1. One of my favorite bands -- Eisley, whose dreamy melodic pop-rock sounds I first heard in a Barnes and Noble in 2005 -- has its fourth full-length album coming out later in May. The full album can be pre-ordered and previewed here. One of the songs:
2. Chvrches (pronounced "Churches"). From Glasgow, Scotland, this band has yet to release its first album. This song, with its 80's electronic sound, is insanely catchy:
3. Animal Kingdom has a new video from their new album:
4. Matthew Koma's "Parachute":
5. One of my favorite vocalists is Marc Martel, who has been headlining the Queen Extravaganza. Roger Taylor of Queen says that Martel's voice bears an "uncanny" resemblance to Freddie Mercury, which is an opinion shared by just about anyone who hears Martel's renditions of Queen songs. Martel has a solo EP out. Sample song (with a jaw-dropping high note in the passage starting at 2:28):
6. I've been enjoying the new Shiny Toy Guns album:
7. Travis has a brand-new video. I've liked this band ever since I saw the video for "Why Does It Always Rain on Me", probably on Fuse, back in 2000 or so.
But if humans really do feel things most intensely during adolescence, and if, at this same developmental moment, they also happen to be working out an identity for the first time—“sometimes morbidly, often curiously, preoccupied with what they appear to be in the eyes of others as compared with what they feel they are,” as the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson wrote—then it seems safe to say this: Most American high schools are almost sadistically unhealthy places to send adolescents.
Until the Great Depression, the majority of American adolescents didn’t even graduate from high school. Once kids hit their teen years, they did a variety of things: farmed, helped run the home, earned a regular wage. Before the banning of child labor, they worked in factories and textile mills and mines. All were different roads to adulthood; many were undesirable, if not outright Dickensian. But these disparate paths did arguably have one virtue in common: They placed adolescent children alongside adults. They were not sequestered as they matured.
Now teens live in a biosphere of their own. In their recent book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, psychologists Joseph and Claudia Worrell Allen note that teenagers today spend just 16 hours per week interacting with adults and 60 with their cohort. One century ago, it was almost exactly the reverse.
Something happens when children spend so much time apart from adult company. They start to generate a culture with independent values and priorities. James Coleman, a renowned mid-century sociologist, was among the first to analyze that culture in his seminal 1961 work, The Adolescent Society,and he wasn’t very impressed. “Our society has within its midst a set of small teen-age societies,” he wrote, “which focus teen-age interests and attitudes on things far removed from adult responsibilities.”
Yes, his words were prudish, but many parents have had some version of these misgivings ever since, especially those who’ve consciously opted not to send their kids into the Roman amphitheater. (From the website of the National Home Education Network: “Ironically, one of the reasons many of us have chosen to educate our own is precisely this very issue of socialization! Children spending time with individuals of all ages more closely resembles real life than does a same-age school setting.”)
In fact, one of the reasons that high schools may produce such peculiar value systems is precisely because the people there have little in common, except their ages. “These are people in a large box without any clear, predetermined way of sorting out status,” says Robert Faris, a sociologist at UC Davis who’s spent a lot of time studying high-school aggression. “There’s no natural connection between them.” Such a situation, in his view, is likely to reward aggression. Absent established hierarchies and power structures (apart from the privileges that naturally accrue from being an upperclassman), kids create them on their own, and what determines those hierarchies is often the crudest common-denominator stuff—looks, nice clothes, prowess in sports—rather than the subtleties of personality.
January 20, 2013 at 8:36 pm
Although “liberal” on most political issues, my personal experience strongly supports tracking — based on ability to do the work — as common sense and heterogenous classes as creating unnecessary obstacles to effective instruction.
Common sense says that students in a class will learn much more if a teacher teaches a subject at a single level for 60 minutes rather than three similar subjects at three different levels for 20 minutes each.
If you’ll forgive a sports analogy, a basketball coach would accomplish much more in a 2-hour practice if all participating players were at roughly the same ability level — high, middle, or low — than if 1/3 were outstanding Division I college basketball players, 1/3 were barely competent high school players, and 1/3 were junior high computer nerds who neither played nor liked basketball.
I acknowledge research demonstrating that low-achieving students do better in heterogenous classes than in classes where everyone is low-achieving. My explanation for this result is that, in most public schools, a class where everyone is low-achieving will suffer from minor but endemic misbehavior that effectively prevents effective instruction and that generates strong peer pressure to join in the misbehavior. If this is so, the solution is to track by academic ability (to maximize teaching efficiency) while implementing classroom management reforms in the low-academic-ability classes (to eliminate the endemic misbehavior).
