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[#] Sat Jan 03 2015 00:36:35 EST from rss @

Subject: January 3, 1990: Noriega surrenders to U.S.

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On this day in 1990, Panama's General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the streets of Panama City rejoiced. On July 10, 1992, the former dictator was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Noriega, who was born in Panama in 1938, was a loyal soldier to General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup. Under Torrijos, Noriega headed up the notorious G-2 intelligence service, which harassed and terrorized people who criticized the Torrijos regime. Noriega also became a C.I.A. operative, while at the same time getting rich smuggling drugs.

In 1981, Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash and after a two-year power struggle, Noriega emerged as general of Panama's military forces. He became the country's de facto leader, fixing presidential elections so he could install his own puppet officials. Noriega's rule was marked by corruption and violence. He also became a double agent, selling American intelligence secrets to Cuba and Eastern European governments. In 1987, when Panamanians organized protests against Noriega and demanded his ouster, he declared a national emergency, shut down radio stations and newspapers and forced his political enemies into exile.

That year the United States cut off aid to Panama and tried to get Noriega to resign; in 1988, the U.S. began considering the use of military action to put an end to his drug trafficking. Noriega voided the May 1989 presidential election, which included a U.S.-backed candidate, and in December of that year he declared his country to be in a state of war with the United States. Shortly afterward, an American marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. President George H.W. Bush authorized "Operation Just Cause," and on December 20, 1989, 13,000 U.S. troops were sent to occupy Panama City, along with the 12,000 already there, and seize Noriega. During the invasion, 23 U.S. troops were killed in action and over 300 were wounded. Approximately 450 Panamanian troops were killed; estimates for the number of civilians who died range from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands injured.

Today, Noriega, derogatorily nicknamed "Pineapple Face" in reference to his pockmarked skin, is serving his sentence at a federal prison in Miami.

[#] Sun Jan 04 2015 00:46:06 EST from rss @

Subject: January 4, 1999: The euro debuts

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On this day in 1999, for the first time since Charlemagne's reign in the ninth century, Europe is united with a common currency when the "euro" debuts as a financial unit in corporate and investment markets. Eleven European Union (EU) nations (Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain), representing some 290 million people, launched the currency in the hopes of increasing European integration and economic growth. Closing at a robust 1.17 U.S. dollars on its first day, the euro promised to give the dollar a run for its money in the new global economy. Euro cash, decorated with architectural images, symbols of European unity and member-state motifs, went into circulation on January 1, 2002, replacing the Austrian schilling, Belgian franc, Finnish markka, French franc, German mark, Italian lira, Irish punt, Luxembourg franc, Netherlands guilder, Portugal escudo and Spanish peseta. A number of territories and non-EU nations including Monaco and Vatican City also adopted the euro.

Conversion to the euro wasn't without controversy. Despite the practical benefits of a common currency that would make it easier to do business and travel throughout Europe, there were concerns that the changeover process would be costly and chaotic, encourage counterfeiting, lead to inflation and cause individual nations to loose control over their economic policies. Great Britain, Sweden and Demark opted not to use the euro. Greece, after initially being excluded for failing to meet all the required conditions, adopted the euro in January 2001, becoming the 12th member of the so-called eurozone.

The euro was established by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty on European Union, which spelled out specific economic requirements, including high degree of price stability and low inflation, which countries must meet before they can begin using the new money. The euro consists of 8 coins and 7 paper bills. The Frankfurt-based European Central Bank (ECB) manages the euro and sets interest rates and other monetary policies. In 2004, 10 more countries joined the EU—-Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Several of these countries plan to start using the euro in 2007, with the rest to follow in coming years.

[#] Mon Jan 05 2015 00:41:13 EST from rss @

Subject: January 5, 1933: Golden Gate Bridge is born

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On January 5, 1933, construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, as workers began excavating 3.25 million cubic feet of dirt for the structure’s huge anchorages.

Following the Gold Rush boom that began in 1849, speculators realized the land north of San Francisco Bay would increase in value in direct proportion to its accessibility to the city. Soon, a plan was hatched to build a bridge that would span the Golden Gate, a narrow, 400-foot deep strait that serves as the mouth of the San Francisco Bay, connecting the San Francisco Peninsula with the southern end of Marin County.

Although the idea went back as far as 1869, the proposal took root in 1916. A former engineering student, James Wilkins, working as a journalist with the San Francisco Bulletin, called for a suspension bridge with a center span of 3,000 feet, nearly twice the length of any in existence. Wilkins’ idea was estimated to cost an astounding $100 million. So, San Francisco's city engineer, Michael M. O'Shaughnessy (he’s also credited with coming up with the name Golden Gate Bridge), began asking bridge engineers whether they could do it for less.

Engineer and poet Joseph Strauss, a 5-foot tall Cincinnati-born Chicagoan, said he could.

