Figure 1. Average scores in numeracy for age 16-34 (bars) and age 16-24 (red dots): OECD PIAAC 2012. (From Goodman et al. 2015, Data © OECD 2012. Used with permission.) Click for larger view.
by Eric (Rick) Nelson
In K-12 education, can Virginia lead the nation? If that’s the goal, in my view as a career educator, Dr. Lisa Coons is the best possible choice as our new state Superintendent. As Chief Academic Officer in Tennessee, the programs she guided to help teachers improve reading instruction are among the best in the nation.
But in Virginia, challenge #1 is mathematics. The department Dr. Coons now leads is tentatively scheduled in June to submit to the state Board of Education a proposed revision of our K-12 math Standards of Learning (SOLs). Workforce math skills are vital for our nation’s prosperity and defense, but current standards, in both our state and nation, are failing to teach mathematics effectively.
The evidence? On national standards, much of it can be found in the International Journal of Mathematics Education, among other places.
- On a 2012 international test of numeracy skills for citizens aged 16 to 34, among 22 tested nations, the United States ranked dead last;
- Since 2012? In national NAEP LTT testing in January 2020, before the U.S. arrival of Covid-19, math scores were lower than in 2012 for nearly every student group;
- As noted by columnist George Will, “About 76,000 students each year receive from U.S. universities advanced degrees in engineering disciplines …. Of those graduates, about 43 percent are U.S. citizens….”;
- Electrical engineering (EE) is an especially important field in the competitive world economy. Of EE doctorates awarded by U.S. universities, the proportion going to non-U.S. citizens rose from 62% in 2010 to 70% in 2019. Almost as many U.S. EE Ph.D.’s went to citizens of China as to U.S. citizens.
Many of these “best and brightest” from around the globe stay in the U.S. and contribute disproportionately to our economy. But one wonders: how long will U.S. taxpayers support higher education their children are not being prepared to enter? Continue reading
by Joe Fitzgerald
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The Hopewell chemical plant where Kepone was born and raised has been cited 66 times over the past eight years for releasing toxic chemicals into the air and into the James River.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch tells the story better than I do. What makes this latest stream of toxins so poignant is the release this week of the book Poison Powder: The Kepone Disaster in Virginia and its Legacy, by University of Akron history professor Gregory Wilson. (From the University of Georgia Press, or from Amazon.)
Wilson’s work is an excellent history that brings alive what so many of us remember from back then. People we knew, including my brother Tom, worked and suffered at the Kepone plant in Hopewell in the mid-1970s. The James River, the cradle of American settlement, was closed to fishing. People who couldn’t spell “ppm” could tell you how many parts per million of Kepone were in their blood.
Tom died last summer, age 67, of what some medical sites call a rare type of kidney tumor that had also attached itself to his stomach and bowel and maybe a couple of organs I’ve forgotten. Kepone? Nobody will ever know for sure. But Wilson’s book makes sure everybody who wants to will know what happened in Hopewell almost 50 years ago.
by Dick Hall-Sizemore
Friday afternoon I visited the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport, officially known as National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. It has been on my list of places to visit for a long time. If you haven’t been, I heartily recommend it.
As with anything the Smithsonian does, the number of objects on display is astounding. There are cavernous halls with planes and other aviation-related displays laid out all over the place—big planes, little planes, planes from the early 1900’s, modern planes, Nazi war planes, a Soviet MIG, satellites, a space shuttle. In addition, there are almost as many planes suspended from the very high ceiling. All of this can be viewed from three levels.
For someone who is not an aviation aficionado, all these items tend to blend together fairly quickly. It is almost impossible to take it all in in one day. It is best to take small bites, which is what I plan to do. I come to Northern Virginia frequently to visit my daughter and her family, so I can do that. (Admission is free, but there is a $15 parking fee.) If one can’t go back easily, but can devote most of one day to the facility, I recommend choosing a sunny day and take some lunch. After spending a couple of hours or so in the facility, go outside, eat your lunch, and then go back in, with your mind somewhat rested from all the stimulation. Continue reading
by Bob Hurley
The next time you see a turtle think of what life on Earth might have been like 220 million years ago.
