David Brooks on America’s social fabric

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One of my favorite discussions on the tube is on PBS between David Brooks and Mark Shields. Having minored in philosophy and hence introduced to the college professor’s intellectual perspective on the tenets of conservatism, I typically appreciate David’s carefully reasoned moderate conservative perspective as much as I’m horrified by the psychoses of the so-called social and religious “conservatives” who have nothing in common with what I understood to be political conservatism.

David’s piece was printed today in the AJC; originally published a week ago in his New York Times column. Here he chews on what he argues are our mistakes leading to the destruction of America’s “social fabric.”

Also at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/opinion/brooks-the-materialist-fallacy.html

February 13, 2012

The Materialist Fallacy


The half-century between 1912 and 1962 was a period of great wars and economic tumult but also of impressive social cohesion. Marriage rates were high. Community groups connected people across class.

In the half-century between 1962 and the present, America has become more prosperous, peaceful and fair, but the social fabric has deteriorated. Social trust has plummeted. Society has segmented. The share of Americans born out of wedlock is now at 40 percent and rising.

As early as the 1970s, three large theories had emerged to explain the weakening of the social fabric. Liberals congregated around an economically determinist theory. The loss of good working-class jobs undermined communities and led to the social deterioration.

Libertarians congregated around a government-centric theory. Great Society programs enabled people to avoid work and gave young women an incentive to have children without marrying.

Neo-conservatives had a more culturally deterministic theory. Many of them had been poor during the Depression. Economic stress had not undermined the family then. Moreover, social breakdown began in the 1960s, a time of unprecedented prosperity. They argued that the abandonment of traditional bourgeois norms led to social disruption, especially for those in fragile circumstances.

Over the past 25 years, though, a new body of research has emerged, which should lead to new theories. This research tends to support a few common themes. First, no matter how social disorganization got started, once it starts, it takes on a momentum of its own. People who grow up in disrupted communities are more likely to lead disrupted lives as adults, magnifying disorder from one generation to the next.

Second, it’s not true that people in disorganized neighborhoods have bad values. Their goals are not different from everybody else’s. It’s that they lack the social capital to enact those values.

Third, while individuals are to be held responsible for their behavior, social context is more powerful than we thought. If any of us grew up in a neighborhood where a third of the men dropped out of school, we’d be much worse off, too.

The recent research details how disruption breeds disruption. This research includes the thousands of studies on attachment theory, which show that children who can’t form secure attachments by 18 months face a much worse set of chances for the rest of their lives because they find it harder to build stable relationships.

It includes the diverse work on self-control by Walter Mischel, Angela Duckworth, Roy Baumeister and others, which shows, among other things, that people raised in disrupted circumstances find it harder to control their impulses throughout their lives.

It includes the work of Annette Lareau, whose classic book, “Unequal Childhoods,” was just updated last year. She shows that different social classes have radically different child-rearing techniques, producing different outcomes.

Over the past two weeks, Charles Murray’s book, “Coming Apart,” has restarted the social disruption debate. But, judging by the firestorm, you would have no idea that the sociological and psychological research of the past 25 years even existed.

Murray neglects this research in his book. Meanwhile, his left-wing critics in the blogosphere have reverted to crude 1970s economic determinism: It’s all the fault of lost jobs. People who talk about behavior are blaming the victim. Anybody who talks about social norms is really saying that the poor are lazy.

Liberal economists haven’t silenced conservatives, but they have completely eclipsed liberal sociologists and liberal psychologists. Even noneconomist commentators reduce the rich texture of how disadvantage is actually lived to a crude materialism that has little to do with reality.

I don’t care how many factory jobs have been lost, it still doesn’t make sense to drop out of high school. The influences that lead so many to do so are much deeper and more complicated than anything that can be grasped in an economic model or populist slogan.

This economic determinism would be bad enough if it was just making public debate dumber. But the amputation of sociologic, psychological and cognitive considerations makes good policy impossible.

The American social fabric is now so depleted that even if manufacturing jobs miraculously came back we still would not be producing enough stable, skilled workers to fill them. It’s not enough just to have economic growth policies. The country also needs to rebuild orderly communities.

