The Push to Diversify Gifted-and-Talented Programs

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

The push to diversify gifted-and-talented programs is on:

The Department of Education has allowed the highly sought-after school [the Brooklyn School of Inquiry] to set aside 40 percent of its kindergarten seats specifically for low-income children.

[...]

Citywide, about 77 percent of students are poor and almost 70 percent are black or Hispanic. Last year, BSI’s poverty rate was 23 percent, and less than 10 percent of students were black or Hispanic.

The disparity is not unique to BSI, or to gifted education. Citywide, about 73 percent of gifted students are white or Asian, and the poverty rate averages around 43 percent.

There are almost no students in the city’s gifted programs who are learning English, have special needs, or are in temporary housing. Put together, they make up less than 10 percent.

“What we have right now is something we should be ashamed of,” said James Borland, who directs gifted-education programs at Teachers College at Columbia University.

We should be ashamed of the fact that almost no students in the city’s gifted programs are learning English, have special needs, or are in temporary housing. Clearly.

There’s no getting off this policy treadmill:

Districts used to be able to set their own admissions criteria for gifted programs. That changed in 2007, when the city standardized entry based on test scores, in part to increase diversity. A non-verbal test, also intended to address inequities, was added in 2012. Yet today’s gifted programs remain segregated.

Gifted programs are often seen as a way to help integrate schools:

“It is a way to attract white, higher-income families to a school. But once you do that, it’s like gentrifying a school,” she said. “You walk down the hallway, and you can tell which classroom is gifted and talented and which classroom is general education.”

Uganda to shut down Zuckerberg-funded schools

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

No good deed goes unpunished in Uganda:

Uganda’s High Court has described the Bridge International Academies (BIA) — which is funded by the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — as unsanitary and unqualified, and has ordered it to close its doors in December because it ignored Uganda’s national standards and put the “life and safety” of its 12,000 young students on the line.

The Director of Education Standards for the Ministry, Huzaifa Mutazindwa, told CNN that the nursery and primary schools were not licensed, the teachers weren’t qualified and that there was no record of its curriculum being approved.

“The Ministry does not know what is being taught in these schools which is a point of concern to (the) government,” Mutazindwa said.

The Downfall of Untempered Education

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Giovanni Dannato notes that the educated often believe sentimental ideology like it’s holy gospel:

People who get an education are generally smarter but their advantage in processing information only leads them further astray if they are given bad information. Even a great Empire like China becomes easy prey for a handful of toughened no-nonsense Mongols when the state is run by over-educated children and populated by downtrodden peasants who have no reason to care about who’s in charge.

History shows us those Mongols didn’t need college degrees or Confucian exams with 1% pass rates to run an empire. The downfall of untempered education is you can get caught up in credentials and then reel in shock when someone without a certificate in face punching walks up and simply punches you out.

Elephant and Man at Harvard

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

The Harvard Crimson acknowledges a lack of diversity on campus — ideological diversity, not the kind that matters:

The most glaring ideological diversity deficit among undergraduates is the relatively small number of students who identify as conservative. In the election survey, fewer than 13 percent of respondents described themselves as “somewhat” or “very” conservative, compared to over 70 percent describing themselves as “somewhat” or “very” liberal.

In contrast, when a Gallup poll early this year asked Americans to describe themselves as “very liberal,” “liberal,” “conservative,” “very conservative,” or “moderate,” a plurality — 37 percent — picked one of the two conservative options, while 35 percent chose “moderate.” In The Crimson’s survey, only 16 percent of respondents picked “moderate.” Most striking, in the Gallup survey, only 24 percent picked one of the liberal choices.

Similarly, while nearly 48 percent of Americans voted for Donald J. Trump in his victory on Tuesday, just 6 percent of undergraduate respondents to The Crimson’s survey preferred him. This number stands in stark contrast to the 35 percent of millennials nationwide who cast their ballots for the President-elect — a testament to his divisiveness, but also a reflection of the insularity of the Harvard bubble.

How the University of Alabama Became a National Player

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

How did the University of Alabama became a national player?

