The achievement gap—the difference in academic performance between low performing students and their high performing peers—is a hot topic in education. Closing the achievement gap is a main goal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Researchers continue to study variables that sustain the gap, including those normally perceived as outside the reach of the school, such as nutrition, health, parenting style, parent aspirations, childhood trauma, access to preschool, and many others. Curriculum and test developers, administrators, and policy analysts continue to draw on the available research in an effort to design and implement remedies.
Several years ago, Dr. Alan Gaynor, Associate Professor in School of Education at Boston University, decided to take a different look at the educational achievement gap. A self-described “natural systems thinker”, Gaynor wanted to focus on the K-12 school as a system.
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Despite the trillions of dollars in aid that has flowed into Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) from developed nations, the region continues to battle starvation, disease, low literacy rates, high birth rates, and a host of other intractable problems. In fact, between 1981 and 2001, extreme poverty in SSA rose 5% (UNIDO, 2004). Countries continue to struggle with high rates of HIV and AIDS. And desertification and other forms of environmental degradation are making it harder to survive in local economies that are based almost entirely on agriculture.
The coincidence of international aid and degradation of economic conditions in Africa was apparent to Viviane A. Amelewonou-Thalmensy. “I’m from Togo, West Africa but I didn’t grow up there,” says Viviane. “My father worked for the UN and we often vacationed in Togo and visited relatives. I could see that things weren’t improving.”
Educated and experienced in risk management in the banking sector, Viviane decided to pursue a PhD in development at Skema Business School in Lille, France, and to investigate the efficacy of development programs in SSA. While she was clear on the issue she wanted to address, she didn’t think about taking a system dynamics approach until meeting with her advisor, Peter Heffron, Adjunct Professor at Skema. “I had never taken a course in system dynamics, but Peter explained that it was an approach that would help me deal with the complexities of development issues.”
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The Barry Richmond Scholarship Award was established in 2007 by isee systems to honor and continue the legacy of its founder, Barry Richmond. Barry was devoted to helping others become better systems citizens and it was his mission to make systems thinking and system dynamics accessible to people of all ages, and in all fields and professions. The award is presented annually at the System Dynamics Society Conference to an individual whose work demonstrates a desire to expand the field or to apply it to a current social issue.
It was a great pleasure to present this year’s award to Mauricio Gomez Diaz, a graduate student in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division. Mauricio’s work includes a wonderful paper sponsored by the National Institute of Health titled Unintended Effects of Changes in NIH Appropriations: Challenges for Biomedical Research Workforce Development. The paper and his model describe how a sudden rise in NIH research funding led to an overinvestment in facilities and the recruitment of PhD students by Universities, which in turn led to a more competitive grant proposal environment. More time spent writing grants means less time doing research, and ultimately a less productive workforce.
Mauricio’s work identifying the feedback loops associated with public funding and a research workforce could have implications for many other public agencies. Please join us in congratulating Mauricio!
"Introduction to Dynamic Modeling with STELLA and iThink"
Colorado Springs, CO — October 31-November 1, 2012
Whether you are new to Systems Thinking or it's been a while since you've used the STELLA or iThink software, this two day workshop provides the most efficient way to come up to speed with the dynamic modeling approach. We'll draw upon years of real-world experience to help build your skills and facilitate modeling an issue of your own choosing.
"New Features in STELLA and iThink Version 10"
Colorado Springs, CO — November 2, 2012
Extend your learning from the Introduction to Dynamic Modeling workshop or join us for this one day course to get hands-on experience using some of the exciting new software features in STELLA and iThink Version 10.
"Intermediate Dynamic Modeling with STELLA and iThink"
San Diego, CA — January 22-23, 2013
Register early to ensure a space in our popular intermediate workshop which is offered just once a year. Designed for experienced modelers or those who have already participated in our introductory course, this two day workshop will take your knowledge to the next level. Faculty will use a wide variety of case studies as vehicles for addressing key dynamic modeling topics and advanced software functionality.
To learn more or to register, email Anna Pippin at email@example.com or call (603) 448-4990.