Quick hits (part II)

1) Very nice Vox animated short explaining the political uniqueness of North Korea.  Some really interesting historical perspective I was totally unaware of.

2) Eminent health care expert Victor Fuchs on why the US spends so much more on health care than other nations.

3) New York Times on why Americans are not so great at math.

4) It’s really just pathetic and amusing to see conservatives try and explain politics with regards to race by pretending that today’s Democratic party is of a piece with the virulently racist Democratic Party of the pre-Civil Rights era South.  Nice takedown from Jamelle Bouie.

5) Speaking of race, I’m feeling pretty confident these pre-school boys would not have been suspended so much if they were white (and so is their mom).

6) Say what you will about Texas justice (and I’ll say a lot), but give them credit for doing a lot more than many other states to remedy their history of gross injustice.  Here’s an interesting case of a man who was exonerated via DNA and didn’t even know about it until after the fact (he had already finished his prison sentence).

7) Nice essay from national security reporter extraordinaire, Tom Ricks, on why he has found himself moving leftward in recent years.

8) Really interesting analysis of “kidspeak.”  Let’s just say “like” means so much more than you may realize.

9) I talked to the NYT reporter who wrote this story for a good 30 minutes, but not even a single quote.  That said, it was a really interesting conversation and hopefully it will lead to some NYT quotes in the future.  Oh, and it’s a good story on NC politics.

10) This is wild.  Apparently we harvest the blood of horseshoe crabs to create a basic and widely-used test for the presence of bacteria.

11) Really enjoyed this Amy Davidson comment on Republicans and immigration policy:

It is one thing for Republicans to decide that they will not be the party of immigration reform, but it is another to decide that they will be the anti-immigration party. If they do, they will define themselves in opposition to America’s future and, incidentally, to its past—one built by newcomers like the gold prospector from Canada who, in 1876, sailed on a ship around South America and staked a claim that became the town of Oracle. In the short term, there may be benefits, in the form of an energized base, but enjoying them requires a distinct lack of shame. If Adam Kwasman was abashed by his Y.M.C.A. mixup, many of his allies don’t think that chasing down a busload of kids was a mistake at all. No children had been brought to Oracle since then, and that was enough for some to call the episode a victory. For the Republican Party as a whole, it might be better described as a dangerous temptation.

12) There does seem to be a place for “broken windows” policing.  But it seems clear that place is not always and everywhere.  Circumstances matter– who would’ve guessed.  Nice NYT editorial:

Mr. Bratton is a pioneer of broken windows policing and Mr. de Blasio is a stout defender. The tactic was embraced in the crime-plagued New York of 20 years ago. But while violence has ebbed, siege-based tactics have not. The Times reported on Friday that the Police Department made 394,539 arrests last year, near historical highs.

The mayor and the commissioner should acknowledge the heavy price paid for heavy enforcement. Broken windows and its variants — “zero-tolerance,” “quality-of-life,” “stop-and-frisk” practices — have pointlessly burdened thousands of young people, most of them black and Hispanic, with criminal records. These policies have filled courts to bursting with first-time, minor offenders whose cases are often thrown out, though not before their lives are severely disrupted and their reputations blemished. They have caused thousands to lose their jobs, to be suspended from school, to be barred from housing or the military. They have ensnared immigrants who end up, through a federal fingerprinting program, being deported and losing everything.

13) And lastly, the NYT is beginning a series on how we need to end our prohibition on marijuana.  Let me reiterate– I’ve never smoked dope, never will, and will strongly discourage my kids, but our current policy is an utter failure on so many levels and needs to be changed.  Here’s the first of the NYT series on state-by-state policy.

Quick hits (part I)

Another double quick hits weekend!  Here goes…

1) Arthur Brooks (whom I am generally not a fan of) has a nice NYT column on happiness.  Nice pithy headline: love people, not pleasure.

2) RFK Jr is a rabid anti-vaccine advocate.  That’s good for viruses; bad for humans.

3) I loved my summer break from school (and hey, still do) and I love my kids’ summer break.  But I do get why maybe it is not such a good thing.

