Monday, April 30, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Sick Days And Super PACs Edition

I needed a sick day today.  These Ezra Klein paragraphs about super PACs make be believe I may need a few more in November,

In contrast, even at the end of the campaign, many potential voters will know very little about their congressional candidates. They will be susceptible to ads telling them terrible things. Some of those candidates won’t have the resources to fight back.
No one knows that better than the candidates themselves. Both incumbents and potential challengers realize that a deep-pocketed PAC could decide their race. So when they get a call from that PAC’s director urging them to support this or that, they’re that much likelier to listen. The result, then, isn’t just that moneyed interests can throw congressional elections. It’s that they wield more influence after the election — and they can exercise that power without spending a dollar.
Imagine a super PAC funded by financial interests — “United for Economic Growth,” say — that, seeing tax reform legislation on the horizon, makes it known that it will spend $500,000 or more against candidates who support limiting the deductibility of corporate debt. That’s a small enough issue that most Americans don’t follow candidate positions on it. It’s an issue where there isn’t an organized set of interests on the other side. And it’s an issue where most politicians themselves don’t have very strong or even developed opinions. My guess is United for Economic Growth would get its way in Congress without having to spend much money at all.

Questions Of The Day: Blogging As Academic Activity Edition

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Martin Weller writes,
In terms of intellectual fulfillment, creativity, networking, impact, productivity, and overall benefit to my scholarly life, blogging wins hands down. I have written books, produced online courses, led research efforts, and directed a number of university projects. While these have all been fulfilling, blogging tops the list because of its room for experimentation and potential to connect to timely intelligent debate. That keeps blogging at the top of the heap.
I can't come close to matching Weller's achievements, but I do enjoy publishing my ramblings.  Later, Weller asks a two important questions:
So blogging works for me, but it might not work for you. Maybe you're more of a YouTube person, or a podcaster, or maybe your skill really lies in acting as a filter and a curator, using a tool such as, which allows you to curate and share resources on a particular topic. Or maybe you're the trusted source for finding the valuable research in your field. It's clear, though, that our academic ecosystem is a more complex one now. This raises two difficult questions for academics who are expected to do research: First, do these new types of activity count as scholarship? And, if so, how do we recognize and reward them?
College professors, K-12 teachers, and students all have to perform research and report the results of their research; therefore,finding the correct way to reward and recognize the new ways that the results are reported becomes a central question.  How does one grade a YouTube talk or using OneNote to collect and organize information?  How does one deal with parents who are angry that one isn't doing what the parents expect?  How does the tech match up with new state imposed evaluation schemes?

I've got no answers but the questions need to be asked as schools continue to seek to integrate digital technology into their curricula.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Sunday Evening Song To Get Me Through The Next Two Weeks

From Ashley Cleveland,

Quotation Of The Day: Why I'm Displaced Edtion

Writing about Wendell Berry's Jefferson Lecture of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the Financial  Times (registration required), Christopher Caldwell praises Berry's assertion that Americans' "essential mistake has been to ignore 'propriety of scale,'" and notes,
In the US, however, there is no political outlet for a conservatism that fears bigness in the private sector as much as in the public sector.
I fear bigness in both sectors, but I don't find many partisans who share both fears.

Yet Another Reason HB 1234 Is Flawed

HB 1234 will eliminate continuing contract status.  Eliminating continuing contract will likely reduce the number of talented people willing to enter the teaching profession.  This analysis from the Chronicle of Higher Education sums up the issue:
Teacher tenure, in both higher-education and K-12 schooling, is an important mechanism for attracting talent. Stanford’s Terry Moe, a strong union critic, finds in his polling that “most teachers see the security of tenure as being worth tens of thousands of dollars a year.” His survey suggests a majority of teachers would need to be paid 50 percent more to give up tenure. Take away tenure without substantially increasing pay, and the pool of qualified candidates for the teaching profession is likely to shrink. (Although some might argue that talented teachers will feel confident and flock to teaching even without tenure, research has long found that self-confidence and actual ability are not as tightly correlated as one would hope.)
I'm not a math major, but a 1 in 5 chance at getting $5,000 is not going to get near that "50 percent more." Further, if a correct or incorrect answer to one question on a standardized test may change one's ranking by 20 percent, it seems unlikely that talented intelligent people will want to take the risk when they can earn far more elsewhere.

I'm A Horrible Parental Unit

I've found something that I can agree with Mitt Romney about one thing:  Jimmy John's has good sandwiches.

According to Wikipedia, Jimmy John's founder borrowed $25,000 from his parents to start his first restaurant. Mitt thinks that Jimmy Johns should be a model for young people and parents.  According to Mitt, young people will succeed if their parents loan them $20,000.

I love the young'uns, but I don't have $20,000 to loan out.  I don't many people who do.  Also, the loan that Romney references took place in 1983.  I would guess that a similar loan today would be worth over $50.000 today, and I certainly don't have that.

Actually, my lack of money probably means that Mitt and I agree about two things; he'd agree with the title of this post.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Plains Pops: The Best Education Reads Of The Week

*This Steven Lazar post points out some of the flawed assumptions about tying teacher pay to tests.  The post has a couple of key takeaways.  First,
In New York, as Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University, showed, having students answer just one more multiple-choice question correctly would lead to a 20-percentile-point jump in a teacher’s rating. That is insane!
Any teacher knows that an individual student’s test score will vary tremendously based on mood, time of day and what is happening in that student’s personal life. But to think that access to teacher-leadership positions could rest on a one-point swing in test scores makes me gravely concerned for the future of my profession.
In school, I have been an instructional coach, department chair, grade team leader, union representative and tech guy. Out of school, I have led professional development, developed curriculums and assessments, and facilitated a critical friends group. I excelled in a couple of roles immediately, grew into most once I got the necessary training, and just got by in a couple.
My key takeaway from these experiences was that the skills, knowledge and disposition that made me an effective teacher had little connection to what determined my success in working with adults.
That second point ought to give the corporate reformers, especially those who believe that education is merely another business, pause.  It probably won't.

*This Bruce Baker post about "the toxic trifecta" and Cory's analysis that shows how Governor Daugaard used the noxious mix to brew up his education policy are both must reads.

