Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Historical Figures: Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm (November 30, 1924 - January 1, 2005)

Shirley Chisholm was born Shirley Anita St. Hill on November 30, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York to immigrant parents. Her father, Charles Christopher St. Hill, was born in British Guiana while her mother, Ruby Seale, was born in Barbados. An alumna of Girls High School in Brooklyn, Chisholm graduated with a B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1946 and an M.A. in elementary education from Columbia University in 1952. She was first elected to the New York State Legislature in 1964. In 1968, Chisholm ran for the House of Representatives as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District. She was elected and became the first black woman elected to Congress. Chisholm later joined the Congressional Black Caucus as one of its founding members. 

In 1972, Chisholm made a bid for the Democratic party's presidential nomination. During the campaign, she survived 3 assassination attempts. Despite winning 28 delegate votes, George McGovern won the Democratic primary in a contested set of primary elections. Her support base was ethnically diverse and included the National Organization for Women (NOW), Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. 

From 1977 to 1981, Chisholm was elected to a position in the House Democratic leadership as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus. Throughout her tenure in Congress, she worked to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She was a vocal opponent of the draft and supported increased spending for education, health care, and decreased military spending. After many years in Congress, Chisholm retired in 1982. After retiring, she taught politics and women's studies and was named the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College from 1983 to 1987. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Chisholm retired to Florida and passed away on January 1, 2005. 

"When I die, I want to be remembered as a woman who lived in the twentieth century and who dared to be a catalyst for change. I don't want be remembered as the first black woman who went to Congress, and I don't even want to be remembered as the first woman who happen to be black to make a bid for the presidency. I want to be remembered as a woman who fought for change in the twentieth century. That's what I want."

-Shirley Chisholm

Autobiographical Writings
Unbought and Unbossed (1970)
The Good Fight (1973)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This Day in History...

-The Indian Removal Act is passed by Congress; Andrew Jackson signs it into law 2 days later, 1830

-Russia and the United Kingdom sign the Treaty of Gandamak establishing an Afghan state, 1879

-The novel Dracula is published, 1897

-Miles Davis, American jazz trumpeter and composer, born, 1926

-British Guiana gains its independence becoming Guyana, 1966

-Terry Nichols is convicted of 161 state murder charges in connection with the Oklahoma City Bombing, 2004

-Holiday: National Sorry Day (Australia)

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Power of Low Expectations

An interesting psychological study published by Wood, Kaplan and McLoyd (2007) raised an interesting point about the power of expectations as it relates to academic achievement. Research has indicated that for African Americans, parental education-related expectations predict their children's own expectations even when controlling for academic achievement. The messages that African American parents convey to their children and the perception of these messages influence the child's future education orientation (Kerpelman,  Eryigit, & Stephens, 2008). Based in part on the idea that parental expectations are linked to youth expectations and that African Americans perceive more barriers for males than females, the researchers hypothesized that African American parents held lower expectations for the future attainment of sons compared to daughters. As a result of these lower expectations, Wood, Kaplan and McLoyd (2007) expected that African American males would hold lower expectations for their educational attainment than females. The study consisted of African American children ranging in age from 6 to 16 with a median age of 12.3 years. Parental expectations were based on the question "how far do you actually think your child will go in school?"

The results showed that African American parents did tend to hold lower expectations for the future educational attainment of their sons compared to their daughters. Parents expected 47% of males but 61% of females to complete college or beyond. As a result, males between the ages of 9 and 16 reported lower expectations for themselves than did females. Similarly, African American males were less sure that they would attend and complete college than females. The researchers found that the link between the youths' gender and self-expectations were fully mediated by parental expectations. Interestingly, they also found that the gender gap in expectation did not increase as a function of age; nine- and ten-year-old African American males already had lower expectations than females. Gender differences in expectations were most pronounced at the lowest income levels. These factors likely contribute to the finding that a significant number of African American males disidentify with education earlier and more often than their female counterparts. While teachers are indeed an important part of the educational process, parents seem to be the more important factor affecting academic achievement. It is imperative that parents become and remain involved in the education of their children (of both genders) in order to avoid the negative outcomes associated with poor achievement.


