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Public engagement: hidden costs for research careers?

Richard Watermeyer:

It is often assumed that academics’ efforts to engage the public are inherently a good thing.

The Public Understanding of Science movement has long backed the idea that the public must be included in science governance if science is to achieve openness, transparency and accountability, and that this approach helps to preserve public trust and confidence in science, or restore it where it has been lost or fractured.

Over the years, there has been a shift in emphasis from communication and understanding to dialogue and debate, captured by the term “public engagement”. This has come to symbolise a wider shift in higher education from universities as “ivory towers” to universities as transparent, porous, public institutions. Public engagement is touted by its advocates as a means with which to mobilise and empower the public and academe through a two-way relationship of trust, respect and interdependency, leading to collaboration and even co-production. These are honourable ambitions, which the academic community would do well to be guided by.

Andrew Cuomo Rebukes Teachers Unions: ‘Don’t Say You Represent the Students’

NY Daily News:

“If (the public) understood what was happening with education to their children, there would be an outrage in this city,” Cuomo said. “I’m telling you, they would take City Hall down brick by brick.

“It’s only because it’s complicated that people don’t get it.”

Cuomo referred to the teacher unions and the entrenched education establishment as an “industry” that is more interested in protecting the rights of its members than improving the system for the kids it is supposed to be serving.

“Somewhere along the way, I believe we flipped the purpose of this,” Cuomo said. “This was never a teacher employment program and this was never an industry to hire superintendents and teachers.

“This was a program to educate kids.” …

iPad App Brings Braille Keyboard to Blind Users’ Fingertips

Christina Bonnington:

The proliferation of touchscreen technology may have revolutionized mobile computer input for most everyone, but there’s one sector of the population that isn’t exactly feeling the pinch, the tap, or the swipe: the blind. It’s nearly impossible to interact with elements on a totally smooth screen if you can’t see.

iBrailler Notes, which began as a summer project at Stanford University in 2011 and is now available as a stand-alone app for iOS, aims to offer blind and vision-impaired iPad users an easy way to type Braille notes and perform basic word processing on a touchscreen.

Teacher Evaluations Still Need to Be Better


In the past few years, more states have incorporated student success as part of teacher evaluation systems. However, as TNTP reports on its blog, implementation is not measuring up to policy, and in most cases evaluations don’t offer enough meaningful feedback or put forth specific criteria by which to measure teachers.

Overwhelmingly positive evaluation results teachers continue to receive aren’t helping teachers, either. The primary purpose of evaluation should be to lay out clear performance standards and provide fair, accurate feedback on performance against those standards to help teachers improve. Our best teachers want that feedback. When virtually all teachers are told they don’t need to improve, no one wins.

China Communist Party magazine blasts professors who spread ‘Western values’

Minnie Chan:

The Communist party’s influential magazine Qiushi Journal yesterday lashed out at university professors for defaming China by spreading Western values, raising concerns about academic freedom on the mainland.

A commentary by Xu Lan, an official with the publicity office of Ningbo, Zhejiang province, and posted on Qiushi’s website, criticised Peking University legal professor He Weifang for defaming the mainland’s legal system through promoting “the rule of law” on Weibo.

Xu also assailed well-known painter Chen Danqing, who also uses his Weibo account to criticise the current state of civil society on the mainland while glossing over US culture. Chen appeared to be “inducing Chinese people to go to the US”, Xu wrote.

Chen, a former art lecturer at Tsinghua University, is well-known for lampooning the differences between the legal and civil systems of the mainland and Western countries.

“It will be a disaster if we fail to set up standards and a bottom line to prevent high school and university teachers spreading Western values through internet platforms to defame our communist ideology,” Xu wrote.

He Weifang said that compared with former leaders like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, who keenly promoted the concept of rule of law and constitutional government before the party came to power in 1949 after the civil war.

Library Visit, Then Held at Gunpoint

Charles Blow:

Saturday evening, I got a call that no parent wants to get. It was my son calling from college — he’s a third-year student at Yale. He had been accosted by a campus police officer, at gunpoint!

This is how my son remembers it:

He left for the library around 5:45 p.m. to check the status of a book he had requested. The book hadn’t arrived yet, but since he was there he put in a request for some multimedia equipment for a project he was working on.

The children of the rich and powerful are increasingly well suited to earning wealth and power themselves. That’s a problem

The Economist:

“MY BIG fear,” says Paul Ryan, an influential Republican congressman from Wisconsin, is that America is losing sight of the notion that “the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.” “Opportunity,” according to Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, “is slipping away.” Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, thinks that “each element” of the sequence that leads to success “is eroding in our country.” “Of course you have to work hard, of course you have to take responsibility,” says Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, senator and secretary of state, “but we are making it so difficult for people who do those things to feel that they are going to achieve the American dream.” When discussing the chances of ordinary Americans rising to the top, politicians who agree about little else sound remarkably similar.

Before the word meritocracy was coined by Michael Young, a British sociologist and institutional entrepreneur, in the 1950s there was a different name for the notion that power, success and wealth should be distributed according to talent and diligence, rather than by accident of birth: American. For sure, America has always had rich and powerful families, from the floor of the Senate to the boardrooms of the steel industry. But it has also held more fervently than any other country the belief that all comers can penetrate that elite as long as they have talent, perseverance and gumption. At times when that has not been the case Americans have responded with authentic outrage, surmising that the people at the top are, as Nick Carraway said, “a rotten crowd”, with bootlegging Gatsby better than the whole damn bunch put together.

Testing Time: Jeb Bush’s educational experiment

Alex MacGillis:

That year, Bush found a compatible source for ideas on education when he joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers. Bush found school choice philosophically appealing. “Competition means everybody gets better,” he said.

He enlisted Fair to help promote a state law authorizing charter schools, which, unlike vouchers, were gaining some Democratic supporters, including President Bill Clinton, who saw them as a way to allow educators to innovate within the public-school system. The law passed in 1996, with bipartisan support, and that year Bush and Fair founded the first charter school in the state—an elementary school in an impoverished, largely African-American section of Miami, called the Liberty City Charter School. Bush brought his mother in for classroom visits and dropped by unannounced to make sure that things were running smoothly. If he found wastepaper lying around, he’d leave it on the desk of the principal, Katrina Wilson-Davis. The message was clear, she recalls: “Just because kids are poor and at risk doesn’t mean that their environment shouldn’t be clean and orderly.”

Obama goes where the money is to pay for ‘free’ education programs – your savings account.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds:

Bank robber Willie Sutton is said to have explained his career this way: “That’s where the money is.” Whether Sutton ever really said that, it’s an aphorism that, according to Bloomberg’s Megan McArdle, explains President Obama’s plans to go after middle class assets like 529 college savings plans and home appreciation.

Though millions of Americans have been putting money into “tax free” 529 plans to save for their children’s increasingly expensive college educations, President Obama would change the law so that withdrawals from the plans to fund college would be taxed as ordinary income. So while you used to be able to get a nice tax benefit by saving for college, now you’ll be shelling out to Uncle Sam every time you withdraw to pay for Junior’s dorm fees.

This doesn’t hurt the very rich — who just pay for college out of pocket — or the poor, who get financial aid, but it’s pretty rough on the middle– and upper–middle class. In a double-whammy, those withdrawals will show up as income on parents’ income tax forms, which are used to calculate financial aid, making them look richer, and hence reducing grants.

Likewise, Obama proposes to tax the appreciation on inherited homes. When you sell property at a profit, you pay capital gains on the difference between the basis (what you paid) and what you sell it for. (Obama also proposes to increase the capital gains rate). That’s not a big issue for most middle class people, because right now if your parents leave you their house, you get what’s called a “step-up” in basis.

Peshawar massacre: Pakistan replies with ‘weaponised’ teaching


Following last month’s Taliban school massacre, Pakistan is allowing teachers to carry weapons. The BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani visits a school in Peshawar where staff are now serving as armed guards.

On a cloudy morning in January, Mohammed Iqbal is conducting a rare physical fitness class inside the courtyard of Government Higher Secondary School Number 1. The sprawling campus of the all-boys school is one of the biggest and oldest government institutions in Peshawar.

The school has a large playground for sports activities. But it’s not been much in use since the Taliban massacre at the nearby Army Public School, which killed about 150 people, mostly children.

Until that atrocity, Mr Iqbal’s main job was to plan sports activities for his pupils. He now doubles as the school’s chief security officer, with a gun tucked under his long shirt.

“It’s my personal gun which I have started carrying with me to school,” he says as he pulls out a 9mm Beretta pistol.

How to Build a Better Learner

Gary Stix:

Eight-month-old Lucas Kronmiller has just had the surface of his largely hairless head fitted with a cap of 128 electrodes. A research assistant in front of him is frantically blowing bubbles to entertain him. But Lucas seems calm and content. He has, after all, come here, to the Infancy Studies Laboratory at Rutgers University, repeatedly since he was just four months old, so today is nothing unusual. He—like more than 1,000 other youngsters over the past 15 years—is helping April A. Benasich and her colleagues to find out whether, even at the earliest age, it is possible to ascertain if a child will go on to experience difficulties in language that will prove a burdensome handicap when first entering elementary school.

Benasich is one of a cadre of researchers who have been employing brain-recording techniques to understand the essential processes that underlie learning. The new science of neuroeducation seeks the answers to questions that have always perplexed cognitive psychologists and pedagogues.

How, for instance, does a newborn’s ability to process sounds and images relate to the child’s capacity to learn letters and words a few years later? What does a youngster’s ability for staying mentally focused in preschool mean for later academic success? What can educators do to foster children’s social skills—also vital in the classroom? Such studies can complement the wealth of knowledge established by psychological and educational research programs.

The connections in autistic brains are idiosyncratic and individualized

Diana Gitig:

The New York Times Magazine recently ran a cover article about mapping the connectome, all of the connections that link all of the neurons in someone’s brain. Many of these connections are formed and reinforced as a result of our experiences, and their sum total constitutes everything about our personalities: the memories we’ve formed, the skills we’ve learned, the passions that drive us.

There is even data suggesting that some neurological disorders are in fact “connectopathies,” characterized by either aberrant connections or an unusual extent of connections among neurons. Some studies have found that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with decreased functional connectivity in the brain, but other experiments have found increased connectivity in autistic brains. A new study may have reconciled these contradictory findings. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel determined that brain regions with high interconnectivity in controls have reduced connectivity in ASD, and regions with lower connectivity in controls have elevated connectivity in people with ASD.

The scientists analyzed fMRI scans from high functioning autistic adults and controls, obtained from five different data sets. When the scans from the controls were superimposed upon each other, a typical, canonical template of connectivity was clear. Certain regions had high inter hemispheric (between the right and left sides) connectivity: primary sensory-motor regions like the sensorimotor cortex and the occipital cortex. Others showed low interhemispheric connectivity: regions like the frontal cortex and temporal cortex, which are involved in higher order association. Overall, the control brain scans looked pretty much the same as each other.

UK Schools Green party’s education policies are outdated and ‘total madness’ – Labour

Richard Adams:

The Green party’s education policies are “total madness” and a “flashback to the 1970s” that would most hurt the disadvantaged, says shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, in a full-throated attack that suggests Labour is concerned at the Greens’ recent opinion poll improvement.

In an interview with the Guardian, Labour’s Hunt said scrutiny of the Greens’ education policies revealed them to be attempting to turn back the clock on policies such as school improvement and accountability that had proven to be successful in state schools in England.

The Cobweb: Can the Internet be archived?

Jill Le Pore:

Two weeks before the crash, Anatol Shmelev, the curator of the Russia and Eurasia collection at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford, had submitted to the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library in California, a list of Ukrainian and Russian Web sites and blogs that ought to be recorded as part of the archive’s Ukraine Conflict collection. Shmelev is one of about a thousand librarians and archivists around the world who identify possible acquisitions for the Internet Archive’s subject collections, which are stored in its Wayback Machine, in San Francisco. Strelkov’s VKontakte page was on Shmelev’s list. “Strelkov is the field commander in Slaviansk and one of the most important figures in the conflict,” Shmelev had written in an e-mail to the Internet Archive on July 1st, and his page “deserves to be recorded twice a day.”