4) Want less polarization in DC?  Give the political parties more money.  Seriously.

5) How reading on-line is different from reading on paper.  I so much prefer the “real” version and will always choose it when given the choice.

6) TNR’s Danny Vinik on Paul Ryan’s anti-poverty plan.

7) Jeffrey Toobin on redistricting in Florida.

8) Maybe there’s more to it (surely there is) than that everybody needs seven hours of sleep.

9) Oh man, I love the trolley problem in ethics.  Shame to think it might not actually be all that helpful.

10) So, the New Yorker has completely opened up their on-line archives for the next few months.  That’s free access to so many amazing articles.  Here’s a nice compilation of recommended ones.   And another from Slate.

Quick hits (part II)

1) My favorite use for “big data”?  Baby name analysis.  Here’s a cool analysis of trendy baby names, i.e., names that burned bright, but for a short period.  Here’s to you Ashley, Linda, Jason, and Mark.

2) I did not know that almond milk has become a thing among hipsters.  I am a regular soy milk drinker because I simply like it’s taste better than low-fat milk and it has a similar health profile.  I’ve never used almond milk because, despite almonds being full of protein, almond milk is strangely devoid of it.

A single ounce (28 grams) of almonds—nutrition info here—contains six grams of protein (about an egg’s worth), along with three grams of fiber (a medium banana) and 12 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (half an avocado). According to its label, an eight-ounce serving of Califia almond milk offers just one gram each of protein and fiber, and five grams of fat. A bottle of Califia delivers six eight-ounce servings, meaning that a handful of almonds contains as much protein as the mighty jug of this hot-selling beverage.

What this tells you is that the almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds.

3) Very thorough look at what the research on bed-sharing with you baby does and does not tell us.  I think a very telling point is that the research groups together those who do it haphazardly with those who do it on purpose and these are very different groups.  All of our children slept in our bed some as infants because when you are breast feeding in the middle of the night, that’s just way easier.

4) Nice to see Weird Al getting so much love with his new videos.  This post makes a case for “Smells like Nirvana” as his finest work.  Nice post  I’m pretty partial to Amish Paradise, myself:

5) I hate tipping.  I’m a reasonable tipper, but I totally object to the concept of it for most all cases.  And I am right to, writes Brandon Ambrosino in Vox.  There was also a nice Freakonomics podcast last year on just how foolish the practice really is.

6) I love Yahoo Tech (formerly NYT) Technology writer David Pogue.  It’s pretty amusing the silly question people write to him with, as he explains in this video.  The best part is I found out about Let Me Google that for You.  So need to use this site with my students.

7) Loved this video on how dark matter forms the invisible structure of the universe.

8) I kind of like how Vox has taken to debunking popular myths/misconceptions about social science and such.  Here, they render the Myers-Briggs (i.e,. I’m an ESTJ) harmless.  Not new, though– Gladwell wrote about these same problems a decade ago.  In a similar vein, they nicely summarize the long-existing evidence that sugar does not make kids hyper.

9) How becoming a father changes your brain.

10) I think the idea of “bandwith poverty” is really important.  Excellent NPR story on the matter.  It is really cognitively demanding to be poor.

11) Want to learn better?  Test, test, test (or quiz, quiz, quiz).

12) No, it will never become law, but I love the idea of this legislation that simply says that abortion clinics should simply be regulated in the same way as all other clinics that provide outpatient medical services.

13) 50 state-themed lego dioramas.  Awesome.

14) The secret of effective motivation.

15) Yet more evidence that if you really want less teen pregnancy and less abortion, you should want more free/low-priced IUD’s.



Quick hits (part I)

Lots this week.  More tomorrow. Here we go…

1) This security system tested at the World Cup seems pretty great.  Would love to see it in airports soon.

2) Krugman’s nice column on the failure of Obamacare to fail.

3) This NYT piece on the utter mis-handling of a rape and a college is truly a must-read.

4) Heck, not just marijuana, the case for decriminalizing all legal drugs.  This Vox piece presents a very even-handed analysis.

