Chart of the day

I think the Wonkblog headline, “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong,” may be a little extreme, but this chart is about the most depressing thing about how modern America works:

Poor Grads, Rich Dropouts

Quick hits (part II)

Sorry these are a little late today.  Spent more time than anticipated watching the terrific Notre Dame vs. Florida State game last night.

1) Really interesting Vanity Fair article that give an account on this Ebola outbreak– unlike all the others- became an epidemic.

2) On a somewhat related note, a FB friend shared this story from last year of how an extremely dangerous bacteria was nearly impossible for the NIH to eradicate from it’s research hospital.  With plenty of scary stuff about the future of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

3) Heck, let’s stick with a theme.  Here’s a Yahoo! story about a robot that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms (the CDC used a robot that filled rooms with hydrogen peroxide gas).

4) Alright, let’s just keep going here.  James Surowiecki putting everything in perspective and reminding us we should be way more scared of the annual flu.

5) A Tennessee woman involved in manufacturing meth got 6 years added to her sentence for being pregnant at the time.  Hmmm, that just doesn’t seem right in a variety of ways.

6) We could use better data on charter schools.

7) True tales from the making of Princess Bride.  Much to my dismay, my 8-year old son refused to like it because of the title.  My almost 4 daughter liked it even though it was over her head.

8) Teenagers should so not be interrogated without a parent or a lawyer.  It is a legal travesty that this happens all the time.  I’ve told David never to talk to the police without a parent.  Never.

9) Garrett Epps on the “undue burden” standard from Casey and how courts are increasingly ignoring it.

10) Republican Congressmen are intent on cutting NSF funding based solely on the title of research.

11) How modern pork production is bad for pigs and not so good for workers, either.

12) NYT Magazine feature on how billionaires are becoming their own political parties.

How to learn

Really enjoyed this NYT piece last week on the latest science of the best ways to learn.  I especially enjoyed seeing that the most effective approach was what I had figured out for myself in college.  Here you go:

In the new book “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens” (Random House), Benedict Carey, a science reporter for The New York Times, challenges the notion that a high test score equals true learning. He argues that although a good grade may be achieved in the short term by cramming for an exam, chances are that most of the information will be quickly lost. Indeed, he argues, most students probably don’t need to study more — just smarter…

The first step toward better learning is to simply change your study environment from time to time. Rather than sitting at your desk or the kitchen table studying for hours, finding some new scenery will create new associations in your brain and make it easier to recall information later…

One way to signal to the brain that information is important is to talk about it. Ask a young student to play “teacher” based on the information they have studied. Self-testing and writing down information on flashcards also reinforces learning.

Another technique is called distributed learning, or “spacing,” and it’s a particularly relevant aspect of brain science for ambitious students. Mr. Carey compares it to watering a lawn. You can water a lawn once a week for 90 minutes or three times a week for 30 minutes. Spacing out the watering during the week will keep the lawn greener over time…

Studies have shown that for a student to learn and retain information like historical events, vocabulary words or science definitions, it’s best to review the information one to two days after first studying it. One theory is that the brain actually pays less attention during short learning intervals. So repeating the information over a longer interval — say a few days or a week later, rather than in rapid succession — sends a stronger signal to the brain that it needs to retain the information…

From the data, the scientists determined the optimal intervals for learning information. If your test is a week away, you should plan two study periods at least one to two days apart. For a Friday test, study on Monday and review on Thursday. If your test is a month away, begin studying in one-week intervals…

“Sleep is the finisher on learning,” Mr. Carey says. “The brain is ready to process and categorize and solidify what you’ve been studying. Once you get tired, your brain is saying it’s had enough.”

I’ve already shared this with all my students and will continue to do so in future semesters.  And Carey’s books in in my queue– hopefully I’ll report back on it here some day.

 

Quick hits (part II)

1) John Dickerson on how fundraising emails encapsulate everything wrong with politics:

Perhaps it’s effective, but there’s a larger point to be made about political fundraising emails: They are a bouillon cube of all that is awful about American politics—the grasping for money, the neediness, the phony plays on your emotion, the baiting, and reduction of anything complex into its most incendiary form. What makes these emails bad is not the breadth of their insult—you can opt out of receiving them, which makes them easier to avoid than a television commercial—but what it says about the people who send them. Here’s the short version: They think you’re stupid.