The university is spending $100.6 million in merit aid, up from $8.3 million a decade ago and more than twice what it allocates to students with financial need. It also has hired an army of recruiters to put Bama on college lists of full-paying students who, a few years ago, might not have looked its way.

The University of Alabama is the fastest-growing flagship in the country. Enrollment hit 37,665 this fall, nearly a 58 percent increase over 2006. As critical as the student body jump: the kind of student the university is attracting. The average G.P.A. of entering freshmen is 3.66, up from 3.4 a decade ago, and the top quarter scored at least a 31 on the ACT, up from 27.

Each year, about 18 percent of freshmen leave their home state for college in another. They tend to be the best prepared academically and most able to pay, said Thomas G. Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, who tracks this data. Achieving students are likely to be bound for successful lives, enhancing their alma mater’s status and, the hope is, filling its coffers with donations. Schools want them.

Merit aid given to achievers has a magnetic effect. “If we recruit five students from a high school, we will get 10 students the next year and they may not all be scholarship students,” said Stuart R. Bell, president of the University of Alabama.

Instead of layoffs and cuts, some public universities facing budget challenges are following this blueprint for survival: higher charges to students, and more of them. Nowadays, the real money comes from tuition and fees. The average for four-year public colleges rose 81 percent in constant dollars between 2000 and 2014. At Alabama, tuition and fees have about doubled in the last decade, to $10,470 for residents and to $26,950 for nonresidents.

Even when it awards full-tuition scholarships, the university makes money — on dorm rooms and meal plans, books, football tickets, hoodies and school spirit items like the giant Bama banner Ms. Zavilowitz and her roommates bought for the blank wall in the suite’s common area. All told, these extras and essentials brought in $173 million last year — on top of $633 million in tuition and fees, up from $135 million in 2005.

“I hate very much to use this analogy, but it’s like running a business,” Dr. Whitaker said.

High Expectations, High Support

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Social scientists have quietly spent years analyzing the outcomes of students who attend charter schools, and the findings are stark:

Many charter schools fail to live up to their promise, but one type has repeatedly shown impressive results.

Hannah Larkin, the principal at Match, refers to such schools as “high expectations, high support” schools. They devote more of their resources to classroom teaching and less to almost everything else. They keep students in class for more hours. They set high standards for students and try to instill confidence in them. They focus on giving teachers feedback about their craft and helping them get better.

“My mother has been teaching forever. My father has been teaching for 10 years,” Christopher Perez, a physics teacher at Match, told me. “They don’t get observed. I get observed every week and have a meeting about it every week.”

While visiting Match, I was struck that teachers hardly seemed to notice when I ducked into their rooms, midclass, to watch them. They are obviously used to having observers. They welcome it, as a way to improve.

The latest batch of evidence about this approach is among the most rigorous. Professors at M.I.T., Columbia, Michigan and Berkeley have tracked thousands of charter-school applicants, through high school and beyond, in Boston, where most charters fit the “high expectations, high support” model.

Crucially, the researchers took several steps to make sure the findings were real. They compared lottery winners with losers, controlling for the fact that families who applied for the lotteries were different from families who didn’t. They also counted as charter students all those who enrolled, including any who later left.

When you talk to the professors about their findings, you hear a degree of excitement that’s uncommon for academic researchers. “Relative to other things that social scientists and education policy people have tried to boost performance — class sizes, tracking, new buildings — these schools are producing spectacular gains,” said Joshua Angrist, an M.I.T. professor.

Students who go to Boston’s charter schools learn reading and math better and faster than students elsewhere. They are more likely to take A.P. tests and to do well on them. Their SAT scores are higher than for similar students elsewhere — an average of 51 points higher on the math SAT. Many more students attend a four-year college, suggesting that the benefits don’t disappear over time.

The gains are large enough that some of Boston’s charters, despite enrolling mostly lower-income students, have test scores that resemble those of upper-middle-class public schools. The seventh graders at the Brooke Charter schools in East Boston and Roslindale fare as well on a state math test as students at the prestigious Boston Latin school, the country’s oldest public school and a school with an admissions exam.