5) As if I could somehow ignore an article entitled “We are our Bacteria.”

6) NC Republicans have argued that cutting unemployment benefits has helped get more people working.  The evidence (and Dean Baker) suggest otherwise.

7) Former Obama Budget Director Peter Orzag with a nice column on political polarization.

8) I’ve actually said some nice things about Politico here.  Charles Pierce takes on an article that shows all that is wrong with them.  Remind me never to get on Pierce’s bad side.

9) Fascinating NYT column on just how hard it is to learn a foreign language as an older adult.  And how good it may be for your brain.

10) Sweden has totally embraced vouchers and school choice.  The result?  Declining student performance.

11) Loved this Mark Bittman column on the true cost of a hamburger.  If there’s one concept from public policy, I wish more people understood, it’s externalities.  And hamburgers are all about externalities.

12) I had the same thought as the person Sam McDougle upon seeing the trailer for Lucy.  As if humans only use 10% of their brain.  Sadly, aparently a lot of people still belief this total malarkey.

13) Apparently nitrous oxide, yes, laughing gas, is quite an effective anesthestic for child birth.  It is widely used in Europe, yet hardly in America.  In part, because of a turf battle between anestheloiogists and nurses.

14) Loved this Guardian column on Manuel Neuer’s goalkeeping, especially this part:

 On a football pitch you are looking to gain any advantage you can. Like the opposition, you only have access to 11 players so you must use these players as efficiently as possible. If one of them has no role other than babysitting the net, then you’re already at a disadvantage.

Football is a lot like chess. You have the same number of pieces as your opponent, you face-off on the same playing surface and you both have the same aim. The great chess players know they need to get the most out of each of their pieces to win. This gives rise to the maxim: “The King is a fighting piece – use it.” …

By using your goalkeeper not just to protect your own goals but to actually participate in defending, building attacks and keeping the ball, you are utilising your 11th man. If your opposition are not doing this, you immediately have a man advantage.

Super-Mega Quick hits

Sure, I’m at the beach, but quick hits will not be denied!  (In fact, it’s extra long as a direct result)  There’s a ton, but I didn’t feel like breaking them up this week.  Sorry.  Enjoy…

1) Krugman on conservative delusions about inflation.  It really is pretty amazing how these continue.

2) Challenges universities face from a professor’s point of view.

3) Loved this essay in the Atlantic on how all the mothers in animated movies are dead.  Or at least essentially out of the picture.  A notable exception– The Incredibles, one of the best animated films in the past decade (and a favorite of all the Greene kids and parents).

4) Nice Brenday Nyhan in the Upshot.  When beliefs and facts collide, beliefs win.  Though, not for me and my enlightened and scientifically-minded readers :-).

5) Apparently, this is the year of 42 year old women.  It just so happens I’m married to one.

6) Kristof on just one more sad story of wronful imprisonment.  I’m going to be reading this guy’s book.

7) Three psychological findings I wish I’d known in high school.  Indeed.

8) I so loved classic rock when I was a teenager.  I thought I was much too cool for the rock of the times.  Of course, now that’s “classic rock” too.  538 with a look by the numbers.

9) Nice Economist piece on the myth of the omnipotent presidency and the damage that the myth does.

10) Yahoo Tech presents 15 entertaining novelty twitter accounts.  Some of these really are awesome.

11) Fascinating story on the last days of Diane Rehm’s husband and how we starved/dehydrated himself to death (he had advanced Parkinson’s).

12) Back before youtube there was jibjab.  This land is your land was a revelation.

13) Okay, turns out that whole how to/not to praise children thing really is getting complicated.  Still, I think it is clear that it is a good idea not to over-praise nor praise excessively for innate abilities.

14) Nice Salon piece on how NC”s new Republican-led voter disenfranchisement laws really are the most evil in the country.

15) I was fascinated by this Atlantic piece on how the “crossover” has taken over the new car market.  I had no idea.  Of course, my cars are from 1998 and 2000.  Really interesting on the history of cars versus minivans versus SUV’s, etc.

