National News

Giving every kid a computer and a connection

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 11:13
When VIDA Middle School in Vista, California, received a grant to hand every one of its 680 students an iPad with a free 4G connection, parents were excited.

They were also a little nervous.

.new-float-left { float: left; margin-right: 24px; } .new-float-left em, .new-float-right em { display:block;font-size:.825em; color:#999; } .new-float-right { float: right; margin-left: 24px; } @media screen and (max-width:480px) { .new-float-left, .new-float-right { float:none;} } VIDA Principal Eric Chagala "We have a large population of students who walk," says Principal Eric Chagala. "The fear was, you are putting a $700 or $800 device in my 11-year-old's hand, and they have to get home."

So, Chagala hit the streets of the working class neighborhood around the school. He talked to local police. He dropped in on area pawn shops, to ask them to call the school if people started showing up with iPads to sell.

VIDA, or theVista Innovation & Design Academy, is a year-old magnet school that replaced a struggling school called Washington Middle.

The school's long rows of classrooms and outdoor hallways now have a fresh coat of paint, and regular appearances by the new mascot, a shark.

The VIDA community chose the shark as a mascot because of how it serves as an example of biomimicry, which fits the school's themes of design and innovation.

The old teacher's lounge has been turned into a maker's space, where sixth-graders recently worked to build models of carnival attractions with wood blocks, cardboard and plastic containers. They used their iPads to design the models earlier in the week.

One group of kids is building a haunted house using CDs to create broken glass. Another team is working on an ambitious spinning ride — it has sprinklers, a concession stand and sharks. Very much a work in progress.

It's happy chaos.

Traditional classes here have also been transformed by the technology.

VIDA teacher William Olive "We now have students who look at historical dilemmas and be problem solvers," says William Olive, a history teacher with 27 years of experience.

He no longer drills students on facts. He says his job now is to help students use the tech to explore and create. Many of his students didn't have that kind of access before, not at home or at school. One-third of the students in the upper grades at the school are homeless.

"I teach a junior Model United Nations club, and 13 of the 19 students didn't have a computer or printer at home," he says. "For them to have access to an iPad is revolutionary."

At school, the students use their tablets for research and to create presentations. Olive says they have a whole new set of questions about the world, from the South China Sea to the Sudan.

"It gives a more of a level playing field, it also helps their families," he says. "Now their families have access to technology and are starting to understand it."

But students are also under a new kind of pressure to take care of their devices. They can't lose it, or misuse it. They, and their parents, are anxious about the costs of replacing it if things do go wrong.

Principal Chagala feels a new responsibility too, one with a bigger price tag: keeping up this level of access.

"Our richest kid and our poorest kid, there is no difference in access and opportunity for learning for them at this point," he says.

Students at VIDA middle school use their iPad tablets in class for assignments, but also to complete homework and email teachers.

The current grant, from a group called Digital Promise and Verizon, lasts two years. After that, the school gets to keep the iPads, but they lose the free 4G connectivity.

"I'm scared to death," Chagala says. "It's been such a blessing. I don't think our kids could imagine not having access."

Now, district and city officials are working on a plan to keep the kids connected, and expand the access to even more students.

Is it time to hand every K-12 student a laptop or tablet and let 'em have at it? Teachers, administrators and parents across the country are grappling with the new digital classroom. In a play on the popular children's book, "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie," Marketplace explores the ever-expanding reach of education technology.

Research Chimps Get Their Day In Court In New York

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 11:11

But neither Hercules nor Leo, who are at the center of a legal battle over whether chimpanzees should have the same legal rights as people, were physically present in the Manhattan courtroom today.

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U.S. Finalizes Rules To Protect Rivers, Streams From Pollution

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 10:04

The regulations are intended to clarify recent court decisions on which bodies of water are protected, but many farmers and congressional Republicans oppose what they call an EPA "land grab."

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Supreme Court Says Locals Can Make Pill-Makers Pay For Drug Disposal

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 09:40

The court decision means companies are on the hook for helping at least some consumers in California safely dispose of leftover pills and other medicine. Similar measures are in the works elsewhere.