Eventually, O'Shaughnessy and Strauss concluded they could build a pure suspension bridge within a practical range of $25-30 million with a main span at least 4,000 feet. The construction plan still faced opposition, including litigation, from many sources. By the time most of the obstacles were cleared, the Great Depression of 1929 had begun, limiting financing options, so officials convinced voters to support $35 million in bonded indebtedness, citing the jobs that would be created for the project. However, the bonds couldn’t be sold until 1932, when San-Francisco based Bank of America agreed to buy the entire project in order to help the local economy.

The Golden Gate Bridge officially opened on May 27, 1937, the longest bridge span in the world at the time. The first public crossing had taken place the day before, when 200,000 people walked, ran and even roller skated over the new bridge.

With its tall towers and famous red paint job, the bridge quickly became a famous American landmark, and a symbol of San Francisco.

[#] Mon Jan 05 2015 13:40:05 EST from vince-q @ Uncensored

Subject: Re: January 5, 1933: Golden Gate Bridge is born

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With its tall towers and famous red paint job, the bridge quickly
became a famous American landmark, and a symbol of San Francisco.

And even more so now that we have video of many Apes leaping across it... <evil grin>

[#] Tue Jan 06 2015 00:32:53 EST from rss @

Subject: January 6, 1838: Morse demonstrates telegraph

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On this day in 1838, Samuel Morse's telegraph system is demonstrated for the first time at the Speedwell Iron Works in Morristown, New Jersey. The telegraph, a device which used electric impulses to transmit encoded messages over a wire, would eventually revolutionize long-distance communication, reaching the height of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse was born April 27, 1791, in Charlestown, Massachusetts. He attended Yale University, where he was interested in art, as well as electricity, still in its infancy at the time. After college, Morse became a painter. In 1832, while sailing home from Europe, he heard about the newly discovered electromagnet and came up with an idea for an electric telegraph. He had no idea that other inventors were already at work on the concept.

Morse spent the next several years developing a prototype and took on two partners, Leonard Gale and Alfred Vail, to help him. In 1838, he demonstrated his invention using Morse code, in which dots and dashes represented letters and numbers. In 1843, Morse finally convinced a skeptical Congress to fund the construction of the first telegraph line in the United States, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore. In May 1844, Morse sent the first official telegram over the line, with the message: "What hath God wrought!"

Over the next few years, private companies, using Morse's patent, set up telegraph lines around the Northeast. In 1851, the New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company was founded; it would later change its name to Western Union. In 1861, Western Union finished the first transcontinental line across the United States. Five years later, the first successful permanent line across the Atlantic Ocean was constructed and by the end of the century telegraph systems were in place in Africa, Asia and Australia.

Because telegraph companies typically charged by the word, telegrams became known for their succinct prose--whether they contained happy or sad news. The word "stop," which was free, was used in place of a period, for which there was a charge. In 1933, Western Union introduced singing telegrams. During World War II, Americans came to dread the sight of Western Union couriers because the military used telegrams to inform families about soldiers' deaths.

Over the course of the 20th century, telegraph messages were largely replaced by cheap long-distance phone service, faxes and email. Western Union delivered its final telegram in January 2006.

Samuel Morse died wealthy and famous in New York City on April 2, 1872, at age 80.

[#] Wed Jan 07 2015 00:38:50 EST from rss @

Subject: January 7, 1789: First U.S. presidential election

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On this day in 1789, America's first presidential election is held. Voters cast ballots to choose state electors; only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. As expected, George Washington won the election and was sworn into office on April 30, 1789.

As it did in 1789, the United States still uses the Electoral College system, established by the U.S. Constitution, which today gives all American citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president. The president and vice president are the only elected federal officials chosen by the Electoral College instead of by direct popular vote.

Today political parties usually nominate their slate of electors at their state conventions or by a vote of the party's central state committee, with party loyalists often being picked for the job. Members of the U.S. Congress, though, can’t be electors. Each state is allowed to choose as many electors as it has senators and representatives in Congress. The District of Columbia has 3 electors. During a presidential election year, on Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November), the electors from the party that gets the most popular votes are elected in a winner-take-all-system, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which allocate electors proportionally. In order to win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538.

On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December of a presidential election year, each state's electors meet, usually in their state capitol, and simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide. This is largely ceremonial: Because electors nearly always vote with their party, presidential elections are essentially decided on Election Day. Although electors aren't constitutionally mandated to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state, it is demanded by tradition and required by law in 26 states and the District of Columbia (in some states, violating this rule is punishable by $1,000 fine). Historically, over 99 percent of all electors have cast their ballots in line with the voters. On January 6, as a formality, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and on January 20, the commander in chief is sworn into office.

