Saturday, February 21, 2009

Book Report: Work Hard. Be Nice.

Another good book on some of the positive change now happening in the world of education. Jay Mathews tells the story of the founding and success of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools. Started in Houston about 15 years ago by two Teach for America teachers (Levin and Feinberg) the program has since grown to 66 schools in 19 states. KIPP has had considerable success boosting test scores and hence college preparedness of kids from underprivileged backgrounds.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that change is not easy. Overcoming bureaucratic sclerosis (both in the world of education and most certainly anywhere else an old guard exists) is a serious challenge no matter how good your program or idea. In addition, great success also attracts great scrutiny and the book touches on the many probing questions raised by skeptical critics as KIPP schools and it's unique program became more widely known and celebrated. Fortunately, despite significant resistance and opposition KIPP continues to expand and looks poised to transform education for the better. 

After reading this text and Whatever it Takes I'm quite optimistic that the charter system will be ultimately hailed a roaring success. While there is still a long way to go, the program has clearly fostered creativity and experimentation in education, which was so badly needed. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Book Report: Whatever it Takes

Read this book. In these morose times it's refreshing to hear about something that could have a huge positive impact on society. I was pointed to Whatever it Takes by a NYTimes Magazine piece entitled "The Big Fix"

I've long been interested in our country's education challenges, but I'm an armchair quarterback on the issues and have little direct experience with the problems faced in America's schools. I do know a few TFA folks and I've enjoyed talking to them about the challenges they've faced in trying to educate disadvantaged students. 

While we're always hearing in the media that America's schools are failing us (and I believe this is largely true) there are beacons of hope. Paul Tough takes you into Harlem for an up close look at an experiment in early intervention and education that really does look like it's working (Harlem Children's Zone). While I was left feeling like the work of HCZ will get many of the most disadvantaged students scoring as well as middle class suburbanites on standardized tests (and therefore into college), the final chapter is still to be written. The book highlights that early interventions (working with parents from the day their child is born until the kid is a late teen) and continual support (pre-kindergarten, etc) do appear to dramatically raise standardized test scores. We still need to wait for more complete data on how well children do when they are intensely aided through their entire youth and early adolescence, but I'm excited at the prospect that it might actually work.

The book reminded me of Malcolm Galdwell's point in Outliers that even small differences early on can lead to massive disparities later. It follows logically that deltas in a child's earliest years should have dramatic effects on a students ability to perform as a young adult. 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Calendar Year Stock Returns

2008 is that little yellow box circled on the far left... sigh.