Friday, July 31, 2009
The story generated quite a bit of reader response, which became its own follow-up column. The general consensus from many who had, at one time or another, lived in Denmark, was that the people truly are among the happiest, and they don't work that hard to make it so. It's simply the way they live their lives. The "lower expectations" seems to be part of it, only in that they are not generally motivated by the "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" mentality, and rather than dreaming of the happiness they'll have when they get the house they want, they quite simply make the house they have as enjoyable as it can be. And for all the rabid capitalists out there, I don't think this means they don't aspire to greater success. They simply enjoy all the levels along the way.
A bit of research on Denmark turned up information like this:
Denmark, with a free market capitalist economy and a large welfare state ranks according to one measure, as having the world's highest level of income equality. From 2006 to 2008, surveys ranked Denmark as "the happiest place in the world," based on standards of health, welfare, and education. One survey ranks Denmark as the second most peaceful country in the world. Denmark was also ranked as the least corrupt country in the world in the 2008.
One writer to the Times thoughtfully said, "The Danes work very hard at living well, rather than pretentiously. They aren’t interested in displays of ostentation or status. But they are masters of genuine good living, and work very hard to achieve it."
Another posited, "The society and government there actually work for most of the people. In my first visit, I learned that “poor” and “welfare” were not economic terms used to demean people, and that teachers and physicians actually have the same incomes and respect. Those things sound “simple” perhaps, but they create a world of difference."
And another offered, "The Scandinavian countries have high taxation but can actually see their tax dollars working in better infrastructure, education, health care, etc. As a Norwegian American I can say that I find a level of happiness (or I should say contentment) in Norway that translates to every day life. They are healthy outdoors people who also revel in nature. And of course oil revenues help, but they are smart enough to keep many of the proceeds from revenues for a rainy day."
That is some pretty lofty praise, and worth considering whenever we feel compelled to spend some time in national self examination.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
As the country seeks school reform, and states scramble to qualify for more stimulus funding in the Race to the Top, I’d like to see Oprah regularly address "what works" and "what we should be doing" in schools nationwide. This should not be a one-time show, but a regular, even weekly, feature of her programming.
Oprah could organize a weekly segment entitled "Best Practice" - which is a buzzword for figuring out what works in the classroom. One week she could focus on literacy and reading instruction by featuring Cris Tovani's books, "I Read It, but I Don't Get It" and "Do I Really Have to Teach Reading." She could follow this with shows on Everyday Math and other controversial math programs, and the issue of a "national curriculum," as well as issues of standardized testing and how much they should matter. She could discuss teacher training, foreign education systems, the importance of arts and activities, and controversies like charter schools, voucher systems, and equality in funding.
Other shows could spotlight "college readiness" and the need for more associate degree seekers and career and technical education. She could feature Dr. David Conley, a Pew Center researcher and author of "College Knowledge" - another great Oprah Book Club possibility. Related to this, Oprah could highlight a reform study called Tough Choices, Tough Times, and spotlight the reforms happening in New Hampshire which may allow high school graduation at sixteen for students entering community colleges and technical schools.
With the theme of "Change" in America, Oprah offers an excellent venue for the regular emphasis that the system needs. If you agree, do me a favor and cut and paste this post into the "Show Recommendation" section of Oprah's website.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Mike Littwin of the Denver Post asks some good questions in this article:
This is not a new story. For whatever reason — skewed tests, too many failing schools, too many single-family homes, continuing effects of segregation, some other explanation short of a bell curve — blacks do not score nearly as well as whites on standardized tests.
If standardized tests play a key role in getting into college, in getting into law school, in becoming a lieutenant in the fire department, what are we, as a society that values opportunity, supposed to do if too few blacks and other minorities qualify?
One answer is to do nothing, except quote the Rev. Martin Luther King's line about the quality of our character — as if King wouldn't be on the side of affirmative action.
Another answer is to recognize the problem — as, say, the U.S. Army has done — and find a way to pick out otherwise qualified applicants.
New Haven clearly hadn't offered a test that was meant to discriminate. And yet, the test left the city, one with a majority-minority population, with a new class of nearly all white officers in its fire department. How do you resolve discrimination that isn't exactly discrimination?
There is validity to both sides. The white firefighters certainly don't deserve to have their results invalidated - we can and should be sympathetic to their cause. However, isn't there some pretty obvious problems with a test that seems to be systematically prohibitive to minorities.
Herein lies the problem with discrimination, affirmative action, and the use of standardized assessments.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Another comprehensive analysis from the NCEST was published in 2004.
Monday, July 13, 2009
FRANKFORT — High school students who complete required course work for graduation before their junior or senior years could enroll in college early and get state funding to help with tuition under a plan proposed by Senate Republicans. The bill also would reduce the 22 minimum credit hours for high school graduation to as low as 16, while candidates for early graduation would have to maintain a 2.8 grade-point average to go to a two-year college or 3.2 GPA to go to a four-year university in Kentucky. Students going on to a four-year university also would have to take at least two Advanced Placement classes, the bill says.
It sounds like some real reform is happening at the state level. Wonder what Arne Duncan thinks?
High-schoolers in Louisiana will soon be able to opt for a "career diploma" – taking some alternative courses instead of a full college-prep curriculum. The new path to graduation – expected to be signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) in the coming days – bucks a trend in which many states are cranking up academic requirements. The legislation puts the state in the center of a national debate about where to set the bar for high school graduation.
Advocates of the new diploma option say it will keep more struggling students in school and will prepare them for jobs, technical training, or community college. Critics doubt the curriculum will be strong enough to accomplish such goals and say it shortchanges students in the long run, given the projections that a large number of future jobs will require a college degree.
While there is much to discuss - and a wide margin for error - there is a lot of practical wisdom in this action. The most significant problems are students who might change their minds later - as well as the notion that sixteen-year-olds might not make the "best" or most mature decision. And, of course, there is a significant chance that this will be disproportionately pursued by - and even recommended to - mainly poor and minority students.
I'd like to see the option available while resources are directed toward making sure each student makes his/her own best decision, and all students are guaranteed equal access to opportunities in education.
This perfect economic storm will have untold negative impacts if nothing is done by Congress to address these issues now by truly investing in the Millennial Generation. due to recent layoffs, making finding a job exponentially more difficult.