Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Real Unemployment (U6)

The U6 unemployment rate counts not only people without work seeking full-time employment (the more familiar U-3 rate), but also counts "marginally attached workers and those working part-time for economic reasons." Note that some of these part-time workers counted as employed by U-3 could be working as little as an hour a week. And the "marginally attached workers" include those who have gotten discouraged and stopped looking, but still want to work.

The U6 rate shows over 16% seasonally adjusted unemployment in June, greater than any recession since the Great Depression.

Shadowstats.com has a third rate that they have put together that shows unemployment at over 20%.

Chart of U.S. Unemployment

Under the regular unemployment rate (U-3):
Some groups of workers [face] official unemployment rates in the double digits. As of May, unemployment rates for black, Hispanic, and teenage workers were already 14.9%, 12.7% and 22.7%, respectively. Workers without a high-school diploma confronted a 15.5% unemployment rate, while the unemployment rate for workers with just a high-school degree was 10.0%. Nearly one in five (19.2%) construction workers were unemployed. In Michigan, the hardest hit state, unemployment was at 12.9% in April. Unemployment rates in seven other states were at double-digit levels as well.
Consider this. These are the U-3 rates. The U-6 versions of these rates, likely at least double the U-3 rates for those on the bottom (since things always get worse faster for those on the bottom), mean that teenagers have an unemployment rate of nearly 50%, and teens of color are likely higher, and teens of color in the inner-city are likely higher than that.

The standard unemployment rates hide the unemployment holocaust that has been going on for years within low-income communities of color.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Stormy times ahead for "mumbo jumbo" education talkers

Here is a column widely circulated in Indiana. I particularly note these remarks by Indiana’s governor, Mitch Daniels. Stormy weather ahead for foundations scholars and other “mumbo jumbo” talkers.

“Arne Duncan could not be superintendent or principal in Indiana,” Daniels said of Obama’s education chief and former superintendent of Chicago schools. “He doesn’t have the right credentials.” The governor enunciated “credentials.”

Asked about how the Ball State University teachers college will have to adapt, Daniels explained, “When the Professional Licensing Board begins starting next week to redefine what is required to get a teaching license in Indiana, the schools of education are going to have to make some major changes of their own. They are not going to need as many people teaching what to me is mumbo jumbo. We’re going to expect students who want to teach spending much more of their time studying the subject they are going to be teaching in the schools

Brian Howey: Daniels’ Education ‘Revolution’ Next Week

INDIANAPOLIS - Next week, the education “revolution” begins in Indiana.

As I sat down with Gov. Mitch Daniels Wednesday afternoon, he was penning a personal note on a letter he was sending U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a man, Daniels said, who would not “qualify” to be a principal under current state guidelines.

“We have now got an all new board of education,” Daniels explained. “We’ve got an all new Professional Licensing Board. We are going to redefine what is expected of a teacher in Indiana. It’s going to revolutionize the colleges and schools of education much more in terms of content knowledge. You can’t teach mathematics you don’t know, you can’t teach history you never learned.”

He talked a week after Vigo Supt. Dan Tanoos was not reappointed to the Board of Education and former Sen. Teresa Lubbers took over the reins of the Commission on Higher Education. At the time, Tanoos told the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, “It doesn’t shock me because I’ve been vocal about Superintendent Bennett’s lack of support for public education. I’m not a Tony Bennett yes-man.”

The governor said that the goal is to attract teachers from all walks of life. “No one is against learning methods or how to teach, but you better know what you’re teaching,” he said. “You’re going to see significantly easier access to the classroom for people coming from non-traditional roots. We’ve got a lot of wonderful people, very accomplished, who feel called to teach children now in mid-career or even late career. We should welcome them with open arms.”

Daniels said that he and the Board of Education will work to “minimize the hurdles” to get professionals from other areas into the classroom.

