Links: Finnish kids, computers in schools, bureaucrats, race, Playboy (?), and more!

* The Wall Street Journal ran “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? Finland’s teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why” (the article is accessible for subscribers only). Part of the answer may include a culture that values reading, but the article also says:

Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences [between the U.S. and Finland] firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn’t translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: ” ‘Nah. So what’d you do last night?'” she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely “glue this to the poster for an hour,” she says.

In other words, the numerous rules imposed by U.S. schools might not actually help educational attainment.

* High school evaluation news continues, with a paper from the Urban Institute saying that Teach For America teachers are more effective than the regular ones in the same schools.

* Years ago, there were a variety of federal and state programs designed to get computers into schools. We wrote countless proposals for just that purpose, though my experience in public schools was that computers were almost always poorly used at the time—they didn’t help me learn anything about reading, writing, or math, but they were great for Oregon trail. Now researchers have found that, based on a Romanian program in which households received vouchers for computers:

Children in household that won a voucher also report having lower school grades and lower educational aspirations. There is also suggestive evidence that winning a voucher
is associated with negative behavior outcomes.

(Hat tip Slate.com).

* A concrete example of the kind of citation that can help get programs funded. But I’m not moving to Needles if I can avoid it. Which moves us right into…

* Megan McArdle’s an excellent post on the topic of federal assistance to depressed rural areas. I’ve read elsewhere in The Atlantic that urban and rural areas are essentially subsidized by the suburbs through various forms of tax redistribution, which should be at least somewhat apparent to longtime newsletter subscribers who see the numerous grant programs targeted at rural and urban areas but virtually none targeting suburbs.

* McArdle is so good that I’m linking to her twice. Regarding bureaucrats, she says:

Having a ridiculous reaction to something is not the fault of the person who did it–even if that person is a terrorist attempting horrific acts. I don’t mind removing my shoes, particularly–indeed, my parents will testify that they had quite a problem teaching me to keep them on. I achieve minor renown in college for walking around Philadelphia barefoot all summer. But the act of moving in compliant herds through the TSA lines, mindlessly adhering to the most ridiculous procedures the government can think up, contributes to making us what Joseph Schumpeter called “state broken”. Citizens should not acquire the habit of following orders with no good reason behind them.

After flying entirely too often in the last few months, I’ve come to loathe the TSA bureaucrats and the herd mentality in airports. Similar principles are at work regarding FEMA and Grants.gov.

* In other news about incompetent bureaucracies, check out this from the Washington Post.

* Whether you want to take race into account in programs or not, you’re bound to be criticized. Get used to it.

* In the “Who knew?” category, Playboy has a foundation and is accepting applications from a “Noteworthy advocate for the First Amendment.” I’m guessing they’re not shooting for those upholding the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. A quick quiz: the First Amendment actually has six components—can you name them all? (Answers in the second link).

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