Critics of the Electoral College argue that the winner-take-all system makes it possible for a candidate to be elected president even if he gets fewer popular votes than his opponent. This happened in the elections of 1876, 1888 and 2000. However, supporters contend that if the Electoral College were done away with, heavily populated states such as California and Texas might decide every election and issues important to voters in smaller states would be ignored.

[#] Thu Jan 08 2015 00:35:35 EST from rss @

Subject: January 8, 1877: Crazy Horse fights last battle

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On this day in 1877, Crazy Horse and his warriors--outnumbered, low on ammunition and forced to use outdated weapons to defend themselves--fight their final losing battle against the U.S. Cavalry in Montana.

Six months earlier, in the Battle of Little Bighorn, Crazy Horse and his ally, Chief Sitting Bull, led their combined forces of Sioux and Cheyenne to a stunning victory over Lieutenant Colonel George Custer (1839-76) and his men. The Indians were resisting the U.S. government's efforts to force them back to their reservations. After Custer and over 200 of his soldiers were killed in the conflict, later dubbed "Custer's Last Stand," the American public wanted revenge. As a result, the U.S. Army launched a winter campaign in 1876-77, led by General Nelson Miles (1839-1925), against the remaining hostile Indians on the Northern Plains.

Combining military force with diplomatic overtures, Nelson convinced many Indians to surrender and return to their reservations. Much to Nelson's frustration, though, Sitting Bull refused to give in and fled across the border to Canada, where he and his people remained for four years before finally returning to the U.S. to surrender in 1881. Sitting Bull died in 1890. Meanwhile, Crazy Horse and his band also refused to surrender, even though they were suffering from illness and starvation.

On January 8, 1877, General Miles found Crazy Horse's camp along Montana's Tongue River. U.S. soldiers opened fire with their big wagon-mounted guns, driving the Indians from their warm tents out into a raging blizzard. Crazy Horse and his warriors managed to regroup on a ridge and return fire, but most of their ammunition was gone, and they were reduced to fighting with bows and arrows. They managed to hold off the soldiers long enough for the women and children to escape under cover of the blinding blizzard before they turned to follow them.

Though he had escaped decisive defeat, Crazy Horse realized that Miles and his well-equipped cavalry troops would eventually hunt down and destroy his cold, hungry followers. On May 6, 1877, Crazy Horse led approximately 1,100 Indians to the Red Cloud reservation near Nebraska's Fort Robinson and surrendered. Five months later, a guard fatally stabbed him after he allegedly resisted imprisonment by Indian policemen.

In 1948, American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski began work on the Crazy Horse Memorial, a massive monument carved into a mountain in South Dakota. Still a work in progress, the monument will stand 641 feet high and 563 feet long when completed.

[#] Fri Jan 09 2015 00:15:29 EST from rss @

Subject: January 9, 1493: Columbus mistakes manatees for mermaids

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On this day in 1493, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, sailing near the Dominican Republic, sees three "mermaids"--in reality manatees--and describes them as "not half as beautiful as they are painted." Six months earlier, Columbus (1451-1506) set off from Spain across the Atlantic Ocean with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, hoping to find a western trade route to Asia. Instead, his voyage, the first of four he would make, led him to the Americas, or "New World."

Mermaids, mythical half-female, half-fish creatures, have existed in seafaring cultures at least since the time of the ancient Greeks. Typically depicted as having a woman's head and torso, a fishtail instead of legs and holding a mirror and comb, mermaids live in the ocean and, according to some legends, can take on a human shape and marry mortal men. Mermaids are closely linked to sirens, another folkloric figure, part-woman, part-bird, who live on islands and sing seductive songs to lure sailors to their deaths.

Mermaid sightings by sailors, when they weren't made up, were most likely manatees, dugongs or Steller's sea cows (which became extinct by the 1760s due to over-hunting). Manatees are slow-moving aquatic mammals with human-like eyes, bulbous faces and paddle-like tails. It is likely that manatees evolved from an ancestor they share with the elephant. The three species of manatee (West Indian, West African and Amazonian) and one species of dugong belong to the Sirenia order. As adults, they're typically 10 to 12 feet long and weigh 800 to 1,200 pounds. They're plant-eaters, have a slow metabolism and can only survive in warm water.

Manatees live an average of 50 to 60 years in the wild and have no natural predators. However, they are an endangered species. In the U.S., the majority of manatees are found in Florida, where scores of them die or are injured each year due to collisions with boats.

[#] Sat Jan 10 2015 00:28:37 EST from rss @

Subject: January 10, 1901: Gusher signals start of U.S. oil industry

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On this day in 1901, a drilling derrick at Spindletop Hill near Beaumont, Texas, produces an enormous gusher of crude oil, coating the landscape for hundreds of feet and signaling the advent of the American oil industry. The geyser was discovered at a depth of over 1,000 feet, flowed at an initial rate of approximately 100,000 barrels a day and took nine days to cap. Following the discovery, petroleum, which until that time had been used in the U.S. primarily as a lubricant and in kerosene for lamps, would become the main fuel source for new inventions such as cars and airplanes; coal-powered forms of transportation including ships and trains would also convert to the liquid fuel.

