mm454: It’s going to take a liberal quantity of BOLD

July 31, 2008

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MUDGE’s Musings

We observe the first anniversary of the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis (August 1, 2007) with some sadness, and furious anger.

Sadness due to the thirteen lives lost, and 100+ injured.

Anger because the danger embodied in this country’s aging and dilapidated bridges, highways, levees and schools is criminally no closer to alleviation than 366 days ago.

Meanwhile, the economy is faltering: banks are failing, foreclosures are at record highs (three million empty houses!), the ranks of under- and unemployed growing apace.

What is it going to take to repair this country’s infrastructure osteoporosis?

What is it going to take to kick start the economy, to get people working and once again able to meet their mortgage obligations, perhaps even afford that $4.299/gallon gasoline?

It’s going to take a liberal quantity of bold.

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mm368: Knowledge: Blast furnace of the 21st century

May 3, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Do you feel buffeted by the forces of the post-industrial revolution? How can you not?

The history of technology is a frequent visitor to this nanocorner of the ‘Sphere©, mostly because it has long been of interest to yr (justifiably) humble svt. Also, because the macro changes occurring all around us are, of course, culminations, or at least stops along the way, of trends that began when humans created civilization, perhaps 10,000 years ago.

L-HC‘s History of Technology

mm361: Gin, television, Web 2.0
mm359: The Navy’s ferry tale — unhappy ever after
mm278a: Don’t look back: Something gaining on you
mm272: What the devil time is it anyway?
mm228: Toothpicks — Good to great to gone
mm224: Dec. 17, 1903: A seminal date in history
mm195: Edison and Tesla
mm159: Sputnik | Spacemen are from Mars
mm119: Creating the sequitur
mm104: There She Blew

The ages of human development have long been characterized, and popularized, by the most important attribute of the era. Thus we can cite some of the various ages, stone (which actually predates modern homo sapiens), agriculture, discovery, mercantile, industrial.

Have we moved beyond the industrial age? David Brooks tackled this topic in yesterday’s NYTimes.

nytimes

The Cognitive Age

Op-Ed Columnist | By DAVID BROOKS | Published: May 2, 2008

If you go into a good library, you will find thousands of books on globalization. Some will laud it. Some will warn about its dangers. But they’ll agree that globalization is the chief process driving our age. Our lives are being transformed by the increasing movement of goods, people and capital across borders….

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mm110: Grading Mayoral Control – City Journal

August 21, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

It’s a Michael Bloomberg post!

Tying together two of MUDGE’s persistent interests, education (I’ve got a kid in the biz, donchaknow) and the national aspirations of Michael Bloomberg, is this report from a new source for this observer, City Journal.

cityjournal

Lauded in the press, Bloomberg’s education reforms are proving more spin than substance. Parents are losing patience.

Sol Stern
Summer 2007

Mayoral control, the hot new trend in urban school reform, began in Boston and Chicago in the 1990s. Now it’s the New York City school system, under the authority of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that’s become the beacon for education-mayor wannabes like Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. Influential philanthropic foundations, such as the Los Angeles–based Broad Foundation (headed by Bloomberg friend and fellow billionaire Eli Broad) and the Gates Foundation, are investing in Bloomberg as the model big-city mayor who uses his new executive powers over the schools to advance a daring reform agenda. Meanwhile, the national media’s positive coverage of mayoral control in Gotham is adding to the luster of a possible Bloomberg presidential run.

For New Yorkers, though, the original appeal of mayoral control was entirely parochial. The old Board of Education—with seven members, appointed by six elected city officials—offered a case study of the paralysis that sets in when fragmented political authority tries to direct a dysfunctional bureaucracy. New Yorkers arrived at a consensus that there was not much hope of lifting student achievement substantially under such a regime. The newly elected Bloomberg made an offer that they couldn’t refuse: Give me the authority to improve the schools, and then hold me accountable for the results.

So on June 12, 2002, Bloomberg appeared at the mayoral-control bill-signing ceremony alongside Governor George Pataki. The bill would “give the school system the one thing it fundamentally needs: accountability,” said Bloomberg. The new governance system won enthusiastic support across the political spectrum, from conservative think tanks to the New York Times and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), whose members got a huge pay raise.

Just five years later, that consensus has fractured. Some state legislators representing the city, including influential Assembly education-committee chair Catherine Nolan, promise a tough review process when reauthorization of mayoral control comes up in 2008. There’s also a significant demographic divide on the benefits of the reform. Business leaders, editorial boards, and many education experts remain enthusiastic. Constituents at the grass roots, however, feel increasingly frustrated. More than two dozen parent groups and district education councils have passed resolutions opposing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s latest school reorganization plans. According to the Quinnipiac poll of city residents, Klein’s favorability rating has fallen to just 37 percent, and a majority of New Yorkers want something like an independent board of education or a commission with oversight powers.

Gigantic urban school systems present a ferocious challenge. Chicago, Los Angeles (whose new supe is well known to Older Son, who worked directly for him in their prior lives), and NYC all face entrenched bureaucrats, intractable unions, and what may be the most dangerous of all, a generation of immigrant parents who, for the first time, don’t consider education their children’s highest priority.

That said, it always boils down to test scores, doesn’t it?

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

City Journal

And of course, basing evaluations of school success on test scores all too often results only in the success of those who learn how to game the system, at the classroom, school, and district levels, leaving our children no better off.

