Outliers

I missed something significant in my earlier post, an outlier.  There is one school in Wake County with both a high portion of poor kids and high pass rates.  Who is this miracle worker and what are they doing?  Can anyone help me?

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Hiding poor performers is no fix

The News and Observer this morning attempts its own analysis of performance in Wake County schools.  Unfortunately they failed to clarify matters.  In response I sent the following letter to the editor. 



Your article on five big questions fails to clarify the reality in Wake schools.  On question 2, whether higher-poverty schools have higher teacher turnover and lower test scores, your response conceals a more discomfiting truth; that poor children perform comparably poor regardless how much of the student body they comprise. 

You cite Salem, for its low poor enrollment and high passing rates, and Brentwood, for its high poor enrollment and low passing rates.  Inconvenient to your “healthy schools” conclusion, 39% of Brentwood poor kids pass and only 26% of Salem poor kids pass.  By focusing on school pass rates, your story obscures the fact that we are failing to educate the poor. 

Worse still, like too many in this debate, you mix unrelated issues.  Suburban parents want proximity and, more importantly, stability in school assignment – a fair request.  The poor want, or ought to want, increased academic achievement beyond all else.  The one size fits all system struggles to serve both ends.

It’s time that we get on with adopting some of the successful programs that are making huge strides at raising academic achievement among the poor, and stop trying to spread the failure around.

 

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Life’s Rich Pageant

Every now and again I come across an article in the newspaper about a real life circumstance that just tickles me beyond that which art or The Onion can do.  This morning I read such an article in the News and Observer titled “Panel leery of The Edge’s housing plan.” 

Okay . . . stop right there. . . “The Edge’s housing plan?”  Let’s deconstruct that.  The Edge  is the nom de guitar plume of the U2 guitarist Dave Evans, and the housing plan is his intention to build 5 high-end homes on a hill in Malibu.   These 4 words don’t belong together:  The – Edge’s – housing – plan. 

But this is just the beginning.  Here is the first sentence from the article:

“The Edge’s dream . . . [I can't even type it.  His dream?  Really?!?  He of many Grammy's, many, many millions, many records, many concerts, and little hair.  I'll try again.]

“The Edge’s dream of building a secluded compound of homes on a ridge high above Malibu has been dealt a serious blow by state regulators who accuse the U2 guitarist of scheming to get around environmental rules by concealing who owns the property.”

Yes, Yes.  I can see how concealing who owns the property can be damaging to the environment.  Wait.  No I can’t. 

But there’s more.

“Environmental groups and residents of the canyons and hillsides below have lined up against the project, saying it’s out of harmony for a member of a band that has advocated for humanitarian and green causes and even tried to offset the carbon footprint of its tours.”

Out of harmony?  Yes, I see.  Had The Edge been an otherwise money-grubbing Earth destroyer this development (all 5 homes of it) might have been in harmony, and therefore allowable.

There is so much going on here that it boggles the mind.  I would link to the article but the N&O has substantially changed it for its online edition, taking away so much of the fun.  Here is the source article from the LA Times.

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4G Smoke and Mirrors

I recently noticed that all cell carriers are now advertising 4G networks. As a technophile, my first thought should have been “Yeah!  More speed in more places.”  But it wasn’t.  It was a raised eyebrow.

A couple of years ago I was working with a relative on a cell tower investment.  The financial question essentially came down to a valuation of the future use of cell towers compared to alternative technologies.  To establish such an estimate I studied up on what the competing technologies were and what the various companies were investing in.  My conclusion, over simplifying a bit, was that cell towers would appreciate because; WiMax was a leap forward, needed cell towers, and was likely to be adopted broadly. 

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Second, Time On Task Yields Academic Achievement

There is an achievement gap between the poor and the wealthy and, in measure, it persists.  You can know this by reading the many studies that show it.  I know it first-hand.

I grew up in Great Brook Valley, a highly rent-subsidized public housing project.  Everyone was poor.  Academic achievement was scarce.  And, by my own observation, there is a generational repeater pattern.  

 Let’s forget why for now and instead talk about the exceptions.

