Archive | February, 2019

A Tribute to the “Ocean Genius” – Walter Munk

13 Feb

The great man, who seemed like he would live forever, died Friday afternoon (February 8, 2019) at the age of 101. The New York Times had dubbed him the “Einstein of the Oceans” an appellation he rejected. He modestly bowed to Einstein’s towering intellect. Virtually unknown outside of scientific circles, Munk’s achievements have touched us all; from creating the science of wave prediction that greatly advantaged the D-Day invasion of 1944 to providing initial research pointing to global warming. A contributor to the Huffington Post, Max Guinn observed, “Following Munk’s accomplishments is a Forrest Gump journey through history.”

Walter Heinrich Munk was born October 19, 1917 in Vienna. It seemed that at home in Austria, he was only interested in skiing and had little interest in school. His banker parents shipped him off to a boarding school in upstate New York. The parents expected him to become a banker, an interest he never developed. They sent him to Columbia University hoping he would straighten out. It seemed to work a little. He focused a bit more scholastically even while running the school’s ski team.

Finally, his mother gave in. For a 2016 interview Munk shared,

“My mother gave me a tidy amount of money and said, ‘Do what you want.’

“I bought a DeSoto convertible, drove to Pasadena and showed up at Caltech. The dean said, ‘Let me pull your file.’ I said there was no file. I was so naive I thought you could go to college wherever you wanted.

“I was told that I could take an entrance exam in a month. I took a room at the corner of Lake and California and, for the first time in my life, really began studying. By some miracle, I passed the exam and became a student at Caltech.”

Later on, Munk fell for a girl and followed her to La Jolla, California where he spent the summer of 1939. While in La Jolla, he landed a job at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) now part of the University of California San Diego (UCSD). That summer job led to Munk becoming the first graduate student at SIO. It was there that he developed a passion for the ocean and spent more than 80-years researching, teaching, discovering and building; never permanently leaving.

The Foundation at Home and Professionally

One of Munk’s greatest achievements came during World War II. With its outbreak, he enlisted in the Army but the Navy claimed him for its research lab on Point Loma. Learning of a planned amphibious landing in North Africa, Munk investigated the conditions and realized that waves there often exceeded the size that allowed safe landings. However, his warnings were ignored, so he enlisted the help of his mentor at SIO, Harald Sverdrup.

Sverdrup was a Norwegian Scientist who became the director of SIO in 1936. It was supposed to be a three year posting but because of WWII, he did not leave until 1948. Sverdrup was famous in the scientific community for his work as the lead scientist on Roald Amundsen’s North Polar expeditions. After he joined in Munk’s concern, the Navy could no longer ignore the issue. Together, they developed the Sverdrup/Munk Theory of Wave Prediction, which soon allowed for the safe landing of troops in North Africa. They had done what no one had done before, used science to predict surf conditions.

Their work is the basis for today’s surf reports which city fathers watch intently when extra high surf is forecast and avid surfers follow on a daily basis.

Munk and Sverdrup

Munk and Harald Sverdrup UCSD File Photo

Max Guinn described their results,

“As part of the war effort, the two established a school for wave prediction at Scripps, and over the next two years, they taught wave prediction to 100 graduates. In June of 1944, the graduates played a critical role in the D-Day landings in Normandy. The landings were originally scheduled for a stormy day, with high waves. Considering the wave predictions, Eisenhower postponed the landings to coincide with a 12 hour period of moderate waves. The Germans believed the sea would remain too rough for an invasion for another few weeks and, as a result, German General Rommel went home for a birthday party for his wife, taking the defenses way down. Equipped with excellent surf forecasting, Allied troops began landing at 3 in the morning on June 6. It was the beginning of the end of World War II.”  

Munk earned a Masters in Geophysics in 1940 from California Institute of Technology and a PhD in Oceanography in 1947 from UCLA.

Munk’s best friend was Roger Revelle. Munk and Revelle cemented their long professional and personal relationship during a 1952 year long research voyage. They first went to the Eniwetok Atoll to monitor the hydrogen bomb test for possible tsunami issues. They didn’t find a tsunami but they did have to strip off their clothes and throw them overboard when they were doused with a radioactive rain. Munk was also at the Bikini Atoll for the 1946 atomic bomb test where he put dye in the lagoons to see where the currents would disperse the radioactive products.

