Are School-Aged Kids Tested More often than Toxic Chemicals?

Are school-aged kids tested more often than toxic chemicals?  You betcha.  Most toxic chemicals haven’t been tested at all– and most school-age kids have been tested a lot.

Today’s News and Observer posted my op-ed about toxic chemical reform.   Please, I understand that knowing where to start can be overwhelming and intimidating, but we have to start somewhere.

In 1976 the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), a largely unenforceable piece of legislation, became law.  All chemicals manufactured since have been regulated (unregulated) by it.

In 2014, we have two pieces of draft legislation floating in both the Senate and the House. The House version, appropriately named the Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA) combined with the Senate’s Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) does a fair amount of forsoothing and henceforthing new rules, most of which favor industry over consumer protection. Both drafts strip the power of toxic chemical regulation from the state, and neither draft replaces that state regulation with comprehensive federal oversight.

There is a middle ground where industry can advance and my children’s health can be protected.

wrote about this same issue, in greater detail and with more links, after getting back from DC with the kids last year.

Aren’t sure who represents you in DC?  Find them quickly by clicking here.  




NC Senate Bill 817 quietly redefines term limits and elections.

The NCGA has been busy in that building– writing budgets that will pay the bills with money generated from lottery revenue,

 Sorry mortgage company, we can’t pay this month because of an unexpected shortage in lottery revenue.  Hopefully we can catch back up after powerball!

and passing new fracking laws. Hey, at least we won’t have a drilling accident like the Derweze (DARVAZA) Gas Crater in Turkmenistan– burning since 1971.  That’s comforting.

 Photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo Credit: Tormod Sandtorv CC BY-SA 2.0

The rewriting of common core standards. Sigh. 

Another bill, one without much attention at all.  One that, given the future implications, might be worse than all of the rest.

May I introduce Senate Bill 817, a proposed constitutional amendment that would create 4-Year Terms for GA/Limit Consecutive Terms?

Bill 817 comes to us from the offices of Senators Daniel, Tarte, Rabin (Primary Sponsors); Hunt and Sanderson (all republican) and proposes another amendment to the state constitution.  This amendment will change term limits from 3 years to 4 years.


I glanced at this one on May 21, but skipped reading it in favor of the proposed bill to rewrite educational standards and the regulatory reform act.

I came back to it though, and started to feel a little sorry for the Bill.  Here’s a proposed amendment to the state constitution and it’s getting almost no attention at all!

What does it say about the confidence I don’t have in my elected officials that my second response was one of narrow-eyed suspicion?

Why be suspicious of the new term limits?

And speaking of elections, in addition to extended term limits, they also (necessarily) change the election cycles from 2 to 4 years, aligned with national (read, presidential) elections.

“The Senate shall be composed of 50 Senators, biennially quadrennially chosen by ballot.”


“The House of Representatives shall be composed of 120 Representatives, biennially quadrennially chosen by ballot.”


“Sec. 8. Elections

The election for members of the General Assembly shall be held for the respective districts in 1972 2016 and every two four years thereafter, at the places and on the day prescribed by law.”


“The amendments made by Part I of this act become effective with the members elected in 2016. The amendment made by Part II of this act becomes effective January 1, 2017.”


What about those winning reelection campaigns in 2016?  They’ll already get an extra 2 years, but are they then eligible for the extra 4th term?

Take a minute– feel your stomach doing that thing?  Yeah, me too.  Part of me sees the benefit of 4-year election cycles– it certainly gives them more time to “get stuff done”.   Of course, that’s also why I’m terrified.

Then there are the governor appointees for vacancies from “death, resignation, or other cause.”  

Here’s how I read this proposed amendment with regard to filling vacancies:
I elect my democratic representative in 2016 and, in February 2017, he/she trips and falls into the path of an oncoming Amtrak train carrying freight cars filled with fracking chemicals.

At best, this amendment will see a republican governor appointing a (likely not democratic) replacement. At worst, my appointed representative could look like Governor McCrory’s recent appointment of Charlton Allen.

Now, switch every instance of democrat for republican in the above example and imagine the implications to your own political ideology.

A democratic governor could appoint someone like… me.  I promise my time in office would be well spent.  I would work really hard on medicaid expansion, common sense gun laws, environmental protections, and increasing revenue from sources other than powerball.

We have elections and term limits for a reason, and while the idea seems like a good one on the surface, I am wary of the nuanced, unclear wording in many sections. Think about that when (if) this shows up on the 2014 ballot.

Constitutional amendments making the term of members of the General Assembly four years beginning with members elected in 2016, limiting members to four consecutive terms in the Senate or House of Representatives, and making conforming amendments concerning the election of other officers and the filling of vacancies.






NC’s Common Core Standards

North Carolina’s House Education Committee voted to move forward with passing a bill (House Bill 1061) designed to replace Common Core standards with those more appropriate for North Carolina Public education.

Insert pause for the jokes about what defines appropriate NC standards.