A frequent criticism of charters is that they skim off the best students, but that’s not the case in Boston. Many groups that struggle academically — boys, African-Americans, Latinos, special-education students like Alanna — are among the biggest beneficiaries. On average, notes Parag Pathak, also of M.I.T., Boston’s charters eliminate between one-third and one-half of the white-black test-score gap in a single year.

The Culture of Childhood

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

We adults have the adult-centric view that we raise, socialize, and educate children, Peter Gray says, when really children raise, socialize, and educate each other:

Perhaps the most important function of the culture of childhood is to teach children how to get along with peers. Children practice that constantly in social play. To play with another person, you must pay attention to the other person’s needs, not just your own, or the other person will quit. You must overcome narcissism. You must learn to share. You must learn to negotiate in ways that respect the other person’s ideas, not just yours. You must learn how to assert your needs and desires while at the same time understanding and trying to meet the needs and desires of your playmate. This may be the most important of all skills that human beings must learn for a successful life. Without this ability it is not possible to have a happy marriage, true friends, or cooperative work partners.

The need to learn how to deal with others on an equal power footing is the primary reason why children need to grow up in a culture of childhood. It underlies all of the rest of what children learn best with peers. The reason why children’s communications with other children are more authentic than those with adults, why they can practice independence and courage with other children better than with adults, why they can learn about the modifiability of rules with other children better than with adults, and why they can more freely practice adult skills with other children than they can with adults is that their relationships with other children are relationships of equality rather than relationships of dominance and subordination.

I think he misses a key point here:

Hunter-gatherer adults seemed to understand that children needed to grow up largely in a culture of childhood, with little adult interference, but that understanding seemed to decline with the rise of agriculture, land ownership, and hierarchical organizations of power among adults (Gray, 2012). Adults began to see it as their duty to suppress children’s natural willfulness, so as to promote obedience, which often involved attempts to remove them from the influences of other children and subordinate them to adult authority. The first systems of compulsory schooling, which are the forerunners of our schools today, arose quite explicitly for that purpose.

Presumably we’re well adapted to our ancestral environment and can learn hunting and gathering skills without an “unnatural” formal education, but watching Dad debug code or update spreadsheets isn’t interesting and doesn’t teach Junior those skills.

The Value of University

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

The Economist has ranked colleges based on the gap between how much money students subsequently earn and how much they might have made had they studied elsewhere:

We wanted to know how a wide range of factors would affect the median earnings in 2011 of a college’s former students. Most of the data were available directly from the scorecard: for the entering class of 2001, we used average SAT scores, sex ratio, race breakdown, college size, whether a university was public or private, and the mix of subjects students chose to study. There were 1,275 four-year, non-vocational colleges in the scorecard database with available figures in all of these categories. We complemented these inputs with information from other sources: whether a college is affiliated with the Catholic Church or a Protestant Christian denomination; the wealth of its state (using a weighted average of Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia for Washington) and prevailing wages in its city (with a flat value for colleges in rural areas); whether it has a ranked undergraduate business school (and is thus likely to attract business-minded students); the percentage of its students who receive federal Pell grants given to working-class students (a measure of family income); and whether it is a liberal-arts college. Finally, to avoid penalising universities that tend to attract students who are disinclined to pursue lucrative careers, we created a “Marx and Marley index”, based on colleges’ appearances during the past 15 years on the Princeton Review’s top-20 lists for political leftism and “reefer madness”. (For technically minded readers, all of these variables were statistically significant at the 1% level, and the overall r-squared was .8538, meaning that 85% of the variation in graduate salaries between colleges was explained by these factors. We also tested the model using 2009 earnings figures rather than 2011, and for the entering class of 2003 rather than 2001, and got virtually identical results.)

College Expected vs. Median Earnings

For example, Caltech’s forecast earnings increase by $27,114 as a result of its best-in-the-country incoming SAT scores, another $9,234 thanks to its students’ propensity to choose subjects like engineering, and a further $2,819 for its proximity to desirable employers in the Los Angeles area.

Instructional Videos

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Instructional videos are popular and effective, because we’re designed to learn through imitation:

Last year, it was estimated that YouTube was home to more than 135 million how-to videos. In a 2008 survey, “instructional videos” were ranked to be the site’s third most popular content category — albeit a “distant third” behind “performance and exhibition” and “activism and outreach.” More recent data suggest that distance may have closed: In 2015, Google noted that “how to” searches on YouTube were increasing 70 percent annually. The genre is by now so mature that it makes for easy satire.