Turtles have been around for that long. They saw dinosaurs come and go; survived the Ice Age; and with their distinctive shells, have defended themselves against a variety of predators.
And we need them. Turtles are important in balancing ecosystems. They protect water quality by removing harmful bacteria, like dead fish and animals. They control aquatic vegetation; cycle nutrients; and contribute to new plant growth by dispersing seeds. A decline in their population can signal problems for water quality or habitat loss.
Today, their survival is threatened around the world and here in Virginia. The primary causes: unsustainable – and often illegal — capture and loss of habitat.
“Turtles are this incredible legacy to the history of nature on Earth,” said Tom Akre, a Sperryville resident, who is a program scientist at the Conservation Ecology Center at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (NZCBI) in Front Royal. “They haven’t changed in 220 million years and are now the most endangered group of vertebrates on our planet, with 60 percent of species threatened,” he said. “Turtles are the most traded four-legged animal group in the world, and that is a big cause for their decline.” Continue reading
by Robin Beres
While mainstream media may be transfixed by the gutter politics going on in New York, exciting, uplifting events are happening in other parts of the nation — including in our very own little city of Hampton.
Located on Hampton’s Langley Air Force Base just off the Chesapeake Bay, the Langley Research Center is NASA’s oldest field center. Established in 1917, the 764-acre facility consists of nearly 200 separate facilities and employs around 3,400 civil servants and contractors.
In the early 1960s Langley was a top contender to be named NASA’s Mission Control Center for manned space flights. But because the Hampton facility was so close to Washington, and Hampton Roads was already home to both military and civilian aerospace and aviation communities, NASA selected Johnson Space Center in Houston over Langley.
Although missing out on the Manned Spacecraft Center, Langley has nonetheless continued to play a vital role in the research and training that has made every space mission from Gemini I to Artemis successful. The historic research facility has had countless scientific breakthroughs and historic firsts. The first crews of astronauts were trained there. Langley’s Rendezvous and Docking Simulator trained both Gemini and Apollo astronauts. It is where the Apollo Lunar Module was tested.
Scientists at the center were instrumental in the development of supersonic flight. Researchers there created the world’s first transonic wind tunnel and developed today’s international standard for grooved airport runways. And, if you saw the fabulous — and true — movie, Hidden Figures, you know that those incredible women worked at Langley.
Today, Langley is very much involved in NASA’s plans to put humans on the moon — and eventually on Mars. The space agency’s Moon to Mars program is no longer just a dream or a science fiction story in Popular Mechanics. The Artemis space program is moving rapidly forward on several goals which include putting a base on the moon and eventually landing humans on Mars.
by Dr. Scott Armistead
Physician burnout is a major issue in the U.S., receiving attention in medical education, medical specialties and at various government levels. Moral injury, in my professional and teaching experience, is a significant and growing challenge to physician wellness. Moral injury happens when one’s personal convictions are unwelcomed and one is pressured to think, be silent, speak, act or not act in a way that compromises one’s conscience.
I graduated from the VCU School of Medicine (formerly Medical College of Virginia) in 1991, trained in family medicine and served in a mission hospital in Asia for 16 years. In 2015, I transitioned to a Virginia university practice and became heavily involved in the lives of medical students.
In the time that had passed since I was a medical student, I found the environment of medicine and medical education had significantly changed. One area of change was the emergence of the “provider of services model.” “Provider,” a relatively new term at the time, is now commonplace. Continue reading
by David Wojick
In my previous article I raised this question: what is the potential adverse impact of Virginia’s massive offshore wind project on the severely endangered North Atlantic Right Whales? Answering this basic question should be a central feature of the upcoming Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) required for the wind project by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
The 70-ton North Atlantic Right Whales migrate through Virginia’s offshore waters twice a year, making the impact of these proposed huge offshore wind projects a serious question. I have been doing some digging, and the results are puzzling. We may have some secret science going on.
