Friday, June 29, 2007
- An interesting grading scale, from the Trenches of Public Ed. blog. I can't say I agree with it, since it disproportionately rewards effort over skill instead of striking a balance. However, it's better than most grading scales I've seen, so kudos for that.
- From the consistently good Joanne Jacobs, on rejecting the use of race in school assignments, but not the use of socioeconomic status.
- How to get more charitable donations, from Wharton. This logic also applies to business and certainly education.
- Great stories from the NY Times about valedictorians in NYC.
- On the need for taking time out of your day and being less structured, from Slate.
- I will probably come back to this next week in a full post, but boy doesn't this plan by Bloomberg written up in the City Journal just irk you?
... as always, please feel free to comment, send a message, or write an email ...
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Here's why it's helpful and/or essential - sometimes a teacher's style does not connect well with a certain student, leading to results that are not up to a student's (or parent's) desired level. This difficulty to connect is no surprise because most class sizes have enough students that a teacher can't teach directly to every student whereas in a 1 to 1 tutoring session a (good) tutor can adapt to a student's needs. To me, this is the chief benefit of tutoring over teaching in a classroom. It's also why I've never understood certain services that offer to do test prep or class tutoring but all they're do is cram 15-20 students in a room and teach them like a normal class.
The other key here, in regards to tutoring, is how affordable (and thus in many cases available) tutoring should be to students. I would venture to say that most of the federally funded tutors are tutoring lower income students - but I wonder if these lower income students would "upgrade" to higher priced services if money were not an issue. Furthermore, I wonder if the results of their tests would further improve. We'll never know, at least until affordable tutoring is provided in all the metro areas of the study cited above.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I figured, by the way, that another feature of this blog would be to keep you up to date on the books I complete. There are two benefits (I think) to this: you get a concise summary of the book, at which point you can decide if you want to read it yourself or not, and you get to see what I'm reading (which may or may not be a positive!)
The book chronicles the life of Warren Buffett - from his beginnings all the way until the mid 90's (this book is a few years old). Just by reading about his formative years, and the remarkable way he thought about business and making money, I can understand how he ended up being so wealthy. I'm hesitant to use the word successful because the definition of successful is vague - while it can refer to money, it could also refer to happiness, etc. and we'll never know for sure if Buffett ever has been truly happy. For example, I did not know his wife Susie "left" him but that they never divorced. I also never realized how close to a hermit Buffett was during most of his life - I'm glad to see he's starting to lighten up.
While there are many things I disagree with Buffett on (for example, his extreme thriftiness), I certainly learned from the book and would say it's a pretty good read though not exactly life changing. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I'd rate this book a 6. The book got dull at points, perhaps delved too much into certain deals, and really would have scored a bit lower except for the very interesting subject matter.
"Southern Miss will not compete with [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] in physics or [the California Institute of Technology] in chemistry," he said. "But we can carve out these niches ... and create something that's special and unique to Southern Miss."
For students like Cook, a collegiate and high school athlete, the sports and high performance materials degree is the opportunity of a lifetime--the perfect scientific and professional match.
Another example is Orion. He knows he isn't as singularly gifted as some at physics, and as others at mechanical engineering, but he's bridged the gap between the two majors and found a niche. He's double majoring, adding in a nanomaterials concentration, and looking at graduate programs in alternative energy that correspond with the niche he's developed.
This post from the Steve Olsen blog makes a great point - education is a huge enabler in our society and is, of course, very important. It's tough for many young people to see the importance of delaying present satisfaction for the sake of a (hopefully) higher future satisfaction. That's why it's so important to have a good support system around each student.
So, one day, about eight of us were standing around in the cooler doing whip-its, when I said, “Flounder, what are you doin’ workin’ a [bad] job? I mean, your parents own two businesses. They must be doin’ pretty good. You don’t need the money, do you?”
Flounder replied, “No, we don’t need the money. I don’t want this job. I hate it here. My dad makes me do it…. He said he wanted me to know what my life would be like if I didn’t get an education.”
