Archive for the ‘Gladwell, Malcolm’ Category

Re-opening schools may not be as easy as it sounds.

June 22, 2020

Complying with CDC guidelines may be cost prohibitive and logistically impossible.

One of my biggest coronavirus concerns has been the school-shut-down impact on kids … both socially and educationally.

Since children are negligibly hurt by the virus (i.e. lower infection vulnerability, minor or no symptoms when infected, low transmission-forward rate),  I’ve been a advocate for re-opening schools ASAP.

I’ve been implicitly assuming that “cleaning” the schools’ environment would be no big deal … just move the desks further apart and double down on nighttime deep-cleaning.


I’ve been glossing over the economics and the logistics…


The “summer slide” meets the coronavirus…

June 18, 2020

In his 2008 bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the notion of an educational “summer slide”.

Referencing a tracking study of Baltimore City Public School students, Gladwell highlighted evidence that students’ standardized test scores in the fall were generally lower than their scores in the prior spring.

His observation: “Between school years, students’ accumulated learning is diminished”.

In other words, there is a statistically significant “forget factor” if learning isn’t reinforced and edged forward with summer enrichment activities (think: summer school, educational camps, field trips, parental tutoring).

The summer slide is most pronounced for poor students who lack summer enrichment opportunities … and for all students in math. 

The black line below illustrates the math score drop-off for typical 3rd, 4th and 5th graders. On average, the typical summer slide in math skills is about 2%.  That is, students are 2% less proficient in math after their summer vacations.

Source: WSJ

To make matters worse, note the red line on the chart … it illustrates the projected drop-off due to this year’s virus-induced school closings.

It’s estimated that students will be about 5% less proficient in math than they were when the schools closed … the combined effect of lesser learning during the schools’ shut-down period and an extended summer slide (with many schools declaring no mas in early June) .

More specifically…


Flashback: “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell.

April 24, 2020

The forces that trigger epidemics.

Malcom Gladwell, a pop-culture observer and author, hit it big 2 decades ago with his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Primarily aimed at marketers, this best-seller provides a construct for understanding why some products and ideas languish and never gain traction … while others take off and rise quickly to broadscale acceptance.

Much of Gladwell’s thinking is derived from his study of contagions and epidemics … which makes it relevant today as we try to understand the coronavirus pandemic.


Gladwell suggests that there are 3 key elements that need be present for an epidemic to reach a “tipping point” and takeoff: (1) Content – the infectious agent, (2) Carriers – the individuals who transmit the infection, and (3) Context – the environment in which the infectious agent  operates.

Let’s drill down on each of those…