Jun 11

Parental Responsibility and Education

Good news parents!  In the recent Atlantic article on Joel Klein on the New York public school system, you are mentioned only in passing.

First, politicians see parents as a political constituency:

Let’s start with the politicians. From their point of view, the school system can be enormously helpful, providing patronage hires, school-placement opportunities for connected constituents, the means to get favored community and business programs adopted and funded, and politically advantageous ties to schools and parents in their communities.

Next, as a group to be lobbied and pressured by unions:

Moreover, millions of union members turn out when summoned, going door-to-door, staffing phone banks, attending rallies, and the like. Teachers are extremely effective messengers to parents, community groups, faith-based groups, and elected officials, and the unions know how to deploy them well.

President Obama seems to think teachers are more important than parents with regards to student performance:

But it’s just disastrous for the kids in our schools. While out-of-school environment certainly affects student achievement, President Obama was on to something in 2008 when he said: “The single most important factor in determining [student] achievement is not the color of [students’] skin or where they come from. It’s not who their parents are or how much money they have. It’s who their teacher is.”

Again, parents as a resource not as caregiver:

Given the other job opportunities for talented mathematicians—but not for phys-ed teachers—the same salary will attract many more of the latter than the former. It’s simple supply and demand. But when you’re short of qualified math teachers—as virtually every major urban school district is—poor kids with the greatest needs invariably get cheated, because most teachers prefer to teach highly motivated kids who live in safe communities, and whose parents will contribute private money to the school. The result: too few effective math and science teachers in high-poverty schools.

It occurs to no one that parental engagement beyond a source of money, votes, or influence might be useful.


Mar 10

AEI and intellectual credibility?

A friend of mine forwarded me a report [pdf] from the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on the performance expectations of the Obama Administration‘s Race-to-the-Top.

How credible can AEI be given the purging of David Frum (could anybody really believe it wasn’t for his Waterloo post?) and the admission by Bruce Bartlett that AEI scholars were forbidden to comment on healthcare since they were basically in agreement with Obama’s plan?

I wonder what the watercooler talk is comparative to the company party line? I have to question their intellectual sincerity and adherence to ideological dogma.

This paper hits the usual “Union Bad” points, but it only contains the word parents twice, budgets 6-times, child/children/student 20-times, but contains both union and teachers more than 40-times each*. I know this is reductive, but do they imply the attention is to be paid as follows: 2% to parents, 6% budgetary, 19% to students, and 74% to teachers and unions? I think their ideology is over-informing their reality.

