Nominations Solicited for the 2018 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 5, 2018

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It is time once again for us to solicit nominations for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:

Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards.  Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997.  And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.   Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists.  From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.

Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian.  But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.

Last year’s winner of “The Al” was Stanislav Petrov, who literally saved the world from nuclear destruction by refusing to follow Soviet orders to retaliate against what he suspected (and was later confirmed) was a false warning of a US strike.  It’s not quite spicy chicken but it’s close. Petrov was selected from an excellent set of nominees, including Whittaker ChambersJustin Roiland and Dan Harmon, and Russ Roberts.

The previous year’s winner of “The Al” was Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who prevailed over a very competitive field of nominees, including Tim and Karrie LeagueRemy Munasifi, and Yair Rosenberg.  Edmonds stood up against fascists at considerable risk to himself by declaring that he and all of his fellow prisoners of war were Jews to foil the Nazis’ effort to separate Jewish prisoners.  It is this type of courage in the face of illiberalism that we need more of in these times.

The 2015 winner of “The Al” was the internet humorist, Ken M.  Ken M did more to improve the human condition than just make us laugh by making idiotic comments on social media (although that would have been enough).  His humor reveals the ridiculousness of people trying to change the world by arguing with people on the internet.  Given how much time ed reformers waste on social media, especially Twitter, Ken M’s humor is a useful reminder that many of the people reading your posts are probably not much swifter or influential than the Ken M persona.  Ken M beat a set of strong nominees, including Malcolm McLeanGary Gygax, and John Lasseter.

The 2014 winner was Peter DeComo, the inventor of the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System.  To save a life DeComo had to trick border control officials to bring a model of his artificial lung machine into the US from Canada because the device had not yet been fully approved by the FDA.  DeComo won over a worthy field, including Marcus Persson, the inventor of Minecraft, Ira Goldman, the developer of the “Knee Defender,”  Thomas J. Barratt, the father of modern advertising, and Thibaut Scholasch and Sébastien Payen, wine-makers who improved irrigation methods.

The 2013 winner of “The Al” was Weird Al Yankovic.  Weird Al beat an impressive set of nominees, including Penn and TellerKickstarter, and Bill Knudsen.

The 2012 winner of “The Al” was George P. Mitchell, a pioneer in the use of fracking to obtain more, cheap and clean natural gas. Mitchell won over a group of other worthy nominees:  BanksyRansom E. OldsStan Honey, and Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes.

In 2011 “The Al” went to Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon.  Thanks to Anna for nominating him and recognizing that advances in equal opportunity for women had as much or more to do with entrepreneurs than government mandates.  Haas beat his fellow nominees:  Charles Montesquieu, the political philosopher, David Einhorn, the short-seller, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul.

The 2010  winner of  “The Al” was Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist.  He beat out  The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

And the 2009 winner of “The Al” was  Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag.  She won over Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing,  Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban,  Ralph Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee.  If I like it, I will post it with your name attached.  Remember that the basic criteria is that we are looking for someone who significantly improved the human condition even if they made a profit in doing so.  Helping yourself does not nullify helping others.  And, like Al Copeland, nominees need not be perfect or widely recognized people.

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New Field Trip Study

October 1, 2018

The National Art Education Association and the Association of Art Museum Directors just released a new study examining the effects of student field trips to art museums.  The study looked at outcomes for students who went on a single field trip to one of six different art museums around the country.  Instead of going to the museum, some students received an art museum intervention typically presented by museum staff in their classroom.  And a third group of students received neither the field trip or the classroom experience and served as the control group.

This new study is a helpful follow-up to the Crystal Bridges study that my colleagues Dan Bowen, Brian Kisida, and I conducted.  We found that students randomly assigned to a single field trip to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art outperformed those randomly assigned to a control group on measures of tolerance, empathy, content knowledge and critical thinking about art, as well as their desire to frequent museums in the future.  This new NAEA/AAMD study was designed to see if similar results could be produced by single field trips to other museums or if our findings were somehow particular to Crystal Bridges.

Importantly, the new NAEA/AAMD study does not randomly assign students across their two treatment and one control condition, unlike our previous Crystal Bridges study which did employ a random assignment research design.  This undermines our ability to draw causal conclusions with confidence since any differences we observe between treatment and control students may be caused by un-observed, pre-existing differences between the types of students who were non-randomly assigned to treatment and control conditions rather than caused by the treatment itself.

