Why Even the World’s Highest-Scoring Schools Need to Change

[Note:  This item comes from friend Andy Maffei.  DLH]

Why Even the World’s Highest-Scoring Schools Need to Change
Teachers, not corporations, should be in charge of our children’s education.
By Marion Brady
Mar 17 2017

Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. Secretary of Education, has a theory. She agrees with Jeb Bush and other education amateurs now shaping American education that “the system” is basically sound, but teachers lack skills and kids lack grit. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Competition in the form of market forces—choice, vouchers, merit pay, charters, privatization, and so on—will shape them up.   

DeVos is wrong. Dozens of variables—most of them beyond educator control—affect kids’ ability to learn. Believing that market forces can erase the effects of those variables is magical thinking.

Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, David Bohm, Alfred North Whitehead, Ernest Boyer, Harlan Cleveland, Arthur Koestler, Thomas Merton, Peter Senge, and many other internationally known and respected thinkers have a different theory about poor learner and school performance. They say the core curriculum—the curriculum America’s reformers have standardized with the Common Core State Standards—is poor. They say it’s fragmented, incoherent, artificial, disconnected from the reality it’s supposed to explain to learners and help them explore.

If they’re right, until educators acknowledge the inadequacy of the core and satisfactorily address its problems, even the world’s highest-scoring schools won’t serve learners well. 

Here’s Why:

1. For efficient, productive thought, information must be organized in a logical, intellectually manageable way. The core subjects organize information, but they don’t explain how all those organizers “fit together” and reinforce each other to improve sense-making.

2. Businesses, industries, the military, and other information-dependent entities don’t use academic disciplines or school subjects to organize information. To (a) a more accurately model reality’s systemically integrated, holistic nature; (b) cope with reality’s inherent complexity; and (c) solve real-world problems, they use systems theory and systems thinking.

The Situation

Tradition, institutional inertia, multi-layered bureaucracies, fear of change, textbook publishers, testing companies, uninformed politicians, and upside-down organization charts that put amateurs in charge of experts, block educator acceptance of systems thinking as the primary organizer of school curricula. No plan is in place to address these institutional obstacles to curricular innovation.

A Way Forward

Lasting curricular change is bottom up and voluntary, propelled by the enthusiasm of kids and teachers. The optimum place and time to introduce systems thinking is at the middle school level, using multidisciplinary teacher teams working with small groups, and offering social science, language arts, and humanities credits. Introduce systems thinking at that level, and its merit will eventually lead to adoption at other levels.


No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes On the Flying Car

No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes On the Flying Car
This isn’t science fiction. A number of start-ups as well as big aerospace firms are trying to build personal aircraft you could fly around town.
By John Markoff
Apr 24 2017

CLEARLAKE, Calif. — On a recent afternoon, an aerospace engineer working for a small Silicon Valley company called Kitty Hawk piloted a flying car above a scenic lake about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

Kitty Hawk’s flying car, if you insisted on calling it a “car,” looked like something Luke Skywalker would have built out of spare parts. It was an open-seated, 220-pound contraption with room for one person, powered by eight battery-powered propellers that howled as loudly as a speedboat.

The tech industry, as we are often told, is fond of disrupting things, and lately the automakers have been a big target. Cars that use artificial intelligence to drive themselves, for example, have been in development for a few years and can be spotted on roads in a number of cities. And now, coming onto the radar screen, are flying machines that do not exactly look like your father’s Buick with wings.

More than a dozen start-ups backed by deep-pocketed industry figures like Larry Page, a Google founder — along with big aerospace firms like Airbus, the ride-hailing company Uber and even the government of Dubai — are taking on the dream of the flying car.

The approaches by the different companies vary and the realization of their competing visions seems far in the future, but they have one thing in common: a belief that one day regular people should be able to fly their own vehicles around town.

There are challenges, no doubt, with both the technology and government regulations. Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be convincing the public that the whole idea isn’t crazy.

“I love the idea of being able to go out into my backyard and hop into my flying car,” said Brad Templeton, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has served as a consultant on Google’s self-driving project. “I hate the idea of my next-door neighbor having one.”

Kitty Hawk, the company backed by Mr. Page, is trying to be one of the first out of the gate and plans to start selling its vehicle by the end of the year.