Feb 10

Daily Links for January 15th through February 3rd

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

  • The Future of Search: Social Relevancy Rank – What we are about to get is a Social Relevancy Rank. Whenever you search streams of activity, the results will be ordered not chronologically but by how relevant each is to you based on your social graph. That is, people who matter more to you will bubble up. How does this work? Well, there will be a formula, just as there is a formula for Page Rank.
  • Saturday Evening Post Covers – Fine Art Reproductions of Iconic Illustrations – The complete archive of the Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations has been opened and hundreds of these iconic images are available as fine art reproductions. The remastered images are published as fine articles available on paper or canvas. These classic images recall a simpler time as well as representing the golden age of illustration. In addition to the complete archive of Norman Rockwell covers, we offer hundereds of other timeless cover illustrations.
  • Here’s Why Attempts To Cut The Deficit Will Definitely Make The Nation Poorer – Unfortunately, he’s got it backwards. The deficits he decries actually help to sustain demand and create jobs, thereby supporting the economy — not destroying it. And he reflects a commonly held belief that growing government debt represents a burden on our children and grandchildren, implicitly suggesting that future generations will have to reduce consumption in order to pay the taxes required to pay off the outstanding debt. Related to this is the fallacy that too much bond issuance will create a “debtors’ revolt”, whereby “the markets” will force the country to pay higher interest rates in order to “fund” its spending.
  • iPhone 3G S Carries $178.96 BOM and Manufacturing Cost, iSuppli Teardown Reveals  – iSuppli – My Observation: Apple's cost to add 3G capability to the iPod Touch would be under $30, based on iSuppli's tear-down of the iPhone 3GS.
  • 20+ mind-blowing social media statistics revisited | Blog | Econsultancy
  • The Data Digest: Trending Consumers’ Interest In Netbooks – What we see is that consumers are mostly interested in netbooks as a second or third PC that they could use while on the go, or that they consider giving one to their children.
  • iPad or Kindle: will our wallets decide? — Engadget – In quite a few ways, Apple's iPad and iBooks announcement today was a shot across the bow of Amazon's Kindle. Sure, Apple played nice, even saying that Amazon has done a "great job of pioneering" the e-book space, but you can't help but think that Apple thinks of itself as the evolution of the Kindle, not mere competition. Steve Jobs says that Apple is going to "stand on their shoulders," and that doesn't sound quite as benign as perhaps he meant it. So, how do the devices stack up, specifically as book consuming devices? Well, for starters, one of these things costs a whole lot more than the other… let's break it down after the break.
  • Psychological Tests for Student Use
  • Social Influence Marketing Trends
  • Razorfish – Fluent – The Social Influence Marketing Report
  • Understand Your Customers’ Social Behaviors – Applying Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to participation with Online Social Media.
  • The social behavior incentive (how your app can be as addictive as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare) – So, how can you make your own app addictive?
  • Timeline of Personhood Rights and Powers [Corporate versus Personal] – A pdf timeline.
  • Political math: 37 > 63 – James Fallows – Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails.
  • Transparency: State-by-state Abortion Rates – Transparency – GOOD – Congress is trying to wrap up health-care reform this week. One of the major issues in the bill has been whether it would provide government funding for abortions, which—as with anything to do with the abortion issue—has resulted in much vitriol. In thinking about the debate, it's good to have a grasp on the scope of the issue. This is a graphic of the abortion rates around the country.
  • The Indispensible Ideas of 2009 – Harvard Business Review – 2009 was a year of unprecedented change. The global economic crisis caused us to reevaluate every aspect of business, from strategy to innovation to managing resources. Throughout all of this, Harvard Business Press remained a trusted source for the best ideas and advice on weathering tough economic times.

    Selected by leading business publications worldwide, below are the Harvard Business Press books that topped 2009’s "Best of" lists. These titles not only wowed the critics, they also helped thousands of managers like you survive and thrive in today’s complex business world.

  • A Writing Revolution § SEEDMAGAZINE.COM – In our analysis, we considered an author’s text “published” if 100 or more people read it. (Reaching 100 people may seem inconsequential, but new-media messages are often re-broadcast by recipients, and then by their recipients, and so on. In this way, a message can “go viral,” reaching millions.) Extrapolation of the Twitter-author curve (the dashed line) predicts that every person will publish in 2013. That is the ceiling: 100 percent participation. Provided current growth continues, the prediction of imminence is robust. Increasing the stringency of the criterion for “publishing” from 100 to 1,000 readers would reduce new-media authorship tenfold, but merely delays the predicted 100 percent participation by a year under this model.

Jan 10

Daily Links for January 12th through January 15th

All excerpts are quoted from the respective link(s).

Jan 10

Education Policy Disagreements in My Household

My wife – a special education school teacher – and I have a bit of a policy disagreement regarding teacher merit pay.

Most can agree that our Education System is broken (see anything by John Taylor Gatto) and some sort of reform is necessary (even if it rankles some of the President’s core constituents).   Sometimes that change can only be motivated through monetary incentives.   On the macro-level, I can see the potential benefits.   On the micro-level, it’s likely that her students may not ever achieve sufficiently for her to earn said bonuses.

While I’m not necessarily opposed to merit pay, even in a Union environment, I have a problem with the mechanism for earning those incentives, and how there could be a long-term misalignment between the outcome expected (educated students) and the data measured, distorted by short-term individual gain (executive bonuses).   Basically, an administrator can ‘work the numbers’ to earn a bonus, totally above board, and still fail at the long-term mission of education.