16) When I first read about the Kentucky State Senator and the temperature on Mars, I figured he couldn’t really be that dumb.  Turns out he’s not.  But still pretty damn stupid.  I’m sorry, Democratic state legislators just don’t come this dumb.

17) Pope Francis, radical environmentalist.

18) There was going to be a Seinfeld episodes about guns, but the cast nixed it when they were already rehearsing.

19) It is just too easy to be declared a suspicious person by the US Government.  With all sorts of bad consequences.

20) How coffee fueled the Civil War.  My sense is that stimulant drugs have fueled soldiers whenever and wherever they have been available.

21) You all know about my love for apples.  Turns out, I’ve really got to get my wife to start eating more.

The simple solution to improving US education

Okay, it’s not actually simple.  Very nice post on Vox on how hard it actually is to apply all the lessons from other countries.  In the end, the best evidence suggests there’s no magic bullet, but a lot of different stuff we should do better.  To wit:

The real lesson is probably something more holistic, and that’s what the OECD recommends. The group comes out strongly for high-quality preschool; for higher teacher salaries and tough standards for teachers; for better coordination between teacher preparation programs and K-12 schools; and for reducing socioeconomic stratification and segregation, whether by school choice or other means. It’s what could be described as an “all of the above” agenda — one that reflects the complexity of education around the world.

That said, I’ll go with alleviating the worst aspects of poverty/inequality and making teaching a high status/highly valued occupation.

Quick hits

1) Derek Thomspon on how college is like sunscreen (a basic protection from the vicissitudes of the modern economy).  On a related note, Americans think we have the best colleges– we don’t.  Actually, our elite universities really are the best.  But on average, we’re not so special:

When President Obama has said, “We have the best universities,” he has not meant: “Our universities are, on average, the best” — even though that’s what many people hear. He means, “Of the best universities, most are ours.” The distinction is important.

2) I so want this camera.  From what I can tell, pretty much everything you could ever possibly want in a camera you can easily take with you anywhere.   Bokeh with a truly pocket-sized camera!

3) Is it just me, or do soccer players trade jerseys less than they used to.  I love this tradition.  From this great NYT story on jersey trades from the last World Cup.

4) Just to get some attention, Ann Coulter went on an anti-soccer rant.  Here’s why she’s right to fear the World Cup.

The core problem with embracing soccer is that in so doing, America would become more like the rest of the world.

Which is why Coulter should be very afraid. Because America is embracing soccer…

Worse, from Coulter’s perspective, Americans like soccer for the very reason she loathes it: It connects us to the rest of the world. Earlier this year, I wrote an essay entitled “The End of American Exceptionalism,” which argued that on subjects where the United States has long been seen as different, attitudes in America increasingly resemble those in Europe. Soccer is one of the best examples yet.

5) As two of my favorite shows ever, I loved this Slate piece on how Seinfeld actually set the groundwork for The Sopranos and subsequent great television.  Seriously!

But Seinfeld’s impact resonated beyond comedy. Its serene belief that characters did not have to be likable as long as they were interesting foreshadowed a change in TV drama that wouldn’t settle until the late ’90s, when HBO turned a show about violent gangsters into an award-winning hit. We tend to forget that the first coldly expedient hero to anchor an influential, long-running series named after him wasn’t Tony Soprano. It was Jerry Seinfeld.

6) Joseph Stiglitz argues that extreme inequality is not inveitable.  Rather, it is a policy choice.

7) With all the attention to the facebook experiment (my take: every time you log into your feed, facebook is “manipulating your emotions.”  It’s always been a non-random sample that FB will tweak as they like) here’s a nice piece on how FB decides what’s in your feed.  Always a good idea to “like” stuff you actually like and ignore or hide stuff you don’t.  I “like” Wired and “New Yorker” and certain friends and see a bunch of them.  I’ve never “liked” a photo of food and I never will.

8) The rise of DIY abortion in Texas.

9) I enjoyed telling my teenager about this “why teenagers act crazy” piece in the NYT.

10) Finland’s school kids get a lot of recess.  David Greene would be so jealous.  Is this a key to their educational success?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it is interesting and certainly shows you can have high achievement with lots of time for breaks.