*Writing in Time, Annie Murphy Paul reports on a "learning paradox" that shows that floundering a bit helps one learn.
Call it the “learning paradox”: the more you struggle and even fail while you’re trying to master new information, the better you’re likely to recall and apply that information later.
The learning paradox is at the heart of “productive failure,” a phenomenon identified by Manu Kapur, a researcher at the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore. Kapur points out that while the model adopted by many teachers and employers when introducing others to new knowledge — providing lots of structure and guidance early on, until the students or workers show that they can do it on their own — makes intuitive sense, it may not be the best way to promote learning. Rather, it’s better to let the neophytes wrestle with the material on their own for a while, refraining from giving them any assistance at the start. In a paper published earlier this year in the Journal of the Learning Sciences, Kapur and a co-author, Katerine Bielaczyc, applied the principle of productive failure to mathematical problem solving in three schools in Singapore.
*Lifehacker gives some important advice about how to get more time to read.

*Gail Collins looks at the big picture behind Pearson's talking pineapple.
Now — finally — we have tumbled into my central point. We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center, led by Pearson, for whom $32 million is actually pretty small potatoes. Pearson has a five-year testing contract with Texas that’s costing the state taxpayers nearly half-a-billion dollars.
This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left Behind was passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would provide monster profits for the private business sector?
Add a some prosciutto to the potatoes and pineapples and one could have a good meal and discuss alliteration at the same time.

*Finally, everyone should read this Mark Edumundson opinion piece in the New York Times.  Edmundson begins,
“EVERYBODY’S got a hungry heart,” Bruce Springsteen sings. Really? Is that so? At the risk of offending the Boss, I want to register some doubts.
Granted my human sample is not large — but it’s not so small either. I’ve been teaching now for 35 years and in that time have had about 4,000 students pass my desk. I’m willing to testify: Not all students have hungry hearts. Some do, some don’t, and having a hungry heart (or not) is what makes all the difference for a young person seeking an education.
Edmundson's experience about teaching college students matches my experience teaching high school juniors and seniors.
Thirty-five years of teaching has taught me this: The best students and the ones who get the most out of their educations are the ones who come to school with the most energy to learn. And — here’s an important corollary — those students are not always the most intellectually gifted. They’re not always the best prepared or the most cultured. Sometimes they think slowly. Sometimes they don’t write terribly well, at least at the start. What distinguishes them is that they take their lives seriously and they want to figure out how to live them better. These are the kids for whom one is bought and sold. These are the ones who make you smile when they walk into your office.
In a year that featured an assault on education at the national, state, and local level, it's affirming to be reminded about the students who make the job worthwhile.

Another Reminder That Civil Liberties Are Always Under Assault

In the comments to a previous post Carter reminds all of us that President Obama is not necessarily a friend to civil liberties.

On Andrew Sullivan's blog, Spencer Ackerman develops the point further when asked about his biggest beef with Obama.

How Is The Tea Party Like Othello?

Answer:  Both "will as tenderly be led by the nose /As asses are." (Othello, Act I, sc 3, ln 401-02)

For evidence about how the villain Iago leads Othello, read the play.  For evidence about how the Tea Party Allows itself to be lead, reference it's response to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act  (CISPA), legislation that Gizmodo calls the "worst privacy disaster our country has ever faced."

Erik Kain reports on some math.
“The complete roll call shows 206 Republicans voting for the bill, 28 against,” writes reason’s Tim Cavanaugh. “Democrats went 42 to 140 in the opposite direction.”
Of these Republicans, “47 of the 66 members of the House Tea Party Caucus” also supported the bill, notes Patrick Cahalan.
“For those tricky with the math,” Cahalan continues, “this means 88% of the overall GOP members (casting a vote) voted yea, 23% of the Dems (casting a vote) voted yea, and 71% of the Tea Party (casting a vote) voted yea (Paul and Pence didn’t cast a vote).”
Kain adds that
TechDirt’s Leigh Breadon points out that under the final version of CISPA the, “government would be able to search information it collects under CISPA for the purposes of investigating American citizens with complete immunity from all privacy protections as long as they can claim someone committed a “cybersecurity crime”. Basically it says the 4th Amendment does not apply online, at all.”
The Fourth Amendment, for the Tea Party readers who believe that the Constitutional amendment numbering system goes 2, 10, and then that one about prohibition that got repealed, reads
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
What could cause freedom loving, card carrying Tea Party members to support the "the worst privacy disaster" the United States has ever faced and remove 4th Amendment protections from any online activity?  Kain succinctly illustrates the ring that was placed in the Tea Party's nose:
One important thing to glean from this, especially when held up in contrast with the defeat of SOPA and PIPA, two bills aimed at combating online piracy, is that once you tack the word “security” onto a bill it becomes far more toxic to oppose.
The Tea Party may be the small government wing of the Republican Party, but when it comes to national security suddenly limiting the state becomes far less critical. If SOPA had been billed as a cybersecurity law, it may have found a great deal more support in congress, and had a better time resisting internet backlash. For opponents of anti-piracy laws, this is an important thing to bear in mind.
That's it?  The word "security" means that Tea Party folk can willingly be lead around by the nose? I know being protected from unreasonable search and seizure doesn't have the same rhetorical shock value as losing the freedom to use a loud speaker to say a prayer when hanging up a print of the 10 Commandments on a courtroom wall while wearing clothes that allow one to conceal one's gun fashionably.  And President Obama has threatened to veto it, so it's probably good legislation, not a threat to freedom like Obamacare, the legislation that requires people to buy health insurance and allows parents to keep their child on a policy until the child turns 26.  Still, eviscerating the Fourth Amendment should evoke outrage not support from 88% of a caucus that claims to love freedom.

