Mega quick hits (part II)

1) I find this case of the Indiana woman charged with feticide to pretty fascinating.

2) The inefficiency of smaller government through tax breaks.

3) Headlines says it well, “Republicans have new plan to cut taxes for top 0.2%”  Priorities!

4) The Blackpoll Warbler weighs only 4 ounces.  Scientists have now confirmed it nonetheless flies 1700 miles nonstop over ocean.  Amazing!

5) Alabama’s former top judge pens a scathing indictment of our system of judicial elections.  Of all the wrongness in American democracy, judicial elections are certainly near the top.

6) I love the THX audio logo.  Therefore I loved this history of it.

7) I was quite interested to learn that alcohol taxes have gone way down because they are not indexed to inflation.  That’s bad, as it means more people will die from alcohol:

From a public health perspective, alcohol taxes are important. “Quite simply, alcohol taxation and other measures that increase the price of ethanol are effective in promoting the public health and safety, ” writes Duke University’s Philip J. Cook in his 2007 book Paying the Tab. “Higher prices are conducive to lower rates of underage drinking, traffic fatalities, and sexually transmitted disease.”

The logic here is simple. Higher taxes make alcohol more expensive. More expensive alcohol makes people drink less of it. And when people are drinking less, they’re less likely to suffer costly health problems or do stupid things like drive drunk.

8) For all those predicting the utter failure and doom of Obamacare, it’s not easy to be so wrong.  Chait on their dilemma.

9) Never thought I’d be linking the American Conservative, but good for them for a nice summary on why police brutality is systemic, not anecdotal.

10) California is taking a more sane approach to sex offenders.  Alas, given how politically toxic this issue is, we should not expect much of a spread in the sanity.

11) How to hire like Google does.

12) Fred Kaplan on why the Iran nuclear deal is a very good deal.

13) Big New York magazine feature on Hillary’s 2016 run that totally brings the political science.  Going into my course readings next semester.

14) The North Carolina legislature’s efforts to take over local politics finds its way into the NYT.

15) Why paid sick leave is good policy and how it is actually making some progress in Washington.

16) Denmark’s policy reserves antibiotics for sick pigs, rather than giving them to whole herds.  Would be nice if we could do the same.  And, if you think this would make our pork cost too much, nope:

Researchers at Iowa State University ran numbers to determine what it would cost American pork producers to put a Danish-style control system in place. The total was only $4.50 per animal, less than three cents more for a pound of pork — a pittance if it means keeping antibiotics that save human lives effective.

17) Apparently my ears are somewhere between 40 and 50 years old.  Good, because so is the rest of me.

18) Why does college cost so much anyway?  Sorry, no simple answers.

19) Connor Friedersdorf on how Rolling Stone’s UVA rape article violated the most simple, basic standards of journalism in pursuit of a good story.

Said Rosen, “None of those schools felt quite right. What kind of ‘feel’ is this? It’s feeling for a fit between discovered story and a prior—given—narrative.” What if, he argued, “a single, emblematic college rape case” does not exist? “Maybe the hunt for such was ill-conceived from the start,” he wrote. “Maybe that’s the wrong way for Rolling Stone to have begun.” And I think he is correct that searching for confirmation of a preexisting narrative is a common problem in narrative journalism generally and a factor that led Rolling Stone astray here.

Still, there is one sense in which Erdely’s account of her process seems dubious to me. The story of a fraternity that used gang rape as an initiation ritual for pledges would obviously be worth exposing if it were true. But no one familiar with the reality of rape on college campuses should’ve construed such a story as emblematic of the problem. Gang rapes absolutely happen. As Robby Soavenotes, Rolling Stone could’ve easily written a story about one that happened at Vanderbilt.

19) Chait also draws some interesting conclusions on the matter:

One of the peculiar, unexamined assumptions is that fraternity members are capable not only of loutishness or even rape, which is undeniable, but the sort of routine, systematized torture we would normally associate with serial killers or especially brutal regimes. The story describes a gang rape as a fraternity initiation ritual, complete with members referring to their victim as “it,” the way Buffalo Bill dehumanized his captive in Silence of the Lambs.

