Was reviewing my predictions from 3 years ago. They've held up reasonably well, so here's a quick cut for January 2021.
1 The national debt will increase over the next 4 years back to close to $1T/annum. Combination of two factors - Trump appears to be a supply-side Keynesian like W was, and I expect a recession during the next four years (business cycle) so expect some additional Keynesian spending at that point. The term Suppy-side Keynesian was from the Atlantic describing W (he believed in both to stimulate the economy).
2. Official unemployment will start creeping up fairly soon....will break 7%. More importantly, the Labor Participation rate will not break 64%.
3. Core inflation will average less than 4% per annum.
4. Top marginal federal tax rates will creep down a bot.
5. Gas prices on will not break $4 in LA metro.
The last one is based on recent presidents. Clinton, W, and Obama were elected during a recession, and the country was recovering enough for them to earn re-election. Bush 41 was elected somewhat near the end of an expansion, so the recession the year before the election cost him the election. We all know that the business cycle exists & presidents gain too much credit/blame, but that does not change the reality of re-elections.
8. Marijuana will continue to become legal in more states, eventually forcing the Feds to change marijuana from schedule I (may take longer than 4 years). Hopefully down to Schedule IV.
9. Drones will continue to be more in usage in other developed countries than the US.
10. George RR Martin will never complete the Song of Fire and Ice series, so thanks to HBO for letting us know how it would have ended.
11. I will still have to work for a living.
Keeping with the education theme, I decide to read "Building a better teacher
", which ended up being half of a good book. The first portion was sad reading about the failed effort at Michigan State - heart wrenching knowing how much effort the well meaning parties had put into the effort. A specific example to make a general point - previous efforts at improving education had failed.
The second ½ was more of a "how to" book focusing on specific skills - The Discipline of discipline for example, so ended up leaving the book disjoint. Perhaps when this book is updated in a decade or so when some of the school improvement efforts have reached maturity, it will tell a better story.
So far, of the three education books that I've read, The Smartest Kids in the World is still the best book, evaluating the 3 on what makes a good book - good narrative arc, characters you can care about. The other books (also including Paying for the Party - by far the weakest of the three) are both well meaning, they both lacked the proper structure of what a good story should be, and even non-fiction title should ultimately tell a good story.
There are some common threads in the literature that I've read - teachers should be highly screened & continually trained....and highly paid. We've reached testing overkill in this country. Beyond that, not sure what common conclusions one could draw beyond, we've spent a ton of $$$ and resources that have gone to waste.
I read Crooked Timber's enthusiastic write-up of Paying for the Party
so decided to read it as part of my recent foray into education themed book (another blog also reviewed it positively - Hullabaloo?). To be honest, I could not flog myself through it - somewhere around chapter 3, i started skip/skimming chapters until the end. Unlike Smartest Kids in the World, where the author followed three students, so you had some sense of their character and travails, by contrast, the multitude of students followed in PftP were reduced to cultural stereotypes - Middle Class/under achiever/procreation. That last column description seemed odd to me - did all the women label procreation really get pregnant/have babies so soon? Or did marriage count as procreation. I never to get a sense that the authors thesis was correct - college reinforces inequality - though given that I only read perhaps 20%, maybe there was some basis.
In the end, it's still personal choice that matters. I had a friend who was also in engineering and had a good co-op job, but when his funding ran out, he dropped out of school & then lost his job. Later he found out that the school would have given him retroactive credit for the semester & if he had one more semester under his belt, he would have kept his job. Circumstances were against him, but his personal choices also mattered, so putting the blame on the college party/greek system lets the students off the hook.
Back to the general debate about education. Several themes are clear in most (all?) of the discussion that I've read.
- Too much testing. Obviously some benchmarking is needed, but with "No Child Left Behind" it reached an excessive level. (Personal note - since Taryl Jr is just starting 3rd grade, we haven't had any standardized testing to date).
- Teacher training. A critique from Smartest kids is that NCLB has the idea backwards. No screening of teachers, just toss them out if they're no good once they are in schools. To wit - product not process. This aspect is changing as the schools all have teacher development - especially our current charter school.
