Posted in Public Ed, Science, Tyson

A Vaccine Against Charlatans

I’ve been thinking about the state of science education in the United States. A while back I wrote about improving our science education, and since that time nothing has changed. At least not as far as our federal government’s (and in Indiana, the state government’s) attitude towards science is concerned. For example, the U.S. is now the only country in the world which has officially denied climate change by our attempted withdrawal from the Paris Accords…A coal lobbyist is running the EPA…and the Department of the Interior is working to sell off land it’s supposed to protect.

Sadly, the state of science literacy in the United States has allowed many Americans to be unaware of what’s happening. Many Americans don’t really understand why they should be concerned.

It’s important that we improve science literacy in the U.S. But how?

 

TEACH THE COMMUNITY

How can we help improve science education in the community, state, and nation? Here are some ideas for parents, teachers, and concerned voters…

1. End the waste of our time and money on standardized tests and use the savings to pay for professional development for teachers teaching science, and for equipment and supplies to help them. Use the savings to pay for professional development and supplies for all teachers.

2. Make sure children come to school ready to learn. To that end, we need to spend dollars on countering the effects of poverty beginning with good prenatal care for every pregnant woman in the country. The U.S.A. is 56th in infant mortality rates behind countries like Latvia, Cuba, Canada, South Korea, and the U.K. Science has taught us what to do…we need to see to it that there is carry-over of scientific knowledge into the real world.

3. Work to counter the effects of poverty by investing in early childhood education in which children can explore themselves and the world. Our enrollment rates and expenditures on Early Childhood programs lag well below the OECD average.

4. Provide every child with a full and balanced curriculum,

…including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, foreign languages, mathematics, and physical education.

5. Support students by lowering class sizes.

 

6. End the diversion of tax dollars to unaccountable and unregulated charter schools, or vouchers for private and parochial schools.

7. The relationship between poverty and achievement is well established, but instructional innovations, improvements, and support can’t overcome the effects of poverty alone. Students need support services to help ameliorate the effects of poverty. Services such as nurses, social workers, counselors, after-school programs, and transportation, should be available. The Chicago Teachers Union has developed a program, specific to Chicago schools, titles The Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve 2.0. Many of the plans in this document are worth considering for other school systems.

8. Ensure that every school is staffed with fully-trained, professional educators and support staff.

9. Public schools should be controlled by elected school boards. Lack of transparency should not be an option.

10. The privatization of public education has increased school segregation. We know from research that desegregated schools narrowed racial and economic achievement gaps. It’s time to fulfill the requirement of Brown vs. Board of Education.

 

A PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY

…public education is a public responsibility, not a consumer good.

The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people, and must be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the expense of the people themselves. — John Adams

The preceding suggestions will cost money, and you might ask, “How can we afford that?” Ending the overuse and misuse of standardized testing will provide one source of income for schools to use. Ending the diversion of tax dollars for privatization will provide more, but that won’t cover everything. We have to choose to spend more money on our future citizens.

Instead of asking, “Can we afford that?” we should state, “We cannot afford not to fully fund public education.” The public schools quite literally, hold our future. For the well-being of our children and grandchildren, we must fully fund our schools.

 

FOR SCIENCE TEACHERS

Science teachers at all grades need to keep up with current information, especially in today’s anti-science atmosphere. The following are some ideas to help keep science teachers up to date on science topics. Others interested in science education can also benefit from these.

  • Do your part to help students (and their parents) understand the scientific method, to see science in everyday life, and to dispel myths and misconceptions about science (e.g. “evolution is just a ‘theory'”).
  • Work with your colleagues to develop multi-disciplinary projects. Science can be found in history, geography, philosophy, physical education, the arts, and other subject areas.
  • Invite scientists from local industry and academia into your classroom to explore ideas with your students.
  • Be an advocate for science. Teach so that your students become as excited about science as you are. At a minimum, ensure that they are scientifically literate when they leave your class.
  • Join scientific organizations to advocate for science education and to keep up with the latest news in your field…groups like

○ The National Science Teachers Association
○ The American Association for the Advancement of Science
○ The National Science Foundation
○ The Association for Science Teacher Education
○ The Association for Science Education

  • Read about ways to improve science education in the U.S.

