EvoLiteracy News 04 03 2015

Atlanta Educators Convicted in School Cheating Scandal. Judge ordered them jailed immediately. From The New York Times.

Atlanta Educators Might Go to Jail photos Kent D Johnson

Donald Bullock, a former Atlanta testing coordinator, and Sharon Davis Williams, a former research team director, after judge Jerry W. Baxter ordered the educators jailed immediately. Photo by Kent D. Johnson.

As an educator –although, mostly college– this story is both distressing and sad for me since I support high standards in education, at the same time that consider public schools to be underfunded and in constant need of financial and public support. The historical sequels of neglect and segregation -in the region- might also explain the complexity of this case, but the evidence presented to the court seems unequivocal — GPC.

Alan Blinder, who writes for The New York Times, examines the “largest cheating scandal in the nation’s history, [in which] a jury convicted 11 educators —a mixture of Atlanta public school teachers, testing coordinators and administrators— for their roles in a standardized test cheating that tarnished a major school district’s reputation and raised broader questions about the role of high-stakes testing in American schools.” The defendants (11 of 12) were convicted of racketeering, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.

Judge Jerry W. Baxter ordered most of the educators jailed immediately, and they were led from the courtroom in handcuffs. “Defense lawyers, some of whom were clearly angered by Judge Baxter’s decision to jail the educators, immediately began planning appeals and said they were stunned by the verdicts,” reports journalist Alan Blinder in his NYT article. “I don’t like to send anybody to jail,” Judge Baxter said. “It’s not one of the things I get a kick out of. But they have made their bed, and they’re going to have to lie in it, and it starts today”… Read complete story in The New York Times. For a local perspective and updates since 2008, see report in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, for an international take see The Guardian.

“Little-Foot” older than “Lucy.” New technology dates skeleton 3.67 million years old. What does it mean for hominid evolution?

Little Foot Skull 2.67 Million Years Old

The skull extracted from the cave breccia. Photo by Jason Heaton. Click on image for higher resolution.

“Little Foot is a rare, nearly complete skeleton of Australopithecus first discovered 21 years ago in a cave at Sterkfontein, in central South Africa. The new date places Little Foot as an older relative of Lucy, a famous Australopithecus skeleton dated at 3.2 million years old that was found in Ethiopia. It is thought that Australopithecus is an evolutionary ancestor to humans that lived between 2 million and 4 million years ago.” Read Purdue University press release in EurekAlert! Or see the original article in the journal Nature.

The Little Foot skeleton represents Australopithecus prometheus, a species very different from its contemporary, Australopithecus afarensis (“Lucy”), and with more similarities to the Paranthropus lineage. The dating relied on a radioisotopic technique, which uses radioisotopes within several rock samples surrounding a fossil to date when the rocks and the fossil were first buried underground.

“…Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus did not all have to have derived from Australopithecus afarensis [Lucy]… This new date [Little Foot’s 3.67 my] is a reminder that there could well have been many species of Australopithecus extending over a much wider area of Africa…”

The authors of the study, Granger et al. (total of 6 coauthors), who just published their results in Nature, summarize the work as follows: “The cave infills at Sterkfontein contain one of the richest assemblages of Australopithecus fossils in the world, including the nearly complete skeleton StW 573 (Little Foot) in its lower section, as well as early stone tolls in higher sections. However, the chronology of the site remains controversial due to the complex history of cave infilling. Much of the existing chronology based on U-PB and paleomagnetic stratigraphy has recently been called into question by the recognition that dated flowstones fill cavities formed within previously cemented breccias and therefore do not form a stratigraphic sequence. Earlier dating with cosmogenic nuclides suffered a high degree of uncertainty and has been questioned on grounds of sediment reworking. Here we use isochron burial dating with cosmogenic Al-26 and Be-10 to show that the breccia containing StW 573 did not undergo significant reworking, and that is was deposited 3.67 ± 0.16 My ago, far earlier than the 2.2 My flowstones found within it. The skeleton is thus coeval with early Australopithecus afarensis in eastern Africa. We also date the earlies stone tools at Sterkfontein to 2.18 ± 0.21 My ago, placing them in the Oldowan at a time similar to that found elsewhere in South Africa at Swartkans and Wonderwerk.” For complete study go to Nature.