[...]

A 2014 study showed that when a group of marmosets were presented with an experimental “fruit” apparatus, most of those that watched a video of marmosets successfully opening it were able to replicate the task. They had, in effect, watched a “how to” video. Of the 12 marmosets who managed to open the box, just one figured it out sans video (in the human world, he might be the one making YouTube videos).

[...]

“We are built to observe,” as Proteau tells me. There is, in the brain, a host of regions that come together under a name that seems to describe YouTube itself, called the action-observation network. “If you’re looking at someone performing a task,” Proteau says, “you’re in fact activating a bunch of neurons that will be required when you perform the task. That’s why it’s so effective to do observation.”

[...]

This ability to learn socially, through mere observation, is most pronounced in humans. In experiments, human children have been shown to “over-imitate” the problem-solving actions of a demonstrator, even when superfluous steps are included (chimps, by contrast, tend to ignore these). Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine, puts it this way: “Humans are fundamentally unique not because they are especially clever, not just because they have big brains or language, but because they are capable of extensive and generalised imitation.” In some sense, YouTube is catnip for our social brains. We can watch each other all day, every day, and in many cases it doesn’t matter much that there’s not a living creature involved. According to Proteau’s research, learning efficiency is unaffected, at least for simple motor skills, by whether the model being imitated is live or presented on video.

There are ways to learn from videos better:

The first has to do with intention. “You need to want to learn,” Proteau says. “If you do not want to learn, then observation is just like watching a lot of basketball on the tube. That will not make you a great free throw shooter.” Indeed, as Emily Cross, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Bangor University told me, there is evidence — based on studies of people trying to learn to dance or tie knots (two subjects well covered by YouTube videos) — that the action-observation network is “more strongly engaged when you’re watching to learn, as opposed to just passively spectating.” In one study, participants in an fMRI scanner asked to watch a task being performed with the goal of learning how to do it showed greater brain activity in the parietofrontal mirror system, cerebellum and hippocampus than those simply being asked to watch it. And one region, the pre-SMA (for “supplementary motor area”), a region thought to be linked with the “internal generation of complex movements,” was activated only in the learning condition — as if, knowing they were going to have to execute the task themselves, participants began internally rehearsing it.

It also helps to arrange for the kind of feedback that makes a real classroom work so well. If you were trying to learn one of Beyonce’s dance routines, for example, Cross suggests using a mirror, “to see if you’re getting it right.” When trying to learn something in which we do not have direct visual access to how well we are doing — like a tennis serve or a golf swing — learning by YouTube may be less effective.

[...]

The final piece of advice is to look at both experts and amateurs. Work by Proteau and others has shown that subjects seemed to learn sample tasks more effectively when they were shown videos of both experts performing the task effortlessly, and the error-filled efforts of novices (as opposed to simply watching experts or novices alone). It may be, Proteau suggests, that in the “mixed” model, we learn what to strive for as well as what to avoid.

Albion’s Ashes

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is not a tale of economic privation among the Kentucky Scots-Irish exodus:

It is closer to the opposite: His Kentucky-exile grandparents are secure and prosperous in spite of their own humble origins and a long period of alcohol-fueled domestic strife; they own a nice, four-bedroom home and drive new high-end cars — convertibles, even. Growing up in a small town in Ohio in the 1990s, Vance lived in a household with an annual income exceeding $100,000, or the equivalent of about $175,000 a year in today’s dollars. He had a close-knit extended family, including a grandmother who read to him and a grandfather who helped him get ahead of the other children in math, which served him well: After college and law school — at Yale — Vance went on to become the principal of a Silicon Valley investment firm. He is 31 years old.

His family was indeed miserable, but theirs wasn’t the misery of poverty and privation. It was the misery of people determined to be miserable at any price. The great American bounty was wheeled out for their enjoyment like room service at the Ritz Carlton, and they decided they preferred Wendy’s and Night Train and OxyContin and desultory sex with strangers from bars.