On July 17th, at 3:22 P.M. G.M.T., the Wayback Machine saved a screenshot of Strelkov’s VKontakte post about downing a plane. Two hours and twenty-two minutes later, Arthur Bright, the Europe editor of the Christian Science Monitor, tweeted a picture of the screenshot, along with the message “Grab of Donetsk militant Strelkov’s claim of downing what appears to have been MH17.” By then, Strelkov’s VKontakte page had already been edited: the claim about shooting down a plane was deleted. The only real evidence of the original claim lies in the Wayback Machine.

The hidden costs of free community college

Malcolm Harris:

Truly free college would compensate students for their indirect as well as direct costs. The median annual earnings for a high school graduate are about $30,000, so the $3,800 Obama hopes average students could save each year doesn’t look so impressive. That $30,000 is what it takes to live like a low-income worker, which is what most students are, and you can’t live on tuition alone. Mandatory expenses such as food, rent and health care have increased above and beyond inflation over the past few decades, piling on cost increases for college students. The fantasy of free higher education doesn’t involve taking out loans to pay for a place to sleep, and the fact that it takes money to stay alive is a big asterisk on the president’s plan.

But why should young people be entitled to free college, never mind free food and lodging? Ignore that a lot of their parents got it; nothing in America is free anymore. Why should all of us pay to train kids for better jobs? Becker’s investigation into the economics of learning led him to think about the work that students actually do and where the fruits of their labor pop up. Education is an investment in human capital, an investment in workers’ future ability to do work. On the individual level it’s a no-brainer: A college degree is more or less a prerequisite to a good life in this economy. On a societal level, it’s good for employers and the national economy since workers with more human capital are more productive.

The high-flying job of fundraising for UC Berkeley

Kimberly Veklerov:

Raising billions for a world-class university is no simple task, especially when that institution is more dependent than ever on private support to sustain itself.

Still, at UC Berkeley, the job has its perks.

Expense reports for an 11-month period obtained by The Daily Californian through the California Public Records Act show that Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy, the head of fundraising and public affairs, paid for about a dozen business-class and first-class flights with UC funds.

Records for the 11 months show he flew to London, Paris, Madrid, Zurich, Tokyo, New York, Beijing, Seoul and Singapore, among other cities. During that period, he charged more than $37,000 to the university.

The records, which spanned November 2013 to October 2014, include expenses for stays at luxurious hotels such as the Taj Mahal Palace and Ritz-Carlton. Restaurants on the menu were some of Berkeley’s best: Chez Panisse, Revival Bar and Kitchen, FIVE, Bistro Liaison and Gather.

Restating the Case for General Education

Blandine Parchemal:

The University of Berlin model, developed by the philosopher Schleiermacher, went against the more specialized ethos of the medieval universities.

Twice a month, Le Devoir challenges lovers of philosophy, history and the history of ideas to decipher a current issue by relying upon an important thinker’s theories.

Last September, the Liberal government announced 172 million dollars in budget cuts to Quebec’s university system. The impact of these record-breaking cutbacks on teaching will be felt as early as this winter and more acutely in 2016. At Université de Montréal, the 2014-2015 budget had to be reduced by 24,6 million. To be specific, UdeM’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences were ordered to downsize lecturing staff by 50 teachers for the winter 2015 semester and by 150 for the following year. Consequently, there are great worries concerning the quality and depth of scholarship.

Wisconsin K-12 Governance Commentary

Alan Borsuk:

Of course, Evers had a less sweet-spot-like reason for saying that. He went on to call for Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature not to mess things up with “divisive mandates” and “constrained revenue.”

Evers said, “I am very fearful that the balance will shift under the guise of school reform.”

I asked Walker, in a brief conversation Friday, about what Evers said. The governor praised local control — and, a hot theme for him, he emphasized the power parents should have to pick schools.

He said he was resisting proposals from Assembly Republicans for more state involvement in dealing with low-performing schools and said he was more in line with Senate Republicans whose accountability proposals call for less state involvement.

We’ll have plenty of opportunity over the next several months — hurray for the state budget process — to talk about these specific matters.

Let’s keep the focus here on the broader concept of local control of schools. It’s been the professed philosophy of Wisconsin education forever.

Everyone is in favor of it, at least at the slogan level. But as a practice?

So many of the shots are called these days from Washington or Madison that I got to wondering a few months ago what really was left of local control. That led me to write a piece for Marquette Lawyer magazine.

One of the people I interviewed was Michael Kirst, a Stanford-based expert on education policy who is now president of the California State Board of Education.

Academics: Say Nothing if you Want a Job.

David Perry:

A new survey of chief academic officers is out from Inside Higher Education. Among the findings: Provosts really care about civility and think it should be part of the framework for hiring and tenure.

I see this as potentially troubling. When the Steven Salaita controversy broke, I wrote a piece for the Chronicle called “Don’t Speak Out,” in which I read the Salaita affair through the lens of my interest in public engagement for academics. I said that the lesson for academics was that if you ever wanted a job, or might want to move from one job to another, don’t have strong opinions about things.

We need more public writing, not less. We need to open pathways for more academics to speak out in public, not punish Salaita for doing so in ways that have provoked such strong feelings. But we can’t ask scholars to embrace the risks of engagement in a system in which partisan bloggers and local papers can push timid administrators to fire, or in this case unhire, academics who leap into public debates.

“Just a Little Easier”: The Middle-Class Economics of Higher Education

Jeffrey Alan Johnson:

There is also a more ominous challenge to making community college “as free and universal as high school”: high school is, in most of America, neither free nor universal. Students must provide their own supplies nearly everywhere, and the penalty for a student without paper or pen (let alone iPad and home computer) is too often failing grades for not submitting assignments or being kicked out of class for “being unprepared.” Spending four hours a night on homework is 20 hours a week that a student can’t spend working. That isn’t what I’d call free.

President Obama, in the address, praised the “all-time high” national graduation rate of just 80%. One in five students nationally—five out of the 24 students in every American high school classroom—still fails to get a high school diploma. Nearly one-third of Blacks, Native Americans, and Alaska Natives don’t graduate. Thirty-nine percent of students with disabilities fail to graduate. Twenty-nine percent of District of Columbia residents. Thirty-nine percent of men in Mississippi. Forty percent of Blacks in Utah. Forty-four percent of Whites in Hawaii. Forty percent overall, 50% of Latinos, and 63% of Native Americans in Nevada. More than three-quarters of students with limited English proficiency in Arizona or Nevada.

High school is most certainly not universal. Free community college will likely be even less so, especially for members of all kinds of disadvantaged groups. One of those groups, as experience with Medicare expansions shows, will be residents of states that don’t want to kick in their own money.

Our annual education report delves into the district’s second year of a unified direction

Sean Kirby:

While the District’s first annual report showed some academic improvement overall, it also identified “subgroups”—African American and Latino students and students with disabilities—as part of a more targeted effort to ramp up and enrich the education experience.

To reach them, the district is working with community leaders and groups, such as Madison Partners for Inclusive Education, a support and advocacy group founded more than a decade ago for parents who have children who attend Madison public schools and who receive special education services. Beth Moss, whose son recently left the district after receiving special education until he was twenty-one, is a member of the group.

“Our mantra is that students with disabilities should be included in the classroom with their peers as much as possible, and probably even more than what most people consider possible,” Moss says. “I think the district embraces that philosophy, but it’s not always consistently implemented in every school.”

Moss describes her experience with the schools as mostly positive but over the years as a roller coaster. She says the new strategic framework, now firmly in place and in its second academic year, aims to bring more consistency throughout the district to address the issues. Anna Moffit agrees. She has a second grader and a third grader at Thoreau Elementary, and a first grader at Midvale. All of her children receive special education services through the district. “It’s kind of like you get one thing accomplished, and then three weeks later it’s another thing,” Moffit says. “For me personally, and I can’t speak for all parents, I’m advocating all the time. In fact, I probably spend ten hours a week minimum talking with the schools, going over documents, going to meetings.”

As interim CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, which develops and supports educational and employment opportunities for African Americans and other community members, Edward Lee says the school district’s efforts to bridge the achievement gap for black and Latino students are encouraging.

While the district has begun diversifying the workforce at both the administration and the principal level, building leadership that is more reflective of the student body, he says it has a long way to go to ensure that its staff and teachers better reflect the diversity of the student body. Alex Gee, pastor at the Fountain of Life Covenant Church and the founder and president of the Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development, agrees.

“When we don’t have the right kind of diversity that we want to have, then it limits the exposure that white students have to black, Latino, Asian teachers,” Gee says. “Then it limits the role models that kids have.”

Princeton Is Teaching a Free Online Course About Bitcoin

Jason Koebler:

​It’s probably safe to bet that there are lots of people out there who use Bitcoin, but who don’t really know how it works. And really, why would you? There are primers and forums and news stories out there, sure, but the underlying technology and mechanisms behind cryptocurrencies aren’t exactly common knowledge yet. And that’s why ​Princeton University is offering its Bitcoin and cryptocurrency course online, for free, to anyone.

​The class, taught by Princeton’s Arvind Narayanan, Joseph Bonneau, Edward Felten, and the University of Maryland’s Andrew Miller, will be a version of a very popular course taught last year by Narayanan and will consist of 11 video lectures, various homework questions and readings, and a full-fledged textbook.

Yep, a textbook. As part of this, Narayanan says he’s working on the world’s first Bitcoin textbook, and is in talks with a publisher to release it so that other colleges can use it.

Illinois Says Rule-Breaking Students Must Give Teachers Their Facebook Passwords

Jason Koebler:

Update, 1/22/15: The Triad district has sent out a press release with more information about when it would ask for a student’s social media password. The full​ letter suggests there has been misinformation in the press but does not refute anything Motherboard has reported. More about the letter can be found at the bottom of this post.

School districts in Illinois are telling parents that a new law may require school officials to demand the social media passwords of students if they are suspected in cyberbullying cases or are otherwise suspected of breaking school rules.

The law, which went into effect on January 1, defines cyberbullying and makes harassment on Facebook, Twitter, or via other digital means a violation of the state’s school code, even if the bullying happens outside of school hours.

A letter sent out to parents in the Triad Community Unit School District #2, a district located just over the Missouri-Illinois line near St. Louis, that was obtained by Motherboard says that school officials can demand students give them their passwords. The full letter is embedded below.

“If your child has an account on a social networking website, e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,, etc., please be aware that State law requires school authorities to notify you that your child may be asked to provide his or her password for these accounts to school officials in certain circumstances,” the letter says.

Academics are campaigning to bring back so-called dead words, like ‘concinnity’ and ‘bloviate

John Walsh:

Only two weeks after Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, announced that he’d discovered books (which, he told his thunderstruck acolytes, “allow you to fully explore a topic… in a deeper way than most media today” – you don’t say), and a new campaign started in the US for “slow reading”, in which adherents visit a café together, silence their mobile phones and read together quietly for a whole hour, now academics at Wayne State University in Michigan have discovered that lots of “Dead Words” exist. Words that define things still relevant to modern life, sound pretty good but have fallen out of usage.

They have recommended that students investigate their “glorious variety” – and have offered a Top 10 of favourite “lost words” to be resurrected in 2015: caterwaul, concinnity, knavery, mélange, rapscallion, opsimath, obambulate, philistine, flapdoodle and subtopia.

Parenting Advice from America’s “Worst Mom”

Jane Brody:

The damning criticism she endured, including a threat of arrest for child endangerment, intensified her desire to encourage anxious parents to give their children the freedom they need to develop the self-confidence and resilience to cope effectively with life’s many challenges.

