Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ed Links (Holiday Edition)

In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life

If contemporary culture were a school, with all the tasks and expectations meted out by modern life as its curriculum, would anyone graduate? In the spirit of a sympathetic teacher, Robert Kegan guides us through this tricky curriculum, assessing the fit between its complex demands and our mental capacities, and showing what happens when we find ourselves, as we so often do, in over our heads. In this dazzling intellectual tour, he completely reintroduces us to the psychological landscape of our private and public lives.

No, Things Are Not Getting Better: Economic Mobility of Black and White Families

Whereas children of white middle-income parents tend to exceed their parents in income, a majority of black children of middle-income parents fall below their parents in income and economic status.

From The head trip

From American Scientist, a review of Mind as Machine: A History of Cognitive Science by Margaret A. Boden; the functionalist's dilemma: A review of Language, Consciousness, Culture: Essays on Mental Structure by Ray Jackendoff; and a review of Young Minds in Social Worlds: Experience, Meaning, and Memory by Katherine Nelson. A review of Social Neuroscience: Integrating Biological and Psychological Explanations of Social Behavior. What your brain looks like on faith: Sam Harris ventures into brain science, with a study that he contends is the first to show how the brain processes belief. A review of The Head Trip: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness by Jeff Warren. How to excuse yourself from your body: Once you see—and feel—a virtual self, your mind can move into a mannequin.

Fair giving is hardwired
New research suggests that spite is uniquely human - and necessary for a successful society

Born to Shop: How Marketers Brainwash Babies

Marketers are targeting kids at disturbingly young ages, compromising the nation's health, creativity and democracy.

Tom Hurka Interview on Bernard Suits's The Grasshopper

The bulk of The Grasshopper defends an analysis of the concept of playing a game - the very concept that was Wittgenstein's prime example of one that can't be analyzed. Yet Suits's definition is both persuasive and tremendously illuminating. It's the best piece of conceptual analysis I know. The book then argues for the central place of game-playing in a good human life, arguing that in a utopia where all instrumental goods are supplied, people's prime activity would be playing games. This is philosophically very deep.

Guests in the Machine

Guest worker programs may be the best hope many of the world's poorest people have for improving their lives.



Gentzkow, Glaeser and Goldin on how the press became informative

Abstract: A free and informative press is widely agreed to be crucial to the democratic process today. But throughout much of the nineteenth century U.S. newspapers were often public relations tools funded by politicians, and newspaper independence was a rarity. The newspaper industry underwent fundamental changes between 1870 and 1920 as the press became more informative and less partisan. Whereas 11 percent of urban dailies were “independent” in 1870, 62 percent were in 1920. The rise of the informative press was the result of increased scale and competitiveness in the newspaper industry caused by technological progress in the newsprint and newspaper industries.

Orphanages Stunt Mental Growth, a Study Finds

Psychologists have long believed that growing up in an institution like an orphanage stunts children’s mental development but have never had direct evidence to back it up. Now they do, from an extraordinary years-long experiment in Romania that compared the effects of foster care with those of institutional child-rearing.

What's The Rush? Taking Time To Acknowledge Loss Is Not That Bad

There are two guarantees in every person's life: happiness and sadness. Although lost opportunities and mistaken expectations are often unpleasant to think and talk about, these experiences may impact personality development and overall happiness. A seven-year study indicates that individuals who take time to stop and think about their losses are more likely to mature and achieve a potentially more durable sense of happiness.

Sex education greatly boosts the likelihood that teens will delay having intercourse, according to a new study that is the first of its kind in years. Male teens who received sex education in school were 71 percent less likely -- and similarly educated female teens were 59 percent less likely -- to have sexual intercourse before age 15. Males who attended school, meanwhile, were 2.77 times more likely to rely upon birth control the first time they had intercourse if they had been in sex-education classes.

Youngsters who are allowed to leave the house without an adult are more active and enjoy a richer social life than those who are constantly supervised, according to a new study.

Monkeys have the ability to perform mental addition. In fact, monkeys performed about as well as college students given the same test. The findings shed light on the shared evolutionary origins of arithmetic ability in humans and non-human animals.

Teachers are among the most important influences in the lives of school-aged children, yet relatively little emphasis has been placed on examining the potential role general academic teachers may play in facilitating adolescent health promotion efforts.

Peoples' personality types predicts their donations to charities and noble causes. In a sample of almost 1000 participants researchers found that people with a pro-social personality gave more money to charities and other noble causes. For instance, with donations to 'third world organisations', 52% of people with a pro-social personality gave money, compared to 42% of people with an individualistic personality and only 21% of people with a competitive personality.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Mr. Big, WordGirl, and Imagineering

Posted, too, at Schools Matter:

Last evening Benjamin Barber was on with Bill Moyers talking about the imminent suicide in the works for American capitalism. While some capitalists work to create products that people actually need to make their lives more livable, the American model is based on using advertising to manufacture a need that no one has until they view the ad. See Elmo and IPhone.

WordGirl, the PBS cartoon superhero actually has a great children's explanation of the phenomenon, but unfortunately, the villainous businessman, Mr. Big, is the only villain we cannot view on any of the clips from the PBS site. I guess we wouldn't want children to start questioning buying practices right around Xmas. So here is Bill Moyers's summary:

On this weekend before Christmas, I'm struck by a paradox. The news is not so joyous. Housing prices and home sales down…more foreclosures predicted…oil near $100 a barrel…the dollar's sinking food prices rising recession looming and yet, on television, and just about everywhere we look, people squeezed to the breaking point are constantly being told to buy buy buy.