Kerpelman, J. L., Eryigit, S., & Stephens, C. J. (2007). African American adolescents’ future education orientation: associations with self-efficacy, ethnic identity, and perceived parental support. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 37, 997-1008. 
Wood, D., Kaplan, R., & McLoyd, V. C. (2007). Gender differences in the educational expectations of urban, low-income African American Youth: The role of Parents and the School. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 417-427.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Women Surpass Men in Advanced Degrees

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, for the first time women have surpassed men in obtaining both bachelor's and advanced degrees. It was suggested that a combination of factors including women's increased enrollment in colleges in the 1980s and a steady decline in stay-at-home mothers has contributed to the current demographics of higher education. Specifically, among women 25 and older, 10.6 million women have a master's degree or higher compared to 10.5 million men. Women do still lag behind men in business, science and engineering degrees. In terms of undergraduate degrees however, 20.1 million women have a bachelor's degree compared to 18.7 million men; women first surpassed men in this area in 1996.

When one looks specifically at African Americans, the gap between men and women is much more striking. While 56% of African American females nationally graduate from high school, only 42% of their male counterparts graduate. In some states, only 29% of African American males receive a high school diploma. Due to this gender gap in high school graduation rates, women receive advanced degrees at high rates than men. African American women receive 63% of bachelor's degrees, 67% of master's and 60% of doctoral degrees received by African Americans. 

Other statistics:
-Hispanic women are 1.5 times more likely to receive an associate's, bachelor's and master's degree than a  Hispanic male.
-In 1977-78, Asian men were 1.1 times more likely to receive a bachelor's degree than an Asian female. By 1999-2000, Asian women were 1.2 times more likely to receive a bachelor's.
-In 1977-78, 101 white women received master's per 100 white men. By 1999-2000, 151  white women per 100 white men receive master's
-The number of African American women receiving associate's degrees has increased dramatically; Per 100 African American men, it was 142 women in the 1970s, 169 in the 1980s and 188 in the late 1990s

The gender gap in educational attainment has led to a number of books about a potential crisis facing males in schools. Some of these books include The Trouble with Boys... by Peg Tyre and Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Growing the Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax. While the 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of feminism and women's rights, the tide has turned to helping boys succeed given the current statistics. The current economic climate requires at least a high school degree, but more likely a college degree in to obtain a job so it is paramount that the reasons that males become disengaged with the academic environment are pinpointed and specifically targeted. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Children without 'Forever' Homes

Currently, there are over 400,00 children in the United States foster care system. Each year more children become available for adoption than are adopted. For example, in 2009 over 69,000 children were up for adoption but only 57,000 were adopted. According to a November 2010 article at SFGate.com, children often wait 3 or more years to be adopted, move 3 or more times in foster care and are often separated from siblings. While the average age of a 'waiting' child is 8 years old, approximately 20,000 young people leave the foster care system each year without an adoptive family.

While in foster care, youth receive services such as food, housing, transportation and medical care. If not adopted by age 18, a young person in foster care "ages out" of the system and loses all of his or her foster care services. Many are left to fend for themselves without any support. Likely due in part to a lack of support, people who age out of the foster care system are more likely to experience negative outcomes.

  • 84.8% do not have a high school diploma or GED
  • 22% are homeless
  • 33.2% are below the poverty line
  • 25% are involved in crime
  • 54.4% have behavioral/emotional issues, school problems and mental and physical health issues
  • 50% experience early pregnancy
  • Only 33 percent have health insurance
  • Only 20% complete college
*Statistics take from:  http://cle.osu.edu/lwc-publications/youth-information-briefs/downloads/Youth-Aging-Out-of-Foster-Care.pdf

Because of the high rates of negative outcomes more needs to be done to ensure that young people who have been in the foster care system do not fall through the cracks. If this issue is ignored, the United States will continue to have a population of people with little opportunity for success. 

This Day in History: May 19

-Anne Boleyn is beheaded for adultery, treason and incest, 1536

-Mexico ratifies the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ending the Mexican American War and ceding California, Nevada, Utah and parts of 4 other modern day states to the United States for $15 million, 1848

-Mustafa Kemal Ataturk lands at Samsun on the Anatolian Black Sea initiating what is later termed the Turkish War of Independence and the Greek Genocide, 1919

-The U.S. Congress ratifies the Emergency Quota Act establishing national quotas on immigration, 1921

-Malcolm X born, 1925

-Mars 2 is launched by the Soviet Union, 1971

-Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis dies, 1994

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CCD and What it Means for the Honey Bee

What is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD)?

