CURMUDGUCATION: Trump-Fueled Cyber Boom

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Trump-Fueled Cyber Boom

Trump-Fueled Cyber Boom

Pundits and the commentariat may not be able to say what exactly will happen to education under Herr Trump, but at least one group thinks they have a pretty good idea– investors.

Molly Hensley-Clancy covers business for Buzzfeed (yes, that’s apparently a real job) and she reports that since election day, investors have been expressing some exuberance about K12, the infamous major player in the cyber-school arena. The stock has shown a steady climb since November 8, working its way from 11.19 up to 17.24, hitting a two-year high for the embattled manufacturer of education-flavored cyber-product.

You may recall that times have been tough for cyber-charters. This summer they were slammed by actual bricks-and-mortar charter operators on the heels of a report from CREDO that showed that students lost a full 180 days by being cyber-charter… well, students hardly seems like the word.

K12 itself has had a host of other problems, including the loss of major contracts in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Tennessee. The NCAA decided that it wouldn’t accept any credits from any cyber charter using K12 materials. California just hit K12 with a $169 million settlement over false advertising allegations. This is not even close to the first time that the cyber-charter giant has been in trouble for shenanigans involving not-quite-truth-telling and general financial misbehavior.

What could possibly cause this creaking cyber-disaster-area to come bouncing back? Hensley-Clancy reports:

K12 executives have told investors the company was one of the “best positioned under Trump,” according to a note by BMO Capital Markets analyst Jeffrey Silber. The dialogue about online charters has changed, Silber wrote, as K12 executives tout the “personal” experiences that high-level Trump administration members have with the company.

Well, yes. Turns out that Dick DeVos was an early investor in K12.

So despite the fact that they’ve gotten virtually nothing right about virtual education, K12 is now sitting at the station waiting for its gravy train to come in. Because meritocracy and letting the invisible hand of the market reward quality and punish failure is all well and good, but first, you have to take care of your friends and stick to your ideological guns, even if they are firing blanks.

CURMUDGUCATION: A Terrifying Look at the Future

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: A Terrifying Look at the Future

A Terrifying Look at the Future

Do you want to see just how bad data mining + gamification + creating a data-based profile for every citizen, just how terrifying this idea is?

Meet Sesame Credit— and realize that Big Brother was an absolute pliant wimp by comparison. Just watch this. I don’t even know where to begin, but you need to watch this.

 

CURMUDGUCATION: Unavoidable Costs

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION

Unavoidable Costs

I have libertarian friends (it’s true). And one of them posted this particular meme

Now I don’t think either of these statements is accurate on its own;  if something is a right, it’s a right and there is no “should be,” and libertarian “no one has a right to your labor” talk stops the moment money changes hands, thereby buying the right to that labor. But that’s beside the point.

Health care and education are what I call unavoidable costs.

All living human beings require health care. There is a cost to providing it, and there is a cost to not providing it.

The costs of providing it are well known and constantly debated in this country, though we have made the issue complicated by insisting that not only should people providing the service be paid, but the insurance company paper-pushing bean counters make some sort of profit because reasons, but the bottom line remains the same– there are large costs to providing health care. However, not providing health care also comes with costs. There are perhaps uncountable costs in terms of lost productivity due to un- or poorly-treated conditions. There are the unknowable costs of losing a potential leader, scientist, or pillar of the community because they died at age ten from an abcessed tooth. And there is the moral and spiritual cost to a nation that stands by and lets some people die because, for whatever reason, they don’t have enough money. There is a moral and spiritual cost to being a nation where families lose members even though the ability to save those people exists.

In short, no matter how we answer question  “Who gets health care and how will it be paid for,” there is a cost. There is no answer to the question that costs us nothing as a country or a culture. It is an unavoidable cost.

Likewise, there is no way to answer the question of education that doesn’t cost us something. Providing a full, quality education to every single citizen would cost a bunch of money. But leaving any sector of the population uneducated is also expensive, in productivity costs, in human costs, in ability to carry their own weight costs. To leave some people un- (or under-) educated costs us all, particularly in our ability to maintain a functioning democatic(ish) form of government.