○ The Improving science education in America
○ The Ideas for Improving Science Education in the U.S.
○ The How can we reform science education?

CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE

Reversing the anti-science direction of the country will take time and won’t be easy. We can do it if we focus on today’s students…tomorrow’s leaders.

“When you have an established, scientific, emergent truth, it is true whether or not you believe in it, and the sooner you understand that, the faster we can get on with the political conversations about how to solve the problems that face us.”

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Posted in environment

A Note to My Leaf-Burning Neighbors

This post was first published on November 2, 2017. Some links have been edited/corrected.

AUTUMN

Ah…who doesn’t love the nostalgic scent of burning leaves in the fall?

 

Answer: Anyone with lungs!

It’s Autumn in Indiana and my woodsy neighborhood is filled with fallen leaves. Many of my neighbors are recycling them by mulching them into their lawns or gardens or hiring crews to pick them up. Some others, are piling them up and setting them ablaze, and by doing so filling the air with poisonous toxins and choking ash.

IT’S JUST ONE LITTLE FIRE

What damage can one little fire cause?

It’s not just one little fire…it’s several since we live in an addition with dozens of houses and hundreds of leaf-dropping trees. The point is that “multiple fires in one geographic area can cause concentrations of air pollutants that exceed federal air quality standards” – at least until the current EPA decides that the right of citizens to breathe is just not a priority.

And, about those lungs…

Besides being an irritant, leaf smoke contains many hazardous chemicals, including carbon monoxide and benzo (a) pyrene. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the bloodstream and thus reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and lungs. So carbon monoxide can be very dangerous for young children with immature lungs, smokers, the elderly, and people with chronic heart or lung diseases. Benzo (a) pyrene is known to cause cancer in animals and is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke and coal tar as well as leaf smoke.

[Full disclosure: The above paragraph is about me. Burning leaves make me sick. I have some serious lung issues and, while I hate to use the term elderly when talking about myself, I’m getting there…assuming I last through the leaf-burning season!]

KEEP YOUR YOUNG CHILDREN INSIDE

That benzo (a) pyrene stuff is a big deal. It can negatively affect your nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, it messes with your DNA, and it’s a carcinogen. Why would anyone do that to themselves and their families…not to mention the little children who live next door or two houses down…or the old folks on the corner…or everyone else in the neighborhood?

My neighborhood (Google Earth).
Note the dark green…trees.

INSTEAD OF BURNING

So, you live in the woods…what do you do with all the leaves?

Some cities (such as Fort Wayne) provide curbside pickup of leaves. Pay attention and make sure you get them to the curb in time for pickup.

Or, instead of setting them on fire, follow the recommendations of Rosie Lerner of the Purdue Extension Service.

You could compost those leaves yourself. Dry leaves alone will break down slowly over time, but you can speed that process by mixing the leaves with green plant materials, such as grass clippings, garden discards and produce scraps. Or you could add a source of nitrogen, such as livestock manure or commercial fertilizer. Mix (turn) the pile occasionally to keep a good supply of air in the compost. A good-sized compost pile should be a minimum of 3 cubic feet. The compost will be ready to use as a soil conditioner in several weeks to several months, depending on size and management techniques.

Shredded leaves also can be used as a mulch around garden and landscape plants. Mulches provide many benefits, including weed suppression, moisture conservation and moderation of soil temperature. Leaves can be applied to dormant plants in winter to prevent young plants from heaving out of the ground. Leaf mulch can help keep soil cooler in summer. No more than a 2- to 3-inch layer of leaves should be used around actively growing plants. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help prevent them from matting down and preventing air from reaching roots.

Directly applying the leaves to a garden or unused area of soil is another option. Try to spread the leaves over as large an area as possible, then till or plow them under. Chopping or shredding the leaves first will help them to break down faster.

My personal favorite option is to simply shred the leaves through my lawn mower until the pieces are small enough to just leave them right there on the lawn! Dry leaves are much easier to handle through the mower than moist ones. If possible, remove the bagger so all of the leaves are deposited right back onto the lawn as they shred.

Click this image for information on how to use leaves in your garden.

My lungs thank you.