This requires bourgeois paternalism: Building organizations and structures that induce people to behave responsibly rather than irresponsibly and, yes, sometimes using government to do so.

Social repair requires sociological thinking. The depressing lesson of the last few weeks is that the public debate is dominated by people who stopped thinking in 1975.


A management guru’s take on reforming education. Hafta love it.

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I just love running into great stuff when I’m not looking for it. Denning is an internationally known champion of reforming management. Here he argues that given the factory model doesn’t even work in factories, likely it’s a pretty dumb idea for schools. This article from Forbes Magazine. Great piece. One of his recent books is Radical Management: Rethinking leadership and innovation.

The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education

Steve Denning, Contributor

9/01/2011 @ 5:25PM, Forbes Magazine

 I have been asked for my “single best idea for reforming K-12 education”. When you only have one shot, you want to make it count. So I thought I would share my idea here, in case anyone has a brighter insight.

Root cause: factory model of management

To decide what is the single best idea for reforming K-12 education, one needs to figure out what is the biggest problem that the system currently faces. To my mind, the biggest problem is a preoccupation with, and the application of, the factory model of management to education, where everything is arranged for the scalability and efficiency of “the system”, to which the students, the teachers, the parents and the administrators have to adjust. “The system” grinds forward, at ever increasing cost and declining efficiency, dispiriting students, teachers and parents alike.

Given that the factory model of management doesn’t work very well, even in the few factories that still remain in this country, or anywhere else in the workplace for that matter, we should hardly be surprised that it doesn’t work well in education either.

But given that the education system is seen to be in trouble, there is a tendency to think we need “better management” or “stronger management” or “tougher management”, where “management” is assumed to be the factory model of management. It is assumed to mean more top-down management and tighter controls, and more carrots and sticks. It is assumed to mean hammering the teachers who don’t perform and ruthlessly weeding out “the dead wood”. The thinking is embedded in Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind.

These methods are known to be failing in the private sector, because they dispirit the employees and limit their ability to contribute their imagination and creativity; they frustrate customers, and they are killing the very organizations that rely on them. So why should we expect anything different in the education sector?

When the problems have been caused in the first place by introducing the practices of “management”, then a more rigorous pursuit of this type of “management” only makes things worse. It is like medieval doctors trying to cure patients by bloodletting, using leeches, which only made the patients worse.

The inapplicablity of these methods is aggravated by the changes in the economy. Not so long ago, we could predict what jobs and careers might be available for children in their adult life. The education system could tell little Freddie or Janet what to study and if he or she mastered that, he or she was set for life. Not any more. We simply don’t know what jobs will be there in twenty years time. Today, apart from a few core skills like reading, writing, math, thinking, imagining and creating, we cannot know what knowledge or skills will be needed when Freddie or Janet grows up.

The best single idea for reforming education

Given this context, I believe that the single most important idea for reform in K-12 education concerns a change in goal. The goal needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.

Implications of accepting the shift in goal

This is a shift from running the system for the sake of the system (“You study what we tell you to study, when we tell you, and how we tell you, and at a pace that we determine”) to a focus on the ultimate goal of learning (“Our goal is to inspire our students to become life-long learners with a love of education, so that they will be able to learn whatever they have to.”) All parties—teachers, administrators, unions, parents and students—need to embrace the new goal.

Once we embrace this goal, we can see that that many things will have to change to accomplish it. We can also grasp that most of the thinking underlying current “reforms” of the system can be seen in their true light as schemes and devices that are actually making things worse.

Some of the implications include:

