Saturday, September 23, 2006

How media elitism misrepresents the problems of the typical American family

From Po:

Over at, Ashley and I have a new essay called "Baby Einstein vs. Barbie." We argue that much of the media has lost touch with the real issues being faced in American families. Instead, because the media is itself increasingly affluent, and has affluent friends, they look to their own lives for story ideas - and end up devoting a lot of ink to microcrises that only affluent families run across.

Of course, they never admit that these are just the issues of the affluent class; rather, they are held up as representative of us all.

In the Time essay, we focus on the media coverage of parents who push their kids too hard. But there are many other examples: the endless coverage of "adultelescence" in the New York Times; the "coddling crisis" repeatedly mentioned by the Wall Street Journal; a San Francisco Chronicle story that asserted "the new commute is by plane"; a Boston Globe report on students going to 3rd world countries to pad their resumes for college applications; a New York Times story on affluent families hiring teachers away from private schools to tutor/homeschool their kids at home; another SF Chronicle story on parents hiring "parenting coaches" to come over to the house and do the hard parts of parenting.

One of the many consequences of this is that prosperity is made to look rife with problems. They imply that parental success is bad for kids. Like there's something wrong with providing your children good education, a nice house, and plenty of extracurricular options. A few kids are, indeed, pushed too hard. But for most, the good life is indeed a nice life, and not one to complain about. I think this media coverage goads them into complaining about their life, endlessly worrying about problems that don't really exist. I think in our current society, nobody likes to admit they're "upper class." Everyone likes to pretend they are middle class, or maybe "upper middle class," even though their income would put them in the top 10% in the country. In the same way, nobody in our society likes to admit they have an easy life; we all like to be seen as struggling and overcoming and facing issues. In this culture, families with very good lives rarely admit it; they always find something to complain about.

In our essay, we call the books devoted to the affluent class "Supermom Lit." Ashley says "they're not self-help, they're beyond help." These people aren't trying to keep up with the Joneses; they're trying to keep up with the Carringtons. Their problems are routinely of their own making. We can only sympathize so much. Our tears are crocodile tears.

The Supermom Lit books have a hard-to-describe effect on society. In each case, they point out those few crazy parents and insist "Stop The Madness!" But when these books enter the media bubble, they don't seem to reduce the madness at all. They actually increase it. It's sorta like how stories of anorexics work. When anorexics tell their story, it is invariably to warn other young girls "stop!" But if, in telling their story, they mention how it was that they managed to lose so much weight, the intended audience takes that as a tip. Here's how to lose some weight. The act of passing on the story increases the disorder, not decreases it.

And so it is with these parent madness books. Parents who didn't even realize there was a parent-competition going on hear about these books, and they have a reciprocal reaction: they think "gosh, my son's only 4, but maybe I should make him memorize those 130 sight words this article mentions." Parents are drawn into the madness.

Anyway, go read the essay at Time, and please comment here.

This Week's Recommended Reading #19

From Ash:

Well, the list isn't as fun as last week. And, save for an LAT piece on immigration, there's not much terrific writing that caught my eye this week. But there are some issues that are worth noting.


You've probably heard this already, but Princeton's following Harvard's lead, and ditching early admission. The New York Times's got a story – including what other colleges are also considering the issue.

The New York Times (and others) are covering a "searing" report by the Department of Education's Inspector General, on Ed's manipulation of a grants program, with efforts to steer states to particular publishers and crush opponents.

The Washington Post has a piece about how especially poorer schools are labeling classes as honors curricula, but that students in these classes aren't really carrying that load at all. I've often heard how level of difficulty is lessened in schools in depressed areas, so that by itself isn't new – but this particular focus on honors work adds color to the problem.

And at the exact opposite, I guess, is the Post's other piece, about a guy who finished so many AP classes, and took such a full load, that he finished a college degree in a year. I'm not really sure how I feel about that one.

Does Having Gay Sex Mean You're Gay?

ABC News ran a report on a New York Health Department survey, that's is a very good illustration of something that researchers have been debating for years: how much gay sex do you have before you say "I'm gay?" Apparently a lot, since ten percent of "straight men" surveyed said they'd had sex with a man within the previous year.