One result was the publication in 2009 of her book “Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry).” A second result is the Free Range Kids Project and a 13-part series, starting Thursday on Discovery Life Channel, called “World’s Worst Mom.” In it, Ms. Skenazy intervenes to rescue bubble-wrapped kids from their overprotective parents by guiding the children safely through a sequence of once-forbidden activities and showing their anxious parents how well the children perform and how proud they are of what they accomplished.

The term “helicopter parents” applies to far more than those who hover relentlessly over their children’s academic and musical development. As depicted in the first episode of the series, it applies to 10-year-old Sam’s very loving mother who wouldn’t let him ride a bike (“she’s afraid I’ll fall and get hurt”), cut up his own meat (“Mom thinks I’ll cut my fingers off”), or play “rough sports” like skating. The plea from a stressed-out, thwarted Sam: “I just want to do things by myself.”

How mathematicians are storytellers and numbers are the characters

Marcus du Sautoy:

Mathematicians are storytellers. Our characters are numbers and geometries. Our narratives are the proofs we create about these characters.

Many people believe that doing maths is a question of documenting all the true statements about numbers and geometry – the irrationality of the square root of two, the formula for the volume of the sphere, a list of the finite simple groups. According to one of my mathematical heroes, Henri Poincaré, doing maths is something very different:

“To create consists precisely in not making useless combinations. Creation is discernment, choice. …The sterile combinations do not even present themselves to the mind of the creator.”

Mathematics, just like literature, is about making choices. What then are the criteria for a piece of mathematics making it into the journals that occupy our mathematical library? Why is Fermat’s Last Theorem regarded as one of the great mathematical opuses of the last century while an equally complicated numerical calculation is regarded as mundane and uninteresting. After all, what is so interesting about knowing that an equation like xn+yn=zn has no whole number solutions when n>2.

What I want to propose is that it is the nature of the proof of this Theorem that elevates this true statement about numbers to the status of something deserving its place in the pantheon of mathematics. And that the quality of a good proof is one that has many things in common with act of great storytelling.

Commentary on Indefinite Tenure

Dan Subotnik:

A specter haunting the academy today is of an intellectually wizened white male professoriate refusing to step aside for au courant, energetic, ambitious, and of course diverse younger faculty. Part of a larger concern with tenure itself, the fear in question is that tenured old-timers, of which I am one, are holding fast to financial and administrative perks, limiting institutional control and stifling institutional development in the process.

Sometimes the fear is expressed openly. Intractable seniors, according to a recent, widely debated Chronicle Review post (“The Forever Professors”) often “crush the young” through their “selfish[ness].” A law school colleague argues that, having enjoyed our share of university bounty, responsible seniors should facilitate succession by quickly and gracefully exiting the stage. Such a development might be contrasted with what is actually happening today: seniors in effect extorting rich buyouts to retire.

More of the time, of course, the critique is not explicit. Yet who among us seniors has not felt the sting of “what are you still doing here, gramps” looks from junior law faculty and deans?

A visceral response to critics may be tempting here, but we must show our maturity. Beating up the young for impertinence would show both ignorance and hypocrisy. Inter-generational, oedipal struggle, we have learned, is the way of the world, and, it must be admitted, many of us felt the same way 30 years ago about our predecessors in law. They would never have gotten their jobs in the competitive environment of 1985, we self-righteously told ourselves, just like we would not get ours in today’s environment, when two good law review articles are required just for a job interview.

Education and class: America’s new aristocracy

The Economist:

WHEN the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination line up on stage for their first debate in August, there may be three contenders whose fathers also ran for president. Whoever wins may face the wife of a former president next year. It is odd that a country founded on the principle of hostility to inherited status should be so tolerant of dynasties. Because America never had kings or lords, it sometimes seems less inclined to worry about signs that its elite is calcifying.

Thomas Jefferson drew a distinction between a natural aristocracy of the virtuous and talented, which was a blessing to a nation, and an artificial aristocracy founded on wealth and birth, which would slowly strangle it. Jefferson himself was a hybrid of these two types—a brilliant lawyer who inherited 11,000 acres and 135 slaves from his father-in-law—but the distinction proved durable. When the robber barons accumulated fortunes that made European princes envious, the combination of their own philanthropy, their children’s extravagance and federal trust-busting meant that Americans never discovered what it would be like to live in a country where the elite could reliably reproduce themselves.

Now they are beginning to find out, (see article), because today’s rich increasingly pass on to their children an asset that cannot be frittered away in a few nights at a casino. It is far more useful than wealth, and invulnerable to inheritance tax. It is brains.

America is one of only three advanced countries where the government spends more on schools in rich areas than in poor ones. Its university fees have risen 17 times as fast as median incomes since 1980, partly to pay for pointless bureaucracy and flashy buildings. And many universities offer “legacy” preferences, favouring the children of alumni in admissions.

Many schools are in the grip of one of the most anti-meritocratic forces in America: the teachers’ unions, which resist any hint that good teaching should be rewarded or bad teachers fired. To fix this, and the scandal of inequitable funding, the system should become both more and less local. Per-pupil funding should be set at the state level and tilted to favour the poor. Dollars should follow pupils, through a big expansion of voucher schemes or charter schools. In this way, good schools that attract more pupils will grow; bad ones will close or be taken over. Unions and their Democratic Party allies will howl, but experiments in cities such as battered New Orleans have shown that school choice works.

Familiar themes in Madison, where one size fits all reigns, while spending double the national average per student.

Most Chicago public school students who switch schools after closing “bad schools ” chose higher performing institutions

Lauren Fitzpatrick:

Though most of the 11,000 students who were pushed out when Chicago Public Schools permanently closed their schools in 2013 ended up at schools the district deemed higher-performing, a third still landed at schools with CPS’ lowest rating.

When closing a record 50 schools, CPS promised children would end up in better schools but just 20 percent of students ended up at schools with the district’s top rating, according to a new report published Thursday by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Via Molly Beck.

NJ Gov Christie gives the bird to a school choice program almost everyone loves

Laura Waters:

“It’s a great program,” says New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney. It “meets an important need, and it does so utilizing New Jersey’s excellent public schools,” says New Jersey Education Association. “We knew there would be interest in this program because of enrollment trends” and we’re “very supportive,” says N.J. School Boards Association.

This object of this rare consensus among lobbyists and legislators — not to mention parents and students — is N.J.’s Interdistrict Public School Choice Program (IPSCP), which allows students to attend public schools in other districts even if their parents can’t afford to live there. But there appears to be one dissenter from this happy unanimity: the Christie Administration. While the Governor continues, as recently as this month’s State of the State address, to hawk a pipedream of parochial school vouchers, he has steadily diminished budgetary support for a program that offers a non-polarizing and popular form of school choice.

Look at the UK’s free school lunch policy

Andy French:

WHILE five-year-old Lewis Heudi gets a hot school meal his older brother Sebastian does not.

Staff at Woodstock Primary School can see the situation is unfair and are trying to do something about it.

But they have missed out on Government funding that would have allowed them to build new kitchen facilities to provide hot lunches for all pupils.

The county council bid to the Department for Education for about £1.1m for six schools following the government’s free school meals scheme for infants aged four to seven.

Under the government scheme, pupils across the country aged four to seven get free school meals but Key Stage Two pupils aged seven to 11 have to pay for hot lunches.

Three schools were awarded grant funding but Woodstock Primary, in Shipton Road, was not one of them.

Why lowering (UK) tuition fees is more complicated than you think

Chris Cook:

Labour is toying with the idea of fiddling with the English university tuition fees system, but doing so may have counterintuitive effects.

Early in the parliament, Labour said their preferred policy was to introduce a £6,000 upper limit on what universities in England can charge students each year – not £9,000, as it currently stands. But they haven’t committed to it – and there are a range of good reasons why they might not.

First, it would rile the universities. Labour has sought to soothe their concerns by promising university vice-chancellors it would make up the difference in their institutions’ income.

But this is probably not a good deal for the universities, who have no guarantee that this money – which could eventually increase the usual measure of public spending by around £2bn a year – would not be taken from their other state-backed budgets. Nor do they know how it would be distributed.

Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report on the Department for UK Education financial statements 2013-14

National Audit Office:

“I recognize the importance of not placing unnecessary additional burdens on the academy sector. But the inability of the Department for Education to prepare financial statements providing a true and fair view of financial activity by its group of bodies means that it is not meeting the accountability requirements of Parliament. In particular, I believe that, if the challenge posed by consolidating the accounts of so many bodies and the fact that so many have a different reporting period is to be surmounted, the Department and Treasury need to work together to find a solution.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 21 January 2015

Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, has provided an adverse opinion on the financial statements of the Department for Education. An adverse opinion indicates that he considers the level of error and uncertainty in the statements to be both material and pervasive. He has also qualified his opinion because the Department has exceeded one of its expenditure limits authorized by Parliament.

Today’s report comments on the financial management challenges faced by the Department and the impact this has on the ability of the Department and the Treasury to discharge their accountabilities to Parliament. Since 2012-13, the Department’s group financial statements have consolidated the financial statements of academy trusts, alongside those of the Department itself, its executive agencies and NDPBs. For 2013-14, there are 2,591 bodies consolidated into the group financial statements. This includes 2,585 academy trusts operating 3,905 individual academies.

Wisconsin spent $14B on education during 2014.

The College of Teaching: if not now, when?

Tom Bennett:

The drums of possibility are beating a hopeful tattoo – three words: College of Teaching. It’s been floating in the background for a few years now, ever since the Education Select Committee first speculated on whether such a body could work. You might not have been heard much about it, but it’s been brewing, sometimes underground, sometimes visible.

Tonight I spent my evening at the Wellcome Trust HQ (which makes the DfE seem modest and cramped) in their underground hollow volcano in Euston Square. It was host to a college consultation meeting; last Saturday, there was a consultative event for teachers in Birmingham, but today was invite only. Maybe 70 people over 13 tables; perhaps reassuringly, there were many teachers (at least one per table I heard) – albeit often management – including me, you could have rounded up the classroom teachers and quite comfortably twerked in a fridge together. Still, we’ll always have Birmingham. (The representative from the SSAT boldly described Birmingham as “like something from Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, and I’m thinking, “What the bit where John Candy wakes up in bed with Steve Martin?”)

Kaiser study: Clusters of unvaccinated children in Bay Area

Lisa Krieger:

Researchers have identified several geographic hot spots in the Bay Area where parents are not vaccinating their children, triggering concern about potential outbreaks of dangerous and preventable infectious diseases.

This unique study — which uses statistical software to match electronic medical records to home addresses of Kaiser patients — reveals precisely where physicians can target their vaccination efforts and detect disease outbreaks quicker.

One cluster is in the East Bay communities of El Cerrito, Berkeley, Oakland and Alameda, where parents rejected vaccines for 10.2 percent of children. The second was in the northern part of San Francisco, as well as Marin County and the southwestern part of Sonoma County, with a 6.6 percent rate of vaccine refusal.

“Anecdotally, doctors have reported that a lot of parents in a particular neighborhood or county have hesitations about vaccines,” said lead investigator Dr. Tracy A. Lieu of Kaiser’s Division of Research, based in Oakland. “This is the first time we’ve used computers to actually find these clusters.”

Hill fight on No Child Left Behind looms

Maggie Severns:

Alexander raised eyebrows last fall when he indicated he might be willing to get rid of the law’s annual testing mandate. No Child Left Behind requires schools to test students in reading and math each year from third through eighth grades and once in high school. And students must be tested in science once each in elementary, middle and high school. The tests results are used to track student progress, school performance and though not required by NCLB, in some places the scores gauge the effect teachers have on students.

Testing has become a hot-button issue and a growing number of parents are encouraging their children to refuse to take tests. The “opt-out movement” has been attributed in part to growing pressure on schools associated with the Common Core standards and new tests based on those more challenging standards.

