How DC Banned Leaf Blowers

KATI LACKER

For a long time I thought the problem was all in my head. When I was growing up, I knew that a certain kind of noise was one I needed to avoid. Food blenders in the kitchen, hair dryers in the bathroom, a vacuum cleaner whooshing around—all produced an intense whining sound that, given the specific wiring connections between my ears and my brain, kept me from thinking about anything but the sound itself while it was going on. Over the years I lived by this code: I used high-performance earplugs if I needed to write or otherwise concentrate while sitting in some place that was unusually loud. I added noise-canceling headphones on top of the earplugs in really tough cases.

As time went on, the earplugs-plus-headphones protection rig became standard writing gear. That was because the use of gas-powered leaf blowers in my Washington, D.C., neighborhood evolved from a few hours a week during the leafiest stretch of autumn to most days of the week, most weeks of the year, thanks to the advent of the “groomed” look that modern lawn crews are expected to achieve. One of my longest-running themes as a journalist has been how changes in technology force people to adapt their habits and livelihoods. I thought I was doing my part, with gear that let me attend to my work while others attended to theirs. There even turned out to be a bonus: As other parts of my body went into a predictable age-related descent, my hearing remained sharp.

Then I learned several things that changed my thinking both about leaf blowers and, up to a point, about politics.

One thing I learned has to do with the technology of leaf blowers. Their high volume, which I had long considered their most salient feature, is only their second-most-unusual aspect. The real marvel is the living-fossil nature of their technology. And because the technology is so crude and old, the level of pollution is off the charts.

When people encounter engines these days, they’re generally seeing the outcome of decades of intense work toward higher efficiency. The latest models of jet-turbine engines are up to 80 percent more fuel-efficient than their 1950s counterparts. While power plants burning natural gas obviously emit more carbon than wind or solar facilities, they emit about half as much as coal-fired plants. Today, the average car on America’s streets is almost 200 percent more efficient than in 1950, and smog-causing emissions from cars are about 99 percent lower.

The great outlier here is a piece of obsolete machinery Americans encounter mainly in lawn-care equipment: the humble “two-stroke engine.” It’s simpler, cheaper, and lighter than the four-stroke engines of most modern cars, and has a better power-to-weight ratio. But it is vastly dirtier and less fuel-efficient, because by design it sloshes together a mixture of gasoline and oil in the combustion chamber and then spews out as much as one-third of that fuel as an unburned aerosol. If you’ve seen a tuk‑tuk, one of the noisy tricycle-style taxis in places such as Bangkok and Jakarta, with purple smoke wafting out of its tailpipe, you’ve seen a two-stroke engine in action.

But you won’t see as many of them in those cities anymore, because governments in Asia and elsewhere have been banning and phasing out two-stroke engines on antipollution grounds. In 2014 a study published in Nature Communications found that VOC emissions (a variety of carbon gases that can produce smog and harm human beings) were on average 124 times higher from an idling two-stroke scooter than from a truck or a car. With respect to benzene, a carcinogenic pollutant, the group found that each cubic meter of exhaust from an idling two-stroke scooter contained 60,000 times the safe level of exposure. Two-stroke engines have largely disappeared from the scooter, moped, and trail-bike markets in America. Regulators around the world are pushing older two-stroke engines toward extinction.

Yet they remain the propulsive force behind the 200-mph winds coming out of many backpack leaf blowers. As a product category, this is a narrow one. But the impact of these little machines is significant. In 2017, the California Air Resources Board issued a warning that may seem incredible but has not been seriously challenged: By 2020, gas-powered leaf blowers, lawn mowers, and similar equipment in the state could produce more ozone pollution than all the millions of cars in California combined. Two-stroke engines are that dirty. Cars have become that clean.

Video: The ‘Public Health Menace’ of Fall in America

So that’s one thing I learned about gas-powered blowers. A second thing I discovered is the damage leaf blowers do to people’s hearing. The biggest worry of today’s public-health community is not, of course, leaf blowers—it’s the opioid disaster, plus addictions of other forms. The next-biggest worry is obesity, plus diabetes and the other ills that flow from it. But coming up fast on the list is hearing loss. According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-quarter of Americans ages 20 to 69 who reported good to excellent hearing actually had diminished hearing. This is largely caused by rising levels of ambient urban noise—sirens, traffic, construction, leaf blowers—which can lead to a range of disorders, from high blood pressure to depression to heart disease. “When I started out, I’d see people in their 60s with hearing problems,” says Robert Meyers, an ENT specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Now I’m seeing them in their 40s.”

Leaf blowers are especially insidious. Something about their sound had long attracted my attention. A study organized by Jamie Banks, a scientist and the founder of Quiet Communities, a Boston-area nonprofit, quantified what it was. Acoustic engineers from a firm called Arup compared gas- and battery-powered blowers with equal manufacturer-rated noise levels. Their analysis showed that gas-powered blowers produce far more “sound energy” in the low-frequency range. This may seem benign—who doesn’t like a nice basso profundo?—but it has a surprising consequence. High-frequency sound—a mosquito’s buzz, a dental drill—gets your attention, but it does not travel. It falls off rapidly with distance and struggles to penetrate barriers. If you’re in the next room, you may not hear it at all. By contrast, low-frequency noise has great penetrating power: It goes through walls, cement barriers, and many kinds of hearing-protection devices. The acoustic study found that in a densely settled neighborhood, a gas-powered blower rated at, say, 75 decibels of noisiness can affect up to 15 times as many households as a battery-powered blower with the same 75-decibel rating.

Hearing damage is cumulative. When the tiny, sound-sensing hairlike cells, called stereocilia, in the inner ear are damaged—usually by extended exposure to sounds of 85 decibels or above—they are generally gone for good. For the landscapers (and homeowners) who use gas-powered blowers—a foot away from their ears—the most powerful can produce sounds of 100 decibels or more. Meyers told me, “Each time I see these crews, I think to myself: 10 years from now, they’ll be on the path to premature deafness.