I have twice been invited to the Munk house that he named Seiche (pronounced saysh). A seiche is a standing wave in a body of water, a phenomenon for which Lake Erie is famous. Seiche sits at the top of a canyon overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The backyard is terraced to accommodate five levels of seating for his Folly Garden Theater. Several times a year, the Munk’s open their home for local high school and middle school students to perform the works of William Shakespeare on his stage.

The origins of this multi-million dollar home reflect a different age. In 2017, Lonnie Hewitt of the La Jolla Light interviewed Munk. Hewitt reports,

“In the late 1940s, a group of 19 forward-thinking Scripps Institution of Oceanography colleagues got together and bought 42 acres of Scripps Estates land for $42,000. They designated the canyon a common area, and subdivided the rest.

“‘There was a fateful dinner at Roger Revelle’s, and we all drew lots for the properties,’ Munk said. ‘I was No. 19.’

“He and his late wife, Judith, the artist/architect he met at SIO and married in 1953, were the first to start building.

“‘We had no contractor,’ Munk said. ‘Judy was in charge, and I did all the plumbing and electrical work. And Judy wasn’t just an architect; she knew how to mix cement. We had no money, so we went to the Bank of La Jolla, and asked for a $5,000 loan. The bank manager was ready to turn us down because we had no contractor, but when he came out and saw what we were doing, he gave us the loan.’”

Walter was married to Judith for almost 53-years until she died in 2006. In 2011, he married Mary Coakley his present wife and life companion.

Dr Munk Shakespear_Moment 2

Mary and Walter in Red – Top Level of the Folly Garden Theater – Photo by Ultican

Dave Schwab interviewed Munk for Sdnews.com. In one exchange he asked,

“To what do you attribute your success?

“Munk: ‘I would never have had the career I’ve had without Judith and my second wife, Mary Coakley-Munk. They both played such a significant part in my career, helping me getting work done.’”

History of Achievement

I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Munk a little less than a year ago. I mentioned that I learned of him while reading about the Mohole project when attending high school. Munk immediately started sharing how that project was a failure but important scientific advancements came from it.

The goal of the Mohole project was to set up a deep drilling operation in the ocean where the earth’s crust in thinnest, penetrate the basalt crust and collect a sample of the mantle.

The book Seventy Years of Exploration in Oceanography quotes Dr. Munk,

“By 1961 we were aboard the CUSS I (named for the Continental, Union, Superior, and Shell Oil Companies) drilling off Guadalupe Island in 12,000 feet of water). Willard Bascom was in charge working with Ed Horton and Francois Lampietti. The drilling vessel was continually “underway,” driven by four large out-board propellers to maintain a fixed position relative to three sonic bottom transponders, the first demonstration of “dynamic positioning.” In spite of foul weather the drill penetrated 560 feet of sediment and then a few feet of basalt. John Steinbeck and Fritz Goro were along to record the event for Life magazine. The test was completed on time and within the allotted budget of $1.7 million. When Bascom wired NAS President Detlev Bronk that we had reached basalt, we took it for granted that Mohole was in the bag. Little did we realize that from this moment on the project was doomed.”

For Munk, Revelle and the rest, inventing a technique for dynamic positioning was not a significant problem. Munk had helped develop SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) for detecting German U-boats during WWII. He adapted that knowledge to create a way for keeping a ship located in one spot on the ocean which was the main obstacle preventing deep ocean drilling. The obstacle they could not overcome was Lyndon Johnson giving Brown and Root who had no ocean drilling experience the $50 million contract to drill the Mohole. The money was spent with no results and the project folded.

In 1963, Munk studied waves generated by winter storms in the Southern Hemisphere and traveling thousands of miles throughout the Pacific Ocean. He learned that there was little decay of wave energy as these waves traveled great distances. To trace the path and decay of waves as they propagated northward, he established stations to measure waves from islands and at sea from New Zealand, to the Palmyra Atoll, and on to Alaska. Munk and his family spent nearly the whole of 1963 on American Samoa for this experiment. Walter and Judith Munk collaborated in making the film “Waves Across the Pacific” to document the experiment.

judith-and-walter-20171027

Judith and Walter Munk in 1964 – SIO Photo

Perhaps his biggest achievement was “the sound heard around the world.” This experiment was fundamentally about developing a way of getting a synoptic measurement of ocean temperatures by using sound. It was a major step forward in the study of global warming.

