- Associated Press - Monday, September 22, 2014

Quad-City Times. Sept. 20, 2014.

‘No Child’ anchors students to failure

All children left behind.

That’s the name we’d give to the 13-year-old lumbering sloth of federal bureaucracy that hurts - not helps - American school children. The bipartisan reform championed by former President George W. Bush and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy in 2001 was intended to hold schools publicly accountable.

Each year, states release a list of so-called failing schools that grows longer and longer. More than half of Iowa schools are on it, and that number will keep growing.

No Child was built with two obvious flaws:

- The results do not measure a child or classes’ systemic improvement. It compares this year’s students’ results to the previous year’s class of entirely different individuals, as if kids were combines that stream off a Deere & Co. assembly line.

- The standards shoot up each year, so that this year, 100 percent of students must show progress over the previous year’s classes. Even Deere can’t guarantee 100 percent of all combines leave the assembly line in perfect condition.

Congress didn’t get it. But teachers figured it out immediately. It’s impossible to win.

Most states figured it out. That’s why 43 of the 50 states sought waivers. They hoped to relieve students and teachers of the oppressive bureaucracy, and lift the inaccurate label of failure off these schools.

That’s also why the National Governors Association initiated a better reform - the Common Core - which was ushered into Iowa under Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration.

We join Branstad in supporting the Common Core standards and other Iowa reforms that push student achievement, empower teachers and boost pay for reform leaders in schools.

Meanwhile, No Child lives on, falsely labeling schools as failures and consuming countless hours and dollars on useless bureaucracy.

Congressional leadership as astute as teachers might have figured it out, and outlawed No Child years ago. But this Congress, focused solely on blaming and shaming, anchors American school children to this awful annual ritual.

So No Child continues to obstruct American education, distracting educators from real reforms and issuing more and more “failure” labels on schools and children that don’t deserve it.

___

Iowa City Press-Citizen. Sept. 20, 2014.

Let Hawkeyes set example on helmet use

When speaking to the media last week after Hawkeye defensive end Drew Ott’s moped crash, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said it might be a good idea to require his players to wear helmets when riding mopeds, scooters and motorcycles.

“We were talking in the locker room,” Ferentz said, “and I grew up in Pennsylvania. Back in the dark ages, they used to have it as a state law that you had to wear a helmet. That would be a great help. I don’t know if I’m a real political activist, but it may be something to consider.”

And if Ferentz had stopped there, then public health advocates - who have been pushing for a helmet law in Iowa for years - might have been able to claim a small, moral victory in their decades-long effort to urge state lawmakers to grow a backbone and join the 47 states the recognize the public health benefits of requiring moped and motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.

Instead, Ferentz went on to say, “There is probably a reason why it’s not a law. It’s probably an individual’s choice, but I don’t know why seat belts would be a law. It’s kind of the same topic. But yeah, I would support that. It’s just really hard to mandate that, but I guess we could.”

We’re glad Ott was able to recover enough to rejoin his teammates on the field last week. But the next helmet-less victim of such a crash - whether a Hawkeye athlete, high school student or middle-age mother - might not be so lucky.

That’s why we’ve long advocated that Iowa should require all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Although deciding whether to wear a helmet is an individual choice, many people wind up paying when riders sustain permanent brain injuries from a crash. And the odds of such injuries go up dramatically when the rider is not wearing a helmet.

At the very least, we were hopeful that bills put forward by friends of the late Caroline Found, who died in a moped accident in 2011, would have gained some traction over the past three years. Moved by the loss of their friend, several West High students and graduates have worked to get bills before the Legislature that would add require all riders younger than 18 to “wear a properly adjusted and fastened safety helmet when operating a motorized bicycle.”

Unfortunately - even with support from the Iowa Association for Justice, the Iowa County Attorneys Association, the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa and the Iowa Medical Society - those limited bills weren’t able to survive the onslaught of lobbying from groups (particularly the well-financed and politically powerful bipartisan group, A Brotherhood Aimed Toward Education) who saw the proposals as a slippery slope leading to Iowa giving up its status as a helmet-less hold-out.

Although such a law wouldn’t affect all the college students riding around locally without a helmet on, it would start creating better habits for younger teens who are getting their license and just beginning to establish their riding behavior.

Having Ferentz institute such a rule for his players not only would help keep them safer and healthier, it also would model a positive message to impressionable young riders throughout the state.

___

Globe Gazette. Sept. 21, 2014.

Electronic data should improve accessibility of state courts

There’s this thing called the Internet. You may have heard of it. The Iowa court system has.

A program called the electronic data management system (EDMS) has been rolling out across the state to bring the services of the state courts online. The goal is to create a system that is paperless, more efficient and more accessible.

“The public likes it because they can transact their business just like they do in other aspects of their lives, whether they are doing their banking or shopping,” said Mark Cady, chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, in a visit to Mason City on Friday.

EDMS began in 2010 in Plymouth and Story counties. It has been used in Cerro Gordo and Mitchell counties for about a year, and Cady said the system should be implemented statewide by next year. It is currently in 70 of the state’s 99 counties.