The company has attracted intense interest because of Mr. Page and its chief executive, Sebastian Thrun, an influential technologist and self-driving car pioneerwho is the founding director of Google’s X lab.

In 2013, Zee Aero, a Kitty Hawk division, became the object of Silicon Valley rumors when reports of a small air taxilike vehicle first surfaced.

Mr. Page declined a request for an interview but said in a statement: “We’ve all had dreams of flying effortlessly. I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight.”

During his recent test flight, Cameron Robertson, the aerospace engineer, used two joysticklike controls to swing the vehicle back and forth above Clear Lake, sliding on the air as a Formula One car might shimmy through a racecourse. The flight, just 15 feet above the water, circled over the lake about 20 or 30 yards from shore, and after about five minutes Mr. Robertson steered back to a floating landing pad at the end of a dock.

The Kitty Hawk Flyer is one of several prototypes the start-up, based in Mountain View, Calif., is designing. The company hopes to create an audience of enthusiasts and hobbyists, who later this year will be able to pay $100 to sign up for a $2,000 discount on the retail price of a Flyer to “gain exclusive access to Kitty Hawk experiences and demonstrations where a select few will get the chance to ride the Flyer.”


The March for Science was a moment made for Bill Nye

The March for Science was a moment made for Bill Nye
By Caitlin Gibson
Apr 23 2017

The moment he emerged onstage in a black jacket and red bow tie, the crowd noise hit near-deafening decibels. A sea of iPhones appeared, everyone stretching and jostling for the best possible photo angle. They cupped their hands to their mouths, screaming his name.

“Greetings, fellow citizens,” Bill Nye said to the thousands huddled beneath umbrellas and hand-lettered signs. “We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and prosperity.”

Near the foot of the stage, a young woman with a bright-green pixie cut shouted: “I love you!”

It was a significant moment — for science, for William Sanford Nye and for the masses who have followed him for decades, from fuzzy TV screens in their middle school classrooms to the grounds of the Washington Monument at Saturday’s March for Science. He is beloved by millennials who came of age watching the ’90s-era PBS series “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” a role that made him an icon: half mad professor, half Mr. Rogers, perpetually clad in a pale-blue lab coat and bow tie as he unveiled the science of eroding mountains or orbiting comets with theatrical flourish.

More than 20 years later, the 61-year-old still wears the bow ties, and he still punctuates his speech with impassioned catchphrases. (“It’s not magic, it’s science!” is his new favorite.) But now his disheveled locks and vaguely Vulcan eyebrows are streaked with gray, and his persona has assumed a new edge. He has become more than the zany educator-entertainer who charmed kids with cartoonish sound effects. He is an activist for science, leading those now-grownups into political battle.

Of all the roles he has played, this is the one he was preparing for all along.

“I did imagine it could come to this,” Nye said Friday, during a visit to The Washington Post the day before the march.

By “this,” he meant the legions of scientists, doctors, engineers and concerned members of the public taking to the streets of Washington and more than 600 cities worldwide. Their demonstration was a response to the rise of anti-scientific notions — the anti-vaccination movement and climate-change denial in particular — and a retort to the Trump administration, which has proposed deep budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health.

In the weeks before the march, many called this kind of mass protest from the scientific community unprecedented. But Nye was not surprised.

The current “anti-science thing,” he said, had been on the rise for decades. “People were denying pollution in 1970, saying it’s a-okay.”

He took note of the early warning signs as a young man in Seattle, where he got his start in broadcasting with a local sketch-comedy show. He also was volunteering on weekends at the Pacific Science Center and with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

“I realized that kids are the future,” he said. “The reason I made the ‘Science Guy’ show was quite deliberate. If we can get young people excited about science, then we have a shot. I knew I was fighting the fight.”

The fight is political, but not partisan, he emphasizes. Still, he has drawn his share of partisan critics. Some, like Sarah Palin, have questioned whether Nye is actually qualified to speak on behalf of science: “Bill Nye is as much a scientist as I am,” she once declared.

Nye chuckles in response: “Well, Ms. Palin, you’re wrong.”

