July 14th, 2010

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What Is The Lesson We Should Learn

This NYT piece describes two studies done that show that providing lower-income students with computers did not improve their academic performance, or their capacity for self-directed learning.

I was struck by the way the article closed.
THE one area where the students from lower-income families in the immersion program closed the gap with higher-income students was the same one identified in the Romanian study: computer skills.

Catherine Maloney, director of the Texas center, said the schools did their best to mandate that the computers would be used strictly for educational purposes. Most schools configured the machines to block e-mail, chat, games and Web sites reached by searching on objectionable key words. The key-word blocks worked fine for English-language sites but not for Spanish ones. “Kids were adept at getting around the blocks,” she said.

How disappointing to read in the Texas study that “there was no evidence linking technology immersion with student self-directed learning or their general satisfaction with schoolwork.

When devising ways to beat school policing software, students showed an exemplary capacity for self-directed learning. Too bad that capacity didn’t expand in academic directions, too.

I keep playing this imaginary conversation between myself and the researcher.

Me: "So, when students had motivation, a clear definition of success, and concrete rewards for success, they proved themselves capable of self-directed learning -- in an area requiring complex technical skills and persistence. By contrast, their performance remained unchanged in the standard curriculum in classes taught by teachers with no special training for how to integrate the computer into the classroom. What do we learn from this?"

Researcher: "Computers are a waste of money."

Me: "You don't think we learn anything about what strategies impact educational outcomes."

Researcher: "No."

Me: "It doesn't tell you anything that student behavior _did_ change in the presence of a computer and that the students exhibited heretofore unknown skills when presented with a different incentive structure?"

Researcher: "That wasn't part of the study."

Me: "If you had been employed by Pfizer to test Viagra, you would have stopped after it failed o pan out as a blood pressure med and ignored the unanticipated 'side effect.'"

Researcher: "I don't get your point."

Me: "Didn't this teach you anything about the learning habits of the target population?"

Researcher: "They are lazy and won't do self-directed learning, just as I predicted."
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Krugman on Obama

I have to give credit to Krugman for making this point so nicely and succinctly.

Heck, it's short enough to reprint:

John Boehner, March 2009:

It’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get’ it

Barack Obama, yesterday:

“At a time when so many families are tightening their belts, he’s going to make sure that the government continues to tighten its own,” Obama said. “

We’ll never know how differently the politics would have played if Obama, instead of systematically echoing and giving credibility to all the arguments of the people who want to destroy him, had actually stood up for a different economic philosophy. But we do know how his actual strategy has worked, and it hasn’t been a success.