In the three decades since backpack blowers from Echo, Stihl, and other companies became popular, at least 100 U.S. cities have banned or restricted their use. Most of those cities are in California, because California is the only state whose jurisdictions have the authority to set their own air-pollution standards. With air-quality standards that were more aggressive than those in other states, California received special treatment under the Clean Air Act when it was passed in 1970. In the rest of the country, the law gives standard-setting authority to the federal government, which in practice means the Environmental Protection Agency.

Considering the current condition of the EPA, people wanting to regulate leaf blowers could be forgiven for throwing up their hands. But as it happens, there is another legally and scientifically legitimate line of attack: going after gas-powered blowers not because they pollute but because they make so much noise.

Starting in 2013, my wife, Deb, and I traveled around the country to report on local-improvement narratives, which always seemed to begin with “I wondered why my town didn’t do _______, so I decided to get involved.” We’d long been active at our kids’ schools and with their sports teams. But we wondered why our town—Washington, D.C.—wasn’t doing something about the leaf-blower menace, given that an obvious solution was at hand. We joined a small neighborhood group—barely 10 people at its peak—to try to get a regulatory or legislative change, using noise, not pollution, as the rationale.

In November 2015, we had our first success, when our Advisory Neighborhood Commission—the most local governmental unit in the District—voted 8–1 to support phasing out gas-powered leaf blowers. (The one no vote came from a libertarian who didn’t like regulation of anything.) In retrospect, the resulting request was amazingly timid. We simply asked that our city-council member, Mary Cheh, introduce legislation for a ban. She did so; the measure got nowhere by the end of the council’s term in 2016; she introduced a new measure in 2017. Over the next 18 months, we successfully encouraged more than a third of all ANCs in D.C., representing seven of the District’s eight wards, to endorse council action on the bill. Anyone aware of the racial, economic, and other dividing lines within Washington can imagine the level of organizing and explanation necessary to achieve such broad support.

In July 2018, the chair of the city council, Phil Mendelson, convened a hearing to consider the bill. Nearly 20 witnesses spoke in favor. They included members of our group as well as scientists, a former regulator, an acoustic engineer, representatives of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society, ordinary citizens and residents, and landscapers who had switched to all-battery operation. On the other side were two industry lobbyists, who said that market innovation and “courteous” leaf-blower use were the answer. Council members listened to them with visible incredulity. In the fall, the full council approved the bill unanimously. In December, Washington’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed it into law. On January 1, 2022, the use of gas-powered leaf blowers will be illegal within city limits.

After spending decades writing about national politics, I’ve come away from this experience having learned some lessons about local politics—obvious lessons, maybe, but also vivid ones.

To begin with: Showing up matters. Our group met in person every two or three weeks over more than three and a half years. Perhaps our most indefatigable member, a lawyer, made presentations at dozens of ANC meetings. We got to know the legislative directors and schedulers for many of the District’s 13 council members.

Having facts also matters—yes, even in today’s America. At the beginning of the process, it felt as if 99 percent of the press coverage and online commentary was in the sneering “First World problem!” vein. That has changed. The Washington PostThe New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, the Washington Monthly, and other publications have called attention to the leaf-blower problem, often arguing that gas-powered blowers should be banned. Reflexive sneering is down to about 5 percent among people who have made time to hear the facts. Noise, they have come to understand, is the secondhand smoke of this era.

Technological momentum and timing matter. We worried all along that the lawn-care industry would mount a major lobbying effort against the bill. It never did. Nearly everyone in the industry knows that 10 years from now, practically all leaf blowers will be battery-powered. One of our arguments was that we were simply accelerating the inevitable.

Having a champion matters. At a “meet the council member” session on a rainy Saturday morning in the fall of 2015, Mary Cheh said she’d stay with the bill—if she could rely on us to keep showing up. We did our part, and she did hers—she stayed with it to the end.

Luck matters as well. In its first journey through the council, starting in 2016, Cheh’s bill was assigned to a committee whose chair was a council member whose approach to many bills seemed to boil down to: What’s in it for me? To widespread surprise, apparently including his own, a long-shot challenger upset him in the primaries for the 2016 election.

The final lesson is: Don’t get hung up on the conventional wisdom—it’s only wise until it isn’t. Everyone says nothing gets done in Washington. This one time, everyone was wrong.


This article appears in the April 2019 print edition with the headline “Get Off My Lawn.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

JAMES FALLOWS is a staff writer for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter’s chief speechwriter. He and his wife, Deborah Fallows, are the authors of the new book Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of Americawhich has been a New York Times best seller and is the basis of a forthcoming HBO documentary.

The Growth Mindset Problem

https://aeon.co/essays/schools-love-the-idea-of-a-growth-mindset-but-does-it-work

Carl Hendrick

is the co-author of What Does This Look Like in the Classroom? Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice (2017). He is currently writing a book with Paul Kirschner on foundational works in education research. He lives in Berkshire, where he teaches at Wellington College

Over the past century, a powerful idea has taken root in the educational landscape. The notion of intelligence as something innate and fixed has been supplanted by the idea that intelligence is instead something malleable; that we are not prisoners of immutable characteristics and that, with the right training, we can be the authors of our own cognitive capabilities.

Nineteenth-century scientists including Francis Galton and Alfred Binet devoted their own considerable intelligence to a quest to classify and understand human cognitive ability. If we could codify the anatomy of intelligence, they believed, we could place individuals into their correct niche in society. Binet would go on to develop the first IQ tests, laying the foundations for a method of ranking the intelligence of job applicants, army recruits or schoolchildren that continues today.

In the early 20th century, progressive thinkers revolted against this idea that inherent ability is destiny. Instead, educators such as John Dewey argued that every child’s intelligence could be developed, given the right environment. The self, according to Dewey, is not something ‘ready made’ but rather ‘in continuous formation through choice of action’. In the 1960s and ’70s, psychologists such as Albert Bandura bridged some of the gap between the innate and the learned models of intelligence with his idea of social cognitive theory, self-efficacy and motivation. One can recognise that there are individual differences in ability, Bandura argued, but still emphasise the potential for growth for each individual, wherever one’s starting point.

Growth mindset theory is a relatively new – and wildly popular – iteration of this belief in the malleability of intelligence, but with a twist. In many schools today you will see hallways festooned with motivational posters, and hear speeches on the mindset of great sporting heroes who simply believed their way to the top. These are all attempts to put growth mindset theory into practice through motivation. However a growth mindset is not really about motivation, but rather about the way in which individuals understand their own intelligence.

