The Debate We Should Have Had: Science, Climate and the Next Four Years

Note:  I just received this update from ScienceDebate’s Shawn Otto reminding us of the following debate on climate science on Thursday, November 1 in D.C.

The Debate We Should Have Had: Science, Climate and the Next Four Years

Featuring Obama campaign surrogate Kevin Knobloch and former Republican congressman and Delaware governor Mike Castle.

Moderated by‘s Shawn Otto and ClimateDesk Live’s Chris Mooney.


Thursday, November 1, 2012
The Mott House, Capitol Hill
9:30a.m.-11:00a.m. Eastern US Time Zone

In the aftermath of  hurricane-cyclonic storm Sandy’s fury, this debate will raise questions about why the Presidential campaigns have been silent on global warming and the predictions that climate scientists have made about extreme weather phenomena such as superstorms, such as Sandy, infernos experienced last summer in Colorado, major droughts, and extreme flooding.  

If you cannot be present for livestreamVigo over to anytime after the 11:AM debate.



Is the Monster Storm, Sandy, Connected to Global Warming?

The Superstorm that is slowly moving toward the Middle Atlantic and Northeast states appears to be an anomaly by most weather standards.  Or is it?  Could this superstorm be related to Global Warming?  More specifically, could it be related to the the melting of the the arctic sea ice?

Climate change, according to some, has conveniently been left out of the 2012 Presidential election.  ScienceDebate dot org, and the AAAS tried to get the candidates to discuss climate change along with other top American science questions including how innovation impacts the economy, energy, basic research, education, water resources.

And here is a very odd coincidence.  On November 1, at The Mott House, Capitol Hill, Science Debate dot org and ClimateDesk will sponsor a debate between Obama campaign surrogate Kevin Knobloch and former Republican congressman and Delaware governor Mike Castle.  The debate that ScienceDebate and AAAS wanted to have will come on the aftermath of what is turning out to be a Monster Storm that is affecting not only 60 million people in the Mid-Altantic and North East States, but the 2012 Presidential election.

The event is called:

The Debate We Should Have Had: Science, Climate and the Next Four Years

The latest position of Sandy, the Monster Storm is shown in the map below and as you see is off the coast of New Jersey, and is moving NNW at 18 mph, with sustained winds of 90 mph.  We will experience gusts of 115 mph.  Sandy is classified as a category 1 hurricane, but is one of the largest Atlantic hurricanes on record.

According to the NOAA and NWS, Hurricane Sandy will evolve into a Post Tropical Cyclone, and will be known as “Post-tropical Cyclone Sandy.”  In this scenario, Sandy as a hurricane derives its energy from the ocean, whereas cyclones, which Sandy will become, derives its energy from temperature contrasts in the atmosphere.  As hurricane Sandy turns slightly left and heads inland, it will meet up with cold polar air, and this convergence will result in a catastrophic storm with high winds, ocean surge and inland water flooding, lots of rain, and enormous amounts of snow further to the west in the Appalachian Mountains.

Hurricane Sandy at 1:55 P.M. from CNN website



Climate Change Connections

Climate change, especially with respect to global warming, raises the shackles of many right-learning politicians.  Climate change, global warming, the Big Bang, birth control, theories of the origins of the universe are linked together with evolution as ideas that are frightful, and therefore, must be considered very carefully in the classroom.

Climate change is one of those ideas that gets the gander up with a lot of people, and as a result, legislatures around the country have passed laws to “protect” those teachers that might discuss such ideas critically.  So, the latest ploy of suggesting that some scientific theories need to be analyzed and discussed critically is simply another way for creationists, and intelligent design advocates to enter the realm of science education. The National Center for Science Education keeps a watchful eye on these kinds of events, and has made recent posts regarding the goings on in Florida and Missouri.

The storm that his bringing havoc to a huge swath of the U.S. mainland does have a climate change connection

Andrew Revkin, over on Dot Earth, explored the connection of Frankenstorm in the context of climate change in a recent post.  Revkin asks “what is the role, if any, of greenhouse-drive global warming in this kind of rare system?”  Rare system indeed.  Revkin reports that some climate scientists say that this the kind of storm that one would expect following a summer in which the Arctic was “open-water.”