You don’t need to feel much affinity for Greek culture — I certainly don’t — to question whether depravity on this scale is plausible. It’s the sort of error that could only be produced in an atmosphere of unquestioned loathing. Caitlin Flanagan, who has reported extensively on the pathology of fraternity culture, told Hanna Rosin that Rolling Stone’s gang rape scene beggared belief. But Flanagan and Rosin have both offended the left in different ways, so their skepticism merely served to convince Rolling Stone’s defenders that the story’s skeptics were motivated by anti-feminism:

Yep.  I remember finding this story somewhat incredible when first reading it, but didn’t actually want to say so for this very reason.

20) Needle exchange programs are great policy.  Too bad too many politicians are convinced that they are encouraging drug use, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Mega quick hits (part I)

Your long overdue quick hits.  My apologies.

1) Given the role of wealthy donors in politics, it should be no surprise that across the political spectrum, all politicians are largely in step with the desires of the wealthy.

2) An 1000 year old Anglo-Saxon recipe for eye infection treatment actually works.

3) If you want to learn what you take notes on, do it by hand, not a laptop.

4) Among the many subtle ways we abuse our prisoners, is gouging them and their families for the costs of keeping in touch via phone call.  It’s just wrong.  Maybe there’s change afoot.

5) Interesting Wired piece on the war over the health risks of vaping.  It’s clearly better to vape than to smoke and clearly better to do neither.  Can’t we leave it at that?

6) It’s died down for the moment, but Chris Kromm on why North Carolina’s proposed RFRA is even worse than Indiana’s.  Will be interesting to see if this comes back here.

7) The simple rule to prevent the next Gerrmanwings disaster– two personnel in the cockpit at all  times.  Period.

8) Men in Quebec who took advantage of a “daddy only” quota for parental leave were doing 23% more housework and child care years after actually taking the leave.  Clearly, we need more of these policies.

9) Multiple servings of red meat per day seems to be not good for you.  But if it’s less than that, it’s probably not harming you at all, so don’t sweat it.

10) Ian Millhiser argues that the Supreme Court is (and continues to be) a “malign force in American history.”

11) Adam Davidson sums up the economic evidence on “job-stealing immigrants.”  Short version: there’s a near-consensus among economists that immigrants are not taking jobs Americans would otherwise be doing.

12) I enjoyed this “personality habit” quiz at the NYT.  Apparently I’m a “questioner.”

Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they meet only inner expectations. Once Questioners believe that a particular habit is worthwhile, they’ll stick to it—but only if they’re satisfied about the habit’s soundness and usefulness. They resist anything arbitrary or ineffective; they accept direction only from people they respect. Questioners may exhaust themselves (and other people) with their relentless questioning, and they sometimes find it hard to act without perfect information. If you’re thinking, “Well, right now I question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework,” yep, you’re probably a Questioner!

13) Is there anything that’s fair to poor parents and families?  Not truancy laws, writes Dana Goldstein.

14) Jon Cohn makes not a bad case that Rand Paul’s medical specialty helps to explain his politics:

The split [specialists as Republicans; generalists as Democrats] makes sense if you understand the very different work these doctors perform — and the money they get paid for it. Specialists’ clinical interactions tend to be episodic: A surgeon called in to remove a gall bladder, repair a ligament or install a stent is probably meeting his or her patient for the first time — and may have little contact, or even none at all, with that patient once the procedure and rehabilitation are over. Such encounters may reinforce a

14) What not to worry about in teaching pre-school children how to read?  You mean other than the fact that you are an obsessive parent if you are worried about this?  Just read to your kids.

15) I first learned about Pantones in a Duke magazine article about “Duke blue” years ago and found the concept fascinating.  Loved this NYT story on the subtle difference in pantone between Duke blue and Kentucky blue.

16) The victim of a false rape accusation at UVA tells his story.  Yes, of course the vast majority of rape accusations are truthful; but that doesn’t mean we universities should be denying due process to the accused.

