Little Eddie's First Annual Loosely Connected Holiday Mashup

I’m starting to get pretty excited for the holidays. School’s out, the tree is decorated, the lights are up (dad only fell off the ladder once this year), and a healthy pile of presents has accumulated in the living room. Meanwhile, the holiday policy doldrums have officially arrived, which that means that yours truly will soon be riding off into the snowy sunset for a few days of family, fun, and rest. I hate to send you away empty handed, though, so I’d like to humbly present Little Eddie’s First Annual Loosely Connected Holiday Mashup.

First up is a sweet story about Cathie Salmon-Wolff, a school board member in Hanover 28 who opens her house to the district’s kids each year for a Christmas extravaganza. Roughly 70 percent of Hanover’s 251 students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, which means that Salmon-Wolff’s party may be the only fun holiday outing many of these kids get. The kiddos get to have their pictures taken with Santa, make Christmas ornaments, and explore Salmon-Wolff’s meticulously decorated home—and it sounds like they have a lot of fun doing it. One second grader exclaimed that the party was “the best day of [her] life!” Good for you, Cathie.

Next in line is a funny (to statistics nerds, anyway) tongue-in-cheek piece from Matthew Chingos at Education Next. The piece is actually a repost of a year-old article, but it proves entertaining nonetheless. In a clever parody of the data twisting that goes on in education policy, Chingos finagles National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and consumer holiday spending numbers until he finds a statistically significant relationship between “holiday cheer” and academic performance.

Do students learn more in years when there’s more holiday cheer? The figure below shows that they do—student learning rises more or less in lock-step with the amount of holiday spending, a causal effect that is statistically significant at the 1% level. Standardizing the NAEP scores and putting the spending index on a logarithmic scale implies that if we could just have about 30% more holiday spirit, our students would do as well as those in Finland!

And to think that all these years I thought things like school choice, individualized learning, and innovation were the answers to our educational woes. All we need to do is break out our wallets and spend more money for Christmas. Talk about “corporate reform”!

My folks will appreciate the next story. Like many other parents out there, they sometimes need a break during the holidays. And I never say no to dinosaur shows. Fortunately, those two things may have found an education-related synergy.

Mike Petrilli at the Fordham Institute has put together a list of the best educational Netflix shows. Channeling E. D. Hirsch, Jr., the father of the popular Core Knowledge curriculum, Petrilli argues that Netflix can be a powerful way to build the base knowledge that children need to learn more complex concept and skills later on. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong. Either way, DINOSAURS.

Lastly, I want to remind everyone that not every kid has a bright holiday season ahead of him or her. Colorado Public Radio reports that although toy donations are flowing healthily, Colorado charities are struggling to meet the demand for holiday food baskets as Turkey Day II draws near. That’s especially problematic because many needy Colorado kids find themselves cut off from school-provided meals and snacks during the holidays. So if you decide to donate something at the last minute this year, consider donating a turkey and some cranberry sauce instead of a T-Rex with battle damage.

Okay, friends. That’s all I’ve got for you. Have a wonderful holiday, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!