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A Musical Fix for American Schools – Wall Street Journal Article

October 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Our sons were raised with music, violin lessons at age 5 for one and piano lessons at age 6.5 for the other. This topic occupies a Chapter in my book. Music is lyrical, mathematical, calming, mind elevating, and essential to human life. Look around you at the ones who have no music in their lives and then read this Wall Street Journal article, which proves my theory of preschool brain development that I championed so long ago in the lives of our sons.

“American education is in perpetual crisis. Our students are falling ever farther behind their peers in the rest of the world. Learning disabilities have reached epidemic proportions, affecting as many as one in five of our children. Illiteracy costs American businesses $80 billion a year.

Many solutions have been tried, but few have succeeded. So I propose a different approach: music training. A growing body of evidence suggests that music could trump many of the much more expensive “fixes” that we have thrown at the education system.

Plenty of outstanding achievers have attributed at least some of their success to music study. Stanford University’s Thomas Sudhof, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine last year, gave credit to his bassoon teacher. Albert Einstein, who began playing the violin at age 6, said his discovery of the theory of relativity was “the result of musical perception.”

Until recently, though, it has been a chicken-and-egg question: Are smart, ambitious people naturally attracted to music? Or does music make them smart and ambitious? And do musically trained students fare better academically because they tend to come from more affluent, better educated families?

New research provides some intriguing answers. Music is no cure-all, nor is it likely to turn your child into a Nobel Prize winner. But there is compelling evidence that it can boost children’s academic performance and help fix some of our schools’ most intractable problems.

Music raises your IQ.

E. Glenn Schellenberg, a University of Toronto psychology professor, was skeptical about claims that music makes you smarter when he devised a 2004 study to assess its impact on IQ scores. He randomly assigned 132 first-graders to keyboard, singing or drama lessons, or no lessons at all. He figured that at the end of the school year, both music and drama students would show bumps in IQ scores, just because of “that experience of getting them out of the house.” But something unexpected happened. The IQ scores of the music students increased more than those of the other groups.

Another Canadian study, this one of 48 preschoolers and published in 2011, found that verbal IQ increased after only 20 days of music training. In fact, the increase was five times that of a control group of preschoolers, who were given visual art lessons, says lead researcher Sylvain Moreno, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He found that music training enhanced the children’s “executive function”—that is, their brains’ ability to plan, organize, strategize and solve problems. And he found the effect in 90% of the children, an unusually high rate.

Instruction in music literally expanded students’ brains. Denver Post/Getty Images

Music training can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor districts.

The Harmony Project in Los Angeles gives free instrument lessons to children in impoverished neighborhoods. Margaret Martin, who founded the program in 2001, noticed that the program’s students not only did better in school but also were more likely to graduate and to attend college.

To understand why, Northwestern University neurobiologist Nina Kraus spent two years tracking 44 6-to-9-year-olds in the program and then measured their brain activity. She found a significant increase in the music students’ ability to process sounds, which is key to language, reading and focus in the classroom. Academic results bore that out: While the music students’ reading scores held steady, scores for a control group that didn’t receive lessons declined.

Prof. Kraus found similar results in a 2013 study published in Frontiers in Educational Psychology of 43 high-school students from impoverished neighborhoods in Chicago. Students randomly assigned to band or choir lessons showed significant increases in their ability to process sounds, while those in a control group, who were enrolled in a junior ROTC program, didn’t. “A musician has to make sense of a complicated soundscape,” Prof. Kraus says, which translates into an ability to understand language and to focus, for example, on what a teacher is saying in a noisy classroom.

Music training does more than sports, theater or dance to improve key academic skills.

Last year, the German Institute for Economic Research compared music training with sports, theater and dance in a study of 17-year-olds. The research, based on a survey of more than 3,000 teens, found that those who had taken music lessons outside school scored significantly higher in terms of cognitive skills, had better grades and were more conscientious and ambitious than their peers. The impact of music was more than twice that of the other activities—and held true regardless of the students’ socioeconomic background.

To be sure, the other activities also had benefits. Kids in sports also showed increased ambition, while those in theater and dance expressed more optimism. But when it came to core academic skills, the study’s authors found, the impact of music training was much stronger.

A clarinet group from the Harmony Project in L.A. The Harmony Project

Music can be an inexpensive early screening tool for reading disabilities.

Brazilian music teacher Paulo Estevao Andrade noticed that his second-grade students who struggled with rhythm and pitch often went on to have reading problems. So he invented a “game” in which he played a series of chords on a guitar and asked his students to write symbols representing high and low notes. Those who performed poorly on the exercise, he found, typically developed severe reading problems down the line.