Does Common Core fail?  Let’s first start with answering the question, “What is Common Core.”

Common Core is a set of standards.  Standards being something along the lines of “all first graders should be able to identify words like “see, jump, what” by the end of 1st grade.

Before common core, under the rules of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), each state set their own standards.  Maybe NC standards note that kindergartners should be able to reason out that replacing the letter a in the word cat with the letter u makes the word cut* while Kansas is satisfied with them reading cat.

Or maybe North Carolina wanted kindergartners to count to 100 by ones and tens* and Oklahoma doesn’t think kindergartners should do any counting over 50.

*These are examples of two kindergarten common core standards, which can be found in this reference guide.

Different states with such a wide variety of grade-level education standards?  What could possibly go wrong—it’s not as if families ever move to a different state.

Where do I buy my Common Core, First Grade Math book?

You don’t.  Because common core is a set of standards and not a curriculum.

A curriculum is the planned interaction of pupils with instructional content, materials, and used to deliver information.  For example, Wake County uses the Letterland curriculum to teach letter/phonemic awareness to K-2 grade; Cumberland County does not.   Children in both counties would meet the common core standard if they leave kindergarten able to recognize and name all of the letters in the alphabet.

Edited to add: A photograph of a piece of my 1st grader’s schoolwork that came home yesterday.  He fixed the sentence structure (an error in the curriculum) before demonstrating he understood the concept (common core standard).

A picture demonstrating a grammatically incorrect sentence on a first grader's school work.

Click to enlarge.

You can’t throw stone into the google pond without hitting pages of experts agreeing, or not agreeing, with common core standards and the dismal quality of United States education. At the beginning of the year I was a CC hater too, especially with the math.  Show your work two ways with math mountains and number partners—what a waste of time and effort, I thought.  This way of teaching this is stttupppiiddd, I whispered to myself.

I was wrong.

Listen, I have been reading LIKE IT’S MY JOB for 35 of my almost 38 years.   I still encounter words I cannot pronounce, thank you animal kingdom naming conventions.  However, because of a long relationship with the rules of language, I can often muddle out a pronunciation. Or how I work through compound words with an early reader—breaking a large word into recognizable pieces.   This decoding method has existed for reading since back in the ancient times of my own 1st grade favorite– Buffy and Mack.

That concept of decoding words rather than insisting on rote memorization has been extended to teaching mathematical concepts.  How can teaching children multiple methods of finding solutions be a bad thing?

Do I think there is a point where a child should stop having to show his work for 5+5?  Yeah, but that would be true with or without a set of common standards.

Back to Common Core– sort of.  Part of the issue with replacing Common Core with NC’s own shiny set of standards is the 400 million dollars we accepted as recipients of the Race to the Top award (part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).

Some of the funds were designated to stimulate and strengthen states’ efforts with their lowest achieving schools.  Turn around NC’s lowest achieving schools (TALAS) identified 188 Priority 1 schools in the bottom 5%– defined as those with performance composites or graduation rates at less than 60%.

That’s 188 elementary (E), middle (M), and high (H) schools, in 36 counties (or LEAs–local education agencies) performing at less than 60%.  A listing of these lowest achieving schools can be found here.

NC accepted a bunch of money in partnership with a federal grant, a large chunk of which was distributed to failing schools in historically poor counties and, like, agreed to do this thing, but now ha-ha, take backs.  But don’t worry, y’all winky-winky I heard on the news they’ll be sure not to mess up and lose the money they already spent.

I cannot deny that the testing– the EOGs, the assessments, the tests, the– have I mentioned tests?– are excessive to the point of projectile vomiting.  I cannot understand why these kids have to be tested– oh, wait.  I DO understand.  The development and grading of those tests cost money.  Money earned by companies that do that sort of thing. The same companies that design the text books.  The same companies  (Pearson) that make oodles of money with a poorly designed and edited product.

I’d be okay with tossing Common Core if I thought they were going to use Finland’s education model— but we all know that’s not going to happen.  Instead I assume they are going to continue down the path of virtual learning and teacher reduction and charter school creation, both of which are for-profit entities receiving public school tax dollars.

So, using those critical thinking skills I learned IN NC PUBLIC SCHOOLS– naw, just kidding– I got ’em in college, this is dummy legislation that can’t actually go anywhere beyond a neatly filled in circle for a candidate on a voting form.  Brilliant.

Let’s give a shout out to the members of the House trying to tear down a whole building because they suddenly decided that they preferred a taupe, not griege, carpet.

Primary sponsors:

Bryan HollowayLarry PittmanMichael Speciale

Then the sidekicks:

John BellMark BrodyJimmy DixonJeffrey ElmoreCarl FordJon HardisterKelly HastingsPat HurleyFrank IlerBert JonesChris MaloneSusan MartinPat McElraftTim MooreMichelle PresnellDennis RiddellPaul StamBob SteinburgMichael StoneHarry WarrenChris WhitmireRoger Younts