To be fair: He did make his name as an entertainer. “I’m not a research scientist,” he acknowledged, like his good friend and fellow science celebrity Neil deGrasse Tyson, who climbed the academic ranks as an astrophysicist. Nye earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Cornell then went to work for Boeing. His fancier science credentials — designing an interplanetary sundial used by NASA and becoming chief executive of the Planetary Society, a space-advocacy group co-founded by Carl Sagan — came after his TV fame.

Still, his education was grounded in the scientific method. And, he argues, it doesn’t take a paleontologist to defend evolution or a meteorologist to comprehend the perils of climate change.


The disabled and the elderly are facing a big problem: Not enough aides

The disabled and the elderly are facing a big problem: Not enough aides
By Judith Graham
Apr 23 2017

Acute shortages of home health aides and nursing assistants are cropping up across the country, threatening care for people with serious disabilities and vulnerable older adults.

In Wisconsin, nursing homes have denied admission to thousands of patients over the past year because they lack essential staff, according to associations of facilities that provide long-term care.

In New York, patients in rural areas have been injured, soiled themselves and gone without meals because paid caregivers aren’t available, according to testimony provided to state legislators in February.

In Illinois, the independence of people with severe developmental disabilities is being compromised as agencies experience severe staff shortages, according to a court monitor overseeing a federal consent decree.

The emerging crisis is driven by low wages — around $10 an hour, mostly funded by state Medicaid programs — and a shrinking pool of workers willing to perform this physically and emotionally demanding work: helping people get into and out of bed, go to the bathroom, shower, eat and participate in routine activities, often while dealing with challenging behaviors.

Experts warn that this labor problem portends even worse difficulties as America’s senior population swells to 88 million people in 2050, up from 48 million today, and requires more assistance with chronic health conditions and disabilities. 

“If we don’t turn this around, things are only going to get worse,” said David Gifford, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs for the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.

“For me as a parent, the instability of this system is terrifying,” said Cheryl Dougan of Bethlehem, Pa., whose profoundly disabled son, Renzo, suffered cardiac arrest nearly 19 years ago at age 14 and receives round-the-clock care from paid caregivers.

“We’ve gone through hundreds of . . . workers, and there have been times I’ve found Renzo sitting in a recliner, soaking wet, because his diapers hadn’t been changed. And at times I wasn’t sure if he was being fed well or treated well,” Dougan continued. “It’s exhausting, mentally and physically. You live with a constant sense of crisis.”

Rising demand

For years, experts have predicted that a rapidly aging population’s demand for services would outstrip the capacity of what is called the “direct care” workforce: personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that an additional 1.1 million workers of this kind will be needed by 2024 — a 26 percent increase over 2014. Yet the population of people who tend to fill these jobs, overwhelmingly women age 25 to 64, will increase at a much slower rate.

After the recession of 2008-2009, positions in Medicaid-funded home health agencies, nursing homes and community service agencies were relatively easy to fill for several years. But the improving economy has led workers to pursue higher-paying alternatives — in retail services, for example — and turnover rates have soared.

At the same time, wages for nursing assistants, home health aides and personal care aides have stagnated, making recruitment difficult. The average hourly rate nationally is $10.11 — a few cents lower than a decade ago, according to PHI, an organization that studies the direct-care workforce. There is a push on now in a handful of states to raise the minimum to $15 an hour. 

For-profit franchises that offer services to seniors who pay out of pocket are also having problems with staffing.

“All the experienced workers are already placed with families. They’re off the market,” said Carrie Bianco, owner of Always Best Care Senior Services of Torrance, Calif., part of a national chain with franchises in 30 states.


Thousands of tiny satellites are about to go into space and possibly ruin it forever

Thousands of tiny satellites are about to go into space and possibly ruin it forever
By Avi Selk
Apr 21 2017

Halfway through the European Space Agency’s new film, we’re at the part where — if this were some happy space documentary from yesteryear — Carl Sagan might be giving us a tour of a distant galaxy.

But it’s 2017, Sagan is dead, and this is a film about space trash. So six minutes in, we’re stuck a mere 800 miles above Earth, watching a wasp swarm of defunct satellites whip around the globe to a frenetic soundtrack that sounds like the end of “The Dark Knight.”