To begin with, while there has been a lot of research on these whales, it has almost all been done in their northern and southern habitat zones. There is almost nothing on migration, even though migration is especially dangerous for any critters that do it, whales included.
So, it is not clear that we even have a clear picture of how they migrate through the waters where these massive wind projects are proposed. A lot of the risk depends on how they migrate, and we seem not to know much about that.
I say we “seem not to know” because someone in the federal government may actually know more than they are prepared to divulge. This is where it gets puzzling, as follows. Continue reading
by James C. Sherlock
Sometimes we get nice surprises. Yesterday was one of those days.
A friend on the UVa Board of Visitors sent me a report by CodeSignal.
Founded in 2015, (CodeSignal is) the first company to develop an objective skills-based assessment platform that can be used as a standard for technical hiring.
The report presents that organization’s ranking of the 50 colleges and universities with the highest concentration of students who received a top score under CodeSignal’s General Coding Framework, “the industry-standard assessment taken by more than 50% of graduating computer science students in the United States”.
It is meant for corporate recruiters and hiring managers. Here is the list of the top 30 universities.
I am a UVa grad but, alas, in 1962 I did not major in software engineering.
Congratulations to the Hoos.
Anderson Cooper in a personal flying machine.
Real rebound or just a dead cat bounce? After bottoming out at around 21,500 riders a year ago, the Virginia Railway Express commuter rail service in Northern Virginia is experiencing a recovery in ridership, reports The Free Lance-Star. In February, VRE reports, monthly rider trips totaled more than 52,900. That’s a far cry from the previous, pre-COVID February ridership of 355,000, but it’s something. The decision by a federal judge in Florida to throw out the national mask mandate for public transportation might help revive ridership a bit more.
Yet… the latest numbers suggest that former VRE riders are NOT taking about 300,000 trips monthly that they had been before the pandemic. Some are likely working at home, but some may be adding to congestion along I-95. Virginia has invested in the rail infrastructure, so, it’s a shame if people aren’t using it. On the other hand…
Self-driving cars and flying cars. The Virginia Mercury reminds us that Sheppard Miller, Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation, thinks flying cars could be a reality within the next 50 years — a reason that the Commonwealth should “reexamine transit.” People have been fantasizing about flying cars for a hundred years now, and we have yet to see anything remotely practical. But a wave of venture-funded innovation is giving rise to what might better be described as personal flying machines. They’re not cars with four wheels and wings; they’re battery-powered, drone-like craft that can lift off from parking lots and the tops of buildings. On Sunday, 60 Minutes broadcast a clip of Anderson Cooper flying (seen above) in one such device. Continue reading
Aquatrak wave and tidal sensor. Not sure if these are used in VA.
by Steve Haner
The latest projection from the ever-trustworthy federal authorities sweating out the climate crisis is that the sea level will rise one foot along Virginia’s coast by 2050, rising the same amount in 30 years as it rose in the previous 100.
The news quickly swept across the Commonwealth. Here is the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s take and here the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot (both firewalled, sorry.) And The Washington Post.
What do the stories fail to mention? That this is a far less dire prediction than the ones distracted news consumers are usually fed. Governor Ralph Northam’s administration prepared a climate adaptation report last year that assumed 2.2 feet of rise by 2050, and almost seven feet by 2100. I wrote about it on Bacon’s Rebellion in August. The higher prediction of almost seven feet is also cited in a lawsuit against the state reported previously.
Even this more modest prediction is still incredibly unlikely. Nothing has changed with the actual measurements of the slow but steady rise in relative sea level, the focus of the earlier-cited article I did with Kip Hansen. For the new prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to come to pass, those measured rates will need to double or triple promptly. Continue reading
by Steve Haner
Not every policy imposed by government is subject to public hearings or votes. That’s one reason to vote for smart candidates who have the country’s best interests at heart and not for those who rant about personal liberty without accepting any social responsibility for individual decisions.
That was part of a response I received by email from somebody who read Friday’s post on the Air Pollution Control Board’s new regulation which ties Virginia’s auto market to emissions rules promulgated by California. I had noted how the state’s usual and statutory requirements for notice and comment had been bypassed on the orders of the General Assembly.