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Posted in Sagan, Science

Still Teaching From the Grave

Carl Sagan: November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996

Last month I reread Carl Sagan’s Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the brink of the Millenium. It is Sagan’s last book, published in 1997, the year after he died from the rare bone-marrow disease myelodysplasia.

Billions and Billions is a book of essays covering a wide range of topics, including the fact that he never actually said, “billions and billions” on his Cosmos television series, extraterrestrials, abortion, and exoplanets. He also included essays on some pet concerns of his – climate change, and the diminishment of science literacy in American society.

He dealt with our national ignorance in an earlier book (see the quote in the picture below), but in Billions and Billions, he continued his quest to convince his fellow humans that we must take care of the Earth, our home, lest we join the dinosaurs in extinction.

The Earth is an anomaly. In all the Solar System, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet. We humans are one amongst millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for 180 million years, the dinosaurs were extinguished. Every last one. There are none left. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And we’ve been here for only about a million years, we, the first species that has devised means for its self-destruction. We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think as well as we can. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. I believe we have an obligation to fight for life on Earth—not just for ourselves, but for all those, humans and others, who came before us, and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent, no dedication more fitting than to protect the future of our species.

The mid-term elections held earlier this week have reminded us that in order for us to survive as a species, and allow other species to survive, we must extinguish the anti-intellectualism – “a kind of celebration of ignorance, as Sagan put it – that has once again risen to the surface in our society. The only way we can do that is to educate ourselves, our children, and even more importantly, our leaders, so they can understand the issues facing us.

Sagan wrote presciently about a future that one could argue has come to pass…

I have a foreboding of an America…when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.

We have been bamboozled by scientifically illiterate charlatans whose goal is not the health of the Earth or the human species, but the bottom line of their corporate sponsors.

 

Even though he’s been gone more than two decades, we can still learn a lot from Dr. Sagan.

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Posted in ISTA, reform

ISTA: “We’ll be Careful”

My last two posts dealt with ISTA and their collaborations with Stand for Children.

I’m happy to report that I have heard from ISTA’s leadership. They are well-aware of the dangers of working with Stand for Children and have assured me that they are entering in the discussions with “eyes wide open.” They promise to be very careful.

There was no response to my suggestion that the appearance of collaboration with “reformers” might be bad.

In any case…we’ll just have to see what happens next.

 

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Posted in ISTA, Privatization, reform

ISTA and Stand for Children. For or Against?

WAITING FOR AN ANSWER

In my last post I wrote that ISTA was “joining” with Stand for Children (SFC) to work for more state funding for education. At least that’s what I think they meant when they said,

ISTA is reaching out to a broad number of groups to help achieve increased school funding and teacher compensation – Stand is just one of these organizations.

I don’t know any more details than that.

ISTA’s President told a colleague that we should talk to her directly instead of posting on social media. I admit…the first thing I did when I heard that ISTA was “reaching out” to SFC was to tweet a “say it isn’t so” tweet. Since then, however, I have emailed the leadership twice – once on October 21, and again on October 23.

[I understand that they are busy. I’m retired. The leadership of ISTA is not. I have noticed that they have been having a variety of meetings lately. So, I’m not complaining that I haven’t heard from them. I appreciate the work they do for the teachers of Indiana. That’s why I was a member every year that I taught, and have remained a member even into retirement. So…I’ll wait.]

 

TALKING WITH THE ENEMY

I agree that it can be beneficial to talk to those with whom we disagree. It’s my hunch, however, that “reaching out” is more than talking. If it is not, then I hope that ISTA publicly announces that it is not. If it is more than just talking, then I object.

If I had heard that ISTA was talking to SFC in order to convince them to support public schools rather than continue their “reformy” ways I would have been skeptical of their chances of success but it would not have been a problem. The fact that the plan is to “reach out to SFC” in a drive for more funds seems like something different.

I’m all in for fully funding Indiana’s public schools, but I have a feeling that I’m not going to like how SFC wants to use extra education funding in Indiana…more charter schools perhaps?

The money SFC has invested in Indy has gone for school board members, who in turn have joined with the Mind Trust, the Innovation Network, and privatization. This, from Nov. 2016…

How Much Money Has Stand For Children Spent On IPS Board Elections And Indiana Lobbying?