Providing education comes with a cost. Not providing education comes with a cost. This is the flip side of There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. There are no decisions about health care and education that are free.

Education and health care are unavoidable costs. We can talk about rights and privileges, but they still have unavoidable costs. We can talk about delivery and payment systems, free market versus government management versus etc etc etc, but education and health care are still unavoidable costs, and what may seem like reducing the costs is most often just moving the costs around.

And this is a bigger problem than ever because both health care and education have expanded. A few centuries ago, health care was cheap and not very good and people mostly just died young (for which countries and cultures paid a price, but there was no alternative). A few centuries ago, a polymath like Thomas Jefferson or Ben Franklin could literally learn almost everything there was to know, and laborers who didn’t know anything could still pull their own weight in the world. Nowadays, health care options are extensive and expensive and long-lived citizens can use many of them. Meanwhile, education is now an ocean instead of a bucket, and the educational requirements to be even working poor have increased dramatically.

End result– the unavoidable costs have gotten greater and greater.

So there’s a strong political push for some sort of plan that means I don’t have to spend a bunch of My Money on Those People (who I believe do not deserve it).

This is not a new thing. Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol to argue against a world where the poor were left to struggle and die, condemned by a business-oriented government because they were excess population, poor because they were just too lazy and undeserving. In a telling detail usually omitted from modern renderings, the ghost of Jacob Marley invites Scrooge to look out the window, where he sees London teeming with the tortured, chained spirits of uncountable businessmen and politicians who failed to take care of their fellow humans. Ebeneezer Scrooge was never meant to be a single unique miser in need of redemption, but an embodiment of the troubled spirit of his age.

We can try to reduce the cost of health care and education for Those People, and when that leads to other costs (welfare, lost productivity, children in poverty) we can refuse to pay those costs, too, but the costs of health care and education are inescapable, even if we pay them by transforming into a country where the poor can never rise above the class they’re born into.

There will be tension between “I think I should get a pony” and “I don’t think I should ever help anyone with anything,” and between those extremes there will always be plenty of room to debate how much is “enough.” But to think all this can be judged against an imaginary setting at which we as a society pay nothing for health care or education…? There is no such situation. The costs are unavoidable, and the most useful conversation we can have is not about how to do away with them, but how to best meet them in a way that reflects costs we can bear to pay.

 

 

Great divide: How extreme academic segregation isolates students in New York City’s high schools | Chalkbeat

Over half the students who took and passed the eighth-grade state math or English exam in 2015 wound up concentrated in less than 8 percent of city high schools.

Source: Great divide: How extreme academic segregation isolates students in New York City’s high schools | Chalkbeat

 

ery fall, Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Lower Manhattan, faces the same challenge: absorbing a new cohort of students, many of whom didn’t pass the state’s math and reading exams in eighth grade.

Last year, of more than 100 incoming ninth-graders, only six who had taken the eighth-grade math test had passed. Only 15 had passed English.

Less than a mile away, there’s another school where the majority of ninth-graders passed the same exams — often with flying colors. And that school, New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math or NEST+m, is not alone: Dozens of city high schools have large concentrations of students who sailed through middle school.

The difference: New Design has little control over the students it admits, while NEST+m picks students based on test results and previous academic success.

“When the school opened, I don’t think we quite got how the admission policy would define us,” Conti said.

READ THE FULL BLOG POST HERE:  http://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/ny/2016/12/19/great-divide-how-extreme-academic-segregation-isolates-students-in-new-york-citys-high-schools/

CURMUDGUCATION: Teaching in the Machine Age (Or Not)

CURMUDGUCATIONThe slightly-cranky voice navigating the world of educational “reform” while trying to still pursue the mission of providing quality education.

Source: CURMUDGUCATION: Teaching in the Machine Age (Or Not)

Teaching in the Machine Age (Or Not)

The Christensen Institute is devoted to “disruptive innovation,” or as a five-year-old might put it, new and creative ways to kick over the big stack of blocks.

For the big stack of blocks that is public education, Christensen has the big boot of personalized computer-driven education-favored product. And a new part of their pitch is the recently released report/PR prospectus, “Teaching in the Machine Age: How Innovation Can Make Bad Teachers Good and Good Teachers Better” by Thomas Arnett.