Crude oil, which became the world's first trillion-dollar industry, is a natural mix of hundreds of different hydrocarbon compounds trapped in underground rock. The hydrocarbons were formed millions of years ago when tiny aquatic plants and animals died and settled on the bottoms of ancient waterways, creating a thick layer of organic material. Sediment later covered this material, putting heat and pressure on it and transforming it into the petroleum that comes out of the ground today.

In the early 1890s, Texas businessman and amateur geologist Patillo Higgins became convinced there was a large pool of oil under a salt-dome formation south of Beaumont. He and several partners established the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing Company and made several unsuccessful drilling attempts before Higgins left the company. In 1899, Higgins leased a tract of land at Spindletop to mining engineer Anthony Lucas. The Lucas gusher blew on January 10, 1901, and ushered in the liquid fuel age. Unfortunately for Higgins, he'd lost his ownership stake by that point.

Beaumont became a "black gold" boomtown, its population tripling in three months. The town filled up with oil workers, investors, merchants and con men (leading some people to dub it "Swindletop"). Within a year, there were more than 285 actives wells at Spindletop and an estimated 500 oil and land companies operating in the area, including some that are major players today: Humble (now Exxon), the Texas Company (Texaco) and Magnolia Petroleum Company (Mobil).

Spindletop experienced a second boom starting in the mid-1920s when more oil was discovered at deeper depths. In the 1950s, Spindletop was mined for sulphur. Today, only a few oil wells still operate in the area.

[#] Sun Jan 11 2015 01:02:53 EST from rss @

Subject: January 11, 1908: Theodore Roosevelt makes Grand Canyon a national monument

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On January 11, 1908, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declares the massive Grand Canyon in northwestern Arizona a national monument.

Though Native Americans lived in the area as early as the 13th century, the first European sighting of the canyon wasn't until 1540, by members of an expedition headed by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Because of its remote and inaccessible location, several centuries passed before North American settlers really explored the canyon. In 1869, geologist John Wesley Powell led a group of 10 men in the first difficult journey down the rapids of the Colorado River and along the length of the 277-mile gorge in four rowboats.

By the end of the 19th century, the Grand Canyon was attracting thousands of tourists each year. One famous visitor was President Theodore Roosevelt, a New Yorker with a particular affection for the American West. After becoming president in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley, Roosevelt made environmental conservation a major part of his presidency. After establishing the National Wildlife Refuge to protect the country's animals, fish and birds, Roosevelt turned his attention to federal regulation of public lands. Though a region could be given national park status--indicating that all private development on that land was illegal--only by an act of Congress, Roosevelt cut down on red tape by beginning a new presidential practice of granting a similar "national monument" designation to some of the West's greatest treasures.

In January 1908, Roosevelt exercised this right to make more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon area into a national monument. "Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is," he declared. "You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see."

Congress did not officially outlaw private development in the Grand Canyon until 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act. Today, more than 5 million people visit the canyon each year. The canyon floor is accessible by foot, mule or boat, and whitewater rafting, hiking and running in the area are especially popular. Many choose to conserve their energies and simply take in the breathtaking view from the canyon's South Rim--some 7,000 feet above sea level--and marvel at a vista virtually unchanged for over 400 years.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 01:02:31 EST from rss @

Subject: January 12, 1926: Original Amos n Andy debuts on Chicago radio

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On this day in 1926, the two-man comedy series "Sam 'n' Henry" debuts on Chicago's WGN radio station. Two years later, after changing its name to "Amos 'n' Andy," the show became one of the most popular radio programs in American history. 

Though the creators and the stars of the new radio program, Freeman Gosden and Charles Carrell, were both white, the characters they played were two black men from the Deep South who moved to Chicago to seek their fortunes. By that time, white actors performing in dark stage makeup--or "blackface"--had been a significant tradition in American theater for over 100 years. Gosden and Carrell, both vaudeville performers, were doing a Chicago comedy act in blackface when an employee at the Chicago Tribune suggested they create a radio show.

When "Sam 'n' Henry" debuted in January 1926, it became an immediate hit. In 1928, Gosden and Carrell took their act to a rival station, the Chicago Daily News' WMAQ. When they discovered WGN owned the rights to their characters' names, they simply changed them. As their new contract gave Gosden and Carrell the right to syndicate the program, the popularity of "Amos 'n' Andy" soon exploded. Over the next 22 years, the show would become the highest-rated comedy in radio history, attracting more than 40 million listeners.