One of EDMS’ major selling points is that it eliminates paper files. By turning documents into electronic data, that information can be viewed by many different people in different locations as is necessary. In the past the information was likely available only in the county in which it was filed, or else multiple copies had to be mailed or faxed where needed.

Now these files are available to anyone who needs them and who has the appropriate access clearance, including court administrators, attorneys and judges. The system also makes it possible to file papers when the courthouse or clerk of court’s office isn’t open. Document can be filed from anywhere, at any time, as long as there is access to a computer and the Internet.

“The roll-out started slow and it has picked up pace and it is exceeding our expectations,” Justice Cady said. Judges are getting more and more familiar with it and understanding its benefits, he added.

The system is also saving the space needed to keep volumes of paper files on every court case and action, and making it easier to find the appropriate documents when needed.

The rollout hasn’t been seamless. Some users have described a somewhat steep learning curve to figure out all the nuances of the system, but many people who have become familiar with it say it’s helpful.

And, of, course, security is a concern. At a time when almost every day brings news of some additional business getting its files hacked or Russian computer thieves stealing millions of email addresses and passwords, keeping the courts records secure is of paramount concern.

That includes keeping confidential records available only to those who should have access, making sure documents are safe from tampering, but also making documents that should be available to the public accessible without too cumbersome a process. It’s certainly a challenge that must be given the most careful attention.

Ultimately the goal is to make it easier for the public to access information on the court system and to file their own documents when needed. Making the court system more accessible is a goal that everyone should applaud.

___

Telegraph Herald.j Sept. 19, 2014.

Goal-line stand against violence

It’s hard to decide what is most troubling:

- One of the strongest, most powerful men in professional football - and therefore the planet - allegedly disciplines his 4-year-old son by whipping him until he is bruised and bloodied.

- Said star player’s team deactivates him, but, the day after losing a game, reactivated him.

- People defend the football star’s “right” to discipline his child as he sees fit.

But that’s where we are in the case of Adrian Peterson, the National Football League star indicted last week on charges of reckless or negligent injury to child.

For the moment, let’s set aside America’s football-worship mentality. Let’s consider America’s attitudes surrounding child discipline.

Someone who takes a small tree branch (or “switch”) and whips an adult until he or she suffers cuts and bruises faces assault charges. Yet, when the recipient of the whipping is a child, and the child is bloodied and bruised by a parent allegedly administering “discipline,” listen to the apologists and defenders.

Seriously, what does that say about our society when significant numbers excuse or defend the beating of a child? A preschooler, no less. We hear the anecdotal “evidence” suggesting a bloodied child today will be a better-behaved child tomorrow. We’ve all heard the adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”

Former pro basketball star Charles Barkley the other day said, “There’s a question if Adrian Peterson went overboard, but listen … we all grow up in different environments. Every black parent in my neighborhood in the South would be in trouble, or in jail, under those circumstances.”

Peterson’s mother (the grandmother of the victim), said, “When you whip those you love, it’s not about abuse, but love,” Bonita Jackson explained. “You want to make them understand that they did wrong.”

The apologists recount how they suffered physical punishment as children and “turned out all right.” Barkley said, “I’ve had many welts on my legs. I’ve gotten beaten with switches.”

But have they turned out all right? Have we considered the possibility that children who suffer physically abusive discipline from their parents will someday become adults who believe that is how grown-ups deal with problems - through slapping, punching and whipping? Have we noticed that the U.S. has a domestic abuse epidemic? Just turn back one page, and most days you’re likely to see in the local “Police” column one or more arrests for domestic assault. Do we not think there could be a connection?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says this about spanking, “It is harmful emotionally to both parent and child. Not only can it result in physical harm, but it teaches children that violence is an acceptable way to discipline or express anger. While stopping the behavior temporarily, it does not teach alternative behavior. It also interferes with the development of trust, a sense of security and effective communication.” If the pediatricians say that about spanking, one need not wonder about their stance on “whippings.”

The professional football hierarchy has been worse than no help. The other day, the National Football League had to be shamed into giving Baltimore player Ray Rice more than a wrist-slap for the brutal knockout punch to his then-fiance (now wife).

Peterson’s team, the Minnesota Vikings, deactivate their star player upon his indictment Friday. But the day after the Vikings suffered a loss, team officials reactivated him. Talk about priorities.

Fortunately, the public (especially people on social media) started a firestorm of objections, and some major sponsors of the team and the NFL signaled that their dollars were in jeopardy. Money talks. That Peterson the next day was put on paid leave through a roster exemption was just a coincidence and not a response to the previous day’s embarrassing 30-7 loss to New England, said the Vikings owner, Zygi Wilf, who acknowledged his mistake of lifting Peterson’s deactivation in the first place. That’s a start.

Its plans to adorn itself in pink all October to promote awareness of breast cancer notwithstanding, the National Football League has again proven itself tone-deaf when it comes to such important matters as just and respectful treatment of women and children. The public needs to reinforce its concern and objections through its feedback and commentary, viewing and game attendance, and spending on NFL-related products. The public should consider this its goal-line stand against attitudes that, in the 21st century, try to excuse child abuse.


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