Saturday, July 16, 2016

These Folks Worked Together to Claim World Record: 50 Million Trees Planted In One Day

India continued its massive push to reforest their nation on Monday when men and women in the state of Uttar Pradesh set out together to plant 50 million trees in a single day to improve the environment —and for bragging rights.

The feat would easily break a 2013 world record set by neighboring Pakistan for most trees planted by a team of 300 in 24 hours (847,275).

More than 800,000 turned out to plant the saplings, which were handed out by officials who will be monitored the plantings for growth with the use of aerial photos.

A government agency elsewhere in the nation had already claimed the record for most trees planted in 12 hours by a team in multiple locations, according to the Guinness record book. The Forest Department in Madhya Pradesh planted 14,372,801 trees with the participation of volunteers at 9,272 locations in July 2014.

India is spending $6.2 billion for tree planting across the country with a goal of 235 million acres of new forests by 2030.

It will take judges from the Guinness Book of World Records about two months to confirm the final number planted.

A Bolt of Insight Saved Him From Suicide; Now He’s Saving Kids in East L.A. With Meditation

After this Los Angeles man hit rock bottom, with partying, depression, and joblessness, only meditation provided a way out. Now he is taking his mindfulness practice to the city’s most vulnerable kids.

Swami Varadan was born in India and moved to Silicon Valley when he was two-years old. As an adult, he seemed to have it all, working on radio projects with Ryan Seacrest—until he lost it all.

Within the span of a month, after losing his car, his job and his home, Swami had no other choice but to move in with his parents in their small California apartment at the age of 31. Shortly after his arrival, Swami’s uncle, grandmother and best friend passed away.

After losing his best friend to cancer, Swami fell into a deep depression. Still unemployed, he dove into severely unhealthy patterns and addictions. He was 30 seconds away from suicide, literally walking in front of a train, when he experienced a profound spiritual awakening. He left the train track and promised to better his life, by helping others.

The newly jovial Swami is now a meditation and mindfulness teacher in Los Angeles, and he teaches people how to cook Indian food, with his book, 7 Mantras for Success, 7 Recipes for Healing. He’s even back on the radio— this time, passing on advice to others based on his own transformation. Swami’s goal is to bring mindfulness to the masses, specifically focusing on the impoverished and underprivileged. He teaches meditation at The Boys and Girls clubs of East Los Angeles, as well as schools throughout the city.

New Alzheimer’s Vaccine Could Be As Common As The Flu Shot

Dana Dovey 

Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating, incurable illness affecting an estimated 5.4 million American adults. However, a new study suggests that a vaccine for the condition could become a reality in as little as five years, and may one day become as much of a fixture in the lives of our aging population as the common flu shot.