The topic was broached after State Rep. Ed DeLaney, in the final hours of the special session of the Indiana General Assembly on June 30, said on the House floor “I believe that the other side has a position on public education they have not articulated. I think there is a direct assault on public education and they won’t say it.”

“What I heard Ed quoted as saying is it’s the end of public education as we know it. To which I said, ‘I sure hope so,’” said Daniels. “The system as we know it has been failing our kids and therefore failing our state. It’s simply got to change. We haven’t declared war on anything. We’ve come to a determination to have a system that works better. This year, some people didn’t see this coming. There are very, very positive changes coming.”

The governor said that a year or so after his second term ends, he hopes Hoosiers can see “results that matter.” By that, he means “positive significant improvement in student achievement. You would see a more rigorous system with students far better prepared in math or science than they have been. He would see a system - schools - built around the student, not the adults. Meaning far smaller administration costs and personnel. More and higher quality teachers in the classroom. You want to see a revolution, there’s one coming and it starts next week.”

As Daniels finished his letter to Duncan, he noted that on education issues, his administration and that of President Obama and Duncan are in sync on issues such as length of school day and charter schools. He chided the legislative Black Caucus. “I’ve had some direct conversations with leaders of the Black Caucus. We have President Obama on one side and them on the other,” Daniels said. “It may be a little awkward for them.”

“They have been fierce defenders of the status quo. I’m trying to persuade them that they are being terribly shortsighted. This is to side with the adults, tenured jobs, administrative jobs, union jobs, but against the interests of the children.”

“Our policies are absolutely consistent with the President and Secretary Duncan,” Daniels said of federal funding that could have been jeopardized when House Democrats tried to cap charter schools.

“Arne Duncan could not be superintendent or principal in Indiana,” Daniels said of Obama’s education chief and former superintendent of Chicago schools. “He doesn’t have the right credentials.” The governor enunciated “credentials.”

Asked about how the Ball State University teachers college will have to adapt, Daniels explained, “When the Professional Licensing Board begins starting next week to redefine what is required to get a teaching license in Indiana, the schools of education are going to have to make some major changes of their own. They are not going to need as many people teaching what to me is mumbo jumbo. We’re going to expect students who want to teach spending much more of their time studying the subject they are going to be teaching in the schools.”

Does Daniels have in mind a mix of what charter and traditional public schools should be? The governor explained, “No. I don’t pretend to know. What I know is that alternative approaches are extremely popular with parents and families. I do know that the general record of these schools is superior to the old model.”The columnist publishes at www.howeypolitics.com.

The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love and the Meaning of Life

I haven't read this book (it comes out Aug. 4), but this review makes it look fascinating.
"Children are unconsciously the most rational beings on earth," says Alison Gopnik, "brilliantly drawing accurate conclusions from data, performing complex statistical analyses, and doing clever experiments." And not only does empirical work reveal this about babies and small children, but what is thus revealed throws light on some of philosophy's more intriguing questions about knowledge, the self, other minds, and the basis of morality. . . .

Llearning proceeds, says Gopnik, in ways that a scientist would recognize as familiar: by experimentation and recognition of statistical patterns. In the child the application of these methods is unconscious and instinctive, and it is aided by the presence of caregivers who provide active instruction. But the basis of child learning is no different from the more conscious and deliberate methodology of adult enquirers.

Studies of child development also suggest insights into consciousness, one of philosophy's most recalcitrant mysteries. Children appear to have a far more vivid awareness of the world around them than adults do, Gopnik, reports, because an adult's "spotlight awareness" that enables concentration on specific features of an environment involves losing the "lantern awareness" that brings the whole environment to the forefront of attention. This childhood form of awareness is likened by Gopnik to how adults feel when they visit a foreign country; they focus less on particulars and experience everything more globally because so much is unfamiliar. But whereas children have a more intense lantern awareness, they also have less inner consciousness of the kind that helps manufacture a distinctive sense of self, that autobiographical centre of memory and planning which is the "me" in all experience. That explains why they have less command of their behavior, and less sense of the future.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's not Competitiveness it's Altruism

Seems to me that this has some implications for education:
Standard economic theory states that people are interested only in their own material gain. But new insights from behavioral economics show that altruism rather than avarice is our primary motivation.
Interesting corollary from Fantasia's work on unions and strikes showing that people go in strike much more because one of their brethren has been insulted than about wages.