…a WFYI News review of Stand For Children’s Form 990 federal tax returns gives some insight into how much and where campaign and lobbying dollars are spent. Five years of filings show the Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit continues to make Indiana — one of its 11 state affiliates — a focal point for school reform efforts.

At least $1 million was spent in Indiana during the past five years. The bulk of that money appears to go toward lobbying state legislators to pass laws, including the controversial bill that led to “innovation network schools” supported by IPS Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and the Indianapolis Mayor’s Office.

 

APPEARANCES MATTER

At the very least this looks terrible and ISTA ought to publicly renounce any affiliation with groups that work towards closing public schools to open privately run charters. That’s my opinion.

SFC doesn’t really work for teachers, either.

For example, here’s an blog post about SFC’s take on teacher evaluation from a few years ago (2014). Ironically, the post was written by ISTA.

ISTA: Stand for Children’s Teacher Evaluation Study Flawed and Misguided

Stand and other education “reform” groups need to quit trying to draw a direct line from a student’s single set of test scores to a teacher’s comprehensive evaluation. It makes no sense. It is overly simplistic. It is not defensible. It is unfair.

Stand for Children and Rep. Behning should focus on TRYING TO HELP HOOSIER CHILDREN instead of trying to HURT TEACHERS. The public has had their fill of this nonsense.

SFC hasn’t improved since that post was written. My post from October 22 included information from an Answer Sheet article, written last July, discussing what SFC, in concert with The Mind Trust, has done to Indianapolis public schools. Here’s yet another exerpt. As you read it, keep in mind that SFC has spent a substantial amount of money buying seats on the Indianapolis school board.

What’s really going on in Indiana’s public schools

When schools reopen in Indianapolis, Indiana in July, the doors of three legacy high schools will remain shuttered. The Indianapolis Public School (IPS) board voted last fall to close them after six months of raucous meetings where community members accused the board and superintendent of ignoring community concerns. Like many school closures, the recent shuttering of what were once three great high schools would disproportionately impact low-income children of color.

DOES THE RIGHT HAND KNOW WHAT THE LEFT IS DOING?

It seems that ISTA is also against ISTA’s plan to “reach out” to SFC. The upcoming election includes new school board members in Indianapolis. ISTA is working hard to defeat SFC-backed candidates. And with good reason…

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

Chances are SFC is spending heavily on the school board election in order to keep the majority that has pushed for privatization in Indianapolis. The Chalkbeat article, quoted above, also said,

…one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

[According to Chalkbeat, it seems the main concern here is the teachers union as bogeyman. Keep in mind, however, that Chalkbeat is funded by a variety of billionaires and other privatizers such as the Walton and the Gates Foundations.]

 

What is indisputable is SFC continued desire to privatize Indianapolis’s public school system by electing pro-privatization school board members. ISTA is spending thousands in opposition.

Now that action by ISTA is something I can agree with.

SFC: IN A NUTSHELL

Again, I’m all for fully funding public schools, but I don’t believe that joining with SFC will result in what ISTA is hoping for. A few years ago, Diane Ravitch explained SFC’s purpose…

Stand for Children Does Not Stand for Public Education

Let’s be clear: Stand for Children and its kind want to put an end not only to teachers’ unions but to the teaching profession. They want teachers to be evaluated by test scores, despite the overwhelming evidence that doing so will promote teaching to standardized tests and narrowing the curriculum, as well as cheating and gaming the system.

ISTA shouldn’t reach out to Stand For Children. Ever.

A PERSONAL NOTE

A comment on my post from Oct 22 asked me if I am now ready to rip up my ISTA card.

My answer: No. I didn’t join ISTA for trivial reasons…and I won’t quit because the leadership has decided to do something I disagree with.

Instead, I’ll express my dissatisfaction with this particular action (like I have done with other actions in the past) to local and state level leadership. If I don’t agree with their answers I will continue to speak up and try to change their minds.

 

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Posted in IPS, ISTA, Privatization, reform

ISTA: Lying Down With Dogs

LYING DOWN WITH DOGS

The Indiana State Teachers Association is joining with Stand for Children. Why would ISTA join with an ed-reform group?