The study comes from researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide Australia in partnership with a ­research team at the Institute of Molecular Medicine, and University of California, Irvine. Although the exact pathology of Alzheimer’s is not clear, scientists know that two proteins in the brain, amyloid-beta (a-beta) and tau, play an important role. When these proteins die, they can build up into plaques and block connections between brain nerve cells. Autopsies have shown that these plaques are always present in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients, although Medical News Today reported that it is not clear if there are other underlying processes also contributing to the disease. The vaccine would address this protein buildup.
"Essentially what we have designed is a vaccine that makes the immune system produce antibodies and those antibodies act like tow trucks so they come to your driveway, they latch on to the breakdown protein or car and they pull it out of the driveway,” said Flinders University medicine professor Nikolai Petrovsky, ABC News reported.
In animal studies, the antibodies work best to block a-beta before the subjects have developed the disease. Interestingly, the antibodies are effective at reversing the buildup of tau proteins once the disease has already progressed. At this moment, the vaccine is still not yet ready for human trials, but according to Petrovsky, “given the demand for a vaccine, if we show it is successful in the early stages we expect this will be pulled through and turned into product very, very quickly.”
According to Medical News Today, someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s disease every 67 seconds. The condition is considered to be a form of dementia, and 1 in 3 seniors die with Alzheimer's or another dementia. The condition is degenerative, meaning that it progresses over time. Memory loss is a common early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, but challenges in problem solving, confusion with time, trouble writing and speaking, and difficulty completing tasks are also present in many in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.
Although there is no clear way to prevent the disease, recent research has suggested that eating blueberries may help to lower your risk. The research, conducted by a team from The University of Cincinnati, found that anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid that acts as an antioxidant within the fruit that gives the berry its rich color, help to prevent age-related damage at the cellular level within the plants and may do the same in humans. The researchers gave seniors with signs of mild cognitive impairments blueberry-rich diets and found the group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts compared to the control group.
In addition to preventing Alzheimer’s, early detection is also very important. Just this month, researchers at the University of Minnesota teamed up with CytoViva, an Alabama-based imaging technology company, to reveal their research on an eye test that could help to detect Alzheimer’s before the onset of physical symptoms.
At the moment, the problem with the experimental Alzheimer’s vaccine is not making sure the vaccine works, but ensuring that it is strong enough to actually make a difference in a patient’s health. However, if this hurdle is addressed then the vaccine could be used as a preventative treatment in as little as five years and be given to people at around 50 years of age when they are perfectly fine to stop them developing dementia, The Australian reported.
Source: Davtyan H, Zagorski K, Rajapaksha H, et al. Alzheimer’s Disease AdvaxCpG- Adjuvanted MultiTEP-Based Dual and Single Vaccines Induce High-Titer Antibodies Against Various Forms of Tau and Aβ Pathological Molecules. Nature’s Scientific Reports. 2016.

Electricity From Salt Water: A New Abundant Clean Energy Source From Rivers

Anthony Cuthbertson

River mouths around the world may soon provide an abundant new source of clean energy after scientists developed an efficient system to generate electricity from salt water.

Research published this week in the journal Nature outlines how significant amounts of power can be generated from a natural phenomenon that occurs when fresh water comes into contact with seawater through a membrane.

The process of osmosis that occurs can be harnessed to capture the electrical charge of the salt ions that travel through the membrane to balance the concentrations in each liquid.

“We had to first fabricate and then investigate the optimal size of the nanopore,” said Jiandong Feng, a researcher at EPFL’s Laboratory of Nanoscale Biology and lead author of the research.

“If it’s too big, negative ions can pass through and the resulting voltage would be too low. If it’s too small, not enough ions can pass through and the current would be too weak.”

Osmosis is seen as a promising source of renewable energy, with the potential for technology deployed in river estuaries where fresh water from rivers meets the salt water of the sea. Unlike solar panels that require adequate sunlight, or wind turbines that require adequate wind, osmotic energy can be produced any time of day or night.

Pilot projects of harnessing osmotic power have taken place in Europe, Japan and the U.S., using fragile membranes that deliver low yields of electricity.

The potential of the new system is huge, with the researchers calculating that a 1m² membrane would be able to produce enough electricity to power 50,000 standard energy-saving light bulbs.

Before this technology can be scaled up in this way, however, scientists need to find a way to make relatively uniform pores.

Daily Inspirational Quote for July 16, 2016

“Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”

Easy to say but not so easy to do! We have all had times and, no doubt, will again, when we’ve felt the sun would never shine again for us. Times when perhaps life has pulled on boxing gloves and we’ve been defenseless against the ensuing onslaught. Some blows can be dodged or parried so they land lightly and, although painful, we can recover quickly. However, some blows may knock the very breath from us and bring us to our knees, defeated. However, we all have the spark of endurance, of living to fight another day within us so use this to lift your face to the sun and banish the shadows to the past where they belong.


How Poetry Captivates Us

Former US poet laureate Robert Hass demonstrates the awe-inspiring power of poetry, in a series of readings that will make you say, “Woah!”

