Liam Julian

Coby's post is thought-provoking. At what point does despair negate the effect of incentives?

A small problem with Coby's analysis, though, is that schools cannot, on their own, buff out the dents. KIPP and its ilk work for lots of reasons, but it's safe to say that they wouldn't be nearly so successful without committed parents and students and staffs--advantages that most urban schools don't have.

What's more, when schools try to buff out the dents--try to do more than they're capable of doing, more than they're designed to do--they risk ignoring their most basic function, which is to teach kids.

Periodically, a new album from DBLF Studios, features 119 songs, one for each of the elements on the periodic table, as well as a bonus track called "DBLFesium." And yes, each song is actually about the element it's named after. For instance, here's a sampling of the lyrics from track no. 16, "Sulphur":

The lake of fire, yep that's me

I'm what gives the yellow to your pee

As an explosive I'm no conservative

I'm wine and fruit's preservative

Metastable but I rapidly crystallize

I give the colors to Jupiter's skies

Naturally found in volcanic eruptions

Stable in polymer chain constructions

Listen to samples, read the lyrics, and order the CD/MP3s here.

This Boston Globe article from a couple Sundays ago highlights the thinking of philosopher Charles Karelis, who teaches at George Washington University. Karelis argues in his book, The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can't Help the Poor, that being poor causes people to think differently about life, to the point where traditional economic theory can't properly explain the incentives that motivate the poor to act in certain ways:

Karelis argues that being poor is defined by having to deal with a multitude of problems: One doesn't have enough money to pay rent or car insurance or credit card bills or day care or sometimes even food. Even if one works hard enough to pay off half of those costs, some fairly imposing ones still remain, which creates a large disincentive to bestir oneself to work at all.

"The core of the problem has not been self-discipline or a lack of opportunity," Karelis says. "My argument is that the cause of poverty has been poverty."

The upshot, for Karelis, is that poverty relief programs can "actually make [poor people] more, not less, likely to work, just as repairing most of the dents on a car makes the owner more likely to fix the last couple on his own." He himself favors the Earned Income Tax Credit.

What might this mean for schools in deeply impoverished neighborhoods? For one, you can imagine that college-prep schools like KIPP, which offer much more support to their...

George Will explains that Clinton strategist Mark Penn was caught doing something sensible, surreptitiously. (In Penn's case, it was promoting free trade.)

The same could be said about Chris Doherty, who was also caught doing something sensible, surreptisiously. (In Doherty's case, it was promoting scientifically-based reading instruction.)

In today's Washington, both faced the same fate.

Who's ready for a new approach to politics?

Richard SimmonsSo says fitness guru cum educational historian Richard Simmons in this Newsweek article: "The idea of NCLB was to make our children academically well rounded. Now they're just round."

Yup, it must have been NCLB that made kids fat, because back in 2001 American younsters were lean, mean fighting machines. Ah, the low bigotry of soft expectations.

Liam Julian

A cursory glance at this article, innocuously titled "Bisbee casts net for new schools boss," reveals nothing revelatory. The first paragraph notes simply that the Bisbee Unified School District, which is who-knows-where, is searching for a new superintendent and that at Monday's school-board meeting that search was furthered when members decided to establish an application-review committee. But then, in paragraph fifteen, we learn what else they decided at Monday's meeting:

Students attending the Bisbee High School Prom will be given gifts bags containing pictures (sic) frames, candles, mints and two condoms per bag. The board members voted four to one in favor of allowing the gift bags to be distributed.

Paragraph fifteen is rendered even more shocking because, in addition to being tucked away as if it contained nothing of import, it is preceded by this:

Board member Luche Giacomino was concerned with the wording of another section of the dress code that deals with the length of girls' skirts. She felt the measurement by a girl's fingertips at the sides for length was to (sic) vague and wanted the code changed to inches from the knee. Finger-tip length was too short, she added.

Giacomino, who voted in favor of passing out condoms to high-school students at a school-related activity, is appalled that females might choose to wear clothing that doesn't condemn them to stylistic Siberia. Her logic puzzles.

The Bisbee school board represents an unsettling trend: The strident policing of individual behavior that isn't worrisome...

Whether or not you agree with Richard Simmons, it's promising when anti-obesity initiatives work. That appears to be the case in Philadelphia, where the results from a comprehensive healthy-eating campaign showed that "The number of kids who got fat during the two-year experiment was half the number of kids who got fat in schools that didn't make those efforts."

What was the secret? Enter libertarian paternalism:

"We found when you give children healthy choices, they pick them," said Grace McGinley, school nurse at Francis Hopkinson School, one of the test schools.

Call it a nudge, a push, a shove, whatever???schools are supposed to be in loco parentis, so I say be a nudging nanny and junk the junk food for good.

Liam Julian

In The Independent, Steve Richards's column is titled: "If you want to understand politics, just examine the explosive education debate."

Liam Julian

Regarding Mike's post, isn't it odd that a school embraces healthy food alternatives only after a two-year research study? It reminds one of the humorous dig at think tanks: that they study reality to see if it conforms to theory. In Philadelphia's schools, it seems, common sense has truly been vindicated. It is, in fact, correct that replacing soda and potato chips with healthful alternatives will make students healthier!

What happens, though, when this study is replicated in Memphis or Honolulu or Boise and yields no significant results? More studies, no doubt.

Here arises a problem with education reform overall: Common sense often dies at the hands of reports and statistics that obscure or even contradict it. (This occurs in lots of other fields, too. Michael Pollan, for example, makes a persuasive case that America's national eating disorder is, in large part, a product of lousy scientific studies.) It's counterproductive, of course, to toss out the baby with the bathwater and eschew all studies in favor of tradition, but one wonders just how enthralled by statisticians ed reformers wish to be.

Liam Julian

Certainly this isn't the country's most pressing issue, but it's still a big problem.