Can public schools work? Texas Tribune’s interview with Michael Marder, Part II

June 11, 2011

From my earlier post on the Texas Tribune interview with Michael Marder, in which he questioned the assumptions that monkeying with teacher discipline, accountability, pay, training, vacations, or anything else, can produce better results in educating students, especially students from impoverished backgrounds.

Marder is the director of the University of Texas’s program to encourage much better prepared teachers, UTeach.

Michael Marder’s numbers show that it’s not the teachers’ fault that so many students are not ready for college, and not learning the stuff we think they should know.

Texas Tribune said:

In the popular 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee said, “But even in the toughest of neighborhoods and circumstances, children excel when the right adults are doing the right things for them.”

After looking at the data, Marder has yet to be convinced that any teaching solution has been found that can overcome the detrimental effects of poverty on a large scale — and that we may be looking for solutions in the wrong place.

[Reeve] Hamilton’s interview of Marder takes up three YouTube segments — you should watch all three.

Here’s Part 2:

Read the original introductory article at Texas Tribune.

For the record, Michelle Rhee is probably right:  In the toughest neighborhoods, children excel when the right adults do the right things for them.  But the right adults usually are parents, and the right things include reading to the children from about 12 months on, and pushing them to love learning and love books.  Teachers get the kids too late, generally, to bend those no-longer-twigs back to a proper inclination.  The government interventions required to boost school performance must come outside the classroom.  Michelle Rhee’s great failure — still — is in her tendency not to recognize that classroom performance of a student has its foundations and live roots in the homes and neighborhoods who send the children to school every day.

Big bone sale in Dallas

June 11, 2011

Big bones.  Big sale.

Heritage Auction's triceratops, for Jun 12, 2011 auction

Triceratops welcomes bidders and gawkers to the Heritage Auction sale of fossils, gems, meteorites, and other national history ephemera. HA estimates this nearly-complete triceratops, mounted, to be worth about $700,000; less than 24 hours before the live auction, it has an online bid of $500,000 already.

Heritage Auctions set up a bug bunch of fossils, gems, meteorites, taxidermy, and art work from natural materials, for an auction on Sunday, June 12, 2011.

2011 June Dallas Signature Platinum Natural History Auction – Dallas, TX.  Auction #6061.

I can’t afford to bid, but they let me in to get photos.  Nice people.

Heritage Auctions' June special, a triceratops - IMGP6882 photo by Ed Darrell; use permitted with attribution

Heritage Auctions' June special, a triceratops - photo by Ed Darrell; use permitted with attribution

The triceratops greets visitors and bidders at the display site, the Tower Building at Dallas’s art deco gem, Fair Park.  (If you look at the ceiling above the triceratops, you can see where restorers have stripped away several layers of paint to reveal the original ceiling paintings — original artwork, including murals, was painted over in the years following the dramatic debut of the buildings; restoration work proceeds slowly because of lack of funding.)

Triceratops horridus
Hell Creek formation, Harding County, South Dakota

Researchers dug this particular specimen out of the ground in 2004.  HA’s description just makes one’s science juices flow:

Triceratops has enjoyed much cultural publicity ever since its discovery. It is an iconic dinosaur that has appeared in movies ranging from black and white cinema to modern movies like “Jurassic Park.” It has also been in cartoons, such as the children’s classic “The Land before Time.” Triceratops is also the official state fossil of South Dakota and the official state dinosaur of Wyoming.

The present specimen was discovered in 2004 in two parts: First, the fossil hunters came upon pieces of dinosaur bone eroding down a gully. Following these bone fragments, they eventually came upon large bones that would indicate the presence of a large Ceratopsian dinosaur. While this large mass of bones was being excavated, other members of the team followed another bone trail which led them to an amazingly well preserved skull 750 feet away from the original discovery. Over the course of months, the specimens were carefully excavated in large blocks; each specimen was covered in plaster jackets and removed from the field to the lab. It was only during preparation that they discovered the dinosaur was a Triceratops, and it happened to be a Triceratops with an incredibly complete skull. The bones and skull were carefully removed from their field jackets and prepared using hand tools. Broken bones were professionally repaired and restored while a few missing elements were cast from other Triceratops skeletons. A custom made mount was created to support the bones and the skull; innovative bracket mounts were crafted for each bone so that no bones had to be damaged in order to mount them. The bones were mounted in osteologically correct position; making it comparable to and possibly surpassing the accuracy of older mounts in museum displays. Though it is impossible to say whether or not the skull is original to the specimen, being discovered 750 feet apart, it is certainly possible that the two elements are associated for a number of reasons: first, the size of the skull is consistent with the proportional size dimensions of the skeleton, and second, the surrounding matrix (host rock) was identical in composition.