Robert Hass is one of contemporary American poetry’s most celebrated and widely-read voices. He served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1995-1997 and has won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. More about Robert Hass.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Daily Inspirational Quote for July 15, 2016

“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

Now doesn’t that just make perfect sense? I am a great believer in that old adage, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” so, if there’s something I want to do, and I need someone else’s agreement, I ask! If I get turned down, at least I’m not always going to regret not asking and wondering about the outcome for a long time to come. If I get the green light, well done me for actually asking. That’s the “door.” Always be prepared to “knock” and ask and you just might be pleasantly surprised. What have you got to lose?


Bolivia's Law of Mother Earth

Imagine a lake having the same rights as a landowner. Or a condor with the same rights as a child. Under Bolivia's historic Law of Mother Earth, signed into law in 2010, all entities in nature have equal rights to humans. Based on Andean spiritual principles, the law was enacted in an effort to curb climate change and the exploitation of Bolivia's natural resources. It spells out seven specific rights that nature and all its constituents have. Read nature's rights and find out more about this groundbreaking, comprehensive plan to protect the environment.

--by Ryan Hewlett

Bolivia’s Law of Mother Earth (“Ley de Derechos de La Madre Tierra”) holds the land as sacred and holds it as a living system with rights to be protected from exploitation.

The law, which was passed by Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly in November 2010 is part of a complete restructuring of the Bolivian legal system following a change of constitution in 2009.

It has been heavily influenced by a resurgent indigenous Andean spiritual world view which places the environment and the earth deity known as the Pachamama at the center of all life. Humans are considered equal to all other entities.

In accordance with the philosophy of Pachamama, it states, “She is sacred, fertile and the source of life that feeds and cares for all living beings in her womb. She is in permanent balance, harmony and communication with the cosmos. She is comprised of all ecosystems and living beings, and their self-organization.”

The passing of The Law of Mother Earth has established 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

“It makes world history. Earth is the mother of all,” said Vice-President Alvaro García Linera. “It establishes a new relationship between man and nature, the harmony of which must be preserved as a guarantee of its regeneration.”

The passing of such a law is a landmark move from a nation that has long suffered from serious environmental problems and from the mining of its raw materials including tin, silver and gold.
“Existing laws are not strong enough,” said Undarico Pinto, leader of the 3.5m-strong Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, the biggest social movement, who helped draft the law. “It will make industry more transparent. It will allow people to regulate industry at national, regional and local levels.”

Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said Bolivia’s traditional indigenous respect for the Pachamama was vital to prevent climate change.

According to the Guardian, Choquehuanca said: “Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family. We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values,” he said.

The law enumerates seven specific rights to which Mother Earth and her constituent life systems, including human communities, are entitled to:

To life: It is the right to the maintenance of the integrity of life systems and natural processes which sustain them, as well as the capacities and conditions for their renewal

To the Diversity of Life: It is the right to the preservation of the differentiation and variety of the beings that comprise Mother Earth, without being genetically altered, nor artificially modified in their structure, in such a manner that threatens their existence, functioning and future potential

To water: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of water to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components

To clean air: It is the right of the preservation of the quality and composition of air to sustain life systems and their protection with regards to contamination, for renewal of the life of Mother Earth and all its components

To equilibrium: It is the right to maintenance or restoration of the inter-relation, interdependence, ability to complement and functionality of the components of Mother Earth, in a balanced manner for the continuation of its cycles and the renewal of its vital processes

To restoration: It is the right to the effective and opportune restoration of life systems affected by direct or indirect human activities

To live free of contamination: It is the right for preservation of Mother Earth and any of its components with regards to toxic and radioactive waste generated by human activities

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Daily Inspirational Quote for July 14, 2016

“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”

Definitely! I believe that every one of us, no matter who we are or what kind of background or upbringing we had, all have our own unique gift or talent. The most advantageous and sensible route for us to take therefore is to realize this and take steps to use it to further our goals and ambitions in life. This is what defines us and how other people will perceive us, so we want to be the best we can in the eyes of the people who matter most to us, don’t we?