Despite this limitation, the NAEA/AAMD study is an impressive accomplishment and gives us information about a broader picture of museum field trip programs than we could get by examining just one museum.  And this new study yields some results that are consistent with our earlier experimental work.  In particular, it finds that students who go on field trips to the museum are significantly less likely to agree with the statement: “All people should understand a work of art in the same way.”  Students who received the classroom experience were also less likely to agree with this statement than the control group, but not by as much as those who actually went to the museum.  So there seems to be something about field trips to art museums that make students more willing to accept different perspectives.

This result is consistent with the tolerance and social perspective effects we observed in both the Crystal Bridges and the live theater studies we have conducted. And it is very similar to one of the items we used in those studies as well as our current Woodruff Arts Center study that asks students whether they agree or disagree with the statement “I think people can have different opinions about the same thing.”  While we are still collecting and analyzing results from Atlanta, I can report that we are finding students who receive three field trips in a single year — one each to the art museum, symphony, and theater — are significantly more likely to agree with this statement than students randomly assigned to a control group.  And amazingly, if students receive a second year of three more field trips, they agree with this statement even more.  It appears that this tolerance benefit of field trips to arts institutions endures and compounds with additional field trip experiences.

Another interesting finding from the new NAEA/AAMD study is that classroom experiences appear to be implemented with much less fidelity than field trip experiences.  It appears that museum educators have better ability to control conditions and do what they intended if the students are at museums rather than in classrooms.  This makes sense and may help explain why the classroom experiences, even when conducted by the same museum staff, have less of an impact.

Lastly, the new NAEA/AAMD study is inconsistent with our previous Crystal Bridges results in that it does not appear that students who go to the museum score significantly higher on a variety of measures that capture their interest in art and museums.  In the Crystal Bridges study we not only found that students expressed a stronger interest in visiting museums in the future, but we were able to track coded coupons that were given to all treatment and control students to observe that treatment students and their families were significantly more likely to attend the museum in the future.  On the other hand, in our live theater study, we only observed a weak effect of going on a field trip to see live theater on student interest in attending theater in the future.  And in the ongoing Woodruff experiment, field trips seem to produce positive consumption effects for some art forms right away but require additional exposure before becoming positive for others. It appears that whether field trips spur future interest in frequenting the arts is complicated and contingent on a variety of factors that we do not yet fully understand.

I applaud the NAEA and AAMD for conducting this research.  Only with repeated examination and attempted replication will we really gain confidence in our understanding of how cultural activity affects students.

(Update — This has been edited to describe the assignment of students to treatment and control conditions in the NAEA/AAMD study more accurately.)


Sending a Message

September 20, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

As of FY15, school choice had already saved state and local taxpayers a cumulative total of $3.2 billion.

While improving educational outcomes across all metrics.

Pictured above: Marty Lueken, contemplating the government school monopoly.


Teachers Value More than Money

September 18, 2018

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I have a new blog post at OCPA reflecting on the fact that private school teachers are more satisfied than public school teachers, even though they get paid less, because on almost every other metric their jobs are better:

There’s a lesson in this for how we improve education. Unionization has raised teacher salaries, benefits, and job protections. But, in schools as in factories, unionization seriously hinders organic cooperation in the workplace, not only between the line workers and their supervisors but also between the line workers themselves. Workplaces begin to run much more by arbitrary rules than by what gets the job done. I remember being in a state legislative committee hearing once where a principal was asked why she quit running a district school to run a charter school. “Because I can hold a meeting” was her reply—union rules had prevented her from asking teachers to attend meetings when needed in her district school.

However, there’s also a lesson for school choice. The choice movement has historically invested far too much in the rhetoric of markets, competition, and material incentives. People are not money-maximizing robots. They care about getting their job done for the sake of the job, not just for the sake of the paycheck or to grow the size of their organization. School choice works because it sets parents, and teachers, free to focus on working together to get the job of education done in the way that works best for them. Yes, incentives matter, and we can say so. But let’s put the emphasis on cooperation, community, and freedom.

Let me know what you think!


Want More Art Ed? Decentralize School Control

September 14, 2018

I just came back from the National Convening of the Arts Education Partnership.  It was a fantastic gathering of arts advocates, researchers, and practitioners.  I was particularly struck by the comments during the opening session made by Eric Martin, who leads Music for All .  He noted that parents and communities tend to want more arts education than their schools often provide.  I suspect he’s right about that, but that raises a puzzle: if parents and communities want more art, why are their schools not providing what they want?

You might think the answer is a lack of funds, but that can’t really explain it.  The arts are not that expensive and if schools were more responsive to parental and community preferences, they would give greater priority to the arts in their budgets and schedules.  And then it dawned on me… schools are not more responsive to parent and community preferences regarding the arts because parents and communities no longer really control their schools.  Schools are increasingly answerable to distant bureaucrats in state or federal departments of education rather than to the parents and communities they serve.