AD: Why not let your kids decide?

BILL MOYERS: And if necessary, to go into hock to do it.

AD: Its easy! Even if you've been turned down before, you could be driving."

BILL MOYERS: Commercials even go out of their way to make adults into children and children into consumers.

AD: Make sure you get the right highlighter.


BILL MOYERS: There is some resistance to this constant commercializing. Watching early morning cartoons with my grandchildren the other day, I discovered word girl the PBS series of a fifth grade superhero fighting evil with her amazing vocabulary

WORLDGIRL: Listen for the words vague and specific

BILL MOYERS: In this episode, the villain, Mr. Big, has flooded the market with a brand new product called 'the thing' which everyone has to have

WORLDGIRL EXCERPT: "THE THING" can do all sorts of stuff! Get one today at a low, low price.

BILL MOYERS: What is it? No one knows or seems to care but as commercials for the thing hit the airwaves, citizens everywhere are seduced into believing they can't live without it, so they descend in droves to buy as many as they can get. Enter: Word Girl!

WORDGIRL: Everyone stop, you're being tricked! The Thing doesn't do anything!

PERSON 1: Yes it does! It does so much stuff!

PERSON 2: The commercial says I needed one for my boat!

WORDGIRL: You don't have a boat!

PERSON 2: Hon, we need a boat for our THING!

WORDGIRL: You don't need a THING!

PERSON 2: But the commercial says !

BILL MOYERS: Watching all this, it seemed a good time to put in a call to Benjamin Barber. Like WordGirl, he's standing athwart history and shouting stop.

You may remember Benjamin Barber from his international best seller, JIHAD VERSUS MCWORLD. Among other things, he's a renowned political theorist and a distinguished senior fellow at Demos — a public policy think tank here in New York City.

His latest book is CONSUMED, about how the global economy produces too many goods we don't need, too few of those we do need, and, to keep the racket going, targets children as consumers in a market where shopping is a twenty-four hour business. Capitalism, he says, "seems quite literally to be consuming itself, leaving democracy in peril and the fate of citizens uncertain." Benjamin Barber answered my call - and he's with me now.

The same kind of consumer capitalism and marketeering has struck our civic establishments, including our educational institutions. Choice is first, the customer is always right, and control of market share is based on convincing the customer you have a better deal for him than the next guy. In K-12 education, such thinking is quickly eroding the civic responsibility for educating the nation's children toward perpetuation of the moral and political values of the Republic. Never mind that the charter choices and the voucher choices never get close to offering the pickings of the wealthy who can afford real choices. Charters and vouchers are choices for the poor and are made attractive by advertisers and media and the New York Times, all intent upon keeping the poor quiet and invisible. How else to explain the NY Times headline, "Charter Schools Outshine Others as They Receive Their First Report Cards," when the story goes on to tell how the City cherry-picked 13 charters to get the superior results they need to justify their charterizing.

The marketeering has struck the American university as well, and the advertising battle for students will undoubtedly continue to yield "new and improved" program configurations that can be completed by consumer students in less time with less sacrifice and with more convenience for the consumer/student. Never mind that the adjuncts hired to teach these "technology-rich" courses are choking on the keyboarded and semi-literate "dialogue" that students churn out while lounging in their jammies on the sofa. If the time were actually counted for these overworked adjuncts and instructors in these techno courses, it would probably be less than minimum wage at most universities.

Of course, the Top Tier universities do not have to clamor for customers and, therefore, are not forced to compete in the great unwashed marketplace of compressed credentials. So while the less endowed colleges and universities actively battle with their compression algorithms in the enrollment wars, the Top Tier benefit from a national marketing strategy that has convinced a public, now bulging, yet hungry for more stuff, that a college degree is the THING that everyone needs, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The degree THING does stuff and gets you stuff, right? But we all know the REAL THING only exists in those colleges and universities that don't have to compete for customers, where, in fact, the customers are competing to get enrolled so that they can get the REAL THING.

In the meantime, those who don't have a chance to get the THING, and certainly not the REAL THING, become acquiescent to their fate, and thus, quite convinced to take anything offered them as a way to survive the American dream that no one will wake them from. And those who do get their THING? They find out that everyone they know already has one, too, and it really doesn't do most of the stuff that it was supposed to do. And all those expensive texts and books that haven't been sold back yet? They will go into rental storage or portable storage with all the other THINGS that we have traded the best parts of our souls to obtain. Did you hear that Britney's sister is pregnant?

So our brand of capitalism is entirely bankrupt, and it is only a matter of time until the final death rattle sets in unless things change. But being the avid and ever-optimistic educator, I know change is possible. One small example provided by Benjamin Barber last evening: LifeStraws.

Remember that capitalism used to be about creating and providing products the people actually need? What do most people need now for which there is a great shortage that is likely to get worse? Water. One small Danish company is getting very, very rich on products that people need that can solve a problem, rather than create another one. They call it IMAGINEERING. I love it. Now here is a real holiday gift idea:
There are gadgets that make life more fun, and then there are gadgets that make life possible. The LifeStraw from Denmark's Vestergaard Frandsen Group has the potential to fall into the latter category. A device about the size of a large pen or drinking straw, the LifeStraw is a complete water purification kit that draws its power from the person sucking down the water. The LifeStraw is the product of ten years of development work, based on the goal of creating an efficient, affordable water-purification system for the developing world, where water-borne illnesses are a major killer. When produced in quantity, each LifeStraw — which uses a combination of mesh filters, iodine-impregnated beads and active carbon to remove particulate matter and bacteria — is expected to cost under $2 and be able to provide a year's worth of pure drinking water. . . .