Heard Island

Map Showing Heard Island’s Location Relative to Antarctica

In 1991, Munk traveled to Heard Island in the South Indian Ocean about 3,000 miles from Antarctica to see if sound generated there could be heard in other parts of the world. Gail Galbraith of the New York Times reported,

“Hours before the experiment was to begin, Dr. Munk was awakened by a call from Bermuda. From thousands of miles away, the listening post had already heard the sound before the experiment had begun. As it turned out, the Bermuda post had heard the brief sound check that technicians had made while preparing for the full test.

‘“And that was the best news that I’ve ever heard,’ Dr. Munk said. The Heard Island broadcasts became known as the ‘sound heard around the world.”’

Max Guinn summarized some of Munk’s achievements writing, “He is recognized for groundbreaking discoveries in wave propagation, ocean drilling, tides, currents, worldwide ocean circulation, and even our understanding of why the moon stopped rotating.”

A Beloved Figure

In 2017, Munk turned 100-years old and on that occasion he was celebrated widely by Scripps Institute, UCSD and the city of San Diego. San Diego renamed a portion of La Jolla Shores; Walter Munk Way. At the naming ceremony he said, “It’s going to take a miracle to prevent it from being flooded when it reaches the same age [100].

In an interview with La Jolla Village News, Munk was asked what he wanted for his birthday. He responded,

“The nicest birthday present I could want, numerous letters from students of mine from all over the world saying I’d done something to help them, has already happened. That’s all I could ask for. So I’m very happy.”

Invariably great people have great character that engenders respect from all quarters. That certainly describes what I have learned about Walter Munk who even had a little time for me. I will close by including the following picture that just seems perfect.

Munk and the Dalai Lama

Mary Coakley-Munk, Walter Munk and The Dalai Lama at UCSD in 2017 (SIO-Photo)

Texas Hangs Sword of Damocles Over Houston Schools

3 Feb

When the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board refused to privatize four schools, state takeover of the district became likely. States taking over school districts have an awful track record. Takeovers in Philadelphia, Newark, Detroit and Tennessee have been long running disasters for students, parents, schools and communities. So the idea that Texas will likely seize HISD – a district the Texas Education Agency (TEA) assigned a grade of B on its new A – F grading system – is bizarre.

HISD is the largest school district in the state of Texas and the 7th largest in the United States. The nine HISD Board members are an impressive group whose children attend district schools. Seven of them are products of HISD. They all are college graduates and most earned advanced degrees. Seven of them have both teaching and administrative experience in public schools. Anne Jung was a high school science teacher who earned a master’s in physics at Harvard. Jolanda Jones is a Rhodes Scholar and an NCAA heptathlon champion with a Juris Doctorate from the University of Houston. Wanda Adams was a scholarship winning athlete who attended Kashmere High School which is one of the four schools TEA might shutter. She is an Emmy winning college graduate who has been named to multiple top 50 lists in Houston area plus has served two terms on the Houston city council.

Richard Carranza became HISD superintendent in August of 2016. In March of 2018, he resigned to take a similar position in New York City Schools. With the HISD board’s impressive resumes and the fact that their last top hire was considered the best administrator in America to lead the nation’s largest school district, it was startling to read Governor Greg Abbott’s January 3rd tweet,

“What a joke. HISD leadership is a disaster. Their self-centered ineptitude has failed the children they are supposed to educate. If ever there was a school board that needs to be taken over and reformed it’s HISD. Their students & parents deserve change.”

A counter observation based on biographies is that every elected board member in HISD is more qualified to be an education leader than Mike Morath, the guy Abbott appointed Texas Commissioner of Education. They all are more educated with advanced degrees in clinical psychology, physics, law, education leadership etceteras compared to Morath’s bachelors degree in business. The board members have decades of experience working in public schools compared to Morath’s six months as an untrained long term sub teaching a computer science; a class outside of his field of study.

Morath tried to privatize the Dallas Independent School District while a board Trustee. It appears that Abbott might have a similar agenda for the entire state and that is why he selected this unqualified person to lead the state’s schools.

Terrible Education Policy Driven by Benighted Legislation

Takeover Authors

In 2015 Governor Abbott signed HB 1842 into law. It mandates “intervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years ….”

