Tuesday Roundup: A Rural School That Works
The pace of urbanization in the U.S. has slowed • Monsanto threatens to sue Vermont • The problem with Big Ag is uniformity • Appealing post office closures does little good
The methods behind the educational success of this community, which encompasses four blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em towns stretched out on the flat plains of north-central Kansas, provide a stark contrast to popular education reforms playing out across the United States. Waconda does not link student test-scores to teacher evaluations or offer merit pay to its teachers; it has no plans to distribute iPads to students.
Waconda’s approach is rooted in the basics, with a community that champions education, coupled with faculty dedication and a relentless focus on early intervention and prevention.
“Sometimes you get one of those elements in a school [or] two. But to have three come together, that’s not the norm at all,” says John Hill, president of the National Rural Education Association, a membership organization of rural districts and state agencies. “I think that says something very special about that community.”
The people here aren’t rich. Nearly two-thirds qualify for the lunch program. Ten percent are foster children. But there’s a community there that has created a great school.
Way to go!
• “In its short, shameless history, big agriculture has had only one big idea: uniformity,” begins Verlyn Klinkenborg, a member of the editorial board of the New York Times. He wrote about the “The Folly of Big Agriculture: Why Nature Always Wins.”
Klinkenborg says that nature wants diversity while “big agriculture” is based on conformity. He goes through the problems with mass production in agriculture, particularly chemical-tolerant weeds. He continues:
Instead of urging farmers away from uniformity and toward greater diversity, the USDA is helping them do the same old wrong thing faster. When an idea goes bad, the USDA seems to think, the way to fix it is to speed up the introduction of ideas that will go bad for exactly the same reason. And it’s always, somehow, the same bad idea: the uniform application of an anti-biological agent, whether it’s a pesticide in crops or an antibiotic on factory farms. The result is always the same. Nature finds a way around it, and quickly.
This is the irrationality of agriculture as it’s practiced in the United States and now all over the world. It has one big idea, and it will never give it up, because it has invested everything in that one big idea. Against uniformity and abstraction — embodied in millions of acres of genetically-modified crops — nature will always win. Whether it can ever win against the uniformity and abstraction embodied in the human brain is very much in doubt.
• Teen births fell in 2010 in the U.S. The highest birth rate among teens was in Mississippi.
Rates fells in all but three states from 2007 to 2010. Rates stayed about the same in Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia. Rates declined in Arizona by 29 percent. While still having the highest birth rate now, Mississippi’s teen birth rate fell 21 percent in that time period.
The teen birth rate is now at its lowest point since record-keeping began in 1940.
• Maryland could be the first state to ban the use of additives containing arsenic in chicken feed. There’s a bill on the governor’s desk now.
This additive is already banned in Canada and the E.U.
The FDA tested 100 chickens last year, giving them the feed additive roxarsone, an arsenic-based drug used to fight parasites. Half the chickens later showed trace amounts of inorganic arsenic in their livers.
• Save the Post Office reports that over the past 15 months 180 communities have appealed to the Postal Regulatory Commission in an effort to save their local post offices. “For nearly all of them, the effort was in vain,” reports STPO.
Appeals have been upheld in only 13 of those 180 cases.
• Yes, food stamps do reduce the poverty rate. In fact, food stamps reduced the poverty rate “substantially” during the recent recession, according to a report in the New York Times.
• The violent crime rate is going down nationally, but the number of police officers killed has been increasing. One cause may be layoffs of officers, according to this report in the New York Times:
“A lot of these killings aren’t happening in major urban areas,” said James W. McMahon, chief of staff for the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “One of the concerns we are looking at is that a number of officers are being laid off or furloughed or not replaced.”
• Farmers and ranchers will join university students at a rally today at Iowa State University just an hour before Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Rep. Steve King are scheduled to hold an event about “finely textured beef” that they’ve called “The Truth.”
Branstad and King say the controversy over FTB (or “pink slime”) is overblown and is harming the ag industry. Those rallying with students say that industrialized agriculture is harming farmers and rural communities.
Meanwhile, Monday Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, called on the USDA to label mechanically tenderized beef products. Blade-tenderized beef products were linked to E. coli outbreaks in six states in 2010.
• Monsanto has threatened to sue the state of Vermont if it enacts the Vermont Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, which would require labeling of genetically engineered food.