Category Archives: Education

Banning Books -Thoughts

The Recent Trend of Banning Books

Turn on the news, grab a paper or open your favorite news and app and you are going to see an article discussing the recent trend, is it really recent(?), concerning the banning of books sweeping across America. Art Spiegelman’s book, “Maus” is just a recent example:

Reading “Maus” was formative for me. But decades later, other public school students in Tennessee will be denied that same experience. Despite it being part of a state-approved eighth grade curriculum, the members of the school board in McMinn County, outside of Chattanooga, banned “Maus” in a unanimous vote earlier this month.
The vote finally received media attention Wednesday, just hours before the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Minutes of the Jan. 10 meeting available online reveal that the board members said they objected to the book’s use of profanity and an image of nudity depicting the dead body of author Spiegelman’s mother, who took her own life at age 56.

Book banning. Book burning. Restricting content or subject matters. All has a long history within human history. Here in America, we’re just adding to the long oftentimes dark, history. However, before I go into specific stories about the banning of specific books, or curriculum or even speakers, I have some terms to define, and comments regarding each.

Not all book bans are created equal

Much of the narrative you are reading today fails to take into account the nuances of the various bans; shocking, right?  Let me begin:

  1. Absence is not a ban:

    In a given school, whether it be in the school library or the collection of books available in each teachers classroom, there is not room for every book under the sun.  Just because a book is not available in a particular library, classroom or school does not mean that the book has been banned.
  2. Required Reading:

    Schools often stipulate that certain titles are required to be studies as part of their officially sanctioned  curriculum.  Simply because a book is removed from the “Required Reading” list does not mark it as a banned book.  Often times the book may be included in class at the discretion of the teacher.  It may still live in the library even if it is not ever taught in class.
  3. Not Purchased:

    This is a book that has not been purchased by the school but is not considered ‘banned’.  Kids are free to bring the book to school for their own personal reading pleasure.
  4. Banned Material:

    This is the type of material that is the most severe.  The book has been placed on an outright banned list from school grounds.  It is not taught, it is not in any classroom or library and individual students are not free to bring such material to class.

Doing Minnesota Proud

Young man haulin’ the mail!

Derek Onserio, a senior at Providence Academy in Plymouth, was accepted to eight Ivy Laegue schools. Onserio has four siblings, two of which also attend Ivy League schools. He is the son of Kenyan immigrants.

You go boy!

North Carolina Teacher Pay


With all of the news out of North Carolina, it would be understandable if you hadn’t heard of this:

Raleigh, N.C. – New rankings of average teacher pay across all 50 states and the District of Columbia show that North Carolina teacher pay is increasing faster than any other state in the country.

Data from the National Education Association shows that North Carolina has moved up six spots in the rankings of average teacher salaries since the 2013-2014 school year, the single-biggest improvement of any state in the country. North Carolina has also seen the largest average gains in teacher pay in the country over that same time period, according to the data.

During the 2015-2016 school year, North Carolina’s average teacher salary of $47,985 ranked 41st in the nation. When the data is adjusted for cost-of-living, North Carolina ranks 33rd in the nation for teacher pay, according to preliminary analysis by the John Locke Foundation.

Atlanta Teacher Cheating Scandal


Teachers are people; people are subject to human foibles and failings across the spectrum.  I have no quarrel with teachers here.

What I quarrel with is that subset of people who don’t believe in math:

A gubernatorial investigation found in 2011, after looking closely at erasure marks on test sheets, that more than half of Atlanta’s elementary and middle schools contained classrooms with an average number of wrong-to-right corrections more than three standard deviations above the state average.

We can tell if a kid is cheating.   Or a teacher.  We can tell if a teachers adds to or detracts from a year of instruction.

Pay the best like rock stars – fire the worst.

Big Data And The Analysts Who Might Use It

Big Data

President Obama is going to change the law regarding how students who take out Federal loans can pay that loan back:

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama will issue an executive action on Monday aimed at making it easier for young people to avoid trouble repaying student loans, a White House official said on Sunday.

The president will sign an order directing the secretary of education to ensure that more students who borrowed federal direct loans be allowed to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly incomes, the official said.

I would humbly like to make a recommendation.  Namely, that we extend this loan repayment forgiveness effort to students who actually earn a degree that is useful.

No Art Appreciation.  No Language Arts.  No Renaissance Art.

We need people pursuing degrees that:

A – We need

B – Have a reasonable chance at resulting in a job

Wanna go to school to satisfy curiosity or take up a hobby?  Power to ya.  But if you want me to pay for it – make it something we are in desperate need of:

There will be a shortage of talent necessary for organizations to take advantage of big data. By 2018, the United States alone could face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the analysis of big data to make effective decisions.