What Motivates You to Be Generous?

By Sharon Begley

Recent research helps illuminate what's going on in our heads when we choose to give or to hold back.

I’m skeptical about the benefits of compassion meditation. Scientists, like humans generally, fall into the trap of looking for explanations that suit them best. Meditation may indeed do all that is claimed. But has research really demonstrated that fact?
Researchers often find that after several weeks of compassion meditation practice, people perform more acts of kindness and caring outside the lab, such as visiting a retirement home or telling a coworker what they appreciate about her. They also report more feelings of compassion toward suffering people. They act more kindly toward strangers. They become less subject to the “bystander effect,” whereby everyone assumes that someone else will step up and come to the aid of a stranger in need. They more readily offer an exhausted woman a chair, as occurred in a 2015 study at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
Illustration by Sébastien Thibault
But the way these studies are usually conducted, they cannot rule out two alternative explanations for the effects attributed to meditation. One is a placebo response: People who practice compassion meditation might believe it makes them kinder, better people—and expectation makes it so. The other possible explanation is a desire to please the researchers: If volunteers guess what effect the scientists are looking for, they may consciously or unconsciously produce it. In either case, meditation itself wouldn’t be doing what researchers think it is.
These questions were running through my mind when I encountered a 2016 study on compassion meditation and generosity by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In general, in compassion meditation, you focus on suffering individuals, then groups of suffering people, then all of suffering humanity. In each case, you express the wish that they be free from suffering. It has been a mystery what compassion meditation actually does to produce the compassionate behavior and thoughts. So when Colorado’s Yoni Ashar and his colleagues set out to “show how compassion meditation changes how we think and feel about suffering people”—which would presumably lead people to be more generous—their study design was unusually exacting.
They showed 200 participants fictional biographies and photographs of people in need. The volunteers rated the following: their feelings of warmth toward each suffering individual, how much distress they felt at the person’s situation, how much blame they felt the individual deserved for his plight, and how much the person would benefit from a donation.
The volunteers could then donate up to $1 to each of the sufferers. Contrary to the belief that distress makes people less generous by making them turn away from suffering to relieve their own discomfort, the researchers found that greater distress predicted greater generosity. But so did these factors: thinking the person was blameless, believing a donation would actually help, and feeling warmth toward the sufferer. Curiously, having values, interests, and demographic features in common didn’t make people more generous, the researchers reported in the journal Emotion.
That challenged a widespread idea that we’re more generous to People Like Us (PLUs). We might be. But if so, it’s because we feel greater warmth toward PLUs and are more likely to think they’re not to blame for their suffering, rather than because similarity directly triggers generosity.
For the compassion meditation part of the generosity study, 58 new participants listened to biographies of suffering people—an orphaned child, a cancer victim, a homeless veteran—and were asked how much of the $100 the researchers gave them they’d like to donate to the person whose story they just heard. Then the group was split in three: some listened again to one biography; others engaged in a guided compassion-meditation session every day for four weeks; the rest were given a placebo, a nasal spray they were told contained an empathy-increasing hormone (a.k.a. H2O).
The participants were asked again if they would like to donate up to $100 to the individual they most recently learned about. The meditators reported significantly more compassion (positive feelings toward those in need) than the “compassion placebo” group did, suggesting that this effect is a real, direct consequence of meditating. But the effect on generosity wasn’t straightforward. The meditating group did not make more generous donations after four weeks of daily compassion meditation than they had before—despite the increase in generosity-associated feelings. Ashar and his colleagues aren’t sure how to explain why feelings didn’t translate into behavior, but they did find one ray of hope in the data: The meditators’ giving did not drop off as sharply as the other groups’ did (the familiar phenomenon of “donor fatigue”).
It’s surprising that fundamental questions about generosity—what thoughts and feelings trigger it?—are still unanswered. In a world of vast unmet needs, where figuring out how to bring out the best in people could go far to alleviate suffering, that’s a troubling knowledge gap. But researchers are making some headway. They are learning, for instance, that generosity does not seem to be an instinctive, default behavior: When experimenters gave one child three marbles and another just one, only one-third of the kids spontaneously evened things out, according to a 2015 report from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
Perhaps generosity is an emotional or cognitive skill that must be learned. If so, it might explain this: Although three-year-olds in societies as different as urban California and hunter-gathering Aka shared treats that scientists gave them only one-third of the time (and became less likely to be generous through age seven), as they got older their generosity matched the norms of their culture—more evidence that generosity is a skill that one learns…or doesn’t.
It is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity, said Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. But generosity wanes if people perceive the world as full of threats and looming scarcity rather than of abundance and security—one of the individual traits most predictive of individual generosity.
Perhaps the strongest message from the science of generosity is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion she feels and the more generous she’s likely to be. I’m reminded of this every time I see someone who looks destitute drop a few coins into a panhandler’s cup while expensively dressed commuters rush past. That fits with Ashar’s conclusion that belief in the sufferer’s blamelessness and expecting a donation to make a difference predict generosity. Someone who knows what it is to suffer also knows how outside forces can land one in deep poverty through little fault of one’s own, and how wonderful it can be to have a dollar for a McDonald’s coffee.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Daily Inspirational Quote for July 13, 2016