By 1951, when "Amos 'n' Andy" came to television, changing attitudes about race and concerns about racism had virtually wiped out the practice of blackface. With Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams taking over for Gosden and Carrell, the show was the first TV series to feature an all-black cast and the only one of its kind for the next 20 years. This did not stop African-American advocacy groups and eventually the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) from criticizing both the radio and TV versions of "Amos 'n' Andy" for promoting racial stereotypes. These protests led to the TV show's cancellation in 1953.

The final radio broadcast of "Amos 'n' Andy" aired on November 25, 1960. The following year, Gosden and Carrell created a short-lived TV sequel called "Calvin and the Colonel." This time, they avoided controversy by replacing the human characters with an animated fox and bear. The show was canceled after one season.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:21 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: 5 Ways to Launch a New Parent-Teacher Partnership

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1.) Send home a detailed welcome letter containing information about yourself, your policies, your expectations, and your curriculum. Most importantly, include your contact information.

2.) Deliver a thorough presentation at parent orientation. In addition to discussing your curriculum, tell parents about yourself, including your background, your teaching style, and your philosophy on homework and tests. Be receptive to questions and come across as approachable.

3.) Welcome parents to get in touch with you if they have any questions or concerns throughout the year.

4.) Gather valuable information through written surveys. Ask parents about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, their interests outside of school, their attitude toward school, and their study habits. Parents will appreciate the opportunity to share information about their children that will help you get to know them.

5.) Contact parents to report good news. Call each of the parents in your class to offer some positive feedback about their child. This exercise ensures your first personal connection with each parent takes place under positive circumstances.


1.) Introduce yourself at parent orientation and let the teacher know you’re looking forward to a successful school year.

2.) Give the teacher your contact information and welcome the teacher to contact you for any reason. If you don’t have a chance to meet the teacher at parent orientation, send a brief note or e-mail.

3.) Find out how the teacher prefers to communicate, whether by written note, e-mail or phone, so you can ensure a quick response to your future questions and concerns.

4.) Volunteer your time. Offer to come into the class to share information about your culture, career or interests if they are relevant to the curriculum. Offer to assist the teacher with administrative duties, project preparation or other useful tasks.

5.) Support your child. Ask your child if they studied for their test, completed their homework, or handed in their assignments. Make sure they're on track to complete long-term projects.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:20 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: SOS

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Politicians and journalists have been dumping the blame for our education system’s failings on teachers. Now it’s time, apparently, to hurl accusations at parents. The news media reported last week that an Associated Press-Stanford University poll found that 68 percent of adults believe that parents are responsible for our struggling schools. I’m sure students will be the next target.

It’s easy to blame teachers, parents and students for disappointing achievement levels. But the truth is, there’s very little teachers, parent and students can do when the federal and state governments are slashing education funding, focusing on useless standardized tests, hammering out misdirected reform plans, ignoring and disrespecting teachers, and overlooking disturbing inequities.

It’s time for teachers, parents and students to join forces to Save Our Schools.

A group of concerned citizens is organizing the Save Our Schools Million Teacher March on Washington, DC, from July 28 to 30. The mission of the SOS Million Teacher March is as follows:

“To unite teachers, students and concerned citizens across the nation to create respect and support for teachers in order to do what is best for students. We would like to speak up for all of America to say that our education system is heading in the wrong direction and needs to be fixed immediately before it creates an even larger national crisis.”

SOS Million Teacher March is rapidly gathering support from teachers, parents, students, and concerned citizens nationwide. The goal of the march is as follows:

* Respectful reform that makes sense. The founders of SOS Million Teacher March agree that our nation’s schools need to be reformed, but they disagree with the current methods. They advocate reform that respects the people who are most involved in the public school system: teachers, parents and students.

* Fair funding for all schools. Schools are currently set up for success or failure depending on their location. The Race to the Top program awards grant money only to states that demonstrate a commitment to “reform” based on the federal government’s criteria. SOS Million Teacher March calls for equitable funding for all schools, regardless of their locations.

* Quality classrooms with safe environments. Some schools have abundant resources while others lack the bare essentials. Curricula are designed to address the requirements of standardized tests, rather than to ensure students are learning information, acquiring knowledge, and adopting skills. In addition, some students are afraid to walk to school, to walk home from school, and to be inside their school buildings. SOS Million Teacher March advocates supplying the resources, curricula and staff necessary to provide all students with the education they deserve and a safe environment that’s conducive to learning.

Thank you to the organizers of SOS Million Teach Million Teacher March for giving teachers, parents and students a voice in Washington.

For more information, visit SOS Million Teacher March.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:24 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: Uninformed Reformers

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In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama said he reads letters from citizens every night. He quoted letters from a determined small business owner, a patriotic woman, and a generous eight-year-old boy.