This situation is a disaster for the arts.  Even if distant bureaucrats valued the arts as much as many parents and communities do, bureaucrats cannot give priority to the arts because that is not the basis by which the success or failure of their distant management is judged.  The only systematic, easily available information we have on schools is math and reading test scores.  Narrowing the focus of schools on math and reading test performance is inherent in the effort to manage those schools from a distance.  Parents and communities do not have to rely on math and reading test scores to judge school performance because they are close enough to gather a large amount of contextual information.  By contrast, the state superintendent has no access to this information about quality and is inevitably judged completely on the few bits of test score data we do have about all of the schools in their charge.

If this is correct, the most promising strategy for arts advocates to pursue to expand arts offerings in school would be to favor decentralization of control over schools to parents and communities.  If we want more art, let’s get out of the way of parents and communities that want more art.

The irony is that most of the people at this week’s Arts Education Partnership meeting are very focused on lobbying for policies at the state and federal level that they hope would advance the arts.  There was a lot of discussion of the importance of states adopting a set of national standards regarding arts education.  There were pleas for more funding and support from state departments of education.

All of these measures are sincere efforts by good people working hard on behalf of the arts.  But I suspect that the more arts advocates strengthen centralized control over schools, even if in the name of advancing the arts, the less likely we are to see priority given to the arts in education.  Centralized control requires evaluation by centrally collected metrics, which means an emphasis on math and reading test scores.  This is true no matter how many arts standards are adopted, how many state arts initiatives are adopted, or how many speeches in favor of the arts state officials give.

Arts advocates may want to shift their attention toward strengthening parent and community control over their own schools so those schools are more likely to deliver the arts education that folks really want.


Grand Canyon Institute Makes Vast Decisions Based on Half-Vast Data and Analysis

September 10, 2018

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The double-plus good propaganda generators are at it again here in the Cactus Patch- in the latest edition of the two-minute hate, the Grand Canyon Institute claims each private choice student is costing the state general fund more money than the public school students. In the instant-classic turn of phrase by Robert Pondiscio however, it is important not to make vast decisions based on half-vast data.

You can watch a public affairs show interview with the author here. In the author states that the analysis supports abolishing private choice programs. Just how half-vast is the Grand Canyon Institute analysis? Well they’ve basically done a two variable regression analysis with private school enrollment as the dependent variable, and they’ve hung their entire estimate on one of the two regression coefficients. The first problem, which sinks the entire analysis by itself, is that their dependent variable for Arizona private school attendance is unreliable.

GCI uses a federal source for private school attendance by state. That source however does not have anything like a 100% response rate (see the appendix) and lists 320 private schools in Arizona. If one however goes to the Arizona Department of Revenue report on private school tax credits, you find tax credit scholarship tax credits going to 362 different private schools. The list of 362 may or may not be exhaustive. So CGI has a flawed dependent variable on their hands- the reality is that we don’t know the number of students attending Arizona private schools- we don’t even know the number of schools.

Second off a regression analysis with two independent variables (% of students attending charters and private choice dollars, respectively) would likely a grade of incomplete in an Introduction to Statistics class-if the instructor wanted to encourage the student and was feeling generous. The universe of other factors which influence private school attendance. A quick google search for instance revealed an analysis testing 14 separate variables– many of which were statistically significant. Arizona’s economy crashed during the period examined in the CGI analysis for instance, and the above analysis finds family income explains variance in private school attendance. Considering that the entire GCI analysis rests on a regression coefficient, failure to control for more than two variable would be deeply suspicious even if they had a valid dependent variable, which they don’t.

In short, the Grand Canyon Institute’s elephant went in search of a way to claim that Arizona’s private school choice programs were bad, and sure enough they (predictably) found it. The analysis reveals much more about CGI than private choice programs in the end.


New School Holiday: Special Interest Day

August 27, 2018

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

While we’re on the subject of poor political judgment, the Oklahoman just ran my op-ed on schools closing on Election Day for the official, publicly identified purpose of increasing the Blob’s political clout:

Running the schools themselves with institutional policies designed — explicitly — to maximize school employees’ political power at everyone else’s expense is another matter. Now they’re using our tax dollars to create a political machine designed to extract ever-more tax dollars for themselves. The rest of us are allowed to notice this. If you want to create a big and vicious political backlash in an already polarized environment, this is one way to do it.

Let me know what you think!