Nothing happened to them — they happened.

The main difference between Vance and his unhappy forebears with their Byzantine marital histories and “Mountain Dew mouth” — exactly what it sounds like — is that he had the good sense to say yes to the happiness that was offered him.

What’s interesting about his story — his only real excuse for writing a memoir, in fact — is that he almost said no, and that he is one of those unusual men who actually understands the decisions he has made, why and how he made them, and the effects they have had.

Vance was saved by the intervention of certain “loving people”:

That is not usually how one hears Marine drill instructors described.

Vance had the good sense to delay college and enlist in the Marine Corps instead. And the Marine Corps is one of the few remaining American institutions that delivers more or less exactly as advertised. Vance entered the boot camp pudgy, disorganized, immature, and lacking in confidence. He left it harder, wiser, and more capable. His account of his time in the Marines is in fact one of the most interesting sections of the book, and the one that points both to the promise and shortcomings of public-policy interventions to counter the dysfunction of the white underclass. As Vance puts it, the Marines take in new recruits under an assumption of maximum ignorance, i.e., that they do not know the basics of anything, from personal hygiene to keeping a schedule. The Marine Corps interferes in Vance’s life in intensely invasive and personal ways: When he decides he needs to buy a car, an older Marine is dispatched to make sure he doesn’t buy something stupid and stops him from signing a high-interest financing contract with the dealer, steering him instead toward a much better deal available through the Marines’ credit union.

The man who did not know how to handle automotive financing works in finance today. By his own account, he did not know that “finance” was an industry and a career option until well into his college education. Things like how to dress for a job interview and how to conduct himself at a business dinner — he’s flummoxed to learn that there’s more than one kind of white wine — simply were not within his experience.

That sort of thing is awkward, and there are tens of millions of Americans who have had such fish-out-of-water experiences on their way up. The truth is, our schools and other institutions do a pretty good job of identifying the J.D. Vances of the world, thanks in no small part to standardized testing, though of course committed and engaged teachers play an indispensable role, too. But consider what it took to turn Vance’s life around and get him ready for Ohio State and Yale. Short of universal or near-universal military conscription — something that would be resisted both by the public and by the military, which is still resisting the politicians’ efforts to transform it entirely into a social-services agency — what policy options do we have to intervene in the lives of young men and women who come from backgrounds like Vance’s, but who are even worse off in both economic and social-capital terms, and who do not have the innate intelligence to cut it in Silicon Valley or who lack comparable skills and talents? We know what to do about poor kids with IQs of 120 — what about the ones with IQs of 100? What about those with IQs of 90?

The ending of the liberal interregnum

Saturday, October 15th, 2016

Razib Khan shares a talk from Alice Dreger, author of Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar’s Search for Justice, and notes a passage where she waxes eloquently about the Enlightenment, and freedom of thought:

At a certain point the cultural Left no longer made any pretense to being liberal, and transformed themselves into “progressives.” They have taken Marcuse’s thesis in Repressive Tolerance to heart.

Though I hope that Dreger and her fellow travelers succeed in rolling back the clock, I suspect that the battle here is lost. She points out, correctly, that the total politicization of academia will destroy its existence as a producer of truth in any independent and objective manner. More concretely, she suggests it is likely that conservatives will simply start to defund and direct higher education even more stridently than they do now, because they will correctly see higher education as purely a tool toward the politics of their antagonists. I happen to be a conservative, and one who is pessimistic about the persistence of a public liberal space for ideas that offend. If progressives give up on liberalism of ideas, and it seems that many are (the most famous defenders of the old ideals are people from earlier generations, such as Nadine Strossen and Wendy Kaminer, with Dreger being a young example), I can’t see those of us in the broadly libertarian wing of conservatism making the last stand alone.

Honestly, I don’t want any of my children learning “liberal arts” from the high priests of the post-colonial cult. In the near future the last resistance on the Left to the ascendency of identity politics will probably be extinguished, as the old guard retires and dies naturally. The battle will be lost. Conservatives who value learning, and intellectual discourse, need to regroup. Currently there is a populist moood in conservatism that has been cresting for a generation. But the wave of identity politics is likely to swallow the campus Left with its intellectual nihilism. Instead of expanding outward it is almost certain that academia will start cannibalizing itself in internecine conflict when all the old enemies have been vanquished.