17) Chait on why conservatives hate the Iran deal.  Because they hate all deals.

18) No, tax cuts still don’t pay for themselves.  And, yes, laughably, Arthur Laffer is still an economic guru in the Republican party despite his ideas being completely discredited among serious economists.

19) If you consider our micribiome, you can forget about humans and chimps being 98% similar.

20) Enjoyed this Marketplace story on how German universities control costs.  (No climbing walls, among other things; and no beloved sports teams).

Retaining teachers

Excellent NPR story on the problems of teacher retention.  Every year, nearly half of all teachers change schools or leave the profession and in a purely financial sense, that’s super costly.  It’s almost surely sub-optimal for our students as well.  Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of research about what retains teachers, but there is some.  And quite importantly, it very much validates what we know are features of the teaching profession in higher-performing countries.  As, I’ve written numerous times before, we need to value teachers as professionals.  That means more pay and more autonomy (autonomy is especially important to job satisfaction and a major reason I have such an awesome job).  It also means more collaboration and more meaningful mentoring.  Some key points from an interview with education researcher Richard Ingersoll:

What are some of the important factors driving the decision to stay or leave?

One of the main factors is the issue of voice, and having say, and being able to to have input into the key decisions in the building that affect a teacher’s job. This is something that is a hallmark of professions. It’s something that teachers usually have very little of, but it does vary across schools and it’s very highly correlated with the decision whether to stay or leave.

I’ve worked with these data a lot going back last couple of decades. Where nationally, large samples of teachers are asked, “How much say does the faculty collectively have?” And, “How much leeway do you have in your classroom over a series of issues?” It turns out both levels are really important for decisions whether to stay or to part. And what’s interesting about this finding [is that] this would not cost money to fix. This is an issue of management…

What can schools specifically do to address the problem of teacher turnover?

One growing genre of initiatives is the idea of supporting beginning teachers. Beginning teachers have the highest turnover rates. We generated data over a decade ago showing somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of those that go into teaching are gone within five years.

The term “induction” is often used for beginning teachers in the first couple of years. To help them learn the ropes and get better and survive. The percentage of teachers that get some kind of induction has doubled over the last couple of decades. So that’s one example of trying to pay attention to retention instead of just ignoring it.

And plenty more good stuff.  What’s really encouraging to me, is that more and more people seem to be figuring out what it really takes (i.e., not “accountability” based on student test scores) to improve teaching in America.  Of course, we’re a long way off from doing most of us, but I’m cautiously optimistic that the new generation of education reformers will eventually be moving us in the right direction.

The real value of higher education

Recently, there was a great Op-Ed by UNC system president Tom Ross.  He does such a good job laying out the real value of higher education that you can see why the Republican-dominated UNC Board of Governors decided a “new direction” was needed.  Obviously, the only real value of higher ed is to create worker-drones for specific jobs that will surely stay static over a lifetime.  Ross:

We increasingly view our colleges and universities as nothing more than factories that must demonstrate an immediate return on investment for consumers. Places that only train people for the workforce. We hear constant calls to drive out costs and produce more product at less cost. There is far less talk about academic quality and excellence and more about operational efficiency. We seem to measure the value of education to our students only in immediate post-graduation earnings. Again, I am all for accountability and efficiency, but if that is our sole focus, we may fail to provide the return on investment that is perhaps most valuable for our students – the ability to think, reason and communicate more effectively… [emphases mine]

In some significant measure, our nation has been great because our higher education system has been the best in the world. Our colleges and universities have been the foundation of our democratic society. We have produced talent that remained productive over a lifetime – not because of particular skills taught, not because of preparation for a specific job, but instead because our students acquired the ability to analyze, work with others, understand our world, communicate effectively and appreciate the value of learning throughout one’s life. It is this creative, innovative, adaptable talent that has been our competitive advantage against the world.

Today, however, America’s societal commitment to investing in higher education appears to have eroded. We now spend about 2 percent more on higher education in real dollars than we spent 25 years ago, even though enrollment in our universities and colleges has grown by over 60 percent during that period. We spend about 30 percent less per student today than we did 25 years ago. As a nation, we are disinvesting in higher education, and we are beginning to pay the price.