The completed skeleton is enormous; measuring 19 feet long from head to tail, 11 feet across, and towering 12 feet tall. The skull itself measures 7 feet long with 3 ½ foot long horns; placing it near the top of the size range for Triceratops skulls. The leg bones stand 10 feet tall from toes to the top of the scapula; dwarfing many other Triceratops skeletons. Given that the skull represents about 30% of a dinosaur’s entire skeleton, the present specimen is about 75% original bone, with the right leg, pelvic region, several cervical vertebrae and a few tail vertebrae being cast reproductions.

Who owns the thing?  Who put it together?   Who is losing the specimen, should it go to a private collection (you got a living room that big?), and which museum really wants it?

But that’s just one of the specimens up for sale at this auction, and not necessarily the best.  Also up for bid:  A stegosaurus, and an allosaurus, posed as a “fighting pair.”

Fighting pair - allosaurus and stegosaurus, from Heritage Auctions' June 12, 2011 sale of fossils IMGP6839 - photo copyright by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution

The "fighting pair," an allosaurus (left) and stegosaurus (right) posed in combat positions. Photo by Ed Darrell, use permitted with attribution.

If it sells, the stegosaurus will cost a lucky bidder more than $1 million.  The allosaurus requires $1.6 million.

Am I jaded?  On the one hand you can’t look at these specimens without thinking they deserve to be seen by kids, and adults, and studied by paleontologists and biologist of all stripes — and so who has the right to sell these off?  On the other hand, this is a Second Gilded Age, and the search for prize fossil specimens is often financed by the proceeds from these auctions.  I enjoyed an hour’s browsing and photographing — a slide presentation on the wonders of America for some sleepy class next fall.

How many of these specimens will I get a chance to see again in the future?

Or, Dear Reader, how many of these will you ever get a chance to see?

HA will sell a lot more than just a few dinosaur fossils.  This same sale includes the largest shark jawbone ever found, stuffed Kodiak and polar bears (from the same hunter), gems, art from petrified wood and fossilized fish, and a large selection of meteorites, including the only meteoroid ever confirmed to have struck and killed a living creature (a cow in Argentine; you can’t toss a stone without hitting a cow in Argentina, I hear).

Giant shark jaw for Heritage Auctions' June 2011 sale

Requires a large wall and high ceilings to display

I don’t plan to go bid; there’s about an hour remaining for online bidding tonight, but if you’re interested and you’ve got your income tax refund burning a hole in your pocket, you can also bid by telephone and hotlink on the internet (go to the Heritage Auction site for details).   Frankly, I don’t think the sale will get the attention it deserves.  I hope these spectacular specimens will land where they can get  a great, admiring and studious audience.

Why so few streets named after Vietnam veterans?

June 11, 2011

Junior Cruz of Salt Lake City was 15 when his Eagle Scout Project honored a fallen soldier from our war in Iraq, Adam Galvez.  You can read a stirring story from The Deseret News at Adam

Junior Cruz, with Cpl. Adam Galvez's parents Tony and Amy Galvez, at Adam Galvez Street in Salt Lake City

Boy Scout Junior Cruz, with Cpl. Adam Galvez's parents Tony and Amy Galvez, at Adam Galvez Street in Salt Lake City

Marines honor fallen comrade Cpl. Adam Galvez, Salt Lake City, 2007

Marines honor their fallen comrade Cpl. Adam Galvez, at the ceremony naming a street after Galvez.7

Once upon a time I might have wondered about the utility of such a project, not because naming a street after a veterans isn’t a great idea, but because the actions required for naming streets might not measure up to the usual expectations for great service in an Eagle project.  This project and the stories about it quickly dispel such worries — for example, notice that the city required Cruz to raise the $2,000 required to change the street signs, such fundraising itself a major accomplishment.  Our son James’s project at the DFW National Cemetery required similar fundraising, and got at least as much in in-kind contributions — but it was major work.