2) Personally, I love Common Core math.  I love that my boys are asked not just to apply algorithms, but actually understand what they are doing and really think about math.  Here’s a nice Vox post explaining the virtues of this approach.  Also, so embarrassed to admit I missed this math problem (but I am so inside the box I don’t even know I’m in the box).

3) This piece by Sahsa Issenberg about changing minds on gay marriage and what they may tell us about changing minds on abortion was really fascinating.  Long, but worth it.

4) Amy Davidson on Texas’ abortion law nicely takes about the “not a large fraction” argument.  And TNR’s Jen Gunter looks at the patient safety argument.

5) Yeah, so our kids totally need grit and persistence.  We just haven’t quite figured out how we are supposed to teach them.

6) In case you haven’t seen this alternate ending to Titanic that’s gone viral.  It truly is awful.

7) So love this Onion headline:

Yard Sign With Candidate’s Name On It Electrifies Congressional Race

8) Paul Waldman on our failure to actually learn in our dealings in the Middle East.

9) Sharing your chocolate makes it taste better.

10) Sensationalist coverage of foreign policy makes Americans more hawkish.

11) Adam Gopnik on the power of images in terrorism.

12) This Onion headline so captures some awkward experiences I’ve had:

Coworkers Each Putting In Herculean Effort To Sustain Conversation For Entire Commute

13) Of course teachers should have serious apprenticeships rather than just 6 weeks of student teaching.  Let’s do this.

14) Awesome interactive Smithsonian feature on the Anthropocene era we are living in.

15) The latest in the Post’s terrific series on the abhorrent police practice of stealing innocent people’s cash because, you know, drug dealers use cash, too.

No more homework!

I’ve written multiple times before about the futility of homework as currently practiced and now there’s a great summary in the Post about the most recent findings.  Yet more evidence that homework just does not help students perform any better in school:

 Let’s start by reviewing what we know from earlier investigations.[1]  First, no research has ever found a benefit to assigning homework (of any kind or in any amount) in elementary school.  In fact, there isn’t even a positivecorrelation between, on the one hand, having younger children do some homework (vs. none), or more (vs. less), and, on the other hand, any measure of achievement.  If we’re making 12-year-olds, much less five-year-olds, do homework, it’s either because we’re misinformed about what the evidence says or because we think kids ought to have to do homeworkdespite what the evidence says.

Second, even at the high school level, the research supporting homework hasn’t been particularly persuasive.  There does seem to be a correlation between homework and standardized test scores, but (a) it isn’t strong, meaning that homework doesn’t explain much of the variance in scores, (b) one prominent researcher, Timothy Keith, who did find a solid correlation, returned to the topic a decade later to enter more variables into the equation simultaneously, only to discover that the improved study showed that homework had no effect after all[2], and (c) at best we’re only talking about a correlation — things that go together — without having proved that doing more homework causes test scores to go up.  (Take 10 seconds to see if you can come up with other variables that might be driving both of these things.)…

Maltese and his colleagues did their best to reframe these results to minimize the stunning implications.[6]  Like others in this field, they seem to have approached the topic already convinced that homework is necessary and potentially beneficial, so the only question we should ask isHow — not whether — to assign it.  But if you read the results rather than just the authors’ spin on them — which you really need to do with the work of others working in this field as well[7] — you’ll find that there’s not much to prop up the belief that students must be made to work a second shift after they get home from school.  The assumption that teachers are just assigning homework badly, that we’d start to see meaningful results if only it were improved, is harder and harder to justify with each study that’s published.

If experience is any guide, however, many people will respond to these results by repeating platitudes about the importance of practice[8], or by complaining that anyone who doesn’t think kids need homework is coddling them and failing to prepare them for the “real world” (read:  the pointless tasks they’ll be forced to do after they leave school).  Those open to evidence, however, have been presented this fall with yet another finding that fails to find any meaningful benefit even when the study is set up to give homework every benefit of the doubt. [emphasis mine]

So far, homework has not really been out of hand for any of my kids, but I am awfully tempted to share this with my kids’ teachers and principals.  Not like I think it will change anything.  People are just so damn convinced homework must be a good thing, but current evidence suggests that the vast majority of it is simply of very little value.  Actually, would love to see some evidence from Finland (Mika?), etc., on the matter– maybe that would persuade people.