According to the theory, if students believe that their ability is fixed, they will not want to do anything to reveal that, so a major focus of the growth mindset in schools is shifting students away from seeing failure as an indication of their ability, to seeing failure as a chance to improve that ability. As Jeff Howard noted almost 30 years ago: ‘Smart is not something that you just are, smart is something that you can get.’

Despite extraordinary claims for the efficacy of a growth mindset, however, it’s increasingly unclear whether attempts to change students’ mindsets about their abilities have any positive effect on their learning at all. And the story of the growth mindset is a cautionary tale about what happens when psychological theories are translated into the reality of the classroom, no matter how well-intentioned.

The idea of the growth mindset is based on the work of the psychologist Carol Dweck at Stanford University in California. Dweck’s findings suggest that beliefs about ourselves can have a profound effect on academic achievement and beyond. Her seminal work stems from a paper 20 years ago that reported on a research project with schoolchildren that probed the relationship between their understanding of their own abilities and their actual performance.

In the experiment, a group of 10- to 12-year-olds were divided into two groups. All were told that they had achieved a high score on a test but members of the first group were praised for their intelligence in achieving this, while the others were praised for their effort. The second group were subsequently far more likely to put effort into future tasks while the former took on only those tasks that would not risk their initial sense of worth. Praising ability actually made the students perform worse, while praising effort emphasised that change was possible.

Dweck’s work suggests that when people believe that failure is not a barometer of innate characteristics but rather view it as a step to success (a growth mindset), they are far more likely to put in the kinds of effort that will eventually lead to that success. By contrast, those who believe that success or failure is due to innate ability (a fixed mindset) can find that this leads to a fear of failure and a lack of effort.

Imagine two children who are faced with taking a test on a tricky maths problem. The first child completes the first few steps but then hits a wall, and instantly feels demotivated. For this child, the small failure is incontrovertible evidence of simply not being good at maths. By contrast, for the second child, this small failure is merely a barrier to eventual success, and confers an opportunity to improve overall maths ability. The second child relishes the challenge, and works to improve – that child is displaying a growth mindset. According to the theory, the key to encouraging this disposition is to praise the effort and not the ability. By telling children that they are smart or intelligent, you are merely confirming the idea of innate ability, fostering a fixed mindset, and actually undermining their development. Dweck’s claims are supported by a lot of evidence, indeed she and her associates have spent more than 30 years exploring this phenomenon, including taking the time to respond to criticism in an open and transparent way.

Growth mindset theory has had a profound impact on the ground. It is difficult to think of a school today that is not in thrall to the idea that beliefs about one’s ability affect subsequent performance, and that it’s crucial to teach students that failure is merely a stepping stone to success. Implementing these ideas has been much harder, however, and attempts to replicate the original findings have not been smooth, to say the least. A recent national survey in the United States showed that 98 per cent of teachers feel that growth mindset approaches should be adopted in schools, but only 50 per cent said that they knew of strategies to effectively change a pupil’s mindset.

The truth is we simply haven’t been able to translate the research on the benefits of a growth mindset into any sort of effective, consistent practice that makes an appreciable difference in student academic attainment. In many cases, growth mindset theory has been misrepresented and miscast as simply a means of motivating the unmotivated through pithy slogans and posters. A general truth about education is that the more vague and platitudinous the statement, the less practical use it has on the ground. ‘Making a difference’ rarely makes any difference at all.

A growing number of recent studies are casting doubt on the efficacy of mindset interventions at scale. A large-scale study of 36 schools in the UK, in which either pupils or teachers were given training, found that the impact on pupils directly receiving the intervention did not have statistical significance, and that the pupils whose teachers were trained made no gains at all. Another study featuring a large sample of university applicants in the Czech Republic used a scholastic aptitude test to explore the relationship between mindset and achievement. They found a slightly negative correlation, with researchers claiming that ‘the results show that the strength of the association between academic achievement and mindset might be weaker than previously thought’. A 2012 review for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in the UK of attitudes to education and participation found ‘no clear evidence of association or sequence between pupils’ attitudes in general and educational outcomes, although there were several studies attempting to provide explanations for the link (if it exists)’. In 2018, two meta-analyses in the US found that claims for the growth mindset might have been overstated, and that there was ‘little to no effect of mindset interventions on academic achievement for typical students’.

‘Kids with the growth mindset aren’t getting better grades’

One of the greatest impediments to successfully implementing a growth mindset is the education system itself. A key characteristic of a fixed mindset is a focus on performance and an avoidance of any situation where testing might lead to a confirmation of fixed beliefs about ability. Yet we are currently in a school climate obsessed with performance in the form of constant summative testing, analysing and ranking of students. Schools create a certain cognitive dissonance when they proselytise the benefits of a growth mindset in assemblies but then hand out fixed target grades in lessons based on performance.

Aside from the implementation problem, the original growth mindset research has also received harsh criticism and been difficult to replicate robustly. The statistician Andrew Gelman at Columbia University in New York claims that ‘their research designs have enough degrees of freedom that they could take their data to support just about any theory at all’. Timothy Bates, a professor of psychology at the University of Edinburgh who has been trying to replicate Dweck’s work in a third study in China, is finding that the results are repeatedly null. He notes in a 2017 interview that: ‘People with a growth mindset don’t cope any better with failure. If we give them the mindset intervention, it doesn’t make them behave better. Kids with the growth mindset aren’t getting better grades, either before or after our intervention study.’

An enduring criticism of growth mindset theory is that it underestimates the importance of innate ability, specifically intelligence. If one student is playing with a weaker hand, is it fair to tell the student that she is just not making enough effort? Growth mindset – like its educational-psychology cousin ‘grit’ – can have the unintended consequence of making students feel responsible for things that are not under their control: that their lack of success is a failure of moral character. This goes well beyond questions of innate ability to the effects of marginalisation, poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantage. For the US psychiatrist Scott Alexander, if a fixed mindset accounts for underachievement, then ‘poor kids seem to be putting in a heck of a lot less effort in a surprisingly linear way’. He sees growth mindset as a ‘noble lie’, and notes that saying to kids that a growth mindset accounts for success is not exactly denying reality so much as ‘selectively emphasising certain parts of’ it.