Hi! I’m your new teacher, and here’s my human assistant.

Arnett is a Senior Deep Education Thinker at Christensen, which is impressive since it was only five years ago that he was finishing out his two years with Teach For America in Kansas City. He then spent three months at Achievement First in 2012, and moved on to Senior Education Research Fellow at Christensen in 2013.If we dig deeper, we find that between 2002 and 2009 he was at Brigham Young earning a BS in Economics, and later did some graduate work at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, including (and you’ll want to remember this) Data Mining, Applications of Operations Research,Management of Software Development for Technology Executives, Innovation Ecosystems, plus Commercialization and Innovation: Strategy. So, no education.

This is the guy who’s going to tell us how The Machines will help us do our jobs. Yay. But I have read this so you don’t have to, because this trend toward Personalized Competency-Based Software-Centered Education has been poised to become the Next Big (Money-making) Thing, so we need to know what they’re thinking. Here we go.

Introduction: Welcoming Our New Computer Overlords

Computers just go smart enough to win chess games and Jeopardy, so clearly they are ready to help us run the world. They are doing All The Things, which raises the question– will join “assembly line workers, personal accountants, taxi drivers, sports journalists, and family-practice doctors” in the list of workers whose jobs “fall prey to machines.” Wait! What? Family-practice doctors have been replaced by machines? I have got to pay closer attention to Dr. Fee the next time I stop in.

But fear not, teachers.Complex social skills are required for teaching, so we can’t be automated. However, the part of teaching characterized by non-teachers as “dispense information and assess student’s knowledge of rote facts and skills”– well, Arnett hints he’s not so sure you need a human for that.

But computer-centered education is still a solution in search of a problem, so Arnett proposes the problem– getting a high-quality teacher for every student. He even proposes reasons for this problem. There are teacher shortages, fed by low pay and low prestige. Schools are bad at hiring the best teachers. Teachers are burning out and leaving what with the grueling hours etc etc, which exacerbates the shortage issue.

Fortunately, technology can help with these problems. Not by improving teacher pay, work conditions or prestige, silly. No, we’re going to “commoditize professional expertise.”

Commodi-what??

Commoditize. Which means basically the same as commodify, which means to turn into a commodity. Innovations can do this, and we’re going to talk about doing it many, many times in this report.

These innovations simplify and automate some of the tasks of experts, making expert-quality work less scarce and more widely available. 

In other words, some skill sets are rare and therefor expensive and hard to get, like, say, getting Lebron James to play for your basketball team. If you could commoditize basketball skills, though, you could maybe come up with a hundred basketball-playing robots of comparable skill, and everyone could have Lebron on their team. In sectors like the restaurant biz, we solved this issue years ago by turning high-skill jobs (guy with skills and training to be a chef) into low-skills jobs (guy with ability to stick basket in deep fryer). But if we could commoditize teaching…

How could we do such a thing? What sorts of innovations would help commoditize teaching so that we wouldn’t have to pay a bunch of money to highly trained professionals with a rare skill set?

Innovations That Simplify Professional Expertise

It used to be hard to diagnose scurvy. Now any mook can identify it by consulting with Dr. Google. Once we learn a lot about some deep, complex area of expertise, we no longer have to depend on highly trained skill sets to deal with the issues. Non-experts can just follow the rules and the procedures laid down by actual experts and– voila!– anybody can do the job just like a pro!

Innovations That Automate Professional Expertise

As the understanding of a field moves from expert intuition to rules-based practices, parallel developments in the field of computer science make it possible to automate many tasks that historically required the attention of experts.

After you’ve reduced expertise to simple procedures, any idiot can do the work like an expert. And “any idiot” always includes “anything run by a computer.” Computers can now fill out your tax returns and figuring out your credit score.

What Happens To Commoditized Professions

Good question. Perhaps we should all ask the next gas station attendant we meet.