Our old friend Herbert Gintes (of Bowles and Gintes fame) is in the thick of it:
With this wealth of new findings, the challenge is to build new economic models that will eventually translate into viable policies. Among the vanguard on this quest is the University of Massachusetts’ Gintis, who, as the lead author of Moral Sentiments and Material Interests, has literally written the book on altruism and economics. . . . Forty years of research has led him to a blunt conclusion: “Altruism isn’t irrational,” he says, “because if it were, the only rational people would be sociopaths.” Of course, there will always be unscrupulous individuals who are devoid of altruism, but they’re the exceptions rather than the rule.

Gintis proposes a theory called “strong reciprocity,” arguing that bonds of trust and cooperation within a community often serve as greater motivation than material reward. The theory is based on the premise that humans evolved in small groups with strong social contracts and plenty of contact with strangers. Cooperation within the tribe was advantageous so long as free riders were punished. It was also the best gambit on encountering strangers. Cooperation, particularly in times of famine, was the only means of survival, so altruism became a favored evolutionary trait.

Want to stop cheating?

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University in North Carolina, explored how society can foster honesty in his book Predictably Irrational. He conducted experiments that showed cheating could virtually be eliminated by prompting students with the Ten Commandments or asking them to sign an honor code before taking tests. “When faced with the opportunity for material gain, people will bend the situation so it aligns with their moral values,” says Ariely. “Setting ethical benchmarks, so long as they are repeated at the right moments, keeps people from straying into dishonesty.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"Everyone's mutual interests are absolutely aligned"

On Monday, the Chicago Tribune published a Q & A with Arne Duncan focusing on the relationship between the interests of businesses and the need for educational reform. The first question asked of Arne was:

Q Why include business in the policy debate about public education?

Arne's answer?

A We all need to work together on this stuff, business leaders and educators. Everyone's mutual interests are absolutely aligned.

Further along in the interview, Arne said:

We've lost our way educationally as a country. We've basically flat-lined. We have to educate our way to a better economy.

I agree with Arne. We have "lost our way educationally." And yes, part of the problem is a lack of "improvement" in education, no matter how you measure that. But I disagree with Arne's implication of where and why we've lost our way. He seems to believe (as do most Americans) that the ultimate purpose of education is job preparation, and that the schools' primary function is to prepare workers for the economy. As Tribune columnist Greg Burns. puts it in an accompanying article, "Schools should be teaching the skills that employers need -- vocational training as well as basic reading, math and technology."

Who can disagree that schools should be teaching reading, math, and technology? But "vocational training"? Business people don't realize what they are saying when they call for "vocational training" in schools. History shows that "vocational training" is a euphemism for "social reproduction," because when we divide students into those who are headed to college and those who are headed for jobs, we inevitably make decisions about which opportunities to provide to each kid based on measures that are more or less correlated with their parents' social class, whether these measures are standardized test scores or self-declared career interests. It is not possible to shunt some kids into "vocational training" without reflecting their social class, unless such assignments are made on a completely random basis, which would never fly with upper-middle class parents.

The call for "vocational training" in schools reflects an underlying confusion about the meaning of "vocational training"?

It can mean teaching very specific job-related skills such as welding, auto repair, or cooking.

Or, it can mean competencies such as "the ability to manage resources, to work amicably and productively with others, to acquire and use information, to master complex systems, and to work with a variety of technologies" (from the summary of the final Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report from the US Department of Labor).