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Not something that ever occurred to me before I came across this quote but, when I did, it make perfect sense. It’s only natural that as we grow and mature into the person we become so our thoughts grow with us. We subconsciously allow our thoughts to shape us in what we come to believe and how we perceive the people or events we encounter on our journey through life. These thoughts become “who we are” and I, for one, never took the time to examine and explore just who I “am”. However, fortunately, for the past several years I have changed my thought pattern, mainly around what I am capable of achieving and what kind of person I ultimately want to be. Taking time to do this definitely changed my whole perception of my world. Perhaps time for some thought spring cleaning in your life….?


A Tribute to Mr. Happy Man

For over thirty years, Bermuda's Johnny Barnes stationed himself every morning for six hours at a busy traffic intersection. He made sure to tell all who passed by that he loved them. His delight and sincerity were infectious, and the people of the island loved him back. His service was a simple reminder of the power of happiness and loving-kindness to change any day for the better. Though Barnes passed away earlier this week, his spirit lives on in this beautiful film, and in all the hearts he touched.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Robin Williams, in private and public

"Robin Williams: A Singular Portrait"

CREDIT: Arthur Grace

Robin McLaurin Williams was an American actor and comedian. Starting as a stand-up comedian in San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, he is credited with leading San Francisco's comedy renaissance.

Born: July 21, 1951, Chicago, IL

Died: August 11, 2014, Paradise Cay, CA

Children: Zelda Williams, Zachary Pym Williams, Cody Alan Williams

Spouse: Susan Schneider (m. 2011–2014), Marsha Garces (m. 1989–2010), Valerie Velardi (m. 1978–1988) 

Kids Need More Than Just Brains to Succeed

By Jill Suttie

A conversation with Paul Tough about his new book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why.