Quick hits

1) The zeppelins of WWI

Although the zeppelin was embraced by both the Germans and the Allies during World War I, the Germans made far more extensive use of the rigid, hydrogen-filled airships. The concept of “strategic bombing”—targeted airstrikes on a particular location—didn’t exist before the conflict. The advent of aerial warfare changed that, and also robbed the British of the protection afforded by the English Channel. The zeppelin allowed Germany to bring the war to the English homeland. Kind of.

2) Parenting as a Gen-Xer:

It struck me recently, after one of my quiet carpool rides, that my generation of parents – we of the soon-to-be or recently 40 year old Gen X variety, the former latchkey children of the Cold War and an MTV that actually played videos, former Atari-owners who were raised by the the Cosby Show and John Hughes, graduated high school with the kids from 90210, then lumbered through our 20s with Rachel, Ross, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe, and Joey and flip phones – is perhaps the last to straddle a life experience both with and without the Internet and all its social media marvels.

3) EJ Dionne on NC politics.  And a WSJ piece on how NC politics increasingly resemble those of Virginia.

4) Eating octopus?  No thanks.

5) Jon Chait with an interesting essay on the value of playing football.

6) Are Alabama Judge Tom Parker’s ideas the key to dismantling Roe v. Wade?  I suspect not, but it is disturbing to think about somebody with his ideas (forget the Constitution– the real version– it’s all about God– Parker’s version) serving as a judge.

7) Maria Konnikova on social media and the Dunbar number

Dunbar did the math, using a ratio of neocortical volume to total brain volume and mean group size, and came up with a number. Judging from the size of an average human brain, the number of people the average person could have in her social group was a hundred and fifty. Anything beyond that would be too complicated to handle at optimal processing levels. For the last twenty-two years, Dunbar has been “unpacking and exploring” what that number actually means—and whether our ever-expanding social networks have done anything to change it.

8) Nice post from Mike Cobb on how to have a healthy skepticism towards non-attitudes reported as attitudes on surveys.

9) Really nice piece from John Dickerson about Matt Bai’s new book, the media, and political scandal.

10) Jon Chait decries California’s new “yes means yes” approach to sexual assault.  Ezra Klein writes easily the most interesting commentary (supportive of the law) I’ve read on the matter.

11) A look at the great impact exercise can have on a child’s brain.  The results are great, but, there’s this:

Each two-hour session also included downtime, since children naturally career about and then collapse, before repeating the process. In total, the boys and girls generally moved at a moderate or vigorous intensity for about 70 minutes and covered more than two miles per session, according to their pedometers.

That doesn’t strike me as remotely scalable.  I’d love to see some efforts along these lines of an exercise program for kids with less time commitment.

12) Vox on why the LED light was worth the Nobel Prize.  (For what it’s worth, I remember reading many years ago how a white LED light was a holy grail).

13) NYT Magazine on how school lunches have become a political battleground.  Personally, I think everybody needs to give pizza more respect.  My middle and high schools all offered pizza as a lunch entree every day.  That’s how it should be.

14) You probably don’t know that much about giraffes.  You should.

15) A sixteen year old spent three years in jail for allegedly stealing a backpack before the charges were dropped.  Just another day (or three years) of criminal justice in America (at least if you are poor).

“Voluntary” end to slavery

So, that Colorado school board that thought history needs to be more “patriotic.”  It just gets better.  Via Talking Points Memo:

Mazanec’s first posts in the thread raised the possibility that the AP History course framework may have been conceived by people with an “agenda,” prompting an AP English teacher to respond by explaining that experienced AP teachers compile the courses’ exams.

She then wrote that her concern for the course “is an overly negative view of our history and many of our historical figures (if mentioned)” and cited history professors with “impressive credentials” who told her that the AP History curriculum is designed to “downplay our noble history.”

She used slavery to illustrate the point:

As an example, I note our slavery history. Yes, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today! Shouldn’t our students be provided that viewpoint? This is part of the argument that America is exceptional. Does our APUSH Framework support or denigrate that position?

Oh my.  It’s one thing to read their more abstract comments, but this is simply breathtaking.  This kind of ignorance is what gives “patriotism” a bad name.  And my goodness, to think that somebody of such appalling ignorance is on a school board anywhere outside of North Korea!

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