Heterogenous classes minimize the disruptive effects of the misbehaving students by limiting the number of such students in any given class. However, this approach to the problem (of high concentrations of misbehaving students disrupting classes) necessarily increases the number of misbehaving students in those classes that, if tracked based on academic ability, would have relatively few misbehaving students.
In the low-SES-area schools, particularly in the inner-city schools, there are so many potentially misbehaving students relative to the number of likely well-behaved students, that spreading the misbehaving students evenly among all classes has the effect of creating endemic misbehavior in all the classes. Hence the flight of concerned/functional parents from these schools to the charters (and the mediocre test scores in all the classes).
Bottom line: Track by academic ability, but simultaneously implement reforms in the low-academic-ability classes to minimize misbehavior. (Probably, the best way to minimize misbehavior would be to implement reforms starting in pre-K that improved reading/vocabulary for students from low-SES families, so that school would not be so frustrating — but that’s another long comment.)
Here's my James Randi challenge to educators: Thinking Skills don't exist, at least, not in the way we are led to believe. Despite the fact that many schools like to flush precious resources on Thinking Skills days, they only serve to give teachers the illusion of what is often, terrifyingly called 'deep learning' (God save us). They are the phantom limbs of learning. They are a quite perfect waste of time, which is bad enough in the schools of the middle classes, but disastrous for any child who already starts with an economic disadvantage. . . .
As with most abstract, abstruse objectives of well-meant but essentially misguided reformers, demonstrating this in the concrete is the way to dispel smoke and shatter mirrors. Let's pick a skill. Say you want a child to become more discerning in understanding the veracity of historical sources. You start them off by teaching them...well, some history, just to be controversial. Then you offer them a variety of sources. The next bit's guaranteed to blow a few gaskets: then you tell them which source is better, and why. You heard me. Teach them. Don't fanny about getting them to thought shower it in discovery clusters; tell them.
Then work through more examples at the same time as you teach them the most accurate stories you can impart. Start asking them which sources are most attractive, and get them to justify their answers.
Eventually they develop the abilities you are looking for, but none of it happens without the dissemination of facts: facts about what happened, facts about which sources support the narrative; facts about which source is virtuous, and which vicious.
Knowledge is best learned in context. Context is a web of knowledge placed in an appropriate order. Children need to be told this stuff, otherwise you condemn them to perpetually repeat the efforts of the past. Which is fine, if you want culture and science to freeze at exactly the point at which you started this pointless, precious project.
These skills can't be taught, separately from content. They certainly can't be assessed on it. We don't even know what they are. They can't be meaningfully demonstrated without the possession of knowledge. Let's stop wasting time teaching something as tangible as Tinkerbell, and invest the time our children so desperately need on things they need to know. Let them deal with the thinking. They're fine on their own with that bit.
Suppose you fly in a plane. What is more important for you: the pilot's real competence or his papers that certify he is competent? Or suppose you get sick and need medical treatment. What is more important for you: your doctor's real competence or his diploma? Of course, in every case the real competence is more important.
But last year I met a large group of people whose priorities were exactly the opposite: my students. Not all, but many. Their first priority was to get papers that certify that they are competent rather than to develop real competence. As soon as I started to explain to them something that was a little bit beyond the standard courses, they asked suspiciously: "Will this be on the test?" If I said, "no," they did not listen any more and showed clearly that I was doing something inappropriate.
I had to learn also that American students want to be told exactly from the very beginning of the course what percentage of the total score comes from homework, from tests, and from quizzes. First I thought that it was some nonsense, as if I were requested to predict how many commas and colons I would use in a paper I was going to write. But later I understood that these percentages make sense for those students who do not care about the subject and take a course just to get a grade with minimal learning.
. . . It seems to be generally taken for granted that students nominally learn as little as possible for a certain grade. Only by a misunderstanding may they learn more, and when this happens due to an undetailed syllabus, they blame the teacher like people who blame an official whose neglect caused them a loss.
It is the basic principle of the market that everybody tries to get as much as possible and to pay as little as possible. There is nothing wrong with this: When I buy something, I try to save money, and everybody does the same. What is wrong is that some students apply the same rule to learning: They seem to think that they BUY grades and PAY for them by learning. And they try to PAY as little as possible! In other words, some students seem to think that it is a loss whenever they learn something. This looks crazy when put in such straightforward terms, but there are students who behave as if they think this way.
