Organizing Innovation in Education

Yesterday the Broad Foundation announced a $6,000,000 grant with which Harvard University economics professor Roland Fryer is creating EdLabs, a research and development agency to look systematically at innovation and incentives in education, particularly urban education. Fryer is especially interested in economic inequality, long believed to impact academic success and access (take for example the HeadStart program that began in 1965–a nice description here).

I like the approach of organizing and evaluating the pockets of educational innovation and of placing research staff on site. The Broads strike me as very creative and ingenious at making their philanthropy more effective, like the genetics research at the Broad Institute and even their approach of loaning their art collection to museums.

It’s my impression (as an educator and researcher myself) that educators strongly prefer to try their own new things rather than replicate others’ success. This may be an aspect of teacher-culture that will need to change in addition to providing any evidence that a particular approach works.

I believe humans learn continuously, but some may need incentives to learn or be interested in what the government, state, school, or business leaders want them to learn. I do think wisely spent cash could make their lives better in so many ways that will help them function in and finish school. I certainly hope EdLabs succeeds in making effective education more widely available. So much more than a diploma is at stake: health, self-sufficiency, self-esteem, the peace that comes from justice….

Here are some questions I would investigate further if I were in research or journalistic mode, but I’m just blogging, so I’ll hope readers post answers or links or something in the comment section: It’s interesting to me that this lab does not appear to be affiliated with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. I wonder if there was some line of thought like: education as usual doesn’t seem to be working so let’s place it outside the usual arena; or probably more like: it’s all economics, silly. I wonder also why the Harvard location (not Columbia, not U of Chicago) without a Boston partner. Is there really so little innovation in Boston (just one partner has one school 15 miles from Harvard)?

Related post: Sept 19, 2007–

More re: what to do about educational prospects for rich and poor

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Ideas for celebrating International Peace Day

The United Nations considers September 21 a global holiday: International Peace Day. Many meditation groups celebrate with large simultaneous meditation circles, a strategy that John Hagelin reports can reduce violence. Lynn McTaggart also offers new research supporting how our thoughts impact our environment and those we meet. Even if you are skeptical about the impact of thoughts on others, you probably agree that speech and listening can create peace or its opposite, so you might be more interested in the work of Marshall Rosenberg and other trainers in Nonviolent Communication or Compassionate Communication.

Thanks for all the peace you already make.

Sixth-grader remembers 9/11/01

I really related to Ashok Kaul’s poem in Stone Soup remembering the first day of kindergarten. Kaul lives in New York City. We live next to Boston, where two of the flights originated, so some of my neighbors and colleagues lost loved ones (or didn’t: my neighbor’s daughter was the usual flight attendant on one of the flights, but had a dentist appointment). It was the first day of kindergarten and of preschool for my daughters, too.

September Book Club Picks

Updating our book club picks.

Sixth-grader Iliana chose Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. After three years in the club, the youngsters are pretty good at conducting their own discussions, but some of the adults really wanted to chime in on this one because the writing itself was so good.

Fourth-grader Naomi nominated The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd for her club’s meeting. We look forward to finding out what everyone thought of it.

“Self-induced learning disability”

We’ve heard a lot about the “teen brain” lately. This research by physicians at Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, intrigued me. Apparently, at least in animal research, adolescent brains do not recover from chemical use as quickly as adult brains. Human neurons also communicate via chemicals. So the doctors have been traveling to different venues with their message, that “…what you did on the weekend is still with you during that test on Thursday. You’ve been trying to study with a self-induced learning disability.”

This article also points to a few other tips for increasing your teen brain’s power, mentioning effects of exercise and multi-tasking.

Walkable Neighborhoods

If you’re looking for a new neighborhood, or just curious about your current one, browse around WalkScore. The algorithm is admittedly imperfect, but I learned some new things about my own neighborhood. For example, because it is technically in another city and seemingly attached to a school there, I rarely think of the park that WalkScore shows is actually closest to my house (2.5 blocks away). You might find some tips for saving gas, talking to neighbors and to generally make walking around healthier and safer for our families.

You might also be interested in Catherine Austin Fitts’ idea of the Popsicle Index, which she defines as the percentage of people in a neighborhood who think it is safe for a child to take a walk and buy a popsicle by her- or himself.