Tuesday, October 17, 2017

“I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I love teaching, but this isn't teaching”

“…After 22 years, I don't know if I have it in me anymore. I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I love teaching, but this isn't teaching. Everything I am required to do is about preparing my students for ‘the test.’ I spend all day, every day, ramming test prep down my students' throats. Then I do what seems like 8,000 reams of paperwork each week to prove that I'm ramming test prep down my students' throats. There is no joy in this for them. I see their blank faces with eyes glazed over. There is no fun or excitement in learning, for they are not really learning.
“This past weekend, I spent literally every waking hour working and taking breaks only to do laundry and prepare food for my son. I wrote my lesson plans with all of the required ‘non-negotiables’ included and explained. I examined my data to make decisions about what skills might need some re-teaching and what skills could be practiced and reinforced in centers. I dutifully created my differentiated centers and made them rigorous (a term that has no business in education). I printed off copies of things on my own printer, using my own ink and paper because we only get 1000 copies per month. I laminated, cut, and put things in folders to make sure I was all ready for today.
Then, in the middle of my ELA block this morning, my principal walked in to do a walk-through. Apparently, this go round was focused on centers because she asked to see mine as she did for all of my teammates, I later learned. Well, I figured this one would be easy after everything I did over the weekend. She looked at them, asked me a couple of questions, and left. My observation notification came through after school. Imagine my surprise when I received a Basic for Danielson Domain 1e: Designing Coherent instruction.
“My principal's only comment: ‘While it's good to see differentiated centers there needs to be paired texts and writing in your centers.’ Make no mistake, I am open to criticism, especially when criticism is constructive and valid. This, however, is neither constructive nor valid. This is about playing a game. This is about making up a fault that isn't included in the rubric when you can't find one that is. This is about making sure that teachers don't get too many points so we can keep those merit-based raises to a minimum.
“This is what education has become. It's a game; it's inauthentic; it's draining. They're putting out the fire that has blazed inside of me. They're destroying my soul and my passion. I don't know what to do now. I am a teacher. I will always be a teacher. I love teaching, but this isn't teaching.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Alzheimer's Falsehoods v. Facts

Top of Form
Myth 1: Memory loss is a natural part of aging.

Reality: As people age, it's normal to have occasional memory problems, such as forgetting the name of a person you've recently met. However, Alzheimer's is more than occasional memory loss. It's a disease that causes brain cells to malfunction and ultimately die. When this happens, an individual may forget the name of a longtime friend or what roads to take to return to a home they've lived in for decades.

It can be difficult to tell normal memory problems from memory problems that should be a cause for concern. The Alzheimer's Association has developed information to help you tell the difference. If you or a loved one has memory problems or other problems with thinking and learning that concern you, contact a physician. Sometimes the problems are caused by medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies or other conditions and can be reversed with treatment. The memory and thinking problems may also be caused by another type of dementia.

Myth 2: Alzheimer’s disease is not fatal.

Reality: Alzheimer's disease has no survivors. It destroys brain cells and causes memory changes, erratic behaviors and loss of body functions. It slowly and painfully takes away a person's identity, ability to connect with others, think, eat, talk, walk and find his or her way home.

Myth 3: Only older people can get Alzheimer's.

Reality: Alzheimer's can strike people in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. This is called younger-onset Alzheimer's. It is estimated that there are more than 5 million people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the United States. This includes 5.2 million people age 65 and older and 200,000 people younger than age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Myth 4: Drinking out of aluminum cans or cooking in aluminum pots and pans can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Reality: During the 1960s and 1970s, aluminum emerged as a possible suspect in Alzheimer’s. This suspicion led to concern about exposure to aluminum through everyday sources such as pots and pans, beverage cans, antacids and antiperspirants. Since then, studies have failed to confirm any role for aluminum in causing Alzheimer’s. Experts today focus on other areas of research, and few believe that everyday sources of aluminum pose any threat.
Myth 5: Aspartame causes memory loss.

Reality: This artificial sweetener, marketed under such brand names as Nutrasweet and Equal, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in all foods and beverages in 1996. Since approval, concerns about aspartame's health effects have been raised.

