The Reading Shelf

The Library launches The Reading Shelf, a new collection featuring titles by contemporary leaders in the social sciences, political thought, economics, and philosophy. Books for this collection are selected to present a broad political perspective on the U.S. and the world.

The collection is on the long table in front of the bill files. Newly-received books will have a one-week borrowing period, to allow for wider readership. Please come and browse.

The Reading Shelf's first books:

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama. (review)

Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama. (Wikipedia)

The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded]: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, by Thomas L. Friedman. (review)

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, by Jeffrey Sachs. (review)

The Paradox of American Power: Why the World's Only Superpower Can't Go It Alone, by Joseph S. Nye. (press release)

Globalization and Its Discontents, by Joseph E. Stiglitz. (Wikipedia)

Growth Management and Affordable Housing: Do They Conflict? Anthony Downs, Ed. (press release)

Protecting What Matters: Technology, Security, and Liberty since 9/11, Clayton Northouse, Ed. (press release)
      Includes a Liberty and Security Timeline, from July 4, 1966 (Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, becomes law) to Feb. 2006 (Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings on "Wartime Executive Power and the NSA's Surveillance Authority," Feb. 6 and Feb. 28)


Recent GAO reports

Prevalence of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Dating Violence, and Stalking, GAO-07-148R, November 13, 2006
      Report (pdf, 54pp/644kB)
      The Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, P.L. 109-162 (pdf, 177pp/596kB), requires GAO to do a study on (1) data measuring domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking, and (2) services for victims. This report addresses (1); (2) is in process.

HIGHER EDUCATION: More Information Could Help Education Determine the Extent to Which Eligible Servicemembers Serving on Active Duty Benefited from Relief Provided by Lenders and Schools, GAO-07-11, November 1, 2006
      Highlights (pdf, 1p/92kB)   Report (pdf, 48pp/1.35MB)
      The Dept. of Education has no plans to complete a study it was required to do on the extent to which servicemembers are benefiting from the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003, P.L. 108-76 (pdf, 6pp/36kB), because of the cost of the study's design and Education's inadequate data systems, but GAO recommends that the study be done.

IMPROPER PAYMENTS: Agencies' Fiscal Year 2005 Reporting under the Improper Payments Information Act Remains Incomplete, GAO-07-92, November 14, 2006
      Highlights (pdf, 1p/72kB)   Report (pdf, 83pp/1.13MB)
      FY2005 was the second year for executive agencies to report improper payments (payments that should not have been made or made in an incorrect amount) under the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002, P.L. 107-300 (pdf, 2pp/28kB).

TAX ADMINISTRATION: Most Filing Season Services Continue to Improve, but Opportunities Exist for Additional Savings, GAO-07-27, November 15, 2006
     Highlights (pdf, 1p/228kB)   Report (pdf, 62pp/2.35MB)
     GAO reviewed performance of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in services and cost savings, and the status of the Taxpayer Assistance Blueprint (TAB), IRS's "long-term strategy" for cost-effective taxpayer services.

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For better teachers, better (not merit) pay

In late October, the U.S. Dept. of Education awarded an initial $42 million from the Teacher Incentive Fund to teachers who raise test scores. In a news release Oct. 23, 2006 , Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA), called the program "short on substance and long on politics." This was part of his statement:
Students learn best when teachers work as a team, not as free agents competing for a financial reward. These grants will promote unhealthy competition in a profession that thrives on teamwork and collaboration. Real learning is the casualty when teachers shift their focus from quality instruction to boosting test scores.
Mr. Weaver reiterated his views in a commentary in the Christian Science Monitor, Nov. 13, 2006. He also cited a recent MetLife survey that found one-quarter of teachers likely to leave their jobs within five years because of low salaries and little control over their work. But, Mr. Weaver maintained, "Bonuses cannot subsitute for a working environment high on trust and meaningful work." He concluded:
Don't let policymakers reduce teaching to the Darwinian philosophy of survival of the fittest. Instead, demand of them the judgment and courage necessary to reform teacher quality at its core.

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Expectations and Experiences, 2006 (Sept. 26, 2006, pdf, 167pp/704kB)



Online learning

The Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C) is a "consortium of institutions and organizations committed to quality online education...[and] encourages the collaborative sharing of knowledge and effective practices to improve online education in learning effectiveness, access, affordability for learners and providers, and student and faculty satisfaction."

Sloan-C maintains a catalog of certificate and degree programs offered by accredited members (both University of Hawaii at Manoa and at Hilo offer certificate and degree programs); provides workshops, conferences, consultants; and publishes studies and surveys on online learning.