The Los Angeles Times has an interesting report on how immigration has utterly transformed a town – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Frighteningly Thin Models – A Short Rant

Okay, normally, I would ignore this, but this NYT piece on the debate over thin fashion models is worth checking out. Track the unbelievable hypocrisy of the interview subjects during the article. For example, an Allure editor says that it's alarming to be able to count the bones of the models' rib cages, but then, a few paragraphs later, she says deciding when someone is too thin is "tricky." The same editor said a few of the models during fashion week were so thin, that when they appeared on the runway, the audience was audibly gasping. I'm thinking that if she's alarmed, or an entire room of people react in horror, then it's not really "tricky" at all. Only one of those interviewed accepted any blame or responsibility for the anoretic industry; everyone else just pointed fingers at each other.

Don't get me wrong – I'm very sympathetic to the models – but I've got no sympathy whatsoever for those who profit from all this, at the direct expense of the models, and indirect cost to women who believe their body image suffers by comparison. Even more problematic: having such women celebrated on the catwalk as beauties sure makes it harder for those with have an eating disorder to get help.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

This Week's Recommended Reading #18

From Ash:

It's a fun, eclectic list this week – informative and enjoyable articles you'll want to mention at the watercooler.


Okay, one wonk-y one before we get to the fun stuff: the report that should have gotten a lot of coverage, only received a bit, as far as I could tell. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development issued a comparative study of education, and its effects, of its 16-member nations. Turns out that it's an international phenomenon – secondary school drop-outs are much less likely to find work (56% are unemployed), and half of those who do find work earn about half as much as everyone else. Interestingly, the US is one of the countries where education has the most dramatic impact on your economic gain – the income disparity isn't as great elsewhere. (By the way, the link I've provided takes you to a study home page, from there, there are press releases, summaries, etc.)

The New York Times had this piece on buying students' papers on line, specifically to determine if the papers are any good. Basically, they decided they were terrible. It's an interesting analysis, but I wish they'd made more of a point about how the use of papers is plagarism, or had tried to actually track down the people who run these companies, to see what sort of justification they have for doing this.

The Least Recorded Society In History . . . Could Be Us?

This is one that should resonate with anyone who did a software upgrade and found they couldn't open old documents anymore.

The LA Times has an article that should fascinate and horrify both writers and historians alike. In it, they explore how the current goal of "a paperless" society may actually mean that 1,000 years from now, there were be less records of our society than those like the ancient Greeks. Why, because the Greeks used hard copy. All you have to do is learn the language to read it. We use software and hardware that even we consider obsolete the second it's out on a store shelf: historians of the future haven't got a chance. Haven't I always said, "I like paper."? Okay, you don't know that, but I have said it. Now, I have a reason why.

Cross-cultural Immigration Issues

If you are interested in any sort of cross-cultural considerations of American society, you should read this LAT piece, about how Somalian immigrants receive a crash-course in American life. Everything from history to the all-important skill of turning on a light switch. Really. You'll see the life of an immigrant – and your life, probably – in a new way.

Dog Lovers Won't Like These But You Should Read Them Anyway

According to the AP, Saudi Arabia has now banned dog and cat sales, because they are supposedly unclean animals not much better than vermin, and more importantly, the Prophet said so. But then there are the confused Islamic scholars who are not really sure what this is really about since they remind us that Mohammed did hate dogs, but he loved cats. (Actually, one of my favorite cat legends – While Mohammed was sitting, a cat fell asleep on his robe sleeve, so he cut the sleeve rather than disturb the cat.) Really, how can you not read an article with quotes like this: ". . . what's the point of dragging a dog behind you? . . . . This is blind emulation of the infidels."

And lest you think it's just the Saudis who are after dogs, there's an intriguing piece from the Los Angeles Times. In this one, almost 1,000 years ago, a Chinese emperor was furious that a town and its people had a name almost like his. So he forced the entire town to take on a new name, that's a homonym for "dog." 1,000 years later, they've had enough of the jokes and want their name changed back.

He's probably already found someone by now but . . .