Much of this criticism is not lost on Dweck, and she deserves great credit for responding to it and adapting her work accordingly. In a recent blog, she noted that growth mindset theory ‘is on a firm foundation, but we’re still building the house’. In fact, she argues that her work has been misunderstood and misapplied in a range of ways. She has also expressed concerns that her theories are being misappropriated in schools by being conflated with the self-esteem movement: ‘The thing that keeps me up at night is that some educators are turning mindset into the new self-esteem, which is to make kids feel good about any effort they put in, whether they learn or not. But for me the growth mindset is a tool for learning and improvement. It’s not just a vehicle for making children feel good.’

For Dweck, it’s not just about more effort, but rather purposeful and meaningful effort. And it’s not just in the classroom where she feels that the growth mindset is being misunderstood, it seems to be happening in the home too: ‘We’re finding that many parents endorse a growth mindset, but they still respond to their children’s errors, setbacks or failures as though they’re damaging and harmful,’ she said in an interview in 2015. ‘If they show anxiety or overconcern, those kids are going toward a more fixed mindset.’

Dweck might be right that the theory is not always well understood or put into practice. There is always the danger of disappointment in the translation from educational laboratory to classroom, and this is partly due to the Chinese whispers effect, whereby research becomes diluted and distorted as it goes through its journey. But there is another factor at work here. The failure to translate the growth mindset into the classroom might reflect a profound misunderstanding of the elusive nature of teaching and learning itself.

Effective teaching, at its best, defies prescription. The same resources and the same approaches that are successful in one classroom can be completely ineffective in another. In his book Personal Knowledge (1958), Michael Polanyi defined ‘tacit knowledge’ as anything we know how to do but cannot explicitly explain how we do it, such as the complex set of skills needed to ride a bike or the instinctive ability to stay afloat in water. It is the ephemeral, elusive form of knowledge that resists classification or codification, and that can be gleaned only through immersion in the experience itself. In most cases, it’s not even something that can be expressed through language. As Polanyi put it so beautifully in his book The Tacit Dimension (1966), ‘we can know more than we can tell’. As a contrarian colleague once said to me about his frustration with the increasing codification of the classroom: ‘Perhaps we should be brave enough to allow it to remain a mystery.’

Good teachers are like good actors, not in the sense that they are both artists, but in the sense that the best teachers teach you without you realising that you’ve been taught. If students get a whiff of being part of an ‘intervention’, then it is likely that the very awareness of this will have a detrimental effect. The growth mindset advocates David Yeager and Gregory Walton at Stanford claim that these interventions should not be seen as ‘magic’ and should be delivered in a ‘stealthy’ way to maximise their effectiveness – miles away from the standard use of motivational stories, posters and explanations of brain plasticity. As they put it in 2011: ‘if adolescents perceive a teacher’s reinforcement of a psychological idea as conveying that they are seen as in need of help, teacher training or an extended workshop could undo the effects of the intervention, not increase its benefits.’ Pedagogy is not medicine, after all, and students do not want to be treated as patients to be cured.

How students learn well can be very counterintuitive. You might think it is safe to assume that, once you motivate students, the learning will follow. Yet research shows that this is often not the case: motivation doesn’t always lead to achievement, but achievement often leads to motivation. If you try to ‘motivate’ students into public speaking, they might feel motivated but can lack the specific knowledge needed to translate that into action. However, through careful instruction and encouragement, students can learn how to craft an argument, shape their ideas and develop them into solid form.

The idea that videos of failed sportsmen can translate into a growth disposition is unrealistic

A lot of what drives students is their innate beliefs and how they perceive themselves. There is a strong correlation between self-perception and achievement, but there is some evidence to suggest that the actual effect of achievement on self-perception is stronger than the other way round. To stand up in a classroom and successfully deliver a good speech is a genuine achievement, and that is likely to be more powerfully motivating than woolly notions of ‘motivation’ itself.

One reason for this might be the over-generalised picture of the growth mindset: it tends to be talked about as a global or general skill as opposed to a domain-specific one. Many interventions focus on kids having a kind of global attitude to their own intelligence that can then be transferred to any learning situation but this is rarely the case. For example, some students can have a positive mindset in maths but a negative mindset in history due to a highly variable range of factors. The idea that a workshop on the plasticity of the brain and some videos of famous sportsmen who have failed in the past can translate into a domain-general growth disposition is simply unrealistic.

Students are most engaged when they are being supported through specific tasks to stretch their understanding beyond its current base, but ‘engagement’ doesn’t necessarily mean they’re learning anything. As the New Zealand education researcher Graham Nuthall showed in The Hidden Life of Learners (2007), ‘students can be busiest and most involved with material they already know. In most of the classrooms we have studied, each student already knows about 40-50 per cent of what the teacher is teaching.’ Nuthall’s work demonstrates that students are far more likely to get stuck into tasks they’re comfortable with and already know how to do, as opposed to the more uncomfortable enterprise of grappling with uncertainty and indeterminate tasks. The psychologists Elizabeth Ligon Bjork and Robert Bjork at the University of California, Los Angeles, describe such activities as ‘desirable difficulties’, which refers to the kinds of things that are difficult in the short term, but that lead to greater gains in the long term. These point to a range of strategies that are more prosaic and less attractive than growth mindset interventions – familiar strategies such as testing, self-quizzing and spacing out learning.

Clearly, something has gone wrong somewhere along the way between the laboratory and the classroom. The US education scholars Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Susan Lytle outline a fundamental problem with the education system. Teachers, they say in their book Inside/Outside (1992), are subject to top-down models of school improvement, and are often passive objects of study in the educational research that underpins those models:

The primary knowledge source for the improvement of practice is research on classroom phenomena that can be observed. This research has a perspective that is ‘outside-in’; in other words, it has been conducted almost exclusively by university-based researchers who are outside of the day-to-day practices of schooling.