Colony collapse disorder: (n.) a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or European honey bee colony disappear. 
  • Term was applied in 2006 to the drastic decrease in honey bee colonies in North America
  • Similar phenomenon observed in Belgium, France, Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain 
  • Significant because many agricultural crops worldwide are pollinated by bees
  • Presence of capped brood (unhatched bees) in abandoned colonies. Bees will normally not abandon a colony until the capped brood have all hatched
  • Presence of food store, both honey and bee pollen not immediately robbed by other bees and when attacked by hive pests, the attack is noticeably delayed
  • Presence of the queen. If the queen bee is not present, the hive died because it was queenless which is inconsistent with CCD
  • Insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
  • Workforce made up of young adult bees
  • The colony members are reluctant to consume provided feed such as sugar syrup

Between 1972 and 2006, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of feral or wild bees as well as a steady decline in the number of colonies maintained by beekeepers. Factors contributing to this decline include urbanization, pesticide use, tracheal and Varroa mites and the retirement or going out of business of many commercial bee keepers. Many researchers and bee keepers specifically believe that the introduction of systemic neonicotinoid pesticides in 1994 are the catalyst for the decline in honey bees. Neonicotinoid pesticides are absorbed into every part of the plant, including the root, stems, leaves and pollen. When bees pollinate, they unfortunately carry these harmful pesticides back to their hive which then decimates the colony.

While bee losses remained stable throughout 1990s averaging about 17-20% per year, bee keepers were reporting losses of about 30-90% of their colonies by 2007. In some instances, losses were so severe that the weakened surviving colonies were no longer able to pollinate or produce honey. In 2010, the USDA reported overall honey bee losses were an estimated 34% which was similar to losses in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The United States alone has seen its honey bee population decrease to 2.44 million down from 4.5 million in 1980 and 5.9 million in 1947.

Why Should We Should Care?
Honey bees are essential to the pollination of a number of important crops. For example, in 2000, the total U.S. crop value that was completely dependent on honey bee pollination exceeded $15 billion. Honey bees are primarily responsible for the pollination of one third of the United States' crop species including:
  • Almonds
  • Peaches
  • Soybeans
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Cherries
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Blackberries
  • Watermelons
  • Cantaloupes
  • Cucumbers
  • Strawberries
Many of these crops can be pollinated by other insects in small holdings in the United States, but usually not on the commercial scale. Beehives can be moved from crop to crop as needed compensating via saturation pollination for what they lack in efficiency. Therefore, the commercial viability of these crops is strongly tied to the bee keeping industry. So why should we care? Without a thriving bee population, produce prices could increase substantially and the food industry could lose billions of dollars. Therefore, we should care because a declining honey bee population, could spell disaster for the sustainability of many U.S. crops and could have a deleterious effect on the ecosystem.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

School Absences a (Major) Factor

Despite being one of the top states in terms of education, Massachusetts still has many communities with schools in serious need of improvement. Below is MCAS related data from six of the lowest performing communities in the state. Percentages are the combined 'needs improvement' and 'fail' rates for each section on the 2010 MCAS.

 Brockton Chelsea Holyoke Lawrence Lowell Lynn

There are many factors contributing the low scores of these communities. The most significant common denominator is the poverty rate. In these communities, the proportion of children (under 18) living under the poverty line ranges from 19.4% to 41.7%. As a direct result, the low income populations in the schools systems is as much as 87.3%. Additional factors include large English language learner (ELL) and limited English proficiency populations. Seventy-seven percent of Lawrence's school population, for example, is ELL. Poverty and language barriers are serious challenges that the listed communities must face in attempting to meet the standards set by No Child Left Behind. 

While communities like Holyoke and Chelsea struggle, there are many Massachusetts cities whose school systems are excelling in terms of standardized testing. Below are the combined 'needs improvement' and 'fail' rates on the 2010 MCAS  from five of the highest performing communities in Massachusetts. 