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Leaving "No Child Left Behind" Behind

this is crossposted from Daily Kos, which will explain some of the dkos specific references

Our No. 1 education program is incoherent, unworkable, and doomed. But the next president still can have a huge impact on improving American schooling.
So says perhaps the most cogent writer on educational matters, Richard Rothstein, in a piece in he American Prospect whose title, like that of this diary, is Leaving "No Child Left Behind" Behind Before The New York Times lost its senses, Rothstein wrote columns regularly on educational matters. Those of us who try to help the general public and policy matters understand the reality of educational policy have often drawn some of our bgest arguments from his work.

The article, which became available online yesterday, presents the key issues as well as they can be presented, and there is little I can add, although I will offer a few comments of my own. The notable educational figure Deborah Meier has said that we should blog about this and distribute the article as widely as possible. I urge you to consider doing what you can, including if warranted recommended this diary, to make the article as visible as possible.

Let me begin by offering verbatim Rothstein's first two paragraphs:
The next president has a unique opportunity to start from scratch in education policy, without the deadweight of a failed, inherited No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. The new president and Congress can recapture the "small d" democratic mantle by restoring local control of education, while initiating policies for which the federal government is uniquely suited -- providing better achievement data and equalizing the states' fiscal capacity to provide for all children.

This opportunity exists because NCLB is dead. It will not be reauthorized -- not this year, not ever. The coalition that promoted the 2001 bipartisan law has hopelessly splintered, although NCLB's advocates in the administration and the Congress continue to imagine (at least publicly) that tinkering can put it back together.

Let me make a slight discursus with my own comments. I'm not quite as confident as Rothstein is in that second paragraph. It is true that most who follow educational policy believe that having failed to get reauthorization during the Congressional session about to end the administration will have to content itself with a continuing resolution. I have written often of the horrors of that - the funding continues as the same insufficient level as the current law while the clock on punitive sanctions continues to run. I think that is likely, but because of the fear of the damage that might do there may be the possibility that a new coalition could pass something different, and then the question would be if Bush would veto it, or accept it as a validation of his cheif domestic policy legacy. I think in that case a veto would be possible, but not absolutely certain.

But let's focus on what Rothstein has to say. In the beginning of his piece he provides an analysis of how the law came to be, including Rove's ability to persuade some Republicans that the bill might be a way at making inroads into the African-American vote and Democrats equally as cynical in accepting impossibly high goals (100% proficiency) as a means of justifying huge increases in federal expenditures for education. But as Rothstein notes
What few Democrats understood, however, was that test-based accountability might spur teachers but would also corrupt schooling in ways that overshadowed any possible score increases. Excessive testing is now so unpopular that Congress' newly elected Democrats campaigned in 2006 against NCLB and now won't support reauthorization. Senior Democrats are also hearing from parents, teachers, school boards, and state legislators.
. And despite urgings form George Miller and Ted Kennedy, without whose support the original proposal would not have become law, that they can fix the legislation, Republicans are now inclined towards their normal traditional emphasis on local control of schools and many of the Democrats elected in 2006 campaigned against NCLB and are unwilling to support reauthorization.

Rothstein provides a cogent analysis, understandable to the layman, of the basic flaws with a test-based accountability system. He focuses on four key points.

GOAL DISTORTION On this Rothstein points to Edward Deming who warned
business to "eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals" because they encourage short-, not long-term vision.
He offers additional support for a qualitative approach from Peter Drucker. Given how often some people want to argue that schools should be run more like businesses (although on that point I would disagree and would remind people of businessman Jamie Vollmer's famous Blueberry Story which illustrates how schools are different) it is interesting that Rothstein can provide evidence from two of the most admired figures who have written about business management. Of equal importance is his reference to two well-known early supporters of the law, both of whom worked in the Bush 41 Department of Education, Checker (that is what he likes to be called) Finn and Diane Ravitch, and he quotes them in two snippets, both of which I reproduce:
We should have seen this coming ... more emphasis on some things would inevitably mean less attention to others. ... We were wrong.
[If NCLB continues,] rich kids will study philosophy and art, music and history, while their poor peers fill in bubbles on test sheets. The lucky few will spawn the next generation of tycoons, political leaders, inventors, authors, artists and entrepreneurs. The less lucky masses will see narrower opportunities.

TEST RELIABILITY Rothstein provides a readily comprehendable explanation of the limits of our approach to testing. He references the work of Kane and Staiger, who raised enough warnings that those working on the original proposal delayed enactment for six months while they tried unsuccessfully to address the problems.

THE PROFICIENCY MYTH I note that researcher Gerald Bracey has long criticized the proficiency levels of NAEP (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) and that a study just put out by Brookings agrees with Bracey's criticisms. On this let me simply offer the first paragraph Rothstein presents under this category, and urge you to read the rest of what he has to say on the topic:
Even with inordinate attention to math and reading, it is practically and conceptually ludicrous to expect all students to be proficient at challenging levels. Even if we eliminated all disparities based on socioeconomic status, human variability prevents a single standard from challenging all. The normal I.Q. range, 85 to 115, includes about two-thirds of the population. "Challenging" achievement for those at 115 would be impossibly hard for those at 85, and "challenging" achievement for those at 85 would be too easy for those at 115.
Whether or not you accept the idea that IQ is all that meaningful, or even that it is fixed (and the latter point is currently under serious challenge) it is amazing to me that the obviousness of the point Rothstein is making has NOT been part of the discussion, Perhaps people were afraid of the attack of 'the soft bigotry of low expectations" but dishonesty and lack of reality do not serve the interests of anyone.