I wonder if he’s read the ninety-six letters Anthony Cody, a teacher coach, collected from teachers and mailed to the President in November. Or the additional letters, comments and discussions posted by the 760+ members of Cody’s “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” Facebook group. Or the letters Cody published in his Education Week commentary and Teacher Magazine blog.

I’ve read some of the letters that have been posted online, and I think they offer valuable insight into the learning process and reveal the shortcomings of the President’s education reform plan and “Race to the Top” program. Here are some of the highlights:

* Standardized tests, and multiple choice tests in particular, do not adequately measure a student’s knowledge, skills or understanding.

* The pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities.

* Innovative lessons motivate students and spark excitement about learning. Dull, uninspired, scripted lessons, and repetitive test preparation, turn students off of school.

* The focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills.

* A student who is not a skilled test-taker may be a gifted writer, a talented artist, or a budding musician. Due to the focus on standardized tests, their abilities may be overlooked and their self-esteem damaged.

* Education grants should not be based on a political contest like “Race to the Top.” All schools should have access to adequate resources so all children receive a high-quality education. Students shouldn’t be penalized because their state governments drafted proposals that the federal Dept. of Education deemed unworthy.

* The “Race to the Top” program attempts to force business practices on schools. Children are not products; they’re people.

* Although teachers have the greatest insight into the classroom environment and the learning process, they’re being excluded from the discussion on education reform.

When addressing education reform last night, President Obama said, “In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education. And in this country, the success of our children cannot depend more on where they live than on their potential.”

Unless President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan consider the input of teachers, their education reform plan will not accomplish the intended results.

Please visit “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” on Facebook for more information.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:22 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: 5 Tips for Working With Parents of Children With Special Needs

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1. Meet with parents at the beginning of the school year.

Parents are a valuable resource. They can let you know what issues may come up and how you can handle them.

2. Make parents feel part of the team.

Parents know their child best. Convey to them at the beginning of the year that you value their input and you want them to be involved.

3. Maintain open communication (both ways).

If an issue arises, let the parents know as soon as possible so they can help you address it. Be receptive to communication from parents. For example, welcome parents to let you know if a situation at home may affect the child’s behavior or performance in school.

4. Be understanding

Parents don’t intend to be difficult. They may just be anxious. Approach them with sensitivity and understanding.

5. Get to know their child

When a child exhibits certain behaviors, he’s trying to tell you something. Try to learn what his behavior means so you can help him deal with the issue.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:19 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: Join the "Save Our Schools" March on Washington

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Teachers and parents may have their differences from time to time, but they all agree that providing our nation’s children with the best possible education is a top priority. That’s why parents and teachers are joining forces to make our voices heard in Washington, D.C.

I hope you’ll join me, other concerned parents, and teachers at the “Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action” in Washington, D.C. on July 30.

The main goal of the event is to advocate for education policy reform that will enhance educational opportunities for all children. Objectives include:

· Equitable funding for all public school communities

· Full public funding of family and community support services

· Teacher, family and community leadership in forming education policies

· The use of multiple and varied assessments to evaluate students, teachers and schools

· Educational opportunities that develop every student’s intellectual, creative and physical potential

The march toward the Department of Education will begin at 2:00 p.m. on July 30. A rally preceding the march will take place at Ellipse Park at noon, featuring speakers, music and other activities.

If you can stay longer, workshops, seminars and a film festival will be held at American University on July 28, July 29 and July 31. Inspirational speakers and informative workshops will offer attendees strategies for taking action in their communities and school districts.

To attend the “Save Our Schools March” or to obtain more information, please visit

I hope to see you there.

Natalie Schwartz

Chair - Parent, Family and Community Outreach Committee

Save Our Schools March

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:18 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: Fostering Your Child's Writing Skills

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by Dan Gilbert

Children are curious creatures and they want to understand everything -- from why clouds appear in the sky to how the television works. They are also intrigued by what grown-ups are doing when they have a pen or pencil in their hand. When a child first gets hold of a crayon or marker and starts scribbling in zigs, zags or loops, they are making an effort to emulate you when you're writing.

“Children watch adults as they write notes, checks, and stories, and they are eager to begin writing themselves. Early writing is oftentimes labeled ‘scribble writing’ and is considered a legitimate form of emergent writing,” says Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of education, Primrose Schools. Children are going to attempt to write long before embarking on their preschool education. These first attempts are going to look nothing like real words or pictures, but should be celebrated nonetheless. Your child is trying to learn how to write, and that is something very special.

Observe your child, and see what exactly they are trying to do with that crayon. “The first conscious attempts a child makes to write a letter are usually the first letter of his or her name. To an adult, the attempts may only vaguely resemble the letter, but these are moments to cherish and celebrate,” says Dr. Zurn. The important part is that they are writing, and not their penmanship or personal style.