  1. The role of the teachers and parents: Education has to shift from imparting a static package of knowledge to a dynamic goal of enabling students to create knowledge and deploy skills to new situations, whatever they turn out to be. In this world, teaching by transfer of information doesn’t work well. Instead the role of teachers (and parents) becomes one of enabling and inspiring the students to learn, so as to spark their energies and talents.
  2. The role of administrators: Administrators have to realize that managing the teachers through the control of a traditional hierarchy using carrots and sticks isn’t going to work any better than it does in industry. Unless teachers are themselves inspired, they are unlikely to inspire their students. The role of the administrator has to shift from being a controller to an enabler, so as to liberate the energies and talents of the teachers and remove impediments that are getting in the way of their work.
  3. The role of tests: Instead of the teacher or the administrator being the judge of progress, there are explicit criteria where both the students and the teachers can understand themselves how they are doing (in real time) and thus learn how to improve.
  4. Respecting Goodhart’s law: The current focus on testing has tended to make test results the goal of the system, rather than a measure. The change in goal means recognizing that a test is only measure. Using tests as the goal infringes Goodhart’s Law: when measure becomes the goal, it ceases to be an effective measure.
  5. The mode of accountability: Instead of measuring progress through top-down tests and bureaucracy, the education system must be linked dynamically to self-driven learning of the students themselves. Education must abandon accountability through the use of detailed plans, rules, processes and reports, which specify both the goal and the means of achieving that goal. Instead, what is needed is “dynamic linking”, which means that (a) the work is done in short cycles; (b) the teacher sets the goals of learning for the cycle. (c) decisions about how the learning is to take place is the responsibility of the students; (d) progress is measured in terms of the questions the students are able to generate, not merely answers that they are able to regurgitate; (e) students must be able to measure their own progress—they aren’t dependent on the teacher’s tests. (The ELLI assessment tool is a promising approach to achieving these measurement goals.)
  6. Communications shift from command to conversation: i.e. a shift from top-down communications (“the sage on the stage”) comprising predominantly hierarchical directives to horizontal conversations (“the guide on the side”) that helps the student discover new resources, solve problems and generate new insights.
  7. An implementable agenda: Unlike many other ideas now being pursued in education, the shift in goal doesn’t require years of research or armies of consultants or vast funding. It doesn’t involve reinventing the wheel. Thousands of Montessori schools have been on this track for many years, with extraordinary results.
  8. From outputs to outcomes: Implicit in the shift in goal is of course also an implicit shift from delivering outputs (numbers of students who pass a standardized test) to outcomes in terms of what students are able to do as a result of their education. At its heart, it’s a shift from a focus on things to a focus on people, and the true goal of education.

Further readings in education

In case you missed them, here are other articles expanding further on these themes:

Teacher evaluation “on trial”

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Valerie has been on a wonderful tear lately on the fed and state testing insanity coming out of, if the data from No Child Left Ahead are correct, what should be called Race to the Bottom. This is one gorgeous piece she found from David Cohen, a teacher in California, on CA’s value-added “effort.” Be prepared to laugh and cry.

The Answer Sheet

Posted at  12:00 PM ET, 02/02/2012

Value-added teacher evaluation goes on trial — literally

This was written by David B. Cohen, who has been a teacher since 1993 and is in his 13th year of teaching in California public high schools. He is National Board Certified, and is associate director of the  Accomplished California Teachers group.

This is part of a post that Cohen wrote on the group’s InterACT blog about value-added teacher evaluation in reaction to stories about a possible lawsuit in Los Angeles to force the Unified School District to use the value-added method of evaluating teachers. It uses student test scores to supposedly determine the “value” a teacher contributes to student achievement. Assessment experts say the method is highly unreliable, but that hasn’t deterred policymakers.

In the following, which is one of those laugh-while-you-cry pieces,  Cohen puts the value-added evaluation method  on trial. Literally.

By David B. Cohen

I’ve taken the liberty of dreaming up the court transcript ahead of time (using Q for the defense attorney’s questions and A for the plaintiff’s answers). Enjoy this cross-examination.

Q: You are demanding that LAUSD [Los Angeles Unified School District] use measures of student growth in teacher evaluations, is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: And you believe that student test scores are a measure of growth that would reflect teaching quality, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: If LAUSD were to adopt a policy that attributes the growth or lack of growth in student test scores to the student’s teacher, and uses the scores of all students to evaluate the teacher’s effectiveness, you would drop this lawsuit, is that correct?

A: Yes.

Q: How often are these tests administered?

A: Once per year.

Q: And the district has no way of knowing if the student’s performance on that day reflects the student’s ability or perhaps reflects some trauma, distress, boredom, distraction, or rebelliousness?

A: No.

Q: And for students who have changed schools, or changed teachers during the year, there’s no way to factor that into the analysis of data when a student simply shows up on one roster or another, right?