I’ve already heard stories of local districts being accused of monkeying with metrics, and also heard others regarding services being in-sourced or out-sourced solely for monetary savings and irrespective of the quality or appropriateness of service.   The spreadsheets certainly distilled the data to highlight what was best.

On the surface, a data-driven approach dissolves many of the existing problems by being totally objective.   If 500 students out of 800 go to college, that is a 63% advancement rate.   Dispassionate statistics are immune to political and ideological pressures.   There is no room for argument – data and spreadsheets don’t lie.   Unless we ask them to…

Consider the case of the Philadelphia Police Department and the under-reporting of sex crimes (rape) as exposed by the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Going down with crime.” For years, that was the phrase among Philadelphia police about their culture of minimizing or dismissing complaints from crime victims. This practice kept crime statistics low, thereby improving the department’s image.

In articles and series published in recent years, The Inquirer examined that long-standing practice – especially the “downgrading” of rapes.

Former Police Commissioner John F. Timoney eventually acknowledged that many rapes and other sex offenses had been improperly classified and had received little or no investigation. The department eventually admitted that its sex crimes unit had misclassified 1,822 crimes dating back to 1995.

It’s unclear if the downgrading happened on the beat, at the precinct, or at the roundhouse.

There is little incentive (beyond avoiding work) for unionized, uniformed officers to downgrade statistics, as the metrics would likely not aid them in promotions, and would not receive bonuses in this fashion outside of their contract.   It’s also unclear if senior uniformed or civilian management had any bonus monies, incentives, or promotion opportunities tied to the statistics.   It’s hard to imagine how PPD leadership wouldn’t have some sort of stake.   It’s also fair to consider the political pressures that might have been at play.

Most depressingly, by reflecting dropping crime rates and promoting their own performance, they were likely reducing state and Federal aid in both manpower and money, leading to a more dangerous environment for both Police Officers and citizens.   This was more than a Philadelphia problem, with the issue appearing on University and College campuses as well as other towns and municipalities.

The PPD subsequently employed CompStat to evaluate the metrics, but they are still initiated by people and paper.

The same questions were asked about George W. Bush’s Texas Miracle which subsequently became “No Child Left Behind”, and are now being asked of Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Yes, metrics are important, but they can’t be everything, and they can distort and obfuscate just as much as they can lend clarity.   What you decide to measure (teacher performance) – and what you choose to ignore (administrative performance) – are subjective choices.   If you make uninformed choices at the onset, your errors are compounded at conclusion.

Further, who understands all the various coefficients, powers, and standard deviations?   Statistics was my single worst subject, bar none (okay, not really, you can throw Chemistry and Physics in their too.   And advanced maths.   All of them), and I know I’m not alone.   Does the citizenry even understand the problem:

[ARNE] DUNCAN: Here’s another Gallup result that I think is fascinating. This is the most remarkable finding. Everyone thinks their own school is good and that everybody else’s school is bad. That’s a constant theme. (See Tables 2, 3, and 4 on Page 11.)

KAPPAN: Why do you think that exists?

DUNCAN: Too many people don’t understand how bad their own schools are. They always think it’s somebody else’s kid who’s not being educated. They don’t understand that it’s their own kid who’s being short-changed. That’s part of our challenge. How do you awaken the public to believe that your own kid isn’t getting what they need and you don’t know it. If they would wake up, they could be part of the change. We need to wake them up.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say they don’t know their school is bad.   I would say that they have no idea which data points are important, and that they would prefer those who do to   make the best decisions possible.   Education Reform is a little like the Federal Deficit, everyone knows its important, but no one really knows why, what to do about   it, or how it affects them.

The ubiquity of computing devices, always-on-internet, and a fire hose of data will make it even more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, or even easier to cherry pick or work the data.   We can’t be data driven without being data literate.