“There needs to be more local autonomy, and what needs to change is the culture of ‘the schools can’t be trusted,’ ” said Jia Lee, a special education teacher who will testify at a Senate hearing Wednesday on federal testing requirements. Last year, more than half of students at the small public school Lee teaches at in New York City opted out of their tests, she said.

The Goals of a Liberal Education

William Cronin:

What does it mean to be a liberally educated person? It seems such a simple question,
especially given the frequency with which colleges and universities genuflect toward this well- worn phrase as the central icon of their institutional missions. Mantra-like, the words are endlessly repeated, starting in the glossy admissions brochures that high school students receive by the hundreds in their mailboxes and continuing right down to the last tired invocations they hear on commencement day. It would be surprising indeed if the phrase did not begin to sound at least a little empty after so much repetition, and surely undergraduates can be forgiven if they eventually regard liberal education as either a marketing ploy or a shibboleth. Yet many of us continue to place great stock in these words, believing them to describe one of the ultimate goods that a college or university should serve. So what exactly do we mean by liberal education, and why do we care so much about it?

In speaking of “liberal” education, we certainly do not mean an education that indoctrinates students in the values of political liberalism, at least not in the most obvious sense of the latter phrase. Rather, we use these words to describe an educational tradition that celebrates and nurtures human freedom. These days liberal and liberty have become words so mired in controversy, embraced and reviled as they have been by the far ends of the political spectrum, that we scarcely know how to use them without turning them into slogans—but they can hardly be separated from this educational tradition. Liberal derives from the Latin liberalis, meaning “of or relating to the liberal arts,” which in turn derives from the Latin word liber, meaning “free.” But the word actually has much deeper roots, being akin to the Old English word leodan, meaning “to grow,” and leod, meaning “people.” It is also related to the Greek word eleutheros, meaning “free,” and goes all the way back to the Sanskrit word rodhati, meaning “one climbs,” “one grows.” Freedom and growth: here, surely, are values that lie at the very core of what we mean when we speak of a liberal education.

“number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years”

American Institutes for Research and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting:

The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures. The table is sortable and searchable. Institutions that do not appear did not exist in 1987-88, or did not report this information that year.

Spending More Money Won’t Fix Our Schools

Megan McArdle:

The other day, I argued that maybe we should rethink our current policy of endlessly dumping more money into college education. It’s completely true that there is a big wage premium for having a college degree — but it does not therefore follow that we will make everyone better off by trying to shove every American through post-secondary (aka tertiary) education. We may simply be setting up college as a substitute for a high school diploma: a signal to employers that you can read and write, and are able to turn in scheduled assignments within a reasonable time frame. And in the process, excluding people who aren’t college-educated from access to decent jobs.

Predictably, this was not met with shouts of joy and universal admiration in all quarters. I was accused of just wanting to stick it to President Barack Obama, and also of wishing to deny the dream of college education that should be the birthright of every single American. I was also accused of being unfamiliar with the known fact that America woefully underinvests in education compared to other advanced nations.

The Rising Costs of Youth Sports, in Money and Emotion

Paul Sullivan:

“What I hope parents understand is that there are some three million high school players and by the time they scale that down to the quarterback position there are a couple of hundred thousand starters,” he said. “Then you get to Division I and II, and there are 360 quarterbacks. When you get to the N.F.L. there are 64. When you think about the odds, that’s not very good odds.”

Even so, he said, football can provide children with opportunities they might not have had otherwise. Mr. Trombley agreed, saying he looked at baseball and football as sports that might get him into a better college than he would otherwise.

“There is no question that baseball got me into Duke University,” he said. “I think I lucked out making it a profession. It just kind of happened by accident. It wasn’t all or nothing. We stress that with our kids: It’s wonderful to play a sport, but it could go away.”

Yet today, Mr. Trombley, 47, a financial adviser in his hometown, Wilbraham, Mass., laments that the highest level of youth sports may be out of reach for many children. He said the farthest he ever traveled for a game was a couple of towns over, but recently his family drove hours to a weekend-long high school tournament in New Jersey.

Mark Hyman, an assistant professor at George Washington University who has written books on youth sports, said that parents whose goal is to give their children the best chance in life or to get them a scholarship to college were not looking at the statistics.

“Parents think these investments are justified; they think it will lead to a full ride to college,” he said. “That’s highly misinformed. The percentage of high school kids who go on to play in college is extremely small. In most sports it’s under 5 percent. And the number for kids getting school aid is even smaller — it’s 3 percent.”

His advice? “What I tell parents is if you want to get a scholarship for your kids, you’re better off investing in a biology tutor than a quarterback coach,” he said. “There’s much more school dollars for academics.”

The Battle at NMU

Brian Cabell:

An intriguing conflict, fraught with legal and public relations implications, is brewing on the campus of Northern Michigan University.

Staff members at The North Wind , the student newspaper, are getting an education they never bargained for.

Here’s the background.

Back in October the newspaper submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the university, seeking the contracts between NMU and its two coffee vendors, Starbucks and Stone Creek. There was a suspicion that the Stone Creek coffee shop on campus was squeezed out of business because of NMU’s cozy relationship with Starbucks.

The Starbucks chairman, president and CEO, as you probably know, is NMU alumnus Howard Schultz.

Cost Cutting in an Age of Declining Law School Enrollment

Faculty Lounge:

As Alfred Brophy reports, once again law school applicants are down this year. The number of applicants is down 8.5% at this point from last year’s record-low applicant pool.

This will make the fifth straight year of declines from the last application peak in Fall 2010. In 2010, there were 87,900 applicants, 60,400 were admitted to an ABA-accredited law school (69% of applicants) and 52,500 enrolled (87% of those admitted). In 2013, there were 59,400 applicants, and 45,700 were admitted (77%) and 39,700 enrolled (87%). In 2014, there were 54,500 applicants, a 6.7% drop from the previous year. LSAC hasn’t published the final data on the number admitted, but according to data released by the ABA in December, 37,924 enrolled, a 4.5% decrease in enrollment.

For the last four years, enrollment has dropped each year by about two-thirds of the decline in applicants. If the pattern holds true this year, enrollment will decline by about 5.7%, which would put 2015 enrollment at around 35,750.

2015 Predictions: Competency-Based Ed To Grow, Debt Could Topple Some Schools

Dian Schaffhauser:

Online learning will grow this year, but only modestly; more colleges and universities will test out competency-based assessment; and education technology will continue expanding as an industry, driven by investment capital. Those are three of the predictions for the coming year from higher education research and advisory firm Eduventures.

“By nearly every measure, 2014 was a challenging year for higher education. Enrollments fell for the third consecutive year, funding to public institutions in 48 states remained flat or declined, operating costs rose, and we saw an unprecedented increase in federal oversight, with heightened attention paid to the issue of access and affordability,” said President and CEO Tony Friscia. In the coming year, he added, “The rhetoric of 2014 will become the reality of 2015 with the proposed reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the continued emergence of new and innovative learning models, the further expansion of the technology sector and the ongoing need to clearly demonstrate outcomes.”

For parents, now begins the anxious waiting game for college financial aid

Jeffrey Selingo:

For the many high-school seniors who already have submitted their college admissions applications, the season of waiting for an acceptance letter has begun. For their parents, there’s a different anxiety-ridden waiting game: For the financial-aid offers that will spell out just how much this is all going to cost.

Paying for college is now a lot like buying a plane ticket. You have no idea how much the person sitting next to you is paying because most schools discount their tuition to maximize their enrollment numbers and revenue. It’s no different than the airlines trying to fill as many of their seats at the highest prices.

The average discount for first-year students at private colleges is now a staggering 46 percent. But who gets a discount and how big of one a student gets is less straightforward than ever before. It used to be that colleges awarded their own aid dollars based mostly on a student’s finances: the more your family made, the more you usually paid, unless you were an exceptional student the school really wanted.

But with more and more colleges widely employing the practice of “enrollment management” during the past three decades, the distribution of financial aid has become a lot less predictable. Now everyone, regardless of income, believes they deserve some sort of financial help. Half of colleges “front-load” their aid, meaning they give more to students the first year of college than in the subsequent years, hoping an emotional attachment will keep students enrolled.

Only 1 in 10 education reforms analysed for their impact, finds OECD report

The Conversation:

Only a tenth of education reforms carried out around the world since 2008 have been analysed by governments for the impact they have on children’s education.

A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) think-tank looked at 450 education reforms carried out by its 34 member countries between 2008 and 2014. It found that only one in ten of these reforms were scrutinised for impact.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills, said it was “more the exception than the rule” for education policies to be evaluated by governments. “If we want to improve education outcomes we need to have more systematic and evidence-based approach to reforms”, he said.

The Coming College Decline

Ronald Brownstein:

The best way to understand the stakes in President Obama’s proposal to massively expand access to community college is to consider a stark forecast from prominent demographer William Frey.

Frey has calculated that if the U.S. does not improve its college completion rates for young people, the share of Americans holding at least a four-year degree will start to decline as soon as 2020. After that, his model forecasts that the share of college-educated Americans will not climb back to its level in 2015 (just under one-third) at least through 2050.

That’s an almost unprecedented prospect for the American economy: The percentage of Americans holding at least a four-year degree has increased steadily since at least 1940, according to the Census Bureau. It’s also an ominous prospect in an international economic competition increasingly centered on knowledge and innovation.

The reason the U.S. faces the risk of declining educational achievement is its failure to sufficiently respond to the profound demographic change reshaping society. The current school year marks the first time in American history when a majority of all K-12 public school students nationwide are minorities. Minority students already comprise nearly two-fifths of high-school graduates and will reach about half by 2023, the Education Department projects.

Trustees Refuse to Reconsider Salaita’s Firing: “That Decision Is Final”

John Wilson:

The University of Illinois Board of Trustees today announced that it will never reconsider the dismissal of Steven Salaita, and it will not listen to any faculty committee about Salaita’s qualifications: “That decision is final.”

According to the trustees, “The decision concerning Dr. Salaita was not reached hastily. Nor was it the result of external pressures. The decision did not present a ‘new approach’ to the consideration of proposed faculty appointments. It represented the careful exercise of each board member’s fiduciary duty and a balancing of all the interests of the University of Illinois. In the end, this is a responsibility that cannot be delegated nor abdicated.” Actually, hiring faculty is not a fundamental responsibility of the Board, but a power that easily can and definitely should be delegated and abdicated. It would be as simple as the Board declaring that it is delegating its normal hiring authority over faculty appointments to the president and chancellors, which is exactly what the Board does with adjunct faculty, and exactly what many Boards do for all faculty. Considering that the Board of Trustees is entirely unqualified to judge faculty, is incapable of examining the large numbers of hires made each year, and has declared that it uses non-academic criteria to determine faculty hires (and even those who supported the firing of Salaita have criticized the Board’s approach), the best possible outcome for the University of Illinois would be if the trustees did exactly that.

Mexican Students Didn’t Just ‘Disappear’

Andalusia Knoll:

The forced disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers college in Mexico has catapulted the security crisis that the US’s southern neighbors are living into northern headlines. However, the majority of English-language news accounts have failed to provide a deeper context concerning the failed war on drugs and the use of forced disappearances as a repressive state tactic, and employ language that often criminalizes the disappeared students.

On the night of September 26, approximately 80 students in the southwestern state of Guerrero were travelling through the small city of Iguala in a bus caravan on their way back to their teacher training college in Ayotzinapa. In Iguala they were intercepted by municipal police, who opened fire on their buses in three separate attacks, killing two students from Ayotzinapa, one teenage soccer player and two other bystanders. At least 25 people were injured, including one student who is still in a coma, and the municipal police forced dozens of the students to board their patrol vehicles.

The number of detained students totals 43; no one has heard from them since they were last seen in police custody. The following day, another student was found dead near the scene of the attack with his eyes gouged out and the skin on his face torn off.