Clearly this reader thought that was just fine, which floored me. My respondent was a member of the working news media. If anybody should be standing up for transparency and public participation, it would be news reporters, editors and producers, right? Not this person, not on this issue. (I’ll withhold the name.)
The comments from a “journalist” about “smart candidates” versus “those who rant about personal liberty” speak for themselves. Note they would apply equally to COVID mitigations and efforts to eliminate carbon dioxide, with disdain poured on skeptics in either case. It was a refreshingly honest admission that explains the selective coverage we must wade through on so many issues. It came at a time when I was already shaking my head over the media coverage of Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s proposal to exit the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Continue reading
Jason S. Johnston, Professor, University of Virginia School of Law
by Steve Haner
Efforts to rapidly expand our reliance on wind and solar generation for electricity, while at the same time closing baseload natural gas generation with similar haste, makes no sense economically. “The only explanation for that policy is you want to shut down the economy.”
Another voice of reason has emerged to challenge the climate alarmist orthodoxy, a Virginia voice, Professor Jason S. Johnston at the University of Virginia School of Law. He brings to the discussion the experience and analysis of a regulatory law expert and economist, distilled into a somewhat daunting 656-page book published by Cambridge University Press in August.
“Climate Rationality: From Bias to Balance” (available through Amazon here) focuses at length on the legal precautionary principle behind most climate regulatory schemes, with little or no consideration taken of either the economic costs or unintended environmental consequences. He writes in an excerpt from his introduction:
The precautionary principle says little if anything about how such costs should be weighed in designing policy. But, given the highly uncertain and unpredictable future impacts of rising atmospheric GHG concentrations and the unprecedented cost of reducing GHG emissions, any rational regulatory response to curbing human GHG emissions must surely closely scrutinize the case for decarbonization. The purpose of this book is to provide precisely such an examination…
Precautionary US climate policy has already cost lives, damaged the environment, and increased costs for the basic life necessities, such as electricity, in ways that are felt most acutely by the poorest American households.
Stolen without a gun. NBC News is reporting that hackers and scammers have pulled off “an epic theft” of COVID benefits. Foreign and domestic criminals have looted tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars. As reported, “The federal government cannot say for sure how much of the more than $900 billion in pandemic-related unemployment relief has been stolen, but credible estimates range from $87 million to $400 billion — at least half of which went to foreign criminals, law enforcement officials say.” In other words, more money could have been stolen from the jobless benefits program than the U.S. spends on K-12 education in a year. Continue reading
To vax or not to vax? I’m vaccinated. I think everybody who is eligible to be vaccinated should get vaccinated. Jim Bacon makes the excellent point that people who are vaccinated may still get COVID but are far less likely to die from the virus. Others believe that vaccinations will confer herd immunity to the population as a whole if only enough people get vaccinated. Not so claims a world renowned virologist. Sir Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group and a leading epidemiologist, calls herd immunity from the Delta variant “not a possibility” and “mythical.” If herd immunity really is “mythical,” is there a public health basis to mandate vaccines? The pro vax mandate crowd has continually compared the COVID vaccinations to vaccinations against diseases like polio. But if herd immunity is “not a possibility,” where do we stand? Continue reading
3D printer used to construct a house Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch
By Dick Hall-Sizemore
For someone who stays away from housing issues, I now have my second one in two days. Yesterday, I expressed dismay at the price tag on new “affordable” homes. Today’s topic is 3D printed homes.
As strange as that may sound, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported yesterday that work has begun in Richmond on the “first house in Virginia partially constructed using a 3D printer rather than lumber.”
I have trouble wrapping my mind around this concept. =As I understand it, the “printer” is a large contraption that lays down concrete, rather than ink or toner, in precise patterns that have been programmed into a computer. The concrete is then smoothed out with a different nozzle that has a scraper attached. In the case of this house in Richmond, the printer is laying down layer after layer of concrete to “print” the outer walls of the house. The interior walls will be constructed by more traditional means. Continue reading