New York Times Reports on Duncan’s Retreat from Test-Based Evaluations of Teachers

Diane Ravitch's blog

In the New York Times, Motoko Rich reported Arne Duncan’s scathing criticism of Arne Duncan’s policy of test-based evaluation for teachers. The story shows that Duncan dreamed up this policy, that he promoted it in Race to the Top, and in the waivers he offered states to avoid the onerous conditions of No Child Left Behind. Rich points out that Duncan borrowed the rhetoric of his most scathing critics in offering states a delay. The story includes an excellent quote from Anthony Cody, recommending that the federal government butt out and leave decisions about teacher evaluation to states and districts.

Kevin Huffman said that Tennessee will continue with Duncan’s policy, even though Duncan has denounced it. “In Vermont, by contrast, the state board of education recently adopted a resolution saying formulas based on test scores would not be included in teacher evaluations.”

It is a good story about the politics…

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The Anaconda Shakes It Off

Good read

Nicholas Payton

taylor-swift-shake-it-off-music-video-051

In the wake of the events in Ferguson, two videos got released by a couple of females in the business: Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” and Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” I don’t believe in coincidences. Whether conscious or not, everything is connected. The imagery in these videos speak to a mounting racial tension that has been getting a lot of media attention lately.

I thought she was classin’ it up, but naw, she assin’ it up.

Post the shooting of Michael Brown, the conversation has been conveniently diverted from one of yet another murdered unarmed Black person by the police, to the profiling and criminalization of the victim and their community. We’ve seen this same script play out many times with some of the same actors. It’s the same narrative: the respectability politics surrounding what Black people must do in order to not be shot in the streets. And we see…

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TED TALK: Hip-hop, creativity and the brain: Q&A with Dr. Charles Limb

In his TEDTalk (watch now), Charles Limb reviews his groundbreaking work studying creativity and the brain — by putting musicians inside an fMRI and watching as they improvise. For the past decade, he’s been working with jazz piano players, revealing astonishing new data about the way the brain creates art. And his research has recently branched into a new genre: hip-hop. He spoke to the TED Blog about his new study, and about his day job …

How did you decide to study hip-hop?

It kind of happened very naturally. I’m not somebody who’s listened to a ton of hip-hop; I was much more of a jazz guy, and I listened to a lot of classical music. But I work in Baltimore, grew up around New York and went to medical school in New Haven, and I always did feel that hip-hop is very much a street music, from the people, a grassroots kind of music exactly the same as jazz once was, a kind of iconoclastic music. In some ways, rap has replaced or assumed a lot of the same sociological functions to urban youth. There are a lot of interesting musical parallels between hip-hop and jazz: the rhythmic emphasis, the improvisation, the fact that the musicians are often formally untrained yet they’re incredible. The more I started thinking about jazz and the brain, rap seemed like a natural transition.

There’s never been a scientific study of hip-hop ever. It’s not the kind of topic that I can glean much from other studies or the existing scientific literature.

And I have to tell you, I’ve been having a ton of fun with this study, just experientially. When we were making our beats and our stimuli, trying to design the study, there’s no way to do this study without trying to rap yourself. It really transforms the lab!

Do you see a significant difference in brains between wordless music like jazz and music with words?

Well, I have to be careful, because we’re not done with the study yet. We’re still trying to recruit more rappers …

How are you recruiting rappers for the new study?

I have been slowly infiltrating the Baltimore hip-hop scene. There’s a well-known beatboxer named Shodekeh — he’s performed with the Baltimore Symphony — he and I got to know each other at a symposium at the Visionary Art Museum and we got to talking. I actually told him, “I’m thinking of doing a laryngeal study of beatboxing.” He connected me to one rapper, and just through word-of-mouth, I’ve been getting slowly connected with the scene. I’ve talked now with about 12 professional freestyle rappers, and we’ve studied about half of them.

Given the image Johns Hopkins has as this conservative medical establishment, in an inner city but not of it — the idea that there’s a lab that wants to study hip-hop, I think there’s something appealing to the community.

And I have to tell you how appreciative the musicians are. They really have a vested interest in seeing this research succeed. Because they have thought all along that what they’re doing is important. And they themselves have wondered all along: “Wow, how am I doing this?” They enter an altered state. And what they’re generating off the cuff is just remarkable. They are fascinated by understanding how they do what they do.

Actually, A Class said an interesting thing to me. We were finishing a study, and I asked him in a post-study interview, “Is there any last thing you want to say?” And he turned real serious and he said, “Hip-hop has a bad reputation. Just give us a chance. We’re really good people and we have a lot to say.”

As for other subjects, I would love it if we could get some really well-known freestyle rappers. If Eminem wants to be part of this study, I’d fly him over!

Why do you think your studies have captivated people they way they have?

Previously, there wasn’t a methodology for a study like this. Functional brain imaging is relatively new. When I started my first jazz study, the one in 2003, there was not a single other study I could compare with at the time, there was nothing. It’s one of those topics that will continue to develop.

Although I didn’t get the chance to discuss this during the TEDx talk, functional MRI is only one tool that we can use to study the brain, and like any other method, it has its advantages and disadvantages. By no means do I think that fMRI will reveal everything there is to know about how creativity takes place in the brain, but it is on the other hand a great place to start.

When I did my first jazz study, I really just did it for myself. I just wanted to know. I wasn’t trying to be a scientific innovator, I wasn’t really trying to make a point. It didn’t really matter to me what people thought of the results. So when it was published and the study received a startling amount of attention — I realized that more people wanted to know what I wanted to know. The topic of this research cuts across a wide range of fields, which is unusual for science.

It’s also important to emphasize that the lab and improvisation are not natural bedfellows, and that it’s hard to study music in a way that musicians find comfortable and realistic. In the end, I’m trying to perform modest scientific experiments on a big topic, rather than coax out artistic masterpieces from the researchers, although I’d love to study that one day as well! As a lifelong musician, I’m fully aware of all of the ideas, training, time, effort, and concentration that goes into a genuine creative act, and I try to be very careful and respectful of the arts in the science that I do. I hope this is something that artists will realize, because I think it’s important and difficult. This work is extremely easy to criticize, yet I think that some of the critics may miss this very basic premise on which I’m basing all of my work.

One of the biggest problems is that this type of research is difficult to fund. It’s not the kind of area that a lot of scientists are exploring. By nature, scientists are often less forward-thinking than artists — it’s a conservative field. And in this current funding climate, it’s not going to be easy to get funding to study creativity. It’s not disease-based. And obviously every time you’re funding something, you’re not funding something else. So there’s not a lot of support for this kind of research.

The idea that there is a “crisis in creativity” is in vogue right now, in conversations throughout the country about the failures of education in America. I suspect that what will happen is, a small group of researchers will take on these challenges from a wide range of disciplines. Many of the scientists that study these topics are really part-artist, internally. On one level, I personally care more about music than about science. I view it from the same lens as an artist would. And I think this is why my research may resonate with people. They see some artistic truth in it.

How has this project deepened your own enjoyment of music — or do you go home at night going, I am never going to listen to piano jazz ever again?

No, no, never. It’s funny you should ask, actually — we write our own music in the lab when we do a jazz study, so that the piece is nothing the subjects have heard before, and there are no previous associations. When we’re writing the piece to be memorized, I know that we (in the lab) are going to hear the piece literally hundreds of times. So I tell the lab members that whatever you write, make sure you can listen to it ad nauseam, over and over. And we actually have written some things that are catchy! In fact, I think that one of the jazz musicians played a research melody at one of his gigs. It kind of stuck in his head.

There are people who think art is going to be threatened by this type of analysis, but — no way. There’s so much complexity in music. And when I listen to music, I still listen like a musician. I can get cerebral, take a more analytical approach to music, but the emotional impact or significance of music — my enjoyment of it has in no way changed. In fact, it has grown. Like every subject, you fall in love with it the more deeply you study it.

But the first time I told my wife, I’m going to study jazz using functional brain imaging, she said, “You’re going to do what?” Of all the impractical things that you could do for your career. I trained my whole life to become a surgeon …

Your surgery career has some interesting, kind of poetic crossover with this work.

I’m an auditory surgeon, and I specialize in a surgery called cochlear implantation. I also treat all disorders of the ear, from chronic infections to cancer of the temporal bone. Cochlear implantation is a way to help deaf people hear again, and I study how people who are deaf and receive cochlear implants hear music. The summary is that they hear it really poorly. Pitch perception is horrible, timbre perception is horrible. We’re trying to understand why music perception is so poor and figure out how to make it better.

I’ve been really lucky. I’m studying something I’m fully obsessed with on a personal level. When I go to the lab, I literally cannot imagine anything I’d rather study than music. It’s exactly where I want to be. I’m thinking about the things I would think about on vacation. I know I am extremely lucky. And I don’t take it for granted.

UPDATE: We caught up with Charles Limb at TEDMED 2011 and asked him for an update on all his projects … and his top 5 songs of all time >>

Part I: The Rise of Capitalism and The Fall of Culture

Well said

Nicholas Payton

horus_hieroglyphs

There is no such thing as racial equality, because race is a false construct designed for the specific purposes of ensuring inequality. And though the concept of race may be false, the consequences are very real. It is because of race that we’re always plagued with concepts of superiority and inferiority. Culture has a natural respect for other culture. The powers that be don’t want us to exist on a cultural plane because no one can dominate there. Culture is fluid, expressive, artistic, and most of all, human.

When Christopher Columbus introduced capitalism to the New World, it signified a shift in world thought. The age-old defense for racism is that people were enslaved before European colonialism, but it was a different type of slavery. It wasn’t the brand of chattel slavery that was introduced around the middle of the 15th century. The mass genocide of ancient peoples of indigenous…

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Do You Want to Join “Lace to the Top”?

Diane Ravitch's blog

There is a secret society that was created by a couple of dads who are teachers on Long Island. They were worried about all the testing and the way that schools were misusing the test results to label kids.

These dads wanted to protect their children–their own and the ones they teach and even the ones they don’t teach–from practices that they knew were harmful.

But what to do?

First they dressed up in funny costumes, but that didn’t get them far.

Eventually they settled on the idea of green laces, either shoelaces or wristbands.

They called their group “Lace to the Top,” to symbolize kindness and concern for children, as opposed to the aggressive competition encouraged by Race to the Top.

If you watch their video, you might catch a glimpse on me being interviewed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. I was wearing a green…

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Justice for Michael Brown

Diane Ravitch's blog

There have been far too many killings of unarmed young black men. The nation expressed shock when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin in Florida. The nation should be even more outraged when young men like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, are killed by the police. The U.S. Justice Department should set standards for the training of police officers so that the use of firearms is a last resort or a very rare occurrence. The police should be the protectors of the community, the keepers of the peace, not an armed force to be feared by young men of color.

It is time for Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States, to take the lead in not only demanding an end to the use of deadly force against young people but in setting national standards for police conduct and prosecuting police forces that terrorize people of color.

Here…

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