Intrigued, he joined with Nadine Gaab, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, to follow 43 students over three years, and they found that the test predicted general learning disabilities as well. Why? Mr. Andrade notes that the brain processes used in the music test—such as auditory sequencing abilities, necessary to hear syllables, words and sentences in order—are the same as those needed to learn to read. Prof. Gaab says the test, which is simple and inexpensive to administer, has great potential as a tool for early intervention.

Music literally expands your brain.

In a 2009 study in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers used an MRI to study the brains of 31 6-year-old children, before and after they took lessons on musical instrument for 15 months. They found that the music students’ brains grew larger in the areas that control fine motor skills and hearing—and that students’ abilities in both those areas also improved. The corpus callosum, which connects the left and right sides of the brain, grew as well.

Ellen Winner, a Boston College psychology professor and co-author of the study, notes that the study doesn’t show a rise in cognitive abilities. But she argues that music shouldn’t have to justify itself as an academic booster. “If we are going to look for effects outside of music, I would look at things like persistence and discipline, because this is what’s required to play an instrument,” she says.

Yet music programs continue to be viewed as expendable. A 2011 analysis in the Journal of Economic Finance calculated that a K-12 school music program in a large suburban district cost $187 per student a year, or just 1.6% of the total education budget. That seems a reasonable price to pay for fixing some of the thorniest and most expensive problems facing American education. Music programs shouldn’t have to sing for their supper.

Ms. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of “Strings Attached,” published last month in paperback by Hachette Books. She is a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and former editor in chief of Condé Nast Portfolio.

Education = Economic Opportunity = Freedom

January 22, 2014 2 comments

The number one factor in economic opportunity is Education. There is no opportunity out of poverty without education. According to Janet Yellen, our new Fed Chairwoman, there is a 12% unemployment rate. According to a prominent Wall Street adviser, David John Marotta, the actual unemployment rate of those not working is actually 37.2%. He defines unemployment in its truest sense as those who want to work but do not have a job.

If you are uneducated what are your opportunities? For the uneducated your opportunities are part time, minimum wage work or government subsidy programs for as long as they last. Automation and out sourcing are making US companies more profitable at the expense of US employment. Jobs are decreasing for the uneducated. Government regulations and Obamacare, which punishes large US companies for each full-time employee and offers strong incentives for small companies to stay below 50 employees, are actually decreasing job opportunities for the uneducated. The future is automation and this requires skills and education. When jobs become available the educated will be hired first. The uneducated will be left behind in poverty.

We have entered a time where the only growth sector in our economy is poverty. It is the poor who pay more for car loans. They buy low quality, high cost food in neighborhoods that have only one corner store and no competition. They cannot maintain the required minimum amounts in a bank account and are forced to resort to check cashing stores where interest rates are high. A  lack of capital makes it difficult for the poor to make security deposits on apartments. Those who are able to rent or buy a home often furnish their dwellings with Rent-To-Own which charges high interest rates. The poor, especially the uneducated poor, pay more for everything they buy and most of what they buy is of poor quality. These circumstances keep the uneducated in poverty and dependent. They never experience the feeling of freedom to know and to grow.

There exists a huge gulf between salaried employees and hourly employees. Any time taken by an hourly employee to see a doctor, apply for benefits, or do the many things that contribute to their health and security is time taken away from their earnings. The uneducated employee is unlikely to advance without the skills that an education provides for them to rise out of poverty.

Perhaps the most debilitating factor for the uneducated is the lack of broadband experience in poverty households. The biggest disadvantage of this fundamental necessity is that much of education is done online, even in public schools, i.e. homework, teacher/student exchanges, course outlines, assignment notes, etc. Further, broadband access and social networks enable those who have it to exchange vital information. The power of these networks is lost to those who need it the most and without this access it is unlikely that the uneducated will rise above their dependence and poverty.

There is no valid argument or excuse for any child not to be educated in a country where it is free and available. It is the responsibility of every parent to insure the success of their children in a world that is increasingly complex, automated, and highly competitive. It is chilling to doom an innocent child to deprivation, ignorance, and dominance by others. The uneducated are tomorrow’s slaves today.

  “He who opens a school door closes a prison.”

Victor Hugo

American Education on the Decline – so Goes the Nation

January 20, 2014 1 comment

Parents make the rules and set the boundaries for their children. They set them up for success or failure.

All children are required to attend school in the USA. Our schools are the recipients of the children who these parents raise. They enter our classrooms either prepared to Launch into the Future or Dead on Arrival. I could go on about the teachers and their unions; the ways in which they block innovation and change, the ways in which they game the system for their benefit with the children left in their care losing ground internationally. But this is a rehashing of the obvious. What is important to know is that the American public educational system is now ranked 37 in the PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment). More than half a million 15-year-olds around the world took the PISA in 2012. The test, which is administered every three years and focuses largely on math, but includes minor sections in science and reading, is often used as a snapshot of the global state of education. The results, published in December, 2013, show the U.S. trailing behind educational powerhouses like Korea and Finland.

