Give the horse its head

Updated: Friday, December 13, 2013
Give the horse its head story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - There's lots of hand-wringing over the past week after the latest international student assessments found the American team sliding into nothing better than average.

Tonight in Tom's Corner, Tom Van Howe says that while it's not good news, there's no reason to believe we can't do better.

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It might be as simple as letting our horses have their heads.

So the old equestrian theory goes: you're out riding your horse on a foggy night in the moors and you become hopelessly lost. So you release the reigns, letting the horse have its head, and the horse finds its way out of the maze and heads for home.

There's no reason to think the teachers we have aren't the very horses we need.

For a decade now, as many teachers will tell you, they've been saddled, first by President Bush's "No Child Left Behind," followed by President Obama's "Race to the Top." And I use the word 'saddled' on purpose, because they have grown weary of teaching to accommodate tests.

Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers says the years of top-down, test-based schooling—which has resulted in the hyper-testing of students, the sanctioning of teachers, and the closing of schools—has failed us.

The numbers from the Program of International Student Achievement are indeed sobering.

510,000 15-year-olds from 65 countries get tested every three years.

In the most recent go-round,  the American students  were 26th in math, 21st in science, and 17th in reading. Average.

The students from Shanghai won in every category, but the rankings are suspect because testers weren't given access to students in poorer sections of the city or the country.

But the United States is loaded with students from poor families—and poor students, almost across the board, do not fare as well as students from wealthier families. But, overall, rich kids didn't do that well either.

Nonetheless, it's too soon to throw our hands up in despair. Maybe we are behind. But, make no mistake, we have good kids. We have smart kids. And we have good teachers. We have smart teachers.

Its time to give them their heads—to let them own their own classroom, let them be active participants in setting standards and shaping curriculum, and give them the time and money for continuous professional development.

The concept of a common core curriculum  is gaining momentum across the country, and it seems like a good idea. Essentially, by teaching and learning from set materials tied to their grade and age levels, kids across the country would develop similar academic skills.

Here's what the New York Times said in an editorial a few days ago: a lot of classes are taught by teachers who have no particular interest in what they're teaching.

And by using outdated textbooks and worn out curriculum, students wind up convinced that math and science are for nerds only, and as a result fall even further behind.

That just doesn't seem to me to be an overwhelming thing to fix. In fact, how can we continue asking teachers to teach what doesn't turn them on? What sense does it make? How can they make what they teach exciting and enticing?

And how can we blame students for becoming confused and turning their backs?

These are fixable things.

We should be looking closely at the highest-performing nations, take what they do well, and do it better here.

We've already got the horses. Lets use them. Lets give them their heads.

In this corner...I'm Tom Van Howe.

Business News

Last Update on October 21, 2014 17:19 GMT

HOME SALES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. homes sold in September at their fastest clip this year, yet the housing market has yet to fully shake off a slowdown that began in the middle of 2013.

The National Association of Realtors says sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.17 million. Still, the sales rate has dropped 1.7 percent over the past 12 months.

Investors have retreated from the market over the past year. Their departures are being offset by existing homeowners who are upgrading to more expensive properties or downsizing after having raised their children.

Rising prices through much of 2013, weak income growth and tighter credit standards have priced out many would-be buyers. Median home prices rose 5.6 percent over the past 12 months to $209,700.

STAPLES-POSSIBLE BREACH

NEW YORK (AP) -- Staples is looking into a potential credit card data breach and has been in touch with law enforcement officials about the issue.

The office supplies retailer said Tuesday that if it turns up any data discrepancies during its investigation, customers won't be responsible for fraudulent activity on their credit cards as long as it is reported in a timely manner.

"We take the protection of customer information very seriously, and are working to resolve the situation," spokesman Mark Cautela said in a statement.

Earlier this month Sears Holdings Corp. reported a breach at its Kmart stores that started last month, saying some customers' credit and debit cards may have been compromised. Other breaches have occurred at retailers including Target Corp., Supervalu Inc. and Home Depot Inc..

Shares of Staples Inc., based in Framingham, Massachusetts, slipped 3 cents to $12.27 in midday trading. Its shares have fallen 23 percent over the past year.

EARNINGS

UNDATED (AP) -- Coca-Cola and McDonald's are reporting declining profits.

Coke says its third-quarter net income was $2.11 billion, down 14 percent as beverage volume rose 1 percent, thanks to an increase in non-carbonated drinks. The world's biggest beverage maker also announced a new plan that it said will reduce costs by $3 billion a year by 2019. For this year, the company said it expects earnings per share to miss its long-term target.