Let the private universities, such as Oberlin, wallow in their identity politics contradictions. Dreger already points to the path we will probably have to take: gut the public universities even more than we have. Leave STEM and some professional schools intact, and transform them for all practical purposes into technical universities. All the other disciplines? Some private universities, the playgrounds of the rich and successful, will continue to be traditionalist in maintaining “liberal arts,” which properly parrot the latest post-colonial cant. But much learning will be privatized, and knowledge will spread through segregated “safe spaces.” Those of us who read and think will continue to read and think, like we always have. We just won’t have institutional backing, because there’s not going to be a societal consensus for such support.

I hope I’m wrong.

He shares two more conclusions in a comment:

It’s getting worse, not better, and it’s not about tenure or money. It’s about social sanction and approval. so two sad conclusions:

1) Truth can only move in hidden channels now if it conflicts with power. No one gives a shit if you appeal to truth; they know that it is not intrinsic value except in the serve of status and power. I admire Heterodox Academy, but part of me wonders if they’d be better served by being stealth and just creating a secret society that doesn’t put the academy on notice that some people know that reality is different from the official narratives.

2) The post-modernists are right to a first approximation: everything is power. So “we” have to capture and crush; it’s only victory or defeat. The odds are irrelevant. I put we in quotes because it doesn’t matter who you are, the game is on, whether you think you are a player or not.

Open data and crowd-sourcing mean that a whole ecosystem of knowledge can emerge that doesn’t need to be nakedly exposed and put people’s livelihoods and reputations at risk from the kommissars.

Some of my friends have argued this for a long time, and I resisted because I’m a liberal in the old sense. but reality is reality, and the fact is that no one wants the truth, and they’ll destroy you to deny it.

For every Alice Dreger there are 1,000 who support her. but they’ll stand aside while the 100 tear her to shreds, and talk sadly amongst themselves about what happened to her career…

The Mindful Child

Saturday, October 8th, 2016

Meditation training may be most helpful for children:

It’s long been known that meditation helps children feel calmer, but new research is helping quantify its benefits for elementary school-age children. A 2015 study found that fourth- and fifth-grade students who participated in a four-month meditation program showed improvements in executive functions like cognitive control, working memory, cognitive flexibility — and better math grades. A study published recently in the journal Mindfulness found similar improvements in mathematics in fifth graders with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And a study of elementary school children in Korea showed that eight weeks of meditation lowered aggression, social anxiety and stress levels.

These investigations, along with a review published in March that combed the developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience literature, illustrate how meditative practices have the potential to actually change the structure and function of the brain in ways that foster academic success.

Fundamental principles of neuroscience suggest that meditation can have its greatest impact on cognition when the brain is in its earliest stages of development.

This is because the brain develops connections in prefrontal circuits at its fastest rate in childhood. It is this extra plasticity that creates the potential for meditation to have greater impact on executive functioning in children. Although meditation may benefit adults more in terms of stress reduction or physical rejuvenation, its lasting effects on things like sustained attention and cognitive control are significant but ultimately less robust.

A clinical study published in 2011 in The Journal of Child and Family Studies demonstrates this concept superbly. The research design allowed adults and children to be compared directly since they were enrolled in the same mindfulness meditation program and assessed identically. Children between 8 and 12 who had A.D.H.D. diagnoses, along with parents, were enrolled in an eight-week mindfulness-training program. The results showed that mindfulness meditation significantly improved attention and impulse control in both groups, but the improvements were considerably more robust in the children.

Outside of the lab, many parents report on the benefits of early meditation. Heather Maurer of Vienna, Va., who was trained in transcendental meditation, leads her 9-year-old daughter, Daisy, through various visualization techniques and focused breathing exercises three nights a week, and says her daughter has become noticeably better at self-regulating her emotions, a sign of improved cognitive control. “When Daisy is upset, she will sit herself down and concentrate on her breathing until she is refocused,” Ms. Maurer said.

