Photo of the day

Love this collection of politicians with fuzzy mascots.  It was hard to select just one here, but this is my favorite as I love the color coordination between Hillary Clinton and Haibao

Special Friends - Slide 5

NC Gerrymanders

The Washington Post recently ran a brief piece on the 10-most gerrymandered districts in America based on the new post-2010 redistricting.  Congratulations to NC republicans who managed to get 3 out our 13 districts on the list.  Basically, among other things, they managed to pack almost all the state’s African-American voters into just a small handful of districts.  It’s all up for legal challenge at the moment, but here’s NC’s 3:

Let’s start with the district I’m sitting in in my office right now:

10. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.): This freshman was the only Republican to win a Democratic seat in North Carolina in 2010, and she got her reward for that upset. The North Carolina GOP took the highly Democratic areas near Raleigh and Fayetteville out of her 2nd district and gave them to Rep. David Price (D). In exchange, they shifted her fan-shaped district west into Rep. Howard Coble’s (R) much-more conservative territory in what is currently the 6th district. (Coble may well retire after his district was split up in several pieces). The result for Ellmers: A district that went 53 percent for President Obama in 2008, under the new lines, would have given him only about 44 percent.

And NC 8:

5. Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.): Kissell essentially got a pass from Republicans in last year’s election, with the national GOP spending basically no money to win his Charlotte-area 8th district. As it turns out, rejiggering his district was much easier and cheaper than dropping $1 million in TV ads. The new 8th district is still a lot of Kissell’s old territory but it trades some of its more Democratic areas near Charlotte and Fayetteville for conservative territory represented by Coble and Rep. Sue Myrick (R) to the northwest. The result is a district that goes from a 52 percent Obama seat to one that would go about 42 percent for the president.

And, lastly, at the #1 most gerrymandered district, NC 13 which I’m looking into when I look across the street from my office window:

1. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.): Not content to simply make Miller’s 13th district unwinnable – as we knew would happen – North Carolina Republicans eventually decided they would also draw him out of it entirely and into the 4th district with Price. That may actually be a favor to Miller, who stood very little chance of surviving in his north-central North Carolina district and could instead challenge Price in a primary. Democrats 10 years ago drew arms — figuratively speaking — growing out to liberal enclaves in Greensboro, Raleigh and Alamance County. Simply by severing those limbs, the GOP pushed this from a district that went 60 percent for Obama to one that would have gone about 46 percent. They even gave it a new number for effect; it’s now the 6th district.

NC could very well end up a state that gives roughly half its votes to Democratic congressional candidates, but ends up with 75% of its representatives being Republican.  American democracy at its finest (and yes, I’m perfectly aware that Democrats are guilty of such maneuvers as well– just usually not quite this extreme in any given state).


I need a coach

Terrific article by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker about how we could all probably benefit from a coach in our jobs.  Elite athletes still use coaches– why not everybody else.  Gawande, a surgeon, actually improves his operating room performance by bringing in a retired surgeon as a coach.  Turns out, a lot of the action/research on this comes on the teaching front where some school districts are actually implementing policies where teachers get not just mentoring, but actual coaching:

So outside ears, and eyes, are important for concert-calibre musicians and Olympic-level athletes. What about regular professionals, who just want to do what they do as well as they can? I talked to Jim Knight about this. He is the director of the Kansas Coaching Project, at the University of Kansas. He teaches coaching—for schoolteachers. For decades, research has confirmed that the big factor in determining how much students learn is not class size or the extent of standardized testing but the quality of their teachers. Policymakers have pushed mostly carrot-and-stick remedies: firing underperforming teachers, giving merit pay to high performers, penalizing schools with poor student test scores. People like Jim Knight think we should push coaching.

California researchers in the early nineteen-eighties conducted a five-year study of teacher-skill development in eighty schools, and noticed something interesting. Workshops led teachers to use new skills in the classroom only ten per cent of the time. Even when a practice session with demonstrations and personal feedback was added, fewer than twenty per cent made the change. But when coaching was introduced—when a colleague watched them try the new skills in their own classroom and provided suggestions—adoption rates passed ninety per cent. A spate of small randomized trials confirmed the effect. Coached teachers were more effective, and their students did better on tests.

Knight experienced it himself. Two decades ago, he was trying to teach writing to students at a community college in Toronto, and floundering. He studied techniques for teaching students how to write coherent sentences and organize their paragraphs. But he didn’t get anywhere until a colleague came into the classroom and coached him through the changes he was trying to make.

I’m sold.  I have little doubt that like Gawande’s skills as a surgeon, my skills as a college teacher have likely plateaued.   I would really like to get a forceful external perspective to help me get better and like the teachers in the article, I’ve got a pretty good idea where my weaknesses are.  Furthermore, part of my job is to mentor PhD students who are new college instructors.  I’m definitely going to look into this research to find out how I can be an effective coach for them in this process.

On a quasi-related note, our local NPR station has been running a lot of ads for NC State’s “Business coaching certificate program.”  I was actually going to do a post poking fun at this on one of those slower days.  Now, I feel bad.  If teachers, college professors, and surgeons (not to mention tennis players, golfers, etc.), can benefit from coaching, surely business professionals can as well.

Alright then, now I just need to find a coach for me.  But no blogging coaches (as much as John Wilder seems to want to have the job).

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