11) Want somebody to like you more?  Ask them to do a favor for you.  Seriously.

12) Fascinating story of a mentally ill bonobo and how human psychiatry helped him.

13) How Lionel Messi is just amazing via an exhaustive 538 statistical analysis.  Interesting how there’s Messi and Ronaldo and then everyone else way below.  Also, Messi gets it done without actually even running all that much.

Alright, 13 is enough for one go.  Back with some more tomorrow.

Is McCrory (and the NC Chamber) relevant?

Nice NC Policywatch article looking at the dissension between the Republican-led NC legislature’s support for repealing Common Core and the clear opposition of the NC Business community and Governor McCrory:

Governor Pat McCrory has previously upheld North Carolina’s decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

Speaking to a group of business-minded folks at a state chamber of commerce meeting last summer, McCrory praised Common Core.

“It’s not the standards that are bad; it’s the execution which must be improved here in North Carolina.”

But as the legislature hovers close to joining a handful of other states that have repealed the academic standards, frequently referred to as “Common Core,” McCrory’s words, communicated through his education advisor, Eric Guckian, have gotten softer…

Now that the House language is the primary bill up for consideration in a conference committee, the [NC] Chamber doesn’t want anything to do with it all.

“In its latest version, this legislation is not only a step backward for our classrooms but it is a step backward for our manufacturing floors to the research labs and garages where the next big ideas are being born,” said a representative of the NC Chamber in a statement…

Whether or not McCrory will veto any legislation that is ultimately passed is still up in the air.

“I won’t commit [McCrory] to any decision on that,” said Guckian. “It’s not a certainty that this will be passed given that we have a short session and we are trying to work together on these issues.”

“I know the business community is watching it very closely,” added Guckian. “It’s a big issue for our state.”

Assuming the legislature sends McCrory a bill repealing Common Core, the big question is what will he do?  Either way, I think it ultimately tells us 1) a lot about McCrory; and 2) who’s really got the upper-hand in NC Republican politics.

Of course, if McCrory were a real leader, he’d already loudly be standing up to the anti-Common Core Tea party non-sense (in the way the NC Chamber has, at least rhetorically), but so far we’ve seen known of that.  Theoretically, a governor should be a leader, but to this point it very much seems that McCrory is simply the ultimate follower– stick that finger up and see which way the GOP wind is blowing.  Secondly, if this repeal is successful, it will be quite clear that it is the Tea Party totally in command of the policy agenda in this state, not the Chamber of Commerce.  Now, I’m not the biggest fan of the Chamber, but they certainly appreciate the importance of education and I’ll take them over the Tea Party any day.  We’ll see, but I suspect I’m not going to like the answers to either of these questions.

Quick hits

Lots of time spent watching World Cup means less time blogging and more quick hits.  Here goes:

1) Speaking of the World Cup, I enjoyed this interactive feature on the club teams of players.   What happened with the Uruguayan player who lost consciousness and was allowed back on the field was unconscionable.  Led me to an interesting story of Tyler Twellman, an American who had his career ended by concussions.   On a light note, enjoyed this Telegraph critique/ranking of World Cup uniforms.

2) Enjoyed this piece in the Nation telling liberals to stop looking for intellectually honest conservatives.

3) Scientific ideas that people get wrong.

4) Every time I drive on the 6-lane (3 in each direction) interstate 95 between Richmond, VA and Springfield, VA, I think, this is insane.  There’s 8 lanes between Durham and Burlington, NC.  I’m quite convinced they need to add more lanes and it would be a good thing.  This Wired article says I’m wrong.  Build more lanes and more traffic just fills them up before you know it.  I don’t doubt that is generally true, but I think traffic in NoVa is already pretty maxed out and that this would really help.

5) Derek Thomspon on why audiences hate hard news.

6) My wife asked me why China, with all its people, is not good at soccer.  Fortunately, I had read this Economist article on the very topic just a few hours before.

7) Why we call soccer “soccer” here in the US (and Australia– love the Socceroos).