And related to this, I just became aware of a new schooling trend - schools in malls. Namely, these schools are for students who dropped out while they were in high school and want to get their degree. While I applaud the efforts, and more people getting their degrees, I was appalled by the test results statistic:
So how does the Judson Learning Academy measure up? According to the Texas Education Agency less than 40% of Judson Learning Academy students passed all of the Texas state exams, last year. But it also reports no dropouts in the 2004-2005 school year, and a 100% graduation rate. That's a lot of diplomas, and that's the kind of results, TPS hopes to duplicate.
So while getting your degree is important, I think it's even more important to develop a desire for lifelong learning. Innovative learning methods help and I was surprised to hear Kaplan has developed stripped down SAT quizzes for the iPod. From a business perspective you can see why Kaplan created these programs - you pay a fixed cost to develop the software, say a couple thousand, and then reap the royalties without having to spend more money on the product. I wonder how effective these mall schools and iPod learning programs might be in improving results?
Monday, June 25, 2007
Put it this way. Rich parents tend to transmit advantages to their children in all sorts of ways outside school: home tutoring; good genes; investment in activities and books; social networks; a culture that values learning; and positive attitudes.
The discussion I had this weekend centered around a compliment I was receiving about success - I was adamant that a good portion of any success I have had (or will have) stems from being lucky. I am lucky to have great parents, lucky to go through all the experiences I did, lucky to go to a great school, and so forth. I am lucky my parents taught me manners and cared that I always try my best. The person I was debating said that luck did play a small part, but that it mostly came down to how I seized opportunities. So I'm sure the close to correct answer would be some sort of middle ground.
The rest of the article is interesting, though, since the post addresses the starting advantage that certain children have over others. For example, my family was never fabulously wealthy but my parents sacrificed for my brother and I to go to public school, they bought us books all the time, and were a great support system. This was certainly a nice starting advantage to have when it came to my education, so the post does offer an interesting take on how to "level" the playing field.
At Galloway, I know the Upper Learning principal would always teach 1 class per quarter - but why would someone working in a staff function need to teach a class? What makes sense is having the highest administrators teach a class, so having the principal, assistant principal, and maybe a few others teach classes in their core competency.
And we never had this problem of having to kick students out of class:
Every student is also under control when it comes to behavior. That doesn't mean that the students are all a bunch of little angels. That doesn't mean that there are no students who cut up in class or who talk too much from time to time. It does mean that students know that if they don't at least try to control their behavior, the teacher has the power to kick them out of class and the principal has the power to kick them out of school. Once again, because they know that--in other words because they know there are limits--drastic measures by teachers and principals are rarely necessary.
Now I do concede that my high school was a private school, so the comparison between her post and mine is more apples to oranges than apples to apples... but the point is that such an ideal high school does exist and is an attainable goal for most public high schools. But in a private school setting, how do you give "power" to those in charge so that they can make sweeping changes to improve the public school's performance?
One potential solution is having parents get involved, but it doesn't seem like the Trenches blog favors that idea. The middle ground would be if parents all voted to give a good principal more power than they currently have to make these positive changes (and then stick to those changes) so that there are more "perfect" public high schools.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
We'll try to condense it down to about 4, 5 of the day's most interesting links. Today's posting is coming from Newport, RI where I'm weekending with some good friends.
- I hate to give Blair and Bloomberg more publicity, but Blair is getting criticized again over education and Bloomberg is implementing an idea Orion and I have often toyed with...
- More emphasis on public speaking, this time from Penelope Trunk.
- A glimpse into the future of education...
- And somewhat unrelated (but still interesting), the Freakonomics blog tackles a variety of issues.
Friday, June 22, 2007
- This voucher story showed up in the Washington Post and in the Wall Street Journal, but Joanne Jacobs summarizes it here.
- A good point by Gellman on everyone celebrating graduation. I know people who have gone to middle school graduations, kindergarten graduations, or even graduations from one grade to another (say from 3rd grade to 4th grade). Here's a telling quote from the article:
My concerns about the explosion of graduations are not just that they're silly. My main gripe is that they distort the nature of learning. Graduations send the message that learning has a beginning, a middle and an end—and this is just not true. The only graduation from learning is death.- From the NY Times, the Japanese are struggling to fill their universities. It's interesting to see the effect of demographic shifts and of course how the Japanese are adjusting.