The law mandates that if a district does not implement an approved plan to turn the school around “the commissioner shall [may] order:

  • appointment of a board of managers to govern the district as provided by Section 39.112(b) [repurposing of the campus under this section];
  • alternative management of the campus under this section; or
  • closure of the campus.”

The bill allows districts to present a turnaround plan in which the district could be designated an “innovation district.” If after five consecutive years of bad tests scores at any district campus an “innovation district” would lose its designation and be subject to the above sanctions.

HB 1842 passed by large margins; 26-5 in the senate and 125-18 in the house. It is doubtful that many of the legislators fully understood that they were putting their constituent’s democratic rights in jeopardy when they voted for this bill.

In 2017, Senate Bill 1882 incentivized privatizing schools in minority neighborhoods. Sarah Becker an HISD parent and school psychologist explains,

“In the spring of 2017, just months before the sanctions of HB1842 were slated to go into effect; the legislature passed Texas Senate Bill 1882, which gave school boards another option for these so-called failing schools. SB1882 encouraged school districts to hand over control of these neighborhood schools to charter operators (referred to as “partnerships”) the year before schools would get ratings for the fifth year. In exchange, the school and its board would get a reprieve from Representative Dutton’s death penalty for two years and, as a bonus, would receive extra funding for every student enrolled in one of these charter-controlled schools.

“With one law the death penalty (1842) and the other law the price of clemency (1882), these two laws now work together to coerce local school boards to be the hand of privatizing their own neighborhood schools. One by one, schools are turned over to private, appointed organizations by local politicians that want to save their fledgling political careers, and in turn, these “partnerships” provide cover for conservative leaders that would have a hard time explaining to Texans how their state undermined local control of schools with state-mandated takeovers and closures.”

This combination of laws is based on the faulty premise that school quality can be measured by standardized testing. The famed education scholar Linda Hammond-Darling mentioned last week in an Ohio presentation,

“There’s about a 0.9 correlation between the level of poverty and test scores. So, if the only thing you measure is the absolute test score, then you’re always going to have the high poverty communities at the bottom and then they can be taken over.” (Emphasis added)

A correlation of 1 means it is a certainty and – 1 means it cannot happen. A correlation of 0.5 means there is a mild positive relationship. The 0.9 correlation with family wealth is the only correlation above 0.5 for any of the researched variables such as schools, teachers, sex or race.

In 1998, Noel Wilson wrote a major peer reviewed scholarly paper, “Educational Standards and the Problem of Error”. Wilson’s paper basically says that the level of error associated with standardized testing is so high it makes these tests unreliable as evaluative tools.

A year later, James Popham of the UCLA graduate school of education also wrote a peer reviewed paper on testing. In his Education Leadership article based on the paper he concluded,

“Educators should definitely be held accountable. The teaching of a nation’s children is too important to be left unmonitored. But to evaluate educational quality by using the wrong assessment instruments is a subversion of good sense. Although educators need to produce valid evidence regarding their effectiveness, standardized achievement tests are the wrong tools for the task.” (Emphasis added)

The science has not changed. Standardized test results will not evaluate a school’s quality but will identify poverty. The new approach in Texas guarantees that parents in minority mostly poor communities will have their democratic rights and public schools taken away. It may not be a racist intent but it certainly brings about a racist outcome. If this were not true at least one school in a majority white affluent neighborhood would be identified as “failing”.

TexasIR4_Correlated_w_RacePoverty2

HISD Parent Advocate Demographic Map of Houston Schools

Failure Demgraphics

Demographic Data from HISD

Houston’s Long Relationship with Destroy Public Education Ideology

Teach For America (TFA) or as my friend Ciedie Aech calls them the “teach-for-a-minute girls” came to Houston in 1991. A TFA teacher is a temporary employee with a bachelor’s degree and five-weeks of summer training from TFA. A new career teacher has a bachelor’s degree, a year of student teaching in conjunction with a year of teacher education classes. The TFA temp will normally leave after 2 years if not before. It would not be unusual for a career teacher to still be at a school 30-years later.

The new career teacher will likely not be confident or competent their first year. Most new teachers find an informal mentor on staff that guides them. The TFA temp normally does not have a clue about how unprepared they are. Because career teachers were so denigrated during their training, TFA teachers are reluctant to ask the advice of a veteran.

To label TFA teachers highly qualified or even qualified is to dissemble.