FYI, Stephen Hawking is looking for a grad student to hire. Seriously.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

College Enrollment Projections – Will Your Kid Get In... Anywhere?

From Ash:

Today, the National Center for Education Statistics just released projected school and college enrollments. As we all knew, college enrollment has risen dramatically in the past few years, and NCES predicts that will continue: college enrollment will be up about 15 percent by 2015.

I just know there's some editor out there who's going to look at the report, saying it's a reason to assign another article about how college admissions are tougher than before. Even more kids will be competing for those few spots at good schools.

But that doesn't mean anything unless we know the total number of places in schools that are available. It doesn't matter if the student body increases by 15 percent, if there is enough room for 20 percent. And I kept thinking about the famously all-women's college, Randolph-Macon – which is going co-ed because it doesn't have enough students.

So can we translate projected overall increases enrollment into a predictor of increased competitiveness?

No, according to Tom Snyder, NCES Project Director.

The projected increase is the projection of students who actually will go to college. Not just who apply, or would be eligible to go. And he explains, historically, colleges have expanded their populations as the student populations increase. Institutions' populations are so elastic that experts can't even answer my question on total vacancies: they can't even determine a reliable figure. That's particularly true in the case of private institutions: if an Ivy wants to let in more students, then it can build a building to accomodate the increase.

Now, it's up to each institution what admissions criteria will be used. So an increased student population could increase selectivity at some particular schools, if they choose not to increase their student population.

But even if those selective schools are more competitive, it doesn't mean that competitiveness will increase across-the-board – and it's an issue that really affects only a very few students to begin with.

As a report by The Century Foundation, 1.2 million graduating high school students enroll in one of the 1,400 accredited four-year colleges each year.

Of these, "[o]nly a tiny percentage of the student population applies to the 146 most selective colleges–only a few hundred thousand out of three million high school graduates–and an even smaller group attends. Enrollments at the most selective 146 colleges represent less than 10 percent of the nation's postsecondary freshman class."

On the other hand, of the nation's 3,500 nonprofit colleges in the country, 95.7% of them accept 50 percent of their applicants. 44 percent of all colleges and universities have "open admission" – everyone who applies is admitted.

Yeah, I can hear you thinking, "Sure, Ash, but that's the schools no one wants to go to. What about the competitive schools?"

"Very competitive schools" – schools like Fordham and the University of Wisconsin – accept between 50 and 75 percent of their students. "Competitive" – schools like Seton Hall and St. John's – take 75 to 85 percent of their applicants.

Major League Baseball's "competitive." The Dodgers are currently at the top in the West, and they've only won 53% of their games. If they won 85 percent of the time, they'd be making history.

Oh, by the way, an MIT journal found out that a middle-class kid who graduates from a selective school doesn't make any more money than he would have if he'd gone to a less-selective school.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Personal Choice vs. Social Responsibility - Should you represent? Or should you choose what's best for you?

From Po:

In June, a book was published that did nothing but piss people off. The book was a mere 120 pages. It was titled “Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World.” The author was Linda Hirshman, an old-style feminist in her 60s. When Ms. Hirschman went on The Colbert Report, she basically insulted stay-at-home moms, arguing they had made the wrong choice to stay home, and their lives weren’t as meaningful or impactful as a woman in the workforce. Many of them went on ABC News to read the first chapter and then went to Amazon to declare the book a complete waste of time. Working women also seemed offended by Ms. Hirshman’s attack on stay-at-home moms – who was she to deny these women their personal choice? They also posted criticisms of Hirshman.

Hirshman was probably not surprised. This all began last year, when she wrote an online article for the journal The American Prospect. For that essay, Hirshman went back to the wedding announcements in the New York Times from exactly ten years ago – January of 1996. Hirshman called all the brides up and asked what they were doing. Prior to their marriage, all of these women worked hard at their careers, with early success – (those are the kind of women who make the New York Times wedding page). But ten years out, half of these women were not working at all. Another third were working only part time, in fields not related to their earlier career (they had some work, but weren’t really pursuing professional excellence.) Only six women – out of an entire month’s worth of brides – were working full time at their career. As an old-time feminist, Hirshman was appalled, and critical.

