Archive/Current Events/2009-11-16

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Sugar Digest

1. Steve Levitt and Stephen Dubner are back in the news. Their new book, SuperFreakonomics is getting panned by the critics—the Boston Globe referred to it as Sloppynomics. I haven't read it yet, so I won't pass judgment. However, I found the first book in the series, Freakonmics, provocative but misguided. The chapter on nature vs. nurture was especially misleading. In it, the authors compared the academic performance—as measured by standardized tests—of children adopted into families with children born into the same families. Nature prevailed over nurture. Alas, there are any number of flaws and holes in their data analysis, but what was most damning was a throw-away comment at the end of the chapter: in life after school, there was no difference in performance between the two subject pools. So all they really demonstrated is that there is no correlation between standardized test scores and life skills. Given the penchant that we have for valuing that which we can measure instead of measuring that which we value, this would have been a provocative result, but not one picked up on by Levitt and Drucker.

What brought this to mind was that on the opposite page from the book review was an article advocating for the use of standardized test data to "measure the difference a teacher makes." Numerous studies "use a statistical analysis of standardized test results to measure the 'value added' that each teacher contributes each year." I am not opposed to trying to measure both student and teacher performance. If nothing else, it provides a forum for reflection, an important part of the learning process.

The Globe reports that the Obama administration is considering using "value-added" studies as a component of metrics for evaluating teachers and tying teacher pay to "what is happening in each classroom" as a central part of school reform. "Developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers" is a great goal. Let's just take care to measure the whole child and the whole teacher when we presume to measure effectiveness.

2. We had a Sugar Labs oversight board meeting last Friday in which we reached consensus on a more formal set of rules regarding quorum and voting by the board: we require a minimum quorum of four members present in order to initiate a vote and a majority of all members (four) for a passing vote. We will accept votes by email. We also established a mechanism for oversight-board members and community members to raise discussion topics. Community members should email any SLOBs member with a topic suggestion before the start of a board meeting. The meeting chair will triage discussion-topic requests. To increase the likelihood that your discussion topic "rises to the top" of the queue, please include:

  • a link to existing discussion thread(s) on public mailing list;
  • a brief summary of each option or alternative being proposed; and
  • a rationale for why this issue needs to escalate to the oversight board.

The meeting log and minutes are available in the wiki. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday, 6 November 2009 at 15:00 UTC (10:00 EST).

In the community

3. Christoph Derndorfer will be speaking about Sugar and OLPC at the 26th Chaos Communication Congress (26C3) in Berlin on 27–20 December. He would like to organize a meetup of European Sugar Labs / OLPC contributors and people who might be interested in working with us in the future.

4. We will be holding a Sugar Camp beginning next weekend in Bolzano at the TIS innovation center. We hope to make a lot of progress on 0.88 as well as build upon our various ties to the GNOME community, which also meeting in Bolzano.

Tech Talk

5. Thanks to the efforts of Josh Williams, Aleksey Lim, and David Farning, the new activities site went on-line over the weekend. The new look is clean and also in compliance with Mozilla copyright.

Sugar Labs

6. Gary Martin has generated a SOM from the past week of discussion on the IAEP mailing list (Please see SOM).