According to the FDA, as of May 2006, the agency had not been presented with any scientific evidence that would lead to change its conclusions on the safety of aspartame for most people. The agency says its conclusions are based on more than 100 laboratory and clinical studies. Read the May 2006 FDA statement about aspartame.

Myth 6: Flu shots increase risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Reality: A theory linking flu shots to a greatly increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease has been proposed by a U.S. doctor whose license was suspended by the South Carolina Board of Medical Examiners. Several mainstream studies link flu shots and other vaccinations to a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease and overall better health.

Myth 7: Silver dental fillings increase risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Reality: According to the best available scientific evidence, there is no relationship between silver dental fillings and Alzheimer's. The concern that there could be a link arose because "silver" fillings are made of an amalgam (mixture) that typically contains about 50 percent mercury, 35 percent silver and 15 percent tin. Mercury is a heavy metal that, in certain forms, is known to be toxic to the brain and other organs.

Many scientists consider the studies below compelling evidence that dental amalgam is not a major risk factor for Alzheimer's. Public health agencies, including the FDA, the U.S. Public Health Service and the World Health Organization, endorse the continued use of amalgam as safe, strong, inexpensive material for dental restorations.

Myth 8: There are treatments available to stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Reality: At this time, there is no treatment to cure, delay or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. FDA-approved drugs temporarily slow worsening of symptoms for about 6 to 12 months, on average, for about half of the individuals who take them.

Friday, September 29, 2017

How to keep your online accounts safe (from Fidelity Investments)

How to keep your online accounts safe:

·         Understanding the many forms of cybercrime may allow you to better defend yourself.
·         Use two-factor authentication for all online financial accounts.
·         Maintain updated industry-standard operating systems and software.
·         Do not use public Wi-Fi for your finances or other sensitive items.

You've likely spent a good deal of time thinking about investment risk. But have you stopped to think about more personal security issues, such as the safety of your online financial transactions and information stored on your computers? 

While most people recognize that online fraud or cyber crime is a potential threat, few know how or why they may be at risk. Cyber crime can take many forms, and understanding who the enemies are and how they commit crimes may allow you to better defend yourself.

Economic cyber criminals pose the greatest online risk to your family's personal financial data and assets. Make no mistake, many of these thieves are highly skilled and sophisticated. They may be individuals or coordinated groups that use technology to steal. For most of us, cyber crime can best be described as an extension of traditional criminal activity focused on personal financial data and monetary theft.

How do cybercriminals operate? Indiscriminate targeting:

In some cases, cybercriminals cast a wide net with "phishing" scams, among others, and hope the sheer quantity of potential victims will yield sufficient economic benefit.

Specific victim targeting:

A growing and more concerning trend is the specific targeting of high-net-worth individuals. In many of these cases, criminals spend a great deal of time and effort identifying a worthwhile target and then developing a victim profile based on public and private information—such as property records, credit information obtained via hacking, and posted details on social networks—with the goal of stealing assets from financial accounts.

Although the actual criminal act can take several forms, the basic steps are often similar. Below is a relatively common scenario:

·         Step 1: The thief sends an email with a link or attachment to the victim that appears to come from a known party. The targeted victim then clicks the link or attachment, which includes malicious software (malware) that infects the victim's computer.
·         Step 2: The thief uses installed malware to steal login credentials to the victim's financial accounts. This will generally allow the thief to log in as the victim.
·         Step 3: With access to accounts, the thief changes the victim's profile at the financial institution and/or impersonates the victim and moves money to criminal accounts at a different institution.

That's the bad news. The good news is that with some simple steps, you can improve your defenses and reduce your vulnerability to this type of crime.

Steps you can take to help keep your online accounts safe:

1. Use two-factor authentication and strong passwords. Treat your computing devices as you would your front door—restrict access and use tough security measures. Passwords are the keys to your online financial information. If cyber criminals find them, they can unlock the doors to your bank accounts, investment accounts, and personal information. Unfortunately, a significant amount of malicious software trolls the Internet looking specifically for account IDs and passwords. With an inadvertent click on what appears to be a legitimate link or the opening of an attachment designed to look legitimate, software can be loaded on your machine and be ready to take your "keys."

