Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Boys and girls are not men and women, or women and men

Gov. Jerry  Brown signed Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s AB 1266 yesterday. As a result, the Chronicle’s Ellen Huet reports, “Transgender students in California public schools will be allowed to participate in school groups and use school facilities based on their gender identities, in a change that turns a policy several school districts already follow into statewide law.”

I urged Brown not to sign the bill in this column. For one thing, the law overrides parental consent. For another, it steamrolls over the feelings of students who may not want a transitioning student in their gym shower:

    "AB1266 directs schools to ignore biology and let children decide how they want to self-identify. No student, including elementary school pupils, would need his or her parents’ permission to change their gender identity."

Most important, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to encourage children to change their gender identity before they even know how to read. It forces the public schools to treat children as if they are authorities on what should be an adult decision. And what happens if a child changes his or her mind?

Let me add, I think that advocates are naive if they believe that admission into sports’ teams and showers equates acceptance.  In an area where children might do better to tread lightly, AB 1266 threatens to turn unsure first-graders into transgender advocates. Scary.


Report claims laptops may actually hinder kids in classrooms

Laptops may actually hinder students ability to learn, providing a distraction and even affecting students sitting near their owners, according to a stunning new Canadian report.

With laptops and tablet computers pervading the modern classroom, the report suggests that paper and pencil might be less distracting overall.

"We really didn't think the effects would be this huge," explained McMaster University researcher Faria Sana, who co-authored the study with fellow doctoral student Tina Weston. "It can change your grade from a B+ to a B-."

For their study, published earlier this year in the journal Computers & Education, Sana and Weston gave some students laptops to take notes, and asked them to complete a few unrelated tasks in their spare time. Other students were told given No. 2 pencils and the same tasks.

The test scenario was meant to ape a real classroom, Sana told the Canadian Press Association.

"We really tried to make it pretty close to what actually happens in the lectures,” she said.

Those students who multitasked on their laptops performed significantly worse than the pencil pushers -- and surprisingly, the effect even reached to students sitting near the laptop users.

“Those who were seated around peers who were multitasking also performed much worse on the final test," Sana said.

With the pervasiveness of tech in today’s classrooms, students have known to grow distracted, surfing the Internet, playing games, or updating Facebook profiles rather than paying attention.  And that’s the problem, the researchers said.

"A lot of students spend quite a big chunk of time in class doing things that are not related to the academic environment or aren't directly related to the course or the lecture," Sana said.


Seven Illinois Public Universities Hit With Credit Downgrades

Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the credit ratings of seven public universities in Illinois.

Illinois state government already has the worst credit rating of any state in the nation. And the largest city in Illinois – Chicago --  recently saw the credit rating on more than $8 billion of its general obligation debt dropped a nearly unprecedented three levels at one time by Moody’s.

The downgrade of Illinois universities, announced August 9, came with a warning that further downgrades of university credit ratings could come if the state government does not resolve problems in its worst-in-the-nation government pension system, conservatively estimated to have $100 billion in unfunded liabilities.

The downgrades affect the University of Illinois, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Illinois State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and Western Illinois University. Only Northern Illinois University was able to maintain its rating. Most of the $2.24 billion in debt the universities currently hold belongs to the University of Illinois, which has $1.56 billion in debt.

If any of the universities borrow more money, they likely would have to pay higher rates of interest because of the lower credit ratings. This soon could happen. The University of Illinois is preparing a $77 million bond sale to fund a renovation project at its hospital in Chicago.

Moody’s pinned much of the blame for the lower credit ratings on the state’s dismal pension situation.

“If pension reform is passed, UI may need to fund a portion of its pension expense,” Moody’s wrote in its report on the University of Illinois, which saw its rating decline from Aa2 to Aa3. “If pension reform fails to be enacted, we expect continued pressure on state operating appropriations.”


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