It is useless to ask, “Who is to blame?” All are to blame; Parents for their irresponsible parenting and inability to have a vision for their children who are undisciplined and chaotic; Teachers for their unique capacity to remain mediocre in times that demand innovative change and diversity of thought; Unions who force every American teacher to pay dues to an organization that enslaves their members to an ethic of unexceptional performance; and Politicians who squander the promise of the youth of this nation as they waste time and opportunities to transform and revolutionize our educational practices in America. ALL are to blame.

Not much has changed since 2000, when the U.S. scored along the OECD (Organization for Co-operation and Development) average in every subject: This year, the U.S. scores below average in math and ranks 17th among the 34 OECD countries. It scores close to the OECD average in science and reading, ranks 21st in science, and 17th in reading. The U.S. scored below the PISA math mean and ranks 26th out of the 34 OECD countries. Fifty-five percent of students in Shanghai-China were considered top performers, while only nine percent of American students were.

One in four U.S. students did not reach the PISA baseline level 2 of mathematics proficiency. At this level, “students begin to demonstrate the skills that will enable them to participate effectively and productively in life,” according to the PISA report. Even the top students in the United States are behind: This year, the PISA report offered regional scores for Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida. Massachusetts, which is a high-achieving U.S. state and which averaged above the national PISA score, is still two years of formal schooling behind Shanghai.

Why is this important and why should we pay attention to this? Because, as parents, educators, and politicians we should be extremely concerned about how well our children are learning and retaining knowledge; how well they transfer their  knowledge to their life experiences; and how well they implement their dreams and visions using their knowledge. It is statistical fact that a rising PISA score for a country is a good indicator that the economy of that country will grow as well.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela

Education; It’s time for a new school model – STEM

September 22, 2011 2 comments

We have discussed in this blog many of the problems attached with education as they presently exist. Sadly, I have fallen into the trap of emphasizing the problems we already know; decrepit schools, unqualified teachers, teacher unions, bad parenting, useless teaching methods, parents sending unprepared children to school, wasted resources, corruption, etc.

Now, I am climbing out of the negative trap that I and so many fall into and will be writing about ideas, innovations, digital education, creative lateral thinking, new philosophies and techniques for helping children learn more and overcome their home deficiencies and parental neglect. It is my hope to change the dialogue to one of hope instead of despair. Let’s begin with a few important studies that inform and educate us regarding future trends and possibilities.

1. STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In 2006, the United States National Academies expressed their concern about the declining state of STEM education in the United States. Its Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy developed a list of 10 actions federal policy makers could take to advance STEM education in the United States to compete successfully in the 21st century. Their top three recommendations were to:

·    increase America’s talent pool by improving K-12 science and mathematics education;
·    strengthen the skills of teachers through additional training in science, math and technology;
·    enlarge the pipeline of students prepared to enter college and graduate with STEM degrees.

2. The Department of Labor identifies fourteen sectors that are “projected to add substantial numbers of new jobs to the economy, or affect the growth of other industries, or are being transformed by technology and innovation requiring new sets of skills for workers.” These are: Advanced Manufacturing, Automotive, Construction, Financial Service, Geospatial Technology, Homeland Security, Information Technology, Transportation, Aerospace, Biotechnology, Energy, Healthcare, Hospitality, and Retail.

3. A study on Education and the Workforce submitted in August, 2011 by the Georgetown University Center confirms what teachers, parents, and public and private sector leaders have known for years: A post-secondary education is now the gateway to the middle class. The Georgetown study indicates that the lifetime earnings for people with bachelor’s degrees are 84% greater than those with only a high school diploma — whose lifetime earnings translate to just over $15/hour.

4. According to the Milken Institute Review, which everyone should read for its articulate presentation of the facts,  “In 1969, the average male college graduate working full time earned about 55% more than an average worker with only a high school diploma. Four decades later, this wage premium was 116%. Powerful economic forces, including technological change and globalization, have reduced job opportunities for less educated, less-skilled workers while increasing them for higher-skilled workers.”

5. The single most important trend in the world today is that globalization and the information/technology revolution have catapulted us into a whole new level of worker skills. We have cloud computing, wireless connectivity, Skype, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and inexpensive Smartphones. We have gone from connected to hyper connected. The last I heard there were 3 million job openings with no one to fill them because our general population lack the skills to apply.

6. Thomas Friedman, New York Times, said, “We don’t have a jobs problem; we have a skills problem.” He goes on to write, “Think of what The Times reported last February: At little Grinnell College in rural Iowa, with 1,600 students, ‘nearly one of every 10 applicants being considered for the class of 2015 is from China.’ ” The article noted that dozens of other American colleges and universities are seeing a similar surge as well. And the article added this fact: Half the “applicants from China this year have perfect scores of 800 on the math portion of the SAT.”