Great stuff!  If you care about higher ed, you really should read the whole thing.  Meanwhile, Duke Professor Jedidiah Purdy has a nice piece in the New Yorker outlining the “Ayn Rand” approach to higher ed that the Republicans leading our state would like to take:

For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”…

Some version of a cost-benefit calculus for learning is inevitable in a precarious economy with expensive, debt-funded education. But to reconceive of public universities as the meeting place of two markets—students investing in their own “human capital” and private investors looking to influence curricula—is another thing altogether. The point of humanities education is to foster independent, critical thought and broad historical perspective, both in students and in university culture. A successful humanities education makes the obvious questionable and shows that the present is neither eternal nor inevitable. These are not goals designed to pass market tests or bend to the ideologies of wealthy donors.

And, as long as I’m at it, Fareed Zakaria with a nice piece on how we have come to “dangerously” over-value STEM education (I admit to being a little bit guilty of this myself):

This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy…

Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.

Strong case.  Of course, I’d argue for more social science and less humanities :-).  Regardless, I’m not about about to under-value STEM education.  It’s great and super-worthwhile.  And so is having some university degrees that lead clearly and directly to in-demand jobs.  But it seems pretty clear to me that devaluing an actual liberal arts education is not the way to go.

Quick hits (part II)

1) This nice post from the Economist on how females are out-classing males in education throughout the developed world has been sitting open in my browser deserving it’s own post for too long.  So, here it is.

2) Jamelle Bouie makes a good case that Patty Murray should be the next Democratic leader in the Senate.

3) Republicans of late have been suggesting they actually care about inequality. John Cassidy just says follow the money in their latest proposed budget:

As long as a Democrat occupies the White House, there’s practically no chance that G.O.P. spending cuts will be enacted, marking the Price budget as more of a political wish list than an actual funding bill. But wish lists matter, too, especially for a Party that is supposedly trying to change its public image. And in 2015, it seems, the most that the Republicans can hope for is to shower more gifts on the wealthiest households in America, while depriving poor families of health care, food stamps, and college tuition.

4) So apparently “the left” has a problem with Mark Kleiman’s great idea for prison reform.  I’m very much with Kleiman.  It’s good to have people suggesting we need to radically re-think our incarceration nation, but I’m not a big fan of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.  And Kleiman’s proposals would be a very good improvement.

5) Back to John Cassidy as I enjoyed his take on Ted Cruz.   Also, I have to say that Cruz’s “imagine a world without the IRS” is just preposterous pandering to the most ignorant.  So, is that a world without any federal income tax (how does that work?) or a world where people get to cheat on their taxes with impunity (ask Greece how well that works out)?

6) I was just commenting in class the other day how the NFL is a model of socialism.

7) Philip Gourevetich sure knows how to write about tragedy (he wrote the definitive book on the Rwandan genocide), so he certainly has a thoughtful commentary on the recent horrible air crash tragedy.

8) As if our completely over-reliance on prison isn’t enough, we make life way too hard for former prisoners to get jobs.  Most importantly, we’re pretty stupid about what the statistics actually show:

Consider that over-reliance on background checks inevitably screens out qualified, trustworthy job applicants. More than one in four adults in America has a criminal record, and the vast majority of them currently pose no threat to public safety and will not go on to commit crimes in the future: Most recidivism occurs within three years of an arrest, and beyond that point, recidivism rates begin to decrease so dramatically that a criminal record no longer indicates that a person is more likely to be arrested than someone without a record. At the same time, some individuals who commit violent crimes—such as the San Francisco Uber driver charged with attacking a passenger with a hammer—have no prior criminal record that would show up on a background check.

9) America’s police kill way too many people. It doesn’t have to be this way.  And a great Vox interview with an enlightened police chief on how we need to change police training and culture so less people needlessly die.

10) With all the focus on the corrupting potential of money in campaigns, it’s easy to overlook the hugely distorting effects of all the money in lobbying.

If only we threatened public schools more!

