When Will Public Schools Acquire Nukes?

September 16, 2014

The Wall Street Journal has an article that you might mistake for something in The Onion.  The federal government has a program that provides surplus military equipment to state and local governments at no cost other than the expense of shipping.  A number of public schools have taken advantage of this program to acquire military gear.  As the WSJ reported:

Some school districts, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, stocked up on grenade launchers, M-16 rifles and even a multi-ton armored vehicle…

And Matt will be pleased to know that:

In south Texas, near the Mexican border, the sprawling Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District has 34,700 students and operates its own SWAT team, thanks in part to military gear it was given in recent years.

This is a toxic combination of 1) school districts lining up for anything the feds are handing out, 2) the excessive militarization of local police (and apparently school security) forces, and 3) schools focusing on incredibly rare events, like school shootings, as opposed to incredibly common ones, like incarcerating millions of children in schools that fail to serve their needs.

But don’t worry, one school district official explained that “These officers are trained in tactics. Some are former military.”  And a Defense Department spokesperson assured that “each state is visited biannually for a program compliance review to further look at records, property and usage.”  Well… if these are trained school employees who are inspected by the federal government biannually, I’m sure it will be fine to have SWAT teams with grenade launchers in our schools.

My only question is when will public schools be able to get surplus nukes.  I mean, how else will they maintain Mutually Assured Destruction to deter the growing threat of private school choice?

Creating Cultural Consumers

September 16, 2014

Brian Kisida, Dan Bowen, and I have a new article in the journal, Sociology of Education, about how field trips to art museums help develop cultural consumers — people who want to visit cultural institutions in the future.  This piece is a more focused and technical follow-up on the summary of our art museum field trip study last year in Education Next.  Earlier we also published a more technical piece in Educational Researcher focused on the critical thinking results from our experiment.  There are more technical pieces on particular aspects of the study in the works.

Also keep you eyes out for a random-assignment study on what students learn from field trips to see live theater performances of Hamlet and A Christmas Carol.  It should be published by Education Next some time in October.

And if you are hiring, keep your eyes out for Dan Bowen and Brian Kisida, who are both now applying for academic jobs.  They each have at least 8 peer-reviewed articles.  Dan also has two grants that he earned while working as a post-doc at Rice University.  Another one of our graduate students, Anna Egalite, is currently in a post-doc at Harvard and is also on the academic job market for next year.  All thee would be great hires for any university smart enough to snap them up.

James K. Polk’s Way of the Future

September 15, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I am in the middle of reading a fascinating book about James K. Polk called A Country of Vast Designs. Stow that scoff soldier! Any reader of this book will quickly reach the conclusion that Polk has been hugely underestimated. This book details non-stop intrigue within Polk’s Democratic Party, political warfare between the Democrats and the Whigs, and Polk’s high stakes gambit to obtain sole possession of the Oregon territory (disputed by the world’s then preeminent military power), the Republic of Texas and the American southwest. Polk risked simultaneous war with both Great Britain and Mexico and national ruin in the process. Love him or hate him, Polk was a man of purpose and resolve that played a huge role in creating the country we live in today.

In any case, 132 pages in the book contains a striking passage describing a national zeitgeist that seems sadly diminished today:

The United States that accepted James Polk’s leadership in March 1845 was a nation on the move, animated by an exuberance of spirit. The population, having roughly doubled every twenty years since the Revolution, now stood at 17 million, equivalent to that of Great Britain. The national economy had been expanding at an average annual rate of 3.9 percent. Not even the Panic of 1837, for all of its destructive force, could forestall for long this creation of wealth. And throughout the land could be seen a confidence that fueled national success. “We are now reaching the very height, perhaps, to which we can expect to ascend,” declared the Democratic Wilmington Gazette of Delaware. “Every branch of industry is receiving its reward, and a just, settled policy…is all that is required to prolong, if not perpetuate, such blessings.”

The faith in the future produced an explosion of new technological developments, most notably steam power and Samuel F.B. Morse’s magnetic telegraph. Steam was propelling people and goods across the country at speeds never before imagined-over rails connecting more and more cities and through the waters of America’s many navigable rivers and man-made canals. By the 1830s, during Jackson’s Presidency, the country had 450 locomotives pulling trains over 3,200 miles of track. Now the country’s track mileage exceeded 7,000, and train travel over vast distances had become routine. Henry Clay’s first trip to Washington from Lexington Kentucky, in 1806 had taken three weeks; now he could make the journey by rail in four days-and with much greater comfort.