Her article in American Prospect was widely talked about, but Hirshman herself had few fans. Career women didn’t like Hirshman’s condemnation, calling them out: “If you quit your career to stay home with your kids indefinitely, you’re letting women down.” Like it was taboo to even consider it.

Hirshman made a crucial point. Today, women want the personal choice to be a career woman or to be a homemaker. In Hirshman’s opinion, feminism has lost its way by being focused on personal choice. There is a social obligation all women (and men) have to making sure women are leaders in all fields of society. If super successful women (like those that make the Times’ wedding page) drop out 8 out of 10 times, where will be the next female supreme court justices, the next great female business leaders, the next great female movie producers?

(In 2000, research with a slightly larger sample found a similar result. Harvard Business School professor Myra Hart surveyed the women of the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 as to what they were up to. Only 38 percent of female Harvard MBAs were working full time, continuing their careers.)

For Hirshman, to stay at home was the wrong choice. Personal preference be damned. The work of feminism isn't done, if so many women are opting-out of public leadership roles. For most women who disagreed, they felt most of the work of feminism was done, and now that the choices had been opened, those doors opened, it was a matter of personal choice - and nobody should be telling anybody what their choice is.

I didn’t like Hirshman’s tone, either. It was one of those books where having that manifesto clarion call outrage did not help it. The stridency turned too many off. But beneath it all, I kept wondering if there was some truth in there – but not quite Hirshman’s truth. It’s been bugging me for months.

This is one of those issues that won’t affect me personally, because I’m a man. But I’m a father to a daughter, husband to a wife, son to a mother. I love them all and I was raised by my mother to care very deeply about the choices women have in this world.

So let me try to put forward the soft kernel that Hirshman missed. Hear out this thought, then let me know what you think.

If all women only make their own personal choice, (and for so many that choice is to opt-out of careers,) will that choice still be there a generation from now? Or might we slide backwards, fatefully?

I really hope that my daughter and son to grow up in a world where half of the leaders in every field are women. At the very least, I want my children to have the choices women today have. But I absolutely believe it’s a matter of choice – neither choice is wrong. That said, if a career woman is considering whether to end her career and give the next ten years to her family, does she have a social obligation to factor into her personal decision? Not that it should rule her decision, as Hirshman argued. But should it be a factor to consider? Or should her choice be entirely based on personal concerns, without regard to the status of women in society?

Do I really fear we could slide backwards? I don't know. In many ways, it seems like our society takes steps forward and steps backward continuously, on every front. Many of the choices we took for granted are starting to disappear.

Ashley tells me that the number of female supreme courts clerks has dwindled, and there's very few left.

African Americans are routinely taught that their individual actions reflect on all African Americans. Immigrant children are commonly taught the same – “your choices affect how all of us are seen.”

My wife has a career – she cures cancer – but she also has a very balanced life, never overworking, and not really making many family sacrifices. She says if she were considering quitting, she would really hesitate, because she wants our daughter to see women doing good things out there in the world. This wouldn’t rule my wife’s choice – but it would raise the bar.

But many other women I know who've chosen to stay home say "hey, not so fast. I represent, by all means. I represent the greatness of this alternative. I made my choice, and I represent tht choice just as much as any career woman represents the other choice."

So what do you think? When making your personal choice, should social concerns be a factor? Or are we past that? If you feel a need to “represent,” how strong is that need? How much weight is it given?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Does it matter what gender your child's teacher is? (Read Our New Piece At

From Po and Ash:

As kids file back into school this week, news media have been pronouncing that there’s a new hidden enemy in our children’s classrooms. The teachers. A just-released Hoover Institute journal, Education Next, published “new and convincing evidence” that teachers’ gender has “large effects” on student performance. With 80% of teachers being women, it seemed like this was the answer for the "boy crisis" – claims that boys are increasingly behind in school and disappearing from college campuses.

The trouble is that the evidence is neither new nor convincing. We've written a new piece for with an overview of our problems with the study and the coverage. But we've got more specifics we want you to be aware of.

