Category Archives: Schools

Legislators slam Mexican massacre coverup


On 19 June, government forces attacked striking teachers in Nochixtlan [more here] and elsewhere in the state of Oaxaca, where they had been conducting ongoing protests against corporate-friendly neoliberal education “reforms” designed to strip educators of their classroom autonomy.

The ongoing strikes have been organized by members of the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE], a teachers union strong in Southern Mexico and created in opposition to a the government-backed union, the  Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [SNTE].

On Thursday, members of the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Office of the Attorney General [Procurador General de la República, or PGR] offered preliminary results of their investigation of the killings, and promptly drew fire from leftist legislators.

From teleSUR English:

Officials seemed to be more interested in outlining the alleged misdeeds of the residents of Nochixtlan, specifying the investigation into a series of crimes was already open before the massacre took place.

They also went to great lengths to emphasize the alleged presence of weapons in the hands of the civilians in Nochixtlan.

“A relevant fact is that the PGR confirmed that there were civilians carrying weapons and a Federal Police helicopter was damaged by these weapons and a second was damaged by impact of rockets,” said conservative Senator Mariana Gomez del Campo, who also participated in the press conference.

She added that over hundred police officers had apparently suffered injuries.

No police were killed, meanwhile at least ten civilians were killed in different clashes throughout Oaxaca on June 19, six alone were killed in Nochixtlan.

Senator Alejandro Encinas, from the center-left PRD, grilled Higuera on this point during Friday’s session of the special commission of the Mexican Congress following up on the incident.

Encinas said Roberto Campa, the undersecretary for Human Rights from the Interior Ministry, had no problem entering the town in order to interview witnesses and had done so several times.

“Campa went in, talked with the victims, with the authorities … he has assembled the facts … the PGR cannot pretend it has dementia, because it has the elements it needs to go further in the investigation,” said Encinas, as quoted by La Jornada.

In addition, a consortium of human rights organizations were even able to produce a preliminary report, based on interviews with the town’s residents, detailing the human rights abuses committed by the state in Nochixtlan.

Encinas also questioned how the PGR could claim civilians were armed without offering proof.

Chart of the day: Student loans top debt list


From the Wall Street Journal via Popular Resistance, with a H/T to Undernews:

BLOG Debt

Study shows sharp divide on educational equality


Americans are sharply divided on solutions to educational inequality, supporting class-based remedies but not measures based on ethnicity.

That’s the troubling conclusion of new research from the American Educational Research Association.

Here’s one of the study’s authors explaining the findings and possible measures to resolve a dilemma in which poor ethnic minorities are victims of poor schools and taxpayer reluctance to approve measures to improve them:

Study: The Politics of Achievement Gaps: US Public Opinion on Race- and Wealth-Based Differences…

More from the American Educational Research Association:

When asked about wealth- and race/ethnicity-based academic achievement gaps, Americans are more concerned about the gap between poor and wealthy students, more supportive of policies that might close it, and more prepared to explain the reasons behind it, according to new research [open access]published online today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

Drawing on nationally representative survey data, the study authors—Jon Valant of Tulane University and Daniel Newark of the University of Southern Denmark—found that 63.7 percent of American adults say that it is “essential” or “a high priority” to close the poor-wealthy gap in student test scores. Only 35.6 percent and 31 percent say the same thing about the black-white gap and Hispanic-white gap, respectively.

For their study, Valant and Newark used data from a national survey conducted by YouGov, an internet-based research firm specializing in academic survey research and online political polling. One thousand members of YouGov’s online respondent panel were randomly assigned to one of three groups to answer questions about the poor-wealthy test score gap, the black-white gap, or the Hispanic-white gap. The study authors then compared answers to these questions across the three gap groups.

Respondents were also asked about their support for three specific gap-closing proposals—teacher bonuses, school vouchers, and summer school programs. Fifty-two percent supported the teacher bonus proposal to close the poor-wealthy gap, compared to 31 percent for addressing the black-white gap and 27 percent for the Hispanic-white gap. The voucher and summer school proposals also received more support when directed at the poor-wealthy gap.

More after the jump. . . Continue reading

Mexico backs striker foes; a corrupt cop busted


One of the major purpose of strikes is to generate pressure to force capitulation by employers to union demands, and the striking teachers of Southern Mexico have been doing just that in hopes forcing the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto to withdraw neoliberal, George W. Bush style education “reforms.”

Among those impacted by the strike are business owners in the affected region, who say they are losing money because of striker-built roadblocks and occupations of public squares by members and supporters of the union, the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación [CNTE] [previously].

The government has already used lethal force against the roadblocks [here and here], and now its moving to reduce pressure on local businesses.

From teleSUR English:

Mexico’s Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal announced Thursday that the government would provide financial support to businesses affected by the ongoing protests by striking teachers affiliated with the National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE union.

