Saturday, October 27, 2007


I'll be taking a break from blogging for a bit, heralded by last weeks lack of a post, and I probably won't post for a week more, maybe two. Schoolwork takes priority, and also seems to be taking all my interesting ideas.

I have more I want to say, and I will say it, but I want things a tad more polished than they have been, and perhaps more logically constructed. See you all (all three of you) in thanksgiving, if not before then.

(Image came to me uncited. Sorry if that irks you)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Education Reform on the Soviet Extreme

The New York Times today has a story about failing school ins California on its front page. Short column, little above the fold. The story reads, more or less, like the stories the Journal has put out, talking about how no one is really in any way satisfied with the state of things. Follow the law, repeal the law, allow transfers, have more schools that are succeeding to transfer students to, let schools take advantage of free tutoring provided after three years of failure, reorganize school radically after five years of failure (two years of allowing students to transfer out, two years of providing them with tutoring), blah de blah blah.

The problems that go into this are many, the approaches to fixing it varied. In this very space, I've discussed New Orleans, and the varied solutions New Orleans itself is pursuing. It's all well and good, but today, a different approach.

Every city, every single American city that has more than one elementary school, that has more than one middle school/junior high, that has more than one high school would have to adopt this reform.

Build one campus. One vast, vast campus, a beast of a thing, and ideally located in such an inconvenient place that every student has to be bussed in. Every student, of course, will be bussed in. No driving and dropping students off, and no student parking lots. This is to be a monolithic, homogeneous entity.

Every grade will have a building, large enough to accommodate the reasonable fluctuations in a cities population, and large enough to deal with a significant amount of expansion. In fact, each grade building, just to make this whole thing more towering, should have double the capacity expected of it. Every grade will have teachers who commit to that grade for five years or so, and an administration that has no opportunity for reassignment until ten years, at the least, have passed. Monetary recompense will be available so that advancement need not mean giving up a job one is doing well; gross negligence, high crimes, and treason will be valid reasons to get rid of people. Staff will need to be committed to this job, but at the same time there must be some form of pressure, so that this is not a guaranteed job whose performance is irrelevant to pay.

So, we have now 13 schools on a vast stretch of land, serving the entirety of a city, and each committed to a single grade, K-12. Add a 14th school, to allow for pre-k (and to allow for a lucky number of adventurers). There is no flexibility between grades for teachers, and a good deal of versatility in the education system is lost. Now every student can be reasonably expected to be educated the same. There will be no grade skipping, and there will be no honors tracking. If the school decides to have an honors system, it will have to provide a full array of educational specialty, assignment being made at a given year based on IQ test scores taken at the beginning of the year. Arbitrary, certainly, but with annual re-evaluation. Students will not be held back, and will advance with their peers, even if the class they go into is at a grade level or two lower. This hyper-tracking may be as inadvisable as no tracking, but the important thing is that the decision is made once, for the whole nation, and no greater deviance is allowed.

Test scores will be taken twice each year - once when kids enter the grade, and once when they exit. Test scores, for evaluation of teaching ability, will come from two set-ups. One will be end learning over beginning learning. The second will be from last years end learning to this years end learning, based not on "last years fourth graders were better than this years fourth graders", but based on "this years fifth graders show significant improvement over last years fourth graders". At an annual conference for all the teachers and administrators, the people who created the tests will come in and explain what the test results mean, as will knowledgeable critics. Test scores will be shown to teachers in such a way that, while individual teachers need not be implicated and blamed for having a disproportionate number of challenging students, deficits in what these kids are learning will be identified, and this knowledge can be passed on from the teachers who had the students to the 6teachers who will have the students.

The ideal here, the goal of this leviathan of education, is to create such a beast of homogeneity that as many variables are humanly possible can be controlled. This in universal nationwide so that the affluent don't flee to different cities, and that should be combined with a full shutdown of all private school, so that option is gone as well. Given nothing else, no other alternatives, people will make the public education system work, will have to make the public education system work, and inherent flaws will be dealt with and worked through by all parents and students, not just those with no other options.

This is not really an idea I endorse, but I fervently believe in giving every radical notion the full inspection that rational ideas are afforded. "Like the good archer, we aim to high, so that falling short, we still hit our goal"

And with Machiavelli paraphrased, I think it is time for me to go off to work. Tutoring, in a New Orleans school.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Social Science Made Relevant

On Friday, this article ran on the front page of the New York Times. Front page, above the fold, left corner.