- This excellent post from Scobleizer on the different social networking tools and his opinions on each. This is a very important post for students so they keep up to date on everything available and for parents (to know what tools younger people are using and to help them stay relevant).
- And finally, what you've all been waiting for... the Numbers Guy at the WSJ tackles Isaac Newton's calculation of the Apocalypse. Let me warn you - it seems like fuzzy math.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
- This was a great post on Teach for America from Whitney Tilson. I've noticed the same thing - when I went up to Colby a few times, a lot of the people I met ended up deciding to do TFA. I wonder if there's a way to keep the increasing number of new graduates in the program instead of having it be a stopping point on the way to graduate school for a lot of the participants.
- A great post on overcoming bias that applies to life, school, and work.
- A Washington Post blog entry on dealing with kids' independence. I know it's hard for parents to let go, but it's important to let teenagers make mistakes while they're at home (better than when they're off to college, right?) That's why I like high schools like Galloway (shameless plug, since I went there) where you're trusted with independence from the get go and it's yours to lose. Just a thought.
- And though I already "assigned" the book of the month, I just finished another notable book - Fooled by Randomness, by Nicholas Nassem Taleb, which I heard about from Ben Casnocha's blog.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Organizations and entrepreneurs that were once dismissed as upstarts, as wildcards—as mavericks—are making waves and growing fast. There’s a reason: In an age of hyper-competition and nonstop innovation, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something truly original.
Mavericks at Work offers exciting new answers to the timeless challenges facing organizations of every size and leaders in every field: how you make strategy, how you unleash ideas, how you connect with customers, how your best people achieve great results. But this is more than just a how-to book. It is also a what-if book.
Business needs a breath of fresh air... Individually, these maverick companies are attracting millions of customers, creating thousands of jobs, generating tens of billions of dollars of wealth. As a group, they demonstrate that you can build successful organizations around high ideals and fierce competitive ambitions, that the most powerful way to create economic value is to embrace a set of values that go beyond just amassing power, and that business, at its best, is too exciting, too important, and too much fun to be left to the dead hand of business as usual.
In short, the book applies not just to business, but to life as well - that's why I've chosen it as July's book of the month. For example, at one point in the book the authors ask: Have you set out – clearly, crisply, in language that reflects the spirit of your organization – the most compelling reasons for great people to work on your team, in your division, at your company?" That also applies to life and school - you should set out the reasons why you're doing what you're doing, or taking a certain class, and so forth.
In about a week or two I'll provide further notes and ideas for those that want guidance or don't want to go out and buy the entire book, but for those that will read... happy readings!
Monday, June 18, 2007
The positions of the two national teachers’ unions diverge on merit pay. The National Education Association, the larger of the two, has adopted a resolution that labels merit pay, or any other pay system based on an evaluation of teachers’ performance, as “inappropriate.”
The American Federation of Teachers says it opposes plans that allow administrators alone to decide which teachers get extra money or that pay individual teachers based solely on how students perform on standardized test scores, which they consider unreliable. But it encourages efforts to raise teaching quality and has endorsed arrangements that reward teams of teachers whose students show outstanding achievement growth.
So if a teacher is good, they wouldn't be opposed to merit pay; if they're bad, they would be. Or one can argue that all teachers are concerned about the amount their students learn and that judging solely on test scores is a poor way to dole out pay. But then if that's the case, the American Federation of Teachers actually takes a pretty reasonable stance - one that I happen to agree with, since you factor in achievement growth but do not rely solely on standardized test scores.
I've always thought merit pay was a great way to align or motivate for performance but in this case you see at least one unscrupulous union looking to unreasonable "protection" for its members. I say the best way to protect your pay and job is to continually improve and add value, especially in what is popularly called our increasingly global economy.
In other news, Orion and I are set to announce a competition with a $50 prize - more on that "creative outsourcing" later.
A quick request - if you've been posting comments in Facebook (or even thinking about posting in Facebook) please post on this website as well so that people who don't have Facebook can get in on the discussion.
Friday, June 15, 2007
- Colleges are being warned about the potential for spies - this article via CNN.
- A story about ex-cons graduating college via a program in NYC, article via NY Times.
- Blogging makes you smarter. This one isn't shocking, but an interesting read nonetheless.
