Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Scientific Publication for three high school students

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2018 at 4:05 PM

  • University of Arizona BioInformatics

Three high school students who were in summer internships with the UA Bioinformatics Laboratory will leave high school being published scientific authors.

Usually only college students and graduates have the opportunity to be co-authors in scientific published work, but Liam Wilson, Wesley Chiu and Minsu Pumarejo each were able to complete a summer data science internship in a bioinformatics lab in the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics at the University of Arizona.

click image Dr. Yves Lussier (left) pictured with high school intern Wesley Chiu (right). - UA NEWS
  • UA News
  • Dr. Yves Lussier (left) pictured with high school intern Wesley Chiu (right).
Dr. Yves Lussier, director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics and associate director of informatics at the BIO5 Institute, taught the three high school students in the bioinformatics lab. In just 48 hours, the interns were mentored on how to analyze medical studies and cross-reference their findings.

Wesley Chiu is a senior at Basis Tucson North High School and initially had an interest in biology. After the internship, Chiu said he learned more about databases, querying and their connection to the real world application.

"We have don't a lot of programing in class, but this has really opened my eyes to the possibility of integrating programming to solving problems affecting humanity right now," Chiu said.

Though the internship, the three students participated in a four year computational biology project that analyzed 'junk DNA,' an area of the DNA that does not produce proteins and where diseases can derive from. These regions of the DNA are still not completely understood and account for 97 percent of the human genome.

UA researchers analyzed the shared molecular mechanisms between diseases and found 398 new links among approximately 16,000 potential combinations.

The continuous work of Dr. Li and Dr. Lussier in this study has the potential to contribute new solutions of preventive and treatment plans for diseases, lowering healthcare costs and can decrease mortality rates for patients.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Hanging Up My Blogging Hat (Pretty Much, Anyway)

Posted By on Mon, Nov 19, 2018 at 12:20 PM

  • Courtesy of maxpixel

Maybe it's a case of blogger burnout. Maybe I've said my piece. Either way — probably both ways — I'm taking a break from blogging. Whether it's temporary or permanent, I can't say for sure.

Lately I haven't found myself rushing to the keyboard because "Damn it, this needs to be said!" I sidle over, sit down, write, rewrite, hem, haw, read a few emails, reorganize paragraphs, edit, re-edit. If I wanted to be a careful journalist, I would have signed up for that. Blogging is supposed to be more casual, spontaneous, conversational. If it's not flowing naturally, it's time to take a step back.

I started at Blog for Arizona in 2008 when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were going at it in the primaries. Six years later I moved here, to The Range. In both places I've worked without a net and without interference, which has been great, writing and headlining my work as I damn well pleased, even finding and creating my own graphics to put at the top of each post. But it's going on 11 years posting two, three, four times a week. That's a lot of words on a lot of topics.

I used to have a corner of Arizona education pretty much to myself. Not many people in the media were looking into charter schools, let alone cyber charter schools, vouchers or high stakes testing, on a regular basis. I often found myself plowing new ground.

That's changed over the past few years, for the better. More people in the media are peering inside the workings of our schools, our state funding mechanisms and the politics of education. Investigative journalists are digging into stories in more depth and detail than I have the energy and resources for. They're getting the word out to a wider audience than I reach, and often beating me to the punch (though less so here in Tucson, where in-depth coverage of education issues is still lacking). That's a good thing, as I said, but I like getting there first. Lately I've found myself in the role of commentator instead of the role I prefer, a holdover from my teaching years, the role of educator.

Editor Jim Nintzel left the door open for me to return to The Range on a regular or occasional basis. (Thanks Jim.) I'll find out whether I'm taking time off to recharge my batteries for another round of writing or I'm launching into a second retirement — from teaching in 2003, now from blogging 15 years later.

Either way, it's been good for me. Hope it's been good for you.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

So How Did That "Vote For Education" Thing Work Out?

Posted By on Thu, Nov 15, 2018 at 2:32 PM


It turned out to be a Democratic wave election, even if it didn't look that way the night of Nov. 6. It wasn't the tsunami some of us hoped for. It wasn't even a Waimea Bay wave with Democrats riding the barrel while the crest of the wave crashed down on Republicans' heads. It was one of those Southern California waves immortalized by the Beach Boys, a breaker just big enough to surf, then grab your board and strut over to talk with your friends about the ride.

It was a good wave, but not a great wave. Still, it beat hell out of being dragged out to sea in a Trump undertow.