First, Arnett says that after commoditizationizing takes hold, non-experts can step in to do all sorts of work that previously required professionals. There may be a slight hole in his argument here:

For example, using rules-based medical science and the latest diagnostic equipment, middle-skilled professionals, such as nurses, can diagnose and treat many conditions

Yikes. I am absolutely not telling my mother- or sister-in-laws that as nurses they are just middle-skilled folks. If Arnett is ever in need of health care, I recommend that he keep this observation to himself as well.

Second, he says, the handling of so many tasks by computers and other drones frees up the trained expert to do more experty things. For instance, doctors can stop scanning test results and leave that to the computer while they go consult with patients about treatments and complications and other inquiries like “Holy hell are you telling me that my tumor diagnosis came from some machine and not an actual human!!??”

Arnett lays all this out in a chart to show that computers can do any algorithmic stuff, non-experts can just follow orders, and experts can use their “human cognitive flexibility” to handle creative problem solving and “engage in complex interpersonal communication.”

Also, all the cool data and information that the computers and meat widget drone assistants collect will give the experts many more chances to come up with cool ideas as they sift through all that data.

See? There’s still a place for carbon-based life forms in this brave new world. Just fewer of them, and cheaper ones. Feel better yet?

Arnett Puts His Foot In It

As he works his way around to explaining what all this has to do with teaching, Arnett says a Dumb Thing:

In industries, such as teaching, where professionals are under great pressure to do and accomplish more than they have in the past, assistance from non-experts and computers can be a huge boon to professionals

First, teaching is not an “industry.” Teaching is “manufacturing” and it does not result in a “product,” any more than ministers manufacture married people or couples manufacture children.

Second, teachers are not under pressure to do and accomplish more. Not really. We’re under enormous pressure to waste a lot of time on malpractice like Common Core-based curriculum and tons of time doing test prep in order to get test scores up. So we are under pressure to do more pointless timewasting and less actual teaching.

Disney Animation

Arnett illustrates his point by talking about Disney animation, trying to show how the advent of computer tools gave animators all sorts of new capabilities and stuff they could do, shifting from the slide-rule computed camera tracking shots of Peter Pan to the CGI-guided swoops of Beauty and the Beast. He might have thrown in color issues as well– the animators of Fantasia had to turn to things like fruit jelly to come up with colors they wanted, while modern animators have a rich and wide palatte to chose from. Hey, they’ve even made some big hits with this technology. I hear the young people really like the Frozen and the Finding Nemo.

On the one hand, I see Arnett’s point. Technology has broadened the available possibilities for creators of animated movies, allowing experts in the field to imagine and create things far beyond what was available in the past.

On the other hand, his point is stupid because schools do not create commercial properties from scratch, but instead help develop and support live human beings. Because people aren’t products. Animators start from a literal blank slate to create their products, and animated films don’t have an opinion about what they want to be when they’re created. Arnett needs to read that cute inspirational story about the blueberries.

“Create an awesomely marketable product” is not the gig in education. His analogy is terrible. But now he’s ready to go back to the main questoin.

Will Innovations Replace Teachers?

Wellll……

If you were wondering what part of reformsterland Arnett hails from, he will now cite authorities like the Brookings Institute and Bill Gates.

Simplifying teacher expertise is no big deal– heck, textbooks are an old tech version of that, saving us all from the trouble of coming up with our own materials. I actually have spent some time thinking about this, resulting in my decision a few years ago to stop using the grammar textbooks my school bought for our classes. I dumped them because they kept my teaching tied to their pace, their ideas, their examples, and their limited practice materials; I decided I would rather take my cue from my students and what they needed and how they could best be helped to understand. Could i have done this when I first started out? Probably not enough hours in the day– and the fact that I can type materials up on a computer and have them printed out on a machine on the other side of the building certainly helps, so I guess I both object to and agree with Arnett’s point.

Or maybe my point is that if you aren’t very careful, labor-saving (or labor-transferring) technology will tell you how to do your job instead of helping you do it.