In a very real sense, teachers have been given answers to questions they didn’t ask, and solutions to problems that never existed. It is not surprising that they feel subject to fads and theories about students that do not hold up to scrutiny. For example, the problem of how to plan lesson content to match the individual ‘learning style’ of students has now been proven to have been a waste of time, and a sad indictment of how much time and energy has been expended on theoretical interventions with little to no evidence to support them.

Recent evidence would suggest that growth mindset interventions are not the elixir of student learning that many of its proponents claim it to be. The growth mindset appears to be a viable construct in the lab, which, when administered in the classroom via targeted interventions, doesn’t seem to work at scale. It is hard to dispute that having a self-belief in their own capacity for change is a positive attribute for students. Paradoxically, however, that aspiration is not well served by direct interventions that try to instil it. Yet creating a culture in which students can believe in the possibility of improving their intelligence through their own purposeful effort is something few would disagree with. Perhaps growth mindset works best as a philosophy and not an intervention.

All of this indicates that using time and resources to improve students’ academic achievement directly might well be a better agent of psychological change than psychological interventions themselves. In their book Effective Teaching (2011), the UK education scholars Daniel Muijs and David Reynolds note: ‘At the end of the day, the research reviewed has shown that the effect of achievement on self-concept is stronger that the effect of self-concept on achievement.’

Many interventions in education have the causal arrow pointed the wrong way round. Motivational posters and talks are often a waste of time, and might well give students a deluded notion of what success actually means. Teaching students concrete skills such as how to write an effective introduction to an essay through close instruction, specific feedback, worked examples and careful scaffolding, and then praising their effort in getting there, is probably a far more effective way of improving confidence than giving an assembly about how unique they are, or indeed how capable they are of changing their own brains. The best way to achieve a growth mindset might just be not to mention the growth mindset at all.

Trashing Recyclables costs Stamford $700K

https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/article/Trashed-recycling-market-costs-Stamford-taxpayers-13075416.php

Trashed recycling market costs Stamford taxpayers $700K

Published 

STAMFORD — The city was paid $95,000 last year for the used bottles, cans, bags, boxes, wrappers and containers residents throw in their recycling bins each week.

This year, the city will have to pay a company $700,000 to take them.

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The market for recyclables has flipped on its ear, and Dan Colleluori, supervisor of solid waste and recycling, who had to go before the Board of Finance last week to ask that the money be drawn from the city’s contingency fund to meet the unexpected expense.

Blame it on China, which has been the biggest importer of recyclables on the planet since the 1990s. Last year the Chinese, citing a glut of material — increasingly contaminated with garbage — announced they would stop accepting an array of recyclables, according to industry reports Colleluori shared with the board.

Then, in April, “China closed its doors,” Colleluori said. “Unless the U.S. comes up with its own technology, there’s no market for this stuff. It’s a world problem.”

In May, Stamford’s recycling contractor, City Carting, called him with a warning, Colleluori said.

“They said, ‘You’re going to have to start paying for it,’” he said.

Not only was there no way to estimate the cost, but City Carting’s contract was to end June 30, Colleluori said. He’d put out a bid request, but only City Carting and one other company responded, he said.

“I expected they would come back with a charge of maybe $5 a ton, something like that,” he said. “I was flabbergasted when I saw the bids.”

City Carting’s price was $58 a ton to process the 12,000 tons of recyclables Stamford collects each year. The other company wanted $80, Colleluori said.

“For the nine years I’ve been here, recycling has been a revenue source. We earned as much as $250,000 a year,” he said. “Now we not only lose that revenue, we add a significant cost.”

The same is true for cities worldwide.

One reason the market has collapsed, industry reports say, is the glut of recyclables.

Another reason is single-stream recycling — collecting paper and cardboard together with plastic, glass and cans — a practice that began 20 years ago. Since then, recycled material has become increasingly contaminated. Recycled paper, for example, is less pure, making it harder to sell.

People have made things worse by throwing prohibited items into their recycling bins. In Connecticut, the prohibited materials include plastic bags, plastic wrap, shredded paper, Styrofoam, paper cups, take-out food containers, aerosol containers, ice cream containers, plastic plates, bowls and utensils, and anything with food in it.

According to industry reports, the situation has become so bad that one-fifth of the recycled material sent to China for processing was contaminated. In April, when China said it would stop accepting a slew of items, it also set a super-low contamination rate, .5 percent.

Now recycled material is stacking up in warehouses, and getting trucked to landfills or incinerators, in the United States and other countries around the globe.

“So all that work that I do to put the stuff in the green Toter (bin) and bring it out to the curb … are we actually going to be sending it to a landfill now?” finance board Chairman Richard Freedman asked during the meeting.

“No,” Colleluori said. “You’re just being charged for it.”

He said City Carting told him it will be able to sell some of the material.

“Mostly paper and cardboard,” Colleluori said. “The plastic and glass are the biggest problem.”

It doesn’t look like it will go away soon, he said.

“The U.S. has to sink some money into figuring out how to reuse these items,” Colleluori said. “If it happens, if the market turns around, the city can cancel the contract and rebid it to collect revenue again. It’s standard in these contracts.”

But recycling is still the law, and still cheaper than throwing the items in the trash, Colleluori said. Recyclables comprise 32 percent of the waste collected in Stamford, he said.

“It would cost the city $850,000 a year more if it went into the garbage stream,” Colleluori said.

The finance board voted to release the $700,000 from the contingency fund to cover the new City Carting contract. Much of the money in the $6.5 million fund is tentatively earmarked for labor negotiations expected to be settled, an anticipated number of storm cleanups, additional overtime expenses for police officers and firefighters, and other items likely to crop up in a fiscal year.

The fund contains about $1 million for unexpected expenses, such as the recycling contract, said Jay Fountain, director of the city’s Office of Policy and Management.

“So this will leave just about nothing left?” Freedman said.

“Yes,” Fountain confirmed.