James Kwak writes here about Baumol's cost disease in health care and other industries. Along the way, he makes a point that seems misleading:
Baumol’s argument, somewhat simplified, goes like this: Over time, average productivity in the economy rises. In some industries, automation and technology make productivity rise rapidly, producing higher real wages (because a single person can make a lot more stuff). But by definition, there most be some industries where productivity rises more slowly than the average. The classic example has been live classical music: it takes exactly as many person-hours to play a Mozart quartet today as it did two hundred years ago. You might be able to make a counterargument about the impact of recorded music, but the general point still holds. One widely cited example is education, where class sizes have stayed roughly constant for decades (and many educators think they should be smaller, not larger). Another is health care, where technology has vastly increased the number of possible treatments, but there is no getting around the need for in-person doctors and nurses.
The problem is that in those industries with slow productivity growth, real wages also have to rise; otherwise you couldn’t attract people to become classical musicians, teachers, or nurses.
But as Jay Greene points out in this Wall Street Journal piece, real wages for teachers have grown by only 11% over the last 40 years. A more significant reason that K-12 education is more expensive today is that it employs 50% more people:
In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.
Research reports in the literature are frequently flawed by conclusions that state or imply that the null hypothesis is true. For example, following the finding that the difference between two sample means is not statistically significant, instead of properly concluding from this failure to reject the null hypothesis that the data do not warrant the conclusion that the population means differ, the writer concludes, at least implicitly, that there is no difference. The latter conclusion is always strictly invalid.
Jacob Cohen. 1988. Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. 2d ed. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. p. 16
In a story often thought to be apocryphal, Morgenstern and Einstein accompanied Godel to his naturalization hearing, with amusing results. It turns out that in 1971, Morgenstern typed up his recollection of the day. The PDF is available here, but here is a transcript for greater legibility:
was in 1946 that Gödelwas to become an American citizen. He asked me to be his witness and as the other witness, he proposed Albert Einstein who also gladly consented. Einstein and I occasionally met and were full of anticipation as to what would happen during this time prior to the naturalization proceedings themselves and even during those.
Gödel whom I have seen of course time and again in the months before this event began
to go in a thorough manner to prepare himself properly. Since he is a very
thorough man, he started informing himself about the history of the settlement
of North America by human beings. That led gradually to the study of the
History of American Indians, their various tribes, etc. He called me many times
on the phone to get literature which he diligently perused. There were many
questions raised gradually and of course many doubts brought forth as to
whether these histories really were correct and what peculiar circumstances
were revealed in them.
that, Gödelgradually over the next weeks proceeded to study American history,
concentrating in particular on matters of constitutional law. That also led him
into the study of Princeton, and he wanted to know from me in particular where
the borderline was between the borough and the township. I tried to explain
that all this was totally unnecessary, of course, but with no avail. He
persisted in finding out all the facts he wanted to know about and so I
provided him with the proper information, also about Princeton. Then he wanted
to know how the Borough Council was elected, the Township Council, and who the
Mayor was, and how the Township Council functioned. He thought he might be
asked about such matters. If he were to show that he did not know the town in
which he lived, it would make a bad impression.
tried to convince him that such questions never were asked, that most
questions were truly formal and that he would easily answer them; that at most
they might ask what sort of government we have in this country or what the
highest court is called, and questions of this kind. At any rate, he continued with
the study of the Constitution.
came an interesting development. He rather excitedly told me that in looking at
the Constitution, to his distress, he had found some inner contradictions and
that he could show how in a perfectly legal manner it would be possible for
somebody to become a dictator and set up a Fascist regime never intended by
those who drew up the Constitution. I told him that it was most unlikely that
such events would ever occur, even assuming that he was right, which of course
But he was persistent and so we had many talks about this
particular point. I tried to persuade him that he should avoid bringing up such
matters at the examination before the court in Trenton, and I also told
Einstein about it: he was horrified that such an idea had occurred to Gödel,
and he also told him he should not worry about these things nor discuss that matter.
Many months went by and finally the date for the examination in
Trenton came. On that particular day, I picked up Gödel in my car. He sat in
the back and then we went to pick up Einstein at his house on Mercer Street,
and from there we drove to Trenton. While we were driving, Einstein turned
around a little and said, “Now Gödel, are you really well prepared for this examination?” Of course, this remark
upset Gödel tremendously, which was exactly what Einstein intended and he was
greatly amused when he saw the worry on Gödel’s face.
