No. 2 seed to make the Final Four.

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American Express launches multi-brand loyalty program

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 08:02

A handful of the country’s biggest companies announced out a new loyalty program Wednesday. American Express is teaming up with Macy’s, ExxonMobile, AT&T, Hulu, and others to create a program that lets customers gather and redeem points across the group of merchants.

Traditionally, loyalty programs have been exclusive to one retailer – one card for the supermarket, another for the drugstore.

This program, called Plenti, is different in that it allows points gathered a one merchant to be redeemed at another, says Abeer Bhatia, CEO of U.S. Loyalty with American Express.

“Let’s say you walk into a Rite Aid and you pick up soda, band aids, and you go and check out,” explains Bhatia. “You’re going to earn points at Rite Aid and these points will accumulate in a common points bank and then when you go next time, maybe, to an ExxonMobil or Macy’s, you can use those points.”

Customers don’t have to pay with an American Express card to get collect points. Bhatja says the company hopes the program will make new customers aware of their cards.  

The program may also help American Express target a different kind of customer.

“The appeal for American Express has always been targeting that higher-end, more upscale card holder than the other card issuers have focused on,” says Matt Schulz, a senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

By partnering with companies with wide-ranging customers, like Rite Aid, AT&T, Macy’s, Schulz says American Express could broaden its base with a less-affluent customer and that the company could also be hoping for some good headlines after losing an exclusive contract with contract with Costco recently.

PODCAST: Facebook gets into mobile payment

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 07:53

We're watching closely today for any clue to when the Federal Reserve could be raising interest rates, and most of the speculation hinges on just one word: "patient." What does it mean and how did we get here? J.P. Morgan's David Kelly is here to shed some light on the situation. Then, Facebook is adding the option to send other users money via its Messenger app. Tracey Samuelson tells us how the move could bring mobile payment into the mainstream and open up new revenue opportunities for the site. Finally, it's taken as a given that that veterans from the post-9/11 era have had an especially hard time finding work. Anecdotal evidence is plentiful, but hard numbers are surprisingly elusive. Dan Weissmann investigates.

Debate: Should The U.S. Adopt The 'Right To Be Forgotten' Online?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 07:53

People don't always like what they see when they Google themselves. EU residents have a right to request that unflattering material be removed from online search results. Should the U.S. follow suit?

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Cowboy Cravings: Fried Cookie Dough And Other Rodeo Calorie Bombs

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 07:37

Concoctions that seem to break caloric records are a central part of the rodeo food experience. If you're going to indulge, a Texas dietician offers tips to help keep you from popping a belt buckle.

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Does Fox's 'Empire' Break Or Bolster Black Stereotypes?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 07:22

Fox's hip-hop drama Empire ends its first season Wednesday as a huge hit, thanks to black viewers. But NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it also has sparked a complex debate over TV stereotypes.

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World's biggest art heist, 25 years later

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-18 06:32

On March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers stole 13 pieces of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston.

They took rare Rembrandts, a Vermeer, and works by Manet and Degas. All together, the stolen art was worth about $500 million. According to the FBI, it was the largest property crime in U.S. history.  A few days after the incident, the Gardner Museum's president and director said, "It is as if there'd been a death in the family."

A quarter-century later, the case remains unsolved. Kelly Crow covers art for The Wall Street Journal. She says the heist changed the art world. 

"I think both museums and private collectors got a wake-up call," Crow tells Marketplace's David Gura. "Museums have gone back and taken a much tougher look at their protocols."

For example, the security guard on duty that night had only one alarm he could trigger at his post. And when the guard was lured away, there was no way for him to signal for help.

Crow says, even after all these years, the stolen art leaves gaping holes in the museum. Isabella Stewart Gardner hadn't wanted any of the pieces moved. So all that hangs in the place of the stolen masterpieces are empty frames.

Can't Protect The Real White House? Get An $8 Million Fake One

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 06:31

The Secret Service director is asking Congress to give the agency funding to build a replica White House at its training compound in suburban Maryland.

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Gunmen Storm Tunisian Museum In Deadly Attack

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-18 05:54

At least eight people died as gunmen opened fire on people visiting the Bardo Museum, a tourist attraction in Tunis. Police reportedly are inside the building and have surrounded two of the attackers.

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