8) Andrew Sullivan lets loose on the crazy fever swamp of nonsense that is Fox News.

9) Bill Ayers on the “hard choices” college administrators make.

10) Six things Michael Mann (hockey stick graph) wants you to know about scientists and climate change.

11) Among the best short pieces I’ve read on teaching critical and creative thinking.  I’m going to be using a bunch of these ideas in the future and sharing with the teaching grad students I supervise.

12) Okay, don’t expect you to read beyond the abstract (couldn’t find a nice blog summary), but maybe swing voters who change their minds during an election are basically a myth.

13) It seems are legal system is ever more about sticking it to poor people.  Another sorry example (though, wear your seat belt, damn it).

14) How Led Zeppelin invented modern rock.

15) Oh my, this satirical ad about throwing a “first moon” party is just brilliant and hilarious.

16) Advice on sex to sons before heading off to college.

17) Regardless of what one things of the name Redskins, Jonathan Turley makes a compelling case that the patent office well overstepped its bounds.

18) Don’t know that I agree with everything in this education reform rant, but it’s a helluva rant:

We did this by swallowing the obscene notion that schools and colleges are businesses and children are consumers.

We did this by believing in the infallibility of free enterprise, by pretending America is a meritocracy, and by ignoring the pernicious effects of unrelenting racism…

We did this by demeaning the teaching profession.

We did this by allowing poverty and despair to shatter families.

We did this by blaming these families for the poverty and despair we inflicted on them…

We did this by failing to properly fund schools, making them dependent on shrinking property taxes and by shifting the costs of federal mandates to resource-strapped states and local communities.


The problem is not too many bad teachers, but too few really good ones

So, last week, a California judge struck down California’s teacher (K-12) tenure law.  Regadless of the legal points, this was a really, really dumb law.  Dana Goldstein:

Here’s where the judge is right: It is difficult—actually, close to impossible—to argue that California’s teacher-tenure system makes sense. Research shows that most first-year teachers are mediocre at best. But good teachers tend to make huge jumps in effectiveness by the end of their second year on the job, and those improvements are often visible through classroom observation and students’ rising test scores. Yet California evaluates teachers for tenure in March of their second year of work, before two full years of student-teacher data are available.

This means that under current California law, principals are forced to make high-stakes decisions about teachers without enough evidence. This disadvantages students, who might get stuck with sub-par instructors, but it also hurts teachers, who aren’t given enough time to prove their skill. Once a teacher earns tenure, it can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars—and countless administrative and legal man-hours—for a district to permanently remove him from his job. And in the event of budget cuts or school closings, California law mandates that the least experienced teachers be laid off first, even if they are more effective than their older colleagues, a policy known as “LIFO,” or “Last In, First Out.”

That said, I actually learned some things about teacher tenure I had not known:

Tenure has existed in K-12 public education since 1909, when “good-government” reformers borrowed the concept from Germany. The idea spread quickly from New Jersey to New York to Chicago and then across the country. During the Progressive Era, both teachers unions and school-accountability hawks embraced the policy, which prevented teaching jobs from being given out as favors by political bosses. If it was legally difficult to fire a good teacher, she couldn’t be replaced by the alderman’s unqualified sister-in-law.

And also from a great column by Katherine Rampell

Weakening job security in the absence of other reforms may even discourage good people from entering or sticking with the profession.

That’s because job security is one of the key forms of compensation that we still offer to educators as their salaries have gotten less competitive over time, thanks to a pesky combination of women’s lib and stingy taxpayers.