A: That could be adjusted.

Q: There’s no study that would guide you in how to do that with any accuracy, is there?

A: I don’t know.

Q: No evidence that a move at the mid-point of the year gives each teacher half the responsibility for the student’s learning, or that each week has a proportionate effect?

A: None that I know of.

Q: And would the degree of change in a certain classroom affect students in that classroom who had not been part of any change?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Does it seem likely that changing the students in a class would change the class itself and affect some of the students who had been there all along?

A: I guess so.

Q: But you would have no way of knowing which students were affected or how they were affected?

A: Not really, no.

Q: Now, if I were a high school English teacher, I would be responsible for teaching in four standards areas, but would the test cover all four of those areas?

A: No.

Q: How many does it cover?

A: Two.

Q: You’re including writing when you say “two” but in fact there’s no writing on the tests currently used, is there?

A: No.

Q: So more accurately, the test covers one out of the four standards areas?

A: Yes.

Q: Does the test cover every standard in reading?

A: No.

Q: So, you’re proposing basing a significant part of an English teacher’s evaluation, for example, on a test result that covers a small fraction of the standards?

A: It’s the only objective way.

Q: So your answer is yes?

A: Yes.

Q: By objective, you mean it’s the same for every student and teacher?

A: Yes.

Q: Does every teacher have an equal assignment, equal students, classes, and resources?

A: No.

Q: So, you do not concern yourself with objectivity in all of the factors affecting the teacher’s work, but you figure you can evaluate different teachers working with different students and different classes using the same test that covers only a fraction of their standards?

A: Yes.

Q: So is that an objective process for evaluation, or an arbitrary process with an objective element in it?

[Plaintiffs’ counsel objects to argumentative question. Judge upholds the objection.]

Q: Do the words “objective” and “fair” have the same definition?

A: I couldn’t say.

Q: I could give an objective geometry test to every student in an algebra class, but would that be fair?

A: Okay, I see. They have different meanings.

Q: So your claim that the test is objective doesn’t cover the question of fairness, does it?

A: But it is fair!

Q: Please answer the question. A claim of objectivity is different from a claim of fairness, correct?

A: Yes.

Q: So an objective test may be inappropriate for certain students and therefore unfair, no matter how objective?

A: I would say that the test is fair to everyone.

Q: Like a geometry test for algebra students?

A: Well, no.

Q: Does a student’s linguistic skill relate to their success in a test that requires use of language?

A: Of course.

Q: So a test given in an unfamiliar language might yield a result that reflects linguistic confusion rather than conceptual confusion, or poor teaching?

A: We could adjust for language in a teacher’s evaluation.

Q: In what way?

A: If the student is still learning English their scores could be separated out.

Q: What if a student did well on the test despite being new to the language?

A: Well, we can’t just use the scores that help the teacher. We have to be fair.

Q: You mean objective?

A: Yes.

Q: Because actually, it would be fair to use the results that are valid and exclude the results that are invalid. Are you suggesting that such a determination could be made for each student, or that we should come up with a single formula and stick to it?

A: Just use a single formula.

Q: So regardless of the student’s actual linguistic knowledge, you would suggest making assumptions based on a certain number of years for students to learn enough academic English.

A: That would be logical.

Q: No matter the variables in the student’s instruction in English or the amount of time it actually takes them to learn English?

A: It’s the only fair way.

Q: Fair, or objective?

A: Objective.

Q: Objective regarding the student’s knowledge and skill, or objective regarding only measures of time?

A: Time.

Q: Is it fair to use value-added measurements to rank teachers even when numerous studies show that it is a volatile measure with error rates exceeding 25%?

A: It would only be one of multiple measures.

Q: That wasn’t my question. Is it fair to use an error-prone measure?

A: It’s not fair to exclude student performance from evaluations.

Q: Your Honor, would you instruct the witness to answer the question?

A: I’ll answer. It may not always be fair in every case, but no method is perfect.

Q: You’re suing the Los Angeles Unified School District to compel them to use a teacher evaluation method that is prone to errors and unfair to perhaps a quarter of the teachers evaluated in this manner, is that correct?

A: Yes! The alternative is the status quo, which is intolerable.