 Andover Concord Sudbury Wellesley Weston

The most evident difference between the high and the low performing communities is socioeconomic status. The poverty rate for people under 18 in these communities is under 4 percent as the median income for families is between $135,000 to $200,000. Also, the ELL population for the high performing communities is under 9 percent and is as low as 2.4 percent in Sudbury. 

Many have considered the role of SES and language barriers in academic success; these factors have, at times, dominated discussions around education reform. What has not been discussed as a potential solution to low academic achievement is increasing overall school engagement, but more importantly increasing school attendance. There is a camp who does not believe that factors such SES do not have bearing on teachers' ability to effectively teach. What about school absence? 

Good versus bad teachers aside, if students do not actually attend school it does not matter how "effective" their teacher is. Make up work can be given, but students who miss excessive days or hours of schooling lose out on the instruction time that goes with each lesson. As a result, certain gaps in knowledge would lead to failed tests and poor grades and standardized test scores. A significant difference between schools that do well and schools that do not is the average number of days that their students miss. Below is a comparison of average schools absences between the high and low performing communities. 

CityAvg. AbsencesCityAvg. Absences

From this we see that students in the lower performing communities miss more days of school on average than students in high performing communities. If we were to look only at high school, the data would be much worse. Students at Holyoke High School for instance tend to miss almost 20 days of school per year while students at Wellesley High miss seven. 

A high priority for school systems, parents and students should be finding a way to decrease the number of school days missed. Potential ways to do this could include providing mental and physical health services within the school, increasing parental involvement, and enforcing stricter penalties for missing excessive class time. Teachers and principals cannot control whether a student comes to school, so schools systems could look to the city and state for assistance with their school attendance policies. The low academic achievement of students in low income communities is complex but there are aspects of the issue that can be specifically targeted. While missing school due to illness is understandable, schools and parents should seek to decrease the number of unnecessary school absences to ensure that students receive as much instructional time possible. This is essential to increasing academic success.

**All data take from www.doe.mass.edu

Thursday, May 12, 2011

American Gems: Itasca State Park

Itasca State Park, located in northern Minnesota, was established on April 20, 1891 making it the state's oldest state park and the second oldest in the United States (behind Niagra Falls). It covers more than 32,000 acres, contains 100 lakes and is home to 141 bird and 53 mammal species. Itasca State Park is also known for being the site of the source of the Mississippi River. It was named a National Natural Landmark in 1965 and to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. As a result, about 500,000 people visit Itasca State Park annually. A visit to this American gem could include seeing the Itasca Indian Cemetary or exploring the 2,000 acre Wilderness Sanctuary. Boating, biking, hunting, and camping are also great options. With all of the negativity going on within the U.S., it's always great to celebrate the beauty that does exist in this country.

For more information about Itasca State Park, please see: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/itasca/index.html

This Day in History...

 -National University of San Marcos, the oldest university in the Americas, is founded in Lima, Peru, 1551

-Tunisia becomes a French protectorate, 1881

- 1,500 Jews are sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz, 1942

-Erik Erikson, German psychoanalyst, dies, 1994

-Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter arrives in Cuba for a 5 day visit with Fidel Castro making him the first president in or out of office to visit the country since the 1959 revolution, 2002

-U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducts the largest ever raid of a workplace and arrests 400 undocumented workers for identity theft and document fraud, 2008

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Failing in Mental Health Access

According to the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI; www.nami.org), the United States' mental health care system is abysmal, currently receiving a D grade. Mental health care refers to both inpatient and outpatient psychiatric services as well as partial or day programs. For the Grading the States report (2009), the grading of the U.S. and individual states was based on four key categories: Health Promotion and Measurement, Financing and Core Treatment/Recovery Services, Consumer and Family Empowerment, and Community Integration/Social Inclusion. Below is an description of each category:

  • Health Promotion and Measurement: Number of programs delivering evidence based practice, emergency room wait times and quantity of psychiatric beds by setting
  • Financing Core Treatment/Recovery Services: Includes whether Medicaid reimburses providers for all or part of evidence based treatment
  • Consumer & Family Empowerment: Consumer/family access to information from the state, family/peer education & support, promotion of consumer-run programs
  • Community Integration/Social Inclusion: Includes activities that require collaboration among state mental health agencies and other state agencies and systems