It was education policy this week in Public Policy.  A nice reminder that so much of American education “reform” is based on vague notions of “running education like a business” and ignoring the fact that the dozens of nations that out-perform us do nothing of the sort.  Educating K-12 is very little like running a business.  Anyway, as further evidence, the latest proposal from (one of the most odious legislators) from here in NC gets an appropriately scathing review from Rob Schofield:

For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools… [emphasis mine]

After that, who knows where such an innovative idea might lead? Maybe North Carolina could enact a law that forces prisons to pay for the cost of recidivism or perhaps one that cuts the environmental protection budget each time there’s a coal ash spill. How about a law that docks legislators’ pay for poor state job growth? Yeah, that’s the ticket!

The in-all-seriousness bottom line: North Carolina is never going to make any progress in improving its public education system through a threat-based “big stick” model. The only real, long-term solution is to abandon such “divide and conquer” policies based on blame, recognize the complexity of situations like the issue of college remediation and move forward with the understanding that we are all responsible for educating our children and all in the public education business together.

Now, I don’t actually think this absurd idea will become law (but who knows with this legislature), but the fact that this passes as education reform for one of the state’s more powerful legislators is scary enough and shows that the guys running this state either 1) don’t have a clue as to how to actually improve education, or 2) don’t actually care.  Sadly, I fear it’s both.

Campus liberalism amok

Well, damn, if this isn’t the stuff that gives academia and liberalism a bad name.  Somehow, there’s been an idea spreading among certain college campuses that you should never be made to feel “uncomfortable.”  Yikes.  Great piece from Judith Shulevitz in the NYT:

The safe space, Ms. Byron explained, was intended to give people who might find comments “troubling” or “triggering,” a place to recuperate. The room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma. Emma Hall, a junior, rape survivor and “sexual assault peer educator” who helped set up the room and worked in it during the debate, estimates that a couple of dozen people used it. At one point she went to the lecture hall — it was packed — but after a while, she had to return to the safe space. “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs,” Ms. Hall said. [emphasis mine]

Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being “bombarded” by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints. Think of the safe space as the live-action version of the better-known trigger warning, a notice put on top of a syllabus or an assigned reading to alert students to the presence of potentially disturbing material.

Yowza.  A college student forced to face viewpoints which challenge her closely held beliefs?!  What horrors are next?

But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer…

I’m old enough to remember a time when college students objected to providing a platform to certain speakers because they were deemed politically unacceptable. Now students worry whether acts of speech or pieces of writing may put them in emotional peril…

But plenty of others at universities are willing to dignify students’ fears, citing threats to their stability as reasons to cancel debates, disinvite commencement speakers and apologize for so-called mistakes.

The piece is full of jaw-dropping example after example, so it’s hard to pick just one (really, read it), but this one is pretty representative:

Last fall, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, apologized for causing students and faculty to be “hurt” when she failed to object to a racial epithet uttered by a fellow panel member at an alumnae event in New York. The offender was the free-speech advocate Wendy Kaminer, who had been arguing against the use of the euphemism “the n-word” when teaching American history or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In the uproar that followed, the Student Government Association wrote a letter declaring that “if Smith is unsafe for one student, it is unsafe for all students.”

“It’s amazing to me that they can’t distinguish between racist speech and speech about racist speech, between racism and discussions of racism,” Ms. Kaminer said in an email.

I love this take:

The confusion is telling, though. It shows that while keeping college-level discussions “safe” may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and for everyone else. People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled. What will they do when they hear opinions they’ve learned to shrink from? If they want to change the world, how will they learn to persuade people to join them? [emphasis mine]

I’m not there to make my students feel safe or comfortable (not that I at all seek their fear or discomfort, mind you); my job is to help them learn to think critically and analytically.  And a big part of that is grappling with ideas you may disagree with in an intellectually honest manner.  That may be uncomfortable at times, but welcome to life and actually getting something meaningful out of your college education.  Those that would be subjective safety and comfort above all other values do a huge disservice to the actual mission of universities.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 619 other followers

%d bloggers like this: