Smörgåsbord: A Smattering of Politics and Science for Your Columbus Day Weekend


Ed Politics and Policy

The UFT establishes a hypocritical stance towards NY State’s proposed revisions of the Common Core standards. Mulgrew says the revisions don’t go far enough. But the UFT supported the original version of the standards, then later criticized the state’s implementation of them. So what’s the problem, Mulgrew? The standards themselves, or the implementation? Or maybe it’s politics that’s the real problem here, eh.

Speaking of politics, the plot thickens in the Bronx, where an assistant principal has accused DOE officials and a state assemblyman of collaborating to prevent low income children from attending an overcrowded Riverdale public school. First, the superintendent rapidly resigned, then the school’s principal got demoted. Now, a finger is pointed at a top NYCDOE official.

In moving forward, one way the NYCDOE could show a stronger commitment to equity and school diversity is by supporting Manhattan’s District 1 in its efforts to implement a “controlled choice” model.

Speaking of lawsuits, a Detroit lawsuit challenges local control in public education by claiming that to be able to read and write is a constitutional right.

And the Supreme Court will examine just how much educational benefit a student with a disability should be expected to derive from access to a “free and appropriate education.” (That’s FAPE, for my fellow SPED heads out there.) Currently, it’s a pretty low bar.


Some rough news for those of us who do professional development with teachers, as well as for those of us who are proponents of strong content knowledge: in a study of math teachers that were provided training,”teacher participation in the 93 hours of PD did not have a positive impact on student achievement,” even though the teacher’s knowledge of the math content improved.

We avoid people who give us critical feedback, to the detriment of our performance.

A useful primer and cheat sheet on cognitive biases.

“If all the kids in the world were to line up for a race, the average American child would finish at the foot of the field” (47 out of 50, to be exact).

So maybe we need to give all of our kids standing desks.

More education results in better outcomes. But “differences between educated and less educated people may be partially due to residual genetic and socioeconomic confounding.”

The more a mother’s voice imprints in a child’s brain, the better at communication that child will become.

Reading literature may not improve theory of mind.

Teaching cursive should go the way of the dodo. Writing in manuscript is just fine.

Groups in which all members talk about the same amount perform better.

People can be tricked into arguing for positions that are not their own.



There’s a motif that strangely kept recurring in my Twitter and news feeds a while ago: chairs.
Many of these links were, of course, business related, as productivity mavens recognize that how one sits and what one sits upon have an effect upon how one works.
Mashable finally ran an article that focused on classrooms. After all, it is children who spend hours every year sitting in poorly designed chairs that could be rightfully claimed to be the polar opposite of “ergonomic.”
This concern for the quality of seating is strongly linked to a perspective of a school as an ecosystem. When we think about the impact of the learning environment on student achievement, what could be more fundamental then the manner in which students sit?
Such concern goes beyond simple ergonomics. Pedagogy hinges on how students are seated. Some seating enables flexible grouping. Some seating is bolted down in rows. At Exeter, a special round table known as the Harkness Table is used, reflecting their commitment to discussion based pedagogy.

Safety is another concern. Students who experience crisis will grab anything in their vicinity that can be used to express their frustration, which typically involves throwing chairs. I’ve even had a student try to throw a desk at me (it was a bit too overladen with workbooks to go very far). Hence why some schools still feature the seemingly medieval feature of bolted down desks.

So what is the ideal seating for a student? Both ergonomics and safety should be the primary considerations. But whatever designers come up with, the next concern is, of course, the pricing. As Megan Garber notes in her Mashable article:

Ray [the name of the chair mentioned in the article], in its simple, plastic, IKEA-esque glory, is currently gaining traction where you’d expect it to: Scandinavia. And also Germany. And also the U.K., where Dennehy’s company, Perch, offers a mid-range version of the chair that’s cheaper than the original. 

So could Ray make its way into U.S. classrooms? It’s hard to see already cash-strapped administrators making the investment — though with the new emphasis on making schools healthier places for kids, the idea of ergonomic classrooms could gain more traction now than it might have a few years ago.

Ah yes. Of course, when we get to the US, pricing becomes THE primary concern.

What sort of seating do you believe public schools should offer our children?