How One Building Reveals What’s Wrong With Higher Education

Kevin McLure:

On the heels of its inaugural football season in the Big Ten Conference, the University of Maryland announced bold plans: The Board of Regents’ Finance Committee unanimously agreed to move forward with construction of a new building that would transform Cole Field House, an old basketball arena turned student activities center, into a “dynamic hub at the intersection of athletics, academics and research.”

Jump-starting the project is a $25-million donation from an alumnus, the Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. The “New Cole Field House” has little to do with academics and everything to do with competition and money. It is a perfect example of American higher education’s distorted incentives and misguided priorities. In their zealous pursuit of prestige, many institutions are erecting monuments to donors and buzzwords, shortchanging students and faculty in the process.

Group Projects and the Secretary Effect

Rose Eveleth:

Remember the group project? That horrible amalgamation of weird middle school pressures combined with some random assignment meant to foster both learning and teamwork? Maybe you had to design and build a mini-terrarium for fish out of a plastic bottle. Or write a play exploring the history of Rome. Or simply work with your classmates to complete a worksheet about the chapter you just read.

Left to their own devices, kids usually divide the labor for group projects. The way they divide that labor matters, and is the root of a pet theory of mine, based on anecdotes and a little bit of research that goes like this: More often than not, a girl winds up in one particular role every time. The secretary. Maybe her teacher calls it the “recorder” or the “data collector” or the “stenographer.” But whatever it is, she’s writing everything down. She’s the organized one, the one with the good handwriting, the one who cares about actually filling out the worksheet. The ones who get to be creative, who get to goof off and riff ideas and not worry about the form or the specific assignment tasks? They’re mostly boys.

Teacher of the Year: Consider What Children Need Most When Rewriting Our Nation’s Education Law

Lee-Ann Stephens:

As federal legislators spend the next few months battling over the provisions of the education law known as No Child Left Behind, I want them to consider this:

I am a veteran teacher and I want to be accountable. I want my school to be accountable. Not for some of our students. For all of them. Not for certain grades and select years. For every year and every grade currently required.

That means we can’t abandon the federal mandate that requires all states to administer one standardized test every year for all students in grades three to eight and at least once in high school. That means we can’t walk away from teacher evaluation systems that consider, in part, how much students learn in a given year from a given teacher.

Teacher-led Charter Schools: Examples of Success, Rather different in Madison where one size fits all reigns

David Osborne:

The biggest obstacles to the spread of teacher-run schools are school districts’ central rules, most of which make it impossible to use unusual personnel configurations, alter budgets and make myriad other changes the teacher-run model demands. That’s why so many teacher-run schools are charters — they need autonomy to organize as they please.

“I have a lot of friends in more traditional models,” says Tim Quealy, who teaches math, technology and language arts at Avalon. “They are just told what to do — some big binder lands on their desk, and their days are scripted. They feel very isolated.”

Avalon has committees that handle specific duties: personnel, technology, special education. Every year teachers evaluate one another on each other on four questions: What are their contributions? What are their greatest strengths and skills? What is some constructive feedback? And how confident are you in their overall performance? Parents and students also evaluate teachers, using different questions. If problems surface, the personnel committee appoints a fellow teacher to mentor his or her struggling colleague. If that fails, the group lets the teacher go, which appears to happen more often when teachers are in charge than it does in traditional public schools.

Having more control keeps teachers and students more engaged. Avalon’s high schoolers can take math, biology, physics and Spanish classes, but they spend the majority of their time on projects of their own choosing, with guidance from teachers to ensure that they master state standards. Such a heavy reliance on independent projects is typical of teacher-run schools, according to Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirkswager, who studied 11 of them for their 2012 book, “Trusting Teachers With School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots .”

Laura Waters has more.

Meanwhile, one size fits all continues to reign in Madison.

The assembly line seems like an odd way to go.

“What Are the Children Who Grow Up to Become Police Officers Learning in School?”

Rachel Toliver:

This summer, in Missouri, America got an awful tutorial in the realities of racism. We were taught—yet again, through bullets and teargas­—what it means to be black in this country. There is much to be done to prevent future Fergusons, of course. But as a teacher, I find myself wondering what our schools can contribute.

In Philadelphia, where I live and teach high school, we have a course that could help to improve race relations. But some students believe that it doesn’t go far enough.

Here in Philly, students are required to take a one-year course in African-American history; if they don’t take the class, they won’t graduate. The scope of the course is comprehensive, focusing not only on resistance and protest traditions, but also on the cultural history of Africa and the African diaspora. This mandate, the first—and virtually the only—of its kind, has been around for almost a decade. But its story begins 40 years before that.

In 1967, a coalition of about 4,000 African-American students held a peaceful demonstration before Philadelphia’s Board of Education building. In tandem with similar movements nationwide, they demanded that the African-American experience be made more visible in their schools. One of their 25 demands was that curricula be expanded beyond the superficial-at-best treatment of African-American history. The protest remained nonviolent until Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo spurred two busloads of his officers to attack the students with teargas and clubs. According to witnesses, Rizzo galvanized his men with a rallying cry of “get their black asses!”

Standard & Poor’s Issues Negative Outlook for Nonprofit Higher Education

Andy Thomason:

Standard & Poor’s Rating Services has issued a negative outlook for nonprofit higher education for 2015, citing, among other things, tension between rising costs to colleges and a focus on student affordability. In a report released on Thursday, the agency says the ensuing competition among colleges to attract top students will weigh heaviest on “those whose credit characteristics are already on the cusp of a lower rating.”

The report, “Upping The Ante: Costs of Luring Top Students Keeps the Outlook Negative on U.S. Not-for-Profit Higher Education Sector,” cites compliance—with organizations like the NCAA and the federal government—and risk management as two factors contributing to the mounting costs to attend college.

Jobs of the MLA

Jonathan Goodwin:

Around last year at this time, I became interested in what the archived editions of the MLA Job Information List could tell us about how the profession has changed over time. The MLA provided page-scans of all the JILs going back to 1965, and Jim Ridolfo used commercial OCR software to make them searchable. Once the documents were searchable, finding the first occurrence of various key words and graphing their frequency over time became feasible. One detail that became clear to me as I read each single issue of the JIL was that the formats differed enough to make graphs of relative frequencies somewhat misleading. Some of the editions are three times the size of others, and even normalizing over years doesn’t necessarily help here. So this image, for example, of the relative frequency of “shakespeare” in the JIL, needs additional interpretation:

The Right to Be Let Alone: Privacy in the United States

Tim Schwartz:

Based on other books that I had encountered in the Reanimation Library, I expected Gerald S. Snyder’s The Right to Be Let Alone: Privacy in the United States, to be an off-the-grid, back-to-nature, survivalists musings on privacy, brimming with paranoid attitudes such as “get off my land” and “don’t trust the banks.” To my surprise The Right to Be Let Alone traces the history of privacy in America and questions its future in the face of new technologies. Somewhat surprisingly, this book should probably be on our bedside tables right now given the National Security Agency revelations of 2013, constant data breaches, and the United States’ lack of government regulation in the realm of personal data privacy.

Using explicit legal and technological examples, Snyder describes how privacy in America is eroding as new technology makes it easier to collect, store, and analyze our personal information, thoughts, and ideas. In the final chapter, Snyder plays oracle and predicts what the world of technology and privacy might look like in the year 2000 (twenty five years into the future from Snyder’s perspective). It is astonishing how accurate his predictions are.

Kamenetz, A. (2015). The Test: Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing—but you don’t have to be [Book Review]

Richard P. Phelps, via a kind email:

Perhaps it is because I avoid most tabloid journalism that I found journalist Anya Kamenetz’s loose cannon Introduction to The Test: Why our schools are obsessed with standardized testing—but you don’t have to be so jarring. In the space of seven pages, she employs the pejoratives “test obsession”, “test score obsession”, “testing obsession”, “insidious … test creep”, “testing mania”, “endless measurement”, “testing arms race”, “high-stakes madness”, “obsession with metrics”, and “test-obsessed culture”.

Those un-measured words fit tightly alongside assertions that education, or standardized, or high-stakes testing is responsible for numerous harms ranging from stomachaches, stunted spirits, family stress, “undermined” schools, demoralized teachers, and paralyzed public debate, to the Great Recession (pp. 1, 6, 7), which was initially sparked by problems with mortgage-backed financial securities (and parents choose home locations in part based on school average test scores). Oh, and tests are “gutting our country’s future competitiveness,” too (p. 1).

Kamenetz made almost no effort to search for counter evidence[1]: “there’s lots of evidence that these tests are doing harm, and very little in their favor” (p. 13). Among her several sources for information of the relevant research literature are arguably the country’s most prolific proponents of the notion that little to no research exists showing educational benefits to testing.[2] Ergo, why bother to look for it?

Had a journalist covered the legendary feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, and talked only to the Hatfields, one might expect a surplus of reportage favoring the Hatfields and disfavoring the McCoys, and a deficit of reportage favoring the McCoys and disfavoring the Hatfields.

Looking at tests from any angle, Kamenetz sees only evil. Tests are bad because tests were used to enforce Jim Crow discrimination (p. 63). Tests are bad because some of the first scientists to use intelligence tests were racists (pp. 40-43).
– See more at:

Free tuition debate will reverberate into the future

Roger Boughton:

The airwaves have been filled with stories about Congress soon to debate free education at community colleges across the nation. The Minnesota State Legislature is about to bring to the table at the Capitol a debate on free tuition at Minnesota Community Colleges. It will be an interesting debate as states have gone down this road before. California had free tuition for residents at all institutions of higher education until 1969 when the model changed to a tuition based funding model with high fees. Today there are 11 institutions of higher education in the United States that offer free tuition.

They range from the College of the Ozarks to the five academies. Other than the five academies, the colleges that are free are all private institutions, other than the community colleges of Tennessee which will offer free tuition beginning in 2015.

Why free tuition? After World War II our country had a desperate need to place millions of young men returning to the country in a meaningful experience as well as thank them for a job well done. The GI Bill was introduced to pay their tuition, fees and other expenses. We were also in the middle of a transformation from an agriculture economy to an economy producing manufacturing goods, and we needed a skilled workforce. The second transformation came when Russia sent up Sputnik. The country identified the need for counselors and math and science teachers. The National Defense Act of 1959 was born, and there were programs that paid students to major at graduate school in one of the fields listed in the Act. Students coming out of Appalachia were favored. I am a product of that era in that I lived on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginia. I received stipends to obtain a graduate degree when I was married with one child. I was certainly not able to complete a degree with a growing family and attend the University full time.

The third transformation is what we are presently going through at this point in time. We are moving from the manufacturing to the digital and information age, which requires new skills for the future. Rather than use the words of free education the language that we should be using is; building a skilled based workforce for the future, providing opportunity for our future workforce rather than a dead-end job or creating a workforce that has hope rather than despair.

92 Percent of College Students Prefer Reading Print Books to E-Readers

Alice Robb:

Readers have been dreading the rise of e-books since before the technology even existed. A 1991 New York Times piece predicting the imminent invention of the personal e-reader spurred angry and impassioned letters to the editor. One reader wrote in to express his worry that the new electronic books wouldn’t work in the bath.

Twenty-three years later, half of American adults own an e-reading device. A few years ago, Obama set a goal of getting e-textbooks into every classroom by 2017. Florida lawmakers have passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.

Despite the embrace of e-books in certain contexts, they remain controversial. Many people just don’t like them: They run out of battery, they hurt your eyes, they don’t work in the bath. After years of growth, sales are stagnating. In 2014, 65 percent of 6 to 17-year-old children said they would always want to read books in print—up from 60 percent two years earlier.

With big data invading campus, universities risk unfairly profiling their students

Evan Selinger:

Privacy advocates have long been pushing for laws governing how schools and companies treat data gathered from students using technology in the classroom. Most now applaud President Obama’s newly announced Student Digital Privacy Act to ensure “data collected in the educational context is used only for educational purposes.”

