News Day: Unemployment up / Latest student test scores / General Mills: How do they do it? / Excel Dairy still making people sick

jobs on a white background with a magnifierUnemployment up – slightly June unemployment (seasonally adjusted) rose to 9.5 percent, up from 9.4 percent in May in the official figure. The U-6 figure, which includes discouraged workers and those who are working part-time because they cannot find full-time jobs, rose from 16.4 percent to 16.5 percent.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) increased by 433,000 over the month to 4.4 million. In June, 3 in 10 unemployed persons were jobless for 27 weeks or more.

New unemployment claims fell slightly in the week ending July 2, to 614,000, a decrease from last week’s 630,000 new claims. Job losses, however, rose to 467,000, up from 322,000 in May.

In Minnesota, bad news came from Duluth, where the 94-year-old Monson Trucking company will close its doors on August 31, reports MPR, leaving 200 people jobless in Duluth, Virginia, Red Wing and Mauston, WI.

And the tests show — not much The latest math and reading scores from MCA tests were released yesterday by the Minnesota Department of Education, and the bottom line is that they didn’t reveal much news. Statewide, scores barely moved, with math proficiency going from 62 percent last year to 64 percent this year, and reading proficiency rising a single point from 71 percent to 72 percent. The achievement gap betweeen students of color and white students is still unconscionably large.

No Child Left Behind continues to penalize schools, without achieving any consistent improvement. The PiPress sums it up nicely:

Last year [in Minnesota], 933 schools of 1,947 fell short of reading and math standards. That was up from 724 in 2007.

The growing list is no surprise to educators and experts who have argued No Child Left Behind’s goals are unattainable.

A 2004 report by the state legislative auditor estimated that 80 to 100 percent of Minnesota’s school districts would not meet the expectations of No Child Left Behind.

That’s troubling, especially for a state that posts some of the highest graduation rates and college-entrance exam scores in the nation …

MPR reminds us that the numbers released yesterday were student achievement numbers, not the school-by-school judgment, which will come out later in the summer, no doubt provoking more wailing and gnashing of teeth. Student numbers show 82 percent of the state’s third graders proficient in math and 78 percent proficient in reading. That looks good, but scores fall off as students get older: By eighth grade, only 65 percent are proficient in reading in eighth grade and 60 percent in math.

Predictably, Chas Anderson, Minnesota’s Deputy Education Commissioner, says “we’ve made really good progress,” and says that Minnesota sets higher standards than some other states, which means more difficulty in meeting standards. (So much difficulty that the legislature stepped in to make the math grad standard NOT necessary for graduation from high school this year.)

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts sent out press releases accentuating the positive — slight gains overall, and higher gains for some schools, groups or grade levels. If you really want to know the numbers, the Strib has the best bells and whistles, with a sophisticated web presentation of past and present scores across the state, district by district. Click on the district name, and you get a school-by-school breakdown.

General Mills puzzle The Strib reports that General Mills profits increased 94 percent in its fourth quarter, which ended May 31. That means 94 percent higher profits, compared to the quarter that ended May 31, 2008. Sounds great – and the report attributes increased profits to “more people baking, buying flour and eating at home to save money.” Sounds reasonable, but then comes the kicker. Profits are up 94 percent, but sales increased by only five percent.

Revenue for the quarter ended May 31 rose 5 percent to $3.6 billion. Sales for the year were $14.69 billion, a gain of 7.6 percent over last year.

So – how does a five percent increase in sales translate to a 94 percent increase in profits?

Excel Dairy – still making people sick Despite lawsuits that closed the dairy farm last year, Excel Dairy manure pits still continue to sicken people near its Thief River Falls location. MPR reports:

Neighbors say living next to Excel Dairy is a nightmare that won’t end. There haven’t been cows at the facility since January, but for more than a year, air quality monitors in the neighborhood have registered hydrogen sulfide emissions that far exceed government safety standards. …

So far in 2009, there have been more than 100 violations.

Mona Loe lives just 300 yards from Excel Dairy. Loe said it’s not just the horrible smell of rotten eggs. It’s headaches, breathing problems and fatigue — and a constant worry about long term health effects.

The dairy has failed to comply with MPCA orders for emptying manure basins, following a long pattern of noncompliance. Owners still say they don’t believe there is a problem and hope to have cows back on the farm by the end of 2010. Last year, hydrogen sulfide levels got so high that the Minnesota Health Department ordered evacuation from nearby homes. Now health officials say they probably wouldn’t order another evacution, because “citizens at this point are pretty well able to make that kind of judgment for themselves.”

Maybe we need to call in the Madoff prosecutor and judge to take a look at what can be done about this kind of operation.

War Reports

Afghanistan The U.S. has launched a major offensive in the Helmand Valley, sending 4,000 marines and 650 Afghan troops, with NATO air support, in what they called “the biggest ground offensive since Vietnam.” According to the New York Times:

Helmand is one of the deadliest provinces in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters have practiced a sleek, hit-and-run guerrilla warfare against the British forces who have been based there.

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