Screenagers – Screen time management apps

https://www.screenagersmovie.com/parenting-apps/?utm_source=Event-Based+Emails&utm_campaign=75ef0be95a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_12_22_06_11_COPY_04&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dbb13e7af1-75ef0be95a-160404857&mc_cid=75ef0be95a&mc_eid=709fdfd970

SCREENTIME MANAGEMENT APPS

Screen time on iPhone and iPads

Apple’s own Screen time built into the hardware on iOS 12 for iPhones and iPads (Cost: Free)

  • Small box as well as an app that pairs with your router
  • Pause the Internet button
  • Individual content filters for each family member
  • Set time limits on apps like Facebook, Snapchat, Netflix and more
  • Set a recurring use schedule on each device

OurPact

  • The control phone can block other phones for any period of time and unblock at any time
  • Set a recurring use schedule on each device
  • Block specific apps

    Moment

  • Set limits on screen time
  • Tracks how much you use your phone during the day
  • Gives usage reports
  • Has a coach function

    Pocket Points

  • A great app for students
  • Gain points by keeping your phone locked when you’re on campus
  • Use points to get discounts and coupons to businesses near you
  • Pocket Points is popular among college students and is trying to grow their high school presence
  • You can request a high school or university on the app

    Bark

  • Social Media monitoring
  • Text monitoring
  • Email monitoring
  • Parental Alerts
  • Works with schools too

    unGlue

  • Set limits on screen time
  • Set a recurring use schedule on each device
  • Get usage reports
  • Remotely turn off the internet to an individual device or to all devices
  • Block adult content

Protect Your Kid

  • Set limits on screen time
  • Block access to apps
  • Organize apps into groups and set rules
  • Set recurring device schedule
  • Block adult content

Screen Time Parental Control

  • Set bedtime and school time restrictions for specific apps
  • Set limits on screen time
  • Pause a device or give Bonus time
  • Block all apps at lights out
  • Block specific apps

Mobicip

  • Set limits on screen time
  • Set a recurring use schedule on each device
  • Set content filters
  • Block apps and internet usage

Curbi

  • Available for iPhone and Android
  • Remotely turn off the internet to an individual device
  • Get weekly usage reports
  • Set recurring device schedule
  • Block adult content

NetSanity

  • Available for iPhone and Android
  • Remotely turn off the internet to an individual device
  • Set recurring device schedule
  • Block adult content

FamilyTime

  • Available for iPhone and Android
  • Geofence locations
  • Track device locations
  • Get usage reports
  • Set recurring device schedule
  • Block adult content

Net Nanny – Parental controls, not great for mobile but good for PCs
Mobile Fence – Parental controls and GPS tracking for Android devices
Verizon Family Base – Monitor wireless activity and set usage limits
AT&T Secure Family – Manage internet and email activity on computers
T-Mobile Family Mode – Manage minutes, messages and downloads on phones
Sprint Mobile Controls – Monitor phone usage
XFINITY TV Online parental controls – Restricts what children can watch online

DRIVING

Do No Disturb While Driving on iPhone
Cell Control – For Android and iPhone
Drive Safe Mode – For Android and iPhone
DriveMode – Available on Android
All the big carriers have apps to help you on this too. Ask your carrier for the latest

ARTICLES

Think your kid (or you) could be a screen zombie? Take the ‘Screenagers’ test – Los Angeles Times
Learning How to Exert Self-Control – New York Times
Compulsive Texting Associated with Poorer School Performance Among Girls – American Psychological Association
Compulsive Texting Takes Toll on Teenagers – New York Times
Teaching Self-Control Tips –  Provides evidence-based information about parenting and child development.

ORGANIZATIONS

Common Sense Media – Empowers parents, teachers, and policymakers by providing unbiased information, trusted advice, and innovative tools to help them harness the power of media and technology as a positive force in all kids’ lives.
Center For Humane Technology – Former tech execs worried that technology is “hijacking our minds and society” and are working to raise awareness inside tech companies.
Family Online Safety Institute – International, non-profit organization that works to make the online world safer for kids and their families.
Empowering Parents – Committed to providing parents with sound advice through podcasts, an active blogging community and parenting programs.
Above The Fray – Program to educate parents and teachers about what life is really like online for young people and to give adults the tools they need to begin meaningful dialogues at home and at school.

 

Association Between Screen TIme and Test performance

January 28, 2019

Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test

JAMA Pediatr. Published online January 28, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.5056

 

Key PointsQuestion  Is increased screen time associated with poor performance on children’s developmental screening tests?

Findings  In this cohort study of early childhood development in 2441 mothers and children, higher levels of screen time in children aged 24 and 36 months were associated with poor performance on a screening measure assessing children’s achievement of development milestones at 36 and 60 months, respectively. The obverse association (ie, poor developmental performance to increased screen time) was not observed.

Meaning  Excessive screen time can impinge on children’s ability to develop optimally; it is recommended that pediatricians and health care practitioners guide parents on appropriate amounts of screen exposure and discuss potential consequences of excessive screen use.

Abstract

Importance  Excessive screen time is associated with delays in development; however, it is unclear if greater screen time predicts lower performance scores on developmental screening tests or if children with poor developmental performance receive added screen time as a way to modulate challenging behavior.

Objective  To assess the directional association between screen time and child development in a population of mothers and children.

Design, Setting, and Participants  This longitudinal cohort study used a 3-wave, cross-lagged panel model in 2441 mothers and children in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, drawn from the All Our Families study. Data were available when children were aged 24, 36, and 60 months. Data were collected between October 20, 2011, and October 6, 2016. Statistical analyses were conducted from July 31 to November 15, 2018.

Exposures  Media.

Main Outcomes and Measures  At age 24, 36, and 60 months, children’s screen-time behavior (total hours per week) and developmental outcomes (Ages and Stages Questionnaire, Third Edition) were assessed via maternal report.

Results  Of the 2441 children included in the analysis, 1169 (47.9%) were boys. A random-intercepts, cross-lagged panel model revealed that higher levels of screen time at 24 and 36 months were significantly associated with poorer performance on developmental screening tests at 36 months (β, −0.08; 95% CI, −0.13 to −0.02) and 60 months (β, −0.06; 95% CI, −0.13 to −0.02), respectively. These within-person (time-varying) associations statistically controlled for between-person (stable) differences.

Conclusions and Relevance  The results of this study support the directional association between screen time and child development. Recommendations include encouraging family media plans, as well as managing screen time, to offset the potential consequences of excess use.