It’s a dramatic simulation of what low Earth orbit looks like today. You can even watch it in 3-D. Because the European Space Agency really, really wants you to pay attention to the space debris problem.

The problem is about to get worse, experts say, as cheap, tiny satellites are shot through the stratosphere in unprecedented numbers.

Worst-case scenario: a massive, unstoppable, chain-reaction traffic wreck above our heads. So much for escaping Earth to distant galaxies.

The short film “Space Debris: A Journey to Earth” was screened this week in Germany at the world’s largest annual gathering of space-debris experts.

The news from space was not great.

Hundreds of thousands of bits of space junk are orbiting Earth, according to NASA. These include tiny paint flecks that can take out a space shuttle window, and some 2,000 satellite shards left by a collision of Russian and American satellites several years ago.

In Germany, the audience was shown a slide from another depressing space film, “Gravity.” The part where the International Space Station is destroyed in an avalanche of space trash.

“There were many mistakes in that movie; I will not go through that,” ESA Director General Jan Woerner said. “But the effect, as such, is a very serious one.”

Woerner cut to video from the real International Space Station, which has not yet been destroyed.

Bobbing around in zero gravity, astronaut Thomas Pesquet described what the space station crew has to do when a piece of debris whizzes past: Climb into an escape shuttle, wait and hope.

“This happened four times,” Pesquet said. “In my own interests, let me wish you a successful conference.”


Why people are marching for science: ‘There is no Planet B’

Why people are marching for science: ‘There is no Planet B’
By Joel Achenbach, Ben Guarino and Sarah Kaplan
Apr 22 2017

Thousands of people gathered in the rain Saturday on the soggy grounds of the Washington Monument to turn Earth Day into an homage to science. After four hours of speeches and musical performances, they marched down Constitution Avenue to the foot of Capitol Hill, chanting “Build labs, not walls!” and “Hey, Trump, have you heard, you can’t silence every nerd!”

The March for Science began as a notion batted around online on Reddit after the Women’s March on Washington, which was held Jan. 21, the day after President Trump’s inauguration. The idea snowballed after it was endorsed by numerous mainstream science organizations, which vowed that it would not be a partisan event. It eventually became a global phenomenon, held in more than 600 cities on six continents — and cheered on by scientists on a seventh, Antarctica.

“We are at a critical juncture. Science is under attack,” said Cara Santa Maria, a science communicator who is one of several emcees of the four-hour rally that kicked off at 10 a.m. “The very idea of evidence and logic and reason is being threatened by individuals and interests with the power to do real harm.”

She went on: “We’re gathered here today to fight for science. [The crowd cheered.] We’re gathered to fight for education. [Cheer.] To fight for knowledge. [Cheer.] And to fight for planet Earth.” [Cheer.]

She was followed by the musician Questlove, who said “many people” are refusing to follow scientific facts, and he pointed toward the White House. “That guy over there,” he said in a whisper. He waved, said “Hi,” and made a fast gesture with his middle finger that someone not paying close attention might well have missed.

YouTube star Tyler DeWitt took the stage with another pointed message: Experts need to learn how to explain things in a way regular folks can understand.

“Ditch the jargon!” he said. “Make it understandable. Make people care. Talk to them, not at them. We cannot complain about slashed funding if we can’t tell taxpayers why science matters.”

Cell biologist Lydia Villa-Komaroff, one of the march’s honorary co-chairs, told how she and her colleagues in the 1970s discovered how to make insulin in bacteria, and how that breakthrough was made possible only through basic research funded in the 1950s and 1960s when no one knew if it would lead to anything. “Support for science has been declining for decades. Mr. President, members of the House and Senate, support our future. Invest in science!” she said.

Denis Hayes, co-founder of the first Earth Day in 1970, chose not to dial back his rhetoric, saying the White House “reeks of greed and sleaze and mendacity” and declaring, “America has had 45 presidents, but we have never before had a president who is completely indifferent to the truth. Donald Trump makes Richard Nixon look like Diogenes.”

President Trump issued an Earth Day statement that did not mention the March for Science directly, though seemed to be aware of what was happening within shouting distance of the White House. After pledging to keep the nation’s air and water clean and protect endangered species, the president said:

“Rigorous science is critical to my Administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection. My Administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks. As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.”