THE BUBBLE KIDS This refers to the strategy being taken by schools, of ignoring those who will succeed on the mandated tests and those with little hope, and focusing the vast amount of efforts on those around the cut point, whose scores could slip below success or those just below possibly be raised. Having all of these kids succeed results in the gross measure of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) going up.

Rothstein explores three more main topics. In SCHOOLS AND SOCIAL POLICY he starts by emphasizing how NCLB betrays core Democratic principles by
denying the importance of all social policy but school reform. Inadequate schools are only one reason disadvantaged children perform poorly.
Rothstein reminds us of all the factors that contribute to poor school performance, and this is subject on which he has written extensively in recent years. At the end of this section he offers a stark warning:
The continuation of NCLB's rhetoric will also erode support for public education. Educators publicly vow they can eliminate achievement gaps, but they will inevitably fall short. The reasonable conclusion can only be that public education is hopelessly incompetent.

Rothstein next explores the possibility of "FIXING" NCLB. Summarizing briefly, he tells liberals they are going to have to abandon the long-cherished idea that the Federal government is going to be able to solve our educational problems. He puts this in the context of the history of federal aid to education, acknowledges that the underlying Elementary and Secondary Education Act will at some point be reuathorized, although probably increasingly ignored by states upon whom the burden o fixing our educational problems will likely fall.

Rothstein follows this with a section entitled WHAT THE NEXT PRESIDENT CAN DO. He offers two key suggestions. The first is to provide data on student performance not for accountability but to guide state policy makers. He argues for an extension of NAEP for those purposes. He also argues for the federal government providing more fiscal equalization. He observes that new Jersey spend 65% more per student than does Mississippi, not because the latter state cares that much less, but because it lacks the economic base and resources to spend that much. He points out that current Federal spending policy exacerbates the underlying inequities. But to achieve a policy which will take money from high income states like New Jersey and send it to lower income states like Mississippi will take, as Rothstein notes,
political courage not typically found in either Washington party. There's a role here for presidential leadership.

Rothstein offers his suggestions in the context that the Congress will continue in Democratic hands (he is writing for the American Prospect) and the White House will also switch parties. it is in that context that he offers his final paragraph:
Abandoning federal micromanagement of education has a hidden benefit: helping to reinvigorate American democracy in an age of increasingly anomic and media-driven politics. Local school boards in the nation's nearly 15,000 school districts (but not in the biggest cities) can still provide an opportunity for meaningful citizen participation. Debating and deciding the goals of education for a community's children is a unique American privilege and responsibility. Restoring it is a mission worthy of a new administration.

I have often written online about educational policy. I have pointed people at a variety of published pieces, to important studies. I have written about my own experiences and observations, in the hope that people might begin to understand the reality of what our educational policies have been doing. I do not think I have ever written about a more important published piece than I do in this posting. Regardless of what you may think of my writing, I urge you to make the Rothstein piece as widely visible as possible. If you have contacts with the presidential campaigns, insist that their policy people read this. If you are connected with school boards and superintendents, at local or state level, pass this on to them as well. It is that important a piece of writing.

And now I will get ready myself for another school day, attempting to enable my students to have a positive learning environment despite the depredations of NCLB upon meaningful learning.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Ed Links (And Other Stuff)

Fascinating: African fractals, in buildings and braids

"I am a mathematician, and I would like to stand on your roof." This is how Ron Eglash greeted many African families while researching the intriguing fractal patterns he noticed in villages across the continent. He talks about his work exploring the rigorous fractal math underpinning African architecture, art and even hair braiding.

Animals Do the Cleverest Things

The chimp who outwits humans; the dolphin who says it with seaweed; the existential dog -- the more we learn about other animals the harder it is to say we're the smartest species.

Are the family clichés true?

The middle one's always difficult, the eldest is a bossy boots and the youngest is a tearaway. But are the family clichés true? Finally, scientists have the answer. Steve Connor (youngest of two) reports

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language

Her intellectual profiles of four key players – Noam Chomsky, Pinker, and the primate researchers Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Philip Lieberman – form the first four chapters of the book. They disagree strongly, and their disagreements inform the rest of the book. This covers a huge range in a sometimes bewildering attempt to explain the existence of grammar and syntax.

Still Reverberating: Nunn on the economic consequences of the slave trade

Can part of Africa’s current underdevelopment be explained by its slave trades? To explore this question, I use data from shipping records and historical documents reporting slave ethnicities to construct estimates of the number of slaves exported from each country during Africa’s slave trades. I find a robust negative relationship between the number of slaves exported from a country and current economic performance.

US Middle School Math Teachers Ill-prepared, Study Finds

Middle school math teachers in the United States are not as well prepared to teach this subject compared to teachers in five other countries, something that could negatively affect the US as it continues to compete on an international scale.

Children play harder and longer when their child care centers provide portable play equipment (like balls, hoola hoops, jump ropes and riding toys), more opportunities for active play and physical activity training and education for staff and students, according to a study published in the January 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health examined environmental factors that encourage children to be active with greater intensity and for longer periods of time.

