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Achievement gap closing some, says Minnesota education commissioner

Ackerman ultimate “cave man” with underground empire; fourth-graders tops in math; Blue Plate coming to State Fair; several major donors “boycotting” archbishop; and more.

Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius sees improvement in the state’s achievement gap. At MPR, Tim Weber writes: “New scores from a test considered the ‘nation’s report card’ show some significant gains in the effort to close Minnesota’s achievement gaps, the state’s education commissioner said Thursday. Minnesota has long had some of the nation’s largest academic performance gaps between white students and students of color. But it might be time to stop referring to the state as having the ‘worst in the nation,’ Commissioner Brenda Cassellius told MPR News this morning.”

This guy gets ink pretty regularly. This time Jeff Baenen of the AP writes: “John Ackerman is a big-time landlord of subterranean real estate. Ackerman, 59, owns Spring Valley Caverns, the largest private cave in Minnesota but just the beginning of his underground empire, which he calls the Minnesota Cave Preserve. He holds the keys to more than 40 miles of caves hidden beneath the rolling farm fields of Minnesota and Iowa and is always seeking more. … Ackerman estimates he’s spent $4 million on cave exploration and acquiring underground rights, but he doesn’t charge admission to the nature groups, scientists and cavers who visit. It’s a hobby made possible by his successful furniture restoration business, he said.”

Our fourth-graders are No. 1! Kim McGuire of the Strib says: “Minnesota fourth-graders are the best in the nation when it comes to math, according to results of a nationwide test released Thursday. Considered the best comparison of students from state to state, the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) results show Minnesota fourth-graders scored higher in math than students in any other state. Eighth-graders had the fifth highest scores in the country. In reading, fourth-graders posted the 10th best scores while eighth-graders were in 11th place.”

Another of the Republicans who voted in support of gay marriage is leaving the legislature. Tim Pugmire of MPR says: “Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, has announced that she will not seek a third term in the Minnesota House next year. … Kieffer was one of five Republican legislators who voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the state during the 2013 session. The other GOP House votes came from Reps. David FitzSimmons of Albertville, Pat Garofalo of Farmington and Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie. Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, was the lone Republican vote in the Minnesota Senate. Petersen won’t face re-election until 2016. The Minnesotans United Political Action Committee has been raising money for those GOP lawmakers, along with 10 Democrats, to help them weather any voter backlash resulting from their vote.”

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Breaking news! More food at State Fair! Jess Fleming of the PiPress says: “Buried in the past week’s news about the groundbreaking of West End Market on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds was a little nugget: Blue Plate Restaurants — the parent company of Scusi, Groveland Tap and Highland Grill in St. Paul — will open an eatery in the area that used to be Heritage Square. The restaurant will be called Blue Barn. It will be shaped like one and serve ‘fun farm food,’ according to co-owner Stephanie Shimp. Blue Plate can’t reveal specific food items until other new Fair foods have been announced, but Shimp promised ‘something on a stick,’ a few items from their current menus and beer from Freehouse, the group’s upcoming brew pub in Minneapolis’ North Loop.”

Even in religion, money talks … Baird Helgeson of the Strib reports: “Several significant donors to the Catholic Church and Catholic causes say they no longer support Archbishop John Nienstedt and will stop giving money to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis until it has a new leader. ‘His leadership has lost a lot of effectiveness,’ said Jim Graves, a prominent Twin Cities hotelier and devoted Catholic. ‘I have nothing personally against the archbishop, but I think a change is appropriate.’ … Lay Catholics hold no sway in the selection or termination of an archbishop, with those decisions made solely by the Vatican. But it is rare for even a handful of influential members of the local Catholic community to step out so publicly against an archbishop. They join a handful of local priests who have publicly called for new leadership. Several major donors say they will not give to any capital campaign or other archdiocese-led initiatives until its leadership is replaced.”

Climatologist Mark Seeley has his say on a “changed” climate in a Strib commentary … “Minnesota began statewide climate record-keeping 119 years ago. Of the 10 warmest years recorded, seven took place within the last 15 years. In just one month, March 2012, we set more than 700 new warm-temperature records. At 6 p.m., July 19, 2011, the hottest point on Earth wasn’t Death Valley or sub-Saharan Africa. It was Moorhead. … Southern Minnesota has had three 1,000-year floods in the last nine years. Do we invest in more robust sewer systems or take our chances? How much financial exposure can communities risk?”

The GleanAt the Ars Technica website, Joe Mullin covers the latest in the so-called porn-trolling Prenda Law case: “The copyright-lawsuit factory known as Prenda Law is in the midst of a long shutdown, which is certainly no fun for the lawyers that run the organization. Today their headaches multiplied, as a second federal judge has followed the example of US District Judge Otis Wright, referring the Prenda firm to the US Attorney’s office in Minnesota. … Prenda has sued thousands of Internet users for illegally downloading pornography, based on lawsuits filed through shell companies like AF Holdings and Ingenuity 13. Those companies were using copyright assignments now alleged to be bogus. Key documents were signed by Alan Cooper, the one-time housekeeper for John Steele, believed by Prenda critics to be one of the masterminds behind the Prenda operation. But Cooper has denied signing those documents, or giving his authorization to anyone else to do so. He made those denials again in Noel’s courtroom on Sept. 30, and the judge found them convincing.”

I’m certain this one has already reached the desk of Our Favorite Congresswoman … Dave Wahlberg of the Wisconsin State Journal writes: “Two sisters from Mount Horeb say a cervical cancer vaccine shut down their ovaries and almost certainly left them unable to get pregnant, a claim scheduled for a hearing Thursday and Friday in federal court in Washington, D.C. Madelyne Meylor, 20, and Olivia Meylor, 19, say their premature ovarian failure came from the vaccine against human papillomavirus, or HPV. It’s the first allegation that the vaccine caused the condition to reach a hearing through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, said their attorney, Mark Krueger, of Baraboo. … Merck, which makes Gardasil, refers to the condition as premature ovarian insufficiency, or POI. ‘Merck has reviewed the post-licensure reports of POI after administration of Gardasil and has concluded that the evidence does not support a causal relationship to the vaccine’, the company said in a statement.”