- I just found out about this guy - I see a lot of similarities between the two of us. But the fact that he posted a Charlie Munger speech (which by the way is WELL worth reading) makes me want to reach out to Ben to have a pow-wow. More on those efforts later... but here's a snippet from the speech:
Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty. It’s not something you do just to advance in life. As a corollary to that proposition which is very important, it means that you are hooked for lifetime learning. And without lifetime learning, you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you learn after you leave here.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Even if there's a prevailing sense of anti-intellectualism, the US can "make up for it" because of the almost endless opportunities offered in this country. Not only that, but the academic elites and privileged can hold up a surprising amount of people who become "anti-intellectual", which by the way is in and of itself difficult to characterize. More and more, the people "at the top" are holding up our economy - the top 1% control $17 trillion in wealth, according to a really good book I read this weekend called Richistan. Even though we often hear about the problems plaguing the middle class (thanks to incessant reporting by people like Lou Dobbs), the prevailing sense of anti-intellectualism in that group won't bring down our country.
No, it's not anti-intellectualism that will bring down this country - it's all the other problems combined that slowly erode our competitive advantage. And what worries me is that most people don't realize our country's competitive advantages are slipping away, which is why I feel education and lifelong learning are more important than ever.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
A problem-solver is someone who gets handed a challenge, goes into the lab, and doesn’t come out until he or she has an answer. A solution-finder looks around the world and is agnostic as to where the answer comes from, so long as it’s the best answer at the lowest cost in the shortest time.The passage really got me thinking about the difference between the two. Too often, we're trying to act like the problem-solver by thinking we have (or are capable of getting to) the answer. So we put our heads down, chug ahead, and try, try, try until we get something resembling the correct answer.
The better way to go about things would be to find solutions, first by thinking about the task/problem at hand and being open to all possible ideas. I think it's the solution finders who come up with the interesting answers to problems and in a company these are the people who find the best answer in the quickest amount of time.
Another interesting idea behind the quote is comparative advantage - in this case, being willing to admit you don't have all the answers, being open to other (sometimes unorthodox) ideas, and then finding someone who can help find the solution. Moral of the story - open mindedness, collaboration, and humility.
So what are you? A problem-solver or a solution-finder? And is it even bad/good to be one or the other?
But it's been making the rounds in other blogs, namely in yesterday's post from Joanne Jacobs' blog. Here's the link.
I'll be making another post later in the day, probably about a concept I've been toying with comparing problem solvers versus solution finders. More to come...
Monday, June 11, 2007
The most important part of the post:
But, I was wondering if maybe next year we could add just a few social networking tools to your content? I was thinking it would be interesting to chat with some students in India to find out what kind of information they are learning in their classes since I will be competing with them when I go for a job or enrolling for college. I wonder if they learn about mathematics the same way we do. I wonder how long their school day is, how long their school year is? Then I am wondering if the kids in the UK are still reading Beowulf, and how their teachers teach them about the purpose of Beowulf in today’s world and wouldn’t it be interesting to have a dialogue or chat with some kids in school in the UK. Finally, I was wondering if there was a way we could work on an environmental problem with some kids from around the world to see if there is something that we have in common and if some of us have ideas that might just help the environment now rather than waiting 5-9 more years when we finish high school.
The blog then goes on to provide good social networking tool links at the bottom... all are worth checking out.
And in other news, Google is making it easier to read online. Not too surprising...
Friday, June 8, 2007
- NY Times piece of varying education standards across our states.
- Looks like tests are necessary.
- Who needs the SAT? according to Jay Matthews.
- This is what happens when you're underfunded. I wonder how high schools are impacted by teachers leaving when schools are underfunded...
Thursday, June 7, 2007
RIF addresses one problem and that is getting more kids to read. They do it by making reading fun, which is great. Even as a kid, I was nerdy and wanted to read - when my dad came back from trips, most of the time our gifts were a book from the country he was coming back from. It also didn't hurt that at Christmas more than half of our presents were always education related - and we liked it!
But back to the reading issue... I think (and have no statistics to back it up) that most people probably don't read enough. So how does one measure reading "enough"? That's tough, because it's probably more of a subjective number of books read per month, or books/articles/essays read per month, etc. But it can never hurt to push more reading - that is, with better reading comprehension.