TFA is another of the destroy-public-education (DPE) organizations that only exists because of billionaire dollars. In her book Chronicle of Echoes, Mercedes Schneider documented that in 1995 TFA was $1.2 million in debt despite receiving a $2 million dollar federal grant.  Founder Wendy Kopp was able to scrape by with four $10 million gifts from the Broad foundation, the Dell foundation, Dan and Doris Fisher (Gap founders), and The Rainwater Charitable Funds. In 2011, the Walton Family gave TFA $49.5 million and since then money from billionaires has continuously poured in; even Houston’s own John Arnold has sent them more than $7 million.

In 1994, two teachers from TFA Houston with no training and three years teaching experience, Michael Feinberg and Dave Levin, founded KIPP charter school in Houston and New York. Schneider noted in Chronicle, “By 2000 Feinberg and Levin were receiving funding from Donald and Doris Fisher.” The Fisher’s co-founded the KIPP foundation where they were joined on the board by Carrie Walton Penner (Walmart heir), Mark Nunnely (Bain Capital) and Reed Hasting (Netflix) among others.

Chris Barbic another Houston TFA teacher with limited experience followed in Feinberg and Levin’s footsteps to founded YES Prep the next year. This charter was seen as miraculous. Gary Rubinstein was a fellow TFA teacher and personal friend of Barbic’s in Houston. He often shoots down miracle claims by charter schools. Gary wrote of Yes Prep,

“In 2010, YES was awarded a million dollars by Oprah Winfrey, in part because of their incredible record of getting 100% of their 12th graders to be accepted into college.  This was before people knew to ask, ‘But what percent of your 9th graders remained in the school to become 12th graders?’”

KIPP which uses a 19th century “no excuses” pedagogy has 25 schools in Houston and YES Prep has grown to 18 schools. Rubinstein concluded the article cited above with:

“So is YES Prep failing its Black students and then abandoning them when it serves YES for them to do so?  I can’t be certain, but the data makes me pretty confident that the answer is YES.”

YES Prep and KIPP are two more DPE organizations that only exist because a group of billionaires dedicated to privatizing public education gave them millions of dollars. It is not because they are superior schools but because they are not public.

The fraudulent “Texas miracle” that led to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and the federal takeover of public education came from Houston. Roderick Paige was the HISD Superintendent that rode that “miracle” all the way to the office of United States Secretary of Education.

Paige’s strategy was to give bonuses to school leaders that hit bench marks and fire those that didn’t. Drop out rates plunged and test scores soared. Later in was learned that the “Texas miracle” like all school miracle claims was a fraud. They cooked the books on dropout data and principals raised 10th grade testing scores by holding low scoring 9th graders back and then promoting them to 11th grade the next time they were due to test.

It is close to a consensus conclusion that NCLB was a colossal and damaging failure. Its strategy of test and punish became test and privatize. Alfie Kohn published a 2004 article, “Test Today, Privatize Tomorrow; Using Accountability to ‘Reform’ Public Schools to Death.” In a 2008 addendum, he wrote of the suspicion that schools were purposely setup for failure:

“We now have corroboration that these fears were entirely justified. Susan Neuman, an assistant secretary of education during the roll-out of NCLB, admitted that others in Bush’s Department of Education ‘saw NCLB as a Trojan horse for the choice agenda – a way to expose the failure of public education and ‘“blow it up a bit’’’ (Claudia Wallis, ‘No Child Left Behind: Doomed to Fail?’, Time, June 8, 2008).”

Some Observations

With the HB 1842 and SB 1882, the Texas legislature has created an education code that eerily mirrors NCLB. It has reinstituted the test and punish theory using the same faulty methodology for evaluating schools – standardized testing. Is this the result of ignorance or something far more sinister?

Local Houston billionaire and former Enron trader John Arnold has joined forces with San Francisco billionaire Reed Hastings to privatize America’s schools. They have each pledged $100,000,000 to their new City Fund dedicated to selling the portfolio model of school governance. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath recently started the System of Great Schools which is a strategy roadmap and toolkit for implementing the portfolio model for school governance, a model that posits disruption and school privatization as good for Texas.

Fewer and fewer schools in a portfolio district are controlled by a vote of the community. I believe in democracy and local control. How do Texas politicians justify undermining democracy and local control? What a strange group of conservatives.