But while young students are vulnerable to privacy harms, things are tricky for college students, too. This is especially true as many universities and colleges gather and analyze more data about students’ academic — and personal — lives than ever before.

Jeffrey Alan Johnson, assistant director of institutional effectiveness and planning at Utah Valley University, has written about some of the main issues for universities and college students in the era of big data. I spoke with him about the ethical and privacy implications of universities using more data analytics techniques.
Recommended: Do you have a clue about teenage behavior? Take our quiz!

Edited excerpts follow.
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Photos of the Day Photos of the weekend

Selinger: Privacy advocates worry about companies creating profiles of us. Is there an analog in the academic space? Are profiles being created that can have troubling experiential effects?

Securitization, risk management, and the new university

Amanda Armstrong:

The germ for this presentation emerged as I was reading Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s Golden Gulag. Her second chapter argues that the prison construction boom in 1980s California was a response, on the part of those managing capital and governing the state, to four surpluses, including of capital, labor, land, and state capacity. With respect to capital surpluses, Gilmore shows how investment bankers, in search of profitable sites of investment, developed new financial mechanisms in the early eighties that enabled debt-financed prison construction to go forward without voter approval. These new financial mechanisms, called lease revenue bonds, had recently been put to use as well for the funding of construction projects at California colleges and universities.

In what follows, I want to talk a bit about these convergent shifts in prison and university financing, which Gilmore reads as ruling class responses to the protracted economic crisis of the seventies. While formally similar in certain respects, these parallel shifts also indicate a tilting of the state toward policing and incarceration and away from direct support for education and other socially reproductive state functions. I’m interested in the aftereffects of these shifts, and particularly in what has changed over the last five years, following the crisis of 2008 and recent waves of struggle.

With respect to the universities, Gilmore describes how, in 1981 and ‘82, Frederic Prager, a well-connected underwriter in California, “worked with the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities to issue an innovative revenue bond whose proceeds [constituted] a forward-funded market for student loans” (98). Soon afterwards, the loan arrangement was extended to public universities as well. The terms of this particular revenue bond illustrate some of the emergent parameters of university financing in the early eighties.

At this moment, newly available student aid and loan money – funded and backed by state agencies – provided an incentive for universities to gradually increase tuition, and thus enabled them to secure the unencumbered revenue necessary to undertake debt-financed construction projects – projects that university managers justified on the grounds that new construction would help them compete for students. Prager and his associates at KPMG helped rationalize these new financial dynamics, publishing manuals of “best practices” for university managers. Their 1982 “Ratio Analysis in Higher Education” presented its readers with financial “ratios” that could be used to determine the proper balance of university revenues, operating costs, investments, and bond debts. Unsurprisingly, these apparently neutral ratios pushed university managers to funnel more capital into financial markets and to take on higher levels of construction debt.

Helping the Poor In Education: the Power of a simple Nudge

Susan Dynarski:

There are enormous inequalities in education in the United States. A child born into a poor family has only a 9 percent chance of getting a college degree, but the odds are 54 percent for a child in a high-income family. These gaps open early, with poor children less prepared than their kindergarten classmates.

How can we close these gaps? Contentious, ambitious reforms of the education system crowd the headlines: the Common Core, the elimination of teacher tenure, charter schools. The debate is heated and sometimes impolite (a recent book about education is called “The Teacher Wars”).
Yet as these debates rage, researchers have been quietly finding small, effective ways to improve education. They have identified behavioral “nudges” that prod students and their families to take small steps that can make big differences in learning. These measures are cheap, so schools or nonprofits could use them immediately.

Orality, Literacy, and the Memorized Poem

Mike Chasar:

Partway through Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s 1967 novel The Outsiders, Ponyboy Curtis (played by C. Thomas Howell) and Johnny Cade (Ralph Macchio) are hiding out in an abandoned church in the country because Johnny knifed and accidentally killed a guy in a late-night fight. In the church, separated from the pain and gang violence of their low-income lives, the teens can be most fully themselves, and they spend their time reading Gone with the Wind to each other as they wait for Dallas (Matt Dillon) to show up and say the coast is clear.

One morning, the blond-haired and poetically-inclined Ponyboy gets up early and watches the sunrise through the mist. He is joined by Johnny, who remarks, “Too bad it can’t stay like that all the time.” Ponyboy responds, “Nothing gold can stay,” and proceeds to recite in full Robert Frost’s well-known poem of the same title:

On Loving Literature

William Giraldi:

First, a distinction. When I employ the term academic in what follows, I will not mean the first definition, the technical one: individuals who teach college students. I will mean the second definition, the sullied one: individuals for whom the academy is not a place to work but a way to think, those priests and priestesses of palaver for whom literature is never quite okay as it is, and to whom literature begs to be gussied up in silkier robes. These are politicizers who marshal literature in the name of an ideological agenda, who deface great books and rather prefer bad books because they bolster grievances born of their epidermis or gender or sexuality, or of the nation’s economy, or of cultural history, or of whatever manner of apprehension is currently in vogue. You might think of the distinction as one between those for whom the academy is a meaningful paycheck and those for whom it is a meaningless principle—teaching at a university does not ipso facto transform one into an academic. The distinction remains a crucial one, a distinction defined by much more than mere differences, because there are thousands inside the academy whose souls have not been spoiled by it—untold English professors who can write with clarity and speak with passion, who don’t conflate art with personal identity, or aesthetics with politics, and who every semester impart their love of beauty and wisdom to students savagely in need of it.

Test Finds College Graduates Lack Skills for White-Collar Jobs

Douglas Belkin:

Four in 10 U.S. college students graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work, according to the results of a test of nearly 32,000 students.

The test, which was administered at 169 colleges and universities in 2013 and 2014 and released Thursday, reveals broad variation in the intellectual development of the nation’s students depending on the type and even location of the school they attend.

On average, students make strides in their ability to reason, but because so many start at such a deficit, many still graduate without the ability to read a scatterplot, construct a cohesive argument or identify a logical fallacy.

“Even if there is notable growth over four years, many students are starting at such a low point they may still not be proficient at the point of graduation,” said Jessalynn K. James, a program manager at the Council for Aid to Education, which administered the test. The CAE is a New York-based nonprofit that once was part of Rand Corp.

Collegiate Learning Assessment.

64 Dartmouth College students face discipline over cheating

Matt Rocheleau:

Up to 64 Dartmouth College students — including some athletes — could face suspension or other disciplinary action for cheating in an ethics class this past fall.

Dartmouth officials said students implicated in the cheating scandal misrepresented their attendance and participation in the undergraduate course, “Sports, Ethics & Religion.”

The class used electronic hand-held “clickers,” registered to individual students, to answer in-class questions. Officials at the Hanover, N.H., college said the students charged with cheating either gave their clickers to classmates instead of attending class themselves, or helped others cheat by using the clickers to answer questions on their behalf.

Some of the students have been found in violation of the school’s honor code and have been told they will be suspended for one term, a college official with knowledge of the proceedings said.

Jacob Bernoulli’s Legacy in Mathematica

Oleksandr Pavlyk:

Jacob Bernoulli was the first mathematician in the Bernoulli family, which produced many notable mathematicians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Jacob Bernoulli’s mathematical legacy is rich.

He introduced Bernoulli numbers, solved the Bernoulli differential equation, studied the Bernoulli trials process, proved the Bernoulli inequality, discovered the number e, and demonstrated the weak law of large numbers (Bernoulli’s theorem).

Bernoulli’s treatise Ars Conjectandi (i.e. The Art of Conjecturing) was posthumously published in 1713, eight years after his demise, and was written in Latin, science’s lingua franca of the time. It is considered a seminal work of mathematical probability. Its importance is witnessed, in part, by its translations to French by G. Le Roy in 1801, and, recently, to English by E. D. Sylla in 2005.

An upstart charter school is challenging the status quo in Clayton County. After beating the odds to open its doors, can Utopian Academy for the Arts live up to its vision?

Rebecca Burns:

The students of Utopian Academy for the Arts are being called on the carpet. Yesterday, their middle school mischief found the classic victim: a substitute teacher. The seventh-grade science room grew so loud that the classes on either side could hear the commotion through the walls.

Today, as they do every morning, the children have assembled in the cafeteria, with its red and blue cinder block walls and folding tables arranged in long rows, Hogwarts style. The whole school is here—all 180 students. The girls from Mr. Henderson’s class. The boys from Ms. Terry’s. The girls from Mr. Moore’s. The boys from Mr. Farrior’s. It is 7:55 in the morning; the school day won’t end for another eight hours, and many students will remain on campus until 6:30 p.m. This is a charter school, so Utopian Academy plays by its own set of rules. Eight-hour school days. Classes every other Saturday. A longer school year. A tougher curriculum. Dance, music, theater, and arts for all. And a rigid code of conduct.

“Good morning,” says a man from the stage. His name is Frederick A. Birkett, and he is not smiling. Birkett looks precisely how you’d imagine a former military man who went into academia might: bow tie, spit-shined shoes, ramrod posture. Just over a year ago, Birkett was an education professor at the University of Hawaii. But then he learned about this upstart school in Clayton County, Georgia, where the school board was so dysfunctional that the entire system lost its accreditation a few years ago. Birkett had never heard of such a thing, and this is a man who knows something about schools; he’s got a master’s in education from Harvard and ran pioneering charter schools in Harlem, Boston, and Kailua, Hawaii. When it comes to charters, he literally wrote the book—Charter Schools: The Parent’s Complete Guide.

Students gain access to Stanford Admissions files

Richard Perez-Pena:

The Fountain Hopper started in September and gained a widespread following with an irreverent take on campus news, sent out two or three times a week by e-mail to most undergraduates. The students who run it soon turned their attention to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law known by the acronym Ferpa that was passed in 1974 and amended several times since. It stipulates that students have a right to see their educational records.

Not quite knowing what to expect, the Fountain Hopper leaders got several students, including some who are not involved in the newsletter, to request every record the university had on them. At least one student has received the records, and said he was surprised by what he got back: several hundred pages, including a log of every time his electronic identification card had been used to unlock a door, and those admission records.

On Thursday night, the Fountain Hopper sent messages to its subscribers, urging them to request their records and describing the process, with a set of links to click on, showing them where to send the request and how to word it. A Fountain Hopper staff member said that in less than 24 hours, more than 700 people had clicked on all of the links.

Here’s the New Way Colleges Are Predicting Student Grades

Jon Marcus:

Data algorithms cover millions of grades from thousands of students

Dupaul, the associate provost for enrollment management at Southern Methodist University, is one of a growing number of university administrators consulting the performance data of former students to predict the outcomes of current ones. The little-known effort is being quietly employed by about 125 schools around the U.S., and often includes combing years of data covering millions of grades earned by thousands of former students.

It’s the same kind of process tech behemoths like Amazon and Google employ to predict the buying behavior of consumers. And many of the universities and colleges that are applying it have seen impressive declines in the number of students who drop out, and increases in the proportion who graduate. The early returns are promising enough that it has caught the attention of the Obama Administration, which pushed for schools to make heavier use of data to improve graduation rates at a White House higher education summit last week.

The payoff for schools goes beyond graduation rates: tracking data in this way keeps tuition coming in from students who stay, and avoids the cost of recruiting new ones, which the enrollment consulting firm Noel-Levitz estimates is $2,433 per undergraduate at private and $457 at four-year public universities.

“It’s a resource issue, it’s a reputational issue, it does impact — I’ll say it — the rankings” by improving graduation rates, Dupaul says.

Standardized testing opponents find themselves on the wrong side of civil rights

Laura Waters:

On Monday U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined his wish-list for the next iteration of No Child Left Behind. It will be the seventh generation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which began in 1965.

Duncan again emphasized the administration’s support for mandatory standardized testing of children in grades three through eight.

