Johns Hopkins Magazine -- June 2000
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JUNE 2000

P U B L I C    P O L I C Y    &    I N T E R N A T I O N A L


Dissecting the roots of corruption
Heading off the "summer slide"
Beyond the caricature

Dissecting the roots of corruption

Bribes and kickbacks are now the stuff of foreign policy.

With the end of the Cold War, corrupt economies--as seen in Russia, Indonesia, South Korea, China, and nations of the former Eastern Europe, among others--have fueled growing concerns about political instability and risky investment quagmires. Just how to eradicate such corruption has created dilemmas among governments hoping to thrive in a competitive world market that values lean, productive enterprises that don't siphon off money.

In the end, deep-seated corruption puts the economic development of nations--as well the new open international marketplace--at risk, analysts say.

Illustration by Sean Kane
In an April conference, "Corruption in Asia: Fostering Integrity in Business and Government," at Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), experts debated what may be the second oldest profession in the world. Asia, which suffered a severe financial crisis in the late 1990s linked partly to corruption, served as the focus of panel discussions organized by students in the Southeast Asia Studies Program.

The causes of corruption include the abuse of gift-giving customs, the King Deserves to Be Rich ideal, and the plight of underpaid workers trying to fill the income gap, experts noted. Some solutions: international pressure from the private and public sectors, training in professionalism among business and military groups, and a requirement that corporate leaders open their books if they want to attract foreign investment. Once viewed as too boring or taboo to discuss, auditable corporate record keeping--known as transparency--now interests international policy-making bodies. And U.S. policy-makers, including Department of Defense and White House officials, are on board. In February 1999, Vice President Al Gore hosted "A Global Forum on Fighting Corruption."

Some thoughts on the issue from conference panelists:

"The roots of corruption run very, very deep. It has been accepted by big businesses and small businesses, by public and private [organizations]. This has been standard operating procedure accepted on every level."
--Roger S. Leeds, director of SAIS's Center for International Business and Public Policy, a panel moderator.

"Since the U.S. can't even solve the campaign fund[-raising] issue, don't expect that Indonesia could solve the problem prior to the American[s]."
--Christianto Wibisono, founder and managing director of Indonesian Business Data Center, who spoke about the history of corruption in his country dating back to the colonial Dutch East India Co.

"The key isn't just education and enforcement . . . the key is paying public workers a living, decent salary."
--Keynote speaker Daniel Fung, former solicitor general of Hong Kong (1994-1998), who described Hong Kong's success in fighting corruption. To make his point, Fung cited a saying: "If you only pay peanuts, you only get monkeys working for you."

"If you are given a gift and you want to keep it, you can't. And if you are given a gift and you don't want to keep it, you can. It works every time."
--Ralph L. (Skip) Boyce, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia & Pacific Affairs, who spoke about intricate State Department rules defining which gifts U.S. diplomats can accept (the better the gift, the less likely it's allowed).
--Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson

Heading off the "summer slide"

It's 85 degrees and sunny outside and the convoluted math problem on the board is leaving a kid cold: summer school rarely has topped any student's top 10 list.

Yet studies have shown that some students, especially disadvantaged students with fewer educational resources, lose ground in reading and other subjects during the three months off. The loss, as previously reported by Hopkins sociology researchers Karl L. Alexander and Doris R. Entwisle, is known as "the summer slide."

While many students get rusty in math, it's the disadvantaged students--the urban poor who are less apt to read with their parents or make trips to libraries--who fall farther behind in reading. The slide means students can fall back three months in reading, or one-third of the previous school year, just as they return to the classroom in the fall. With each successive year, the gap between low and average achievers can widen.

In response, school districts nationwide are adopting summer school programs. Now researchers at Hopkins are proposing that summer instruction given as early as kindergarten could help prevent the slide from starting.

Geoffrey Borman, associate research scientist at Hopkins's Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS), is heading a three-year study of more than 400 post-kindergartners enrolled in impoverished Baltimore City schools.