If big boy bloggers' concern and my sarcasm aren't enough to prompt concern, Conor Friedersdorf provides a little recent history.
Critics of CISPA are right to be wary, for all of the aforementioned reasons specific to the legislation -- but also because of the abysmal record that government and industry have amassed lately. The Bush Administration engaged in illegal warrantless wiretapping for years. All the while, the National Security Agency collaborated with America's major telecommunications companies. AT&T gave government officials unsupervised access to all data flowing through major hubs, including email messages, phone calls, web-browsing data, and private network traffic.
When the NSA program was finally revealed, Bush Administration officials weren't prosecuted and jailed. In fact, Thomas Drake, an NSA whistleblower who complained about a separate warrantless surveillance project, was prosecuted by both the Bush and the Obama Administrations.
He concludes,
Before the Bush Administration's illegal spying, it was easy to imagine that the legal penalties for exceeding the bounds of the law would be one check on government officials and corporate leaders tempted to abuse their access to data. We now know that when national security is invoked, these people are treated as if they're above the law. If legal violations aren't going to be punished after the fact, it's prudent for concerned citizens to push for even more elaborate preemptive safeguards.
The Tea Party is a prime example of people who have forgotten the mistakes of history so they are doomed to repeat them.  In this case, they are willing to trade essential liberty for "security," a trade that will leave them neither free nor secure.

UPDATE: Carter has posted a a link to an on-line petition in the comments.  Demand Progress allows one to send an quick message to senators.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The South Dakota Education Debate Summarized

I don't know if P.L. Thomas has ever been to South Dakota, but he certainly understands how education issues were dealt with during the last session.
Inexpert political leaders believe in and act upon a faith in the effectiveness of their cult of personality. They say by their actions, "I can do this where others have not" -- triggering the American cultural faith in rugged individualism.
I didn't know every governor had a sycophant like Elizabeth Kraus, but that rugged individualism must make them irresistible.

Not only does South Carolinian Thomas understand the problem, he also has a great solution,
Universal public education needs a new wall, paralleling the wall of separation between church and state: a wall between education and government and corporate America. Power over funding and broad performance benchmarks can remain vested in political leaders. But granular operational details should be left to educators and local administrators, the people best suited to achieve these goals in their schools and classrooms. Education should be treated no differently than a civil engineering project: government provides funding and ensures the goals of the civil function, and then expert builders and engineers fill in the details, taking into account realities on the ground and utilizing a wealth of experience and training that is completely unavailable to most elected officials. Governors and presidents are no better suited to run schools than they are to run construction sites, and it's time our education system reflected that fact.[emphasis mine]
The bolded part of the quotation should be talking points in the campaign to defeat HB 1234, a bill premised on the idea that a governor knows more about schools than anyone else in the state and tears down any protecting wall that local control may have provided.

Has Paul Ryan Been On A Road To Damascus?

Or W.W.A.R.S.? (What Would Ayn Rand Say?)

Think Progress reports that Paul Ryan has thrown Ayn Rand under the proverbial bus.
From an interview with National Review’s Bob Costa this week:
“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says.
Of course Rand has not always been so dismissive of Rand. Think Progress points out,
In 2005, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) heaped praise on Ayn Rand, a 20th-century libertarian novelist best known for her philosophy that centered on the idea that selfishness is “virtue”. The New Republic wrote:
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.”
I'm happier than most when someone sees the light and rejects Rand's pernecious, over-rated ideology, but somehow this conversion strikes me as being closer to that experienced Ananias and Sapphira not the one experienced by the Apostle Paul.

Can Conservatives And Liberals Solve America's Economic Problems

Dr. Blanchard points to this Robert Samuelson column praising Sweden for successfully implementing both spending cuts and tax increases to solve its economic woes in the 1990s.  Samuelson writes,
Conservatives can take heart that many post-crisis policies came right from their playbook. Sweden’s income tax base was broadened and tax rates were sharply reduced. (In 1996, the average marginal rate — the rate on the last bit of income — was 46 percent; in 2010, it was 33 percent.) Spending was cut on old-age pensions, child allowances, unemployment benefits and housing subsidies. Union power over wages was reduced. Many markets (banking, air travel, telecommunications, electricity production) were deregulated. Low inflation and balanced budgets became broadly embraced popular goals.
On the other hand, liberals will also be reassured. Although Sweden trimmed social benefits, it hardly abandoned the welfare state. Overall government spending is still about 50 percent of the economy (gross domestic product), much higher than in the United States ,where the usual ratio is about 35 percent. To reduce income tax rates, the government raised other taxes. Gasoline and cigarette taxes were increased; so were taxes on dividends and capital gains, hitting the rich. Altogether, deficit reduction totaled a huge 12 percent of GDP from 1991 to 1998. Slightly more than a third of that came from higher taxes.
Blanchard claims "there is a lot more there to please conservatives, but it also shows liberals how a welfare state can be sustained."

I'm going to disagree for a couple of reasons.  First, as I posted in the comments on South Dakota Politics, Republicans have replaced "Thou shalt have no other gods before me with "Thou shalt never raise capital gains taxes."  It's not just the number of compromises or concessions that one is asked to make; it's the fervor with with which the positions that one is asked to compromise are held.  In the US, conservatives seemingly hold eliminating capital gains taxes sacred.

The second reason that I disagree with Blanchard comes from a point that both he and Samuelson seem to ignore.  Samuelson writes,
Unfortunately, in one crucial respect, the Swedish experience can’t be duplicated. In the early 1990s, the rest of the world economy was relatively healthy. Sweden could offset the depressing effects of its domestic policies by exporting more — and that’s what happened, aided by a huge devaluation of its currency, the krona. The devaluation made its exports more price-competitive.
Samuelson doesn't point out that Sweden reduces military spending as a share of GDP.  Conservatives in the United States seem unwilling to do that.

That refusal seems important because military spending makes up 20% of the U.S. budget as this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out.

The federal government was once elegantly described by Ezra Klein as a big fat insurance company surrounded by a standing army. It's a useful quip, because our government is basically in the business of security. Social Security, income security, health care security for the elderly, poor and veterans, and guns-and-helmets security account for about 80% of government spending. That's what we pay for when we pay taxes.
I would guess that all governments fit that description. Sweden cut income, health, and "guns-and-helmets" security.  If American leaders seriously want to solve the country's fiscal problems, they will have to do the same.  I don't see either conservative leaders, or liberal leaders for that matter, willing to make those tough decisions.

Pop Culture Literacy: Yet Another Reason To Promote The Liberal Arts

I probably should limit my Daily Show clips a bit more than I do, but in this clip Jon Stewart unwittingly makes the case for teaching mythology.  At about 2:10, Stewart uses Renaissance art and myth in a brilliant take down of Rupert Murdoch.

