News, schools, and views from a uniquely Lowell perspective

The end of public school as we know it…

It was too surreal: First thing I heard this morning is that Kansas City is closing half their public schools due to budget woes; a few hours later, I learned that Hawaii cut its school year short by 17 days to save money. All this is on top of news earlier in the week that a Rhode Island superintendent fired all 93 teachers and the principal of the high school.  At this point, twisting the above-mentioned R.E.M. song to make a point isn’t being overly dramatic, it’s too true. If the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), with its unreachable goal (100% at grade level by 2014), punitive approach to accountability, and lack of funding, was the beginning of the end of public schools, the recent economic crisis appears to be the final note.  For a national perspective on this issue, check out today’s NPR interview with Diane Ravitch, author and former assistant secretary of education under President Bush.  A NCLB supporter now converted, Ravitch argues that punishing schools under the mantra of accountability while pushing for privatizing our educational system is not good for kids, communities, or democracy. She claims her research shows that charter schools have not outperformed public schools.

 In Massachusetts, where our public schools enjoy national recognition as leaders in student achievement, our state Department of Elementary and Secondary Schools (DESE) has determined 35 failing schools (level  4) have not made adequate progress in student learning.  All 35 schools are from urban districts. (In Lowell, we have one, level 4 school, the Murkland, which will undergo various punitive/restructuring options such as described here in the Sun .)  As Joan Vennochi mentions in today’s Boston Globe, the problem with these supposedly bold reforms is their limited success in actually improving student learning. She cites Chicago’s Draconian measures as having mixed results and compares it to other cities whose students made greater gains without the turmoil.  According to Vennochi, the problem is more complex than redistributing students and staff: “How to improve learning in public schools, especially those located in poor, urban neighborhoods, is worthy of debate. The problem is that even the staunchest reform advocates can change their mind about what really works up against the cumulative effects of poverty.”  Perhaps the problems of poverty are just too hard to fix:  much easier to blame it on the schools.

posted in Education, In the News, NCLB | 0 Comments

The power of blogs

It’s a whole new world out there and we better be part of it or get left behind. Today’s Boston Globe has a two-page feature on a mom-turned-blogger who is shaking up the education scene in Boston, adding her  two cents about the schools, the education lottery, and whatever else she chooses to write about on her blog. Also today, Paul writes on Dick Howe’s site about two new Lowell-area bloggers and how they will contribute to the cyberspace community in our city. No matter what you think of certain sites, there is no doubt that through the power of the internet, individuals can contribute to the discourse in their community (and far beyond) like never before. Expressing ideas and capturing the attention of others on a mass scale used to be limited to those who had FCC licenses and printing presses, but now that power is available to any individual with a keyboard and wifi. Technology is changing the way we relate to each other (interacting with teens now requires texting ability) as well as the world around us. The opportunity to discuss issues in a public context with so many people is heady stuff that invigorates a sense of belonging and makes us less dependent on traditional media for context and meaning. It can also be a major time-robber and should be balanced with direct human connections as much as possible. (My solution is to take days off and focus on computer-free living in the moment.)

posted in In the News, Local People | 0 Comments

Supreme Court decision bad for democracy

It made me sick to read today’s front-page headlines in the Boston Globe and the New York Times about the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations unlimited contributions in federal elections. The Times also ran an editorial that puts the impact of this decision in perspective. As Marie reports here, UMass Chancellor and former U.S. Representative Marty Meehan had a similar reaction. While supporters and the prevailing justices tried to frame this as a free speech issue, this ruling has opened the floodgates for undue influence from special interest groups with deep pockets—a decision that will seriously impact the number and diversity of candidates able to run viable campaigns as well as the effectiveness of incumbents to enact reforms that big business doesn’t like. Also, be prepared for the domino effect because state and local election rules likely will be next. One of the reasons I supported the Fair Vote Lowell campaign to change the city’s charter for electing local candidates was the money issue. It is already difficult for a good candidate to run an effective campaign without friends with deep pockets. In local elections, we have seen some candidates spend $100K in a state representative race, upwards of $40K for city council, and nearly $20K for a seat on the school committee. (Not that spending money always equals victory, but money buys visibility to reach voters, which becomes even more critical in larger races.) No matter how you twist it, this issue is NOT about free speech. It is about rich special interest groups having undue influence on a person’s ability to stay in office or get elected. Unchecked, this ruling will result in incumbents who cannot challenge special interest groups without serious consequences, candidates who will not be able to win without befriending big business, and many good people who will not even try. It is tough enough to get people to run for office. Making it all about the money is the exact wrong way to go.