As Revkin notes, it is not a simple implication to say that these monster storms are the direct result of the global warming.  Warmer ocean temperatures in the tropics seem to be related to more active hurricane seasons.  And here is this powerful statement from a paper Revkin wrote ten years ago about the Northeast and its stormy history:

Four times since the last ice age, at intervals roughly 3,000 years apart, the Northeast has been struck by cycles of storms far more powerful than any in recent times, according to a new study. The region appears to have entered a fifth era in which such superstorms are more likely, the researchers say.

So, is the hurricane Sandy one of these superstorms that Revkin speaks about.  Probably.

But another interesting aspect that Revkin brought into his blog post was research by Jennifer Francis of Rutgers, who said:

The jet stream pattern — particularly the strongly negative NAO [North Atlantic Oscillation] and associated blocking — that has been in place for the last 2 weeks and is projected to be with us into next week is exactly the sort of highly amplified (i.e., wavy) pattern that I’d expect to see more of in response to ice loss and enhanced Arctic warming….It could very well be that general warming along with high sea-surface temperatures have lengthened the tropical storm season, making it more likely that a Sandy could form, travel so far north, and have an opportunity to interact with a deep jet-stream trough associated with the strong block, which is steering it westward into the mid-Atlantic. While it’s impossible to say how this scenario might have unfolded if sea-ice had been as extensive as it was in the 1980s, the situation at hand is completely consistent with what I’d expect to see happen more often as a result of unabated warming and especially the amplification of that warming in the Arctic.

You might also want to read Chris Mooney’s article over on ClimateDesk entitled, Did Climate Change Supersize Hurricane Sandy?  He explores how the following variables might be affected by climate change: precipitation, storm surge, ocean temperatures, massive size, & hybrid storm.

This is a devastating storm, and we hope that people take heed, and do all that is necessary to protect themselves from this Atlantic hurricane, turned super cyclone.

Are you in the path of superstore, Sandy?  What precautions have you taken?  What are the conditions right now?

Using Students for Politics & Influence Peddling

I was in Augusta, Georgia on Friday and Saturday and during the  local evening news program, there was a TV Ad supporting the Charter School Amendment on the November ballot. The TV Ad was paid for by Families for Better Public Schools, which is chaired by Georgia Republican Representative Edward Lindsey.

The TV Ad features a student at Ivy Preparatory Academy, in Norcross, Georgia.  The video can be seen on the Families for Better Public Schools website.

Representative Edward Lindsey is Chairman of Families for Georgia Public Schools, a “social welfare organization” (according to its website) that is underwriting the campaign to convince Georgia voters to approve the Charter school Amendment. If approved, the Georgia Charter School Commission will be allowed to receive and approve applications for charter schools anywhere in the state, even with out local or the Department of Education’s approval.

This amendment is a political and corporate power play that will result in the formation of a separate stream of charter schools that the state can not afford. A few political appointees will have the power to do this, and they will have little to no accountability.

Lindsay uses double speak in his effort to get this amendment approved. He not only is chairman of the organization that has raised nearly all of its money to support the bill from out-of-state, including a billionaire from the Walton family and thousands of dollars from charter schools operators in Michigan, and Florida and other states. Very little financial support has come from Georgians. Now this is the same man who scolded Georgia’s State School Superintendent for coming out against the amendment, and stating his opinions publicly. He wrote a letter, and actually called Dr. Barge a liar.

Yet Lindsey heads up an organization for the sole purpose of raising money to run ads to get Georgians to pass his amendment. Yes, his amendment. He was one of the three Georgia House members that intro ducted the bill. And, not only that, he’s a member of ALEC, the organization that wrote the charter amendment in the first place.

So, Lindsey and others that support a bill that they claim will give parents a choice in the schooling of their children, actually use children to gain a political and corporate foothold in Georgia Public education. The flagrant use of a student in this ad shows the levels of deceit that those in power will go to convince the public. If this is such a good idea for Georgians, why is almost all of the money to support Lindsey’s idea coming from outside the state?