So there is a second problem I have with reading levels in general - it's great to get more people to read, but what if their comprehension levels are not adequate? This is an issue with kids sometimes, and is blogged about here and here, but I wonder how big of an issue it is with adults too? In the United States, our literacy rate is above 99% as noted in the CIA World Factbook. It'd be interesting if there were a way to have a literacy comprehension rate, though that would also probably require more subjective numbers similar to the reading rates I mentioned earlier.
So how do we get more people to read and have better comprehension? It certainly doesn't hurt to have fun books like Harry Potter 7. It also wouldn't hurt if books were cheaper (though this relates more to publishers difficulties in finding quality, high selling books to publish). It may even be smart to have automatic enrollment programs at libraries - that is, being able to use a driver's license or school ID to automatically check out books. These ideas improve access to books - but how to improve comprehension? That's another longwinded topic, concerning our education system and society, and it's best saved for another day.
Finally, WHY do I think more people need to read and have better comprehension? I can't back it up with statistics (and usually reading statistics can be dubious) but I feel that reading helps people develop their general knowledge, broaden their point of view, and help them in other areas of life. For example, I read a lot of business, psychology, and policy books - many of them teach me lessons that I never would have thought about, and I apply them to my life. And another benefit of reading is that it's unique exercise for your mind - it keeps you fresh and I think helps develop and stimulate your imagination. Bottom line - more reading doesn't hurt. Read on!
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
“There’s another lesson that’s really obvious,” he continues. “You cannot motivate the best people with money. Money is just a way to keep score. The best people in any field are motivated by passion. That becomes more true the higher the skill level gets. People do their best work when they are passionately engaged in what they’re doing” (91).
It really got me thinking about motivating students. When I was younger, I was partially motivated by money. Let me explain. So my parents would reward my brother and I with $10 per A in a class. This usually meant $60 pay days at the end of the "quarter" (I put it in quotations because at my high school they were actually trimesters but called "quarters") or, at worst, $50 dollars. Now, if I knew I was going to get a B in just 1 class, I wasn't going to kill myself over $10 extra bucks - let's face it, for a 12-16 year old (the age I was in high school) $50 is still a large amount of money. So how much did money really motivate me? Or was it simply passion for learning (or getting good grades, or even the recognition that accompanies good grades) that motivated me?
Looking back, I'd say the positive feelings of getting good grades, and the accompanying recognition, are what really drove me. Sure, I love learning, but there's nothing quite like having people recognize you for your achievements. In fact, I read that in a national employee survey, employees value recognition and compliments over pay. Yeah, no one is going to work for free - but they'll probably stick around longer if they know they're valued and are going to be recognized for their achievements.
So now the question is this - how do you motivate a student who may not have a passion for learning and doesn't care for recognition? At that point does it come back to money?
These two questions got Orion and myself thinking a few weeks back - why aren't there hybrid scholarships that "pay for grades"? Say $20 for each A, $5 for each B, $0 for each C, -$10 for each D, and $-25 for each F. I put in negatives because if someone gets 3 A's, 1 B, and 2 F's, I'd want them to be "punished" for F's by taking away some of the money they "earned" for the A's and B's (in this specific case the student would make $15 instead of $65 if they weren't "punished").
OK, so besides the fact that people would complain about students only focusing on good grades, and not focusing on learning per se, what else is a negative of this method? It's something I've been looking into, because all too often I've seen very bright students who just don't care about school getting poor grades. Any other ideas about "hybrid" scholarships or other ways to motivate students?
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
In honor of the news, I wanted to touch on public speaking. Many people are afraid of public speaking but there are ways to overcome the fear. There are groups such as Toastmasters (which actually has over 200,000 members). Public speaking is a critical skill and I highly encourage anyone afraid of public speaking/presentations to get assistance from Toastmasters or from one of College Knowledge's mentors. For free advice, I think this is a pretty good document they provide with 10 tips for successful public speaking.
For me, public speaking is actually fun. I make sure to know my material, practice it beforehand, but also stay loose. You should provide an initial benefit statement after the hook in the beginning of your presentation/speech. You should also be interacting with the crowd as you go along and sometimes you even need to improvise. Most importantly, for public speaking to become fun for you requires practicing it a lot until it becomes second nature!