McDonald's saw customer traffic fall around the world. Sales took a big hit in Asia, where a major supplier was shown on TV repackaging expired beef. In the U.S., McDonald's is fighting to hold onto customers amid shifting tastes toward food people consider more wholesome.

For the quarter, revenue declined to just under $7 billion, falling short of Wall Street expectations.

Also reporting results this morning, Verizon Communications reported lower net income but higher revenue in its third quarter, helped by strong wireless subscriber growth and demand for its FiOS Internet services.

Higher cigarette prices helped cigarette maker Reynolds American's net income rise 2.2 percent in its third quarter.

MORTGAGE RISK RULES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New U.S. rules aimed at getting banks to take on more of the risk when they package and sell mortgage securities are being relaxed with an eye to spurring broader home lending.

Federal regulators have dropped a key requirement: a 20 percent down payment from the borrower if a bank didn't hold at least 5 percent of the mortgage securities tied to those loans on its books.

The long-delayed final rules unveiled Tuesday by six federal agencies include the less stringent condition that borrowers not carry excessive debt relative to their income.

The board of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. voted 4-1 Tuesday to adopt the rules.

The rules, proposed in stricter form in 2011, were mandated by the overhaul law enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

STATE UNEMPLOYMENT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Unemployment rates fell in 31 U.S. states in September, including many currently embroiled in tough political campaigns. The report is the final data on state unemployment before the midterm elections Nov. 4.

The Labor Department says that unemployment rates rose in 8 states and were unchanged in 11 states. That is the smallest number of states to see an increase since April.

Employers added jobs in 39 states and cut jobs in 10. South Dakota's job count changed little.

Colorado and Kentucky, two states with hard-fought Senate campaigns, experienced the biggest declines in unemployment. Colorado's fell to 4.7 percent from 5.1 percent, and Kentucky's rate dropped to 6.7 percent from 7.1 percent.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate declined to 5.9 percent in September, from 6.1 percent the previous month.

NAPROXEN RECALL

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- A North Carolina company is recalling nearly 12,000 boxes of pain relief tablets sold at Dollar Tree stores because some cartons contain a different medication that could cause allergic reactions.

Greensboro-based Contract Packaging Resources Inc. says it mistakenly placed bottles of ibuprofen inside boxes sold at Dollar Tree stores nationwide as Assured brand naproxen sodium tablets.

Some consumers buy naproxen sodium pain relievers because of allergies to ibuprofen. The packaging company says reactions that can include hives or life-threatening respiratory problems, but it hasn't received any reports of adverse reactions.

Consumers who bought 15-count boxes of 220mg Assured brand naproxen sodium tablets may return them to the store of purchase or call 336-252-3422.

CVS HEALTH-TOBACCO

CVS develops tobacco-free prescription network

First, CVS Health pulled tobacco from its store shelves. Now, it plans to make some customers think twice about filling prescriptions at other stores that still sell smokes.

The nation's second-largest drugstore chain is developing a new tobacco-free pharmacy network for clients of its Caremark pharmacy benefits management business.

The network would slap an extra co-payment on patients who fill their prescriptions at stores that still sell tobacco. That payment won't apply to prescriptions filled in the tobacco-free network, which would include CVS and Target locations nationally, as well as other pharmacies that abstain. Target Corp. gave up tobacco sales in 1996.

CVS national rivals Walgreen Co. and Rite Aid Corp. still sell tobacco.

The tobacco-free network will only be used by the pharmacy-benefit management customers that choose it.

KIMBERLY-CLARK-JOB CUTS

DALLAS (AP) -- Kimberly-Clark plans to eliminate up to 1,300 jobs as part of restructuring efforts aimed at reducing costs and making its business more efficient.

The consumer products company has 58,000 workers worldwide, according to its website.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. said Tuesday that it anticipates restructuring costs between $130 million and $160 million, after taxes. The company -- whose brands include Kleenex and Huggies -- foresees between $120 million and $140 million in savings by the end of 2017.

The restructuring is expected to be completed by 2016's end.

Kimberly-Clark also cut its 2014 adjusted profit forecast to account for the spinoff of its health care business. The Dallas company now expects an adjusted profit between $5.93 and $6.03 per share, down from its prior range of $6 to $6.15 per share. Analysts polled by FactSet expect $6.06 per share.

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