Our Time essay mentions how small this teacher-gender-effect is, (it might raise or lower your child's score by 1 point on a hundred point test), and laughs at how small that is compared to other things that affect a child's test scores. But in the Time essay we didn't get a chance to fully critique this study's methodology. We'll do that here. We're putting in the extra effort to do so because we believe this study will be used as a political tool by every politician looking to create more single sex schools. We're not opposed to single sex schools, just to using faulty research to claim their superiority.

The report is by Thomas Dee, normally a fairly well respected professor at Swarthmore, who is at Stanford's Hoover Institution for the year.

He makes the following errors in his report's wording and methodology:

1. He says teacher gender has never been studied as a potential reason that boys often lag girls in reading, while girls lag boys in math and science. But this has actually been studied quite a bit, and Thomas Dee knows it - he even cited some of those papers in earlier articles he had written.

There are a number of studies on elementary school children's achievement and the possible impact their teachers' genders may have on it. A 2005 British study of 9,000 children determined teachers’ gender did have an effect: female teachers were always more effective than males, regardless the sex of the students. A study of urban African-American students had a similar result: students did better in science with female teachers than with male teachers.

But Dee's claim is particularly egregious since, in 1995, researchers, lead by Cornell University professor Ronald G. Ehrenberg, studied the exact same NELS data Dee is using. And the question they asked was the same: if teachers' gender affect students' academic achievement.

Dee is well-aware of this earlier study, because he himself has written about it in at least two papers (that we found). So why would Dee suddenly act as if it didn't exist? The only possible explanation we can come up with is that, if he had mentioned it, then he would have had to acknowledge its findings. Which would be a problem for Dee, because they are diametrically opposite to his own.

Ehrenberg's team found that teachers' gender did not affect their students' achievement.

They found teachers' race, not gender, did impact their assessment of the children’s work – which might cause problems for future academic placement – but teachers' race didn't impact the children's achievement, either.

Since Dee didn't explain how the results could be so different, we called Ehrenberg, to see if he could explain it to us.

When we asked about the new report, Ehrenberg hadn't had the opportunity to examine it closely, and he remarked that he'd generally respected Dee's scholarship. But he was "a little uncomfortable," having observed it was unclear on a several points.

For example, Ehrenberg’s earlier research compared students’ achievement over a period of years. But it appears that Dee may have only examined the students’ eighth grade test results alone. Without a history of subsequent achievement, there’s no way to know if a child did poorly because of the teacher’s gender, or because he simply struggled in that subject at that point in time.

In fact, Ehrenberg reminded us, we really need to know the child's prior experiences in school as well: if the key to achievement is teacher gender, then we should know sex of the teachers before the children ever got to the eighth grade, too.

We felt like Ehrenberg's brief assessment essentially gutted the value of Dee's report.

But it turned out that's just the tip of the iceberg.

2. We also spoke to Leslie Scott, a Principal Researcher at American Institutes for Research. Scott was a manager and designer of the NELS survey. She's been working on collecting and analyzing this very data since 1987.

Concurring with Ehrenberg that Dee problematically seemed to be looking at a single point in time, Scott explained that was particularly concerned her because the original survey never found a gender gap of achievement to begin.

So she finds it perplexing how Dee can use this data to determine causation of a phenomenon they didn’t find in the first place.

3. If all that wasn't bad enough, Dee’s statistical calculations don’t apply to this data at all.

Dee relied upon a statistical method that charts grades on a 100-point-wide curve. The result is a chart that has a 30 percent of a standard deviation between a grade – say an "A" and a "B." Using this method and his data, Dee determined that there is a “four percent of a standard deviation” difference between boys and girls’ grades, if they have a teacher of the opposite sex.

That sounds ominous if you’re a parent getting your kindergartner ready for their First Day. But if you’re a statistician, that’s laughable. (And we know, because we called a statistician, and he literally laughed at us.)

As we said at the beginning, if Dee’s methodology is correct, for a boy who might have scored a 85% on an math test if he had a male teacher, if he has a female teacher might see his test score plummet to . . . 84%. It's about one to two percentage point swing in results. That’s it.