At times, the lines to get through the event’s security checkpoints stretched for several blocks. The advanced technologies known as the umbrella and the rain poncho proved useful. The program ran so precisely on schedule, you would think it had been timed with an atomic clock. People danced when Thomas Dolby took the stage to perform his 1982 blockbuster hit “She Blinded Me With Science.”

Some people wore lab coats. Some wore pink, knitted “brain” hats. Sam McCoy, 27, who traveled from North Carolina, carried a homemade sign certain to baffle anyone lacking an understanding of P Values and the null hypothesis. But most of the signs were more straightforward:


Why Poverty Is Like a Disease

[Note:  This item comes from reader Randall Head.  DLH]

Why Poverty Is Like a Disease
Emerging science is putting the lie to American meritocracy.
Apr 20 2017

On paper alone you would never guess that I grew up poor and hungry.

My most recent annual salary was over $700,000. I am a Truman National Security Fellow and a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations. My publisher has just released my latest book series on quantitative finance in worldwide distribution.

None of it feels like enough though. I feel as though I am wired for a permanent state of flight or fight, waiting for the other shoe to drop, or the metaphorical week when I don’t eat. I’ve chosen not to have children, partly because—despite any success—I still don’t feel I have a safety net. I have a huge minimum checking account balance in mind before I would ever consider having children. If you knew me personally, you might get glimpses of stress, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression. And you might hear about Tennessee.

Meet anyone from Tennessee and they will never say they are from “just” Tennessee. They’ll add a prefix: East, West, or Middle. My early life was in East Tennessee, in an Appalachian town called Rockwood. I was the eldest of four children with a household income that couldn’t support one. Every Pentecostal church in the surrounding hillbilly heroin country smelled the same: a sweaty mix of cheap cleaner and even cheaper anointing oil, with just a hint of forsaken hope. One of those forsaken churches was effectively my childhood home, and my school.

Class was a single room of 20 people running from kindergarten through twelfth grade, part of an unaccredited school practicing what’s called Accelerated Christian Education. We were given booklets to read to ourselves, by ourselves. We scored our own homework. There were no lectures, and I did not have a teacher. Once in a while the preacher’s wife would hand out a test. We weren’t allowed to do anything. There were no movies, and no music. Years would pass with no distinguishing features, no events. There was barely any socializing.

On top of it all, I spent a lot of my time pondering basic questions. Where will my next meal come from? Will I have electricity tomorrow? I became intimately acquainted with the embarrassment of my mom trying to hide our food stamps at the grocery store checkout. I remember panic setting in as early as age 8, at the prospect of a perpetual uncertainty about everything in life, from food to clothes to education. I knew that the life I was living couldn’t be normal. Something was wrong with the tiny microcosm I was born into. I just wasn’t sure what it was.

As an adult I thought I’d figured that out. I’d always thought my upbringing had made me wary and cautious, in a “lessons learned” kind of way. Over the past decades, though, that narrative has evolved. We’ve learned that the stresses associated with poverty have the potential to change our biology in ways we hadn’t imagined. It can reduce the surface area of your brain, shorten your telomeres and lifespan, increase your chances of obesity, and make you more likely to take outsized risks.

Now, new evidence is emerging suggesting the changes can go even deeper—to how our bodies assemble themselves, shifting the proportions of types of cells that they are made from, and maybe even how our genetic code is expressed, playing with it like a Rubik’s cube thrown into a running washing machine. If this science holds up, it means that poverty is more than just a socioeconomic condition. It is a collection of related symptoms that are preventable, treatable—and even inheritable. In other words, the effects of poverty begin to look very much like the symptoms of a disease.

That word—disease—carries a stigma with it. By using it here, I don’t mean that the poor are (that I am) inferior or compromised. I mean that the poor are afflicted, and told by the rest of the world that their condition is a necessary, temporary, and even positive part of modern capitalism. We tell the poor that they have the chance to escape if they just work hard enough; that we are all equally invested in a system that doles out rewards and punishments in equal measure. We point at the rare rags-to-riches stories like my own, which seem to play into the standard meritocracy template.

But merit has little to do with how I got out.