Arnett really wants to talk about automating part of the teaching process, having computers assign the materials and assess the materials and collect all the data from the materials, and not for the first time, I am kind of non-plussed by the way that folks like Arnett talk about all these hunks of adaptive teaching software as if it descended from a cloud, given some sort of divine breath by some higher power. I, on the other hand, view them as if some stranger knocked on my classroom door and said, “Hey, I’d like to come teach your class using my own materials.” Is there any reason to believe that this stranger knows my job better than I do, that this stranger has any level of expertise that I should respect? I ask this question as an experienced teacher who has never yet seen a textbook that did not have its share of bonehead materials and just-plain-wrong baloney, clearly written and published by someone who had no idea how it would actually play out in a real classroom. Why should I believe that software will be better?

Software is written by people. Why should I trust those people or hand my classroom responsibilities over to them? There may be perfectly good answers to both of these questions, but we won’t get to them if we keep pretending that computer software is magical and not just one more human-written teaching tool.

Arnett even has the nerve to bring up Pearson’s WriteToLearn, yet another footnote in the long sad history of trying to get computer software to teach writing.

But now Arnett wants to talk about three specific situations in which it would be awesome to commoditize teachers and hook students up to a friendly computer.

#1 When Schools Lack Expert Teachers

Arnett believes that if you don’t have a top-notch teacher to teach a class, some computer software would be great. He tells a long story from India to illustrate this point. He’s heavy on how the human touch is still needed– but boy do those magical computer programs make a difference, and I decide to take him even less seriously because he starts talking about measuring learning gains in some sort of linear fashion (these students learned had 2.5 times the gains of those students– what does that even mean?? Test scores? Because I’m pretty sure India needs more than just people who do well on bubble tests.)

#2 When Expert Teachers Must Tackle an Array of Student Needs

Gosh, differentiation is just, you know, soooo hard! What would make it way easier is to have all of the students hooked up to computers that could automatically differentiate and spit out scads of data which the teacher can then pore through in her copious free time.

It’s true– meeting the needs of every individual student in the classroom is challenging. Oddly enough, Arnett doesn’t discuss one obvious solution, which is to hire more teachers in order to create smaller class sizes, a known winner of an idea, but also an idea that doesn’t make any money for all the people heavily invested in computer teaching software. More teachers and smaller class sizes would also provide no help to guys who went to Carnegie Mellon to study Data Mining (I told you to remember) which is so much easier when you’ve got the students doing all their work on the computer.

Arnett wants to sing the praises of Teach To One, one more teaching program in a box. I remain unimpressed.

#3 When Expert Teachers Need To Teach More Than Academics

So, always.

Increasingly, advocates are calling for schools to place greater emphasis on fostering students’ deeper learning and noncognitive skills. Recent research shows that noncognitive factors—such as goal setting, teamwork, emotional awareness, self-discipline, and grit—are strong predictors of how likely students are to persist through college and succeed in the workforce.

Oh, honey. This is the kind of thing that people say when they’re young and impressed with themselves and they don’t actually know very much at all about the teaching profession. This is the part where the TFA reformster comes breathlessly out of the classroom to declare, “Boy, those kids have like emotions and feelings and stuff and sometimes they have problems that they want to talk about and, man, I thought I would just teach math and reading and stuff but they really need other things and, dude, it’s just hard!”

His exemplar here is Summit charters, a group that can barely acknowledge the non-academic needs of its staff, let alone its students. And Brainology. And project based learning and competency based education and basically every version of hooking up students to computers rather than humans. Or as I heard one parent comment, “I don’t know whether to send the Christmas card to my child’s teacher or to his computer.” If the software (or rather, the software writer) is handling all the curriculum, practice and assessment, while the present live human is handling mentoring and non-cognitives, who is actually assisting whom?

Arnett offers data and theories. What he fails to offer is any evidence that computer-centered schooling is superior to any other model. In the end, he tries to dial it back and argue for a sort of teacher-cyborg, a expert (or near-expert) who is so computer-enhanced that she accomplish great new things with the help of her new technopal. Or maybe it’s a computer teaching, and the human is just its attendant, and that’s what is supposed to work so great. But evidence? There’s none, just as there’s no solid evidence that Arnett really understands what a teacher does in a classroom.

If you’ve been in teaching for more than a decade, you’ve been here before. Some salesman, who may have spent a year or two in classroom before deciding it wasn’t really his gig, stops by to sell something. He doesn’t seem to really understand your job, but he assures you that if you just buy his product and change your whole practice to match what the product is supposed to do, you will accomplish awesome things. Thanks, dude, but I’m already overstocked on snake oil.