Marines at the naming of Adam Galvez Street, 2007

Marines salute at the ceremony for the naming of Adam Galvez Street, 2007

Reading the news story, I thought back to a question that has plagued me for years:  Why didn’t we have the good sense to welcome back Vietnam vets with parades, and other welcome home activities?  That was one great lesson of Vietnam I think we, as a nation, learned well.  Today national news programs, like the PBS Newshour, honor each fallen soldier in our nation’s wars.  Here in Dallas, and at other cities I suspect, there is a formal volunteer program to make sure soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan deployments get a flag-waving cheer when they get off the airplane.  Churches, schools, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts volunteer to go wave the flags and cheer the soldiers.  The volunteers may get more out of it than the soldiers, but the message is clear all the way around:  These soldier men and women served their nation, and they deserve thanks and a cheer.

Ceremony naming Adam Galvez Street, February 2007

Ceremony naming Adam Galvez Street, February 2007

Is it too late to do that for Vietnam veterans?  A chief complaint over the years, especially from the war-hungry right wing, is that the Vietnam peace movement dishonored those veterans, chiefly by not honoring them more when they came home.

My brother, Wes, served four tours in Southeast Asia in that war, returning each time to no great celebration other than his family’s great gratitude at his return.  He’s too great a patriot to complain — as are most of the other Vietnam vets.  Our periodic patriotic celebrations now do better:  Vietnam vets get honored at July 4 and Veterans’ Day celebrations, and the fallen get special honors on Memorial Day, in most towns in America.

Junior Cruz hit on a great idea, though:  Name a street in honor of the fallen.

Why not do that for more Vietnam vets?  My hometown of Pleasant Grove, Utah, had a population of fewer than 10,000 people during the Vietnam conflict, but well I remember in my high school years when the list of fallen passed 11, including a recently-graduated studentbody president and basketball star and the brother of a woman in my French class.   Neither of them has a memorial other than their gravestone, that I’m aware.

Adam Galvez Street, Salt Lake City, Utah

Adam Galvez Street, Salt Lake City, Utah

Street names can tell us a lot about a town or city.  In the great booming times of 1950s through 1990s, a lot of streets in America were named after developers’ kids, wives and ex-wives.  More recently developers have taken to cutesy names on a theme designed to sell homes:  “Whispering Waters Way,” “Mountain View,” etc.   Those cities where history gets some note in street names do well, I think.  Ogden, Utah, named a bunch of streets after presidents, in order of their service, from Washington through the second Harrison (and as a consequence, a lot of people who grew up in Ogden can name the presidents in order from Washington through almost to Teddy Roosevelt).  New York has not suffered from renaming a stretch of road The Avenue of the Americas, Washington, D.C. has done well with both Independence Avenue and Constitution Avenue.

Why not rename some streets in American after Vietnam veterans?  While we’re at it, how about Korean War veterans?  We can’t recapture the time and do what we should have done about 58 years ago for Korea or about 45 years ago for Vietnam.  We can do noble things from now, forward.  Why not create memorials that remind us of the great service these people did for their nation, and name and rename streets in their honor?


Immigration policy in an era of globalization: U.S. needs more immigration, not less

June 11, 2011

Anathema to many partisans of the immigration debates:   What if we look at the real value of immigration?  The U.S. needs more to encourage immigration than to discourage it.  God, and devil, in the details.

From the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank:

In advance of an immigration policy conference, Dallas Fed Senior Economist Pia Orrenius discusses how immigration policy can help the U.S. economy and how the global competition for high-skilled immigrants is increasing. The Dallas Fed and the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies at Southern Methodist University are co-sponsoring “Immigration Policy in an Era of Globalization” at the Dallas Fed on May 19-20, 2011.

This piece had only 329 views when I posted it.  Shouldn’t carefully studied views of immigration get more circulation on the inter’tubes?

Do you recall seeing any coverage of the May 19-20 conference  in your local news outlets, or anywhere else?  The conference included high-faluting experts who discussed immigration policies for the U.S., Canada, the EU, Europe, Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.  One might think to find some value in the information there.

Can we get the immigration we need, legally?  Do present proposals in Congress offer to boost our economy, or hurt it?


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