Meanwhile, in response to demands from the right-wing Business Coordinating Council for more police repression against teachers, Interior Minister Osorio Chong said the government was already using state security forces to forcibly end protests by the CNTE.

Juan Pablo Castañón, head of the Business Coordinating Council, said on Wednesday that the government needed to ensure the return of normal economic activity and should thus turn to state security forces in order to ensure the “human rights of everyone else” were being respected.

Chong, speaking through the media, said they were “already doing so.”

Teachers affiliated with the CNTE union have been protesting President Enrique Peña Nieto’s so-called education reform, which critics say is aimed at justifying mass layoffs and does little to improve education in Mexico.

The conflict between the teachers and the government heated up after police repression in Nochixtlan, Oaxaca on June 19 left at least 10 people dead.

Corrupt cop busted for obviousness

It’s okay to take that under-the-table cash, except when you make your corrupt so flagrantly obvious.

Of at least that’s the impression we take from this report from the Guardian:

A senior Mexican police official has been forced to resign after investigative journalists revealed that he and his wife had built up a property empire incompatible with his humble public-sector salary.

Arturo Bermúdez Zurita, the public security secretary of the violence-wracked state of Veracruz, stood down on Thursday after reports emerged that he and his wife had purchased a string of properties in Texas worth millions of dollars.

His resignation is a rarity in a country where public officials often accumulate fabulous personal wealth, yet accusations of wrongdoing rarely bring serious consequences.

But analysts say that Bermúdez’s fate may have less to do with serious attempts to tackle Mexico’s entrenched corruption than with shifting political winds following recent regional elections in which the ruling Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) lost power in Veracruz and six other states.

Bermúdez resigned after the online news outlet Aristegui Noticias revealed that he and his wife had purchased five properties in suburban Houston with a combined value of $2.4m – even though he made a mere 59,500 pesos a month ($3,200), according to government transparency records.

A story about sex & academic publishing’s raptors


Regular readers know that esnl loves to publish reports on the findings of academic researchers, covering everything from the latest climate science to the adverse health effects of plastics, the latest research on mind-altering drugs, and more.

Readers will have also noticed that we’ve taken to including in those reports just how much it would cost a reader to look at the full report as published in those scientific journals, sums that we find simply staggering.

We’ll begin today’s report with new findings about sex [how better to get your attention?], then leap into a lacerating report on the evils of academic publishing, an issue that impacts us all, right in the wallet.

Sex: Younger Americans are doing it less

From San Diego State University:

Since time immemorial, older generations have fretted over the sexual habits of young people. In today’s world, however, elders might just be wondering why young people are having so little sex, according to a new study by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge.

A research team also including Ryne Sherman from Florida Atlantic University and Brooke Wells from Widener University analyzed data from 26,707 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults that includes members of the current millennial generation and its predecessor, Generation X. The researchers found that today’s young people are less likely to have had sex since turning 18.

According to Twenge, author of the book “Generation Me,” 15 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds born in the 1990s reported having no sexual partners since age 18, compared to only 6 percent of Generation X’ers when they were young adults. This sexual inactivity stands in stark contrast to the so-called “hookup culture” reportedly pervasive among Millennials: More are not having sex at all, much less hooking up with multiple partners.

“Online dating apps should, in theory, help Millennials find sexual partners more easily,” she said. “However, technology may have the opposite effect if young people are spending so much time online that they interact less in person, and thus don’t have sex.”

Concerns over personal safety and a media landscape saturated with reports of collegiate sexual abuse might also contribute to millennials’ sexual inactivity compared to previous generations, Twenge continued.

“This generation is very interested in safety, which also appears in their reduced use of alcohol and their interest in ‘safe spaces’ on campus,” she said. “This is a very risk-averse generation, and that attitude may be influencing their sexual choices.”

Other factors contributing to fewer millennials having sex could include the widespread availability of pornography, the historically high number of young adults living with their parents, the later age at first marriage, and increased access to instant entertainment online. The researchers published their findings this week in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. . .

On the utterly evil, thoroughly despicable academic journal cartel

If you want to read or download the article, the extortionate folks from Springer [publishers of the Archives of Sexual Behavior] will charge you the gasp-inducing sum of $39.95. They do, however, allow you to read the abstract for free, from which this is excerpted:

Online and in-person sexual behaviors of cisgender lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, heterosexual, questioning, unsure, and youth of other sexual identities were examined using data from the Teen Health and Technology study. Data were collected online between August 2010 and January 2011 from 5,078 youth 13–18 years old. Results suggested that, depending on sexual identity, between 4–35 % of youth had sexual conversations and 2–24 % shared sexual photos with someone online in the past year. Among the 22 % of youth who had oral, vaginal, and/or anal sex, between 5–30 % met one of their two most recent sexual partners online. Inconsistent condom use was associated with increased odds of meeting one’s most recent partner online for heterosexual adolescent men. For gay and queer adolescent men, having an older partner, a partner with a lifetime history of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and concurrent sex partners were each significantly associated with increased odds of having met one’s most recent sex partner online. None of the examined characteristics significantly predicted meeting one’s most recent sexual partner online versus in-person for heterosexual; bisexual; or gay, lesbian, and queer women. The Internet is not replacing in-person exploration and expression of one’s sexuality and meeting sexual partners online appears to be uncommon in adolescence across sexual identities.