Think about it this way: Once upon a time, if you were a talented, educated, ambitious woman who wanted to work outside the home, few career options were available to you – basically teaching, nursing and not much else. Women’s opportunities have widened considerably over the past few decades, which, of course, is a very good thing. But this also means that teaching (still a predominantly female profession) is no longer the default path for the United States’ best and brightest women or, for that matter, for the best and brightest Americans of either gender. In the United States, only about a quarter of new teachers come from the top third of their college classes, and just 14 percent of those end up in high-poverty schools…

Part of the reason that teacher salaries have stagnated is that taxpayers are unwilling to shell out the dough required to give them raises today. So instead, politicians offer higher compensation tomorrow – funded by future taxpayers who can’t yet vote them out of office – in the form of more generous pensions. Which is where tenure becomes so important in retaining talent: The only way to credibly guarantee to teachers that they won’t get fired before their pensions vest is by giving them strong job protections.  [emphasis mine]

Both Rampell and Goldstein point out that firing bad teachers is only a small part of the problem.  Rampell:

But improving the quality of teachers who work with poor kids seems more about insufficient inflow of the talented than insufficient outflow of the untalented. One study, based on a policy change in Chicago, found that even when dismissal rules are relaxed, many principals still choose not to fire anyone – including at the worst-performing schools – perhaps at least partly because of the challenge of finding decent replacements.

And Goldstein:

But here’s where Judge Reulf’s theory is faulty: Getting rid of these bad laws may do little to systemically raise student achievement. For high-poverty schools, hiring is at least as big of a challenge as firing, and the Vergara decision does nothing to make it easier for the most struggling schools to attract or retain the best teacher candidates…

The lesson here is that California’s tenure policies may be insensible, but they aren’t the only, or even the primary, driver of the teacher-quality gap between the state’s middle-class and low-income schools. The larger problem is that too few of the best teachers are willing to work long-term in the country’s most racially isolated and poorest neighborhoods. There are lots of reasons why, ranging from plain old racism and classism to the higher principal turnover that turns poor schools into chaotic workplaces that mature teachers avoid. The schools with the most poverty are also more likely to focus on standardized test prep, which teachers dislike. Plus, teachers tend to live in middle-class neighborhoods and may not want a long commute.

Educational equality is about more than teacher-seniority rules: It is about making the schools that serve poor children more attractive places for the smartest, most ambitious people to spend their careers.

The most recent Slate political gabfest also had a great discussion on this issue.  They made the point (borrowing from Goldstein’s other writings, I believe) that the best performing school systems around the world have teacher tenure, teacher’s unions, etc.  These are not the problem.  The problem is that we do not treat teaching as a highly-skilled, highly-professionalized, highly-compensated career.  All the best educational system do.  We need to start there.  Of course, that means more taxes.  Oh well, so much for improving education.

Quick hits

Sorry for the bad blogging of late.  Traveled out of town to my nephew’s HS graduation.  Here’s some overdue quick hits:

1) Great, Lawrence Lessig essay on campaign finance.  This is going right into my Campaigns & Elections syllabus.

2) Enjoyed this Slate blog post on the messages we send to young girls about how the dress with the fingertip rule, etc.

3) Paul Waldman on right-wing rhetoric and right-wing terrorism.  Good stuff, though, I suspect that crazy people will always find some larger ideology to cling to in order to self justify and self -aggrandize.  Right-wing nuttery is just particularly easy to grab onto now.

4) Think being an ER physician will get you good care in the ER?  Think again.

5) Really enjoyed this Grantland guide to watching the World Cup.

6) Delaware shows the way on how to get more smart, but poor, kids into college.

7) George Will wrote an extremely misguided column on sexual violence on campus.  One of the better responses I read.

8) It’s really just dumb to specialize your child in one particular sport at a young age.

9) Love this Dan Kois first-person account of trying to spend a month without sitting.

10) In NC, military leaders have taken to defending the Common Core.  Alas, our legislators would rather listen to the modern day know-nothings (i.e., the Tea Party).

11) The hidden genius of traffic lights.

12) Rob Christensen on how the libertarian strain of conservativism has taken over NC.

Tens of thousands of North Carolinians are being hurt by the actions of the legislature – whether being denied health insurance or unemployment insurance, or losing their jobs in the schools, or their earned income tax credits. They are being harmed by ideas put forth by economic thinkers such as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman and sold by national groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and locally by the John Locke Foundation. The theory, of course, is that the changes will lead to a more productive economy that will float all boats.

The reality, as we and Christensen know, is that of course it will not.

13) There’s a proposed bill in Missouri to allow police to shoot people (supposedly justifiably) and keep it a secret!.  What could go wrong with that?