Cultural literacy is always a dicey argument, but I think it's safe to argue that any culturally literate American of the 21st Century should be aware of Stewart and the Daily Show.  If Stewart and his writers believe they can get a laugh from Zeus seducing (euphemism alert) Leda in the form of a swan, perhaps they expect their viewers to know at list a bit about the story.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Citizen Shame
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Whither The Praise For Intellect?

Rep. Stace Nelson leaves the following comment at the Madville Times.
I do not agree on all of the issues with our host Mr. Heidelberger or my friend Steve Sibson, who are both equally outspoken as to their views and concerns with issues. I would celebrate if they were both elected, not because I am fond of them both for their passion, honesty, and courage (which I am), but because I know they would be fearless public servants that South Dakotans deserve and need.
First, I'm sure that the Republican establishment is less than thrilled with Nelson's comment about Cory Heidelberger.  Dakota War College, an organ of South Dakota's Republican establishment has declared that Cory represents an entire wing of South Dakota's Democratic party,
When Democrats decide they want to be competitive again, they will need to choose between the Steve Hildebrand/Cory Heidelberger wing of the party and the Herseth Sandlin wing.
More importantly, Nelson, like many others, confesses that he admires politicians and commenters for passion, honesty, and courage but fails to mention intellect.  Let's be clear; Cory is an intelligent person, so why isn't intellect at the top of the list?

I would sooner have an intelligent political opponent than a passionate political ally of questionable thinking skills.  I know that view puts me in a minority.  All I have to do is read statement that some legislators make.  The comments certainly reflect passion, but they also make me believe that intelligent people serving in the legislature must feel like Christian missionaries in the middle of Iran.

Why Would A Wise Forest Animal Eat A Talking Pineapple?

Or why I don't want any part of my pay based on a standardized test.

The New York Daily News covers a New York State test developed by Pearson PLC.  Students were asked to respond to questions from a story about a race between a talking pineapple and a hare.
In the story, an apparent take-off on Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, a talking pineapple challenges a hare to a race.  The other animals wager on the immobile pineapple winning — and ponder whether it’s tricking them.
When the pineapple fails to move at all and the rabbit wins, the animals dine on the pineapple.
Students were asked two perplexing questions: why did the animals eat the talking fruit, and which animal was wisest?
Let's be clear, none of the animals were named Socrates and none claimed to be the wisest animal because it knew nothing.  Apparently the unanswerable questions had been tested elsewhere.
The new exams have higher stakes for principals and teachers statewide, whose evaluations will be based in part on student scores beginning as soon as this year.
Scarsdale Middle School Principal Michael McDermott said the question has been used before and “confused students in six or seven different states.”
If Governor Daugaard or Education Secretary Schopp want read the story and take a stab at answering the questions, they can do so here.  I'm sure that they will claim that South Dakota checks its tests more carefully.  That claim may be true, but the difference between South Dakota's inane questions and New York's inane questions is difference of degree not of kind.  South Dakota's tests have their fair share of inane questions.

I have my own slightly less inane multiple guess question:

After hearing about the pineapple and the hare, Governor Daugaard and Secretary Schopp will
a. stubbornly insist that standardized testing is a great way to evaluate teachers.
b. claim that paying math and science teachers more than English, history, art or music teachers will help students answer the question about why the animals ate the pineapple.
c. offer Pearson a 10 year contract to write Dakota STEP tests.
d. all of the above.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm Shocked, Shocked That Geithner Won't Hold Financial Speculators Accountable

According to the New York Times, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is pleased with the efforts to bring those responsible for the 2008 financial disaster to justice, the Times reports,
Geithner suggested that holding people accountable for the wreckage caused by the recent housing collapse and the ensuing financial meltdown was not that simple since most crises were not caused by criminal activity.
"Most financial crises are caused by a mix of stupidity and greed and recklessness and risk-taking and hope," said Geithner, who helped tackle the crisis for the Bush administration when he was the head of the New York Federal Reserve and has been urging Europe to act more aggressively to contain its debt problems.
"You can't legislate away stupidity and risk-taking and greed and recklessness. What you can do is make sure when it happens it does not cause too much damage and to do that you have to make sure you have good rules against fraud and abuse, better protections and you force banks to hold more capital against their risk," he said.
Maybe I'm just cynical, but there seem to be plenty of laws to punish "stupidity and greed and recklessness" when people making minimum wage do stupid and reckless things.  Casablanca seems appropriate for these sort of dog bites man non-stories.

A Succinct Summary Of Something Important About Literature

Rod Dreher, writing at The American Conservative, sums up something I frequently tell my students:
A good story is a good story. I don’t care if explores the hidden lives of paraplegic Tibetan lesbians. If it’s a well-told story, we all see ourselves in the characters and the lives they lead, no matter what their race, what their class, what their culture. What kind of parochial nitwit reads Tolstoy and complains that they don’t see themselves in the story?
Judging by the looks my students give me when I make the point in a manner slightly less colorful than Dreher's, I must be a really old English teacher.

America's Next Top Shot & Model Project

I've got a great idea for a new competition/reality show that would combine the best and worst of  Top Shot, America's Next Top Model, and Project Runway.  Models would design and wear revealing clothing that would allow the wearer to conceal weapons.  They would then have a target shooting competition on some sort of obstacle course. I'm surprised Fox News hasn't put a program like this in the evening line-up right after Bill O'Reilly.