Science journalist Paul Tough first became fascinated by how kids in poverty overcome hardship when he met Jeffrey Canada, the charismatic founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which provided comprehensive support for the disadvantaged, low-income kids in central Harlem. HCZ had produced promising results for kids, especially in terms of graduation rates and test scores.
Paul ToughPaul Tough
But after chronicling Canada’s work in his book, Whatever it Takes, Tough was left with more questions: What did we actually understand about the lives of kids growing up in poverty? Of all the many obstacles they are facing, which are the ones that are making it most difficult for them to succeed at high levels? And, when kids are succeeding in disadvantaged circumstances, what is it that’s different about their lives?
These questions led him to dive further into psychological research, where he discovered that many non-cognitive capacities—things like grit, perseverance, self-regulation, and optimism—were instrumental in helping a child succeed, and that test scores were not that predictive. In his newest book, Helping Children Succeed, Tough makes the argument that these capacities, though important, cannot be taught, but instead can develop when the right environmental supports are available to kids in their families and schools.
Tough’s book is a plea to change the way we think of poverty’s affects on learning, and to focus on what we can do to support parents and teachers in their quest to help children succeed. I talked with Tough about his new book and its implications.
Jill Suttie: Why are non-cognitive skills difficult to teach?

Paul Tough: First, I think it’s that they are not skills; they’re more like psychological states or mindsets. One of the things I’m trying to do with Helping Children Succeed is to shift our perception, to shift the frame through which we’re seeing these non-cognitive qualities away from one that sees them as academic skills to one that is looking at them as the product of kids’ environment. Then we won’t ask, How do we teach them? Or, Why can’t we teach them? It will be clear that trying to “teach” kids these capacities is not the best way to help them grow in these dimensions.
JS: What are some of the environmental supports that promote the qualities you’re talking about then?

PT: In the book, I wrote about supports in two different realms—one being in the home, in early childhood, and one being in the classroom. The neuro-scientific research tells us that when kids are in early environments that are responsive, interactive, and warm and stable, and involve what psychologists sometimes call “serve and return” parenting, which involves face to face, back and forth interactions between parents and their babies, that creates secure attachment—a real sense of security that kids have with parents or other caregivers. Those are important prerequisites for the development of these non-cognitive capacities. In order for kids to have perseverance and tenacity in school later on, they need to start with self-regulatory abilities—the ability to calm themselves down, to focus on something for long periods of time, executive functions, as researchers sometimes call them. Those are developed in early childhood, and they are very much the product of the environment that parents create.
In K-12 education, teachers, educators, and school leaders can create environments in the classroom that change students’ mindsets by implicitly and explicitly giving them messages around belonging and possibility. When kids are given the message that they belong in the academic community, it has a profound effect on their motivation and on their ability to persevere and to stick with projects and problems for long periods of time. And if you’re in a school where you’re given the message that failure is part of the process of learning and that people change, and that you can improve your abilities, and that challenge is part of that process, those are the kids who are much more motivated to persevere, and work hard, and take on more challenges. Those are the school environments where kids are going to thrive the most.
JS: What kinds of innovative programs have you found that are good at encouraging the kinds of environments that kids need to succeed?

PT: One of the ones I’m most excited about is Expeditionary Learning Schools—about 150 schools spread out over the country in both public and charter schools, some with well off kids, some with kids in poverty. They use two broad sets of techniques that are especially powerful in creating environments in the classroom and in the school that tend to motivate kids to persevere, work harder, and feel connected to their work. One has to do with relationship and connection. Every student is part of a group of students, with a teacher leader, called a “crew.” They meet every morning for half an hour, and they stick together for many years. This gives kids a sense of connection, of belonging and relatedness, and all of the psychological research suggests that those are incredibly powerful motivators to persevere at school.
The second technique they use is really challenging academic work—rigorous, long-term projects that students take on, where they can’t help but learn in a deeper way. In addition to the academic skills that kids are learning in those deeper learning environments, they’re also experiencing a psychological message: I can learn from my mistakes; I can get better at things. I can take on challenges that seem impossible; I can get the right kind of help; and I can solve them. When kids get that message, not only does it make them feel much more a sense of connection, engagement, and excitement in the short term, it also give them a new psychological frame for the future. So a few years down the road when they are in college, suddenly meeting work that is way beyond them, they can call upon that memory of having tried something that felt like an impossible challenge and having overcome it, and it will convince them that they can do it again. It’s such a powerful experience for kids, and I think many children don’t ever have that experience in school, especially kids growing up in poverty.
JS: In your book, you write about the research of Kirabo Jackson on teacher assessment approaches. Can you explain his findings and their significance?

