Instructional Video

Somehow I missed this the first time he posted it, but Big Steve re-posted this video in his year’s favorites.  It had me laughing out loud:

Larry David on the tax cut and blueberries

Larry David (creator of Seinfeld) who most definitely benefits from extending the Bush tax cuts on the top 2% of earners, has a great satirical take in the Times Op Ed.  Here’s my favorite part:

It’s also going to be a boon for my health. After years of coveting them, I’ll finally be able to afford blueberries. Did you know they have a lot of antioxidants, which prevent cancer? Cancer! This tax cut just might save my life. Who said Republicans don’t support health care? I’m going to have the blueberries with my cereal, and I’m not talking Special K. Those days are over. It’s nothing but real granola from now on. The kind you get in the plastic bins in health food stores. Did someone say “organic”?

Truth is, I love blueberries.  Especially on my cereal.  But I can only afford that luxury (as well as blackberries and raspberries) during certain times of the year.  Fresh berries are among my very favorite foods, but damn are they expensive, especially out of season.  I always tell people that if I were truly wealthy the biggest change in my life would be to eat all the fresh berries I wanted.   Glad to know that one of my favorite comedians shares a similar desire.

Alternate Reality exercise

Imagine that Democrats were refusing to ratify a treaty that allowed us to inspect the Russian nuclear arsenal and was supported by all the national military leaders and most every living former Republican Secretary of State.  You think, just maybe, Fox News might be having a field day with this?  Likewise, imagine that Democrats had blocked legislation to cover health expenses for 9/11 first responders.  Fox would be on that 24/7.  And that would surely make it larger news in all the “liberal media” outlets.  Our political system is currently quite asymmetrical.  Which is why it bothers me so much when so many people go facilely pretend otherwise.

UPDATE: Media Matters is on the case as to how Fox is actually covering this.  Fairly despicable, as you can imagine.

Myth of charter schools

Read a terrific paper on Charter Schools yesterday from a student (a future Teach for America teacher) doing an independent study on Education Policy.  I think she was a little optimistic on charter schools as a genuine solution (though, I think they have their role) and on the scalability of models such as KIPP (which requires super-human commitment from students, families, and teachers).

Anyway, it got me thinking to this really interesting essay in the New York Review of Books by Diane Ravitch, which is essentially a takedown of the much-ballyhood (but not yet seen by me) education documentary, “Waiting for Superman.”  Its a long piece (and well worth your time), but I found this little bit most interesting:

The movie asserts a central thesis in today’s school reform discussion: the idea that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. But this proposition is false. Hanushek has released studies showing that teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.

Having not seen the movie, I can’t attest to the accuracy of Ravitch’s initial statement in this quote, but I do wonder if they filmmakers truly believe that the influence of teaching is more than that of family/social background.  Honestly, I doubt it.  Also, let’s be honest, we’re talking about education policy.  Sure, it would be great if politicians could see the connection between poverty, social condidions, etc., and school achievement and realize that this is actually part of education policy.  But they don’t.  Welcome to the real world. In fact, the exact same thing could be said with crime control (a major theme of the I-can’t-recommend-it-enough When Brute Force Fails). The truth is, when it comes to actual education policy, improving teacher quality is the area which can make the most impact on student performance.  We should work on it.  Also, worth another plug for my all time favorite Gladwell article on how selecting good teachers is like selecting NFL quarterbacks (it’s hard).

So, what to make of all this?  Sounds like Waiting for Superman probably oversells the promise of charter schools.  But that does not mean there’s not very valuable lessons to be learned from the best of them.  I still think the biggest lesson is that we’ve got to do a lot more to improve the quality of teaching in this country.  And I think we should start by doing all we can to make it a more prestigious occupation (as it is in most of the countries that kick our butt in education).

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