But Scott says that the whole premise of the standard deviation test doesn't even apply to NELS. Dee transferred that 30-point scale from another study to hers. According to Scott, NELS didn't calculate its data that way, so you simply cannot do that transfer and come up with accurate results.

Questionable at best scholarship is bad enough. But the media coverage of it is a real problem. Here's why.

The danger of reports such as these, says Ehrenberg, is they are used to advocate much stronger policy positions than the findings warrant. And, he asks, do we want to use data like this to champion segregating our kids by sex and race?

(That's already happening. A local ABC affiliate in Denver contacted state and local officials about the report, and they replied that the issue needed to be taken seriously and studied further.)

No doubt – without examining the data or, more significantly, what that sort of division that may mean for society as a whole – there will be people waving this study around for years.

Parents will now be all-too-sure the answer to their sons’s education is the gender of teachers. Will those parents ever hear that reading is the activity linked to improved test scores? But the average kid spends 14 and a half hours a week watching television and just 90 minutes with a book?

How many supervisors will complain how few men are teaching – saying that’s the problem reaching troubled kids? In so doing, they'll avoid the real problem: not a lack of a Y-chromosone, but those without teaching certificates and expertise in the fields they teach.

How many hours will a school board waste blaming the taxpayers for refusing to give them the extra funds needed to establish single-sex classrooms – when there is no debate about the lack of funds in our inner city schools. The textbooks out of date years before the Solar System shrunk last week, the children hungry and shivering in classrooms without heat.

The real problem here is a policy wonk-pushed, media-driven desperation to find the Ginsu knives that slices the budget, dices complex issues into soundbites, magically saves our kids, fixes our schools, and more.

We distract ourselves with a few news cycles about how a teacher’s gender may explain all that is wrong with teaching our children. But it is just that. A distraction. We’re as distracted by such headlines as little kids are by the humming of a lightbulb. And we use that distraction to point fingers instead of getting our hands dirty, doing the real work that needs to be done.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Are Cities or Suburbs a Better Place to Raise Kids?

From Po:

I live in the city of San Francisco. Every year, families move away. There's a lot of reasons driving them, but at its core seems to be an abstract notion about what childhood is - or how it's best lived. The suburbs seem, at times, to be more pro-family, and family-friendly. A little better schools, pool clubs, plenty of fields for little league baseball - it's hard to pin down exactly what the attraction is. Does that make up for major league baseball, major museums, and the diversity of cultures to be exposed to?

Our family travels a lot, and in the past couple years we've spent weeks with friends who live in cul-de-sac suburbs in northern Virginia, or suburban Denver, or the Austin hill country. Sometimes it sure does seem nice, especially on a hot sunny day when we go to the local pool and it's clean and nice and warm and free.

But my wife has always argued that as young children grow up, they get bored in the suburbs. My wife doesn't mince words; she's blunter than she needs to be, usually. So the way she says it is, "There's nothing for a teenager in the suburbs to do but do lots of drugs, drink, and get pregnant from dumb dudes."

In a city, her point was, there's lots of art and subcultures and things to interest children. No kid in San Francisco can say, "there's nothing to do here." But until they're 21, they're not allowed into most of the city's great distractions.

Well, two new studies suggest my wife's got a point. One study looked at 340 regions of the country and how common was underage abuse of alcohol. "Abuse" meant binge drinking, which means 5 or more drinks at a time.

Most of the areas with the least underage alcohol abuse were in densely packed cities, like Washington DC and Detroit. Most of the areas with the highest abuse were rural areas (especially Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas). In general, non-rural areas drank less than rural areas.

But the study wasn't conclusive in terms of what factors led to less underage drinking. And suburbs faired both well and terribly. And some cities, like Boston, showed whopping amounts of drug and alcohol use. The national average is scary enough - 20% of kids aged 12 to 20 binge dank in the last month. But in Boston it's over 26%.

Here's a map of the United States, showing how common binge drinking was among youths age 12 to 17 in the most recent month; (white is least common, scarlet is most common). This map alone suggests alcohol abuse may have more to do with being northern. California looks pretty good in this picture.

