Monday, December 27, 2010

The “Ignorance Hypothesis”

U.S. Income Disparity: Actual, Perceived Actual, Perceived Ideal

From "Theoretical Egalitarians" by Timothy Noah for Slate, September 27, 2010:

…Why aren't the bottom 99 percent marching in the streets?

One possible answer is sheer ignorance. People know we're living in a time of growing income inequality, [Paul] Krugman told me, but "the ordinary person is not really aware of how big it is." The ignorance hypothesis gets a strong assist from a new paper for the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science: "Building a Better America—One Wealth Quintile at a Time." The authors are Michael I. Norton, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Business School, and Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist (and blogger) at Duke…

The richest 1 percent account for 35 percent of the nation's net worth; subtract housing, and their share rises to 43 percent. The richest 20 percent (or "top quintile") account for 85 percent; subtract housing and their share rises to 93 percent. But when Norton and Ariely surveyed a group whose incomes, voting patterns, and geographic distribution approximated that of the U.S. population, the respondents guessed that the top quintile accounted for only 59 percent of the nation's wealth…

Americans' ignorance about wealth (and, probably, income) distribution is encouraging in the sense that it offers hope that most voters might opt for government policies more conducive to equality if only they knew how unequal things were…

The dramatic rise in income inequality started about 30 years ago. This timing coincides with the rise of this current free-market style of public education reform which started after the 1983 A Nation at Risk.

Whether they are billionaire and millionaire "philanthropists", hedge fund managers, or Ivy League-trained others (the zealot TFA-crowd), the people who drive and support the "reform" are typically from the small group which is accumulating more and more of this nation’s wealth. They shun public schools for their own children, but that doesn't stop them from being obsessed with dramatically transforming and weakening the public school system used by everyone else.

What's going on is a power grab. This "reform" group supports the elimination of local control via elected school boards, the reduction of expenditures on public education and social services, the dismantling of teachers unions, an increase in the number of publicly-funded private schools (vouchers and charter schools), the increased spending on testing and associated services and products, the implementation of an agenda that forces 18-year olds into lifelong debt (see “Top Ramen For Life: The Student Loan Crisis”), etc. This group spreads propaganda (and HERE) and actively suppresses opposition

The evidence is everywhere that our nation is shifting to a plutocracy. As for education, South Bronx Teacher is correct when he says, "Apathy and ignorance of what is going on with education today will ultimately be our undoing."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Observations on local control

This issue is all about who allows whom to have power in the society. Anti-local control people don't have a problem with wealthy communities having local control over their school districts. For instance, no one gripes about the local control of Piedmont City Unified (CA), even though the district is labeled “failing” because it hasn’t made AYP since 2003 (median household income = $168,947).

There's probably some dividing line of wealth in a district, above which local control is a non-issue for the anti-local control crowd, but under which they consider local control to be abhorrent. We can't let the unwashed masses make their own decisions and have their own leaders, can we?

And if the complaint is that there is a dearth of strong local leadership talent at the grassroots level, then why don’t the reformers urge their philanthropist friends to pour money into long range efforts that will develop the leadership skills of more people in the local community? To me that would be a socially healthy way to proceed in a country which considers itself to be a democracy. Oh right, I forgot...if that ever happened it would disrupt the monopoly of who is in control.

I recall Charlie Rose and Yale president Richard Levin talking about Yale's approach to developing leaders (2004 interview). Levin said:
“We have like 250 undergraduate student organizations. Now that means that there are 250 presidents, or leaders, of these organizations…So it really is a lot of opportunity for Yale students to learn how to work in teams, to learn how to work in groups toward a common purpose, and then have opportunities to rise to leadership roles within them.”
That approach sounds smart to me.

A lot of urban school students have been chronically deprived of clubs and similar healthy social opportunities. What better way to prevent those young people from having the types of experiences which might develop their leadership talents?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The public education theater of war

"Mr. President, there is a war going on in this country and I am not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in this country against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country. The reality is that many of the nation's billionaires are on the warpath..."

This is a multi-theater conflict. In the public education theater of war, the force is funded and commanded by:
  • Bill Gates,
  • Eli Broad,
  • Michael Bloomberg,
  • The Walton family,
  • and a whole host of others

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Teacher effectiveness: the student perspective

Manny Lopez, an Oakland teacher in his 15th year of teaching, recently shared this story with members of a local parents’ listserv. Curious about what students in his Fourth Grade (bilingual) class would say, he asked them what made an effective teacher.  A ten minute brainstorm produced the following ideas:


- a patient person
- a kind person
- one who is respectful of students
- one who is smart
- multilingual
- no nonsense
- one who looks after us when we're feeling sick
- one who is interesting
- one who comes to school regularly (not frequently absent)
- fun and creative
- helpful
- happy
- a curious person
- someone who is excited about the material
- someone who doesn't rush through the lessons
- a clean and organized person
- someone who is on time/punctual
- someone who can be a little goofy
- someone who occasionally introduces ideas to students that doesn't necessarily have to do but can be connected with what is being taught

Mr. Lopez then told his students that there is an ongoing discussion about teacher effectiveness, and explained to them that one line of thinking believes that teachers should be measured by their students' test scores. He wrote:

If only you could see the expressions on my fourth-graders' faces.  I asked one student whose face was particularly scrunched up what she thought.  She said that that didn't seem fair.  Virtually every one of my students agreed with her.  I got the following three reasons before they were dismissed:

- some students don't pay attention.
- when in a hurry, some students just fill in any bubble
- chance is involved

So there you have it, the elemental T-R-U-T-H.

How can we get Gates, Broad, Duncan, et al. to listen to the thoughtful words that come out of the mouths of babes?

h/t Manny. Thanks for sharing.