Joanne Jacobs had an interesting blog post on old kindergarten students and "red shirting", which I find amusing because of its ties to football. I read red shirting in these education articles and think of little 6 year olds in pads and a helmet.
So what's my take on the matter? In spite of what most people are saying about older kids having the advantage, I'd disagree but probably only because my situation was quite the opposite. I skipped 2 grades, was always the youngest in my grade, and I did very well in school. Age wasn't an issue for sports or social reasons either, though sometimes it was trying (such as when I didn't get my license until senior year of high school). Anyways, age wasn't a problem in college either.
My advice would be to just put your kids in school, give them the tools they need to succeed, and then try to get out of their way. But writing (and reading) the endless articles on what to do with 6 year olds isn't going to solve any parent's anxiety - that's an issue they need to work on themselves.
Parents need to be there to support their kids, but not be too involved because then they end up stifling their kid's independence and creativity. And if you don't think kids then become too reliant on their parents, I've read many articles about "helicopter parents" who hover over their kids activities far too much - there was one story I read about how a new analyst out of college wasn't happy with something at his job so his mom called in to work to complain!
Monday, June 4, 2007
He starts the history of Clif Bar with a personal story of going on a 100 mile bike ride that turned unexpectedly into a 175 mile ride. This was what he calls the first epiphany bike ride and was sustained by only 6 power bars and a banana. As the story goes, it was when he found that he couldn't force down the 6th bar that he decided to make his own. This was the epiphany. It's celebrated every year by a company-sponsored bike event that follows the same route.
Such epiphanies occur frequently, but we're not many of us built like Erickson, so we don't tend to turn our ideas into such a formidable reality as he has done...
There are many good reasons to read this book. It's full of great stories and metaphors. His management ideas are workable, and he's created one of the best mission statements I've seen. This is given in the form of five "aspirations:" Sustaining Our Brands; Sustaining Our Business; Sustaining Our People; Sustaining Our Community; Sustaining Our Planet...
Erickson clearly lived and promulgated these values for some years before formalizing them and writing them down on paper. He also works continuously to meet the company's aspirations. It seems obvious to measure and assess a company based on the achievement of its mission, but that's not what most companies do...
At the end of the book, Erickson sums up his achievements at Clif Bar by saying that Clif Bar's business model is like a jazz score, and that the people of Clif Bar are like jazz musicians. "The core is jazz: the freedom to improvise in the creation of beautiful things, products, and people." This is a nice idea and an appropriate metaphor for the whole book, a tale about the raising of Clif Bar improvised around the stories of his life.
The book is an entertaining -- and at some points dazzling -- composition, but it is also important as a model. Erickson does something valuable by giving us one more book that shows how to build a successful, socially responsible company...
Raising the Bar is a great read, but most of all it's important for its ideas and the example it provides. Erickson is an inspiring model for others. He doesn't believe that taking care of people is just a way to make them work harder. As Erickson puts it, "We believe that if we provide meaningful work as well as something beyond work, people will do their jobs well and lead healthier, more balanced lives."
Fortunately, Erickson's is not an isolated example, and more and more people are practicing the belief that stewardship and sustainability is more important than maximizing shareholder profit.
So if you haven't begun June's book of the month, or aren't still convinced to read it, I invite you to read a free excerpt of the book found here on the Clif Bar website. Happy readings!
Friday, June 1, 2007
- CNN reports that a donor gave $100 million to UChicago... anonymously.
- Here's a good article from the WSJ on sleep (or lack thereof) having an influence on performance.
- A dad, son, and granddaughter are graduating together.
- Here's a great post on special ed. students and the honor roll. A sampling: I think it would be nice if we could find a way to reward people... without pretending that her performance is on par with kids who are taking much tougher classes.
- Joanne Jacobs touches on the 5 year plans... in high schools. I have many friends who are graduating Georgia Tech and other schools in 5 years, but I'd never heard of such high amounts of high schoolers doing the same.
- Here's a new set of wealthy investors getting involved in education as reported in Whitney Tilson's School Reform Blog.