The anti-testing cadre gave a collective hiss on the internet. Nothing new there: opposition to annual standardized student assessments is the new craze. But, remarkably, sloganeers of “toxic testing,” including teacher union leaders and suburban parents, find themselves at odds with some of America’s most prominent civil rights groups.

From a statement issued earlier this month from an umbrella group called The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights”

New Jersey Education Association’s Finances

Mike Antonucci:

Having Chris Christie as governor doesn’t seem to have affected the New Jersey Education Association’s revenues, but it certainly affected its political spending. The union sent $1 million to its candidate PAC, $5.5 million to Garden State Forward and $3 million to One New Jersey (both SuperPACs).

NJEA also spread cash to outside advocacy groups both large and small. It contributed $550,000 to the Education Law Center and $5,000 to FairTest.

NJEA executive officers do particularly well salary-wise, plus each receives an annual $1,000 in clothing allowance.

Total membership – 200,314, up 5,356

Total revenue – $126.5 million (90% came from member dues), up $2.7 million

Budget surplus – $3.2 million

Ucas warns some UK students may be disadvantaged by A-level changes

Ricard Adams:

Ucas, the organisation that handles British university admissions, is warning that some students applying for places may be disadvantaged by the uneven and confusing wave of A-level exam changes taking place later this year.

In a survey of 500 secondary schools, Ucas found many unsure how to respond to the A-level changes in England, which strip out AS-level exams as part of A-level grades and introduce a series of new two-year linear exams from September this year until 2017.

DPI Standard of the Week: Using phonics as building blocks for reading

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

The Department of Public Instruction chooses an English Language Arts standard each week and posts resources and ideas for practicing in the classroom and at home. The standard for the week of January 5 is phonics. Follow this link to the site As is usually the case in materials on phonics, some are better than others. We recommend the resources listed for January 6 (blending), January 8 (Elkonin boxes for sound segmentation) and January 12 (example one only: silent-e).

Wisconsin Common Core Opinions and Politics: It’s hard to track our state government’s position on the Common Core State Standards. Opinions run from full support to calls for replacement. The latest approach seems to be assuring school districts that it is up to them whether to use the Common Core or substitute something else. Read more details in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: Republican leadership toning down opposition to Common Core. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute reported earlier this month that polls show 62% of Wisconsinites support Common Core State Standards.

Complimentary Webinar Series: Reading and Writing from Text Sources
Presenter: Joan Sedita, Keys to Literacy
Relevant for grades 3-12
Three 60-minute webinars: register individually or as a series; just click on the individual links below
January 21, 2:30 CST: Preparing and Scaffolding at Text Source
February 27, 2:30 CST: Gathering Information from the Source
March 25, 2:30 CST: Turning Notes Into a First Draft

New Article: Preventing Reading Failure: The Right Instruction at the Right Time, by Dr. Kathy Barclay and Laura Stewart, as published in the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA) Bulletin

Lindamood-Bell Learning Centers, now open in Milwaukee during the school year, presents Overview on Learning: Tuesday, February 17, 5:30 – 6:30 PM at Fiddleheads Conference Room, 10530 N. Port Washington Road, Mequon, WI, 53092. TO reserve a space, call 888-414-1720 or email

LDA Annual Conference
Special focus on mental and emotional health of students with learning disabilities
February 18-21, Chicago, IL
Click for information

Commentary on Wisconsin’s K-12 Governance model

Alan Borsuk:

So now, Walker wants to go back to letting parental choice drive quality?

There are those who agree. George Mitchell, a central and adamant figure in the history of voucher advocacy, sent me an email last week, saying, among other things:

“If there was a true open enrollment system in Wisconsin that included private and charter schools, a system that ALL parents were eligible for, a system that did not give ‘public’ schools a decided fiscal advantage, there would be an accountability revolution.

“This would require that the state provide parents with Consumer Reports-style information. The result, among other things, would be a meaningful reduction in the number of low-performing schools.”

Mitchell added, “…given the demonstrable inability of officials and experts in Madison to craft an alternative, what could go wrong in giving true parent-based accountability a try?

“Such a system would not be perfect. I only argue that it would be (far) better compared to the current system.”

There was little evidence that Republican legislative leaders were buying Walker’s idea that there was no need for bureaucrats to create steps for dealing with low success schools.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was quoted saying that passing a bill that didn’t include state-initiated ways aimed at change “would just be political theater.” Rep. Jim Steineke, majority leader of the Assembly, posted an essay online, saying, “It is unconscionable that we would look at the children left at these schools and tell them that by slapping a grade on their schools, we have somehow accomplished something.”

On the one hand, you have to ask if Walker is serious about what he said — or is he, perhaps, striking a posture that might help position him in the race for the Republican presidential nomination? If he’s serious, will he really push for no new government-based accountability steps, except something like better report cards?

Opportunity for Involvement: The University League Invites You to Become a Member

Madison Teachers, Inc., via a kind Jeanie Kamholtz email (PDF):

For nearly 115 years, The University League of University of Wisconsin-Madison has provided opportunities for people with similar interests to get together to learn, to share information, and to form lasting friendships through interest groups, volunteer groups, social gatherings and scholarship benefits. They give more than $100,000 annually for UW-Madison student scholarships via their 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The current president, Kay Jarvis-Sladky, is a retired MTI member.

The University League welcomes those interested. One does not need to be a graduate of, or a faculty member of, the UW or any of its university systems. For more information about The University League, its activities, and membership see

Student loan debt at UW-Madison rises; still below national average

Pat Schneider:

Undergraduates at UW-Madison who take out student loans graduated with an average of $27,711 in debt last year, up 4 percent from the year before, UW-Madison News reports.

That remains below the national average of $28,400 in 2013, according to a report from the Office of Student Financial Aid.

Undergraduate tuition at UW-Madison was frozen in 2013 for two years.

“There are a few possible reasons for the increase in undergraduate student debt amounts since 2012-13,” says Susan Fischer, director of the UW-Madison Office of Student Financial Aid.

“State grants for low-income undergraduates have remained stagnant and although federal Pell Grant dollars increased slightly, it was not sufficient to offset the modest increase in living costs. Additionally, the continued difficult economy has caused some student and families to rely more heavily on borrowing than they might have otherwise planned,” Fischer said.

UW System tuition is up 91% (!) over the past decade.

A Blueprint for Effective and Adaptable School District Procurement

Tricia Maas, Robin Lake:

In public education, procurement reform has been all but ignored in policy discussions and procurement policies have remained virtually untouched. But the high price of ignoring procurement is becoming clear to people trying to reform education on the ground. Often involving long, cumbersome processes and risk-averse central office cultures, procurement can impede school-level decision making and effective partnerships with entrepreneurs. In New York City and other large urban districts, this environment has stymied efforts to give schools more autonomy and adopt new technology-based solutions.

Emerging technological solutions and the need for school redesign demand that school systems bring procurement practices into the 21st century to make them agile, adaptable, and innovation-friendly. This report outlines the problems school leaders face in procuring innovative goods and services, distills promising approaches used by other sectors to modernize public procurement processes around emerging technologies, and recommends steps districts can take to start modernizing procurement

Superkids K-2 Core Reading Program From Rowland Reading Foundation

Zaner-Bloser via a kind reader:

Rowland Reading Foundation, of Madison, Wisconsin, today announced the acquisition of its Superkids Reading Program by Zaner-Bloser, an educational publisher providing curricula and digital resources in literacy, language arts, writing instruction and handwriting.
The Superkids program is a rigorous phonics-based literacy curriculum that integrates reading with writing, spelling and grammar for students in kindergarten through second grade. It features a cast of characters called the Superkids whose adventures are told in its books and online materials.

The program was written by Pleasant Rowland, creator of American Girl®, and developed by Rowland Reading Foundation, whose mission is to improve reading instruction in the primary grades. In addition to its Superkids curriculum, the Foundation provides classroom coaching and professional development for teachers and conducts research into effective reading instruction.
“Teaching children how to read and to love to read has been my personal passion and the focus of my career,” said Ms. Rowland, chairman of Rowland Reading Foundation. “As I approached retirement, I wanted to find a good home for Superkids. I believe Zaner-Bloser is that good home, not only because of its long commitment to literacy for young children but, of greater importance, because the missions and values of our two organizations are so closely aligned.”

Disastrous reading results have long been a challenge in Madison.

A New Study Reveals Much About How Parents Really Choose Schools

Anya Kamanetz:

The charter school movement is built on the premise that increased competition among schools will sort the wheat from the chaff.

It seems self-evident that parents, empowered by choice, will vote with their feet for academically stronger schools. As the argument goes, the overall effect should be to improve equity as well: Lower-income parents won’t have to send their kids to an under-resourced and underperforming school just because it is the closest one to them geographically.

But an intriguing new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans suggests that parent choice doesn’t always work that way. Parents, especially low-income parents, actually show strong preferences for other qualities like location and extracurriculars — preferences that can outweigh academics.

Blended Delusions

Name Withheld:

In my opinion, technology’s place is not in the classroom, at least not for the most part. Sometimes it is necessary, but most of the time, it only serves as a distraction and offers activities that inhibit productive, successful learning.

At my school, students are allowed and actually supposed to use laptops to take notes during each class, unless the teacher specifically instructs otherwise, which they rarely do. Sitting in class, I often see other students’ laptops open to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, celebrity gossip websites, even Hulu, a website for watching TV shows. Then, a few days later when we have an assessment, students will anxiously ask a number of questions on the material taught in class while they were surfing the web. The entire class is slowed down, everyone’s time is wasted, teachers are disrespected, students come to value web surfing over learning, students retain less information which then makes for a shakier foundation for learning more in the future, and students learn to prefer cramming, or come to see cramming as the only way to prepare for assessments.

Concord Review High School Author Wins Rhodes Scholarship

Bill Korach:

Rigorous writing is not required or taught in most high schools in America, but rigorous writing is de rigueur for admission to top colleges and is highly respected by employers as a critical skill. The Concord Review has published the best high school history papers in the world. TCR Publisher Will Fitzhugh says his authors are accepted at the greated universities in the world including Harvard, The University of Chicago, West Point, Annapolis and many others. Maya Krishnan wrote her paper for The Concord Review when she was a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD.

Ms. Krishnan has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study for one year at Oxford University. Not every student can win a Rhodes Scholarship, but every student can benefit by becoming a better writer. Writing an excellent history paper not only teaches writing skills, also teaches the writer research and acquisition of knowledge. In her interview with The Report Card, Ms. Krishna discusses her paper and how the effort paid so many dividends.

Predicting Educational Attainment Using Survey Item Response Rates and Coding Speed Tests as Measures of Conscientiousness

Colin Hitt & Julie R. Trivitt:

Leading research shows the importance of non-cognitive skills for educational attainment, but advances in this research have been slowed by a common data limitation: most datasets do not contain explicit measures of non-cognitive skills. We examine a new proxy for non-cognitive skills, survey item response rates. Using a detailed national survey of American adolescents, we find that the percentage of questions left unanswered is a significant predictor of educational attainment. The fewer questions left unanswered, the higher the likelihood overall that respondents will enroll in college. We replicate our analysis using a more rudimentary dataset, of the kind typically used in program evaluations, and again find that item response rates are predictive of educational attainment. We posit that survey item response rates capture conscientiousness, a personality trait that is not explicitly measured in most surveys. Thus item response rates provide a convenient measure of non-cognitive skills. We also examine another proxy for non-cognitive skills, results on a coding speed test. Coding speed is also predictive of educational attainment, independent of cognitive ability. Our results suggest coding speed also captures conscientiousness, albeit different facets of conscientiousness than item response rates. We conclude that coding speed and item response rates can both be used to measure the impact of public policy on important non-cognitive skills.

Parents investigated for neglect after letting kids walk home alone

Donna St George:

It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

A Brief Overview of Deep Learning

Yisong Yue:

(This is a guest post by Ilya Sutskever on the intuition behind deep learning as well as some very useful practical advice. Many thanks to Ilya for such a heroic effort!)