So let's bring it back home. I live in San Francisco, and I think we have a lot of things for kids to do here without being so bored that they constantly turn to alcohol and drugs. How true is my perception? Not true at all. We're grouped in a region with Marin County, and they might throw our results off (or not). But either way, the results aren't pretty. Our region is the highest rate of cocaine use in California. The lowest is Orange County, which surprises me (Laguna Beach, lots of money to buy expensive drugs, et cetera.) And our region is also the highest of any California region in terms of teens (age 12 to 20) drinking alcohol. Almost 60% of our kids drank in the last month, versus statewide average of about 50%.

My real question to all of you is, "When you were a teenager, did you feel that where you lived was a factor in how likely you were to use alcohol or drugs to entertain yourself?" And if you're a parent of teenagers, "has where you live been a factor in whether your child was bored?" What are the tricks to keeping a teenager interested and engaged in the world?

Please share your opinion, and feel free to sign anonymously.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Week's Recommended Reading #17

From Ash:

With these two weeks marking a return to school of most children, this week's reading could have been all education all the time, but there are a few other things of interest as well.

Census on Economic Growth

The New York Times has a don't miss editorial/analysis on the new Census data regarding economic growth – on how the numbers look good only because well-off seniors are included. But for the rest of us . . . .


While teachers are busying buying school supplies with their own money, a lot of news outlets covered the release of the (declining) SAT scores. But only a few mentioned that the scores' decline that was about half-a question different a result than last year. The New York Times had two pretty good pieces – one on the scores themselves, and one on how smaller colleges are bypassing the SAT altogether.

But, for my money, the Time piece, exploring the contents of the exam, was the best coverage on the SAT that I saw this week. I love the rare reporter who can admit when he's been wrong in the past – which John Cloud does, as he evaluates the accuracy of his and others' predictions of the new SAT test results.

Another piece of the note again comes from the New York Times, on the rise of remedial education in colleges. I wish it had even been harder hitting – as to why is this happening and is it acceptable – but on the whole, I was happy to see this, because I just don't think it's focused enough. The headline makes it seem more like its focus is exclusively on community colleges, but the piece is broader than that. (Note to California readers: the writer didn't quite get the patois of our state schools down, so you might be confused (I was) by the use of the phrase, "California State." By that, the author's referring to the Cal State University system.)

What's interesting is that, to me, remedial learning is arguably turning the freshman year of college into a 5th year of high school, which means you only get 3-years of higher learning. Chicago's Mayor Daley has actually proposed adding a 5th year of high school – but his motivation is cost-saving and because the kids are doing advanced work in school, instead of the remedial need that I'd argue for.

Meanwhile, parts of Russia have just made it law that students must study Orthodox Christianity in school.

Children (More)

If your concerns about your children are more of a social kind, then you might be interested in this AP report on how one school district is offering free home drug tests to its parents.

BBC reported on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement that the UK needs to identify the children who will grow up to be "menaces" . . . before birth. Meaning identifying mothers and fathers who live in high risk environments / have a history of violence, etc., and requiring them to get help before the baby's even born. Not surprisingly, there's a lot of controversy over this.

If that seems a little remote to you, consider this report that teens aren't getting required immunizations. Everyone thinks kids are done when they're young, but they aren't anymore.

The heart-rending story of the week comes from the Los Angeles Times, reporting on how children in Congo are labeled as witches and cast out onto the streets.

Al Gore In the UK – Your Media Analysis Lesson of the Week

I'm not including this for political reasons, and I'm not doing this because I'm a Gore alumna. Instead, if you've got a couple minutes, compare the American AP coverage of Gore remarks in the UK, with the coverage done by the BBC. The AP coverage focuses on how media consolidation is a threat to the health of our democracy.

But the BBC coverage hammers home Gore's criticism of American television watching – how politicians have to sell their souls to get crummy commercials on the air, because that's the only way to get Americans to pay attention.

Both pieces are probably accurate reflections of Gore's remarks, but the AP sort of lets you off the hook, because the problem's too big for you. But you'll walk away from the BBC piece feeling that democracy is at risk – and that you have a direct responsibility in that.

But Wait! There's More!

An obituary / appreciation for the advertising copywriter who gave the world Ginsu knives.