We need Quants.  And we pay Quants a TON of money.

Go be one of those!



Teacher Pay In North Carolina

Corporate Competition

I need to stipulate three things: 1.  I used to be a senior high math teacher 2.  I work in corporate America in a highly competitive environment 3.  I am payed more than both the national average and mean Okay, teacher pay, here in NC it’s pretty bad:

Under the current state base pay scale, a teacher who started in the system with no experience would take 16 years to reach a $40,000 salary. North Carolina school teachers have only seen one one raise since 2008, which was 1.2 percent.

Like I said, pretty bad.  And we need to improve it. But let’s think about why.  Do we wanna pay teachers more because we only love them and think they deserve more pay?  No, at least not me.  I wanna pay teachers more because by creating the incentive to be a teacher, you attract better teachers. And why do we want better teachers?

The work of Bill Sanders, formerly at the University of Tennessee’s Value-Added Research and Assessment Center, has been pivotal in reasserting the importance of the individual teacher on student learning.4  One aspect of his research has been the additive or cumulative effect of teacher effectiveness on student achievement. Over a multi-year period, Sanders focused on what happened to students whose teachers produced high achievement versus those whose teachers produced low achievement results. He discovered that when children, beginning in 3rd grade, were placed with three high-performing teachers in a row, they scored on average at the 96th percentile on Tennessee’s statewide mathematics assessment at the end of 5th grade. When children with comparable achievement histories starting in 3rd grade were placed with three low-performing teachers in a row, their average score on the same mathematics assessment was at the 44th percentile,5  an enormous 52-percentile point difference for children who presumably had comparable abilities and skills.

And how good are we at measuring teacher effectiveness?  Well, consider this:

The vast majority of school districts in the U.S. presently use teacher evaluation systems that result in nearly all teachers receiving uniformly high ratings.  For instance, a recent study by The New Teacher Project of twelve districts in four states revealed that more than 99 percent of teachers in districts using binary ratings were rated satisfactory whereas 94 percent received one of the top two ratings in districts using a broader range of ratings.[i]  As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put it, “Today in our country, 99 percent of our teachers are above average.”


We have no useful or meaningful way of evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness.  And that has to change.  We not only need to identify the best teachers and reward them appropriately, we need to identify poor teachers and remove them from our schools. And we have to go further. We need to pay more for the teachers teaching subjects we value more.  For instance – there is no reason that an elementary music teacher or a physical education teacher.

Further, raises and bonuses need to be assigned proportionately – the better the teacher the higher the raise.  And bonus. Some say that this will create a corrosive culture and pit teacher against teacher.  I dispute this theory and point to corporate America as my example. As I mentioned above, I live in corporate America and am compensated relatively well.

I earn more than some of my peers and less than others.  I achieve stronger raises than some and less than others; bonuses in the same manner.  And I ave yet to feel a level of resentment that leads to less collaboration or cooperation. In fact, the reverse is true – I see that it increases such traits as fellow co-workers seek to emulate the stronger employee. The pay of our teachers is a disgrace.  But the method by which we determine pay is a direct result of the teacher’s unions and needs to be scrapped for a merit system without tenure.

Teacher Unions Love Teachers – Not Students


Want some proof that unions representing teachers are in it for the teacher?

Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Association of Educators filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court on Wednesday, challenging the state’s new private school voucher program.

The advocacy group wants the court to declare unconstitutional the Opportunity Scholarships Act, which was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year, and stop the state from issuing the vouchers.

Under the program, state lawmakers set aside $10 million in the budget to help pay private school tuition for about 2,500 students, starting in the 2014-15 school year. Legislative leaders said they plan to ratchet the fund up to $50 million a year after that.

Teacher unions are about power; not kids or education.


Teacher Compensation: North Carolina


How Much To Pay A Teacher

I was a teacher.  My dad retired a teacher.  Many friends and family are still teachers.  Further, other than that family, teachers were some of the most influential people in my life  hell, one teacher is largely responsible for the man I am today.

And my kids have teachers.  Lots of ’em.

I. Love. Teachers

So, when asked how much we should pay teachers I come back to this:

Continue reading

Liberal Arts and Stem


When I attended the University of Minnesota, I was enrolled in the Institute for Technology.  –That’s right, I attended MIT!–  The rest of the students, for the most part, were enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts or CLA.

It was high fun to openly mock our more leisurely peers often referring to them, in the most derogatory tone possible, as “CLA’ers.”  There was never any doubt, inside the Institute or out, that the rigorous courses were contained within that technology track.