New research is challenging the notion that parents who divorce necessarily exhibit a diminished capacity to parent in the period following divorce. A large, longitudinal study has found that divorce does not change parenting behavior, and that there are actually more similarities than differences in parenting between recently divorced and married parents.

Young people whose mothers drank when pregnant may be more likely to abuse alcohol because, in the womb, their developing senses came to prefer its taste and smell. Researchers have found that because the developing nervous system adapts to whatever mothers eat and drink, young rats exposed to alcohol (ethanol) in the womb drank significantly more alcohol than nonexposed rats.

Scientists have found that when monkeys choose between different options, the value neurons assign to each option does not depend on the menu of choices. This phenomenon may explain a behavioral trait called preference transitivity, which is the hallmark of rational economic choice. The results may also elucidate our understanding of certain "choice deficits" such as eating disorders, compulsive gambling and other abnormal social behaviors.

Researchers have discovered genetic evidence that human evolution is speeding up -- and has not halted or proceeded at a constant rate, as had been thought -- indicating that humans on different continents are becoming increasingly different.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A 0.2% Raise Every Year for 25 Years: Why Poor People Feel Hopeless

From Boy, Have We Got an Inequality Problem:

"After-tax income of the bottom 20% grew 6%, or $1,800 over these years (1979-2005, in 2005 dollars); the middle-class gained $11,000, up 21%, over these 26 years. The average income of the top 1%, more than tripled, up 228%, for a gain $781,000."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What would Nation X do?

(Cross-posted on my professional blog.)

This morning, my morning paper had a column by Susan Taylor Martin, Finns set teachers free, with enviable results, discussing the secular, largely-standardized-testing-free Finnish schools that have enviable student outcomes by almost any measure.

On the one hand, this argument is extraordinarily tempting: See what the Finns do? We need to do that: provide substantial social welfare, provide higher status for teachers, then leave them to do their jobs without the corrosive testing regime we have in the United States.

But the historian in me says something different: Wait. This argument has been made before: no, not the one about Finland but the one about needing to follow Nation X, whatever that country happened to be in a particular decade. At the end of the 18th century, a strong push inside the new country said, "We're different from Europe ["Old Europe," as Donald Rumsfeld might put it]. This new nation is a fresh start. We need to be as different from Europe as possible." As David W. Noble argued years ago in Historians against History, that was a dominant theme among 19th century amateur history writers.

But there has also been a counter-argument: other countries have model systems of education, and we need to learn from them. (If you want the academic jargon, you can call it mimetic isomorphism when the rhetoric is all about national anxiety and panic and normative isomorphism when the rhetoric is "this is professionally best.") The most famous 19th century argument along those lines was that of Horace Mann, who traveled to Prussia before writing his seventh school report. While he noted the flaws of Prussian schools, he also thought they treated students much better than schools in Massachusetts. You don't have to beat your students to teach them, he argued, and Prussia is the proof. Why Mann went to Prussia to make that case is an interesting question. He should have known that one of the responses would be the reference to American exceptionalism, and he could have found reasonably kind teachers somewhere in North America if maybe not in Boston.

You can find the "we should do what Nation X is doing" argument sprinkled through the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the post-WW2 era, the comparison nation was whoever our military or economic adversary was at the time, from the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s to Japan and Germany in the 1980s. In the last half-century, many of these comparative arguments were projections of adult anxieties onto children. As many have pointed out over the years, most notably David Berliner and Bruce Biddle, schools are carrying the rhetorical water for adult failings. In almost all cases, the comparison is superficial, omitting information about context and structure. So the blithe suggestions for us to copy Japan in the 1980s often failed to mention the juku market (of private cram schools) or the common Japanese parenting repertoire of letting preschools socialize children through group pressures. Even academics fall into this trap: James Rosenbaum et al. wrote in Market and network theories of the transition from high school to work that professional networking between schools and work was great, and they pointed to Japan as a model... right before the Japanese economy dove into a 10-year downturn. Oops.

There are plenty of wonderful comparative education analyses one can make, but the standard rhetoric you see in American political discourse is usually shallow. Caveat lector.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Is One Laptop Per Child Insulting?

As far as I can tell, we really don’t have anyone with a broad international focus on this blog, and I wish we did (anyone want to join?). But let me say a little about a recent critique of the XO “$100 laptop” project. For those who don't know, the XO is a tiny laptop that consumes little energy, can be recharged in the field, can be easily fixed by local folks, has an incredible screen that can be read in direct sunlight, and more . . . .

John Dvorak in PC Magazine went on the attack recently, arguing that One Laptop per Child Doesn't Change the World. Dvorak notes the incredible challenges of starvation and malnutrition around the world, and then ridicules the XO project:

So what to do? Let's give these kids these little green computers. That will do it! That will solve the poverty problem and everything else, for that matter. Does anyone but me see this as an insulting "let them eat cake" sort of message to the world's poor?

"Sir, our village has no water!" "Jenkins, get these people some glassware!"

He goes on to note that:

People don't want to consider the possibility that their well-meaning thoughts are a joke and that a $200 truckload of rice would be of more use than Wi-Fi in the middle of nowhere.

Now, I’ve noted before the dangers of thinking that education, by itself, can create jobs or change economies. However, simplistic responses like Dvorak’s don’t help the situation. I am no expert on the complexities of “development” but I recently have done quite a bit of reading about it, and Dvorak’s quip completely misunderstands how challenging it is to bring economic change to incredibly isolated and disconnected areas of the world.