We already know that many parents of the students who are failing and dropping out are not motivated or committed to performing their important parenting skills. Their children are unlikely to succeed in this competitive climate if they live in a home where parents are uninvolved. Since this abysmal parenting problem is unlikely to change, I find it is more positive to focus on the teachers. They are the ones who are expected to teach skills in order to prepare their students, the ones who care, for the competitive future.

It is unfortunate that teachers have to spend time teaching character, values and disciplining students who come from homes where these attributes are nonexistent. It wastes their valuable teaching time with students who have a future. How many students who want to learn and succeed are stuck in classes with peers whose main goal is to disrupt and distract because they lack the discipline and intellectual ability to focus and learn? Enough said, let me focus on teachers, our valuable, hardworking teachers, at least most of them.

How do we change the systems/curriculum in our schools so this present generation of children is able to successfully compete in a one world labor market that is connected by the internet and World Wide Web? How does our educational system provide the skill sets needed for motivated children to succeed and fulfill their aspirations?

Computers are the language of our students; this is how they communicate with each other and their parents. I was at my son’s BBQ over the Labor Day weekend and spoke to some of his friends. I asked them how they communicate with each other and their families. They replied they Twitter or Facebook for quick notes and email to get longer messages to their friends. They Skype with their parents and extended families. They don’t know what a postage stamp is and they don’t write letters. This generation is more computer savvy than their teachers, parents, and anyone who is a generation behind them. They are involved in everything and disdain the obsolete, like the Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s Google folks; it’s Wikipedia; it’s the internet!

For starters, I suggest we think about the following ideas for teachers:

·    We offer computer skill seminars to all existing teachers before each school year begins, some will be refresher courses and some will be starter courses. We teach them not only to become proficient in operating their computers and computer software, but we also teach them the skills in how to join in the conversation and operate the latest technological innovations and communications; Twitter, Facebook, Cloud Computing, Skype, Google and all of its components (Gmail, Ngram, Google Docs, etc.), LinkedIn, to name a few.
·    Have each school create their own email system so professional communication can be stored for future reference and information gathering. Teachers should not use their personal email accounts.
·    We include in our university education curriculum’s courses or laboratories for new teachers that emphasize computer skills and all of the latest online technology and methods of communication. They must be proficient in order to graduate.
·    We gift each teacher their own computer. We give each teacher a free laptop like federal and state governments give cell phones and laptops to many of their public employees. The taxpayer bears the cost for these perks for government employees why shouldn’t they do this for teachers, who impact every child in our country?
·    We require teachers to communicate with their students in online conferencing tutorials, like many corporations do with online conferencing when they brainstorm for solutions to corporate problems. Think of this, teachers and groups of students working out problems online, collaborating as a team for the success of all.
·    There is a program at New Humanitarian private school in Russia called “Curators”. These are designated teachers whose job it is to oversee students in each grade. Curators generally do not conduct lessons but observe classes, identify problems and take children to meals and activities. Many children stay at school until 6 p.m. doing homework with curators.
·    Every teacher should study and teach courses in “thinking,” as in critical thinking. A dissident Soviet educational philosopher named Georgy Shchedrovitsky argues there are three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you have to use all three. Teachers should be “thinking” in their classrooms. They should delight in barraging children with word problems and puzzles to force them to think broadly. To do this they must think broadly!
·    Classes should be videotaped. This way we could critique how teachers interact with and nurture relations between children. The administrators and staff could work on reviewing footage and discussing methodology with teachers in order to improve their teaching skills and student interaction.
·    At New Humanitarian children are graded and ranked, with results posted. The school master says, “they send an entirely different message to the kids: ‘Learning is hard, but you have to do it. You have to get good grades.’ ” In our school systems we instill an ethos that everyone’s-a-winner. This is destructive and dishonest. A child needs to know when they are not a winner. They need to know they are being left behind.

Educational reform is the only real source for the revitalization of our country.

TED – Ideas Worth Spreading, Deb Roy

August 7, 2011 Leave a comment

“Imagine if you could record your life, everything you said, everything you did, available in a perfect memory store at your finger tips so you could go back and find memorable moments and relive them or sift through traces of time and discover patterns in your own life that previously had gone undiscovered.” 

This is what Deb Roy did at the birth of his son, whose every moment was recorded from birth to present day. He is the Founder and CEO of Bluefin Labs, an MIT spinoff. This is Deb Roy’s TED talk March, 2011.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference in Long Beach and Palm Springs each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.

This has to be shared with my audience. It is truly one of the most remarkable video moments I have had. It takes about 20 minutes to watch but it is riveting.

Enjoy this amazing father and his amazing family. Hang in there the end is POWERFUL!

Deb Roy studies how children learn language, and designs machines that learn to communicate in human-like ways. On sabbatical from MIT Media Lab, he’s working with the AI company Bluefin Labs.

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