If the former, then "vocational training" isn't education at all, but training that serves primarily to limit a person's opportunities and options, making him or her a mere instrument of industry, subject to the commodification of labor and inevitable displacement by changing economic conditions. In that narrow sense, vocational training has no place in K-12 schools. As John Dewey wrote, in a chapter entitled "Vocational Aspects of Education" in Democracy and Education, "There is doubtless ... a tendency for every distinctive vocation to become too dominant, too exclusive and absorbing in its specialized aspect. This means emphasis upon skill or technical method at the expense of meaning. Hence it is not the business of education to foster this tendency, but rather to safeguard against it.... When educators conceive vocational guidance as something which leads up to a definitive, irretrievable, and complete choice, both education and the chosen vocation are likely to be rigid, hampering further growth. In so far, the calling chosen will be such as to leave the person concerned in a permanently subordinate position, executing the intelligence of others who have a calling which permits more flexible play and readjustment."

If by "vocational training" we mean the latter conception, of familiarity with the general ways that resources, information, human capital, and technologies interact in economic production, then yes, schooling should be restructured so that ALL students acquire a basic familiarity by the time they graduate from high school. Dewey continues:

"The dominant vocation of all human beings at all times is living -- intellectual and moral growth. In childhood and youth, with their relative freedom from economic stress, this fact is naked and unconcealed. To predetermine some future occupation for which education is to be a strict preparation is to injure the possibilities of present development and thereby to reduce the adequacy of preparation for a future right employment. To repeat the principle we have had occasion to appeal to so often, such training may develop a machine-like skill in routine lines (it is far from being sure to do so, since it may develop distaste, aversion, and carelessness), but it will be at the expense of those qualities of alert observation and coherent and ingenious planning which make an occupation intellectually rewarding. In an autocratically managed society, it is often a conscious object to prevent the development of freedom and responsibility, a few do the planning and ordering, the others follow directions and are deliberately confined to narrow and prescribed channels of endeavor. However much such a scheme may inure to the prestige and profit of a class, it is evident that it limits the development of the subject class; hardens and confines the opportunities for learning through experience of the master class, and in both ways hampers the life of the society as a whole."

The school restructuring that Dewey called for nearly 100 years ago was to refocus schools on what he called "occupations," not in the sense of a particular job, but in the sense of a continuous activity having social purpose. He wrote: "Both practically and philosophically, the key to the present educational situation lies in a gradual reconstruction of school materials and methods so as to utilize various forms of occupation typifying social callings, and to bring out their intellectual and moral content. This reconstruction must relegate purely literary methods -- including textbooks -- and dialectical methods to the position of necessary auxiliary tools in the intelligent development of consecutive and cumulative activities."

Such a paragraph could very well be written today, although it might be couched in a somewhat more modern prose. But the central idea that education should conduct to "the intelligent development of consecutive and cumulative activities"--that is, to interaction with the environment in such a way that meaning is progressively realized--is a timeless ideal. Many educators believe strongly that schools should be producing meaning--intelligence--and not just job skills. And so, educators tend to resist the bald claim of "business leaders" that schools should focus on "vocational training," and justly so.

To the extent that business leaders forget--and they do forget--that the purpose of economic activity is to support a richer and fuller life (rather than the other way around), there is most definitely NOT an absolute alignment between business interests and the interests of educators. Life is not primarily about earning a living or serving the interests of corporations. Putting a narrow conception of "vocational training" at the center of schools results in a denigration of the arts, music, physical education, play, creativity, citizenship, morality, character, appreciation, family, relationships, and a whole host of other things that are central to a rich life as a human, not to mention the intelligent understanding of how diverse economic activities fit into a larger system with political consequences. These considerations should be central in the contemporary public discussion about how to improve schooling, but if one looks at things primarily from a "business leader" standpoint, they are often left aside (especially when talking about the education of poor minority children, who are often seen as simply needing "basic" and "job skills"). Who will remind business leaders that those children also have lives, outside of their jobs?

I think it should be Arne Duncan.