For example, it turns out that except in the most dire circumstances, the last thing you want to do is send a “$200 truckload of rice,” at least when that rice is from the developed world. In fact, poorer nations are increasingly refusing direct food aid. Why? Because when you flood the market with free food from outside, you completely destroy the local food production economy. And you create the conditions for more food emergencies in the future.

So it’s not so simple. And in contrast with the United States, since access to any education or any books is extremely limited, it may be that education is more likely to have some economic impact. Furthermore, in many of these areas, whether outsiders agree or not, there is an incredible desire for education for children.

I don’t know whether the XO project is a good idea or not. But snide responses like Dvorak’s simply avoid the incredible challenges involved in assisting areas that face vastly different challenges than anything we are used to grappling with in the United States.

In places where there are almost no books, it may be that solutions like the XO may make it possible for local people to engage with the vast amount of information available in the world outside, and make decisions for themselves more effectively.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ed Links

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Hint: Don't tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life

Are Whites More Likely to Support the Death Penalty When They Think Blacks Are Being Executed?

The answer, it seems, is yes. In a 2001 survey conducted by Mark Peffley and John Hurwitz, a random subset of whites was asked: “Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?” Somewhat favor: 29%. Strongly favor: 36%.

Another random subset of whites was asked: “Some people say that the death penalty is unfair because most of the people who are executed are African-Americans. Do you favor or oppose the death penalty for persons convicted of murder?” Somewhat favor: 25%. Strongly favor: 52%.

Unhappy? Self-Critical? Maybe You’re Just a Perfectionist

Several recent studies stand as a warning against taking the platitudes of achievement too seriously. The new research focuses on a familiar type, perfectionists, who panic or blow a fuse when things don’t turn out just so. The findings not only confirm that such purists are often at risk for mental distress — as Freud, Alfred Adler and countless exasperated parents have long predicted — but also suggest that perfectionism is a valuable lens through which to understand a variety of seemingly unrelated mental difficulties, from depression to compulsive behavior to addiction.

BLOWING IT | Ideas | Unlocking the secrets of self-sabotage : Unlocking the secrets of self-sabotage

A new study suggests that if you believe you're mediocre, chances are you'll keep shooting yourself in the foot to prove it

Measuring ancient inequality

Is inequality largely the result of the Industrial Revolution? Or were ancient incomes as unequal as they are today in poor pre-industrial societies? Looking at pre-industrial inequality from the Roman Empire in 14 AD to British India in 1947 generates new insights into the inequality and economic development connection over the very long run.

College Admissions as Conspiracy Theory

Four books about access to higher education have recently been released, and each has much to say about what is wrong with college admissions. They all successfully support their themes and are worth the read, especially for those not familiar with the grave sociological impact of admissions practices.

Time Waster Extraordinaire: New York Times Magazine: Seventh Annual Year of Ideas

For the seventh consecutive December, the magazine looks back on the passing year through a special lens: ideas. Editors and writers trawl the oceans of ingenuity, hoping to snag in our nets the many curious, inspired, perplexing and sometimes outright illegal innovations of the past 12 months. Then we lay them out on the dock, flipping and flopping and gasping for air, and toss back all but those that are fresh enough for our particular cut of intellectual sushi. For better or worse, these are 70 of the ideas that helped make 2007 what it was. Enjoy.

Participation In High School Activities Lowers Risk Of Smoking 3 Years After Graduation

Students who participate in high school sports or individual physical activity are less likely to smoke than their classmates. The new study indicates that the protective effect of participation extends at least three years beyond graduation. Researchers discovered, however, that girls do not derive the same level of protection from school sports as do boys.

Parents prefer teachers who make their children happy even more than those who emphasize academic achievement, a new study shows. When requesting a teacher for their elementary school children, parents are more likely to choose teachers who receive high student satisfaction ratings than teachers with strong achievement ratings.

Children learn by imitating adults and will change what they know about an object to mimic adult behavior. Watching an adult do something wrong, or in a disorganized or inefficient way, can make it much harder for a child to learn to do it right.

Very low levels of lead in the blood -- previously believed to be safe -- could be contributing to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The research findings support a growing body of national evidence suggesting there is no safe level of lead in the blood. Other studies show a link between low-level lead exposure and lower IQ.

Young children whose mothers are depressed are more prone to behavioral problems and injury, suggests new research. For every 1 point increase on the depression score, the risk of injury rose by 4% and the risk of behavioral problems increased by 6%.

Turns out there might be some truth to the popular wisdom that plump babies are happy babies. A landmark public health study has found that people who had a low birth weight are more likely to experience depression and anxiety later in life.

A popular urban legend suggests that Eskimos have dozens of words for snow. As a culture that faces frigid temperatures year-round, it is important to differentiate between things like snow on the ground ("aput") and falling snow ("qana"). Psychologists are taking note of this phenomenon, and are beginning to examine if learning different names for things helps to tell them apart.

Even after more than a year of maintaining a normalized body weight, young women with past anorexia nervosa show vastly different patterns of brain activity compared to similar women without the eating disorder. Studying these differences in brain function could lead to a better understanding of why some young women are at greater risk of developing the disorder.

George Will Blames Lyndon Johnson for NCLB

With the colossal wreckage that NCLB has wrought in America's schools now apparent to anyone not in a coma, it is fun to watch the old cons and the neocons cutting and running on Bush Co.'s grand domestic disaster, while at the same time revising history to blame someone else for setting fire to the public schools.