As remarkable as this was, it seemed almost commonplace alongside Morse’s ability to send information across vast expanses almost instantaneously-“the improvement that annihilates distance,” as Thomas Benton put it. Morse had strung his famous wires from Baltimore to Washington in time for the Democrats’ nominating convention the previous May, and had thrilled Washingtonians with the latest news of developments there. On the rain-soaked day of Polk’s inauguration, Morse had been on the platform, hunched over his little gadget, clanking out detailed descriptions of the inaugural events an expectant crowd in Baltimore and for subsequent readers of newspaper extras rushed to the streets with unprecedented immediacy.

Now the idea was emerging of those wires crisscrossing America along with the expanding ribbons of locomotive transport-connecting North and South and stretching westward with the human migrations then becoming an increasingly powerful element of the American story. All this served as a resounding reply to the hidebound skeptics who asked whether America’s expansionist impulse would eventually outstrip the country’s ability to govern itself. The answer was no: Just as America was encompassing ever greater distances, technology was obliterating the sluggishness of distance.

And so the impulse of exuberant expansionism continued-sending more and more citizens westward and into ever greater cities; fueling an entrepreneurial spirit and technological inventiveness that in turn generated an ongoing economic expansion; spreading a sense of national destiny. “America is the country of the Future,” declared Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1844. “It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”





Repetition in Music

September 15, 2014

My colleague, Lisa Margulis, has a great Ted-Ed video summarizing her new book, On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind.  Lisa, Brian Kisida, and I recently published an article together in the Psychology of Music on how student experience of a musical performance is altered by receiving information about the music.

Let’s see if this information alters your experience of music.  The question in Lisa’s book (and video) is why we like so much repetition in music.  Lisa provides the answers:

And in case you need an example, here are the Vulgar Boatmen playing Drive Somewhere, which I think captures repetitive pop perfection:

Online Education Fares Well in First Rigorous Analysis

September 12, 2014

Matt Chingos and Guido Schwerdt have posted a Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance working paper with the first rigorous analysis of the effects of virtual education in K-12.  You can read it online as well as look at this excellent summary by Marty West on the Ed Next blog.

The bottom line is that Florida students taking Algebra and English I online tended to do at least as well as those who took those courses in traditional classrooms, controlling for prior achievement and demographic characteristics.  To strengthen the causal identification the authors focus on comparing students who took at least one online course so they would be more alike in the unobserved characteristics that might motivate a student to take courses online.

Faring equally well is a positive outcome for online education because delivering education virtually has the extra benefits of expanding access to students at schools that do not offer those classes.  Delivering courses online is also considerably cheaper.

Of course, this is one study and we are in the early days of developing virtual education, so these findings may not apply to future circumstances.  But they are certainly encouraging enough to continue expanding virtual education and collecting information on the results.

“I’m Practically a Socialist”

September 8, 2014


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Don’t miss Politico’s thoughtful profile of Common Core godfather E.D. Hirsch, who says of himself:

I’m practically a socialist.

Yes, he is. He understands what is really going on better than most.

Granted, in its current incarnation CC lacks the teeth to put any of its implicitly dictatorial ambitions into effect. But that does not change the nature of the ambitions; it only means CC advocates understand the limits of what is currently possible. If CC is allowed to silently redefine the basic meaning of all educational terms, delegitimize authentic parent choice, and establish the expectation that powerful people can lie and cheat and get away with it, more and more will become possible for them.

P.S. Don’t forget, “practically” can mean “in practice, in effect, de facto.”

Random Pop Culture Apocalypse: Postmodern Jukebox

September 8, 2014

I came across a fantastic website called Postmodern Jukebox featuring wonderfully creative interpretations of pop songs, TV theme songs. and video game music.  Here’s their jazz interpretation of Meghan Trainor’s All About that Bass:

And here is Girls Just Want to Have Fun as a waltz:

And here is Blurred Lines as a bluegrass barn dance:

And here is Wake Me Up… mariachi style

And here is Livin’ on a Prayer as a jazz standard:

For those of you who are TV and videogame junkies, here is the Pokemon theme song:

And here is a Nintendo medley:




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