The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2009

Twenty-eight percent of all Kansas fourth graders’ reading skills were below even the basic level in 2009, and nearly two-thirds (65 percent) read at the basic level or below in 2009.

Just 28 percent of Kansas fourth graders were proficient readers, and only 7 percent could read at an advanced level.

Yet these results compare favorably with many other jurisdictions across the country. In the nation’s capital, a disheartening 56 percent of all fourth graders were below basic readers, and 83 percent of all fourth graders read only at the basic level or below.

More than 40 percent of all fourth graders read at a below basic level in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and New Mexico. In another 26 states, fourth graders were tested with below basic reading levels of 30 percent or more.

The situation is somewhat better for Kansas eighth graders, with 20 percent reading below basic, 47 percent at the basic level, 31 percent reading proficiently, but a miniscule 2 percent reading at the advanced level.

These results are reported in a 72-page assessment of reading skills at grades 4 and 8 from the National Center for Education Statistics of the Institute of Education Science (US Department of Education), The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2009.

Here’s how the National Center explains the testing and results from the most optimistic perspective:

“Nationally representative samples of more than 178,000 fourth-graders and 160,000 eighth-graders participated in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading. At each grade, students responded to questions designed to measure their knowledge of reading comprehension across two types of texts: literary and informational.

“At grade 4, the average reading score in 2009 was unchanged from the score in 2007 but was higher than the scores in other earlier assessment years from 1992 to 2005. About two-thirds (67 percent) of fourth-graders performed at or above the Basic level in 2009, and one-third (33 percent) performed at or above Proficient. Both percentages were unchanged from 2007 but were higher than previous assessment years. Eight percent of fourth-graders performed at the Advanced level, which was the same as in 2007 but higher than in 1992.

“At grade 8, the average reading score in 2009 was one point higher than in 2007 and four points higher than in 1992 but was not consistently higher than in all the assessment years in between. Gains since 2007 were seen for lower- and middle-performing students at the 10th, 25th, and 50th percentiles, while scores for higher-performing students at the 75th and 90th percentiles showed no significant change. In 2009, about three-quarters (75 percent) of eighth-graders performed at or above the Basic level, and one-third (32 percent) performed at or above Proficient. Both percentages were higher in 2009 than in 2007 and 1992. Three percent of eighth-graders performed at the Advanced level in 2009, which was the same as the percentages in 2007 and 1992.”

For more details, consult the full report.

Update: For some of the reaction to the report see Reading Scores Stall at the Pew Center’s and this somewhat oddly titled piece from the Washington Post.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Modern English Usage Revisited

Last December in A Fairer Fowler we noted Liam Julian’s favorable review of David Crystal’s new edition of H.W. Fowler’s classic A Dictionary of Modern English Usage in the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review.

Here’s another take on the same work from the Toronto Globe and Mail’s Warren Clements in “The Great Prescriptivist”.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Mystery of Lewis Carroll

Alice in Wonderland (1865), as it is commonly abbreviated, and its darker, even more brilliant sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1871), are the two most translated works of English literature after the plays of Shakespeare. And well they should be. By avoiding didacticism and sentimentality, these playful, dreamlike books inaugurated modern children’s literature. As readers the world over know, they are charming and fantastical, a bit frightening in places and, most of all, deeply enigmatic.”

Jenny Woolf’s new book The Mystery of Lewis Carroll: Discovering the Whimsical, Thoughtful, and Sometimes Lonely Man Who Created “Alice in Wonderland” is
favorably reviewed by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 12:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Freedom of Information Act Guide

One of the most powerful tools available to individual citizens, and to a free press, for assuring that our government remains relatively open and transparent, and that it continues to serve as a government of laws, is the Freedom of Information Act.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “generally provides any person with the statutory right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to Government information in executive branch records.”

This access, while very broad, is limited in a number of ways. Judicial records, records of the Congress and legislative branch agencies, trade secrets, law enforcement records, and, for the most part, classified records, are not subject to the provisions of the act. There are nine specific statutory exemptions from the provisions of the FOIA. Nevertheless, the scope of the information available through appropriate use of the Freedom of Information Act is extraordinary.

Many FOIA requests are most appropriately channeled through the National Archives and Records Administration. And, fortunately, the National Archives offers a 13-page online Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reference Guide to assist citizens in making FOIA requests. The Guide can serve as a good beginning reference for the novice seeker for government records, even providing a sample request letter.

You’ll also find a useful independent guide to filing a Freedom of Information Act request at the First Amendment Center website, entitled How to File an FOIA Request. Because it offers information not available in the National Archives Guide, it is a more than vital supplement, and includes a number of very useful links to other resources.

There is also a much more voluminous 85-page guide from the House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform (2005) entitled A Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records, in this case reproduced on the website of the Federation of American Scientists. It’s a good adjunct to the first two guides, but perhaps more than you might need for a simple and straightforward request.

Also of considerable utility is the Federal Open Government Guide of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Should you find yourself in need of certain federal governmental information not in the public domain, you should certainly avail yourself of the procedures outlined in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reference Guide. (Virtually all states have similar provisions and procedures which may also be of use. In Kansas, it’s the Kansas Open Records Act.)

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

Colliding Galaxies Give Birth to Quasars

Discovered in the late 1950s, quasars (a contraction of “quasi-stellar objects”) were long an enigma for astrophysicists, who suspected, but could not prove, that they were somehow related to supermassive black holes.