Q: But there are thriving, high-quality schools around the U.S. and around the world that are not using value-added measures. Doesn’t that prove that there are alternatives to the LAUSD status quo that are something other than the remedy you seek to impose?

[Plaintiffs’ counsel objects to argumentative question. Judge upholds the objection.]

Q: Have you heard of the National Council for Measurement in Education, the American Psychology Association, the American Education Research Association?

A: Yes.

Q: Are you aware of their position on the lack of validity in using tests designed for one purpose and then used for another purpose?

A: More or less.

Q: I’m quoting from their joint position statement on this topic: “Tests valid for one use may be invalid for another. Each separate use of a high-stakes test, for individual certification, for school evaluation, for curricular improvement, for increasing student motivation, or for other uses requires a separate evaluation of the strengths and limitations of both the testing program and the test itself.” Does that sound familiar to you?

A: More or less.

Q: In other words, you’ve heard this argument before?

A: Yes.

Q: Is it fair to say that these are the three leading organizations for educational measurement and research?

A: I suppose so.

Q: Are you a professional organization for educational research and measurement?

A: No.

Q: Do you think it’s advisable, or even responsible, to ignore the policy position of these leading organizations?

A: But we know that teachers are the most important in-school factor on student performance!

Q: Okay, no argument there. But you have no basis upon which to argue against the validity issues raised in that quote, do you?

A: No.

Q: Now, taking up your contention that the teacher is the most important in-school factor, could you say most important out of how many factors?

A: No.

Q: You don’t know how many factors influence student performance?

A: No.

Q: If I threw out a number, like five, would you guess that it’s too low, too high, or about right?

A: That sounds too low.

Q: How about ten?

A: I don’t know, that might be right.

Q: Fifteen?

A: Maybe.

Q: Just hypothetically, could we proceed on the assumption there are ten factors in schools, other than teachers, that affect student performance?

A: Okay, yes.

Q: Would you expect every factor to have the same influence on every student, or would some factors have strong influences on one student and almost no influence on another student?

A: It would vary.

Q: If you wanted to design a fair formula, you would take those ten factors into account?

A: Yes.

Q: Even though you can’t say for sure how much each factor affects the student?

A: Yes.

Q: You can’t even say with certainty that a specific factor has any effect on a certain student or group of students?

A: No.

Q: So, let’s assume that each of those ten factors could play out in only two different ways: how many possible combinations do we have for each student?

A: Twenty.

Q: I’m sorry to correct your math, but actually, that would be ten-squared, or one-hundred possibilities.

A: Oh, yes, one hundred, I see.

Q: But we don’t know for sure how many factors to consider and what they are. And if we could actually identify fifteen variables instead of ten, and if each variable could play out in three different ways, would it surprise you to know that there would be 3,375 possible combinations?

A: That sounds like a lot, but you’re just playing with numbers.

Q: “Just playing with numbers.” I see. So just because something is true mathematically or statistically, it doesn’t necessarily translate into an actionable policy?

A: That’s not what I said.

Q: Of course you wouldn’t say that. Your case is predicated on the idea that because you can make value-added calculations that show some teachers are less effective than others, it therefore makes sense to use the numbers in policy that leads to the outcomes you want. Though again, the actual experts in educational measurement would warn against that, correct?

[Plaintiffs’ counsel objects to argumentative question. Judge upholds the objection.]

Q: That’s what you need to do if you use test scores and value-added measures in teacher evaluation, isn’t it? Play with the numbers? You would need to come up with a formula that makes certain assumptions about the effect of each factor, even though you can’t test your assumptions?

A: They’ve been researched!

Q: But you just said that we can’t assume factors are the same for each student – or did you mean that these students in this hypothetical school will have been researched before any formulas are applied to them?

A: No.

Q: Okay, to be fair, let’s assume that we can come up with a formula for each of these individual factors. Wouldn’t it also be necessary to know about the interactions of the variables?

A: What do you mean?

Q: Well, perhaps we can apply a statistical control for homelessness, another to control for the time of day that the student studies a certain subject, and another to control for the change from last year’s 50-minute class periods to this year’s 90-minute class periods. Is it likely that there is any research on the effects for homeless students in longer classes at different times of day?