In looking for someone to blame for Bush's NCLB mess, Will goes all the way back past Bill Clinton, through Jimmy Carter, to Lyndon Johnson, whose support for the original ESEA in 1965 made it possible, obviously, for George Bush to totally screw it up 40 years later:
NCLB was passed in 2001 as an extension of the original mistake, President Lyndon Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which became law in the year of liberals living exuberantly -- 1965, when Great Society excesses sowed the seeds of conservatism's subsequent ascendancy. ESEA was the first large Washington intrusion into education K through 12.
Actually, George, it was President Eisenhower (R) who got the federal "intrusion" rolling in 1958 with the National Defense Education Act. And yes, 1965 was an exuberant time for anyone concerned with civil rights, human rights, and gender equality. And yes, it was the "excesses" of ESEA's dollars that enticed many a racist governor to finally desegregate public schools and to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As for conservatism's subsequent ascendancy, Lyndon Johnson knew that his actions on civil rights would mean a political sea change in the South and everywhere else that racism trumped common sense. By 1980, most of the Southern Democrats who had not already had a political conversion became Reagan Democrats for life. How do you think we ended up with an ever-poorer-and-oppressed white working class that votes consistently to elect those whose primary social agenda is based on tax cuts for the wealthy? Johnson knew his decision would cost him the South, but that did not stop him from doing the right thing. Such an act of courage could never happen among today's covey of political cowards.

And, of course, George Will is intent to reverse the responsibility of the Republican Congress for NCLB in 2001:
NCLB was supported by Republicans reluctant to vastly expand that intrusion but even more reluctant to oppose a new president's signature issue.
The fact is that the the Republican Congress was ecstatic when Bush came to town with his testing plan that would offer school vouchers to children in schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress, as well as a plan to redirect Title I money intended for the poor into block grants that governors could carve up as they saw fit. When these two components were struck from NCLB for the last time in 2001, it did take take some cheerleading by Bush water carriers like Sen. Judd Gregg to revive the disappointed Republicans, but in the end the corporate tutoring provision and the charter school sanction that would result from impossible performance targets were enough to assure victory for Bush. From Elizabeth Debray's book, quoting Judd Gregg:
“Well, the supplemental services [tutoring] are a foot under the door for vouchers. They’re going to show that these schools aren’t working properly, and we’ll finally be able to show that the schools aren’t doing well. The assessments are going to prove the same thing” (Debray, 2006, p. 96).
So where is George Will wanting Federal policy to go now? Backwards, of course. Now that a Blue national tidal wave is predicted for '08, George Will and the other protectors of privilege are eager once more to argue for the unassailable virtues of federalism and to get the the federal government out of the business of education reform. More block grants and tax cuts, please. As Will would seem to have it for federal policy, if you can't do anything bad, don't do anything at all.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Jobs of the Future

Writing in Thinking K-16, a journal published by the Education Trust, Patte Barth argues that “The Information Age set off a rush to find skilled workers in many occupations and simultaneously reduced the proportion of unskilled jobs.”

She warns ominously, “The future holds grim prospects for young people who lack sufficient skills, for they are increasingly shut out of good, middle-income jobs. The occupations experiencing the largest growth are those that demand well-developed cognitive skills and postsecondary credentials.”

That growth, reports Ed in 08 on a “fact sheet” entitled American Education Standards, means that “Two-thirds of new jobs being created in today’s economy require higher education or advanced training.”

Those students not entering “high skill” jobs must receive a rigorous education heavily dosed with math and science, urges Education Sector, because “Today even blue collar jobs call for more than basic computational skills.”

Take a moment and check out this November's job forecast for 2006-2016.

Look at the top experiencing "the largest growth."

How can someone say "2/3 of new jobs being created in today's economy require higher education or advanced training?"

Which blue collar jobs call for "more than basic computational skills?"

Am I missing something?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Children on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown

Posted, too, at Schools Matter.

When John Locke observed the behavior of the homeless street urchins of 17th Century London, he noted their vigor, ruddy cheeks, and energy as they ran around barefoot and thinly clad, even in winter. Based on his observations, Locke recommended that middle class parents shod their young boys in leaky shoes, thin pants, and to keep their rooms icy at night in order to make them as tough as the street children. What Locke could not have known from his limited Experience is that he had been observing the lucky and uniquely hardy street children, the fortunate minority who had not yet died from flu, hunger, pneumonia, disease, and exposure.

All of this is simply to suggest that when we see the Caitlins and Seths appearing to thrive on the cut-throat non-stop resume building treadmill, where individual branding and constant test tutoring are required to claw out a path into Yale, stop and think about all the less hardy children who succumbed to the pressure or who now believe that they are failures for not getting into one of the Only 20 Worth Going To. Maybe we should do something more attuned to the basic requirements for mental and physical health.

A reminder from Karen Kisslinger at Huffington Post:

. . . . We can keep the challenge, excellence and the creativity in eduction and life without making ourselves and our children sick and overwhelmed. As it is, the student aristocrats of the American educational scene are those who just happen to have the constitution, genes and endurance to withstand workload and time pressures and the frequently denatured and toxic food supply. Other brilliant, creative, interesting people dwindle in the face of the demands they face, and we often don't get to see them thrive on their own, perhaps less busy or better nourished, terms. They are more likely to end up diagnosed.

