Friday, June 27, 2014

Nick Hanauer on the debate over economic inequality

I have enjoyed following the debate over economic inequality for some time now, but I will admit to being baffled at times by the arguments coming from those who claim, 'economic inequality isn't a big deal' or worse, 'there is not an economic inequality problem.'

I was never able to engage those people in debate, because it seems their view is so divorced from reality that the rules of debate do not apply.

That is why I was so pleased to read this piece by Nick Hanauer today.

It's a bit long, and he does repeat a few of his points. But it is clear, it speaks directly to the misconceptions of people who would argue against him, and it's a fun read.
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
I especially like his use of examples to support his points. 
Most of you probably think that the $15 minimum wage in Seattle is an insane departure from rational policy that puts our economy at great risk. But in Seattle, our current minimum wage of $9.32 is already nearly 30 percent higher than the federal minimum wage. And has it ruined our economy yet? Well, trickle-downers, look at the data here: The two cities in the nation with the highest rate of job growth by small businesses are San Francisco and Seattle. Guess which cities have the highest minimum wage? San Francisco and Seattle. The fastest-growing big city in America? Seattle. Fifteen dollars isn’t a risky untried policy for us. It’s doubling down on the strategy that’s already allowing our city to kick your city’s ass.
Find the time this weekend to take a look.It's a great study in how to engage in a debate.

The Economist on Higher Ed

This article in the Economist is a must read if you are interested in higher education, the cost of college, and/or the impact technology is going to have on universities.
For most students university remains a great deal; by one count the boost to lifetime income from obtaining a college degree, in net-present-value terms, is as much as $590,000 (see article). But for an increasing number of students who have gone deep into debt—especially the 47% in America and 28% in Britain who do not complete their course—it is plainly not value for money. And the state’s willingness to pick up the slack is declining. In America government funding per student fell by 27% between 2007 and 2012, while average tuition fees, adjusted for inflation, rose by 20%. In Britain tuition fees, close to zero two decades ago, can reach £9,000 ($15,000 a year).
The article goes on to describe how these trends are likely going to impact higher education.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greenhouse is a Gas

If you like to argue about politics, you need to install the plugin Greenhouse for your browser.

With Greenhouse, when you roll your mouse over the name of someone serving in the House of Representatives, a window pops up and tells you what kinds of campaign donors the person has.

Here a screenshot of me using the plugin on a story published today.

Education Technology and the Achievement Gap

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on the achievement gap, but it is a topic I find very interesting.

While doing my course work in the School of Education, it was often the go-to example for data sets and sample studies, because... well, because it's a school of education.

Something I have spent a fair amount of time examining is the use of technology in the classroom. I have an open-device policy in my course - yes, even phones are allowed. I helped implement the use of electronic portfolios in the first year writing course here at Davis. I accept some writing assignments in web-based formats and encourage students to write and produce vlog/podcast scripts. Our workshops are performed on shared digital documents. We analyze the vocabulary of texts using Lexical Tutor and the readability index calculator.

I like me some ed tech.

Which is why I was so interested in Slate's piece on ed tech and the achievement gap. Reporting on Susan B. Neuman and Donna C. Celano's research done in Philadelphia (and corroborating that with other studies), the piece points to the following findings:
While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity, a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: It is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.
 And this increasing gap isn't about access - which is what I would have suspected.
This has to do, rather, with a phenomenon Neuman and Celano observed again and again in the two libraries: Granted access to technology, affluent kids and poor kids use tech differently. They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience. 
In my experience, introducing technology to a classroom means introducing new material to learn. Students have to learn the interface, the way the software frames problems, and the extra steps the technology introduces.

Students who come from households that have stressed the US style of schooling from an early age are more likely to have the "cognitive space" to take on some of that extra learning.

All too often, technology is treated like another tool that can be thrown into an existing curriculum. The thinking is, "Hey, this should make things easier for the students, because that's what technology does, right?"

I think this article points to how and why that kind of assumption needs to be examined closer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Stop Abusing the Science

The folks over at io9 posted this great list of "10 Scientific Ideas That Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing."

Here's the list:

  • Proof
  • Theory
  • Quantum Uncertainty and Quantum Weirdness
  • Learned vs. Innate
  • Natural
  • Gene
  • Statistically Significant
  • Survival of the Fittest
  • Geologic Timescales
  • Organic

It's worth clicking through to read what they have to say.

This misuse of science and statistics is a huge part of what drives bad arguments.

Nice to see some folks trying to keep the interwebs informed.
From xkcd

This gif has lost control again

They threw this up over at Boing Boing. I enjoy it too much not to repost.

Friday, June 13, 2014

That's a Place to Start

As a person who teaches writing, I have a lot of these moments:

'Okay. I see what you're trying to do here. In fact, I think most people will probably understand what your intentions are when they read what you've composed. And that... that's good. That's a place to start.

'But I am troubled, nonetheless, as you do not seem capable of predicting the impression that this combination of words is going to make.'

I was reminded of this when I saw this sign on a recent outing to Muir Woods with my family.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A Math Teacher Loses It When Students Want a Right Answer

I've had a few people respond to my posts about common core with Louis C.K.-style objections:
"I don't understand why they went and changed the math."

One of the more personal responses was from an old friend who explained how her daughter was very frustrated with some math homework that was asking the students to use different techniques to get to a problem's answer. My friend told her daughter to ignore the instructions and just do it the old-fashioned way;
the way my friend was happy to show her daughter.

The child was very pleased to have an answer, and everyone in the house was relieved, because everyone knew how to get the right answer.

The problem with this story is treating math like a simple answer-finding exercise is what holds kids back later when the math gets difficult.

This blog post by teacher Brook Powers gets at that and asks a provocative question: Who broke our kids?

When did we brainwash kids into thinking that math was about getting an answer?  My students truly believe for some reason that math is about combining whatever numbers you can in whatever method that seems about right to get one “answer” and then call it a day.  They rarely think about what they are doing as long as at the end of the day their answer is “correct”.  
Go check out the post. It does a lot to demonstrate why they went and changed math.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Come on, Economists, Let's Settle Something with Seattle!

I would love to see a policy debate settled using actual data, and today the city of Seattle is giving us that chance.

Today, Seattle raised the city's minimum wage to $15. Way to go, Seattle, btw.

Now, there are far too many op-ed pieces about the impact of the minimum wage for me to list here (here's one I like), but needless to say, it is a major talking point and policy fight.

From Wikipedia
But today we have a chance to examine the impact of a minimum wage hike in the real world, and we can compare what happens in Seattle to 12 other cities with similar populations (one of which is in the same region).

Let's stop citing theories or regurgitating our party-line talking points.

Let's let the data do the talking!

I'm looking at you economists. Get on this.

Commenting on the FCC's Internet Proposed Rule Changes

As an educator, a parent, an internet user, a website owner, and a concerned citizen, I decided to visit the FCC's page and leave a comment concerning moves to change the way the internet treats data.

Here's how that went.