The Legacy of Katrina

This weekend is the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans, and much of the Gulf Coast region.  Perhaps the best way to start this post is to watch this video which I embeded from the Hurricane Katrina page.  The video is a sunrise service (February 9, 2007) amongst residents of New Orleans, and was uploaded to the nola site by Michael DeMocker, The Times-Picayune.

Sunrise Service at Katrina Memorial

Hurricane Katrina was the worst natural disaster to hit the United States, and now after five years, the city of New Orleans has organized the fifth anniversary to reflect on the disaster, and to assess the progress on newly constructed infrastructure, on the repair and construction on the thousands of homes that were damaged or destroyed, and on ways to prevent the kind of flooding that devastated the city.

One resource to find information, media, and documented articles on hurricanes, and Katrina is the Times-Picayune newspaper, and in particular the work of two Pulitzer-Prize Winning reporters, John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein.  They co-authored the award winning 2002 5-part article, Washing Away, and published Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms in 2006.  In their 2002 article they wrote:

It’s only a matter of time before south Louisiana takes a direct hit from a major hurricane.  Billions have been spent to protect us, but we grow more vulnerable.

Of course south Louisiana was hit with a superstorm, Hurricane Katrina, and a year later McQuaid and Schleifstein wrote their book, Path of Destruction which described the devastation of New Orleans.  As they report, levees and transportation led to the calamity in New Orleans.  Their book combines geology, climate science, meteorology, and first hand accounts to help us understand Hurricane Katrina, the actions that government agencies took to prepare and deal with the coming storm, and the way local, state and federal agencies approached this catastrophic disaster.  I highly recommend this book to help you understand the complexity of this natural disaster.

Right after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, I wrote Hurricane Katrina: A Citizen Resource to Further Our Understanding of Hurricane Katrina.  The resource is an online resource and activity guide that teachers can use with their students to help them not only understand Hurricane Katrina, but hurricanes in general.

A Web-Based Experience for Students and Teachers on Hurricane Katrina

The legacy of Katrina is in the lives of the people who were affected by this devastating storm, and how people have worked to re-build the city, and their lives.  Here are some further thoughts about Katrina as reflected in these pieces:

La Residents Rid Grief

Hurricane Katrina in Images

Nola Coverage of Hurricane Katrina

On this Blog

Science Progress

The Art of Teaching Science Blog advocates a progressive and humanistic paradigm for science teaching. One of sources of research-based information that I regularly consult is Science Progress, “a project of the Center for American Progress, specifically designed to improve public understanding of science and technology and to showcase exciting, progressive ideas about the many ways in which government and citizens can leverage innovation for the common good.”

One of the recent reports on Science Progress was a book review of Merchants of Doubt which explores how a small number of scientists obscured the truth on issues such as tobacco smoke and global warming.  Other topics that will be of value to science teachers include:

Why Some Georgia Districts Choose Not to Partner with the State’s Race to the Top Grant Proposal

Georgia was one of nine states and the District of Columbia to receive millions of dollars from the Race to the Top Fund from the U.S. Department of Education.  Georgia will receive $400 million.

Not all districts in Georgia will participate in the Race to the Top grant.  Three large districts in the Atlanta area, including Fulton and Cobb Counties decided not to participate.  One reason is that schools who do participate in the Department of Education proposal will have to evaluate teachers on a yet to be developed system that will no doubt include performance evaluations based in part on student achievement growth as measured on high stakes tests.  The districts participating also will have to embrace the Common Core Standards in mathematics and language arts.  The proposals funded by the U.S. Department of Education also include provisions for improving data collection and tracking systems, as well as increasing the number of charter schools in the state.

There is controversy over the research that supports these “reform” efforts, especially using the student achievement as a way to pay teachers, and the effectiveness of charter schools.

I’ll explore these two efforts, and identify some studies that shed light on why we should question the veracity of the Race to the Top assumptions, and whether this Federal program is the kind of reform that American education needs.

Race to the Top Winners

Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced the Round Two winners in the competition for $4.5 billion in the Race to the Top Fund. If you recall, Delaware and Tennessee were the only states to receive funding in Phase I of the competition. Now, 9 states and the District of Columbia schools were selected as winners of millions of dollars in grant funds in the Phase II competition. There were 9 other states that were in the running for funds, but were not selected to receive funds. These states included: Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina.

Here is a map identifying the states that are receiving Race to the Top Funds.  Interestingly the states that did receive funds are Eastern and Southern states.

The ten winners will receive grants ranging from $75 to $700 million as follows:

• District of Columbia: $75 million. Score: 450.0
• Florida: $700 million. Score: 452.4
• Georgia: $400 million. Score: 446.4
• Hawaii: $75 million. Score: 462.4
• Maryland: $250 million. Score: 450.0
• Massachusetts: $250 million. Score: 471.0
• New York: $700 million. Score: 464.8
• North Carolina: $400 million. Score: 441.6
• Ohio: $400 million. Score: 440.8
• Rhode Island: $75 million. Score: 451.2

The proposals from the States were required to advance reforms around four specific areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

According to Washington, D.C., Superintendent Rhee, one of the winning applicants, its plan is to use the grant money for school turnaround, alignment of curricula to the new “common core” standards, and expansion of the new IMPACT teacher evaluation system. The funds would also go toward improving teacher professional development, especially in the area of using data to drive instruction.

For many teachers, the top down proclamations implicit in the Race to the Top proposals, make the program suspect. But more importantly is the movement toward standardization through the acceptance of these states to the common core standards in math and literacy, and amazingly brazen over reliance on high stakes tests to determine the academic levels of students, determine teacher pay raises, and assess the performance of each school.

Carolyn Grannan, writing in the San Francisco Examiner, reports how Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute assesses the weakness of the Race to the Top through its use of testing, its narrowing of the curriculum to a focus on math and reading to the exclusion of everything else, its forcing states to allow more charter schools while ignoring the research giving no credence to that approach.

The state of Georgia, where I reside, was also one of the winners in the Race to the Top Fund.  I’ll be reporting now and then on this state’s efforts to improve education through its Race to the Top proposal.  Don’t hold your breathe.

Art of Teaching Science Website Survey

Dear Readers,

The link that follows will take you a survey that I have designed to solicit your feedback on the Art of Teaching Science Blog. The Art of Teaching Science Blog was started in 2005, and has had over a million visitors. It would be valuable for us to know what you think about the website, and what might be done to improve the site.

Here is the link for the survey.

It should take only a few minutes. Your time will be greatly appreciated.

Best regards,

Jack Hassard