How did education fare in the election? Again, it wasn't a major pro-education wave, but it was a wave nonetheless. It depends if you're a "wave half empty" or "wave half full" kind of educator, whether you're disappointed or pleased.

A good year for Democrats is a good year for the future of public education, period. But let's break the education picture down to the local, state and national levels.


The big local news is another one of those power shifts for the TUSD board. The voters clearly didn't want Michael Hicks on the board for another term. By his own admission, Hicks didn't much want Hicks on the board either. His seat went to top vote getter, Leila Counts, and Adelita Grijalva held onto her seat. Those two and Kristel Foster share similar educational values, so they're likely to vote together on most issues, a significant change from the Hicks, Mark Stegeman and Rachel Sedgwick majority. Counts brings experience in counseling and special education with her, which will add a valuable perspective to the board's discussions and decisions.

I'm happy with the new board makeup, even cautiously optimistic. It's possible Superintendent Trujillo, who doesn't draw enemy fire like the last two superintendents, will be able to work with the new board majority to effect positive change in TUSD. Here's hoping.

Continue reading »

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Monday, November 5, 2018

VoteVoteVoteVote! And Consider Education When You Do

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2018 at 4:14 PM


This is my final pitch, as the emails I got asking for more money the day before the election say. (More money? Really?)

Vote! I don't have to pitch that. If you've voted, great, if you haven't, do it Tuesday. However, voting for education can use some pitching, so let me give you a pitch based on personal experience.

I taught for over 30 years, high school English and a few other things (Photography, Yearbook). That means well over 3,000 students passed through my classroom doors. So I've been there, done that. I've been out of the game for quite some time, so I no longer have a dog in the hunt. I reap no personal rewards from your education-related vote.

Here are a few things I learned over the years beyond techniques and strategies that helped me become a better teacher. Money matters. Morale matters. Both will be improved by electing people who support public education.

Money Matters

Salaries matter. Salaries need to be in line with teachers' educational attainment and their importance to the community, and at least high enough teachers aren't frantic a week before the next payday. Nuff said.

Class size matters. My experience is, I can take in an entire class of 25 students, treat each student as an individual, pay attention to them and help them along when I think they need it. I can even remember the essence of what they wrote on their last few essays well enough to talk with them about their work without looking at their papers or my grade book. Add one more student above 25, and someone gets lost. Add 5 to 10 more, and students' individual outlines grow blurry. I start thinking, "I'm really glad those 3 [5, 10] kids are so quiet and don't need my attention so I can focus on everyone else," instead of, "I've got to make sure to get around to those quiet kids, make regular contact so they know I'm thinking about them and ready when they need something." As class size climbed beyond a reasonable number, my effectiveness diminished.

Lowering class sizes takes money. In a high school like the one where I taught with over 100 teachers, you need to add three teachers to lower everyone's class size by one student.

Continue reading »

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Friday, November 2, 2018

Being Jewish, Watching the Rise Of Antisemitism

Posted By on Fri, Nov 2, 2018 at 3:11 PM

  • Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally. Courtesy of wikimedia

It's not an especially brave act to proclaim, "I am a Jew." I belong to a privileged minority in the U.S. compared to most other minority groups. I have had no antisemitism worthy of the name directed at me in my lifetime. I have never had an opportunity taken away from me because of my religious/cultural identity. I have no personal complaints.

But we are at a moment where I feel the need to say the words, "I am a Jew," if for no other reason than to let myself know I am not afraid to say them aloud or in print. And yet, to be perfectly honest, one reason for saying the words is because, in the current climate, being Jewish doesn't worry me, but saying "I am a Jew" does, a little. That is precisely the time to talk about it.

We are seeing a frightening rise in antisemitism in this country. The latest incident I read about happened Thursday night. Standing alone, it would only be a shudder in the steady undercurrent of antisemitic hatred lurking beneath the surface in this country. But combined with the resurgence of antisemitic rhetoric and events which have been building since 2016 and have accelerated rapidly in the past weeks and months, it is a terrifying example of what could become regular occurrences.

Comedian Ilana Glazer scheduled a get-out-the-vote event at a Brooklyn synagogue Thursday night where she was going to interview a journalist and two Democratic state senate candidates. It was canceled because antisemitic graffiti was found on inside walls of the synagogue, including “Die Jew Rats,” “We are here,” “Hitler,” “Jew Better Be Ready” and “End it now."

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Arizona Supreme Court Joins Republicans' Zero Tolerance Policy for Citizen Initiatives

Posted By on Tue, Oct 30, 2018 at 9:50 AM

  • Courtesy of BigStock

It would be foolish of me to say with 100 percent certainty that the Arizona Supreme Court ruling against the "Invest in Education" initiative was politically motivated. I'm only 95 percent certain they wanted to knock the initiative off the ballot for political reasons — with a 5 percent margin of error.