Unfortunately as the need for mental health services is increasing nationwide, especially in light of the economic downturn, state budget cuts are actually decreasing access to necessary psychological care. This has no doubt resulted in the poor quality of the U.S. mental health system. Individually, some states are doing better than others; Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and Oklahoma each received a B grade. Connecticut was the only one of these states to receive an A grade in any category; the state received top marks in the area of Consumer and Family Empowerment. The category that even the top states struggled with was Community Integration and Social Inclusion, a category in which 5 of the 6 states received a C grade. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the states that received failing (F) grades were South Dakota, Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi. In terms of individual categories, Mississippi was the only of these states to receive a grade higher than a D which was received in the Consumer and Family Empowerment category (with a C grade). Florida and Texas, two of the most populated states, received D grades overall. Recommendations for states with poor mental health systems included expanding crisis stabilization, services for veterans and the homeless, creating dual diagnosis programs, and establishing alternatives to inpatient hospitalization that do not include jail.

From this report one can surmise that large segments of the population either do not have access to or are not receiving adequate mental health care. This is especially problematic as the World Health Organization reports that major depressive illness will be the leading cause for disability for women and children by the year 2020 (www.nami.org). Additionally, NAMI reports that without treatment, the consequences of mental illness for both the individual and society include unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and wasted lives. It is estimated that untreated mental illness also costs the United States $100 billion annually.  The impact of mental illness on children in particular has important implications for education reform in terms of its effect on academic achievement and future educational attainment. While some states are attempting to make improvements to mental health access, more needs to be done nationally to ensure that those with mental illness can receive any and all required services.

For more information regarding the Grading the States (2009) report, please see www.nami.org

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This Day in History: May 4

 -The United States begins construction of the Panama Canal, 1904

-May Fourth Movement: Student demonstrations take place in Tiananmen Square (China) protesting the Treaty of Versailles which transferred Chinese territory to Japan, 1919

-The first Grammy Awards are held, 1959

-The 'Freedom Riders' begin a bus trip through the South, 1961

-Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1979

-Former White House aide Oliver North is convicted of three crimes and acquitted of nine other charges related to the Iran-Contra Affair, 1989

-Ken Livingston becomes the first mayor of London, 2000

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

For Many, Mental Health Needs Left Unmet

A recent phone call from a counselor who stated that the parents of her student would not get their suicidal child help due to financial constraints reminded me that for many in the U.S. mental health services are still not easily accessible because of the associated costs. This is especially disheartening given that the need for such services is increasing, not decreasing. Here are some the latest statistics from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org):

  • An estimated 19 million Americans suffer from depression
  • Approximately 2 million people suffer from bipolar disorder
  • About 3 million people suffer from schizophrenia
  • More than 34,000 Americans die by suicide every year; suicide is the country's 11th leading cause of death
  • Every 15 minutes someone commits suicide
  • More than 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric illness at the time of their death (most often depression)
As has been discussed previously, there are may barriers to care, one of the most significant likely being the cost. The AFSP reports that depressive illnesses cost approximately $30 - 44 billion each year.  Schizophrenia costs the nation about $48 billion annually. It is likely in part because the high costs of mental health care, that only 1 in 3 depressed people seeks help.

Still, there are many other factors that one needs to consider in regard to this issue. Children often do not have a choice in whether or not to seek mental health services. Providers require parental consent in order to counsel children, so unless the child is clearly a danger to himself or others there's little that can be done to intervene if the parents or guardians refuse psychiatric treatment. Additionally, there are many cultures in which seeking therapy or medication is even more stigmatized than what we already tend to see in American society. It has been noted that African Americans tend to seek mental health services less than their Caucasian counterparts. Certain psychiatric illnesses, such as eating disorders, have, at times, been associated with white people by some minority group members adding another layer of stigma to the disease. Any combination of factors (problematic parents, stigma, financial constraints) unfortunately results in people who need help not seeking it. So for many both within the United States and abroad, specific and, for the most part, treatable mental illnesses are not being addressed to the detriment of the afflicted person and his/her family.