The key to helping your child develop their writing abilities is teaching them that writing is a method of conveying language, so they don't worry if their letters are malformed. The more you focus on precision, the less they are going to enjoy writing. Writing is different from penmanship. As your child develops a love of writing, you can slowly fix how their letters look and teach them the proper way to hold their writing implement.

Make sure to keep everything they need to enjoy writing nearby. Keep a cool head as they begin. Soon you are going to have a child who is ready to face school and beyond because you have fostered in them good writing habits.

• Have them explain to you what they are writing. Make suggestions about how to make their work better, but never chastise them.

• The more you read with your child, the more they are going to understand that the words you are saying are the words on the page.

• Never turn them away when they are asking about writing-related tasks. If you are making a grocery list, let them see the list, and perhaps even ask them to help by adding something to the list. Always praise them for having done the job, and you will see them do it even better next time.

• Writing on the computer is still writing. Don't be surprised if your child figures out aspects of writing with a computer before they do with paper. The ease of seeing the letters on the keyboard move to the screen might help them more than trying to form the letters on paper and being frustrated that they aren't precisely the same.

Dan Gilbert is Marketing Support Coordinator at Primrose Schools, which operates early childhood education centers nationwide.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:24 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: 10 Ways to Promote Your Child’s Academic Success

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1. Convey the value of education. Instilling the value of education in your child, starting at a young age, is the most important thing you can do to put him on the path toward academic success.

2. Get involved. Join the PTA, help out in the classroom, volunteer at a school event. When you set aside time in your busy schedule to get involved in your child’s education, she gets the message that school is important.

3. Make school a priority. Extracurricular activities are valuable and fun, but homework and studying should take precedence.

4. Promote school. Ask your child about his class work and homework, and respond with positive comments. “Talk school up. They (children) need to think this is the coolest thing on earth,” says one first grade teacher.

5. Watch what you say. Negative comments about your child’s teacher or about school influence your child’s perception and attitude.

6. Support school-related activities. Set aside a quiet place and time for your child to do her homework. Encourage activities that foster thinking and learning, such as reading, journal writing and practicing math skills.

7. Communicate. Ask your child if he studied for his test, completed his homework, or handed in his assignments. While most teachers will let you know if your child is falling behind, don’t wait for that phone call before you get involved.

8. Encourage personal responsibility. As your child gets older, allow her to assume more responsibility for resolving problems. Instead of contacting the teacher yourself if a problem arises, encourage your child to talk to the teacher. For example, if your child receives a poor grade on an assignment or test, suggest that she ask the teacher if she can do extra credit work to boost her grade.

9. Avoid pressure. Setting high expectations for your child is important. You want to encourage him to reach his potential. But avoid putting too much pressure on him, which can lead to anxiety.

10. Partner with the teacher. Develop a cooperative, positive relationship with your child’s teacher. Remember, your child’s teacher shares your goal—the academic success of your child. Children benefit the most when parents and teachers work together as partners.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:23 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: I’m Confused

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Here are the teacher-related news stories from around our great nation that the diligent folks at Google e-mailed me today:

* “Rockford School District to Lay Off All Nontenured Teachers” (Rockford Register Star)

* “Senate Bill 6: Unfair to Teachers” (The Ledger)

* “Teacher Tells Students to Punch Classmate in Face” (

* “California’s Quality Blind Layoffs Law Harms Teachers and Students” (Los Angeles Times)

* “Teachers Ask About Their Job Futures” (Tulsa World)

* “Indian Prairie School Board Eliminates 145 Teacher Jobs” (Chicago Tribune)

* “NJ Gov. Chris Christie Calls for Teachers, School Workers to Accept Wage Freeze to Prevent Layoffs” (The Star-Ledger)

* “Daley Spars With Teachers Union” (MyFox Chicago)

* “Edwardsville School District Lays Off 60, Including 25 Teachers” (Belleville News Democrat)

* “School Reform Has U.S. Grant High School Teachers On Edge” (

What do all of these stories tell us? With words like “layoffs,” “harms,” “on edge,” and “punch,” it’s pretty clear that for teachers, the news is bad.

So why am I confused?

1. Why is all the news bad? Surely there is some good news about some teacher somewhere. I’ve met and spoken with many teachers and parents, so I’m certain of this fact. But the media seems to focus on stories about teachers behaving badly or getting the boot.

2. Why doesn’t our society respect teachers anymore? When I was in school, parents and students respected teachers for the contribution they make to society and the impact they have on our lives. Now, they’re publicly disparaged, not only by the media, but also by the federal government. Chastising teachers is now public policy. To receive federal “turnaround grants,” school districts must fire at least half the staff at low-performing schools or close them. President Obama came out in support of the very public firing of the entire faculty at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island.

