How are “fly” and “tree” alike?

There’s just so much cool stuff in the General Social Survey when you start digging down into it.  I had no idea they had a test of “reasoning ability” where they ask you questions like “how are an orange and a banana alike?”  That’s at the easy end– 82% get it completely right.  At the opposite end, nearly 60% are scored “completely wrong” for fly and tree.  I even went to Appendix D of the massive codebook to see how I would do, but they didn’t even provide any examples of completely right, partially right, or completely wrong for this one.  Anyway, if you are completely right, that makes you kind of special.  Actually, though, “work” and “play” get the lowest score for “completely right”  only 6%.  Fly and tree, I don’t know, but I feel pretty good about full credit for work and play.

NC Teacher Pay

A depressing litany of facts from Tim White:

By several measures, North Carolina has become a bottom-feeder state. That does not portend a brilliant future.

According to the National Education Association’s tabulation of school spending in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, only Texas, Utah and Arizona spend less per student than we do…

But we still need teachers. We need good teachers, innovative teachers, tech-savvy teachers to pull that off.

We’re not going to get them. We’re going to lose them, unless we start spending more money. Why? A good teacher can get an instant 4 percent raise just by moving – no kidding – to South Carolina.

We rank 46th among the 50 states and D.C. in teacher pay. Only New Mexico, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota – renowned temples of education – pay their teachers less. Move two states south – to Georgia – and a teacher can make about $53,000 a year, on average. That’s close to the $55,000 national average.

Or if you’re really good and not bothered by snowy and icy winters, you could teach in New York, the best-paying state, where teachers make an average of $73,000 a year.

That’s exactly what the best teachers will be doing. They have bills to pay and families to raise, too, and the best and brightest of them will compete for jobs in the places that recognize the worth of a good teacher.

The General Assembly budget writers are sharpening their pencils and getting ready to figure out state spending for the next two years. Given the campaign pledges about austerity and tax cutting, it’s a safe bet there’s no plan to substantially increase education spending – despite all that empty blather about educating the work force for tomorrow so we can fill all those wonderful new jobs that must surely be on their way.

I know that spending’s not everything. But at some point, the vultures will start picking at our education carcass. And I would suggest that when our per-pupil spending is $1,000 a year less than Mississippi’s, our carcass is ready for their feast.  [emphasis mine]

No spending is not everything.  But it matters.  If want our teachers to be true professionals (and we damn well should!) we need to pay them like true professionals.  This would also lead to higher quality college graduates going into teaching.  I.e., like happens in other countries with better performing educational systems.  In many countries, teachers are much more respected and much more well-compensated and do a better job.  If we want better education, we cannot do it on the cheap.  I’m not holding my breath for the Republican legislature to step on this.  God forbid a rich person might have to pay $100 more a year in taxes to help invest in the ultimate resource of our state– our future adult citizens.

Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of Kyrgyz nomads with their cell phones in Afghanistan

Kyrgyz Nomads, Afghanistan

Photograph by Matthieu Paley, National Geographic

Kyrgyz herders adore their cell phones, which they acquire by trading and keep charged with solar-powered car batteries. Though useless for communication—cellular service doesn’t reach the isolated plateau—the gadgets are used to play music and take photos.

Well, then, the average Kirgyz herder has a better cell phone than me— mine cannot play music.

Fox News in a nutshell

Nice Post from Chait looking at a recent Bill O’Reilly segment and how it basically symbolizes everything that’s wrong with Fox News.  Here’s the gist:

If you have never seen Fox News before, here is a four-minute clip that captures the essence of the network so perfectly that you need never watch anything on it again. It’s all here. At the center, you have an old conservative white guy who is enraged about a fact that exists only in his addled brain. At his side, there’s a blonde sidekick who nods along with him but doesn’t get in the way. And ready to absorb his anger is the network’s Emmanuel Goldsteinfigure, feebly attempting a rebuttal that quickly devolves into a sniveling plea for civility:

This part is the real kicker, though:

The debate grows more bizarre as Colmes manages to slip in the fact —  a true one — that Obama has proposed cuts to Medicare and Medicaid:

O’Reilly: “Give me one program he said he’s cut!”
Colmes: “He would cut Medicare and Medicaid … ”
O’Reilly: “That’s not a specific program!”