 

In case you don’t know, Stand for Children is a pro-ed-reform group deeply involved with the privatization of Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS).

With the arrival of Oregon-based Stand For Children, Indianapolis school board elections started to take on a decidedly different tenor. Until 2010, a few thousand dollars was all that was needed to win a seat. That all changed when Stand For Children, an education reform 501(c)(4), started pouring tens of thousands of dollars into the 2012 elections. Stand’s tax return that year reported that the election of three Indianapolis school board members was a top accomplishment for the organization.

The result of this is that Indianapolis has seen school closures and disruptions led by the district superintendent…appointed by the school board purchased by Stand for Children.

DISRUPTED? HOW?

Stand for Children also spent $473,172 lobbying Indiana lawmakers on Public Law 1321, which was passed in 2014. Public Law 1321 was based on a 2013 model policy drafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch-funded member organization of corporate lobbyists and conservative state legislators who craft “model legislation” on issues important to them and then help shepherd it through legislatures. Public Law 1321 allows Indianapolis and other districts across the state to create Innovation Network Schools — schools that are overseen by the school district but managed by private operators. These include privately operated charter schools that gain instant access to existing public buildings and resources.

IPS opened the first Innovation Network school in 2015. Fast-forward to 2018, and the district website lists 20 Innovation Schools in total. The Mind Trust has “incubated” and helped IPS open many of those Innovation Schools, including Daniels’s Purdue Polytechnic High School, with seven more schools in the pipeline.

GERM

Groups like Stand for Children are part of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) which has caused much of the academic and economic turmoil in our public schools for the last several decades. Why does ISTA, representing Indiana’s public school teachers, want to join with them?

My guess is that any increase in education funding supported by groups like Stand for Children will be tossed down the voucher/charter sinkhole!

IPS is being privatized. Stand for Children is helping.

Read the entire article by Darcie Cimarusti on Valerie Strauss’s Answer Sheet.

Then, contact your ISTA officers and representatives for a more complete explanation, and a change in policy.

 

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been a member of ISTA and NEA since the day I started teaching…42 years ago. I’m now a member of ISTA- and NEA-Retired.

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Posted in climate change, environment

A Direct Threat to Every Country on the Planet

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS US.

You may have missed it among all the news coverage of the upcoming midterm election, the tweets, and the World Series. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report outlining the catastrophe which is approaching if we don’t do anything to head of the warming of the Earth – fires, flood, drought, severe weather, which will invariably lead to climate refugees, fresh water shortages, and conflict over arable land and water.

Only one nation isn’t on board with the rest of the world. The United States.

Last week French President Macron asked the members of the UN to start economic boycotts against us. “Macron’s point is that any country that fails to fight climate change poses a direct threat to every country on the planet.”

The New York Times reported on the UN Climate Report…

Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040

The report, issued on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders, describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous I.P.C.C. reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.” The report was the first to be commissioned by world leaders under the Paris agreement, the 2015 pact by nations to fight global warming. The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels by 2040, inundating coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty.

…and a link to the actual report.

Global Warming of 1.5C

“One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C or more. For instance, by 2100, global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C. Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5°C, whereas virtually all (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C.

WE ACCEPT SCIENCE WHEN…

We accept the science which makes our cell phones and computers. We accept the science which brings us our television programs and podcasts. We accept the science of medicine whenever we go to the doctor or take a prescription. We accept the science of flying on airplanes.

Climate change caused by human action is as established a science as any of those things. The only “doubters” are those whose millions billions are made by, or supported by fossil fuel companies. These are the same people who brought you the “Cigarettes are not harmful” lie.

Watch…

WILL YOU BE HERE IN 20 YEARS?

Will we come to our senses soon enough to preserve our environment for our children and our grandchildren (and our great-grandchildren)? According to the UN Report, we should change our ways for anyone who expects to be alive in twenty years, too. At “three-score and ten” I may not be around in 2040, but (hopefully) my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandson will be.

Are we smart enough to sacrifice some economic gains for clean air, clean water, and a livable planet? The Earth will be here in 20 years no matter what we do. Will we?

 

For more information, see

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway

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