From the Journalist’s Resource:  The good and the bad of plastic bag bans

Government bans on lightweight plastic shopping bags have spread in recent years amid fears about plastic’s negative impact on the environment. But alternatives are not necessarily better.

Source: The good and the bad of plastic bag bans: Research review – Journalist’s Resource Journalist’s Resource

Plastic bags kill wildlife, clog waterways and pack landfills. Discarded bags can spread malaria if they collect rainwater, offering mosquitos a casual breeding ground. In recent years, local and national governments have begun phasing out or banning lightweight plastic shopping bags. But alternatives are not necessarily greener: People buy more plastic trash bags when shopping bags are unavailable. And a British government study found single-use paper bags contribute more toward global warming than plastic bags.

Not so straightforward:

For some activists, the effort to reduce the use of plastic shopping bags is both urgent and too late. According to a 2008 estimate in Waste Management, people around the world discard between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags a year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) lists single-use plastic bags as a major contributor, along with food wrappers and fishing nets, to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — vast, shifting waves of trash that often arrive via storm drains and rivers and can entangle marine life or be ingested. According to a 2014 estimate published in PLOS ONE, more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic (not all from bags) weighing a combined 250,000 tons are floating in the world’s oceans.

Yet substitutes also offer cause for concern. A comprehensive 2011 study by the British environmental agency argued that plastic bags are greener than many alternatives. A paper bag must be used four or more times “to reduce its global warming potential to below” that of conventional plastic bags. The reason is that paper production — from the felling of trees to the emissions and effluent from paper factories — is dirty. The study found “no significant reuse of paper bags,” not even as trash-can liners.

Legislation:

With a referendum in November 2016, California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, which keeps an active list of American laws. Thicker, reusable bags are still available for purchase for 10 cents. Before California, cities often organized the bans: In 2016, for example, Cambridge became the first Massachusetts city to ban plastic bags altogether and require merchants to offer paper bags for a fee of no less than 10 cents. By contrast, Missouri’s legislature in 2015 forbid cities and counties in the state from enacting plastic bag bans.

The European Union passed legislation in 2015 aiming to cut plastic bag use in half by 2019 and half again by 2025. E.U.-member France went further, banning single-use plastic bags on July 1, 2016, and phasing in other, more restrictive bans in the upcoming years – including the prohibition of plastic cooking utensils by 2020.

Do these bans work? They do appear to reduce the number of shopping bags used, but the effect on demand for (potentially pernicious) alternatives is unknown.

  • Five years after Ireland instituted a 15 Euro cent levy on plastic bags in 2002 – Irish stores had been giving out 1.2 billion each year for free – a paper published in Environmental and Resource Economics suggested a 90 percent reduction in use.
  • One year after its ban San Jose reported “a reduction in bag litter of approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system, 60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in city streets and neighborhoods.”
  • Researchers at Cardiff University, in the United Kingdom, found that a fee for plastic bags introduced in October 2015 has led to a sharp decline in the number of shoppers who take single-use bags at checkout, from 25 percent to 7 percent after one year.
  • China, which banned many types of plastic bags in 2008, claims some successes. But some reports suggest the rule has been difficult to enforce.

Academics have measured consumer behavior and public opinion on plastic bags in many countries, including Turkey, Uganda and Canada. A 2016 study in Social Marketing Quarterly examines how shoppers respond to different incentives for bringing their own shopping bags – such as avoiding a fee or paying a tax – and remarks “that a penalty framed as a tax may be more effective in motivating shoppers to bring reusable bags.”

“Biodegradable” plastic bags:

In 2010, raw plastics production in the U.S. used the energy and natural gas equivalent of 172 million barrels of oil, government figures suggest. But some newer plastics are made from vegetable matter, allowing manufacturers to claim their plastics are biodegradable. In theory, that means these plastics can be used to feed bacteria that convert them into water, carbon dioxide and biological matter. But the process rarely works in a landfill – these products need to be composted with the right microbes. When they’re not, they may not break down at all or can release methane, a greenhouse gas. So-called starch-polyester bags, made from a blend of vegetable matter and synthetic plastics, had the highest global warming impact in the 2011 study conducted by the British environmental agency “due to the high impacts of raw material production, transport and the generation of methane from landfill[s].”