posted in In the News, Local Politics, Money Matters, National issues | 2 Comments

Abuse of prescription drugs televised tonight

Tonight’s Chronicle (channel 5) will include a special report on the rampant abuse of prescription drugs—with a particular focus on its impact on suburban communities. The show will include a spotlight on Joanne Peterson, the woman who started her own movement in response to her son’s addiction to OxyContin and heroin. Peterson was one of several who spoke before hundreds of parents, students and community members at Lowell High School last October to make folks aware of the problem and what could be done to counteract it. (See an earlier post on the issue here.) One of several suggestions was to limit prescription drug availability in homes by properly discarding unused medications. Several speakers were clear that drugs should not be flushed down the toilet or allowed to enter the water system. Contact the Lowell Health Department for their next collection date for unwanted prescription drugs (unfortunately they just had one yesterday).

posted in Healthy Living, In the News, Lowell High | 0 Comments

Election-day registration will encourage more voters

Voter apathy has been a recurring topic on this blog and others, as well as in the mainstream media, so it would seem any effort that would encourage more voters is a good one. Today’s Sun has an article about a bill currently being considered that would, among other things, allow Massachusetts’ voters to register and vote on the same day. (You may recall, last Wednesday was the final day to register for the upcoming special election for U.S. Senator on Jan. 19.) My initial post on election-day registration, as well as this one (both from 2008) detail some of the reasons why this would be good for the Commonwealth. For more information on this issue or to get involved in supporting it, check MassVOTE.

posted in In the News, Local Politics, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Too much hate with my morning coffee

Today I made a wonderful breakfast of homemade blueberry-walnut waffles with Vermont maple syrup and hot coffee. Despite the obvious snub to carb-counters, I would have enjoyed my breakfast if I hadn’t decided to read the paper with it. In a few minutes, I read about a man, who was on probation for raping a five-year-old girl in August, and was now accused of raping his girlfriend’s three-year old girl during an overnight visit last weekend. (Part of the evidence collected is the girl’s pull-up diaper she wore to bed.) Then I read about a man accused of shooting an off-duty firefighter due to road rage. This man, whose father is a prominent Quincy businessman, and his family are no strangers to the courts with an uncle convicted in 2003 of negligent homicide in a friend’s death during a boating accident. The uncle got six months probation for boating while drunk, which seems excessively light although I don’t know the details of the case. The last story was about a father who is being charged with beating to death his seven-year-old son on Father’s Day. At that point, I closed the paper, noticed how chilly my kitchen felt despite the sun forcefully streaming in the windows, and realized I felt queasy, even sick to my stomach. Perhaps it was the sugary sweetness of syrup so early in the day, but I think it was the extreme dosage of hate and violence with my morning cup of coffee.

posted in In the News | 0 Comments

Another reason to vote today

I received this email message from Avi Green of MassVote: “Today, we go to the polls to choose party nominees for the US Senate.  You have many choices: from Michael Capuano, Martha Coakley, Alan Khazei, and Steven Pagliuca in the Democratic Primary to Scott Brown and Jack E. Robinson in the Republican Primary.  Today, your vote will decide who goes on to the General Election. The ultimate winner will represent Massachusetts for years to come.

“Here is another reason to vote: the politicians are watching.  From local town councils and mayors to state representatives and state senators, right up to the Governor’s office, elected officials watch carefully to see which communities vote.  Neighborhoods that turn out are noticedand politicians make a point of being extra responsive to their concerns.  So if you care about issues in your neighborhood, from public safety to schools to potholes to public transportation, be sure to vote today!”