When we came to Trenton, we were ushered into a big room, and
while normally the witnesses are questioned separately from the candidate,
because of Einstein’s appearance, an exception was made and all three of us
were invited to sit down together, Gödel, in the center. The examinor first
asked Einstein and then me whether we thought Gödel would make a good citizen.
We assured him that this would certainly be the case, that he was a
distinguished man, etc.
And then he turned to Gödel and said, Now, Mr. Gödel, where do you
Gödel:Where I come from? Austria.
The examinor:What kind of government did you have
Gödel:It was a republic, but the
constitution was such that it finally was changed into a dictatorship.
The examinor:Oh! This is very bad. This could not
happen in this country.
Gödel:Oh, yes, I can prove it.
So of all the possible questions, just that critical one was asked
by the examinor. Einstein and I were horrified during this exchange; the
examinor was intelligent enough to quickly quieten Gödel and say “Oh God, let’s
not go into this” and broke off the examination at this point, greatly to our
finally left, and as we were walking out towards the elevators, a man came
running after us with a piece of paper and a pen and approached Einstein and
aske him for his autograph. Einstein obliged. When we went down in the
elevator, I turned to Einstein and said, “It must be dreadful to be persecuted
in this fashion by so many people.” Einstein said to me, “You know, this is
just the last remnant of cannibalism.” I was puzzled and said, “How is that?”
He said: “Yes, formerly they wanted your blood, now they want your ink.”
we left, drove back to Princeton, and as we came to the corner of Mercer Street,
I asked Einstein whether he wanted to go to the Institute or home. He said, “Take
me home, my work is not worth anything anyway anymore.” Then he quoted from an
American political song. I unfortunately do not recall the words. I may have it
in my notes and I would certainly recognize it if somebody would suggest the particular phrase.
Then off to Einstein’s home again, and then he turned back one more
toward Gödel, and said, “Now Gödel, this was your last but one examination;” Gödel: “Goodness, is there still another one to come?” and he was already
worried. And then Einstein said, “Gödel, the next examination is whether you
step into your grave.” Gödel: “But Einstein, I don’t step into my grave.” And
then Einstein said, “Gödel, that’s just the joke of it!” and with that he
I drove Gödelhome. Everybody was relieved that this formidable
affair was over; Gödelhad his head free again to go about problems of
philosophy and logic.
1. The great Arkansas band Deas Vail returns with more melodic rock that truly deserves the term "beautiful." Their new EP "The Side Effect" is available here.
This is a band that deserves way more attention than it has gotten -- in terms of creating memorable songs with enthralling vocals, they're better than Coldplay, Keane, etc.
In this song, the chorus explodes with surprising harmonies between the lead vocalist Wes Blaylock and his wife Laura.
2. An 80s flavor: Zulu Winter, "Silver Tongue." This is from the London-based band's first album, which just came out in June.
3. More dance-oriented and electronic than my usual fare, but this guy Matthew Koma has an interesting voice and this song was catchy:
It has by now become fairly well-known that KIPP often has unprecedented success in teaching poor minority urban kids.
Critics are thereby aroused to argue that KIPP's success is explained by selection and attrition, rather than because KIPP is actually doing anything better.
One of Ravitch's correspondents says, "I am sick of hearing the same old KIPP talking points. The issue about KIPP, as well as other 'no excuses' charter schools, is that regardless of incoming scores, the kids with the toughest behaviors and often lowest scores are getting pushed out. . . . there is nothing miraculous about teaching an easier group of kids. Nothing."
Another correspondent says, "I do not think you cherry pick students, but the students who choose to go are different in motivation and peer effects do come in to play." Another (one-note) KIPP opponent says, "It’s not an inherently bad way to operate, providing a setting for motivated and compliant young people from supportive families without the pull of what sociologist Elijah Anderson calls 'the street.'" And in this interview, Ravitch herself is oddly resistant to admitting that KIPP's longer school day could possibly be making even the slightest difference; instead, she says the only lesson to be learned from KIPP is that they "take out the low-performing kids and get high scores."
Here's my counter-argument: It would be one thing to say that part of KIPP's success is due to selection and attrition, maybe even 30% or so. But to suggest that most or all of KIPP's success is due to those factors is actually one of the more racially insensitive things that anyone ever says in mainstream debate. (Or at least it would be, if any of these critics ever had the clarity of thought to specify exactly what percentage of KIPP's success is due to selection/attrition.)
It's unwitting, to be sure; most of the critics haven't thought through the logical implications of what they're saying, and they would sincerely deny being racist in their thoughts or intentions. But even granting their personal good will, what they are saying is full of racially problematic implications. These KIPP critics are effectively saying that poor minority children are incapable of genuinely learning anything more than they already do. If poor minority children seem to be learning more, it can't really be true; there must be some more sinister explanation for what's going on.