The Supreme Court decision against Invest in Ed fits a little too neatly with the zero tolerance policy toward citizen initiatives enacted by the Republican majority legislature and signed by Governor Ducey to be a coincidence.

The legislature's zero policy law requires "strict compliance" with the rules governing petitions. Ridiculously strict compliance. If people carrying petitions make a mistake in the way they fill it out, no matter how small, the entire petition and all its signatures can be tossed. If people signing a petition go outside the lines with their signatures or other information — if the tail of a "g" or a "y" extends outside the line — that signature can be thrown out.

Why the new ridiculously strict compliance law? Because Republicans hate citizen initiatives. They'll do whatever they can do to make it harder for them to make it to the ballot.

It's easy to understand why. This year a citizen initiative limiting one of Republicans' pet projects, private school vouchers, is on the ballot. So is an initiative to increase the use of clean energy, something Republicans all over the country oppose so deeply, they've decided to ignore science, thermometers and their own eyes and say, "Climate change? What climate change?"

Then there are the two citizen initiatives that didn't make it. One would have banned Dark Money, the lifeblood running through the veins of Republican politics. The other is Invest in Ed, which would have made people whose taxable income is over $250,000 ($500,000 for couples) pay a higher income tax rate.

That's four initiatives Republicans despise. They never would let ideas like those get anywhere near the floor of the legislature, and they hate it that citizens have the ability to go around the Republican political stranglehold on the state by using the initiative process.

Continue reading »

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Charter Communications Officer Makes Nice In an Op Ed, But Tells a Few Stretchers

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 3:59 PM

  • Courtesy of Bigstock
Charter school leaders are looking for a kumbaya moment after being rocked by recent stories of corruption and profiteering, which led some Republican candidates to step away from them and adopt a harder line on increasing charter oversight and transparency. (Don't worry, charter folks, Republicans don't mean it. If they're reelected, they'll be your friends and apologists once again.) So charters are sending out the spin doctors to staunch the bleeding.

Prime example: an op-ed in the Arizona Republic by Rhonda Cagle, chief communications and development officer for Imagine Schools, a national charter chain with over a dozen schools in Arizona. The headline reads, Everything you need to know about Arizona charter schools. Actually, it's not quite everything, and what Cagle states as fact has a whole lot of spin mixed in.

The op-ed begins by saying charter schools have been under scrutiny lately — true fact. Also that scrutiny can be a good way to stimulate dialog — another true fact. And that lots of families choose to send their kids to charters — yet another true fact. It ends by saying we shouldn't be asking whether or not charter schools are better, we should applaud the number of viable educational options presented to students and their parents, both charter and district schools. I agree. Good schools for your children are where you find them, and charters are part of the mix.

All that is fine, pretty much down the middle. But at other times, Cagle's assertions aren't as hard and fast as she makes them out to be.

Continue reading »

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Really? Charter School Cheerleaders Are Going To Reform Charters All By Themselves?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 23, 2018 at 3:14 PM

Oh please.

According to an AZ Republic article which gives off only the faintest odor of skepticism, we're about to get significant improvements in Arizona's charter school oversight and transparency courtesy of all those people who have shielded charters from oversight and transparency in the past: Republican legislators and statewide officeholders. We're supposed to believe the people who have always coddled charters and condemned school districts are going to take charters to task for their corruption and profiteering. And they'll do it after the elections are over, when they have a years-long window before they face voters again.

If you believe that, I've got some beach-front property in Marana you can buy with all the money you get back from Trump's middle class tax cuts.

The Republic article begins with the Arizona Charter Schools Association, the state's biggest cheerleader for charter schools, which is very influential in state Republican circles. After seeing all the bad publicity charters have gotten from recent investigative reporting, Eileen Sigmund, the association's CEO, has decided it's the right time to say, some changes should be made.

In 2016, the ACSA got a $1.6 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation. It's a yearly contribution from the multi-billionaire family which owns Walmart, and the money amounts to half the association's budget. The Foundation gave out $190 million in K-12 education grants that year, the majority of which either went to organizations with the word "charter" in their name or to privatization/"education reform" groups. There's no bigger financial supporter of charter schools in the country than the Walton family. Sigmund isn't about to anger her benefactors. Post elections, she will make it her prime mission to be sure any changes to charter regulations happens around the edges, if they happen at all.

Continue reading »

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