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What Else Is News?
A briefing on some of the latest events
The Critical Reader has been on hiatus due to personal reasons. Now we’re back, and we have a lot of catching up to do. Let’s get started.
ACT Scores Reach a 30-Year Low
Are today’s high school students prepared for college? According to the ACT scores of the class of 2023, possibly not.
ACT scores have fallen over the past six years, but the scores in 2023 hit a 30-year low. Some experts believe that the interruption of traditional learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the slide.
In the United States in 2023, the average composite score for the ACT was 19.5 out of 36. The year before, the average score was 19.8 out of 36.
Some colleges and universities have begun to make college admissions test-optional; however, the ACT and SAT traditionally represent college readiness for high school juniors and seniors. Continually lower scores on the ACT suggest that students are less prepared for college than they were in previous years.
Many high school students report that they are ready to thrive , after high school, but Janet Godwin, chief executive officer for ACT, worries that the test scores reveal otherwise. "We are also continuing to see a rise in the number of seniors leaving high school without meeting any of the college readiness benchmarks,” she said.
The House Remains Without a Speaker
As of this writing, the House of Representatives has no leader at the helm. After an unprecedented ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republicans have struggled to find a candidate with the je ne sais quoi to secure enough votes to take his place. Steve Scalise had a brief moment of hope, but then Jim Jordan emerged as the Republicans’ best bet. Except that Jordan got far fewer votes than expected in the first round of voting. Some Republicans are calling for the speaker pro-tempore, Rep. Patrick McHenry, to take the role, at least until a viable candidate for the position can be found.
What does the Speaker of the House do, anyway? According to the National Constitution Center, “The Speaker plays a key role as negotiator between the House and president and with the Senate, and as the point person for the House’s fundamental role in originating and passing legislation and controlling ‘the power of the purse’ to tax and spend taxpayer money.
“The Speaker also is second in line (after the vice president) to the presidency under the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, and the Speaker plays a role in the 25th Amendment’s process of dealing with the event of a presidential disability.”
In other words, we need to have a Speaker of the House, so hopefully the Republicans can agree on a candidate soon.
Jada Pinkett Smith Reveals She & Will Smith Have Been Separated for Years
Remember the awkward slap Will Smith gave Chris Rock after Rock made a joke about Smith’s wife at the Oscars in 2022? It feels even more awkward now, after Smith’s wife revealed that the couple has been living apart since 2016.
In an interview with Hoda Kotb on Today, Jada Pinkett Smith said that she and Will Smith have been living separate lives for seven years. "I think by the time we got to 2016, we were just exhausted with trying. I think we were both kind of just still stuck in our fantasy of what we thought the other person should be,” Pinkett Smith said, although she added that she has no intention of getting a divorce.
“He's getting old,” Pinkett Smith said. “Who's going to be there for him, Hoda? It's going to be me. I'll be there. That's what we signed up for, Hoda. I don't know what to tell you." Smith is 55. Pinkett Smith is 52.
Pinkett Smith also told Kotb that she was as shocked as everyone else when her estranged husband left his seat at the Academy Awards in 2022 and slapped Rock on stage. “We haven't called each other husband and wife in a long time. "I'm like, 'What is going on right now?'" she recalled.
If you’re eager to know more about the unique relationship between Jada and Will, she has a memoir coming out this week titled Worthy. If your life will be complete without knowing more, you can skip the book.
Following the Situation in the Middle East
The Critical Reader recommends these sources for the latest information on the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel and growing unrest in the Middle East. Some offer an unbiased lens through which to view the conflict; others are doing strong investigative work; and some are telling the heart-wrenching stories of families and survivors. Keep in mind that information is not always confirmed, so follow several different reputable sources and look for the facts.
CNN when Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper or Christiane Amanpour is on.
Agenda-Free TV (When the host is not on, he often leaves a live feed running so you can see what’s going on in Israel and Gaza.)
Naharnet (News from Lebanon, in English)