My inspiration comes from this New York Times article that reports.
Woolrich, a 182-year-old clothing company, describes its new chino pants as an elegant and sturdy fashion statement, with a clean profile and fabric that provides comfort and flexibility.
And they are great for hiding a handgun.
The company has added a second pocket behind the traditional front pocket for a weapon. Or, for those who prefer to pack their gun in a holster, it can be tucked inside the stretchable waistband. The back pockets are also designed to help hide accessories, like a knife and a flashlight.
The chinos, which cost $65, are not for commandos, but rather, the company says, for the fashion-aware gun owner. And Woolrich has competition. Several clothing companies are following suit, building businesses around the sharp rise in people with permits to carry concealed weapons.
 Clearly the South Dakota legislature was on to something when they passed HB 1248. They should have added some tax breaks for clothing companies to the mix and the bill probably would have survived Governor Daugaard's veto.  The Times reports that many states allow the carrying of concealed weapons, so South Dakota missed out on an opportunity to attract businesses to the state.
Gun experts suggest that there are many reasons for the growth in the number of people with concealed-carry permits. They say it is partly due to a changing political and economic climate — gun owners are professing to want a feeling of control — and state laws certainly have made a difference.
After a campaign by gun rights advocates, 37 states now have “shall issue” statutes that require them to provide concealed-carry permits if an applicant meets legal requirements, like not being a felon. (A handful of other states allow the concealed carrying of handguns without a permit). By contrast, in 1984 only 8 states had such statutes, and 15 did not allow handgun carrying at all, said John Lott, a researcher of gun culture who has held teaching or research posts at a number of universities, including the University of Chicago.
Some curmudgeon's are unhappy with the new hide-your-weapon clothing, however.  The article concludes.
Not everyone who carries a concealed gun is a fan of the new fashion. Howard Walter, 61, a salesman at Wade’s Eastside Guns in Bellevue, Wash., said he preferred to carry his Colt — and a couple of knives and two extra magazines — in a durable pair of work pants.
They don’t shout ‘gun,’ they shout ‘average guy in the street,’ ” said Mr. Walter, who years ago worked in sales at Nordstrom. But really, he said, the most important thing in picking clothing is to choose something that works for the weapon. “They should dress for the gun,” he said he advised his customers. “Not for the fashion.”
Woolrich is apparently undeterred by such quaint criticism.
The company has since added new patterns for shirts, pants and the Elite Discreet Carry Twill jacket, in dark shale gray and dark wheat tan. In addition to its gun-friendly pockets, the jacket has a channel cut through the back that the company says can be used to store plastic handcuffs.
 I'm assuming the handcuffs are for gun owners who want to get their kink on.

Quotation Of The Day: Wendell E. Berry Edition

The fact is that we humans are not much to be trusted with what I am calling statistical knowledge, and the larger the statistical quantities the less we are to be trusted. We don’t learn much from big numbers. We don’t understand them very well, and we aren’t much affected by them. The reality that is responsibly manageable by human intelligence is much nearer in scale to a small rural community or urban neighborhood than to the “globe.”
When people succeed in profiting on a large scale, they succeed for themselves. When they fail, they fail for many others, sometimes for us all. A large failure is worse than a small one, and this has the sound of an axiom, but how many believe it? Propriety of scale in all human undertakings is paramount, and we ignore it. We are now betting our lives on quantities that far exceed all our powers of comprehension. We believe that we have built a perhaps limitless power of comprehension into computers and other machines, but our minds remain as limited as ever. Our trust that machines can manipulate to humane effect quantities that are unintelligible and unimaginable to humans is incorrigibly strange.
As there is a limit only within which property ownership is effective, so is there a limit only within which the human mind is effective and at least possibly beneficent. We must assume that the limit would vary somewhat, though not greatly, with the abilities of persons. Beyond that limit the mind loses its wholeness, and its faculties begin to be employed separately or fragmented according to the specialties or professions for which it has been trained.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Minor Musing: Is Being A Teacher Immoral?

My little rant about education reformers seemingly wanting students to fail elicited the follwing tweeted response.
I replied to the what's worse than a lemming query with James 4:17.
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
I was being a bit glib, but upon further review, as the National Football League's referees say, my response leads me to believe that I have put myself in an uncomfortable moral position.

I know I should do good, but many of the current trends in education strike me as wrong as in "unjust," "dishonest," or "immoral."  I'd feel a little less conflicted if I thought these reforms were merely "mistaken" "unsuitable," or "undesirable."  To the best of my ability, I close the door and teach but there is still some good being left undone.  Mama and Papa Plainsman always warned me about the wages of sin.

While I wonder about the morality or propriety of staying in the profession, I have to confront the fact that the national employment rate is still over 8%; I'm on the wrong side of 50;  I have family responsibilities that require a paycheck, and it would probably be immoral for me to take risks that would make me a burden to my family or put them at financial risk.

I knew I should have learned to play the piano; I hear houses of ill repute are hiring piano players.

Do Education Reformers Want Students To Fail?

This Economist article discusses factories of the future.  The key paragraph,
Like all revolutions, this one will be disruptive. Digital technology has already rocked the media and retailing industries, just as cotton mills crushed hand looms and the Model T put farriers out of work. Many people will look at the factories of the future and shudder. They will not be full of grimy machines manned by men in oily overalls. Many will be squeaky clean—and almost deserted. Some carmakers already produce twice as many vehicles per employee as they did only a decade or so ago. Most jobs will not be on the factory floor but in the offices nearby, which will be full of designers, engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts, marketing staff and other professionals. The manufacturing jobs of the future will require more skills. Many dull, repetitive tasks will become obsolete: you no longer need riveters when a product has no rivets. [empahsis mine]
Meanwhile, NCLB, Common Core, back to basics, and the test until they drop mindset are all predicated on standardized tests which do nothing to help students develop the skills to become designers, IT specialists, logistic experts, or marketers.

Further the testing regime does nothing to help students create the inner life that allows them to deal with the ultimate questions.  Stanley Fish quotes Andrew Delbanco who writes,
“[T]he questions we face under the shadow of death are not new, and … no new technology will help us answer them.”
Creating a population unprepared for work and unprepared for to deal with angst that comes with being human is a recipe for disaster, but ed reformers like lemmings seem to be unwilling or unable to avoid going over the cliff.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Resentment: A Post Created Because Three Things Converged