So just how evil is the academic publishing cartel?

Well, to begin with, their profit rations dwarf those of such lucrative corporate giants as Apple, Google, and any of the Big Pharma and Big Agra giants.

And like all true cartels Big Academia is swallowing up its smaller competitors to consolidate its grip ensure those extortionate profits just keep coming in, with students and their professors paying all the freight.

Consider the profits of just one publisher, Elsevier.

From “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era,” a review of the evils of the academic publishing cartel, by Vincent Larivière, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, published in the open access joural PLOS One in June, 2015:

Operating profits (million USD) and profit margin of Reed-Elsevier as a whole (A) and of its Scientific, Technical & Medical division (B), 1991–2013.

Operating profits (million USD) and profit margin of Reed-Elsevier as a whole (A) and of its Scientific, Technical & Medical division (B), 1991–2013.

A second chart from the same article show how the cartel is swallowing up smaller publishers, consolidating their grip on academic publishing:

Number of journals changing from small to big publishers, and big to small publishers per year of change in the Natural and Medical Sciences and Social Sciences & Humanities.

Number of journals changing from small to big publishers, and big to small publishers per year of change in the Natural and Medical Sciences and Social Sciences & Humanities.

An academic license to steal

In a 3 November 2015 report report, Bloomberg looked at the anomaly that is academic publishing and came up with a withering verdict:

Publishers of academic journals have a great thing going. They generally don’t pay for the articles they publish, or for the primary editing and peer reviewing essential to preparing them for publication (they do fork over some money for copy editing). Most of this gratis labor is performed by employees of academic institutions. Those institutions, along with government agencies and foundations, also fund all the research that these journal articles are based upon.

Yet the journal publishers are able to get authors to sign over copyright to this content, and sell it in the form of subscriptions to university libraries. Most journals are now delivered in electronic form, which you think would cut the cost, but no, the price has been going up and up:

This isn’t just inflation at work: in 1994, journal subscriptions accounted for 51 percent of all library spending on information resources. In 2012 it was 69 percent.

Who exactly is getting that money? The largest academic publisher is Elsevier, which is also the biggest, most profitable division of RELX, the Anglo-Dutch company that was known until February as Reed Elsevier. Here are its results for the past decade:

BLOG Academic publishing profits

A classical case of outsourcing to workers on the public payroll

Really.

How else do you expect them to make those 40 percent profit margins?

George Monbiot added his voice to the growing chorus of dissent in a critical essay in the 20 August 2011 edition of the Guardian:

In the past financial year, for example, Elsevier’s operating profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2bn). They result from a stranglehold on the market. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, who have bought up many of their competitors, now publish 42% of journal articles.

More importantly, universities are locked into buying their products. Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can’t publish the same material. In many cases the publishers oblige the libraries to buy a large package of journals, whether or not they want them all. Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.

The publishers claim that they have to charge these fees as a result of the costs of production and distribution, and that they add value (in Springer’s words) because they “develop journal brands and maintain and improve the digital infrastructure which has revolutionised scientific communication in the past 15 years”. But an analysis by Deutsche Bank reaches different conclusions. “We believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.” Far from assisting the dissemination of research, the big publishers impede it, as their long turnaround times can delay the release of findings by a year or more.

What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

University libraries gutted for cash

This March 12 the New York Times noted the phenomenon in as report noting that Harvard University can’t even afford the cost of subscribing to the journals its students need:

Journal publishers collectively earned $10 billion last year, much of it from research libraries, which pay annual subscription fees ranging from $2,000 to $35,000 per title if they don’t buy subscriptions of bundled titles, which cost millions. The largest companies, like Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Springer and Wiley, typically have profit margins of over 30 percent.

>snip<

Legally downloading a single journal article when you don’t have a subscription costs around $30, which adds up quickly considering a search on even narrow topics can return hundreds if not thousands of articles. And the skyrocketing cost of journal subscriptions, which have unlimited downloads, is straining library budgets.

“The prices have been rising twice as fast as the price of health care over the past 20 years, so there’s a real scandal there to be exposed,” said Peter Suber, Harvard’s director of the office of scholarly communication. “It’s important that Harvard is suffering when it has the largest budget of any academic library in the world.”

