First Born Children Smarter? Try To Tell Matilda That!

A new study, released today, shows that first born children have IQs 3-4% better than their siblings. Meanwhile, a curiously times story from the U.K. of two year old Matilda who is the fifth born in her family, and, oh yeah, a member of Mensa with a 152 IQ.

Google Bans Ads For Essay Writers

To help stem the tide of cheating on college campuses, Google has taken steps to ban advertisements for essay writing firms on their site.

House Passes Student Loan Bill With Veto-Proof Majority

Yesterday, the House of Representatives knocked off another of the 100 hours legislation items: a 50% cut in the interest rate on student loans.

The legislation passed by an astounding 356 to 71 margin with many, many Republicans crossing over to vote with the Democrats.

One issue in the legislation however is that the reduction is only for five years. The reason it is temporary is due to another Democratic commitment to offset spending increases, which this would be, with cuts elsewhere. To make the reduction permanent would be more expensive than the Democrats wish to see cut in other places.

It is expected that the legislation will be tied up in the Senate, however, as Senator Ted Kennedy is planning to introduce the legislation as part of a much broader education package that is unlikely to garner such broad support.

110th Congress First Hundred Hours Summary

When the 110th Congress begins its session today, incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has an agenda for the first 100 hours of the session. Over the next two weeks, a broad range of issues of importance to the majority of Americans will be acted upon. Below is a summary, with links to more in-depth analysis from earlier articles.

  • Draining The Swamp - a catch phrase for an agenda to improve congressional ethics. Highlights include: a ban on privately funded travel, loss of floor access to past members who are now lobbyists, 24 hours waiting period on all bills and 3 days for bills containing earmarks or limited tax benefits.
  • Minimum Wage Increase - Congress will seek to raise the minimum wage to $7.25. Analysis shows that this should increase the GDP and help save social security.
  • The 9/11 Commission - Pelosi claims that Congress will implement "all the recommendations" of the 9/11 commission. The truth here is that most things have been implemented except the calls for more direct oversight by Congress. It's no surprise Pelosi wants to implement that.
  • Medicaid Prescription Drug Program - as it stands now, the federal government is prohibited from negotiating with drug companies to get lower prices for drugs available through this program. Congress will seek to lift that restriction. Whether or not such negotiations will secure lower prices than the current system is a matter of much debate.
  • Student Loan Rates - Congress will seek to cut student loan rates in half (from 6.8% to 3.4% for Stafford loans.) The impact of such a change can be far reaching as college education can be a factor in unemployment, entitlement use and likelihood to vote.
  • Big Oil - Congress will seek to reverse one of the biggest blunders of the Clinton Administration by compelling Oil companies to pay mandated royalties on off-shore drilling revenue. The law allowing the drilling required the government to secure royalty agreements for the leases, but Clinton Administration ineptly left that requirement out of the leases. The blunder, if not fixed, will cost tax payers over 10 billion in revenue over the next 5 years.
  • Social Security - The administration's bluster about the insolvency of the Social Security trust fund is a boondoggle to justify their desire to see the money put into the stock market to jack the value of wealthy portfolios. Congress is promising to head off any efforts toward privatization on part of the administration.

100 Hours: Student Loan Rates

As part of incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi's 100 hour platform for the beginning of the 110th Congress, she is proposing to cut the interest rate on, presumably federal, Student Loans by half.

A 50% reduction would take Stafford loans down to 3.4% from 6.8% and PLUS loans down to 4.25% from 8.5%.

I'm not surprised this is being proposed. Those rates, to me, seem quite high. At those levels, a home-equity loan would be cheaper by comparison. Note: I don't think home owners can apply for these loans, but you get the idea.

To me, this seems like a no-brainer, especially when you consider the decline of American prowess in education. Trickle-down economics might not work, but trickle-down is the only way education can work. We need people to go through school, become better educated and pass that knowledge on to the next generation if the crisis of education in this country is going to be reversed.

Consider some of these points from the Bill Summary for H.R. 5150, the Reverse the Raid on Student Aid Act:

Bush, Bloomberg Stump For Changes In No Child Left Behind Act

Florida Governor Jeb Bush and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are together pushing for changes in the No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for renewal at the end of 2007.

Their chief criticism of the Act championed by Bush's brother, president George W Bush, is essentially that the Act is all stick and no carrot.

Two specific changes they would like to see include a grading system for school performance and the linking of teacher pay to their performance. Both of these things are being used in Bush's Florida and are under consideration in New York City's massive school district.

The No Child Left Behind Act gives schools a pass/fail grade of sorts and punishes schools that are failing. The Florida system grades schools like students with grades from A to F. This, they claim, gives schools passing with a C the desire to strive for an A.

There is a desire to grade teachers as well with some part of their pay dependent on their performance. With the strength of education unions, it is unclear how such a system would be implemented.

Bush Appoints Birth Control Opponent To Family Planning Post

Continuing to further the agenda of the evangelical right, Bush has appointed Eric Keroack, an OB-GYN doctor who believes that contraceptives are "demeaning to women," as the deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Sound like news from Bizarro World? It gets worse. This isn't just a token policy position:

Keroack ... will advise Secretary Mike Leavitt on matters such as reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy. He will oversee $283 million in annual family-planning grants that, according to HHS, are "designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons."

Federally Funded Anti-Abortion Efforts

It seems the crusade against abortion goes beyond the courts for the Bush Administration. It has been alleged that the "Compassion Capital Fund", which is managed by the White House as part of their Faith-Based Initiatives program is responsible for some $30 million in funding so called "pregnancy resource centers."

These centers are alleged to be providing false and misleading information to women about abortion, particularly the risks:

Some center personnel suggested, contrary to scientific evidence, that abortion would lead to increased risk of suicide, cancer and psychological trauma.

That's not all this administration does to tie money to abortion. While they give money in the U.S. to the aforementioned centers, they withhold foreign aid to any international family planning group unless they agree to not offer abortions or abortion counseling.

No Child Left Behind Holds Some Back

The purpose of the Bush Administration's monstrously long and complex No Child Left Behind Act is to close the gap in achievement levels between students with a long term goal of 100 percent proficiency in the 2013-2014 school year.

Proficiency in reading and math is measured in grades 3-8, 10, and at graduation. Schools that under-perform can lose money and even be closed down if they fail to meet the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) goals set forth in the legislation.

Teachers, like any professional given a defined goal that they must meet to keep their job, focus on preparing students for the proficiency exams. This has, no doubt, done some good for under-performing students; but, what has it done for students that excel? It seems to hold them back as attention is diverted in classrooms to the kids that are furthest behind.

Software Patents Invade Online Classroom

The very idea of patenting an idea rather than an actual invention stinks beyond description, but that's exactly what the folks at the U.S. Patent Office allow. To them, the idea need only be non-obvious, which seems to mean they've never heard of it described before in a patent.

Now the folks at Blackboard Inc have been awarded a patent on e-learning software used by millions to access college courses from home. CNN has coverage here.

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