Recently I went in to talk to the Head of a private school where I teach. I suggested to her that we might implement a four year Stress Reduction Skills program, which the students could put on their "resume" for college application. I suggested that colleges would look favorably on students who had been committed, over the course of their high school career, to learning relaxation and stress reduction skills other than binge drinking, binge eating and marijuana use. Taking fewer course would be an option for the stress reduction "track", and I suggested that this could be seen as a positive stress-less decision as opposed to a sign of less commitment and rigor in academics.

My suggestion was greeted with the kind of look government officials must often give when they say something needs to be evaluated for needs assessment and perhaps become the subject of a commission or special report before any changes could actually be made. That's a "BIG" idea she said, implying to me that it might be too big to take on at the moment....and there was a distinct implication that any one school might be vulnerable in being the first to implement such a program before others did to. That is: "If I relax first you might 'get ahead' of me."

So, I'm suggesting that we all agree together to relax more, which, as I teach my students, means we'll be able to do things BETTER, MORE PRODUCTIVELY AND WITH MORE FOCUS AND AWARENESS. Skill for relaxation and for acquiring positive traits of consciousness such as generosity and compassion need to be taken as seriously as other skills learned during the course of young people's education.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ed Links (Now with Less Ed)

Chaim Soutine, “Return From School After the Storm”

The Future in Academic Reading: iRex Iliad review

We’re book people. The usual result is we’re laden down with overstuffed briefcases and bags every time we get on planes . . . . Since purchasing my Iliad, I’ve gotten this under control. Everything that I get in text format, I PDF in a big friendly font, and I upload to the Iliad before traveling.

[I want one when they get cheaper and a little better, and got a two-side-at-once scanner for our Department in preparation for the imminent death of boxes full of articles—you can take notes on the page and highlight with this thing—AS]

Working Mothers: Who's Opting Out?

Are mothers dropping out, or being pushed out, of the workforce? What are the labor statistics for moms as a whole? What are the trends among the more privileged women? Ours was an all-star panel—including Heather Boushey, Ellen Bravo, Linda Hirshman, Joan Williams, and a brilliant volunteer in the audience, Pamela Stone, each of whom has researched and written a great deal about working families.

Just Interesting: Is Atomic Radiation as Dangerous as We Thought?

A mounting number of studies are coming to some surprising conclusions about the dangers of nuclear radiation. It might not be as deadly as is widely believed.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Job Quality in the United States over the Three Most Recent Business Cycles (pdf)

Over the current business cycle, the share of "good jobs" fell substantially (2.3 percentage points), following much smaller drops over the same period in the 1980s (down 0.5 percentage points) and 1990s (down 0.1 percentage points) business cycles.

The Geography of Hate

The level of hate crimes in the United States is astoundingly high — more than 190,000 incidents per year, according to a 2005 Department of Justice study.

Where the Wild Things Came From

How children's books evolved from morals to madcap fun. [A slide show.]

A new cosmopolitanism is in the air

Sociologist Ulrich Beck presents seven theses to combat the global power of capital.

The Dance of Evolution, or How Art Got Its Start

By her reckoning, the artistic impulse is a human birthright, a trait so ancient, universal and persistent that it is almost surely innate. But while some researchers have suggested that our artiness arose accidentally, as a byproduct of large brains that evolved to solve problems and were easily bored, Ms. Dissanayake argues that the creative drive has all the earmarks of being an adaptation on its own. The making of art consumes enormous amounts of time and resources, she observed, an extravagance you wouldn’t expect of an evolutionary afterthought.

More Teens Victimized by Cyber-Bullies

The schoolyard bully has gone digital.

The Story of Measurement

The Story of Measurement covers not merely the obvious elements that we record – distance, time, temperature – but also the more intriguing: body mass, light frequencies, scientists’ peer group ratings and stress of both humans and building materials.

Let Me Count the Ways: A book in which one isn't the loneliest number.

And her haul of facts makes for a tasty bouillabaisse of the numbers found in language, math, love, literature and everyday life. For example, she tells us that, in the 18th century, the English Royal Treasury maintained their numerical accounts in the form of marks on wooden sticks called tallies. Having ported their system to paper, they began burning the vast number of outdated tally sticks in the furnaces beneath the Parliament buildings -- which set fire to the paneling and burned down both Houses!

Good Stories, Good Math

Preschoolers who can tell good stories develop good mathematical skills by the first grade

Automated decision-making: The death of expertise

Mr Ayres predicts that automated decision-making will soon see other professional jobs going the same way as that of the bank-loan officer, once well-paid and responsible and now a mere call-centre operative, paid peanuts to parrot the words a computer prompts. [And look what a wonderful job these loan officers did—AS]

Your preferences are in your genes: Genetic Influences on Economic Preferences

We find strong evidence that economic preferences are heritable. For altruism as well as risk preferences the genetic effect is significantly different from zero. In our best fitting models, the point estimates suggest that 35 percent of the variation in altruism and 27 percent of variation in risk preferences is explained by genetic influences.

Pierre Bourdieu

From Sociological Research Online, a special issue on Pierre Bourdieu: A Critical Tribute in Times of Uncertainty. [Scroll down—AS]

Pre-school Program Shown To Improve Key Cognitive Functions, Self-control

An innovative curriculum for pre-schoolers may improve academic performance, reduce diagnoses of attention deficient hyperactivity disorder, and close the achievement gap between children from poor families and those from wealthier homes, according to new research.

Violent TV, Games Pack A Powerful Public Health Threat

Watching media violence significantly increases the risk that a viewer or video game player will behave aggressively in both the short and long term, according to a new study.