The European Union hosts an online forum to discuss biodegradable plastic bags.

Researchers have looked into the policy challenges of biodegradable plastics, how they break down in the ocean and wider environmental impacts.

Our health:

Besides assuming a deviant place in marine ecosystems, there are concerns about the synthetic compounds in plastic that may be oozing into our food. One of the main building blocks of plastics, bisphenol A (also known as BPA), has been shown to stimulate breast cancer cells and damage the quality of rat sperm. Phthalates are another subject of disquiet.

Microbeads:

Another plastic causing concern is the microbeads found in some exfoliating facial scrubs and toothpastes, which are rinsed down drains into rivers, lakes and oceans. A 2015 study in the Marine Pollution Bulletin estimated that between 4,594 and 94,500 microplastic particles pass into the sewer during each use (between 16 and 86 metric tons annually in Britain alone). A forthcoming study in Chemosphere finds that microbeads do not accumulate in the gut when fed to goldfish, though both studies recognize their chemical effect in the food chain is unknown. In 2015, President Obama signed the Microbead-Free Waters Act to ban microbeads in hygienic products, though they continue to be used in other countries.

Arguments for plastic:

Proponents of plastic bags argue that they are hygienic and cheap and preserve foods that would otherwise spoil. A number of lobbies have worked to confound legislation that would reduce the availability of plastic bags. In California, for example, The Washington Post found that the American Progressive Bag Alliance – a Washington-based group run by a plastics lobby – spent over $3 million in the fourth quarter of 2014 to oppose California’s attempts then to legislate a ban.

Plasticfilmrecycling.org (a project of the American Chemistry Council) is supported with funds from large multinationals like Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil. Some organizations – such as the Plastics Industry Association, which directs visitors to the American Progressive Bag Alliance and bagtheban.com — support recycling as a solution, rather than less plastic.

Plastic shopping bags are widely reused as trash-can liners, the British environmental agency study points out. When they are banned, the study adds, consumers purchase more plastic trash bags: “The reuse of conventional HDPE [plastic] and other lightweight carrier bags for shopping and/or as bin-liners is pivotal to their environmental performance and reuse as bin liners produces greater benefits than recycling bags.”

Anti-plastic lobbying and activism:

The California plastic bag ban received support from the California Grocers Association. Grocery stores stood to benefit because the law mandated they charge 10 cents for reusable bags.

Other resources:

  • This 2011 E.U. study shows, among other things, that residents of eastern E.U. members and Portugal use the most plastic bags in the union.
  • Journalist’s Resource profiled a 2016 paper on gender stereotypes and environmentally friendly behavior that found some people think recycling is feminine.
  • A 2015 paper in the Journal of Marketing found that people who bring reusable grocery bags on their shopping trips may purchase more junk food.
  • NOAA has fact sheets on microplastics in the ocean and plastic marine debris.

 

Keywords: Trash, pollution, waste, plastics, regulations, petrochemicals, chemical lobby

 

Writer: | Last updated: December 13, 2016

MLive, experts and Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

More on Trump’s nomination of non educator Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education…and the weak if not biased MLive news analysis. Smh. Nice job Jeff Smith!

Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy

On Monday, MLive ran another piece looking at President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. screen-shot-2016-11-21-at-5-06-46-am

The article on MLive follows a very binary pattern with conservative/liberal voices identified as experts. The story also sets up an overly simplistic framework for the article that does little to flesh out what Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary could actually accomplish.

However, before we look at the experts cited in the article it is important to note that the MLive writer uses words to describe Betsy DeVos that she would use herself in the opening sentence. It reads:

When president-elect Donald Trump nominated renowned philanthropist and school-choice advocate Betsy DeVos for U.S. Secretary of Education, waves of hope and anger swept through education circles nationwide.

The MLive reporter uses the terms “renowned philanthropist” and “school-choice advocate.” These are terms right out of the DeVos family playbook on how to present…

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