I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Stop Biting That Pencil!

In the brave, new reformy world, teachers will not be allowed to make excuses for a child's difficulty in learning. Which means teachers will have to work around the problems of poverty, poor parenting, hunger, homelessness and the environment.

The environment? Yep.
But one compelling thesis stands out, as bizarre as it may appear. It has to do with lead. Kevin Drum has been harping on this point for a while now, and the evidence is very compelling. The Washington Post had a great story on the connection between violent crime and lead levels in 2007:

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

Through much of the 20th century, lead in U.S. paint and gasoline fumes poisoned toddlers as they put contaminated hands in their mouths. The consequences on crime, Nevin found, occurred when poisoning victims became adolescents. Nevin does not say that lead is the only factor behind crime, but he says it is the biggest factor.
There are so many factors that contribute to the highly complex human activity of learning; this is but one of many. And, like most of them, it is entirely out of the control of a teacher.

Is that an excuse to accept mediocre teachers? Of course not. But it ought to shut up those who continue to harp on "bad" teachers as the primary cause of our society's ills. There's far more at work in our world than teachers unions.


Anonymous said...

ROFL....well, maybe that explains all the crazy lead-soaked teachers backing insane NJEA policies. Of course, there is no reason why the allegedly lead poisoned psychopaths would be less susceptible to be weeded out in a voucher system lottery, either.

So, Jazzman, if the NJEA has all these righteous excuses, why do they suddenly, after decades of denial, have all these bills out there for tenure reform, teacher evaluations, merit pay, etc?

Anonymous said...

Mother Jones? Really? That's your source? Do you expect no one ever follows your links?

At any rate, this poverty/crumbling buildings/lead thing excuse is getting old. The bottom line is, the system and the people there in those inner cities are NOT getting it done. Time for change, hard, serious, real change, and the adults benefiting from the status quo have to be largely removed from the decisionmaking because they have shown their bias.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, those buildings ARE getting old.
Look, such a thing is easily proven--the lead is either there or it's not.

Anon (above) why not visit a troubled school? Then you ask yourself if you'd like your kid to work under such conditions. Or if you would like to work there . . .

I hope I'm wrong, but my guess is that your main concern is money (your own) and safety (your own) -- not improving lives (of others).

You can lead a horse to water . . . but a pencil must be lead.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come one, on the NJEA timeline, crumbling buildings are soooo 2004. We spend a billion dollars to give them palaces, remember? Then it was teacher pay....Jazzman, how about a little research to tell us what percentile Abbott district teachers are paid at on the national average now? 94? 98? For what results?

Throwing money at a system with unmeasured, unmotivated employees clearly doesn't work (shock!)

The NJEA has run out of excuses for the failure of the current "system" in the inner cities. Now it is "poverty". That makes it nice and unaddressable. Time for change -- even they admit is through all their new tenure, merit pay and teacher evaluation bills. Greedy teachers like Jazzman stand alone now, as they should.

Anonymous said...


czarejs said...

@anon #1......Michelle R. Is that you?

Anonymous said...

Note to the ignorant troll: the NJEA does not introduce bills to the state legislature. The NJEA is not a governmental body, it's not all powerful, it does not possess its own army, navy, air force or swat team. The NJEA may make proposals and suggestions, it does not make bills. That would be the job of state legislators.

Anonymous said...

Trolls, what did you do before someone told you there were problems in public schools?

It's good to have a purpose--and a scapegoat, eh? And what joy easy answers bring to the lazy mind.

Now, I will get back to counting my money . . .
Ok, I'm done.

Who said "greed is good"? Was that in one of those hero teacher movies?

Duke said...

Well, the trolls are restless and are looking to move to homes other than nj.com.

That's fine; keep my sitemeter spinning. Just don't expect to be taken seriously when you talk about "greedy teachers" or "failed schools."

If you care to argue with the many scholars I cite here - like Bruce Baker when you talk about "greedy teachers" or Howard Waimer when you mention "failed schools" -you are welcome to embarrass yourself.

Have fun foaming at the mouth during the SOTU.

Anonymous said...

The NJEA's mag this summer had -- suddenly -- a whole of new reform bills they had strategically cobbled together. And their paid lackeys turned them into either bills or negotiating points.

Again...why the sudden compromising on things like teacher merit pay and tenure reform when they had steadfastly held for years there was no reason for change?

Anonymous said...

Because, anon troll, if it becomes clear that something will be done in your field of expertise with or without you, it behooves you as an expert to make sure it is done WITH you and not TO you.