Georgia already has more than 100 charter schools. Some of the charters are good. Some of the charters are not so good. But the evidence from journaled research shows that public schools are actually doing a better job educating American youth than most charter schools.

It’s time for Georgians to realize that the charter Amendment has nothing to do with school choice for families, but is a slippery way to corporatize public education, and cut the stability of schools as we know them.

Unleashing Charter Schools with False Claims & Lots of Money

Just as the re-election of President Obama or the election Mr. Romney is coming to a head, so is the potential of charter schools being unleashed in several states around the nation.  Georgia and Washington State have very similar laws on the November ballot, and if you live in either of these states, you know that the issue is before you.

I have reported on this blog that the Georgia bill was a model bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right leaning partisan group.  The Georgia bill is ghostwritten copy of the ALEC model charter bill.  And we have reported that the legislators in Georgia who introduced and back the charter amendment are also ALEC members.

To get an idea of extent of the charter school issue across the country, here are some headlines that were extracted from the web recently.  Themes that run through these headlines are central charter authority, for-profit charter management companies, billionaires influencing legislation, lack of facts about charter schools compared to public schools.

The Big Charter School Debate

This weekend, the Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Press Club co-sponsored a debate among four panelists.  On the pro-amendment side were Jan Jones (state representative), Kelly McCutchen, founder of Tech High Charter School.  Opposing the amendment were Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools (Georgia’s largest district), and Valarie Wilson, president of the Georgia School Board Association.

This is a link to video of the one-hour debate.

Moderating was Donna Lowry, WXIA-TV, and Maureen Downey, education reporter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Seventeen people were in attendance at the televised debate.

Jan Jones’ name has come up on this blog before.  It turns out that Representative Jones was one of three reps that introduced the amendment to change the Georgia Constitution that would put back in place the Georgia Charter School Commission that would have the power to create its own stream of schools, even without local school district approval.  The more important fact here is that Rep. Jones is a member of ALEC, and one can assume that she used the ALEC model bill to “write” the Georgia bill.

Arguments for the Amendment

Jones argued that we need the bill because some local districts are turning down charter applications.  She claims this means that parents will have no other place to send their kids if the local schools are failing.  She also uses this very powerful statistic:  Because Georgia ranks 47 out of 50 in graduation rates, Jones feels that if more students were enrolled in charter schools Georgia students might move up in the league standings.  Her comments were rife with political-speak, and it was clear she was shielding us from her ties to ALEC.  She was evasive about the content of bill when pressed on whether the bill includes the provision for a state appointed charter commission. It does.  She  said it didn’t, and she wrote the bill.   I think she is wrong and  is not telling the truth.

Kelly McCutchen, founder of a charter school, and president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation ( a conservative group), argued for charter schools because around the state there are some dysfunctional school boards, and by having a state appointed charter commission, parents in these districts could have a “choice” if charters were formed in their dysfunctional district. McCutchen, whose interests are in having the state expand charters, pulls the “parent choice card” when ever he can in the debate.  To him the best option is to  give parents a choice of schooling options,,even though parents already have choices.  He also claims there is plenty of money, and that’s a good thing.  Too bad his facts are wrong.

Arguments Against

Both speakers at the outset said they were not against charter schools, per se.  However…

Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools was vehement in his opposition to removing the power to create schools away from local boards of education.  He also argued that this was another expansion of government, and it would result in two separate school “systems,” one at the local level, and the other at the state level.  It would be costly not to the state, but to local districts who would be fiscally responsible.

He also argued that the language that voters will see on the ballot is misleading.  The question on the ballot is Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow state or local approval of public charter schools upon the request of local communities?.  Local schools already are allowed to create charters.  And the Georgia Department of Education has the right to approve charters as well.  What this bill really is doing is reinstating the Georgia Charter School Commission, an appointed board with the power to approve its own set of charters.

Valarie Wilson, president of the Georgia School Board Association, a school board member of the Decatur City Schools argued that this bill will cost the state and local districts money.  Wilson also challenged Rep. Jones on the issue of funding, and made it clear that over the past five years, Georgia schools have received fewer funds, not more, and indeed, many school districts are operating in a deficit.

