Business & Education

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A three-member investigative team appointed by the state Department of Education is looking into allegations of mass grade changes at three public high schools in Montgomery. School Superintendent Barbara Thompson sought the department's help earlier this month after the Montgomery Advertiser reported that teachers who worked in Robert E. Lee, Jeff Davis and Sidney Lanier high schools said they witnessed or participated in the improper changing of hundreds of grades.

Some Book! 'Charlotte's Web' Turns 60

Oct 15, 2012

Sixty years ago, the book Charlotte's Web first appeared in print. This children's classic is often seen as a story of a spider and a pig. But when E.B. White recorded a narration of the book, he said something different: "This is a story of the barn. I wrote it for children, and to amuse myself."

After days of rumors, the Japanese telecom Softbank announced it would buy a 70 percent stake of the American mobile carrier Sprint Nextel.

Two reasons this is important: Sprint had been overshadowed by mega companies Verizon and AT&T. When T-Mobile announced a merger with Mobile PCS, Sprint was left in a kind of nowhere land.

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NPR's business news starts with a telecom mega deal.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm Renee Montagne.

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And our last word in business today, is supersonic.

A space jump and the brand behind it mesmerized viewers yesterday.

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Willow Tufano became a homeowner earlier this year. This was newsworthy because Willow was 14 years old. She raised money to buy the house by selling stuff on Craigslist.

I spoke to Willow again last week and got an update. She's 15 now, and her life over the past few months was sort of surreal. She got caught up in two dramas: America's housing market and America's media circus.

A life well-worth noting has caught the attention of obituary writers:

-- "Andrew F. Brimmer, a Louisiana sharecropper's son who was the first black member of the Federal Reserve Board and who led efforts to to reverse the country's balance-of-payments deficit, died on Sunday in Washington. He was 86." (The New York Times)

More states and cities are turning to casinos to generate revenue and plug budget holes.

The latest to try its luck is Maryland, where groups are waging an expensive campaign over a ballot question that will be put to voters next month. Proponents promise jackpots of jobs and funding for public schools, but analysts say the gamble doesn't always pay off at the levels promised for public coffers.

"U.S. consumer sentiment unexpectedly rose to its highest in five years in October as consumers became more optimistic about the economy in a possible boost to President Obama's reelection hopes," Reuters reports.

A new kind of crop is being planted in the United States, and it doesn't require any land or fertilizer. Farming it improves the environment, and it can be used in a number of ways. So what is this miracle cash crop of the future?

It's seaweed.

Charlie Yarish, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, loves seaweed. In nature, he says, when seaweed turns a rich chocolate color, that means the plant is picking up nitrogen, a process called nutrient bioextraction.

Anheuser-Busch, Pabst and MillerCoors are among the big beer makers the Oglala Sioux tribe has accused of illegally selling millions of cans of beer each year in Whiteclay, Neb. The town borders Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is located across the state line in South Dakota and is dry.

The Oglala Sioux's federal case was thrown out, and the tribe is considering what to do next — legalize alcohol or go to state court.

The names Columbine and Virginia Tech have both become tragic shorthand for school shootings in America. In the wake of those shootings, schools have developed a fairly typical lockdown procedure when there's a threat: sound the alarm, call police, lock doors and stay put.

The standard school-lockdown plan is intended to minimize chaos so police arriving on the scene don't shoot the wrong people. Students practice following directions, getting into classrooms and essentially, waiting.

Here's an astonishing fact: Half of America's mushrooms are grown in one tiny corner of southeastern Pennsylvania, near the town of Kennett Square.

But why? It's not as though this place has some special advantage of climate or soil, the kind of thing that led to strawberry fields in Watsonville, Calif., or peach orchards in Georgia. Mushrooms can grow indoors. They could come from anywhere.

Students pay much more for a college education in the U.S. than they do in most other countries. But they also get a bigger return on their investment.

Here's a graphical breakdown comparing the cost and the payoff for a college education.

A few notes:

The data come from a recently published OECD report looking at educational data around the world. The cost of education includes tuition fees and living costs paid by the student, as well as earnings that students forgo by not working while they're in school.

RealtyTrac, an online industry group that follows the foreclosure market, says the number of foreclosed properties nationally dropped dramatically in September, down by seven percent from August. And the firm says since September 2011, foreclosures are down 16 percent — that's the lowest total since July 2007.

There were 339,000 first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, a decrease from last week's revised figure of 369,000, the Employment and Training Administration says.

Reuters reports it's the lowest number in more than four years. Reuters adds:

"The prior week's figure was revised up to show 2,000 more applications than previously reported.

Unless Congress acts, the Defense Department faces some $55 billion in cuts after the first of the year. The cuts are part of what's known as sequestration — automatic across the board spending cuts to both defense and nondefense government spending set in motion by last year's debt-ceiling fight.

Salaries for uniformed personnel are the one major thing that's protected. Otherwise, it's about a 10 percent cut to everything from Pentagon civilian staff to the acquisition of multimillion-dollar aircraft, like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Affirmative action in higher education appeared to take a potentially lethal hit on Wednesday, as the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments testing the constitutionality of a race-conscious admission program at the University of Texas, Austin.

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I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we will speak with a former education official who has had a change of heart about some of the school reforms she once championed. Diane Ravitch will be with us in just a few minutes.

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guardianexpressla.com

The Montgomery County Commission is planning a class-action lawsuit against two financial institutions over what the county says are several years of unpaid recording fees.

Authorities say a new federal grant will open doors for disadvantaged students to become part of the nursing program at the University of North Alabama.

Officials say the $2.1 million grant goes to UNA's College of Nursing and Allied Health.

The Florence TimesDaily reports (http://bit.ly/R7PL64) that the grant will provide access to the university's Opportunities for Entry into Nursing program for what officials describe as "under-represented minorities."

blog.al.com

The Montgomery County Board of Education is hiring a private investigator to look in allegations of grade changing.

The board voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue the investigation after the Montgomery Advertiser reported last week that teachers at the three high schools admitted to participating in or observing hundreds of improper grade changes. County Superintendent Barbara Thompson said the school system does not condone grade changing without documentation.

(Journalist Lauren Frayer is a frequent contributor to NPR. She files this report from Madrid.)

For decades, the Red Cross has asked Spaniards to donate money to starving children in the Third World. But with Europe's debt crisis, the needy are now right here at home.

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