14) I read Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World way back when it was new.  Good stuff.  Brainpickings excerpts Sagan’s baloney detection kit.  It’s really, really good.

15) I’ve come across one female soccer coach  (and she was just a sub) in my years of coaching the Blasters.  That seems wrong, but heck, they are boys.  Alas, it does not appear things will change much when I start coaching Sarah’s team in a few years (yes, she damn well better play soccer).

16) I’m pretty sure I’ve linked before to this great Slate story and summary of the crazy, crazy, crazy modern-day Salem Witch Trials that overtook this country in the 80’s and 90’s.  I’m actually glad I was not more aware of these cases at the time as the absurdity and injustice would have driven me crazy.  Alas, here’s a sad case of a surely innocent man still languishing in prison 27 years later here in NC.

17) Speaking of injustice, while driving back from the aforementioned graduation, I listened to this terrific This American Life account (it’s a classic from 9 years ago) of a wrongfully-imprisoned man with my son.  He was shocked and incredulous that this could happen.  Alas, all too common.  Also a good occasion for me to give him some helpful advice, like, never, never submit to a police interview without a lawyer.

Laptops in the classroom

Like most professors I know, I’ve been frustrated by laptops in the classroom for quite a while.  As somebody who hates to write by hand, I appreciate the fact that many students strongly prefer to type.  But it is quite obvious that they are a huge distraction, even for good students that use them– and certainly for any student near a classmate using a laptop for FB, etc.  My current policy has been to require laptop users to sit in the first two rows.  Why?  In my experience you are much less likely to ignore me and be wrapped up in your computer screen if there is close physical proximity.  Seems to work reasonably well, from what I can tell.

That said, the latest research has me strongly considering banning them entirely.  Some pretty solid research suggests that– hate it or not– you just learn better writing by hand than typing into a computer.  Basically, you have to process the material more in your brain.  Here’s Vox:

It’s not just because internet-connected laptops are sodistracting. It’s because even if students aren’t distracted, the act of taking notes on a computer actually seems to interfere with their ability to remember information.

Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, the psychologists who conducted the new research, believe it’s because students on laptops usually just mindlesslytype everything a professor says. Those taking notes by hand, though, have to actively listen and decide what’s important — because they generally can’t write fast enough to get everything down — which ultimately helps them learn…

When done with pen and paper, that act involves active listening, trying to figure out what information is most important, and putting it down. When done on a laptop, it generally involves robotically taking in spoken words and converting them into typed text…

This new research suggests that even when students aren’t doing anything else, taking notes on a laptop hinders their ability to learn. This is something of a surprise.

What isn’t a surprise, though, is that real-life students that use laptops seldom focus on the lecture.

You probably know this if you’ve looked across a lecture hall recently. But in case you want confirmation from professionals, research on both undergrads andlaw students has shown that those who use laptops have something unrelated to class up on their screens around 40 percent of the time. Ultimately, theyperform more poorly in classes and rate themselves as less satisfied with their college educations.

And I also read this take from a Computer Science professor in the New Yorker:

I banned laptops in the classroom after it became common practice to carry them to school. When I created my “electronic etiquette policy” (as I call it in my syllabus), I was acting on a gut feeling based on personal experience. I’d always figured that, for the kinds of computer-science and math classes that I generally teach, which can have a significant theoretical component, any advantage that might be gained by having a machine at the ready, or available for the primary goal of taking notes, was negligible at best. We still haven’t made it easy to type notation-laden sentences, so the potential benefits were low. Meanwhile, the temptation for distraction was high. I know that I have a hard time staying on task when the option to check out at any momentary lull is available; I assumed that this must be true for my students, as well.

Over time, a wealth of studies on students’ use of computers in the classroom has accumulated to support this intuition.

I’m not 100% made up on this, but strongly leaning towards moving this way in the Fall.  My current summer class has only 8 students, but none of them uses a laptop, and I must say, I really like it.

Alas, on the downside, without laptops, my students’ handwriting will probably be more difficult for them than ever.


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