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News bulletin: the schools are broken. According to the April 2001 "The Nation's Report Card: Fourth-Grade Reading 2000" (, American fourth-graders scored about 217 out of a possible 500 in reading on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. That's about the same as fourth-graders in 1992. But the top students scored significantly better than their counterparts did eight years ago, while the worst readers scored lower. Only 32 percent of fourth-graders can read at or above the "proficient" level, identified by the National Assessment Governing Board as the level all students should reach.

"The trend of downtown living is still more of a trickle than a rush," according to a May census analysis from the Fannie Mae Foundation and the Brookings Institution. Chicago's downtown population grew from 27,760 (0.3 percent of the metro area) in 1990 to 42,039 (0.5 percent) last year. Downtown's residential density increased substantially, and it became a little less monochromatic. Downtown Chicago residents were 75 percent white in 1990, 66 percent in 2000.

Philanthropists who will never be invited to join the Donors Forum. "The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society," writes Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book Nickled and Dimed, quoted in In These Times (May 14). "They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else."

Kid, you have no grandparents. Naperville matrimonial-law attorney David Schaffer reports in the Illinois Bar Journal (February) on the state supreme court's October 2000 ruling in the case Lulay v. Lulay: "The essence of Lulay appears to be that, absent special circumstances justifying an intrusion into parental authority, the court should not even consider interfering with a parent's fundamental right to direct the upbringing of his or her child.

Such circumstances might be almost impossible to assert when both parents are united in opposing a grandparent's visitation."

Don't mow around that frog pond! Results from 150 Chicago Wilderness volunteer frog surveyors have given Northwestern University biology professor Joe Walsh and environmental-sciences major Lucas Wilkinson fodder for research. According to Illinois Issues (April), "They say initial analysis of the data points to two trends. One, that ponds with higher acidity levels tend to have fewer species of frogs, and two, that the farther a pond is from tall grass, the fewer species it has."

"Many of us [anthropologists] have enjoyed exoticizing ourselves," writes Northwestern University's Micaela di Leonardo in the Nation (May 21), "playing, as I have written, the court jesters of academe. While some of this self-exoticization has always arisen from identification with oppressed populations, the overall effect of the court jester construction is dire. Anthropologists have become the American public's 'exotics at home,' identified with our demonized, trivialized subjects, or rather, those who are presumed to be our sole subjects--non-Westerners around the globe, the poor, the nonwhite, and sexual minorities in every country."

News that Republicans and environmentalists hear different halves of. According to the New York Times (May 6), five national laboratories have found that aggressive government steps to promote energy conservation could reduce the growth in electricity demand by as much as 47 percent, the equivalent of up to 610 big (300-megawatt) power plants. That still leaves at least half of the growth in demand to be met by some kind of new construction. Dick Cheney's 1,300 new plants by 2020 minus 610 still equals 690.

Never satisfied. U.S. Catholic (April) quotes Shane Claiborne: "The church has long served as a broker between rich and poor. As a distribution center, it's where the wealthy leave stuff for the destitute to take away. The rich get a good feeling, and the poor get fed and clothed, but neither one gets transformed."

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