If you want to know the general attitude toward teachers, ask finance expert Suze Orman. In my blog entry on May 28, 2009, I expressed my discontent that Ms. Orman told The New York Times Magazine she feels teachers are not empowered and have no self-worth. She couldn’t be more wrong. Teachers have a profound impact on the lives and futures of children across America—a powerful position and a fulfilling experience.

The groups that protect and support teachers from all of this backlash—teachers unions—are vilified by the media, school districts and the government.

3. Why can’t parents and teachers get along? When their child is performing poorly or behaving badly, who do parents usually blame? The teacher. A few of them may have good reasons. But in many cases, if the parent would make an effort to express their concerns to the teacher in a constructive way, listen to the teacher’s point of view, and work together with the teacher to address the issue, they would be making a big contribution to their child’s academic progress and personal growth (see my August 12, 2009 blog post, “Building a Successful Partnership With Your Child’s Teacher”).

As with most relationships, the disconnect between parent and teacher is often the fault of both parties. Teachers are frustrated by some parents. But if they would reach out to the parent in a positive way, they could accomplish a lot together (see my August 19, 2009 blog post, “Building Successful Partnerships With Parents”).

Many parents and teachers have cooperative, successful relationships that greatly benefit the student. But many don’t. Parents and teachers share the same goal: the academic success of the child. They would have a greater chance of realizing this goal if they worked together as partners.

Despite all of this bad news, dedicated, talented teachers across the country are inspiring, supporting, guiding and mentoring children in their classrooms. They’re pushing aside all of the negativity that’s swirling around them and doing their jobs. It’s not because they make a lot of money—they don’t. It’s certainly not for the praise and gratitude. And if you think it’s because they get summers off and work until 3 o’clock, you’re buying into some big misconceptions about the teaching profession. Most of them do it because they want to make a difference. And for that, I admire them, and I’m grateful to them.

But if the attitude toward teachers continues to deteriorate, how many gifted, motivated, altruistic college students are going to pursue a teaching career? Our education system is the foundation of our society. I don’t think it’ll function too well without any teachers.

[#] Mon Jan 12 2015 20:38:17 EST from (Natalie Schwartz) @

Subject: Test Obsessed

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My kids have spent the last three weeks trapped in a stifling cage lined with bubble sheets and number two pencils. 

Week one, they had three days of state English/language arts assessment tests.

Week two, they had three days of state math assessment tests.

Week three, they had two days of another standardized test that is similar to the state assessments.

The worst part is, they’re not complaining.  They’ve just accepted insipid, monotonous test taking as a necessary part of life, like death and taxes.  So they stoically and obediently head off to school for another joyless day of boring and useless tests because the bureaucrats in Washington think this is a grand idea.

But I’m not taking it as well.  So to vent my frustration, I’ve compiled a list of reasons why I oppose the recent test-taking marathon:

1. Standardized tests waste time. Education experts agree that standardized multiple-choice tests are not a valid measure of a student’s knowledge or skills. They are certainly not indicative of a teacher’s abilities or a school’s success. Even if standardized tests accurately reflected a student’s competency, they are still not a valid measure of teacher quality because many other factors affect student performance.

2. Standardized tests divert time from meaningful and enriching educational activities.  For example, middle school students in my school district missed out on a dynamic program that teaches American history through experiential learning methods because testing dominated the spring calendar. The spring book fair was also cancelled.

3. Standardized tests are administered inefficiently. Why are students forced to take two tests covering the same subject? Why do they have to endure three days of tests on the same subject? If we have to give students standardized tests, can’t we eliminate the redundancies and limit the time involved?

4. Standardized tests are used improperly. Standardized tests should not be used in student placement decisions since they are not an accurate reflection of a student’s abilities or aptitude. They should not be used to evaluate teachers and schools.  I will concede that standardized tests could potentially provide value if they were used to identify possible gaps in student learning. But to accomplish this goal, three things would have to happen:

a. Tests for each grade level must be developed with input from teachers to ensure they cover concepts taught at that grade level.

b. Test developers must ask clear, straightforward questions instead of attempting to confuse and trick test-takers. Anyone who experienced “Pineapple-gate” in New York knows what I’m talking about.

c. Most importantly, teachers should be allowed to give students their tests back after they are graded so the students can learn from their mistakes. This is the most egregious error in the government’s approach to testing. Students never see their tests after they are graded and, therefore, miss out on an opportunity to learn.

5. Standardized tests divert funding from educational programs. The only beneficiaries of the focus on testing are the companies that develop and sell standardized tests. Shamefully, funds that are sorely needed for educational programs and instructional materials are being spent on testing.

If you are also frustrated by the federal and state governments’ unjustified obsession with standardized tests, consider supporting educators, parents and concerned citizens in New York State and nationwide who are voicing their opposition.  For more information on this initiative, visit the following website

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