Plenty more at the link, including the video of O’Reilly in maximum pompous-ass form (it’s amazing that Colbert’s satire of O’Reilly underplays what an obnoxious jerk he is.  But, you’re really just got to love that Medicare and Medicaid are not specific programs.  And to think, this is where millions of conservative Americans are going to become “informed” on American politics.  Ugh.

Liberal Japanese-Americans

Okay, so oddly enough, I’ve become temporarily obsessed with the politics of Asian-Americans.  Pew did a great big survey last year where they got at least 500 respondents from 6 major ethnic groups and asked all sorts of interesting questions.  You can see their report here.  I actually looked through all the basic frequencies and there’ s lots of intriguing stuff.  I hope to play around with the actual data when Pew releases it.   Anyway, I thought the differences on abortion and gay marriage– where Japanese stand out in their liberal-ness– were pretty interesting:



Also interesting that Filipinos are quite tolerant of homosexuals, but least in favor of legal abortion.  Obviously, I don’t have any expertise at all to explain the differences across these groups, but I would love to know more what is causing them.


I’ve been wanting to write a post about the oversold value of MOOC’s (the idea that watching a professor on youtube is a class), but this Friedman column and the great discussion on a friend’s FB page inspired me to finally say something.  First Friedman:

I just spent the last two days at a great conference convened by M.I.T. and Harvard on “Online Learning and the Future of Residential Education” — a k a “How can colleges charge $50,000 a year if my kid can learn it all free from massive open online courses?”

You may think this MOOCs revolution is hyped, but my driver in Boston disagrees. You see, I was picked up at Logan Airport by my old friend Michael Sandel, who teaches the famous Socratic, 1,000-student “Justice” course at Harvard, which is launching March 12 as the first humanities offering on the M.I.T.-Harvard edX online learning platform…

Sandel had just lectured in Seoul in an outdoor amphitheater to 14,000 people, with audience participation. His online Justice lectures, with Chinese subtitles, have already had more than 20 million views on Chinese Web sites, which prompted The China Daily to note that “Sandel has the kind of popularity in China usually reserved for Hollywood movie stars and N.B.A. players.”

O.K., not every professor will develop a global following, but the MOOCs revolution, which will go through many growing pains, is here and is real. These were my key take-aways from the conference:

Learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know. And therefore it will not pay for a C+ in chemistry, just because your state college considers that a passing grade and was willing to give you a diploma that says so. We’re moving to a more competency-based world where there will be less interest in how you acquired the competency — in an online course, at a four-year-college or in a company-administered class — and more demand to prove that you mastered the competency.

Um, okay.  First here, how do we determine that you have “mastered the competency”?  A professor gives and grades a test.  That’s not just watching youtube, baby.  How else are you supposed to prove your competency.  Go to your potential employer, tell her you watched a ton of youtube videos on chemistry and say, “go ahead, ask me anything about chemistry!”?  But, it’s this next bit where Friedman really drives me nuts:

 There seemed to be a strong consensus that this “blended model” combining online lectures with a teacher-led classroom experience was the ideal. Last fall, San Jose State used the online lectures and interactive exercises of M.I.T.’s introductory online Circuits and Electronics course. Students would watch the M.I.T. lectures and do the exercises at home, and then come to class, where the first 15 minutes were reserved for questions and answers with the San Jose State professor [emphasis mine], and the last 45 were devoted to problem solving and discussion.

This ”blended model” has been around for a while and is in use all over the place, MOOCs or no MOOC’s.  It’s more commonly called “flipping the classroom.”  Obviously, I’m not bold enough to do it myself, but I certainly see it’s value.   But here’s the thing, it uses students viewing recorded lectures on their own time to free up classroom time with the professor to more fully engage with and take a deep dive into the material with an emphasis on student problem solving.  That’s great.  But the key here is not that the students watched a video, but that they work together to problem solve and come to knowledge with the guidance of a professor.  And that’s got nothing to do with a MOOC!

If you want to learn about something and watch a bunch of youtube videos on the topic.  Great.  Good for you.  Let’s just not pretend that’s remotely the equivalent of an actual college education.  Nor even remotely the equivalent of my own small on-line class where students interact with me on-line every week and take tests graded by me and get course grades assigned by me, that are a pretty good indication of whether or not they’ve learned the material.

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