Despite appearing as the brightest and most powerful objects in the universe, the quasar conundrum vexed scientists for more than 50 years. But now it has been proved conclusively that quasars are the product of merging galaxies, created when the central black holes of the galaxies collide and conjoin into a new supermassive black hole. Science explains the story in Galaxy Collisions Give Birth to Quasars.

Update: For more, see After Growth Spurt, Supermassive Black Holes Spend Half Their Lives Veiled in Dust in EurekAlert!

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 3:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Jobless” Recovery — The New Norm?

Cumulative Increase in Unemployment Rate From Beginning of Recession to 30 Months Out (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland)

The present recession “will likely be the longest since 1945,” and “is also already associated with the largest drop in payroll employment of any US recession and the biggest jump in the unemployment rate.”

As for the rapidity of recovery, “recent recessions have been followed by exceptionally slow recoveries in the labor market, and the current recession is shaping up to follow in the same pattern.”

So judges Murat Tasci, a research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, as he asks Are Jobless Recoveries the New Norm? This seven-page paper compares the present recession to those of the past 65 years, concluding that “the negative effects of this recession are likely to linger a while in the labor market” and that the existent “significant underemployment could be a major contributor to a jobless recovery.”

Real Gross Domestic Product and Unemployment in Postwar Recessions (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland)

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

April Newsletter Released

The Haysville Community Library Newsletter for April 2010 is now available. If you haven’t received yours in the mail or at the circulation desk, you’ll find here on the library website.

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Kansas Libraries and the Internet

According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, nearly one of every four Kansas households lack Internet access. Kansas public libraries helped to close this gap and equalize access by providing 6,441,364 connections to the Internet in 2008.

Kansas public libraries had 11.53 Internet terminals per 10,000 population in 2007, more than 50 percent greater than the national average of 7.02, and more than the average in neighboring states of 8.73 per 10,000 population.

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  

What Exactly Is A Science Museum?

Writing in the New York Times, Edward Rothstein examines the array of alternative models competing for the paradigm of “science museum” in The Thrill of Science, Tamed By Agendas. Some are exciting, some are appalling, and, like Rothstein, “I have my preferences.” I imagine you will, too.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Origin of Flowers

Magnolia campbellii 'Borde Hill' (British Columbia Botanical Garden)

Earlier studies had suggested that flowering plants – angiosperms – first arose 140 million to 190 million years ago: a result which seemed paradoxical in light of the evidence that many of the modern insect species such as bees and wasps, which rely upon flowering plants for pollen and nectar, appeared much earlier in the fossil record.

But a new study appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences moves the age of flowering plants back to 215 million years ago, much more commensurate with the evidence for interdependent insect species. EurekAlert! has more in Molecular Study Could Push Back Angiosperm Origins.

Update: Here’s the abstract for the original article appearing in the Proceedings.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Nth Power

Cans Seurat (Chris Jordan 2007) 1

A fascinating and provocative slideshow from Seed Magazine explores the intriguing art of Chris Jordan in The Age of Impossible Numbers.

Here’s how writer Greg Boustead explains it:

“The human brain is poorly equipped for comprehending massive quantities. This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective; large numbers are relatively new features of our mental landscapes. Thousands, millions, billions, and recently trillions—once reserved for describing cosmic distances of faraway galaxies—have been brought down to Earth in terms of the national deficits we accrue, the bytes of information we clock, and critically, the stuff we consume. But how to wrap one’s head around such unfathomable figures in a meaningful way? In Running the Numbers, photographer Chris Jordan attempts to convey the vastness of modern consumption by breaking down annual statistics into more graspable quantities depicted by clever visualizations made of individual objects or groups of objects that he photographs. The 106,000 aluminum cans consumed in the US every 30 seconds, for instance, become the individual dots of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. ‘There’s a disconnect that happens when we assume we know what we’re talking about when we talk about hundreds of millions of plastic bottles,’ Jordan says. ‘I’m trying to translate these numbers from the deadening language of statistics into a visual language that allows some kind of comprehension.’”

Jordan’s work recently completed a showing (Running the Numbers) at the Pacific Science Center in January.

If you’re as captivated as we are by these images forged from contemporary life, see more of Chris Jordan’s work on his website for current work.

You might also wish to see this brief interview which appeared last December in Seattle Metropolitan Magazine.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm  Comments (1)  

The Consequences of Dropping Out

“Over their working lives, the average high school dropout will have a negative net fiscal contribution to society of nearly -$5,200 while the average high school graduate generates a positive lifetime net fiscal contribution of $287,000. The average high school dropout will cost taxpayers over $292,000 in lower tax revenues, higher cash and in-kind transfer costs, and imposed incarceration costs relative to an average high school graduate.”

— Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University

As we approach the end of another school year, anyone with a child, relative or friend who is thinking about dropping out should familiarize themselves with a sixteen page study from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, The Consequences of Dropping Out of High School.

In Consequences, the CLMS identifies “a series of employment, earnings, income, and social difficulties faced by the nation’s young adults lacking regular high school diplomas or their equivalent. These social and incarceration problems of young dropouts are quite severe among all gender and race-ethnic groups but are frequently more severe among men and Blacks. For many dropouts, these labor market and earnings problems will persist over their entire working lives, and for men they have intensified over the past few decades, with steep declines in their lifetime earnings and incomes and attendant adverse consequences on their marriage behavior.” The evidence is clear, substantial and convincing.

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 2:51 pm  Leave a Comment