Wilson also challenged McCutcheon claims that some school boards are dysfunctional, and that some schools are failing.  Wilson referenced data from NAEP that shows Georgia schools showing a steady increase in achievement.  She also pointed out that Georgia students rank 13th in AP scores.  As Wilson infers, Georgia schools have shown a steady improvement over many years, and references the NAEP scores in mathematics and science, which we have reported here.

Arguments Left Out of the Debate

The charter ballot issue is about money and power.  The panelists did talk about money, but not the money that private for-profit charters would make if the amendment passes.   The power to set up charters will be in the hands of an unaccountable charter commission appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House.   Most of the money to support passage of the amendment has come from out-of-state from power groups, and billionaires, and the appointees will be political appointees.  These two issues were not discussed by the panel.

Another argument left out of the debate is what role did ALEC play in the amendment.  Although we know the answer, it was not part of the actual debate.  During the panel’s debate, Maureen Downey was interacting via the Internet with viewers, and one question asked was this one from Jeff:

Can Jan Jones explain what relationship, if any, ALEC has with this issue. Also, why is so much money from outside of Georgia being spent to push for this amendment?

Unfortunately the influence of ALEC was not discussed, nor was it mentioned that Rep. Jones is a member of ALEC, and one of the Georgia legislators who introduced the bill.

Also left out of the debate was the effectiveness of charter schools and the unintended consequences of charter schools. It should have been mentioned that charter schools are not so hot when compared to public schools.  An interesting graphic that could have been used in the debate is one from Dr. Michael Marder’s research which shows the relationship between SAT scores and poverty comparing charters and regular public schools.  Representative like Jan Jones continue to ignore data that show that public schools are by far much more successful, academically and in many other areas of school life.

Figure 1. This graph might be disappointing to advocates of charter schools. The graph shows the percentage of high school graduates meeting SAT/ACT College Readiness Criterion plotted against the concentration of poverty. Each disc is a high school; the red dots are charter schools, the grey are public schools. In general, charter schools simply to do not compare favorably to public schools, regardless of poverty concentration.

Here some other facts that the proponents of charter schools failed to mention that were based on a study published by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford.

  • Of the 2403 charter schools investigated, 46 percent of charter schools have math gains that are statistically indistinguishable from the average growth among their TPS comparisons.
  • Charters whose math growth exceeded their TPS equivalent growth by a significant amount account for 17 percent of the total.
  • The remaining group, 37 percent of charter schools, posted math gains that were significantly below what their students would have seen if they enrolled in local traditional public schools.

They also might have mentioned that the majority of students attending charter schools would have fared better if they are gone to a public school. And in the case of Georgia (one of the 15 states in the study), the results were mixed, or no differences were found between the charter schools in Georgia and the public schools.

False Claims

If you listen to the politician and the owner of a charter school, public schools do not know how to meet the divergent needs of Georgia students.  As one of them said, “one size does not fit all.”  Professional educators know this instinctively.  Furthermore, teachers in public schools (and independent schools, by the way) have worked with researchers who are on the cutting edge of the learning sciences.  This two-way interaction between teachers who have experiential knowledge of the classroom and students, and researchers who take themselves out of the ivory tower to work with teachers to seek answers to questions about how students learn.

The supporters of the charter amendment do not have the interests of parents or students in mind.  They make the false claim that charters will put schooling back into the hands of parents, when in fact the charter school movement has led to putting taxpayer money in the accounts and hands of charter management companies.  Parents and students are being used to secure this end.

The politician and charter owner lost this debate.  Who would know?  Only 17 people were in attendance.

The vote for the passage of the charter amendment will be very close, as it will be for the re-election of President Obama.

Why Do We Promote Consumption And Not Inquiry

Why in a democracy do we promote consumption and not inquiry in science teaching?  Why are we so possessed to have teachers cover the ground and not helping students uncover their connection to the world around them?