Illustration by Charles Beyl
CSOS researchers are working with Teach Baltimore, a tutoring program staffed mostly by Hopkins student volunteers. Through the study, tutors work with children the summer before first grade. The 5- and 6-year-olds accepted into Teach Baltimore spend nearly two hours a day doing phonics-based reading, then practice writing; They focus on math skills via children's story books such as Draw Me a Star by Eric Carle; There are also music, art and foreign language opportunities, meals, and field trips to places like the Washington Zoo, Port Discovery Children's Museum, bowling alleys, and elsewhere.

Such extras could be helpful, says Hopkins sociologist Karl Alexander. "Traditional summer schools can be seen as boring and perceived as punitive. It is stigmatizing and kids do it grudgingly," says Alexander. "The trick to making this work well is to bring kids on board, get them engaged and enthusiastic and having a good time."

Results from the first year of the study show that tutored students who had previously scored in the 35th percentile of students nationwide made a modest 3 point gain by summer's end. Control group students who weren't tutored lost 1 to 1.5 percentile points by the fall, tests show.

CSOS researchers are hopeful that relatively small gains among the experimental group will continue to add up over three years, helping prevent the gap from widening. (Average students nationwide score in the 50th percentile.)

Yet Teach Baltimore faces problems familiar to other summer school programs. Students and their families move around, making them difficult to track over the three years. The school district has changed the standardized test, creating logistical problems. And the lowest achievers in the group are not making real gains. Parents in those cases sometimes fail to get the young students to school.

Other questions remain: Can volunteers do the job of certified teachers? "There are [researchers] who are dubious that volunteers can provide effective instruction," Alexander says.

In part, that's why this study's outcome will prove interesting. Teach Baltimore, a group founded in 1992 by Matthew Boulay '93 (MA '93, '98), gives tutors about two weeks of intense training in the school system's curriculum. This year, tutors will spend at least one day solely focused on techniques in reading instruction. "We hope that will get at it a little better," says Jody Kaplan, Teach Baltimore program coordinator.

Borman suggests that well-trained volunteers could alleviate some school districts' concerns about year-round teacher burnout and expense.

The four-year study (a second group of 260 students will be added this summer) is being funded by local foundations and a $400,000 grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation, a not-for-profit research foundation. Borman says study results will be evaluated by an external review board of education professionals.

Hopkins sociologist Entwisle, who in 1997 published a book with Alexander and senior research assistant Linda Olson called Children, School, and Inequality, warns against being too optimistic about any single solution. "It's premature and not very wise to think of it being able to close the gap between rich and poor," says the professor emerita. Being realistic about outcomes is important, Entwisle adds, because educators can become jaded when another effort doesn't work as well as expected. "They start to think it's futile."

Beyond the caricature

President Bill Clinton made a major policy speech this spring at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)--launching his months-long lobbying blitz for Congress to support normalized trade relations with China. His visit marks the first by a sitting U.S. president in the school's half-century history.

Clinton, who considers China to be a top foreign policy issue of his final year in office, argues that an open marketplace in China--and that nation's desire to modernize--would inevitably lead to greater economic and political freedoms.

"In the new century, liberty will spread by cell phone and cable modem," Clinton told the audience of invited SAIS faculty, students, Hopkins administrators, high government officials, and the media. The president pointed out that the number of Internet addresses in China already has quadrupled in the last year from 2 million to 9 million, a number that is expected to double again to 20 million by the end of this year.

If approved, Clinton says, the trade agreement could become a historic landmark in improved U.S.-Sino relations:"Like all human beings everywhere, we see this relationship through the prism of our own experience. In the early 1900s, most Americans saw China either through the eyes of traders seeking new markets or missionaries seeking new converts. During World War II, China was our ally; during the Korean War, our adversary. At the dawn of the Cold War, when I was a young boy beginning to study such things, it was a cudgel in a political battle: 'Who lost China?'

"Later it was a counterweight to the Soviet Union. And now, in some people's eyes, it's a caricature," Clinton said. "Will it be the next great capitalist tiger, with the biggest market in the world, or the world's last great communist dragon and a threat to stability in Asia?"