Go for two:

Adding an additional layer of security when you access your accounts, called two-factor authentication, is a strong defense against this type of attack. Fidelity and many other financial firms now offer two-factor authentication. It requires you to enter a unique security code, randomly generated and sent to your phone or other mobile device, in addition to your standard login. While not completely foolproof, two-factor authentication raises the bar for cyber attackers trying to access your accounts. You might also consider it for nonfinancial sites—Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter all offer two-step authentication options.

Go long and stay strong:

You've probably heard this before, but it bears repeating: Never use names, birth dates, Social Security numbers, or any personally identifiable letters or numbers as your password. Use a different password for every application and change them often. What constitutes a good password? The most important factor is length (at least 12 to 14 characters is best), but complexity also makes passwords more unique. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters and stay away from dictionary words or common combinations of words. It's also best to avoid common substitutions within words, like replacing the letter "o" with a zero. It's just too obvious. A string of uncorrelated words with numbers and special characters is best. Importantly, when selecting a password, don't rely on free password strength checkers—they often miss the mark.

Install a password manager:

These days, most of us have dozens of passwords covering multiple devices and everything from social media to subscription services, e-commerce, banking, and Wi-Fi. Remembering all these passwords and changing them frequently just isn't sustainable. Fortunately, there's an app for that. Password manager apps generate and store all your passwords in a secure environment. They'll even auto-fill login information for stored sites. Many now sync your passwords across all your devices and automatically generate new ones on a regular schedule. The cost of state-of-the-art password managers is negligible—especially when compared with the convenience and security they provide.

2. Install industry-standard systems and software, keep them up to date, and perform regular backups. One of the smartest things you can do to keep your financial information safe is to use modern, industry-standard operating systems and keep them up to date. Credible vendors have teams of cybersecurity specialists dedicated to fixing vulnerabilities in their current systems, and they are always on the lookout for new ways cybercriminals can hack into their products to access users' computer files or install malicious software.

Updating your systems is easier than it used to be:

Today, most operating systems let you set your update preferences to automatically install patches as soon as they are available. That goes for software too, including anti-virus protection. Don't forget to update your mobile phones and tablets, and the apps installed on them. You can set update preferences to do this automatically, but many devices need to be plugged in to your computer for a complete upgrade. It's a good idea to connect your mobile devices to your computer at least once a week so these updates can be downloaded and installed properly.

You can never have too much backup:

Backing up your data is good system hygiene. It prevents your information from being lost forever and immunizes you from ransomware attacks. In this increasingly common scheme, criminals lure you into clicking an email link that downloads malware and blocks your access to the computer. The perpetrators can hold your hard drive hostage, demanding a hefty ransom to unblock it. If your system data is backed up elsewhere, it eliminates any leverage the scammers have, neutralizing their threats.

Backups are most effective when done in a continuous, real-time environment. Savvy users employ redundant methods—typically a USB-connected external storage device in tandem with an encrypted cloud-based service. External storage offers more immediate data retrieval, while cloud-based services can store much more data. Also, in the event of a flood or fire, both the computer and external storage device may be lost, but offsite backups to a cloud-based service would be safe.

Don't forget to include mobile devices in regular backups. This can be done via a cloud-based service, but a full backup may require connecting to a computer. By syncing up your photos and home movies to your computer, they will then be included in regularly scheduled backups, keeping them secure.

3. Use caution when linking to financial accounts or e-commerce sites through email. Cybercriminals are getting smarter about making their phishy emails look legitimate. These emails mimic those of financial institutions, complete with logos and convincing signature lines. Searching Google and social media sites makes it easy to personalize these emails with your name and subject lines like "Your recent transaction with us." All of this is designed to lower your guard so you'll be more apt to click a link to a fraudulent version of your provider's website. This allows the scammers to download malicious software onto your computer or gain access to your passwords and usernames.

The best offense is a good defense:

Use caution when linking to your financial institution via email. Instead, go directly to your provider's website by using a link you've saved in your "Favorites" menu. That way, you'll be sure you arrive at a legitimate website. Always look for the "https" prefix in the site's address. This indicates that the connection to the site is encrypted to protect your sensitive data from prying eyes.