KIPP schools target poor kids and get dramatically higher achievement than comparable schools in the same area serving a similar population. 

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First, Do No Harm

Mike has teed-up the broad question.  In this post I explore a portion of the nature-nurture question. 

We parents tend to get “wrapped around the pole” pushing our kids. If we are to believe Dr. Chua, perhaps Asians get more wrapped than others.   Implicit within Dr. Chua’s arguments are a strong defense for the nurture-side in the nature v. nurture debate. 

Timed nicely, this morning Jonah Lehrer writes about new research that finds a link between performance on intelligence tests and socio-economic status. 

By studying the performance of identical versus fraternal twins, the scientists could tease out the relative importance of factors such as genetics and the home environment. Because the infants came from households across the socioeconomic spectrum, it also was possible to see how wealth influenced test scores.

Specifically, the findings were that genes played a smaller part in low socioeconomic households and a much higher part in predicting intelligence in high socioeconomic households.

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Tiger Moms and the National Interest

Sean has asked me to make an occasional contribution to his blog so he can devote more time to thinking about the Red Sox.   So here goes…

My initial assignment is to comment on the “Battle Hymn of the Chinese Tiger Mother” controversy (see the Wall Street Journal article for an excerpt from the book that started everything).  I am uniquely qualified to comment on this issue as I have no children; however, I was a child at one time.

What’s the Goal?

If we look at the issue by asking the question, “Which approach is best for the quality of life for the child (and future adult), I believe the answer is somewhere in the middle.  Only if the primary goal of the eventual adult is to be the absolute best at everything he or she does would the “Tiger Mom” approach provide the optimal results.   There are probably a few people for whom this is true, but there is enough evidence out there to convince me that for most people, this is not what happiness is all about.   There were high expectations for me as a child, and they motivated me to achieve a certain level of academic achievement and career success.   I am not the best at everything I do, but I am good enough at the things that are needed to achieve the goals in life that I think are worth pursuing.  I might also add that “the goals in life that I think are worth pursuing” have changed over the years.

On the other hand, not instilling in children a drive to be competent and good at what they do can also affect future quality of life, especially if there are obstacles to be overcome in order for them to achieve the goals in life that they think are worth pursuing–which for some people may simply be financial independence and a stable family.  These folks might need Tiger Moms to get over the obstacles.

What About the National Interest?

What I just said dealt with what is best for the individual child.  But a completely separate argument deals with which approach is better for a nation or for society as a whole.

If you take my argument above to its logical conclusion, you have a society of happy individuals, each competent enough to achieve their personal goals in life.  So, let’s imagine Nation A, which is at this level.  Now let’s imagine Nation B, which has not gotten the memo about personal happiness, and is populated by Tiger Moms and their offspring.   One could argue that Nation B would eventually be much more powerful economically than Nation A, and potentially the citizens of Nation A would be relegated to low-paying jobs, supplying the needs of Nation B.  (A situation that I believe that Sean foresaw in his trip to India).  Even worse would be a situation where Nation B were militaristic.

Let’s take it a step further and assume that all nations were like Nation A, where the only parental goal was to raise children to achieve personal happiness.   So we eliminate the problem of Nation A becoming economically or militarily subservient to other nations because of this. But how much do we lose in terms of societal progress?  Sean has frequently stated his position that progress will eventually get us though most of our problems, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that a society raised by Tiger Moms will achieve more technological progress than a society based on individual happiness.  How many happy individuals will die because the cure for their disease hasn’t yet been found?

So, what’s good for the individual (personal happiness) may not be good for the greater society.

The Beginning, not the End of the Dialogue

Well, there I’ve done it–wasted several minutes of your time and leaving with more questions than we started with.   But remember, the post that prompted my thought dump is titled “To Begin a Dialogue on Parenting and Education“.  If I had the answer, that would end the dialog, and Sean asked me to start it.    So I have fulfilled my obligation, which leaves me more time to think about the Detroit Tigers (who, although they were raised by Tiger Moms, are not the best in everything they do).

Posted in Education, Parenting, Progress, Uncategorized | 2 Comments