I got around to reading it this morning, time and news both being slow in Louisiana. The article is very well written, and is more or less required reading (the NYT being free online now, this shouldn't be a problem). This is not required reading in the sense of "if you want to understand this blog post, you should read this." Blog posts are ultimately far too trivial to warrant a "required". This is required reading in the sense of "if you are a decent human being, you will read this." My criterions for being a decent person are rather biased, but read this. I'll give you plenty of time.

Good, good, keep going.

Okay. I'll assume you're done now.

This is the most brilliant military innovation since, well, diplomats, far as I am concerned.

We have here a fusion of academia and its flaunted understanding, and the military with its desire to act. Taken independently, we'll get books critiquing what should be done from people who are removed from the situation, and we'll get get soldiers acting without any connection to these enlightened policies churned out by intellectuals.

With deployment alongside the military, cultural anthropologists can augment the military with a whole array of capabilities that have little to do with winning battles, but have everything to do with maintaining order. The best evidence that this is a good idea? Since February, the 82nd airborne (to which anthropologists are deployed) has reduced combat operations by 60%.

This is huge.



For an entirely unrealistic example, this is World War II, with only the European theater, both fronts, but no rest of the world.

60% reduction in combat operations is just plain incredible. That it does so through a program that facilitates discussion, positive tribal interactions with US forces, and the simple premise that things are more complicated than merely shooting can resolve, is incredible. Just plain incredible.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Thank You Jim Lehrer

Ann Coulter is coming to Tulane. A one-night thing, nothing more, and she was invited by a student group.

She bothers me on a fundamental level, and I said rather loud and un-nice things about her at people who said she was the proverbial shit. It isn't really a dignified thing, and as someone who holds compromise and intelligent discourse as the highest political ideals, I can't say I'm fond of this. I've said to several people I'd prefer Ahmadinejad came, but then I'm reminded of the shambles that Columbia made of his visit, refusing to either provide a forum for discourse with a very important world leader, or by providing a snub to a man considered one of the greatest threats to the current world order.

I cannot stomach a debate that is holier-than-thou-isms, and I realize that this statement is itself, hypocritically, a holier-than-thou-ism. So, to be more effective, I am deeply troubled and fundamentally concerned that debate in the halls of academia is fostering a petty sensationalism and functions on exclusionary principle. And, let me be honest, I would be mildly less miffed if Michael Moore came, but I would be just as annoyed at the vapid following and the unquestioned obedience people give to their chosen radical. This isn't intelligent, informed discussion, and this isn't what I like about politics. This isn't discourse, and I refuse to boil it down to some petty slogan along the lines of "this is recourse".

I'm not sure what to do. If I go, I can attempt to have a discourse about what she said. If I don't, I can go to a park and play frisbee at night with decent people.

huh. Looks like my mind is made up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Letting Schools Fail

This is brief, and with luck I'll get to expand on it later. Education in New Orleans is in an experimental stage right now, and lots going on that I keep finding out about is worth taking note of.

I'll go with something that is a little bleak. School are now getting closer and closer to a business motive, not yet attached to a true profit motive, but getting close . Money is linked to tests, schools that produce kids who do well on tests continue to get money, and in New Orleans, there are a few dozen different approaches being presented as to how these schools work. The Cowen Institute is emerging as a big player, and Cowen (while president of Tulane) is a business man. His ideas and his input for how to make things work come from the world of business, and so we are seeing an interesting new direction. At its best, schools function like franchises, and are given enough freedoms to fix problems, initiate new programs, and act quickly. At its worst, schools can fail to the point of what would be bankruptcy, at which point in the business world the failed model is culled from the herd, and the customers go elsewhere.

In order for this new experiment of New Orleans schools to succeed, the best has to be differentiated from the worst by some sort of culling process, and the end result of this is two-fold - A new, functioning system is designed, and some students who had the misfortune to go to failed schools are screwed. For the business model to work, this has to be present, and at the moment I'm looking at both a capitalist dream and a civic failure, that may well look like a success for both in eighty years, but it will take the death of every student screwed over to leave this as a clean slate.