At Slate, big boy bloggers, Matt Yglesias and Timothy Noah are discussing Noah's book The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do about It.
Noah makes three points about inequality.  First, he concedes it's necessary in a capitalist system.  Second income inequality is growing.
Why is it necessary to reward so much more today than in 1979 the effort and skill (and dumb luck) that gets you into the top 1 percent of incomes (i.e., above about $350,000)? In 1979 the top 1 percent consumed about 10 percent of the nation’s collective income. In 2010 it consumed about 20 percent. (That includes capital gains.) Sure, the economy was in lousy shape in 1979. But the top 1 percent contented itself with 9-12 percent of the nation’s collective income for three decades prior to 1979, during the great post-World War II economic boom. Indeed, income share for the top 1 percent fell a little during that period. From the early 1930s through the late 1970s incomes in America didn’t become more unequal; they became more equal. So clearly the top earners can get by on much less without undermining capitalism.
Growing inequality matters, according to Noah, because it produces resentment.
So that’s why growing inequality isn’t necessary. Why is it worrisome?
Because it creates alienation. I worry less about the 99 percent (which, let’s face it, includes a lot of pretty affluent people) than about the bottom 60 or 50 percent. Income earners at the median have not shared in America’s prosperity. They’ve actually seen their incomes go down (after inflation) during the past decade, and over the past three decades their increases seem pitiful compared both with people earning top incomes (and here I mean not just the top 1 percent but the top 10 and even 20 percent) and with people at the median during the postwar era. For a long time economists said: Wait until productivity rebounds. Then working families will get their share. But when productivity rebounded like crazy in the aughts, working families saw no reward.
What this means is that if you’re at the median you have no positive reason to care how the economy does. Your only motivation is fear—if the economy does really badly you may lose your job. But there’s no upside.
Noah's conclusion seem to echo the findings Cory blogged about this morning at the Madville Times: the perception of unfair treatment produces resentful workers and dangerous results.  The Chrystia Freeland column that prompted Cory's post seems to support Noah's conclusions.
Does our perception of fairness influence how hard we work? Their answer is yes - workers who are underpaid don't work as hard.
The two professors' conclusion was based on the responses of experimental subjects. In his Berlin talk, Dr. Falk also cited an American real-world example that points to the same conclusion. A bitter fight between workers and management at Bridgestone/Firestone's plant in Decatur, Illinois, in the mid-1990s, including a long strike and the hiring of scabs, coincided with the production of poorer-quality tires.
"Looking before and after the strike and across plants, we find that labor strife at the Decatur plant closely coincided with lower product quality," a paper on the subject by Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton economist who is now the head of the U.S. president's Council of Economic Advisers, and Alexandre Mas, also of Princeton, reports. "Monthly data suggest that defects were particularly high around the time concessions were demanded and when large numbers of replacement workers and returning strikers worked side by side."
Workers who feel they are being treated badly aren't just unproductive; they can be downright dangerous.
The last little item about resentment causes me to think that those who have the money and make the rules should know better.  During a class discussion about Othello, I started comparing Iago to Machiavelli and was reminded that Machiavelli counselled his prince to avoid the excessive resentment of his citizens.
Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse. But when a prince is with his army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties. . . .
Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.
It's rare that three different items from three different sources come together with a similar conclusion: creating resentment is dangerous and should be avoided,  What's frightening is that no one seems to care.

Quotations of the Day: Connection vs.Conversation Edition

From this Sherry Turkle essay in the New York Times,
WE live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives. I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are.
Later she writes,
Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to connection is part of this. But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves. Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring, we forget that there is a difference.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Lottery Edition

From this post by Ed on
OK, so we know that lotteries are machines designed to extract money from the poor and redistribute it to the middle and upper classes in the form of property tax relief, school funds, and merit-based scholarships. This is the point at which one of our friends on the right reliably steps in to remind us that no one points a gun at the poor and forces them to buy lottery tickets. This is indisputable. It also leaves us with the question of why people willingly participate in something that siphons off income they can scarcely afford to spare in exchange for catastrophically lousy odds of striking it rich. Anyone who is poor, has been poor, has close friends or family who are poor, or works in close contact with the poor understands that long term financial planning and rational money management are not traits the poor possess in great quantity. Accordingly many people simply conclude that the poor are not smart enough to behave in their own rational self interest. This is a common way of reaching our preferred conclusion that the poor have only themselves to blame for their predicament. In reality, of course, the poor know very well that state lotteries are screwing them. That doesn't stop them because the experience of being poor in the United States is little more than getting screwed repeatedly ad infinitum until all parties are completely desensitized to the act.
Lotteries are the [descendants] of older, informal, private-sector prize systems like "policy wheels" (often run by neighborhood merchants as a way of distributing money people would then use to shop) or numbers games (usually run by organized crime). It wasn't until the 1960s – New Hampshire in 1964, to be specific – that states legalized, and then dove headlong into, the lotto business. The key difference for consumers when control shifted from the black market to the public sector was that the odds got a lot worse and the payoffs got much larger. Oh, and the winners got the honor of paying taxes on their prizes. Yes, lotteries actually got more exploitative when the mob stopped running them. [emphasis mine]
Those bolded sentences are enough to make one think the libertarians are on to something, except of course that the libertarians don't really seem to be willing to do anything to alter the fact that "being poor in the United States is little more than getting screwed repeatedly ad infinitum until all parties are completely desensitized to the act."

Therein lies the conundrum of the modern human condition: one may need to the government to keep from getting screwed repeatedly but the government may produce results more exploitative than the Mafia.

Sunday Weirdness: Baths, Cowboys, And School Boards Edition

When Mark Twain famously wrote, "In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards," he must have been prophetically considering  the Annville-Cleona School Board in Pennsylvania.  Mary Ann Reilly analyzes the board's decision.
The board voted 8-0 to ban the picture book, The Dirty Cowboy. The book is a humorous story about a very dirty cowboy who takes his yearly bath, his faithful dog who guards his clothes, and the funny mishaps that happen when the cowboy emerges from his bath.
Perhaps one could make a case that the book was banned because it promoted bad hygiene.  Perhaps some liberal objected to the book because the dog, a noble human companion, is not being treated as an autonomous sentient being but rather is being objectified and treated as a slave who is forced to guard smelly clothes  Perhaps a cowboy objected--do they even have cowboys in Pennsylvania?--because it cast him and his fellow agricultural workers in a bad light.

