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Court won’t halt funding reductions for online school

(AP) — The Boston Globe reports Sam Balto placed laminated cutouts of the player’s face on pedestrian crossing signs outside an elementary school in the city’s Roxbury neighborhood Wednesday.

Balto says he watched drivers speed through the 20-mph zone for months. The teacher used a speed radar monitor and posted the results on Twitter, clocking drivers between 30 and 56 mph.

Crosswalk posts were recently placed in the street near the school, but Balto says drivers would hit them and knock them over.

He placed the Brady images on the posts with the hope that people would slow down. And Balto says it “absolutely” worked.


Super big black hole from early universe farthest ever found

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Astronomers have discovered a super-size black hole harkening back to almost the dawn of creation.

It’s the farthest black hole ever found.

A team led by the Carnegie Observatories’ Eduardo Banados reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday that the black hole lies in a quasar dating to 690 million years of the Big Bang. That means the light from this quasar has been traveling our way for more than 13 billion years.

Banados said the quasar provides a unique baby picture of the universe, when it was just 5 percent of its current age.

It would be like seeing photos of a 50-year-old man when he was 2 1/2 years old, according to Banados.

“This discovery opens up an exciting new window to understand the early universe,” he said in an email from Pasadena, California.

Quasars are incredibly bright objects deep in the cosmos, powered by black holes devouring everything around them. That makes them perfect candidates for unraveling the mysteries of the earliest cosmic times.

The black hole in this newest, most distant quasar is 800 million times the mass of our sun.

Much bigger black holes are out there, but none so far away — at least among those found so far. These larger black holes have had more time to grow in the hearts of galaxies since the Big Bang, compared with the young one just observed.

“The new quasar is itself one of the first galaxies, and yet it already harbors a behemoth black hole as massive as others in the present-day universe,” co-author Xiaohui Fan of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory said in a statement.

Around the time of this newest quasar, the universe was emerging from a so-called Dark Ages. Stars and galaxies were first appearing and their radiation ionizing the surrounding hydrogen gas to illuminate the cosmos.

Banados suspects there are more examples like this out there, between 20 and 100.

“The newfound quasar is so luminous and evolved that I would be surprised if this was the first quasar ever formed,” Banados said. “The universe is enormous and searching for these very rare objects is like looking for the needle in the haystack.”

Only one other quasar has been found in this ultra-distant category, despite extensive scanning. This newest quasar beats that previous record-holder by about 60 million years.

Still on the lookout, astronomers are uncertain how close they’ll get to the actual beginning of time, 13.8 billion years ago.

Banados and his team used the Carnegie’s Magellan telescopes in Chile, supported by observatories in Hawaii, the American Southwest and the French Alps.


Lawyers sue California because too many children can’t read

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A group of prominent lawyers representing teachers and students from poor performing schools sued California on Tuesday, arguing that the state has done nothing about a high number of schoolchildren who do not know how to read.

The advocacy law firm, Public Counsel, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court to demand the California Department of Education address its “literacy crisis.” The state has not followed suggestions from its own report on the problem five years ago, the lawsuit said.

“When it comes to literacy and the delivery of basic education, California is dragging down the nation,” said Public Counsel lawyer Mark Rosenbaum, who sued along with the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

Assessments found less than half of California students from third grade to fifth grade have met statewide literacy standards since 2015. Both traditional and charter schools are failing, Rosenbaum said.

Of the 26 lowest-performing districts in the nation, 11 are in California, according to the lawsuit. Texas, the largest state after California, has only one district among the 26.

Department of Education spokesman Bill Ainsworth said officials could not comment because the state had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

But he said in an email that “California has one of the most ambitious programs in the nation to serve low-income students.”

Ainsworth pointed to more than $10 billion annually in extra funds for English language learners, foster children and students from low-income families. Some 228 districts will get additional support next year to help struggling schools, including the three named in the lawsuit.

Among the plaintiffs are current and former teachers and students from three of California’s lowest performing schools: La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; Children of Promise Preparatory Academy, a charter school in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood; and Van Buren Elementary School, in the central California city of Stockton.

One of the plaintiffs is an 11-year-old student identified only as Katie T. When she completed fifth grade at La Salle, she was at the reading level of a student just starting third grade and was given no meaningful help, the lawsuit said.

State assessments found 96 percent of students at the school were not proficient in English or math, according to the lawsuit. Only eight of the school’s 179 students were found to be proficient when tested last year.

David Moch, another plaintiff, is a retired teacher who taught at La Salle for 18 years. Moch said he had fifth graders in his kindergarten class.

Teachers were not given training or help to deal with the situation and programs that did seem to make a dent were discontinued, Moch said.

“I chose to teach at La Salle because I wanted to help,” he said. “Every day I was there, I witnessed students’ lack of access to literacy.”

The plaintiffs want the state to create an accountability system to monitor literacy levels. They also seek screenings of reading levels at the beginning and middle of the school year for elementary school students and interventions based on programs proven to succeed.


Firefighters help rescue dog from tunnel dug by tortoise

CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) — A dog wouldn’t come out after chasing a cat into a tunnel dug by a giant tortoise in the back yard of a home in a Phoenix suburb, so homeowner Toby Passmore called for help.

Chandler firefighters responded Wednesday with people and shovels and, with the help of a city backhoe, began unearthing the 6-foot-deep tunnel dug by Passmore’s tortoise.

That allowed Passmore to squirm head-first into the hole and see that his Scottish Schnauzer “was willfully inside the hole” where it had cornered the cat.

With his ankles held by firefighters, Passmore was able to pull the dog out. It emerged dirty but unharmed.

The rescuers left the hole open to allow the cat to leave when it felt safe.


Court won’t halt funding reductions for online school

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court said on Wednesday it will not temporarily halt the state’s efforts to recoup $60 million from one of the nation’s largest online charter schools, which says it could soon be forced to close in the middle of the school year.

The state reduced monthly payments to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to start recouping money while ECOT challenges how the Ohio Department of Education tallied student logins to determine the school was overpaid.

ECOT has said it will run out of cash and close in early 2018 if the court doesn’t intervene, noting that it doesn’t have the “safety net” of local tax dollars that traditional public schools receive. The school said such a closure would affect almost 12,000 students and eliminate over 800 jobs.

The school’s request to expedite hearing the case or block the state from recouping funding in the meantime was denied by the court Wednesday without written explanation.

The state contends the virtual school didn’t sufficiently document student participation to justify its full funding. Ohio officials are seeking to get back $60 million from the 2015-16 school year and have said the e-school could owe nearly $20 million more from 2016-17, a finding that is under appeal.

But the school has argued that the state wrongly changed reporting criteria for recent years — an argument that was unsuccessful in lower courts. Several smaller e-schools have filed briefs in support of ECOT, which has said its case could have broader impact on Ohio’s online charter industry.

ECOT spokesman Neil Clark said the school and its students have been “unfairly targeted by ODE” and are awaiting their day at the Supreme Court.

“Once the court has an opportunity to consider the actual merits of the parties’ arguments, the justices will readily conclude ODE is unlawfully clawing back funds,” he said in an email Wednesday.

A message seeking comment was left for an attorney representing the Ohio Department of Education.

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