Archive

August 16th, 2016

The draconian 'No Excuses' approach to learning

    When I taught at a charter school, I once gave out 37 demerits in a 50-minute period. This was the sort of achievement that earned a new teacher praise in faculty-wide emails at Achievement First Amistad High School, in New Haven, Conn.

    Amistad is a No Excuses school, in the mold of high-profile charter networks such as KIPP and Success Academy. The programs are founded on the notion that there can be "no excuses" for the achievement gap between poor minorities and their more affluent, white counterparts. To bridge that gap, they set high expectations and strict behavioral codes. School days are long. Not a moment is to be wasted. Classes even rehearse passing out papers quickly so they can save every second for drilling academic content. Instruction is streamlined with methods that data says lead to strong performances on standardized tests, which lead to college acceptances.

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The 2016 campaign is getting out of control

    I was all set up to write a diverting little post about what Donald Trump would say in response to interview questions about various fictional crises, imagining Trump bluffing his way through a conversation on the Sokovia Accords or the crisis in Corto Maltese.

    Unfortunately, this is not the week to write that post, not after Trump's Second Amendment "joke."

    The Trump campaign is trying to spin this every which way they can. Claims that his remark about Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was just a "joke" don't really hold water in the sense that jokes still mean something, particularly in presidential campaigns. Furthermore, the statement was serious enough for the Secret Service to have a conversation with the campaign about this kind of rhetoric. The fact that Trump won't apologize for a joke gone bad is indicative of the many other dangerous statements that he never walks back.

    Politico's Michael Crowley notes the obvious concerns:

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Take it from a Kennedy, political violence is no joke

    On April 4, 1968, the day the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed, Robert Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency in Indianapolis. Bobby conveyed the news of King's death to a shattered, mostly black audience. He took pains to remind those whose first instinct may have been toward violence that President John F. Kennedy had also been shot and killed. Bobby went on, "What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black."

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So far, the Seattle minimum-wage increase is doing what it's supposed to do

    What happens when a study shows that a minimum-wage increase is simply having its intended effect? When it's found to raise the pay of low-wage workers without causing much in the way of the job displacements that critics rail about? Unfortunately, one thing that apparently happens is the findings get misinterpreted (though, as I'll show, this is partly due to the omission of key statistical information).

    The study to which I'm referring examines the impact of the first stage of the minimum-wage increase in Seattle. In April 2015, the city raised its minimum wage from around $9.50 to $11, on the way to $15 an hour by 2017 (for employers with 500 or more employees and certain other employers; the minimum wage for most Seattle businesses rose to $10 in April 2015, and $15 will not go into effect for all Seattle businesses until 2021). The pay of affected workers went up almost 12 percent, compared to a 5 percent increase for workers in nearby, similar places that weren't bound by the increase. The study's authors concluded that the increase raised the pay of affected workers by seven percentage points more than might otherwise have occurred.

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'Politically incorrect' ideas are mostly rude, not brave

    When Donald Trump took the podium in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention last month, he promised voters that "I will present the facts plainly and honestly. We cannot afford to be so politically correct anymore."

    Trump has hyperbole, consistency and honesty problems so profound that they seem practically biological, rendering the first part of that promise highly dubious. But even some people who are horrified by the Trump presidency might agree with the second sentence; Trump claimed the Republican nomination by exploiting a preexisting sense that important truths were going unspoken in American public life and positioning himself as the only person daring enough to say them.

    But what if the things people have held themselves back from saying for fear of social censure aren't inherently meaningful? The sad thing about so much supposed truth-telling is that their supposed transgressions aren't remotely risky. They're just rude.

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My pregnant patients want to move to avoid Zika. Not all women have that luxury.

    "I'm thinking of decamping to Maine for the rest of my pregnancy," a pregnant patient told me last week. Her comment came days after the news of at least 17 confirmed cases of Zika in Florida. My patient worried that it was only a matter of time before the disease made its way to Virginia.

    Experts say Zika will probably remain farther south, but I could not argue with my patient's logic. The pregnant women I care for do everything in their power to keep their unborn children healthy. They give up alcohol, quit smoking and see their doctor regularly. They even forgo deli meats and soft cheeses to decrease the minute risk of contracting a rare bacteria.

    I reassured my patient that mosquito season will probably pass before Zika makes its way to central Virginia. But her comment left me worrying about the women who don't have the means or job flexibility to move to Maine for nine months. More than 40 percent of U.S. births are funded by Medicaid; about 21 percent of children born here grow up in poverty.

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In Rio, the athletes revolt

    Irrefutable archival evidence proves that, during the 1970s, the communist East German government systematically administered anabolic steroids to its Olympic women's swim team, which won 11 out of 13 possible gold medals in Montreal in 1976.

    At the time, U.S. swimmer Shirley Babashoff called attention to the East Germans' deep voices, bulging necks and other indicia of doping -- only to be told to shush. American Olympic officials apologetically sent flowers to the East Germans.

    Thereafter, an unwritten rule discouraged athletes from calling out even obviously doped competitors, lest they be ostracized like "Surly Shirley."

    Now, 40 years later, an athletes' revolt against institutionalized Olympic hypocrisy about doping has broken out at the Rio Games, as a new generation of swimmers refuses to keep quiet. It's like Prague Spring, in Speedos.

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Here's how I'll teach Trump to my college students this fall

    As a political scientist and president of a liberal arts college in Wisconsin, I'm looking forward to the fall. I'll have a chance to teach 18- to 22-year-olds during the run-up to a historic presidential election. It'll likely dominate discourse in the classroom, cafeteria and even keg parties.

    This raises the question - how should professors talk about Donald Trump? Is there a way to teach this subject in a thoughtful way, pushing beyond the name-calling and apocalyptic predictions? I believe there is.

    In conversations with my faculty colleagues, I've come to a few conclusions.

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First Amendment has the teeth to help consumers

    The First Amendment was called in to do the dirty work last week on an Ohio rule that bans dentists from advertising their specialties while continuing to practice general dentistry. The rule should have been challenged by the Federal Trade Commission as an anti-competitive restraint on trade. Because it never was, the appeals court had to apply free-speech law.

    The decision is an example of how First Amendment values have expanded beyond self-expression to consumer protection. Whether that expansion was a good idea or not, it's here to stay.

    This story begins with the Ohio Dental Board that enacted the regulation. Its 13 members are appointed by the governor. By law nine of them have to be dentists, and three dental hygienists. There's just one member of the public. That's already a red flag that the board is likely to enact rules designed to help the dental profession, not the patients.

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Don't expect instant gratification from tech

    Another Tesla has crashed because the driver thought its self-driving technology could actually drive the car. As we read all the stories about magical technology and then use the hyped-up products, we ought to keep in mind that the "magic" hits the market long before they live up to their promise, which in some cases they will never do. If it's new, don't expect it to work as advertised.

    The Tesla in Beijing, in Autopilot mode, hit the side of an illegally parked car and kept going until driver Luo Zhen -- who had taken his hands off the steering wheel -- manually stopped it. The $7,500 repair bill was probably a tough way for Luo to learn that when he read and heard about self-driving cars, or even when he watched Tesla's Autopilot video (which tells drivers to grip the wheel at all times but shows the Model S changing lanes, taking curves and parking itself), he was essentially reading and watching sci-fi.

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