So can online publication help cut the costs?

Well, consider this from an abstract of an article entitled “On toxic effects of scientific journals” by French academicians Antoinette Molinié and Geoffrey Bodenhausen, published in the June 2013 edition of the Journal of Biosciences:

The advent of online publishing greatly facilitates the dissemination of scientific results. This revolution might have led to the untimely death of many traditional publishing companies, since today’s scientists are perfectly capable of writing, formatting and uploading files to appropriate websites that can be consulted by colleagues and the general public alike. They also have the intellectual resources to criticize each other and organize an anonymous peer review system. The Open Access approach appears promising in this respect, but we cannot ignore that it is fraught with editorial and economic problems. A few powerful publishing companies not only managed to survive, but also rake up considerable profits. Moreover, they succeeded in becoming influential ‘trendsetters’ since they decide which papers deserve to be published. To make money, one must set novel trends, like Christian Dior or Levi’s in fashion, and open new markets, for example in Asia. In doing so, the publishers tend to supplant both national and transnational funding agencies in defining science policy. In many cases, these agencies tend simply to adopt the commercial criteria defined by the journals, forever eager to improve their impact factors. It is not obvious that the publishers of scientific journals, the editorial boards that they appoint, or the people who sift through the vast numbers of papers submitted to a handful of ‘top’ journals are endowed with sufficient insight to set the trends of future science. It seems even less obvious that funding agencies should blindly follow the fashion trends set by the publishers. The perverse relationships between private publishers and public funding agencies may have a toxic effect on science policy.

Want to read the full essay?

Well, it’s in a journal published by Springer, one of the Big Five in the cartel, so it’ll cost you $39.95.

So what, exactly, is Springer?

From a 22 December 2015 report by communications scholar Jason Schmitt in Medium:

Heather Morrison, a professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa, unpacks the business model behind academic publisher Springer and says, “If you look at who owns Springer, these are private equity firms, and they have changed owners about five times in the last decade. Springer was owned by the investment group Candover and Cinven who describe themselves as ‘Europe’s largest buy-out firm.’ These are companies who buy companies to decrease the cost and increase the profits and sell them again in two years. This is to whom we scholars are voluntarily handing our work. Are you going to trust them? This is not the public library of science. This is not your average author voluntarily contributing to the commons. These are people who are in business to make the most profit.”

So it’s not only Republican-spawned tax cuts that are raising students tuition rates at America’s universities and forcing generations of young people to take on onerous debt burdens.

It’s also the rapacity of a newly empowered cartel.

It’s time for us all to cry out Aux Barricades!

Poor school buildings turn out poor students


As the lobbyists in Washington and state houses across the country continue their drive to privatize education, poor families who can’t afford the costs of private schools are forced to send their children to aging and increasingly run-down public schools.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians and corporate Democrats are further cutting the budgets of school districts, blocking construction of new schools and reducing funds to maintain existing buildings.

And if you thing the privateers are inflicting terrible damage on the students of these cost-starved schools, you’d be right.

From Cornell University:

Social scientists have known for several years that kids enrolled in run-down schools miss more classes and have lower test scores than students at well-maintained schools. But they haven’t been able to pin down why.

A Cornell University environmental psychologist has an answer.

Lorraine Maxwell, an associate professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology, studied more than 230 New York City public middle schools and found a chain reaction at work: leaking toilets, smelly cafeterias, broken furniture, and run-down classrooms made students feel negatively which lead to high absenteeism and in turn, contributed to low test scores and poor academic achievement.

“School buildings that are in good condition and attractive may signal to students that someone cares and there’s a positive social climate, which in turn may encourage better attendance,” Maxwell said. “Students cannot learn if they do not come to school.”

Maxwell found that poor building conditions, and the resulting negative perception of the school’s social climate, accounted for 70 percent of the poor academic performance. She controlled for students’ socioeconomic status and ethnic background, and found that while these student attributes are related to test scores, they do not tell the whole story. School building condition is also a major contributing factor, Maxwell said.

“Those other factors are contributing to poor academic performance, but building condition is significantly contributing also. It’s worth it for society to make sure that school buildings are up to par,” she said.

Her study [$39.95 to read, thanks to the academic publishing bandits at Elsevier] “School Building Condition, Social Climate, Student Attendance and Academic Achievement: A Mediation Model,” appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

In an earlier, related study, Maxwell asked a handful of middle-school students what difference they thought a school building makes.

“I will never forget one boy,” Maxwell said. “He said, ‘Well, maybe if the school looked better, kids would want to come to school.’ And that sparked me to think, ‘OK, they notice.’”

There’s more, after the jump. Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Where our political values lie


From State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, a new report from the U.S. Department of Education:

BLOG Ed