To spell this argument out a bit more, one of the key factors behind KIPP's success (and that of some other charter schools) is that they spent substantially more time teaching kids. Angrist, Pathak, and Walters analyzed the success of Boston's urban charter schools in this paper, concluding that "urban charters push their students well beyond ambient non-charter achievement in central cities." They attribute this striking success partly to the extra time that "No Excuses" schools spend:
The average urban charter year lasts 189 days and has a school day of 464 minutes, compared to 183 days and 422 minutes at non-urban schools. The additional time appears to go to increased math and reading instruction; urban schools spend 35 extra minutes per day on math and 40 extra minutes per day on reading. Urban charter schools are also 38 percent more likely to have Saturday school.
Adding that up: (183 days times 42 extra minutes per day) plus (6 extra days times 464 minutes) = 10,470 minutes or 174.5 extra hours per year.
KIPP goes even further: while it's difficult to generalize, KIPP's longer school days, Saturday sessions, and summer sessions can end up spending 400 hours more per year than the other public schools.
Now, it's a paradox that only in education does one find the fundamentally anti-intellectual attitude that spending more time is a bad idea. In any other endeavor in life, everyone knows that practice makes perfect. If you practice the piano 3 hours a day, all else being equal, you'll be better than if you practice one hour a day. If you run 5 miles a day, you'll be a better runner than if you run 3 miles a day.
To be sure, there are obvious qualifications. If you're practicing sloppily and without thinking, extra piano practice might just cement the errors rather than improve your technique. Or if you're running at a snail's pace, you might do better with shorter but more intense runs. So the deliberateness and intensity of practice matters, not just the length.
There are points of diminishing returns as well: if you try to practice the piano 16 hours a day, or run 25 miles a day, you'll end up burned out and injured. But very few of us are in any danger of getting anywhere near those limits as to any activity.
For the vast majority of us, the following is true: as long as you are practicing a skill with a deliberate and thoughtful strategy in mind, more practice is better, with the limit being so much practice that you'll probably never approach it.
Indeed, even KIPP's critics are aware of this principle when their own ox is gored. That is, if the question is the value of Teach for America, whose teachers tend to be fairly young, the same people who criticize KIPP wax eloquent about how much value is obtained by extra years of experience. In other words, KIPP's critics are well aware that more time doing something usually means getting better at it.
So here comes KIPP, saying that it is going to spend 400-600 more hours every year teaching kids, not by having them do inane projects, but by giving them creative and deliberate lessons aimed at getting them to improve at both basic skills and critical thinking.
This allows KIPP students not only to spend extra time on reading and math, but to study all of the other subjects that Diane Ravitch says that she wants in a good curriculum. See what this KIPP teacher says (starting at 2:40 or so):
Transcript: "Our students go to school much more than their peers at traditional public schools. . . . So there's time for study of music, time for study of art, time for them to get extra help from their teachers during office hours."
Now here's the key point: If selection and attrition is what explains KIPP's good results, then that logically means that several hundred extra hours a year being instructed in reading, math, music, art, etc. do NOT explain KIPP's good results. But wait a minute: what does that really mean?
Nothing less than this: several hundred hours a years instructing kids doesn't actually make much difference. Recall that KIPP's critics say that if KIPP's students seem to be learning more, it must be an artifact of how KIPP selects kids and then pushes out the low-performers. In saying that, KIPP's critics are implying, however unwittingly, that no amount of effort or study could possibly get poor urban minorities to learn anything more.
What a depressing and cynical thing to suggest.
So here's the message to KIPP critics: Criticize selection and attrition to the extent that they actually happen, if you like. Argue, if you want, that KIPP's model is so demanding that it's not scalable. But stop being so oblivious to the implications of what you're saying. If your anti-KIPP jealousy drives you to say that selection and attrition are the whole story, then you need to take a breath and rethink your argument. Perhaps you should even acknowledge that it might do some kids some good to spend more time learning.
The kids were drawing circles when Steven told his group about the number pi and how you could use it to calculate the circumference of a circle. One of the girls in the group laughed at him and asked if there was also a number called "cake" and a number called "cookie" and all the kids in his group had a good chortle at his expense. He was quite upset. Of course there was no teacher around. The teacher introduced the math concept about two months later. No one said anything about it to Steven.
Constructivism brings playground group-think and bullying into the classroom.