Not trying to make excuses for Bloomberg, I’ve seen similar problems with mayoral control in Chicago, where one trusted Daley technocrat after another has foundered on the shoals itemized above. And watch out, Adm. Brewer of L.A., the aggressive new mayor is grasping after your turf, too.

No child left behind — is there an emptier, sadder symbol of the fruitlessness of the past 6½ years of George III’s reign? But, the good news, we can still afford to borrow from the Chinese the $10billion per month it’s taking to lose in Iraq!

Urban schools didn’t go bad in one generation — I’m afraid it’s going to take at least one if not more to fix them, if we have the will to do so.

And, Michael Bloomberg, is your vaunted education success another Potemkin Village? Independent minded Americans want to know!

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm106: Are We Failing Our Geniuses? – TIME

August 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Yes.

time

Read this most intriguing and lengthy story the other day in the magazine while waiting for an oil change; then found it on-line later that day courtesy of reddit.com, blogroll2 increasingly a go-to destination for this curmudgeon.

Any sensible culture would know what to do with Annalisee Brasil. The 14-year-old not only has the looks of a South American model but is also one of the brightest kids of her generation. When Annalisee was 3, her mother Angi Brasil noticed that she was stringing together word cards composed not simply into short phrases but into complete, grammatically correct sentences. After the girl turned 6, her mother took her for an IQ test. Annalisee found the exercises so easy that she played jokes on the testers–in one case she not only put blocks in the correct order but did it backward too. Angi doesn’t want her daughter’s IQ published, but it is comfortably above 145, placing the girl in the top 0.1% of the population. Annalisee is also a gifted singer: last year, although just 13, she won a regional high school competition conducted by the National Association of Teachers of Singing.

Annalisee should be the star pupil at a school in her hometown of Longview, Texas. While it would be too much to ask for a smart kid to be popular too, Annalisee is witty and pretty, and it’s easy to imagine she would get along well at school. But until last year, Annalisee’s parents–Angi, a 53-year-old university assistant, and Marcelo, 63, who recently retired from his job at a Caterpillar dealership–couldn’t find a school willing to take their daughter unless she enrolled with her age-mates. None of the schools in Longview–and even as far away as the Dallas area–were willing to let Annalisee skip more than two grades. She needed to skip at least three–she was doing sixth-grade work at age 7. Many school systems are wary of grade skipping even though research shows that it usually works well both academically and socially for gifted students–and that holding them back can lead to isolation and underachievement. So Angi home schooled Annalisee.

Time calls it squandered potential.

To some extent, complacency is built into the system. American schools spend more than $8 billion a year educating the mentally retarded. Spending on the gifted isn’t even tabulated in some states, but by the most generous calculation, we spend no more than $800 million on gifted programs. But it can’t make sense to spend 10 times as much to try to bring low-achieving students to mere proficiency as we do to nurture those with the greatest potential.

Please read for yourself.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Are We Failing Our Geniuses? – TIME

The education of the gifted has been controversial for all of my life: this writer represented a challenge to school systems throughout his childhood, seldom met effectively. Our older children, growing up in the same supposedly enlightened district that I had, were identified as gifted, offered some sop “enrichment,” but not much else. They survived the neglect, and have thrived despite it.

One conundrum: I’m remembering that our older son was given an SAT test in 4th or 5th grade, scored off the chart verbal, higher than expected but hardly genius in math. Too bad for him. They knew what to do with math geniuses: send them off to the high school for algebra, geometry, calculus class work. Verbal: so sorry, no answers. He should join the after-school problem solving competition team. Sigh.

In Hollingworth’s day, when we were a little less sensitive to snobbery, it wasn’t as difficult for high-ability kids to skip grades. But since at least the mid-1980s, schools have often forced gifted students to stay in age-assigned grades–even though a 160-IQ kid trying to learn at the pace of average, 100-IQ kids is akin to an average girl trying to learn at the pace of a retarded girl with an IQ of 40. Advocates for gifted kids consider one of the most pernicious results to be “cooperative learning” arrangements in which high-ability students are paired with struggling kids on projects. Education professor Miraca Gross of the University of New South Wales in Sydney has called the current system a “lockstep curriculum … in what is euphemistically termed the ‘inclusion’ classroom.” The gifted students, she notes, don’t feel included.

People, as we outsource ourselves into a second-class nation, our last, best defense is our brain power, as exemplified by the gifted children highlighted in this Time piece, as honed and magnified by our peerless university system, still the envy of the world (and nurturer of the second and third world’s talent, now all too often finding irresistible the lure of newly fertile ground back at home).

That’s not to say the best approach is a cold Dickensian bed. But Einstein’s experience does suggest a middle course between moving to Reno for an élite new school and striking out alone at age 15. Currently, gifted programs too often admit marginal, hardworking kids and then mostly assign field trips and extra essays, not truly accelerated course work pegged to a student’s abilities. Ideally, school systems should strive to keep their most talented students through a combination of grade skipping and other approaches (dual enrollment in community colleges, telescoping classwork without grade skipping) that ensure they won’t drop out or feel driven away to Nevada. The best way to treat the Annalisee Brasils of the world is to let them grow up in their own communities–by allowing them to skip ahead at their own pace. We shouldn’t be so wary of those who can move a lot faster than the rest of us. *

Let’s order a few fewer F-35s and do better by our gifted children. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

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