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Scott Walker Says Ultrasounds Are 'Just A Cool Thing'

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 08:55

Speaking about his state's law that requires an ultrasound before an abortion, the Wisconsin governor said he meets people all the time who are excited to show him ultrasounds of their grandkids.

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Nebraska Governor's Veto Of Death Penalty Repeal Sets Up Override Vote

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 08:44

Thirty votes are needed in the state's unicameral Legislature to override Gov. Pete Ricketts' veto. The vote is expected to be close.

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Paralyzed By Doubt? Here's A Guide For The Worrier In Us All

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 07:16

You might think that anxiety disorder is no laughing matter, but illustrator Gemma Correll respectfully disagrees. She sees the humor in the mental condition that she deals with every day.

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More Severe Storms Possible For Flood-Hit Texas

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 07:00

At least 17 people have died as a result of severe storms and flooding in Texas and Oklahoma.

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Federal Appeals Court Blocks Arkansas Ban On Abortion At 12 Weeks

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 06:34

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit has blocked an Arkansas law that bans abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The case was filed by two doctors on their own and their patients' behalf.

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Penn State Bounces Fraternity For 3 Years Over Nude Photo Scandal

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 05:57

Penn State has shut down the Kappa Delta Rho fraternity chapter for three years, after an inquiry over a Facebook group page that collected pictures of nude women uncovered other transgressions.

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How A Claim That A Childhood Vaccine Prevents Leukemia Went Too Far

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 05:32

It seemed to make sense that the childhood Hib vaccine could cut leukemia risk by keeping the immune system in check. But proving there's cause and effect at work turns out to be a challenge.

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Attempt To Get More People On Board With Organ Donation Backfires

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 04:56

To increase the number of organ donors in the U.S., psychologists have advocated for changes to how we ask people to donate. In California, officials tried something new — but it may have backfired.

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5 Things You Should Know About Rick Santorum

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 04:03

The former Pennsylvania senator is getting in the race for president again. Here's a reminder of who he is.

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Santorum Hopes To Catch Lightning In A Bottle A Second Time

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 04:03

The former Pennsylvania senator, who won Iowa in 2012, hopes he can do it again. But with a more crowded field, he might find it difficult to stand out.

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A New Kind Of College Wins State Approval In Rhode Island

NPR News - Wed, 2015-05-27 04:03

College Unbound aims to provide students who have some college experience a personalized path to a degree.

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PODCAST: Hacking at the IRS

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 03:00

We take a closer look at allegations against several FIFA officials arrested earlier this morning in Switzerland. We'll also talk about news that hackers have accessed the information of roughly 100,000 people through the IRS. Plus, are you sick of long lines at the airport? Well, new technology may help make the flying experience a little more smooth.

FIFA officials charged with corruption

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 03:00

Here's what we know:

-Seven FIFA soccer officials were arrested early Wednesday morning in Zurich as they prepared for their annual meeting.

-Nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives have been charged by the U.S. with a scheme that has allegedly been going on for 24 years, involving more than $150 million in bribes and kickbacks.

-A separate investigation by the Swiss Government was also launched to look into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.

-The seven officials who await extradition to the U.S. for trial are FIFA Vice President Jeffrey Webb, FIFA Vice President Eugenio Figueredo, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Rafael Esquivel and José Maria Marin.

-The arrests and charges come ahead of Sepp Blatter's expected re-election as president of FIFA—it would be his fifth term. So far, Blater is not among those who have been charged with corruption.

In Texas floods, homeowners count the cost

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 02:00

Floods in Oklahoma and Texas have claimed lives and destroyed numerous homes.

Rebuilding those homes and reimbursing homeowners will take months, if not a year or more. But some of those homeowners may not get all the help they will need, because they don't have flood insurance.

In Wimberley, a vacation town in between San Antonio and Austin which is situated on a river that rose 40 feet, flood waters washed away hundreds of homes and businesses.

"There are many people... that lived along the river, that did not have insurance," says Cathy Moreman, head of the Wimberley Valley Chamber of Commerce.

For some, price of premiums may have been a factor.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency underwrites homeowners' flood insurance through a fund set up for that purpose. That fund was $23 billion in debt as of 2014.