PT: Kirabo is an economist at Northwestern who set out to investigate the idea of assessing teachers by what economists call “value added”—the value that teachers add to their students. It’s very controversial in many states, especially when it’s used in high stakes accountability measures. A lot of people feel that test scores alone are not a full measure of what kids are learning or how successful they’re going to be. And yet the problem with trying to put numbers on non-cognitive qualities is that we don’t have measures for grit or self-control that are as reliable as the standardized tests are for cognitive skills.
So Kirabo created a proxy measure for non-cognitive abilities in students, using just four pieces of information that already existed in a North Carolina database: attendance (whether kids showed up at school); behavior (whether they behaved appropriately); GPA (both in the teacher’s class and in the year as a whole); and grade progression (how likely kids were to move on to the next grade).
Kirabo correctly intuited that these were reflections of a certain kind of attitude in students, and that the students who did better in those dimensions would be the ones who were engaged and motivated. And, what he found is that there were certain teachers who were reliably better able than others to improve their student’s performance on these proxy measures. If you were a student in one of these teachers’ classes, you were more likely to show up every day, more likely to work hard, and less likely to get in trouble. And that’s an incredible skill for a teacher to have. Using the tools of economics, he showed that those teachers are having a bigger effect on students’ long term outcomes—including high school graduation, and college matriculation and graduation—than the teachers who were particularly good at raising students’ test scores. Before Kirabo, no one thought these teachers were doing anything at all and certainly nothing important.
For me, there are two things to take away from Kirabo’s work. One is that we should be thinking about value-added in a different way, and that there’s maybe an innovative way to measure more broadly the effectiveness of teachers. But the second thing is to start thinking about what’s really going on in those classrooms. There’s something about the classroom environment that certain teachers are creating that makes students feel more of a sense of belonging and motivation and the desire to take on challenges. We don’t yet understand enough about how teachers create that, but it’s incredibly valuable, and we should figure it out and replicate it all over the place.
JS: How do you respond to people that say these kinds of interventions are not enough to combat systemic problems of poverty and that we shouldn’t be putting our focus on parents or teachers?

PT: There are 15 million American children in poverty and about half of those—about seven million—are in what economists call “deep poverty,” meaning their families are not only below the poverty line, they make below less than half of the poverty line, which is about $12,000 for a family of four. No one should be growing up in that situation. But we as a nation have not done enough to solve the problems of those kids and their families. What we know is that material deprivation goes hand in hand with all kinds of chaos and instability and stress that have a huge effect on kids’ development, including the kinds of skills they need to succeed in school.
So faced with that, are the kinds of interventions I’m talking about enough? No, they are not enough. There is a lot else we should do to try to create a more equal society. But I think that the best lever we have for improving opportunity and decreasing inequality is education, broadly framed—changing the environment kids are living in at home and in school and creating more opportunities for them to succeed. We know we can do a great deal to help a child born into deep poverty if we give them the right kinds of opportunities. So, if we can systematize that for kids, and I think that’s a matter of both policy and practice, I think we’re going to make huge strides in changing outcomes for those kids. That’s where I think we should put our energies.
JS: Why do you think there isn’t more of that happening already—is it political will or a lack of understanding?

PT: I think it’s a mixture. A lot of this research is pretty new. I was aware of some of the early childhood research when I wrote my last book, How Children Succeed. But a lot of this research is just from the last three years. In the K-12 realm, the idea that teachers can be coached to provide a different kind of environment for students and that those environments make a big difference is not mainstream thinking right now in education. As with anything, when you’re trying to change people’s fundamental understanding of the work they’re doing, it takes time. I’m hoping that my book will be part of the process of spreading these ideas and giving all of us—but especially parents, teachers, and policy makers—a different frame through which to view childhood development.