Alas, the book was banned for less noble reasons:  Reilly continues,

So why, you might ask, would a school system condone the banning of a picture book about a cowboy who takes a bath after a year? The Rogue Librarian quoting the local paper explains:
According to Annville-Cleona Schools Superintendent Steven Houser, as reported in the Lebanon Daily News: “They [the parents] were asked what do you feel might be the result of viewing or reading this material, and their answer was, ‘Children may come to the conclusion that looking at nudity is OK, and therefore pornography is OK."
If a book about a bathing cowboy is going to turn kids into repeat porn consumers, the Annville-Cleona School Board had better shut down any high speed internet connections that it might have. Writing for Extremetech, Sebastian Anthony reports,
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a fast internet connection must be in want of some porn. 
While it’s difficult domain to penetrate — hard numbers are few and far between — we know for a fact that porn sites are some of the most trafficked parts of the internet. According to Google’s DoubleClick Ad Planner, which tracks users across the web with a cookie, dozens of adult destinations populate the top 500 websites. Xvideos, the largest porn site on the web with 4.4 billion page views per month, is three times the size of CNN or ESPN, and twice the size of Reddit. LiveJasmin isn’t much smaller. YouPorn, Tube8, and Pornhub — they’re all vast, vast sites that dwarf almost everything except the Googles and Facebooks of the internet.
Anthony analyzes the data and concludes,
[YouPorn] accounts for almost 2% of the internet’s total traffic. There are dozens of porn sites on the scale of YouPorn, and hundreds that are the size of ExtremeTech or your favorite news site. It’s probably not unrealistic to say that porn makes up 30% of the total data transferred across the internet.
While local politicians worry about bathing cowboys, those on the national level try to reduce funding for scientific research.  At The New York Review of Books, Steven Weinberg writes,
Physicists can point to technological spin-offs from high-energy physics, ranging from synchotron radiation to the World Wide Web. For promoting invention, big science in this sense is the technological equivalent of war, and it doesn’t kill anyone. But spin-offs can’t be promised in advance.
What really motivates elementary particle physicists is a sense of how the world is ordered—it is, they believe, a world governed by simple universal principles that we are capable of discovering. But not everyone feels the importance of this. During the debate over the SSC [Superconducting Super Collider], I was on the Larry King radio show with a congressman who opposed it. He said that he wasn’t against spending on science, but that we had to set priorities. I explained that the SSC was going to help us learn the laws of nature, and I asked if that didn’t deserve a high priority. I remember every word of his answer. It was “No.”
What does motivate legislators is the immediate economic interests of their constituents. Big laboratories bring jobs and money into their neighborhood, so they attract the active support of legislators from that state, and apathy or hostility from many other members of Congress. Before the Texas site was chosen, a senator told me that at that time there were a hundred senators in favor of the SSC, but that once the site was chosen the number would drop to two. He wasn’t far wrong. We saw several members of Congress change their stand on the SSC after their states were eliminated as possible site.
If I'm keeping score correctly, reading about a cowboy's bad hygiene is harmful, but cutting research on science is good unless the cut affects one's congressional district or state is bad.  Weinberg provides an illustration of the results of such thinking taken out to its logical conclusion.
Some years ago I found myself at dinner with a member of the Appropriations Committee of the Texas House of Representatives. I was impressed when she spoke eloquently about the need to spend money to improve higher education in Texas. What professor at a state university wouldn’t want to hear that? I naively asked what new source of revenue she would propose to tap. She answered, “Oh, no, I don’t want to raise taxes. We can take the money from health care.” This is not a position we should be in.
If it's true that people get the government they deserve, Americans must be doing something terribly wrong.

(HT Andrew Sullivan for link to Extemetech)

Blogger is being weird today.  I'll apologize for any formatting errors and will try to fix them later.

Update:  Apparently Blogger works better with Chrome than it does with Explorer.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why Corporations And Politicians Want Teachers To Teach To The Test

Claire Needell Hollander sums up how the current focus on testing reading destroys students' experience of reading literature.
We cannot enrich the minds of our students by testing them on texts that purposely ignore their hearts. By doing so, we are withholding from our neediest students any reason to read at all. We are teaching them that words do not dazzle but confound. We may succeed in raising test scores by relying on these methods, but we will fail to teach them that reading can be transformative and that it belongs to them.
She correctly points that standardized tests like the Dakota STEP "are complex only on the sentence level — not because the ideas they present are complex, not because they are symbolic, allusive or ambiguous."

Hollander quotes Franz Kafka who claimed “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us.”  Therein lies the rub.  Helping students have a richer inner life doesn't fit with the purpose that corporate America believes that they should perform.  That purpose is succinctly and humorously summed up in this tweet:
Diane Ravitch correctly sums up the stakes with this tweet:
Education is increasingly a race between civilization and a system of accounting that has no brain and no heart.
— Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) April 21, 2012
I fear the battle for hearts, minds, and souls may be already lost; McShit has won.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Mid-Day Essay Question About Politicians Motivations Edition

From this Charles M. Blow post on "Campaign Stops," a New York Times political blog,
I have no personal gripe with Romney. I don’t believe him to be an evil man. Quite the opposite: he appears to be a loving husband and father. Besides, evil requires conviction, which Romney lacks. But he is a dangerous man. Unprincipled ambition always is. Infinite malleability is its own vice because it’s infinitely corruptible by others of ignoble intentions.
Blow's distinction between evil and dangerous seems to me to be useful.

Here's the essay question:   One should probably distrust politicians who run because their own personal ox has been gored, and the empty suits who certainly seem to be "infinitely corruptible by others of ignoble intentions."  One should also distrust those who run to add political office to their resume.  Is there anyone on the statewide or national political scene who doesn't fit one of those three criteria?  Are all politicians inherently dangerous? 

Support your answers with concrete examples.  Neatness counts.  (Not really, but I like saying it.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Everything You're Not Supposed To Try At Home In A Little Over Six Minutes


Local Boy May Not Make Good: Thune Not On Veep List In CNN Poll

From this Daily Beast Cheat Sheet summary,  Republicans apparently prefer Condi Rice, Santorum or Chris "Damn Man! I'm the Governor" Christie to Thune for Veep
Would Condi and Mitt make a good team? Republicans and conservative independents seem to think so, according to a new CNN poll released Wednesday in which former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice earned the most votes for preferred vice president (26 percent). Rick Santorum was second choice with 21 percent of the vote, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie tied for third with 14 percent. Thirty-six percent of voters who didn’t consider themselves Tea Partiers voted for Rice, who has repeatedly said she’s not interested in the job.
The polling data can be found here.  Page 3 of the PDF indicates that only 4 percent named "someone else."  Even if single "someone else" respondent was thinking of Thune, he would still trail Rice, Santorum, Christie, Rubio, and Lousiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Plains Pops: Disconcerting Reads Edition

Lots of items I read bother me, but I don't have the time or knowledge to comment fully on them.  Here are a few recent ones.