4. Always access your accounts from a secure Wi-Fi location. Your home Wi-Fi network comes with built-in security, but it's not foolproof. Your network provider supplies you with a router ID and password, but these are default settings. Cybercriminals know the defaults for major network providers. If you're using these settings, your "secure" home Wi-Fi network may not be as secure as you think.

When setting up your home network, consider changing the default network ID and passwords. Consider installing an Intrusion Detection or Intrusion Prevention system, as well as an applications-based firewall, to further secure your network.

The Internet of things:

Home networks now connect computers and smartphones to thermostats, TVs, refrigerators, and residential security systems. Each device is a potential weak spot in your Wi-Fi network. As your home becomes more dependent on the Internet, so does your exposure to a network breach.

Beware of public Wi-Fi:

Everyone loves free Wi-Fi, but unsecured public wireless access points are easy to intercept, providing an opportunity for attackers to snoop on your online activity. A safer alternative is to use only secure Wi-Fi networks. If you use your laptop or mobile devices while traveling, purchase a subscription to a paid hotspot provider in which the networks are password protected and have additional levels of security.

5. Consider using a dedicated device for online banking. One of the best ways to secure your online financial information is to dedicate one device exclusively for banking and financial use. Many cyberattacks come from malware installed while you're web surfing and reading emails. Eliminating those activities from a dedicated banking computer goes a long way toward keeping your financial information out of harm's way.

Help us help you:

A dedicated banking device also helps financial institutions keep your accounts secure. Most, including Fidelity, monitor client accounts for fraudulent logins from unauthorized computers and will alert you if there is suspicious activity in your account. When Fidelity surveyed client login patterns, we found many users logging in from multiple devices. One or two were common, but some clients routinely logged in from a seemingly random assortment of systems, making it difficult for an institution to distinguish a legitimate login from a fraudulent one. By using one device for all transactions, an illegitimate login stands out, and the institution will be able to move quickly to alert you and secure your account.

6. Understand your computing environment and consider whether you need help. If you have a complex computing environment, a comprehensive cyber-risk assessment may be an appropriate step in protecting your personal information. Individuals with complicated online footprints may consider contracting with a professional to implement and administer the recommended systems (e.g., intrusion prevention and detection, firewalls).

Because cyber threats evolve almost as fast as technology itself, consider retaining the firm to provide ongoing system surveillance, support, and maintenance. These services include everything from monitoring your home Internet traffic and blocking outside threats, to educating family members about smart social media practices, safe web surfing and e-commerce protocols.

A good risk assessment will be specific to each person and should consider questions like:

·         How many computers, mobile devices, tablets, TVs, home security systems, and appliances are connected to your home Wi-Fi network?
·         Are they shared across personal and home office use?
·         Do non-family members regularly in your home have access to your Wi-Fi network or computing devices?
·         What backup procedures are in place for each device?
·         Are you or other household members active on social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest?


No one wants to spend time thinking about all the bad things that can happen, but it's important to understand potential threats to your assets and take measures to eliminate them. When it comes to protecting your financial accounts from cyber threats, practicing good system hygiene and making a few changes in your user habits will significantly improve your online security. Clients can play a key role in helping Fidelity detect fraud. They can help us help them by maintaining a general awareness of their accounts, including staying alert to emails regarding password resets and account changes, and periodically logging in and checking for unusual transactions and activity.

Fidelity uses sophisticated security measures to protect our customers. We also make many additional security tools available for customers to utilize, including two-factor authentication and transaction alerts. Of course, we also provide a Customer Protection Guarantee for fraudulent activity. Make sure to visit Fidelity's online customer security site to explore some of these features, and learn more about what Fidelity is doing to help keep your assets safe.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Defined-Benefit Pension Plans and Teacher Retention from the National Institute on Retirement Security

“Pensions Improve Quality of U.S. Public Education System and Reduce Teacher Turnover. Magnetic Effect of Pensions Helped Retain 32,000 Teachers, Saved Up to $284 Million Nationally in Turnover Costs.