It would seem that the same holds true – more or less – here in North Carolina.  I’m hanging out on the UNC campus while my daughter dances in the Raleigh Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” -she’s a Gingerbread-  and I’m reading the campus newspaper when I came across this:

Senior Lauren Schmidt originally entered college with the intention of becoming a pharmacist or physician assistant. Those plans changed after her experience in Chemistry 101 during her first semester at UNC.

“I spent hours working on Mastering Chemistry,” she said. “I’m not good at chemistry, and I’m OK with admitting that.”

Schmidt decided to drop the class after the first exam, and even though she completed Biology 101 the following semester, she started looking for a different major.

And Schmidt is not alone. Jennifer Krumper, a lecturer in the chemistry department, said a number of other aspiring pre-health students switch majors because of the difficulty in introductory science courses such as Biology 101, Chemistry 101 and Chemistry 102.

“Many students who are interested in science and have the abilities end up not majoring in science because they have a discouraging experience after their first year,” she said.

A somewhat sad, but not surprising commentary on the state of US education.  It would seem that kids are getting the message that the “goto” careers are within STEM fields, but that our kids either aren’t prepared or are simply too lazy.

A recent study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that about half of the students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields leave their majors before they complete a bachelor’s degree.

Of the students who left these programs, about half switched to a non-STEM major, while the other half left school altogether.

Sad, really.  Especially as our economy is continually transitioning to a more and more technological one.

Certainly would be interesting to study the effects of this phenomenon as it pertains to income inequality.

How Children Succeed

How Children Succeed

How Children Succeed

It seems that I have a stack of books that stretch forever high – forever.  And I never seem to get through them.  Worse, I start a book, get part way through and start another.  This habit results in me having 2-3-4 books in flight at all times.

That has to end, so maybe blogging my reading will enhance my completion rate as well as get me to finish the book I’m on before picking up a new one.

We’ll see.

Anyway, the first book to hit the blog is How Children Succeed.

I came across the book through a recommendation by Dr. Steve Green over at Fully Myelinated.  Steve mentioned that it was one of his favorite books on how kids achieve.  Further, Steve posts from a liberal perspective, so in the spirit of bi-partisanship, I felt that I owed it a college try.

All in all, not a bad read, though it did drag at points.

Anyway, here it is:

How Children Succeed – Introduction

The book is a look at how school children achieve in school.  I’ve been interested in this topic for quite awhile now.  I’m mostly interested in how we can increase reading, graduation and college completion, however, I think it’s important to study the why’s and the how’s.

In full disclosure, I’m highly influenced by the concept of IQ and the heritability of IQ.  While I’m sympathetic to the notion that IQ and IQ tests are, at best, imperfect measurements, the idea that there exists an “intelligence”, described by g, is a powerful one.

Further, I have read and am a firm believer in the research presented in “The Bell Curve”.

The book starts with the author researching a pre-school and identifying the fact that the school was using non-cognitive techniques to engage the kids.  And, as a new father, he was fascinated.  After all, all the rage in the research suggested that kids need to focus on cognitive techniques in order to maximize achievement later in life.

However, there may be a different way.  And at the center of that movement is Dr. James Heckman, an economist from the University of Chicago.  And the good doctor had studied the children of The Perry Preschool Project.  This is the project that demonstrated a preschool has  a positive impact on achievement but that benefit faded after only a few years.

However, when Dr. Heckman went deeper into the data he found that the benefits of that preschool manifest later in life:

At age 27 follow-up

  • Completed an average of almost 1 full year more of schooling (11.9 years vs. 11 years)
  • Spent an average of 1.3 fewer years in special education services — e.g., for mental, emotional, speech, or learning impairment (3.9 years vs. 5.2 years)
  • 44 percent higher high school graduation rate (66% vs. 45%)

Pregnancy outcomes for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 27 follow-up

  • Much lower proportion of out-of-wedlock births (57% vs. 83%)
  • Fewer teen pregnancies on average (0.6 pregnancies/woman vs. 1.2 pregnancies/woman)

Lifetime criminal activity for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 40 follow-up

  • 46 percent less likely to have served time in jail or prison (28% vs. 52%)
  • 33 percent lower arrest rate for violent crimes (32% vs. 48%)

Economic outcomes for preschool group (versus control group):

At age 40 follow-up

  • 42 percent higher median monthly income ($1,856 vs. $1,308)

  • 26 percent less likely to have received government assistance (e.g. welfare, food stamps) in the past ten years (59% vs. 80%)

Heckman discovered that while the preschool didn’t enhance IQ it DID manifest change in those kids.  And that change occurred in what Heckman would call non-cognitive skills:

  • Curiosity
  • Self-control
  • Social Fluidity
  • Many  others

This book is about those skills and how they help contribute to student achievement.