The Art of Speaking Should be Taught

https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/46546/why-the-art-of-speaking-should-be-taught-alongside-math-and-literacy?fbclid=IwAR0W5efiuvxZaqeGav39wTTD29v1nNxogCRaWi8RuDs7WltlQ15sH_X2wIU

Why The Art of Speaking Should Be Taught Alongside Math and Literacy

Students at School 21 practice structured verbal tasks in every subject and class. (Edutopia)

Classrooms in the U.S. often focus most attention on literacy and math, largely because those skills are considered foundational and are tested. However most people will also need to communicate their thoughts and ideas to other people through oral language, and yet effective communication strategies are often not taught with the same precision and structure as other parts of the curriculum.

School 21, a public school in London has made “oracy” a primary focus of everything they do. From the earliest grades on up teachers support students to find their voice, express differing opinions politely, and challenge one another’s thinking. These are skills called for in the Common Core, but can be hard to find in many classrooms because students haven’t been taught how to make “turn and talks” truly effective.

The Edutopia team visited School 21 and captured some amazing videos of students practicing their communication skills with support from teachers.

Another key element of the School 21 program is “well-being,” a social emotional learning curriculum that is once again embedded throughout students’ experience of school. In the following video, the communication skills teachers have helped foster become supremely important as even young students grapple with difficult topics like race, difference, diversity and kindness.

SPONSORED BY

Because oral communication is a core tenet of School 21, students continue to build on their skills throughout school until arguing an opinion and defending with research are almost second nature to them. The school also tries to help students see the progress they’ve made by offering culminating moments when they can show off their public speaking skills in front of real audiences.

Speaking is a part of almost every classroom, but it can be easy to assume that students already know how to do things like challenge an idea or back up an argument with evidence. In reality, those oral communication skills must be explicitly taught like other core skills in school. And a well-spoken, confident young person will have occasion to use those communication skills throughout his or her life. Peter Hyman, School 21 cofounder and executive head teacher, says, “We need to elevate speaking to the same level as reading and writing.”

The Special Education charade

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/the-charade-of-special-education-programs/421578/?fbclid=IwAR2iLngimKCD0RWvyFeKrWL65Igz727ZksHZxOppf4RLaxtBL0w8ztQZNA0

I am in hell—or its equivalent. Specifically, I am in an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) meeting for my 14-year-old daughter, a special-education student in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Sitting across from me is an educator who is describing one option that she says would be a great place for my daughter to attend ninth grade: a program at one of the county’s lower-performing public high schools for adolescents who have emotional disabilities or autism. (My daughter has ADHD, an auditory processing disorder, and some major anxiety issues, but she does not have autism and does not qualify as “emotionally disabled.”) Another option is a school for kids with language-based learning disorders. My daughter’s reading comprehension and vocabulary skills are ranked as “very superior,” according to the county’s own psychological testing; her learning issues center on math.

All this leaves us one more option: a school in Baltimore for college-bound kids with a variety of learning disabilities. That could be a possibility—but today is July 7. School starts in six weeks. Even if all the paperwork gets processed this week—and often this kind of thing takes a month or more, because there are so many special-education kids and so few special-education caseworkers—my husband and I would still be making the momentous choice of where to send our daughter to high school under deadline pressure, without the benefit of visiting the school when its students were actually there. School visits should have happened last spring, except there was a mixup with her paperwork, and these bureaucratic mistakes can take forever to rectify. But playing the blame game at this point just uses up time, which is what we don’t have. So here I sit, stifling my mounting rage with what I hope is a poker face.

Federal laws exist to protect kids like mine: specifically, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a 2008 amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA). All state that children with disabilities have the same right to a “free and appropriate public education” as any other child. Lots of people think the ADA and the IDEA exist to protect youngsters who are blind, or who have cerebral palsy or autism or other cognitive delays—the kind of things most people think of when they see the word “disabled.” And that’s true. But the laws also exist for kids like mine with invisible disabilities, including very bright students whose learning disabilities create huge disparities between their math and their verbal skills. In educational parlance, these are known as “twice-exceptional” students, or—sometimes—GSLN, for Gifted Students with Learning Needs. (The world of public education seems to have more acronyms than NASA.)

A child who simply needs certain accommodations in the classroom is covered under the ADA with what’s known as a 504 Plan. The idea is that with a little help organizing his schoolwork or a few minutes more to finish a test, the child will be able to succeed in the same environment as his peers, the same way a hard-of-hearing student might simply need a hearing aid. The other law, IDEA, gives students with more significant disabilities the right to specialized instruction, as outlined under the IEP. That could mean anything from a pull-out class period devoted to individual tutoring, a designated classroom aide for the whole school day, or assignment to a school dedicated to special education students. Having an IEP can also mean the stigma of being picked up at home by the “short bus,” and many parents will do anything to avoid it.

But stigma hardly compares to the problems faced by twice-exceptional kids in today’s increasingly regimented and test-driven public-school classrooms. Some teachers recognize their differences but lack the training or the time to alter their teaching methods; others just assume that a child who is smart in one area is simply being lazy or obstructionist by not being smart in another. The emotional toll exacted on a child who is told that his repeated failures are his own fault can be high. After three years at an elementary school where she was constantly told that she “just needed to focus,” my daughter collapsed to the floor one night sobbing. She’d spent two hours on homework and still wasn’t finished, but I told her she was done. “I’m not done! I’m not done!” she wailed. “There’s always something else, and I never know what it’s going to be!” One day I found bloody Kleenxes stuffed between the mattress and the wall, which made me suspect she was cutting herself. Maybe she was suicidally depressed. She was 10.

It’s not uncommon for twice-exceptional kids to fall apart in middle school. Up until then, many may have been able to fake success, but the demands of more classes, more homework, and a more challenging social environment can overwhelm them. Maybe the child has been spending hours on what should have been 30 minutes of homework, maybe he has begun to refer to himself as “stupidhead,” maybe he is reduced to tears three nights a week by Algebra 101 or essay assignments—but often all the school sees is a C student who “isn’t living up to his potential.”