A couple of negative trends that I have witnessed are:
- Too long a school year - mid-June to mid-August is summer vacation now.
- Too much homework - who thinks homework in kindergarten is a good idea? Additionally, our local elementary school's principal forced the teachers to give homework the last week of class after the teachers had stopped. 1st grade teacher had an old teaching assistant, who gave ~45 minutes/day of homework. Have always believed that was so she would have something to do since she was physically unable to perform other classroom duties. Am happy that the current teacher subscribes to the "10 minutes per grade" (30 minutes for 3rd graders) rule of thumb this year.
Back to NYTimes
magazine section on education.
Obviously a byproduct of having a school age child, so I've recently finished "The Smartest Kids in the World" and will read "Paying for the Party" next.
Ripley's key points:
- Finns have the smartest kids in the world because their teachers are the best - highly selective to become one.
- She critiques No Child Left Behind for focusing on getting rid of existing bad teachers, but no effort on improving the screening for incoming quality (in my profession it would be called "inspecting quality in" or "product not process").
- Tracking is bad. Hadn't thought about the issue as I never noticed tracking to much of a degree when growing up - obviously that could be because I was tracked into a better track or path (e.g. magnet high school) - and hear I agree with her point. If you tell/imply/infer to a group that they are inferior, they will live down to your expectations.
- S. Korea produces smart kids because of a national mania for meritocracy. Do not recall a single example of any good comments about the Korean schools & Ripley notes that she saw a kid full R.E.M. sleeping in class. By contrast, the kids all cram post-school to achieve high test scores.
- Don't really remember much about Poland or why it was really included.
- PISA test tells whether you're the smartest kid in the world or not. Recall NAEP being mentioned a time or two (did not keep book, so cannot footnote as one critic did); PIRLS not even once; TIMSS, I did not recall, but per the harsh critic, it did come up when discussing Minnesota.
- Too much emphasis on sports in the US.
- There's a negative correlation between high tech aids and scholastic achievement.
Personal observations on tests and schooling:
Since my son is currently about to enter third grade, I haven't had any experience with the four standardized tests mentioned above - given that I scored well on the PSAT, SAT, GRE, and GMAT, I expect that my son will score well on them as well - will be curious to see the results. I recall taking standardized tests in elementary school - for one of them, I was bused to my brother's more well to do private school to take one of the tests since my school was not quite a "one room schoolhouse" but reasonably close - 3rd, 4th, and 5th grader shared a class.
Where does the money go? I keep reading that overall amounts of money for education have increased, but the first public school T attended, only had a PE teacher because the parents paid his salary. There was 1½ janitors for a school of 400 kids, so one of the dads donated a vacuum and vacuumed the rug in the kindergarten - another kindergarten teacher borrowed the vacuum one time for her room.
The fund raising seemed relentless - a dad at my work said "just tell me how much money you want, but stop nagging me & coming up with fund raisers."
Overall I would give the neighborhood school a B-. If I compared it to my "one room schoolhouse", it had an outside play area, a library, and a garden, so certainly better facilities. We actually used to walk 2½ blocks over to a French Quarter playground, and periodically we would walk to a public library in Faubourg-Marigny (long gone & replaced by a nursing home). There were definitely some negatives; very cliquish and the B- was really their max.
Current school is a new bi-lingual charter school borrowing part of a facility, but despite that handicap (and the loss of facilities is a loss), I would still give them a B with upside. The jury will remain out on the upside until they move to their final campus two years from now, but it has a better feel than the neighborhood school - yes, that is difficult to quantify.
The focus on a longer school year & homework is horrible. 45 minutes of homework in first grade (believe that was because the teaching assistant was an old lady who used a cane, so could do little beyond producing dull homework and grading it). Why cheat the children of a good break? Believe that both of these trends are a result of the "our children are falling behind the smartest kids in the world mantra."
Teacher continuing education/workshops/training. Did not exist in my day. Do not recall a single early day or school days off for seminars (obviously memories are flawed & i was in elementary school well nigh 50 years ago), but would recall if there were multiple days off. A nice bennie for the teachers, but does it really improve them or is it more a morale boast? Will say that the jury is still out, and it's past 11 so time to post.