Video of the day

Found this video about idiosyncacies of the US-Canadian border bizarrely compelling:

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Connecting the dots on mental health

Great post from Tomasky on the attempted murder/successful suicide by the son of former VA Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Creigh Deeds.

It’s quite rare that a public tragedy allows us to connect dots this clearly, but the horrifying case of Gus Deeds stabbing his father, Virginia politician Creigh Deeds, is one such case. We begin with this sentence, from the Richmond Times-Dispatchaccount of the incident:

The son was evaluated Monday at Bath Community Hospital, Cropper said, but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia.

Hmmm. And why would that be so? Just one of those things? The usual pre-Thanksgiving rush? Not really. As Think Progress notes, the likely culprit here is that Virginia cut funding for psychiatric beds by 15 percent between 2005 and 2010. Certainly, 2005 would mean the cuts started under Democratic governors—first Mark Warner, and then Tim Kaine. They continued under current GOP Governor Bob “Rolex” McDonnell, who then proposed even deeper cuts last year.

What’s going on in Virginia is going on nationally. Try this statistic on for a shocker. The per capita state psychiatric bed population in 2010 in the United States was identical to the figure for 1850. Yes, 1850, around when the very idea of caring for mentally ill people first started! Then and now, the number 14.1 beds per 100,000 population…

But this morning, we know this. Gus Deeds should have been in a psychiatric ward yesterday. That he was not, as I noted above, was a bipartisan failure. But it sure would be nice to see a bipartisan success for a change—Republicans joining Democrats to do more for mentally ill people. They could start with the new law that’s doing more on this front than pretty much any in our history, but of course they’re just going to vote another 50 times to repeal it.

It is truly truly shameful how we (don’t treat) mental health in this country.  A real shame that it takes a horrible incident like this to bring some much-needed attention.  Sadly, I expect attention will die away before any meaningful policy changes are made.

Photo of the day

Bob A sent me a link to these amazing photos of mosaiculture— sculpture out of living plants.  Click the link to learn more or to see more awesome examples like this:

Horses  and  Sheep Dog.  The dog is very famous in Japan and everyone knows him.
He accompanied his master to the railroad station ever morning when the man went
to work, and then the dog met him again in the evening.  When the man died, the dog 
continued meeting the train twice every day for ten years until he died.  He is made up
of various decorative grasses.  The horses’ manes are also made of grasses.
The horses are twice the size of a normal horse; the dog is 8 feet high.
Lady  and  Cranes  /  Chinese  Myth.   The lady is about 35 feet high.

Paul Ryan anti-poverty crusader

I also really like Drum’s take on the Post piece detailing how Paul Ryan really, really wants to fight poverty:

For the life of me, I can’t figure out the media’s love affair with Ryan. Sure, he’s young, fit, good looking, and he’s not a screamer. He’s also a smart guy who understands the details of the federal budget. But everything he’s ever done—everything—boils down to a single sentence: reduce taxes on the rich and reduce spending on the poor. That’s it. There’s literally nothing else he’s ever seriously proposed.  [emphasis mine]

It doesn’t even take much digging to figure out that this is what he’s saying. You only have to be barely numerate, just enough to draw the obvious conclusions from his budget proposals (conclusions that he’s very careful not to draw himself). When you do that, you find that his budgets always propose lower taxes and lower domestic spending.Much lower. How is it that so many people seem so willing to pretend otherwise?

Paul Ryan– living proof that you can fool most of the people most of the time.

Bigger classes with better teachers

The evidence that smaller classes are better is actually pretty modest.  Certainly when we’re talking smaller classes anywhere near what a school system could actually afford.  The evidence that high quality teachers are better is quite strong.  The obvious solution?  Forget small classes– put more students in class with the best teachers.  I seem to recall Yglesias mentioning this before, and now there’s a new study that makes the case, as detailed in this Atlantic piece:

When it comes to student success, “smaller is better” has been the conventional wisdom on class size, despite a less-than-persuasive body of research. But what if that concept were turned on its head, with more students per classroom – provided they’re being taught by the most effective teachers?

That’s the question a new study out today from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute set out to answer, using data on teachers and students in North Carolina in grades 4 through 8 over four academic years…

The research on class size is mixed, and modest efforts–taking one or two students out of a room with more than 20 kids, for example–haven’t been found to yield much benefit on average. The enormous expense of paring classes down to the point where research has suggested there’s a measurable benefit for some students is simply beyond the fiscal means of most districts. As a result, everyone from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to philanthropist Bill Gates has urged districts to consider waiving class size policies in favor of giving more students a chance at being taught by a highly effective teacher…

Among the school-level findings:

  • At the eighth-grade level, assigning up to 12 more students to the strongest teachers could produce learning gains that were equal to 2.5 weeks of additional instruction (gains were more modest at the fifth-grade level).
  • Schools could see 75 percent of that gain just by moving six students, suggesting drastic class size increases aren’t necessarily required.
  • Moving a few students to the top-performing eighth-grade teachers could produce gains equivalent to removing the bottom 5 percent of teachers.

These findings are based on statistical models, rather than an actual experiment.  Seems to me there’s a difficult question in how you actually go about implementing this.  If the best teachers all get significantly more students, they will certainly need significantly more pay, among other things.

On a quasi-related note, Kevin Drum points out that more high-quality students (as measured by SAT scores) are now going into teaching.  This is definitely a good thing, but perhaps a fluke of our bad economy.  One thing is for sure, though, if we genuinely want to improve education we have to work much harder to get more high-quality people into teaching and that starts by treating, respecting, and compensating them like real professionals.

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