A: No.

Q: So when we combine factors, we not only make assumptions about each one, but also assume that these factors do not influence each other in any way, is that right?

A: You can’t study every little thing.

Q: So, if this were a medicine, you’d be comfortable saying that we have plenty of science about the ingredients and we don’t need to study them in this particular combination in order to assume the effects the medicine will have?

A: I don’t know anything about medicine.

Q: Have you ever been a teacher?

A: No.

Q: Thank you. No further questions.

David Brooks on Bringing the Tribes Together

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Brooks’ recent editorial appeared in the NYT as “The great divorce” and in today’s AJC as “Bringing together upper, lower tribes.” Teaching an undergraduate ed policy class this semester had me remember one of Thomas Mann’s arguments from the late 1800’s for his Common Schools – that putting students from different social classes together in the same classrooms would help reduce social tensions. Here, 120+ years later, Brooks argues the same thing in referencing Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart.”  Mann’s hope didn’t come to fruition then and I an’t imagine it’ll happen now, but if we don’t find a way to change our current path, often it seems as if we’re headed toward a society reflective of the Mel Gibson “Mad Max” sci-fi flicks. Sure glad I can fix cars – – – –

 The New York Times
January 30, 2012

The Great Divorce


I’ll be shocked if there’s another book this year as important as Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart.” I’ll be shocked if there’s another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society.

Murray’s basic argument is not new, that America is dividing into a two-caste society. What’s impressive is the incredible data he produces to illustrate that trend and deepen our understanding of it.

His story starts in 1963. There was a gap between rich and poor then, but it wasn’t that big. A house in an upper-crust suburb cost only twice as much as the average new American home. The tippy-top luxury car, the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz, cost about $47,000 in 2010 dollars. That’s pricey, but nowhere near the price of the top luxury cars today.

More important, the income gaps did not lead to big behavior gaps. Roughly 98 percent of men between the ages of 30 and 49 were in the labor force, upper class and lower class alike. Only about 3 percent of white kids were born outside of marriage. The rates were similar, upper class and lower class.

Since then, America has polarized. The word “class” doesn’t even capture the divide Murray describes. You might say the country has bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.

The upper tribe is now segregated from the lower tribe. In 1963, rich people who lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan lived close to members of the middle class. Most adult Manhattanites who lived south of 96th Street back then hadn’t even completed high school. Today, almost all of Manhattan south of 96th Street is an upper-tribe enclave.

Today, Murray demonstrates, there is an archipelago of affluent enclaves clustered around the coastal cities, Chicago, Dallas and so on. If you’re born into one of them, you will probably go to college with people from one of the enclaves; you’ll marry someone from one of the enclaves; you’ll go off and live in one of the enclaves.

Worse, there are vast behavioral gaps between the educated upper tribe (20 percent of the country) and the lower tribe (30 percent of the country). This is where Murray is at his best, and he’s mostly using data on white Americans, so the effects of race and other complicating factors don’t come into play.

Roughly 7 percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe. In the upper tribe, nearly every man aged 30 to 49 is in the labor force. In the lower tribe, men in their prime working ages have been steadily dropping out of the labor force, in good times and bad.

People in the lower tribe are much less likely to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to be active in their communities, more likely to watch TV excessively, more likely to be obese.

Murray’s story contradicts the ideologies of both parties. Republicans claim that America is threatened by a decadent cultural elite that corrupts regular Americans, who love God, country and traditional values. That story is false. The cultural elites live more conservative, traditionalist lives than the cultural masses.

Democrats claim America is threatened by the financial elite, who hog society’s resources. But that’s a distraction. The real social gap is between the top 20 percent and the lower 30 percent. The liberal members of the upper tribe latch onto this top 1 percent narrative because it excuses them from the central role they themselves are playing in driving inequality and unfairness.

It’s wrong to describe an America in which the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It’s wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elites.

The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.

Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

I doubt Murray would agree, but we need a National Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years. We need a program in which people from both tribes work together to spread out the values, practices and institutions that lead to achievement.

If we could jam the tribes together, we’d have a better elite and a better mass.