With only 74 people having voted by noon at my polling location in the Highlands (the Pine Street Firehouse), it’s not looking like a huge turnout. Come on folksthis is important and takes only minutes to do!

posted in In the News, State Concerns | 0 Comments

Drug abuse continues to plague communities

At the monthly meeting of the City Manager’s Anti-Gang Task Force this morning, we discussed the problem of rampant abuse of prescription drugs, not only in Lowell but throughout the state, and its impact on crime and overdoses. Lowell Police Chief Ken Lavallee noted that many of the city’s recent increases in car break-ins, in particular, are due to drug abuse. (Readers may recall a community event on opiates abuse in October.) An op-ed in today’s MetroWest Daily News argues that one way to reduce opiate abuse is to support recommendations from an opiates report recently released to the legislature. The OxyContin and Heroin Commission report notes: “Between 2002 and 2007 the Commonwealth lost 78 soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the same time period, 3,265 Massachusetts residents died of opiate-related overdoses. The Commonwealth is losing men and women on its streets at a rate of 42 to 1 compared to what the state is losing in two wars overseas. Addiction is a medical disorder, and we have a public health epidemic on our hands that is larger than the flu pandemic.”

Among other things, the commission’s report calls for taking away the threat of prosecution for individuals who seek help for an overdose victim or who assist police in identifying drug sources. Likening it to the Safe Haven Law that allows parents to abandon infants without fear of prosecution and the lives saved from that initiative, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said he could support similar legislation for drug users as long as it came “with limitations that didn’t allow drug pushers a free pass.” Leone went on to explain that lives are lost when drug-users are afraid to get help for themselves or friends because they fear prosecution. Another problem is the availability of prescription drugs on the streets and the lack of awareness: from doctors who may over prescribe these medications, and from people who don’t realize the risks of addiction and easy access due to storing these drugs without safeguards. For more information, watch replays of the Lowell community program on cable channel 22, at these times: more »

posted in Healthy Living, In the News, Local Groups, State Concerns | 0 Comments

My vote in the senate primary

With the senate primary this Tuesday, it’s no wonder the campaign volume has risen in recent days, with increased snail mail, recorded phone calls, and emails from the candidates. Today, I spent about 15 minutes on the phone with Dan Murphy, Lowell cc-elect Patrick Murphy’s twin brother and the muscle behind many of his youtube ads. Dan called to discuss Mike Capuano’s candidacy and to ask me to help with phone banking. He’s working the media for Capuano’s campaign and somehow I made his call list. (See LiL for post about his brother’s endorsement.) I like Dan and the entire Murphy clan, and I was happy to talk politics with him. Although he made good points about Capuano: his experience, grassroots campaigning, knowledge on the issues, record of progressive votes, etc—the more we talked, the more I realized, I really want to vote for Martha Coakley. (Prior to this discussion, I thought I was undecided.) I admit, it is hugely compelling that Martha Coakley would be our first women senator from Massachusetts and I could help make it happen. (About time!) Still, I don’t see myself as a gender voter; the bottom line is always the candidate’s values, ideas, and positions on the issues. (For example, I chose Tim Murray for Lt. Governor over two qualified women because he best represented my views and values.) I like Mike, and I like that yesterday a Boston Globe op-ed noted him as the “scrappy” candidate—a plus in a world where we desperately need folks fighting for just causes. But Martha brings her own skill set: she embodies the intelligent, hardworking, ethical female candidate we need in leadership. (The same op-ed described her as “deliberative,” also important in a legislator.) Either one of them would serve my interests in Congress, albeit from different perspectives, but when Tuesday comes, I will vote for Martha Coakley. Whatever your take on the candidates, please show up on election day and vote your choice.

posted in In the News, Local People, State Concerns, Women's issues | 1 Comment

MRT play humorous and heartwarming

Nancye Tuttle has a review in today’s newspaper about Heroes, the current play at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (through Dec. 13). My husband and I saw the play on Friday and loved it. In fact, we have enjoyed all three productions this year, finding this season’s offerings so far to be outstanding—perhaps the best consistent run we’ve experienced since becoming season ticket holders. We are fortunate to have the MRT as part of the city’s cultural offerings, and I encourage you to make time to attend a performance. There is nothing like live theatre to express the universality of being human in a way that resonates, and Heroes does not disappoint in its humorous and heartwarming take on aging and friendship. As Tuttle writes, “No matter how we fight it, deny it or ignore it, death awaits us all.” Like most things in life, swallowing that hard reality is much easier with a dose of laughter. The quirky characters and hopeful message of Heroes will stay with you long after the curtain closes, and are well worth the price of admission.

posted in In the News, Local People, Theater | 2 Comments

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