Deep Learning is really popular these days. Big and small companies are getting into it and making money off it. It’s hot. There is some substance to the hype, too: large deep neural networks achieve the best results on speech recognition, visual object recognition, and several language related tasks, such as machine translation and language modeling.

But why? What’s so special about deep learning? (from now on, we shall use the term Large Deep Neural Networks — LDNN — which is what the vaguer term “Deep Learning” mostly refers to). Why does it work now, and how does it differ from neural networks of old? Finally, suppose you want to train an LDNN. Rumor has it that it’s very difficult to do so, that it is “black magic” that requires years of experience. And while it is true that experience helps quite a bit, the amount of “trickery” is surprisingly limited —- one needs be on the lookout for only a small number well-known pitfalls. Also, there are many open-source implementations of various state-of-the-art neural networks (c.f. Caffe, cuda-covnet, Torch, Theano), which makes it much easier to learn all the details needed to make it work.

Colleges ratchet up recruiting of applicants — just to turn them down

Laura Colarusso:

When Tel Kelley began his college search, he knew he wanted to go to a big school with a top-notch sports medicine program and big-time intercollegiate teams.

But as his senior year began at Alamosa High School in Alamosa, Colorado, Kelley started hearing over and over again from about a dozen schools he’d never contacted and in which he had no interest. He estimates that each school sent him two to three emails a week, plus letters and brochures encouraging him to apply.

It’s been “overwhelming,” said the 18-year-old Kelley, an A student who has already been accepted to Oklahoma State and Arizona State universities. Now, as the emails keep pouring in, he said, “I just delete them immediately so I don’t have to deal with it.”

As college-admissions season kicks into high gear, Kelley is a target of a little-known practice among colleges and universities called “recruit to deny,” under which they try to make their admissions process look more selective by boosting their number of applicants — then turning many of them down — through hard-sell marketing techniques.

One major reason for this is that the more selective an institution appears to be, the higher it ends up in the college rankings, said David Hawkins, executive director of education content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC.

“The rankings drive this,” Hawkins said. “But if the rankings went away tomorrow, you would still have college presidents, trustees, alumni, students and all sorts of other stakeholders who care about how selective their college is.”

Divide and Conquer Part II: “Right to Work” is Dead Wrong

Madison Teachers, Inc., via a kind Jeanie Kamholtz email (PDF):

Buoyed by the election which provided Republican majorities in both the Assembly (+27 majority) and the Senate (+5 majority), conservative anti-worker/anti-union legislators have announced that they will introduce Right to Work legislation when the January session begins. Right to Work laws limit collective bargaining, make it easier to outsource jobs and cut wages and benefits. Their plan was to do this in 2012, but legislators were worried that it was too soon after the 2011 protests against Act 10, and would cause public backlash. On average, workers in Right to Work states earn $7,030 a year less, according to the Congressional Research Service (6/20/12), and the rate of workplace deaths is 52.9% higher. Workers in Right to Work states are even more likely to be uninsured (16.8%, compared with 13.1% overall).

Governor Walker’s Act 10 has already done great damage to Wisconsin’s public sector workers and the economy. Act 10 has been described as “Right to Work on Steroids.” But now, the far-right is coming after the 13% of Wisconsin’s private sector workers who have the benefit of union representation. And it is because CEOs and company owners care more about big business and profits than they do about workers who create them. And, middle class families become struggling families. Right to Work will surely shrink the middle class.

Despite its misleading name, such a law does not guarantee anyone a job and it does not protect against unfair firing, i.e. it provides NO “right to work”. Rather, a Right to Work law prohibits employers and employees from negotiating an agreement – also known as a union security clause – that requires all workers who receive the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement to pay their share of the costs of the Union in representing them. A Right to Work law mandates that unions represent every employee, whether or not he or she pays Union dues. In other words, such laws enable workers to pay nothing and still get the benefits of union membership. Imagine if a Madison resident, who sends their children to MMSD schools, but can opt out of paying property taxes to finance the schools.

A Right to Work law compels dues-paying members to subsidize the cost of representation for those who opt not to pay. If a worker who is represented by a union and doesn’t pay dues is fired illegally, the Union must use resources from dues-paying members to defend the non-member even if that requires going through a costly, time-consuming litigation.

How the Romans taught Latin

Peter Jones:

Barely a week passes without someone complaining about the teaching of English or foreign languages, usually because it involves too much, or too little, grammar. The ancients also had to face the problem. Clearly, non-Romans who wanted a career in Roman high society, the courts, civil administration or the army needed to learn Latin. So they did, and by the 2nd century AD, the Greek essayist Plutarch was able to say that almost all men used Latin. Certainly, as the Vindolanda tablets demonstrate, the Latin of the Germanic officer Cerealis was very respectable.

But Romans also admired Greek culture enormously, and Latin literature drank deeply at its well (the statesman Cicero could switch effortlessly between Latin and Greek). Trade too provided incentives for Romans to learn Greek; and as it was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean, and there were huge numbers of Greek slaves in Rome as well as immigrants, more Greek was probably spoken in Rome than the local lingo.

Cracking Down on Skipping Class

Douglas Belkin:

Skipping class undetected for a game of ultimate Frisbee might become a thing of the past as more universities adopt mandatory-attendance policies and acquire high-tech trackers that snitch when students skip.

At Villanova University, student ID cards track attendance at some lectures. Administrators at University of Arkansas last semester began electronically monitoring the class attendance of 750 freshmen as part of a pilot program they might extend to all underclassman. And at Harvard, researchers secretly filmed classrooms to learn how many students were skipping lectures.

The moves reflect the rising financial consequence of skipping too many classes and, consequently, dropping out. More than four in 10 full-time college students fail to graduate in six years. Many are stuck with crippling student debt and no credentials to help them pay it back. Graduation rates also figure into closely watched school rankings.

L.A. Unified’s iPad program plagued by problems early, review says

Howard Blume:

LAUSD’s $1.3-billion iPad program was plagued by lack of resources and inadequate planning, review says
U.S. Department of Education study finds similar problems with a faulty student records system

A $1.3-billion iPads-for-all program in Los Angeles schools was plagued by lack of resources and inadequate planning for how the devices would be used in classrooms and, later, how they would be evaluated, according to a federal review.

Better to get reading right….

Silicon Valley Turns Its Eye to Education

Natasha Singer:

“Education is one of the last industries to be touched by Internet technology, and we’re seeing a lot of catch-up going on,” said Betsy Corcoran, the chief executive of EdSurge, an industry news service and research company. “We’re starting to see more classical investors — the Kleiner Perkinses, the Andreessen Horowitzes, the Sequoias — pay more attention to the marketplace than before.”

While rising sharply, the values of ed tech financing deals are chump change compared with the money flowing into consumer software. Uber, the ride-hailing app, for instance, raised $2.7 billion last year.

The smaller sums going into ed tech illustrate the challenges facing start-ups as they try to persuade public school systems to adopt their novel products. Companies often must navigate local school districts with limited budgets and slow procurement processes. To bypass the bureaucracy, many start-ups are marketing free learning apps and websites directly to teachers in the hopes that their schools might eventually buy enhanced services.

Still, it is too early to tell whether that direct-to-consumer “freemium” strategy, as it is often called, will pan out for education software.

The missing piece to changing the university culture

Maximiliaan Schillebeeckx, Brett Maricque & Cory Lewis:

As graduate students, we have become disillusioned with our academic training. We began graduate school full of ambition, drive and optimism but have long since come to realize that we have joined a system that does not meet our diverse interests. We yearn for a community that supports creativity and the expression of future career goals instead of one with a narrow, focused interest.

Current PhD training programs are focused primarily on the academic career track despite its disheartening outlook: the number of awarded PhDs is significantly outpacing the available positions1, 2, fiscal pressures have slowed the growth of available independent research jobs3 and the time it takes to earn a PhD has not improved over the past two decades4. Each year, there are seven times more PhDs awarded in science and engineering than there are newly available faculty positions (Fig. 1). As a result, only about 25% of biomedical sciences PhD recipients are in tenure-track positions five years after earning their degree4, 5. The percent of PhDs starting postdoctoral fellowships, however, has not changed, with close to 70% of life science PhDs pursuing a postdoc after graduation in 2010 (ref. 4), which suggests that PhD students are unsure of their career goals or unequipped for a nonacademic career. In addition to the discouraging job prospects, the time required to complete a PhD adds to the bleak outlook. Despite a downward trend, the average time to degree in life sciences and engineering is still high, with half of PhD candidates requiring seven years or more to complete their degree; one-third of candidates who begin will never finish1, 4. With over 40% of graduate students indifferent or unsatisfied to some degree with their graduate school experience6, it is clear that initiatives must be taken to revamp the research training paradigm.

How to raise successful children — advice from parents lucky enough to know

Lisa Grace Lednicer:

I know a divorced, single mom who is raising three children in what can only be described as a chaotic household. Her ex-husband lives in a different city, her parents live in a different state, and her high-energy kids — a tween boy and girl and their younger sister — require someone with the organizational skills of a logistics specialist to keep track of their lives. I sometimes questioned her parenting decisions until something she did stunned me.

One day, she ignored the piles of laundry and household chores, packed her kids into the car and drove north for the weekend just because the weather was gorgeous and who knew when they’d have a weekend like that again? I envied her confidence — not just because her kids will remember that trip instead of the day-to-day messiness of their lives, but because I would never think of doing something that spontaneous with my 6-year-old. Which means, maybe, I’m a bad mom.

Should Schools Teach Personality?

Anna North:

Self-control, curiosity, “grit” — these qualities may seem more personal than academic, but at some schools, they’re now part of the regular curriculum. Some researchers say personality could be even more important than intelligence when it comes to students’ success in school. But critics worry that the increasing focus on qualities like grit will distract policy makers from problems with schools.

In a 2014 paper, the Australian psychology professor Arthur E. Poropat cites research showing that both conscientiousness (which he defines as a tendency to be “diligent, dutiful and hardworking”) and openness (characterized by qualities like creativity and curiosity) are more highly correlated with student performance than intelligence is. And, he notes, ratings of students’ personalities by outside observers — teachers, for instance — are even more strongly linked with academic success than the way students rate themselves. The strength of the personality-performance link is good news, he writes, because “personality has been demonstrated to change over time to a far greater extent than intelligence.”

Academic Job archives

Jonathan Goodwin:

Around last year at this time, I became interested in what the archived editions of the MLA Job Information List could tell us about how the profession has changed over time. The MLA provided page-scans of all the JILs going back to 1965, and Jim Ridolfo used commercial OCR software to make them searchable. Once the documents were searchable, finding the first occurrence of various key words and graphing their frequency over time became feasible. One detail that became clear to me as I read each single issue of the JIL was that the formats differed enough to make graphs of relative frequencies somewhat misleading. Some of the editions are three times the size of others, and even normalizing over years doesn’t necessarily help here. So this image, for example, of the relative frequency of “shakespeare” in the JIL, needs additional interpretation:

The Unappreciated Success Of Charter Schools

Adam Ozimek:

I think the conventional wisdom on charter school evidence could be summed up thusly: ”some charter schools appear to do very well, but on average charters do no better and no worse than public schools”. But I would like to propose a better conventional wisdom: “some charter schools appear to do very well, and on average charters do better at educating poor students and black students”. If the same evidence existed for some policy other than charter schools, I believe this would be the conventional wisdom.

Two of the most widely cited charter studies are a 2009 and 2013 analysis of charters in 16 and 27 states respectively by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO). The results that many cite are the charter schools do no better or worse than nearby public schools on average, which was the conclusion of the 2009 study. However, I think this claim really missed the bigger picture. While overall charters and public schools compare relatively closely, both the 2009 and 2013 study found that charters did better for students in poverty. In addition, performance gap is growing over time:

Curated Education Information