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 25, 2017 - A new research brief analyzing the effectiveness of defined benefit (DB) pensions on teacher retention and productivity finds that pensions play a critical role in recruiting and retaining highly productive teachers. As a result, pensions help increase schools' effectiveness, which benefits students. Additionally, DB pensions save school districts money by reducing expensive teacher turnover costs.

“These findings are contained in a new research brief from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), Revisiting the Three Rs of Teacher Retirement Systems: Recruitment, Retention and Retirement.
  • Download the research here.
  • Read a summary PowerPoint here.
“‘The reality we face is that the nation's schools continue to struggle with a growing shortage of teachers, and that teachers are paid on average as much as 60 percent less than similarly educated professionals across the globe,’ says Diane Oakley, NIRS executive director. ‘Pensions play an essential role in recruiting and retaining our best and most experienced teachers. It's critical that states continue to leverage the magnetic effect of pensions to help students achieve at their highest potential.’

“Recent NIRS research finds that public employees prefer pensions over 401(k)-type plans and that Americans strongly support teacher pensions to help address recruiting problems and the deep wage gap.

“The new research brief finds that:
  • Teacher effectiveness increases with experience. Thus, the more retention that we see among midcareer teachers, the more that the average productivity within a school will increase.
  • The cost of teacher turnover is quite high, both in terms of financial cost and loss of productivity to the school district.
  • Defined benefit pension plans help to recruit high quality teachers, and to retain highly productive teachers longer, as compared with defined contribution (DC) accounts.
  • In 2009, DB pensions helped to retain an additional 30,000 teachers nationwide. Because longer tenured teachers are more effective teachers, the increased retention that DB pensions bring increases the overall quality of public education.
  • Because the cost of teacher turnover is substantial, the retention effects of DB pension plans also save school districts money. In 2009, DB pensions saved school districts between $131 million and $284 million nationally in teacher turnover costs.

The National Institute on Retirement Security is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to contribute to informed policymaking by fostering a deep understanding of the value of retirement security to employees, employers and the economy as a whole. Located in Washington, D.C., NIRS' diverse membership includes financial services firms, employee benefit plans, trade associations, and other retirement service providers. More information is available at www.nirsonline.org. Follow NIRS on Twitter @nirsonline. Contact: Kelly Kenneally | kkenneally@nirsonline.org | 202.457.8190.”

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Down on One Knee

Section 1. Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly

Congress [or Donald Trump] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

According to Executive Director at Uptown People's Law Center, Alan Mills: “Trump calling for NFL players to be fired not only violates the First Amendment but violates Federal Statute 18 U.S. Code 227: ‘Wrongfully influencing a private entity's employment decisions by a member of Congress or an officer or employee of the legislative or executive branch.’”

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Good-Bye Princess of Madiganistan

It was not too long ago Lisa Madigan declared a financial emergency and attacked the state’s public employees and retirees. Madigan and other self-interested politicians insisted on cutting pensions as their solution for the state’s budget problems, instead of considering more comprehensive, legal and ethical strategies for addressing the state’s antiquated revenue system and unfunded liabilities the Illinois General Assembly had created.

Of course, there was never a threat to the “public’s safety, health, and morals as well as peace, well-being and order of the state”; nor was the State of Illinois dealing with an economic emergency of such magnitude that the state’s politicians were compelled to invoke such powers “to protect the state's citizens and serve a reasonable public purpose or need.” 

What Madigan and the Illinois General Assembly attempted to do, nevertheless, was violate the state’s pension and contract clauses, due process and equal protection rights, the right of eminent domain, and also provisions in the U.S. Constitution, such as the taking of property without due process of law and equal protection, and ex post facto law.

What Madigan and the Illinois General Assembly learned on May 8, 2015 was what many of us knew: the state's chronic underfunding of its public pension systems for decades cannot warrant the impairment or diminishment of public employees' pension benefits and rights, and Madigan and the Illinois General Assembly could not diminish a constitutionally-protected pension because the “Pension Protection Clause protects pension benefit rights in all pension plans as enforceable contractual rights when a public employee becomes a member of a pension system, and it bars the legislature from later unilaterally reducing those rights.”