Amanda Simmons, a mother who runs her own meditation studio in Los Angeles, has seen similar improvements in her 11-year-old son, Jacob, who is on the autism spectrum. Jacob also has A.D.H.D. and bipolar disorder, but Ms. Simmons said many of his symptoms have diminished since he began daily meditation and mantra chants six months ago. “The meditation seems to act like a ‘hard reboot’ for his brain, almost instantly resolving mood swings or lessening anger,” Ms. Simmons said. She believes it has enabled him to take a lower dose of Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug used to treat bipolar disorder.

Whether children are on medication or not, meditation can help instill self-control and an ability to focus. Perhaps encouraging meditation and mind-body practices will come to be recognized as being as essential to smart parenting as teaching your child to work hard, eat healthfully and exercise regularly.

To learn some meditation techniques you can teach your child, read Three Ways for Children to Try Meditation at Home.

A Cognitively Restricted Subculture

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

This passage from a Guardian piece on James Flynn made me do a double-take:

He is also an ardent democratic socialist who left an academic career in the US because he believed he was held back by his political views and his activity in the civil rights movement.

Flynn thought his academic career was held back by his pro-civil rights views?

Despite Flynn’s progressive bona fides, The Guardian has its concerns:

It is already evident to me, after reading the book [Does your Family Make You Smarter?], that the Flynn effect doesn’t settle as much as some of us thought or hoped it did. And that by 21st-century standards, perhaps Flynn doesn’t quite measure up as a liberal hero.

The answer to the question in the title, Flynn explains, is that your family environment’s effect on your IQ almost disappears by the age of 17. An important exception is in the vocabulary component of IQ tests, where the effect persists into the mid-20s and can make a big difference, at least in the US, to the chances of getting into a top university. The home has most influence in early childhood but is swamped by later environments at school, university and work. And they will more closely match your genes because you will seek out (and be chosen for) environments that match your “genetic potential”, whether it’s basketball, carpentry or mathematics.

[...]

I have many more questions but one in particular looms over discussions about IQ and we both know we can’t avoid it. It was, after all, to challenge the late Arthur Jensen, professor of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley — who claimed the genes of African Americans were responsible for their inferior IQ scores — that Flynn began to examine the evidence on intelligence. But a sentence from his new book is nagging away at me. American blacks, it says, “come from a cognitively restricted subculture”.

This is hugely sensitive territory because, while it may be good to say genes don’t make people stupid, it isn’t so good to tell anyone their way of life does. Flynn, however, makes no apologies. “It’s whites, not blacks, who complain,” he says. “Blacks know the score. Facts are facts.” On recorded IQ tests, he says, African Americans have persistently lagged behind most other ethnicities in America (including, according to some commentators, black immigrants from, for example, the Caribbean) and this cannot be explained by the Flynn effect since, as he puts it, “blacks don’t live in a time warp”.

He then tells what sounds like a version of those dodgy jokes about the Irishman, the Scotsman and the Englishman. Except this isn’t a joke. “Go to the American suburbs one evening,” says Flynn, “and find three professors. The Chinese professor’s kids immediately do their homework. The Jewish professor’s kids have to be yelled at. The black professor says: ‘Why don’t we go out and shoot a few baskets?’”

As I emit a liberal gasp, he continues: “The parenting is worse in black homes, even when you equate them for socio-economic status. In the late 1970s, an experiment took 46 black adoptees and gave half to black professional families and half to white professionals with all the mothers having 16 years of education. When their IQs were tested at eight-and-a-half, the white-raised kids were 13.5 IQ points ahead. The mothers were asked to do problem-solving with their children. Universally, the blacks were impatient, the whites encouraging. Immediate achievement is rewarded in black subculture but not long-term achievement where you have to forgo immediate gratification.”

He tells me of research showing that “when American troops occupied Germany at the end of the second world war, black soldiers left behind half-black children and white soldiers left behind all-white. By 11, the two groups had identical average IQs. In Germany, there was no black subculture.”

