Its a long time since the first installment, I know. At least I’m not embarrassed by having to post recommend another David Cohen book straightaway — that can wait till the third installment.

This recommendation is Tony Wagner’s book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need–and What We Can Do About It The reason I read Wagner’s book has nothing to do with what I found so valuable about it. I was preparing a talk for teachers at a local high school on educational equity, and I knew that one of the teachers was obsessed with the “achievement gap” between American and foreign students, so wanted to learn more about it. And, indeed, Wagner is very clear about the kinds of things that our schools (and colleges) could be doing better for even our most advantaged students — in particular failing to create opportunities for higher order cognition, and structuring their learning to produce the traits and skills that will serve them well in a global economy. He includes a nice, and in my experience quite accurate, critique of the AP History exams (I don’t think my colleagues in English all agree with me, but AP English seems much better at eliciting the kind of curriculum in which students learn things that are valuable).

What grabbed me was none of that, but his description of the Change Leadership Group that he runs at Harvard.

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When the Weird Turn Pro

by Henry Farrell on June 8, 2010

Laura McKenna has an interesting claim and “data point”:—mckenna.pdf (PDF).

bq. However, the move from independent bloggers to paid staff members of important newspapers and interest groups had an impact on the old system of blogging. Perhaps because these newly professional bloggers felt pressured to distance themselves from their amateur roots, they stopped linking to independent bloggers. They were more likely to link to academic studies, foundation reports, newspaper articles, or live-blogged events.

bq. Matthew Yglesias is one of the superstar bloggers who went pro. … His new professional status has had an impact on his linkage patterns. In the last week of September of 2004, Yglesias wrote 30 posts with 31 hyperlinks on his independent blog. Fifteen of those links were to independent blogs, and the remaining sixteen links were to newspapers, websites, journals, or think tank studies. In the last week of September of 2009, he wrote 66 posts with 131 hyperlinks for his blog at the Center for American Progress. Only seven of 131 hyperlinks were to independent bloggers. The remaining 122 links primarily pointed readers to everything else, but primarily traditional newspapers and journals. Yglesias is writing a lot more, but referring to independent bloggers a lot less.

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The US Welfare State in Comparison

by Henry Farrell on June 8, 2010

Price Fishback’s paper suggesting that the US welfare state is bigger than Sweden’s and Denmark’s got a “lot”: “of”: “attention”: a few weeks back on the right side of the blogosphere. Since I outsource most of my thinking on statistical comparisons of the welfare state to Lane Kenworthy, I’ve been waiting for him to assess the argument. He “finally has”:

bq. This looks like good news for the poor in the United States. Is it? Unfortunately, no. These adjustments change the story with respect to the aggregate quantity of resources spent on social protection in the three countries, but they have limited bearing on redistribution and on the living standards of the poor. … Begin with tax breaks. … . In the United States these disproportionately go to the affluent and the middle class. … Public transfer programs in Denmark and Sweden tend to be “universal” in design … To make them more affordable, the government claws back some of the benefit by taxing it as though it were regular income. All countries do this, including the United States, but the Nordic countries do it more extensively. So how well-off are the poor in the United States, with its “hidden welfare state,” compared to social-democratic Denmark and Sweden? One measure is average posttransfer-posttax (“disposable”) income among households in the bottom decile of the income distribution. Here are my calculations using the best available comparative data, from the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS). (The numbers are adjusted for household size. They refer to a household with a single adult. For a family of four, multiply by two.)

bq. Government services — medical care, child care, housing, transportation, and so on — reduce material hardship directly. They also free up income to be spent on other needs. The comparative data, though by no means perfect, are consistent with the hypothesis that public services help the poor more in the Nordic countries than in the United States.

bq. Helping the poor is not, of course, the only thing we want from social spending. But it surely is one thing.

Just war theory

by Chris Bertram on June 8, 2010

Alan Dershowitz never disappoints, does he?

bq. It is a close question whether “civilians” who agree to participate in the breaking of a military blockade have become combatants. They are certainly something different from pure innocents, and perhaps they are also somewhat different from pure armed combatants.

I like that “perhaps”, as if it might turn out, after further legal cogitation by the professor, that torpedoing or bombing the convoy would be a legitimate act.