Tom Baker, who teaches insurance law at the University of Pennsylvania, says the reason is that flood insurance has historically been too cheap. "It hasn't reflected the real risk that people face," he says.

In recent years, though, premiums have been going up. FEMA also redrew flood danger maps, which caused premiums for some homeowners to go up because they were deemed to be in greater risk, while it also lowered premiums for others.

"Everyone is paying a great deal of attention to the affordability issue," says Howard Kunreuther, professor and co-director of the Wharton Risk Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kunreuther is on a government panel studying how to make flood insurance more affordable for those who need financial assistance paying for it. Among the ideas, he says, is to offer a voucher to those who can't pay the full cost of flood insurance premiums.

But, he adds, that kind of financial help could be two years away. In the meantime, those with damaged or destroyed homes by the current floods would have few options if they don't have flood insurance.

The financial backdrop to Postal Service union talks

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 02:00

Wednesday is the deadline for negotiators at the U.S. Postal Service to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the American Postal Workers Union, which represents nearly 200,000 workers, including clerks, mechanics and vehicle drivers.

The talks are unfolding against a bleak financial backdrop. USPS’s financial losses have moderated a bit recently, but it’s still very much in the red. It reported a $1.5 billion net loss in the second quarter of the year, compared to a $1.9 billion loss in the period a year earlier.

Its troubles date back at least a decade. The internet chipped away at one of its biggest moneymakers: first class mail.

“That mail has dried up and will continue to dry up as more people migrate to electronic payments,” says Jerry Hempstead, president of the shipping logistics company Hempstead Consulting. Hempstead says USPS has managed to get the internet to work in its favor in other ways; it now ships a lot of the stuff we buy online. But Hempstead says that revenue is not enough to offset some big costs.

“The elephant in the room is the requirement to pre-fund retiree health,” he says.

A 2006 law required that USPS pre-fund 75 years' worth of future-retiree health benefits. That can cost as much as $5.8 billion a year. 

“They can’t do it. They missed the last four payments,” says management professor James S. O'Rourke at the University of Notre Dame.

O’Rourke believes the solutions to the Postal Service’s problems include privatizing its pension and health care plans and closing more post offices. 

“The union workers simply won't agree to any of that,” he says. “And the Congress won't agree to save them.” 

O'Rourke fears those groups will only come together in a crisis, like USPS running out of money to meet payroll.

Now boarding: better technology at the airport

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-05-27 02:00

Consumer complaints against airlines are way up. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, March saw a whopping 55 percent increase in angry fliers. 

But airlines and airports are promising a better flight experience — at least on the ground. To make it happen, they’re pouring billions of dollars into technology.  

Sunsea Shaw isn’t sold. All she wants is an easy journey home to Indiana. So she checked in online and printed her boarding pass before leaving home for Atlanta’s international airport.   

“I thought it would save me time, so that way I can get through the check-in process quickly and then go on to security and catch my flight,” she says.

The reality? 

“I’m standing in line,” she says, with zero amusement in her voice.

The baggage-drop line is long and chaotic, but not necessarily out of the ordinary. Long lines and frustrated passengers have become synonymous with flying. 

But potentially, developing technology could enable airports where “there’s [sic] no lines. You’re able to move through the process without having to stop and queue for anything,” says Jim Peters with airport tech company SITA.

He says future airports could operate like today’s Apple Store. Employees armed with wearables—like an Apple Watch—will walk around checking you in, sorting out your baggage and generally keep things moving. 

Wearable tech will also help to manage airport staff, he says, “so if you’ve got too long of lines at one spot, then you could automatically shift staff around.” Peters says wearable devices can instantly alert staffers where they need to be and what they need to be doing.

Another emerging airport technology involves transmitting personalized information via beacons. “Beacons are literally data packets that can be delivered to a mobile device,” explains Roosevelt Council, C.F.O of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Council says beacons allow direct connections with a passengers’ smartphones or watches, giving them instant updates on gate changes, flight delays, or even a coupon for a neck pillow.

And it’s not just airports employing beacon technology. Airlines are, too. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines is using beacons at its main hub to allow passengers to track their luggage. “We avoid that real ... deal killer and buzz killer, which is the lost bag,” says Rhonda Crawford, VP of E-commerce at Delta.