Flynn refuses to speculate about the lingering effects of slavery and subsequent discrimination that have prevented African Americans from entering colleges and professional careers. Universities, he thinks, should do more research on racial differences and a new version of that 1970s study. “I have shown — this wicked person who actually looks at the evidence — that blacks gained 5.5 IQ points on whites between 1972 and 2002. There’s been no changes in family structure [the incidence of single-parent families], no gains in income. I suspect it’s an improvement in parenting. But I can’t prove it.”

I leave that sunlit garden in a troubled frame of mind. Flynn has made a great contribution to human knowledge and understanding. But he hasn’t settled the nature-against-nurture debate — and I wonder if he is now muddying the waters, constructing theories about parenting from flimsy evidence.

Preschool Teacher Bias

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

A recent study asked teachers to watch preschool classroom video and detect challenging behavior before it became problematic:

Each video included four children: a black boy and girl and a white boy and girl.

Here’s the deception: There was no challenging behavior.

While the teachers watched, eye-scan technology measured the trajectory of their gaze. Gilliam wanted to know: When teachers expected bad behavior, who did they watch?

“What we found was exactly what we expected based on the rates at which children are expelled from preschool programs,” Gilliam says. “Teachers looked more at the black children than the white children, and they looked specifically more at the African-American boy.”

Indeed, according to recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, black children are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than white children. Put another way, black children account for roughly 19 percent of all preschoolers, but nearly half of preschoolers who get suspended.

One reason that number is so high, Gilliam suggests, is that teachers spend more time focused on their black students, expecting bad behavior. “If you look for something in one place, that’s the only place you can typically find it.”

The Yale team also asked subjects to identify the child they felt required the most attention. Forty-two percent identified the black boy, 34 percent identified the white boy, while 13 percent and 10 percent identified the white and black girls respectively.

The only possible explanation for this is teacher bias. There’s no way boys could be three times as much trouble as girls, after all.

Stop wasting money teaching millions of students content they already know

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Large percentages of students perform above grade level:

Based on the Wisconsin and California Smarter Balanced, Florida FSA, and multistate MAP data, we estimate that 20–40 percent of elementary and middle school students perform at least one grade level above their current grade in reading, with 11–30 percent scoring at least one grade level above in math.

Moreover, we also found large percentages of students performing well above grade level—more than one grade level ahead. Using MAP data, we estimate that 8–10 percent of Grade 4 students perform at the Grade 8 level in reading/English/language arts, with 2–5 percent scoring at similar levels in math. Relying specifically on the MAP data, one out of every ten fifth-graders is performing at the high school level in reading, and nearly one child in forty at this age is performing at the high school level in mathematics. Because of the MAP test’s computer-adaptive format and high measurement ceiling, these results cannot be explained away by the correction that commonly applies to pencil-and-paper grade-level achievement tests. On the latter tests, a fifth-grader with a ninth-grade-level equivalent score amounts to a ninth-grader’s completing a fifth-grade test. By contrast, a MAP test score that is equivalent to ninth-grade performance is in fact based on ninth-grade content knowledge and skills.

Converting these percentages to numbers of children provides a sobering picture of the number of students who are not well served under the current grade-based educational paradigm. In Wisconsin alone, somewhere between 278,000 and 330,000 public-school students are performing more than a full grade above where they are placed in school. And as mentioned above, in the much larger state of California, that number is between 1.4 million and 2 million students.

Federal and state education policies are largely irrelevant for this huge number of students. Getting kids to grade-level proficiency has been a focus of U.S. education policy and practice for well over a decade. Yet the U.S. likely wastes tens of billions of dollars each year in efforts to teach students content they already know.

This structure centered on age-based grade levels, therefore, needs serious rethinking. One option is whole-grade or single-subject acceleration. Indeed, this is consistent with the literature, which has documented uniformly positive benefits when academic acceleration is implemented thoughtfully. Academic acceleration is particularly beneficial for students pursuing professional careers that require substantial academic preparation and credentialing, a point that has been recognized for more than eighty years. Acceleration would also reduce the difficulty of differentiated instruction because students within a given classroom are selected to be far more homogeneous in ability and prior knowledge than they are in the traditional system.

[...]

The current K-12 education system essentially ignores the learning needs of a huge percentage of its students. Knowing this, twenty years from now we may look back and wonder why we kept using age-based grade levels to organize K–12 education for so long.