Associated Press (AP) reports today on the Sloan-C fourth annual survey of online learning in U.S. higher education. Findings include:
  • Nearly 3.2 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2005 term, a substantial increase over the 2.3 million reported the previous year.
  • The more than 800,000 additional online students is more than twice the number added in any previous year.
  • Online students, like the overall student body, are overwhelmingly undergraduates.
  • More than 96 percent of the very largest institutions (more than 15,000 total enrollments) have some online offerings.
  • Doctoral/Research institutions have the greatest penetration of offering online programs as well as the highest overall rate (more than 80%) of having some form of online offering (either courses or full programs).
  • 62 percent of academic leaders rated the learning outcomes in online education as the same or superior to those in face-to-face.
  • Faculty issues, both acceptance of online and the need for greater time and effort to teach online, are also important barriers.

Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006
(November 2006, pdf, 27pp/424kB)

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Swimming with the fishes

The coral reef ecosystems of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands suffer from contamination by considerable amounts of derelict fishing gear from North Pacific Ocean fisheries washed in by ocean currents.
Greenpeace released a report last week examining the "vast vortex of plastic trash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean," so described by Reuters. The report finds that the coral reef sytems of the NWHI, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, and, worldwide, "at least 267 species -- including seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales and fish" are vulnerable to the contamination caused by tourism, sewage, fishing and waste from ships and boats. Derelict fishing gear includes, "fishing lines and nets, fishing pots and strapping bands from bait boxes that are lost accidentally by commercial fishing boats or are deliberately dumped into the ocean."
The research predicted that most debris is moved towards the mid-latitudes. This is in agreement with observations from other studies which showed higher concentrations of debris in such areas compared to nearer the poles. It also identified areas where ocean movements results in particularly high concentrations of debris such as north of Hawaii.
According to the Reuters story, Greenpeace is calling for "a global network of marine reserves, covering 40 percent of the world's oceans."

Plastic Debris in the World's Oceans
(November 2006, pdf, 44pp/1MB)

Photo Credit: © Greenpeace / Alex Hofford

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Meeting disaster

The Disasters Roundtable (DR), of the Division of Earth & Life Studies (DELS), a division of the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), convened a workshop, their sixteenth in the series, on March 20, 2006 to examine "community resilience in the face of disaster."
pre-disaster preparedness planning efforts involving all relevant stakeholders are also needed to guide emergency responses...Participants focused on the local level, where the greatest impact of disasters is felt...
The workshop program is available on the Roundtable's pages of the DELS web site. Several of the presentations can be downloaded as pdf, including Community Diversity, Vulnerability and Resilience: What's the Connection?; Measuring Community Emergency Preparedness; and Lessons Learned About Recovery in the Business and Other Sectors. The summary of the roundtable is published as an Open Book by National Academies Press (NAP).

Community Disaster Resilience: A Summary of the March 20, 2006 Workshop of the Disasters Roundtable
(2006, Open Book, 15 pp)

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Recent GAO reports

CHILD WELFARE: Improving Social Service Program, Training, and Technical Assistance Information Would Help Address Long-standing Service-Level and Workforce Challenges, GAO-07-75, October 6, 2006
     Highlights (pdf, 1p/80kB) Full report (pdf, 56pp/1.3MB)
     Most state agencies identified 3 primary challenges: providing adequate mental health and substance abuse services for both parents and children; high caseloads; and finding homes for children with special needs.

FOOD STAMP TRAFFICKING: FNS Could Enhance Program Integrity by Better Targeting Stores Likely to Traffic and Increasing Penalties, GAO-07-53, October 13, 2006
     Highlights (pdf, 1p/336kB) Full report (pdf, 41pp/2.8MB)
     The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) replaced paper coupons in the Food Stamp Program (FSP) with electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards, but retailer fraud continues.

HEALTH PROFESSIONAL SHORTAGE AREAS: Problems Remain with Primary Care Shortage Area Designation System, GAO-07-84, October 24, 2006
     Highlights (pdf, 1p/68kB) Full report (pdf, 66pp/1.75MB
     Federal programs use the health professional shortage area (HPSA) designation to allocate resources or provide benefits to geographic areas, population groups, and facilities.

Retirement Challenges in the 21st Century, GAO-07-125CG, October 10, 2006
     Slide-show presentation (pdf, 46pp/640kB) by David M. Walker, Comptroller General, at the annual International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) conference, Las Vegas, Nevada.

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