AJC’s Downey on how we don’t learn from others

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My bad. Maureen actually posted her Monday editorial last week and I stared right at it. This is her piece on how and why American “reforms” continue to fall on their face. EXCELLENT analysis. Below and at http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2012/01/25/is-the-secret-to-finnish-schools-finns-or-is-there-something-else-happening/

Is the secret to Finnish schools Finns or is there something for America to learn?

10:32 am January 25, 2012, by Maureen Downey

I am on my way to the General Assembly for the morning rally for school choice and the late afternoon hearing on HOPE.

Going to the Legislature is always a bit depressing because so many legislators focus on a single “fix” for schools. Of late, the fix of the day at the Legislature has been school choice, mostly through expanding charter school options but also through providing vouchers.

What always surprises me about the education reform debate in the General Assembly is that it never looks outward at what is succeeding elsewhere. It fixates on a few magic bullets rather than on a cohesive and comprehensive reform approach.

When shown successful school reform models elsewhere in the world, politicians and educators alike often scoff that there are no lessons for America.

So, in mentioning the remarkable ascent of Finnish schools from historic mediocrity to world dominance, I expect to be told that Finland’s schools are full of focused Finns, and the U.S. can never hope to duplicate the successful data of a Finland or a Canada or a Singapore.

“My experience is that American educators have a list as long as my arm of reasons why this data is irrelevant, totally irrelevant,” said Marc S. Tucker, author of “Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World’s Leading Systems,” at a recent Education Week panel.

“These other countries educate just a few and we educate everyone. The sampling procedures are clearly wrong. They are totally homogeneous country. We are very diverse,” he said, ticking off the common excuses.

“There is no truth to most of these points, but there is enough conviction among American educators that they are true that they pay no attention at all.  We have to get beyond that,” said Tucker,  CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

“These folks are eating our lunch in a matter that will have greater bearing on the success of this country in the next 20 to 30 years than any other,” he said.

“Canada, which is even more decentralized country than us, more diverse and spends less money on education, is beating the pants off of us every time an assessment is done,” said Gary Phillips, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research. “They are just right up the street.”

The problem, say the experts, is that too many states don’t look up the street or across the world to see what is working.
Nor do our lawmakers, many of whom prefer to champion slogans rather than come up solutions. More school choice!  Offer vouchers!  End teacher unions!

Finland has no private schools, a strong teachers union and a national curriculum, yet it is leading the world in student performance.

Finland — and other successful countries — understand that a single policy or a hodgepodge of policies won’t work. You need a coherent system of policies aimed at the same goal. Finland began with a commitment to providing all children the same educational opportunities, and  realized that raising teacher quality was the key.

“We are having a president’s race in Finland now and education is one of those things that everyone agrees must not be touched. Funding should not be touched, nor should education be privatized,” said Pasi Sahlberg, author of “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?”

“We never used excellence as a driver of education reform; we wanted equity and equality as the most important drivers. Funding flows to those who have special needs,” said Sahlberg. “We don’t measure schools so we don’t say this is a bad school or this is a good school in terms of funding. All funding is based on need.”

Finnish schools provide three daily meals. Each has a nurse or doctor so children receive annual checkups. Recess is sacrosanct. In fact, Finnish children spend less time in class and have less homework than American students, and there is no high-stakes testing before the 12th grade.

But the real reform that changed Finnish schools, once in the lower ranks of performance with great gaps in achievement among its students, was the professionalization of teachers in the 1970s and 1980s.

All teachers now have master’s degrees and are trained as researchers “so they understand what they are doing, how they should improve and change their own work,” said Sahlberg. “In Finland, we believe it takes 10,000 hours before you are at the peak of your profession.” In America, he said, many teachers quit before that point.

Finland upgraded standards and admissions for teaching programs and moved them from third-tier institutions to research universities. Along with enhancing status, Finland raised teacher salaries. It’s now more difficult to get into a teaching program than into law or medicine.

While U.S. colleges could impose tougher admissions standards and attract higher-caliber teaching applicants, they could not influence states to commensurately raise salaries.

“What Finland has done about teacher quality is one part of larger framework and all the pieces fit together,” said Tucker. “We keep making minor changes to an education system that is 100 years out of date. It is not that the United States has a bad system. We have no system.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog