Quick Links – Public pensions don’t work so well; New York education reform report; Googling still might be making us stupid

by Grace

◊◊◊  How public pensions work

It’s not pretty:

Politicians around the country have demonstrated complete inability to manage pensions effectively. They promise big benefits, don’t tax voters enough to pay for them, and then invest the money in fly by night, risky Wall Street schemes (with big fees for their banking cronies and contributors) in the hopes that a few big wins and aggressive moves will cover the funding gap.

Those are Walter Russell Mead’s words, written upon learning that the New York City comptroller proposed “taking New York’s pension money and investing it in mortgages, loans, and infrastructure projects” to help in the recovery after Hurricane Sandy.  On the surface this might seem like a good idea.

But the temptations and pitfalls are huge. Let local politicians get the idea that pension funds are pots of money that can be invested in pet projects, and it won’t take long before bad things start to happen. The potential for conflict of interest is just too high for this to be a good idea.


◊◊◊  New York State – Governor Cuomo Education Reform Commission released its preliminary report this month.

The report has generated complaints that it includes big ideas with no specifics about funding.

The gubernatorial panel established to recommend a host of education reforms and priorities produced a series of ideas that Gov. Andrew Cuomo himself earlier today admitted would be a heavy lift.

The proposals announced by commission chairman Dick Parsons would expand pre-K and Kindergarten to a full day, lengthen the school year and create a so-called “bar exam” to ensure teacher competency.

Unless they first make fundamental reforms in curriculum and teaching, I would not want my kids to be captives of the public schools for any longer than the 180 days required today.

The report also recommends consolidating schools and districts to save money, an old idea that has repeatedly met strong resistance in many areas.  The idea of “making schools a hub for health care and social services” is a pipe dream given the aversion to raising taxes in the current economic environment.


◊◊◊  ‘Does Constant Googling Really Make You Stupid?’ [Excerpt] (Scientific American)

From Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck? by Robin Marantz Henig & Samantha Henig

Preliminary data suggest that all those tweets, status updates and other digital distractions may actually stave off cognitive decline

A small study of 24 older adults found that frequent Googling “appears to enhance brain circuitry”.  However, it seems a wild leap to conclude from this that it enhances “sophisticated thinking and higher-order cognition”.

… Google, it seems, might be doing something different to the brains of digital natives, creating a new set of neural connections and engaging young brains in an unprecedented way. With their brains thus wired, Millennials might be using the web as a vehicle for sophisticated thinking and higher-order cognition. And they might be even more mentally engaged while online than their elders are while reading a book.

I don’t doubt Googling and other digital activities that vie for our attention are changing our brain circuitry.  But there is scant evidence that today’s “continuous partial attention” is making us smarter.  The fact is we need focused attention and a broad base of knowledge before we can become critical thinkers.

Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge. Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

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3 Comments to “Quick Links – Public pensions don’t work so well; New York education reform report; Googling still might be making us stupid”

  1. That would be the silver lining in a longer school day!

  2. Sorry, Bonnie, all the longer school day would mean is more group projects in school—they’d still make the kids do all the dioramas and posters at home. There’d just be even less time for parents to actually teach the kids anything.

  3. Aw, this was a really nice post. Spending some time and actual effort to make a very good
    article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and don’t manage to get anything done.

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