Monday, November 10, 2014

A Bunch of Tabs -- Now with Subheads!

It's been a busy few weeks, so the tabs have grown heavy in the browser-boughs. Sagging to the ground once again. Time to clear them off and let the branches spring back into their skyward positions.

Education and Parenting

After the Star Tribune published teacher evaluations for the Minneapolis public schools and found that "worse" teachers were in the lowest performing schools (which also, coincidentally, have the lowest income students), the superintendent acted as though she was shocked, shocked, I tell you. Veteran teacher curmudgucation responded with a metaphor about classrooms without roofs. It's pretty apt.

On the same specific topic: Walk a mile in my teaching shoes by Minneapolis kindergarten teacher Greta Callahan, written in response to the Star Tribune story. "Blanket statements about 'bad' teachers in the 'poorest' schools simply aren’t real life. Here’s what it’s like in the trenches."

Why the Best Teachers Don't Give Tests by Alfie Kohn. A couple of great quotes: "Many years ago, the eminent University of Chicago educator Philip Jackson interviewed fifty teachers who had been identified as exceptional at their craft. Among his findings was a consistent lack of emphasis on testing, if not a deliberate decision to minimize the practice, on the part of these teachers." And "Assessment literally means to sit beside, and that's just what our most thoughtful educators urge us to do."

A veteran teacher turned coach shadows two high school students for two days; some sobering lessons are learned. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting. High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes. You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

Two stories about the so-called word gap (the number of words that young children hear before starting school, which varies based on class). First, from the New York Times, Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Finds. Then, from the Atlantic, Poor Kids and the "Word Gap."

America’s dangerous education myth: Why it isn’t the best anti-poverty program. By Matt Bruenig, writing for Salon:

Almost as if engaged in an elaborate troll, Finland has apparently organized its educational system in exactly the opposite way as the reform movement here claims is necessary. The reformers say we need longer school days, but the Finns have short ones. The reformers say we need extensive standardized testing, but the Finns have almost none. The reformers say we need to keep a close leash on teachers, but the Finns give their teachers considerable freedom. Despite all of these pedagogical mistakes, the Finns consistently find themselves at the top of the international education scoreboard.
In spite of all that goodness,
Education boosters bizarrely think that providing everyone a high-quality education will somehow magically result in them all having good-paying jobs. But, as Finland shows, this turns out not to be true. Apparently, it’s not possible for everyone to simultaneously hold jobs as well-paid upper-class professionals because at least some people have to actually do real work. A modern economy requires a whole army of lesser-skilled jobs that just don’t pay that well and the necessity of those jobs doesn’t go away simply because people are well-educated.
Finland solves this problem with income distribution programs that decrease inequality, and this is what Bruenig advocates for the U.S.

Countries with greater income inequality have stricter parenting. It's almost as if parents panic and try to protect their children from the unfairness out there. How rational, but sadly, how counterproductive.

High-achieving teacher sues state over evaluation labeling her "ineffective." From the Washington Post.

I am not a fan of charter schools generally, but I believe that their original purpose -- to serve as labs for reinventing education -- can happen once in a while. Here's an example from the Atlantic: A Philadelphia School's Big Bet on Nonviolence. Memphis Street Academy took over a prison-like middle school that students called "Jones Jail" and immediately took down the bars from the windows, removed the cops and metal detectors... and got these results: "Allowed to respond anonymously to questionnaires, 73% of students said they now felt safe at school, 100% said they feel there's an adult at school who cares about them and 95% said they hope to graduate from college one day. These are the same Jones Jail kids who 12 months ago were climbing over cars to get away from school."

Social Justice, Mass Incarceration

If you want to understand why and how Chicago came to be the perceived as the murder capital of the U.S., check this out.

A black woman IT professional describes her career with the kind of detail that lets the reader know what it's like. This is just one effect she lists: "I am constantly making micro-evaluations about whether or not my actions will be attributed to my being 'different.'"

An American Warden Visited A Norwegian Prison, And He Couldn't Believe What He Saw. From Business Insider.

Kate Beaton uses her Hark a Vagrant web comic to explain just how great Ida B. Wells was.

In Interrogation, Teenagers Are Too Young to Know Better -- a New York Times article that outlines all the reasons why the justice system and its practices are a bad match for the young. Including the story of a 12-year-old boy who recognized the Miranda warnings from watching “Law & Order,” but thought “It means that you don’t have to say anything until the police officer asks you a question.”

Tweeted by writer Josh Barro with this sentence: "I can't believe civil asset forfeiture is even legal at all." From the New York Times, Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize.

Depressing, but oh, so clarifying as an example of how white privilege exists, regardless of class: I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong.

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig on the conservative argument for private charity instead of government supports and safety nets, even as private people are arrested for feeding the homeless.

Climate Change, Environment, and Sustainable Cities

The 10 things you need to know from the new IPCC climate report. Most importantly: "We have the necessary technologies available, and economic growth will not be strongly affected if we take action, the report argues. As the cliché goes, all it takes is the will to act."

How climate change is like street harassment by David Rogers at Grist.

The future of low-carbon cement, from Ensia magazine. Cement production creates 5 percent of all CO2 output worldwide, so if technology could cut its carbon footprint by even half, that would take a significant chunk out of our greenhouse gas output.

You could spend a good bit of time playing with National Geographic's "What the World Eats" calculator. I did.

How can we get power to the poor without frying the planet? Another one by David Rogers at Grist.

Drivers of cars think they pay for all the roads and bridges through their state and local gas taxes, but the median percent of costs paid through these taxes is only 51 percent, with the rest being made up through general funds (aka state income or sales taxes paid by everyone, whether they drive or not). Remember that, the next time someone complains that bicyclists don't pay their fair share of road maintenance.

How Suburban Sprawl, Inadequate Transit Worsen Unemployment. By F. Kaid Benfield, Natural Resources Defense Council.

If you've caught the Strong Towns bug as I have, you might want to start with their compilation of eight posts that give the background and analysis that make the case for Strong Towns.

Here's a particular post from Strong Towns' Chuck Marohn advocating height limits on buildings. I thought I would disagree with him, since we need to increase density in cities to make transit more usable and use resources better, but Marohn makes the argument for incrementalism and, damn, he sure makes a lot of sense. (Not to mention that his description of incrementalism made me think about the Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.)

Miscellaneous Hobby Horses

Medical quackery and pseudoscience have a cost. That's not news, and in fact, it was assessed pretty thoroughly back in 1984 by former member of Congress Claude Pepper. Those were the days.

Why Banksy is probably a woman. Love this, but of course, it feeds my bias.

And finally --  there's a clear correlation between living in a country with a left-leaning government and individual life satisfaction. Being married and having a job are two factors that strongly influence personal happiness, as researchers know from previous studies. But “The effects of living in a country where the government intervenes in the economy is larger than both those effects.”

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