The second public draft of The Next Generation Science Standards will be released this December by Achieve, the organization that wrote the Common Core State Standards.  I wish I could link you to the first draft of the science standards, but Achieve pulled them off their website on June 1, 2012 after posting them for about three weeks.

The NGSS were based on the National Research Council’s project, A Framework for Science Education, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  The document was written by nearly 20 experts, not one of whom is a K-12 teacher.  The only professional educator was Stephen Pruitt, who while on the committee was chief of staff for the Office of the State Superintendent of Schools in the Georgia Department of Education.  He did teach science for 12 years in Georgia.  However, now he is Vice President, Content, Research and Development for Achieve, the company writing the science standards.

The “Framework” document was used by Achieve’s science writing teams who developed the first draft of the new standards.  The rationale for the development of the science standards is achievement-based.  One way to look at the standards is that they use backwards engineering to define the field of science that teachers should cover in their science courses.  A teacher writing on Anthony Cody’s blog explained the notion of backward engineered standards.  Backward engineering means starting with an assessment, and then working backwards from it to write standards.  She explains that “the goal of the Next Generation Science Standards is create a document that can market both teaching and assessment products to a captive education system, not offer a framework for good teaching of science.”

A good standard is one that can be easily accessed using multiple choice questions, or short answers that require consumption of science goals.  When you check the new standards they are aligned vertically by content area creating endless lists of stuff to be taught and learned.  I spent several days reading the new science standards, participated in Achieve’s public review process, and wrote several posts on the process.  The science standards are organized around core ideas in each science discipline, which meant, unfortunately, that there was almost no attempt to create relationships among the content areas.  We still have the same content areas that the Committee of Ten created in the 1890s!

There are more than 400 standards in the science document.  Although they are divided into grade level bands, which does reduce  the number of standards per grade level.  When you look at a specific content area, as I did (earth science), there is still a long list of content to be taught.  And remember, the standards will be measured using high stakes tests, which will soon be totally computerized by 2014.

We have reported on this blog that the very nature of standards-based education sets up an authoritarian framework that values the consumption, recall, and repetition of information.  Using the backward engineering model, teaching will be based on the content lists because each one of them will be assessed using a multiple choice format.  Teaching to the standards is no different than teaching to the test.

Yet, science educators, especially if you attend major conferences on science teaching and research, have had a love affair with engaging students in inquiry.  Asking students to formulate investigations, ask questions, searching for answers, and  uncovering content that excites them are some of the kinds of thinking that science teachers advocate.  When we put the teaching of science into the hands of experts as we did with the National Research Council, we end up with an outline of the content that they know and think kids should know, even without real experience with teachers or with students.

Inquiry, independent thinking, and creative thought are buried in standards-based documents. Henry Giroux in an article about democracy and education,  raises the concern that public education is under assault by conservative forces that cut schooling to a process of producing students who can perform on tests, not think differently or question  things as they are.  He puts it this way:

In this conservative right-wing reform culture, the role of public education, if we are to believe the Heritage Foundation and the likes of Bill Gates-type billionaires, is to produce students who laud conformity, believe job training is more important than education, and view public values as irrelevant. Students in this view are no longer educated for democratic citizenship. On the contrary, they are now being trained to fulfill the need for human capital [1]. What is lost in this approach to schooling is what Noam Chomsky calls “creating creative and independent thought and inquiry, challenging perceived beliefs, exploring new horizons and forgetting external constraints.”[2]

 One of the major goals of science teachers is to help students wonder, explore, and be actively involved in inquiry—which is the cornerstone of science. The science standards, when published, will have the appearance of a digest of science factoids that teachers must face, and teach. This tends to sideline inquiry, and problem solving because teachers will be required to cover the ground. Furthermore, “common” assessments will be based on the digest of factoids, to further discourage teaching science as inquiry.

[1] David Glenn, “Public Higher Education Is ‘Eroding From All Sides,’ Warns Political Scientists,”  The Chronicle of Higher Education, (Sept. 2, 2010).

[2] Noam Chomsky, “Public Education Under Massive Corporate Assault—What’s Next?AlterNet(August 5, 2011).