From this Washington Post article,
The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.
Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives. 
If a government is going to kill people, shouldn't it at least know that the people it's killing are indeed the enemy not just some suspicious characters.

Following a couple links from Twitter brought me to this 2011 article from The Nation.
 Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It’s big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion.
I'm betting that Congress will ensure the education corporations follow the same sort of rules that the financial corproations followed prior to 2008.  In fact, I'll wager that some education corporations will soon be too big to fail.

Final following a few links from this interested party post broght me to this frightening paragraph from Free The Slaves.
Free the Slaves’ best estimate, through a study we did with the University of California, Berkeley in 2004, is that there are at least 10,000 people in slavery in the United States at any given time. The US government estimates that 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the US each year. Free the Slaves believes that further research is needed to uncover the full extent of the problem in the US. It is already clear, however, that slavery is a significant problem in the United States, and not just in the major urban areas. We found documented cases of slavery and human trafficking in at least 90 cities throughout the country. The majority of victims are enslaved in domestic work, farm labor, or the sex industry. Most are brought from other countries into the US through force, fraud or coercion and then forced to work for no pay. Others make their way into the US on their own but are then forced into slavery when they arrive - tricked by offers of a good job. Still, other victims are born in the US. In addition, slave-made goods flow into and through the US every day and make their way into our cupboards and closets. Everyone in the United States is touched by slavery in some way.
Over the weekend, I will get to relive my youth and see Godspell performed.  These news items remind us that we may not have learned our lessons well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

People I Never Thought I'd See Grouped Together

John Thune, John Cornyn, Jean Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett

On the political end of the spectrum, does anyone have any data on whether being mocked by Jon Stewart helps or hurts his standing in the veepstakes?

Under The Radar Issues

Conor Friedersdorf contends that "folks of all ideological persuasions" should lay out "the issues that are unlikely to come up on their own, but that merit attention the attention of candidates and voters." Friedersdorf's list includes mass incarceration:
The United States locks up a higher percentage of its citizenry -- and spends more doing it -- than any other democratic nation on earth. Prison rape is endemic. Many of those behind bars were convicted for non-violent drug crimes. Blacks are disproportionately imprisoned, which affects family formation in many communities. And these morally problematic policies don't even keep us safer than citizens in countries that do things differently.
He also wants candidates to confront the surveillance state.
Technology and post-9/11 attitudes toward surveillance without warrants are factors in an unprecedented diminution of the privacy that Americans are afforded by their government. Private corporations are meanwhile amassing more data about us than ever before, and generally sharing that information with the state -- in secret -- whenever they're asked to do so. As a result, we're vulnerable to abuses that would make J. Edgar Hoover's worst excesses look tame. The human tendency to abuse sweeping surveillance power is unchanged, while the capacity to secretly watch is expanding at an unprecedented rate. Additional safeguards are needed.
Friedersdorf correctly asserts that neither issue will be discussed even though both are important. He adds another issue that I would not have thought of, patent reform.
In various industries, and especially in fields related to computers and the Internet, patent trolling, or amassing patents so that you can sue innovators for violating them, is both rampant and a huge drag on an economy that is already fragile. Corporations are spending millions to buy patents purely as defensive measures against future lawsuits, and too many patents are being granted by the government. Dramatic reform of intellectual property law is needed. 
I'll add a couple of my own.  First, transportation infrastructure:  yes, it's the policy debate topic for 2012-13, but that doesn't mean that it's not important or that  candidates will talk about it.

Second, broadband access:  the US ranks 23rd.  'Nuff said

Like Friedersdorf, I hope others create their own lists.  The discussion needs to go beyond hot button issues.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Teachers Need To Collaborate More

In an Atlantic essay, Jeffery Mirel and Simona Goldin report on teacher isolation
In his classic 1975 book, Schoolteacher, Dan Lortie described teacher isolation as one of the main structural impediments to improved instruction and student learning in American public schools. Lortie argued that since at least the 19th century teachers have worked behind closed doors, rarely if ever collaborating with colleagues on improving teaching practice or examining student work. "Each teacher," Lortie wrote, "... spent his teaching day isolated from other adults; the initial pattern of school distribution represented a series of 'cells' which were construed as self-sufficient."
This situation continues to the present day. A recent study by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that teachers spend only about 3 percent of their teaching day collaborating with colleagues. The majority of American teachers plan, teach, and examine their practice alone.
The authors report that other counties emphasize collaboration, and that American teachers do not oppose collaboration.
In other countries, such as Finland and Japan, where students outperform those in the U.S. in international tests such as PISA and TIMMS, collaboration among teachers is an essential aspect of instructional improvement. The problem is not that American teachers resist collaboration. Scholastic and the Gates Foundation found that nearly 90 percent of U.S. teachers believe that providing time to collaborate with colleagues is crucial to retaining good teachers.
Corporate reformers, politicians like Governor Daugaard, and bureaucrats like Secretary of Education Melody Schopp see merit pat as an essential element of reform.  Mirel and Golden report that merit pay may hinder collaboration efforts.
While we are making good headway in support of these efforts, one problem looms. A number of contemporary reformers have put great faith in the idea that teacher competition (e.g., merit pay) can dramatically improve educational outcomes. The jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of such reforms, but we greatly fear that such policies will undermine teachers' collaborative work. Ironically, competitive teacher assessment schemes could reinforce teacher isolation. If teachers are competing with one another for merit pay, why should they collaborate with one another? They might as well go back behind their closed doors.
Several quick points about the Mirel's and Golden's fears. First, merit pay advocates will no doubt scream that teachers who don't collaborate because someone else may get a bonus are hypocrites.  These merit pay advocates fail to explain how a bonus that is allegedly large enough to motivate people to do a better job is not large enough to motivate people to keep their best ideas to themselves.  The business world seems to view employees who work hard to get a bonus by freezing out their colleagues as valuable, motivated workers not hypocrites.

These reformers also don't explain why merit pay is worth the risk.  As the Mirel and Golden point out, "[t]he jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of . . . [merit pay] reforms."

Schools need to change.  Increasing collaboration is a good step; unfortunately, political gamesmanship will probably prevent collaboration from happening.