At that point, even if parents ask the school to do some testing, they may meet resistance: Testing is expensive and time-consuming, campus psychologists are spread very thin, and schools are under pressure to put fewer kids in special education, in the name of “mainstreaming,” not more. So the parents often end up resorting to private testing, which can run as high as $2,000 and is seldom covered by insurance. Or they may simply stop and wait for their kid to flunk math, at which point the school will be forced to come up with some kind of plan—an approach called “waiting to fail.” In recent years, this approach has been supplanted by a more humane educational tactic called “response to intervention,” which is a fancy way of saying “tackling these problems early with specialized instruction.” But theories don’t always survive the collision with the reality: general-education teachers who are overworked, stressed, and under-trained in the discipline techniques that are most effective with kids whose brains are wired differently. As somebody (sadly, probably not Yogi Berra) once said, “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”

And so, the IEP meeting, which is where the overarching purpose of federal law (“to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education … [that provides] services to meet their unique needs”) meets the nitty gritty question: How do we do that for this particular child? In plain English, the IEP is a document that states the child’s specific disability, his current level of academic performance, his academic goals, the progress he has made so far, and a detailed summary of how the school plans to help him going forward. They take place at least once a year, but can be much more frequent, and they must be attended by at least one of the child’s teachers, a school psychologist, or at least somebody who can interpret various test results, somebody from special education, and a school administrator. If things have not been going well, parents may bring lawyers to the meeting, which means attorneys for the school system are, too.

The whole thing is a cross between a legal deposition and a committee meeting, and it follows a rough script: Everybody introduces themselves for the record, teachers give a progress update, and then everyone gets down to the question of what to do next—which, by law, has to start by considering placement in the “least restrictive environment,” otherwise known as the neighborhood school. Since my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD in second grade, I figure I’ve sat in on at least 20 of these little confabs, with up to 15 people in attendance. This is a high number, and any educator seeing it would immediately suspect that I was a high-maintenance “helicopter parent.” All I can say is: guilty as charged. In my own defense, my daughter had the misfortune of being at an elementary school noted for having the highest standardized test scores in the county and an institutional culture that seems to regard kids with learning disabilities as impediments to their goal of keeping those scores high. You could say the school and I had differing agendas.

At any rate, assuming the average teacher’s salary and factoring in travel, meeting preparation, and the cost of hiring substitutes to cover classrooms—union rules in my county say teachers cannot be required to stay after school for meetings, although many do. (And the time of the meeting itself, I figure the county has spent several thousand dollars on IEP meetings for my daughter alone—and that’s excluding travel time and the hourly cost of their attorneys’ time, which I have no way of calculating.) Even if this analysis applies to only one-tenth of the 15,000 kids in special education in Prince George’s County, you can still see how massive amounts of time and money are devoted to producing an incredibly detailed, jargon-filled document that very few people actually study.

Teachers get a copy of the IEP at the start of the school year, but these can be lengthy documents; my daughter’s at times ran 30 pages (although much of this consisted of form questions). By middle school, when one teacher can have more than 100 students a day, he or she could have 15 or 20 IEPs to read. It’s not easy. IEPs are like legal documents in that you have to extract relevant bits of information from here and there, and put them together. Every parent of a special-education child with whom I’ve interacted (and I belong to a listserve that includes parents like me from states up and down the East Coast) has learned the hard way that you can’t depend on IEPs to convey anything. If you want a teacher to know, say, that your autistic child will go ballistic if he sees some rule inconsistently enforced, or that your child’s ADHD medication starts to wear off by 2 p.m., you have to get that information to the teacher yourself. And due to privacy issues, people like lunchroom or recess monitors may not have access to your child’s IEP—even though problems in social skills are frequently part of the learning-disabilities package, and a lot of social interaction takes place at recess and in the lunchroom.

Even the best-intentioned and most heroic general-education teachers are hard pressed to implement even some of the basic provisions—a printout of class notes, for example (lesson plans can change at the last minute), or individualized instruction (in a class with 30 students). The more callous or burnt-out simply ignore them. Getting schools to actually deliver the services promised in an IEP often depends on parents and their skill at monitoring, negotiating, and advocating. If that doesn’t work, they can file an appeal—a complicated, lengthy process—or sue.

What often takes the place of meaningful compliance is meticulous attention to paperwork requirements (Sign this! Here, we have to give you this list of Rehabilitative Services!)—and/or a kind of magical thinking in which simply describing a program becomes the same as actually delivering services. In my meeting, I’m seeing symptoms of the second problem. The documentation clearly shows that my daughter is not on the autism spectrum; what’s more, the reason for this meeting is that everyone in the room has agreed that my daughter’s hard-won progress over the past 18 months means she no longer qualifies as a child with an “emotional disability.” But that special program for kids with autism and emotional disabilities will be a perfect fit, because classes are small! And that school for kids with language-based learning disabilities will work for a student with superior verbal skills, because some of those kids with dyslexia also have ADHD!

After eight years of emails, too many meetings to count and countless homework battles, I found myself rounding a corner yesterday and feeling a flush of anxiety—a hot feeling in my chest, an extra thump of my heart—at the sight of a county school bus. I have to remind myself: This isn’t us anymore. This fall, my daughter started at a private high school for college-track students with a variety of non-standard learning styles, where the motto emblazoned on the front of the buildings is “Because not all great minds think alike.”  There’s no relentless standardized testing, classes are small, there’s a rich arts curriculum, teachers are skilled in addressing individual learning needs, and teacher pay is not determined by student test scores. The full retail price of sanity is steep—$32,800 a year—and over the next four years that will make a sizable dent in our retirement funds. But at least we have retirement funds to plunder. Parents with fewer financial resources than ours take out loans or second mortgages, or they homeschool. Or they settle for what they can get.

In a world that made sense, students like my daughter would be seen for what they are: canaries in the coal mine that public education has become. Their struggles highlight the dismal state of teacher training in this country, the urgent need not for more tests but more innovative teaching methods, and the dogged persistence of such educational “theories” that learning disabilities equal low intellect, or that it is possible to discipline a child into learning differently. And in fact, educators do know better: In some pilot programs here and there, there are small seeds of change. Those could take a generation to flower, and for parents like me the wait may seem more like a couple of centuries. Time passes slowly when you’re in an IEP meeting. Childhood doesn’t wait.

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