Grant Driven Strategy?

Molly Beck:

A $300,000 grant paid over the next three years from the Madison Community Foundation will begin the process of developing “full-service” community schools in the Madison School District.

“Our goal is to raise student achievement for all and narrow and close achievement gaps but we cannot do it on our own,” superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said Thursday. “By better coordinating our efforts (and) creating a quilt of strong neighborhood centers with strong, full-service community schools, we’ll be able to make sure that the families that need coordinated services can actually get them.”

The community school model is used in school districts across the country in an effort to address more than just academic needs of children, according to the Urban Strategies Council, and is especially used in areas with high poverty with neighborhood residents and families that may have poor access to health care services or meals.

A Degree Signifying Nothing

Jesse Saffron:

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released a report titled “The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015.” According to the report’s author, Dr. Michael Poliakoff, only 4 out of the top 52 liberal arts colleges and universities in the country require English majors to take a course on Shakespeare. “If reading Shakespeare is not central to a liberal education, what is? For English majors to miss out is far worse. A degree in English without serious study of Shakespeare is like a major in Greek Literature without the serious study of Homer. It is tantamount to fraud. A department that claims to cover the full span of literature written in English and represent the highest standards of academic study cannot marginalize the writer most honored and beloved in English literary history,” writes Poliakoff. The report notes that, while many colleges are giving Shakespeare superficial treatment, trendy courses, and even courses that focus on the works of children’s book authors, are growing in number. As ACTA’s president Anne Neal said in a recent interview, “It’s no wonder that the public is rapidly losing faith in our colleges and universities.”

College for the Masses

David Leonhardt:

The fate of students like Mr. Escanilla is crucial to today’s debate over who should go to college: How much money should taxpayers spend subsidizing higher education? How willing should students be to take on college debt? How hard should Washington and state governments push colleges to lift their graduation rates? All of these questions depend on whether a large number of at-risk students are really capable of completing a four-year degree.

As it happens, two separate — and ambitious — recent academic studies have looked at precisely this issue. The economists and education researchers tracked thousands of people over the last two decades in Florida, Georgia and elsewhere who had fallen on either side of hard admissions cutoffs. Less selective colleges often set such benchmarks: Students who score 840 on the SAT, for example, or maintain a C+ average in high school are admitted. Those who don’t clear the bar are generally rejected, and many don’t attend any four-year college.

Such stark cutoffs provide researchers with a kind of natural experiment. Students who score an 830 on the SAT are nearly identical to those who score an 840. Yet if one group goes to college and the other doesn’t, researchers can make meaningful estimates of the true effects of college.

That Way We’re All Talking Now

The Message:

This style has been huge for some time now. Do you love it, or hate it?

Me—I’m in! Mind you, I’m a fan of all the betentacled linguistic lifeforms that have emerged from our cambrian explosion online. These days, people write insanely more text than they did before the Internet and mobile phones came along. So the volume of experimentation is correspondingly massive and, for me, delightful. One joy of our age is watching wordplay evolve at the pace of E.coli.

Why can’t we read anymore?

Hugh McGuire:

Last year, I read four books.

The reasons for that low number are, I guess, the same as your reasons for reading fewer books than you think you should have read last year: I’ve been finding it harder and harder to concentrate on words, sentences, paragraphs. Let alone chapters. Chapters often have page after page of paragraphs. It just seems such an awful lot of words to concentrate on, on their own, without something else happening. And once you’ve finished one chapter, you have to get through the another one. And usually a whole bunch more, before you can say finished, and get to the next. The next book. The next thing. The next possibility. Next next next.

I am an optimist

Still, I am an optimist. Most nights last year, I got into bed with a book — paper or e — and started. Reading. Read. Ing. One word after the next. A sentence. Two sentences.

The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’

Audrey Watters:

One of the most common ways to criticize our current system of education is to suggest that it’s based on a “factory model.” An alternative condemnation: “industrial era.” The implication is the same: schools are woefully outmoded.

As edX CEO Anant Agarwal puts it, “It is pathetic that the education system has not changed in hundreds of years.” The Clayton Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn and Meg Evan argue something similar: “a factory model for schools no longer works.” “How to Break Free of Our 19th-Century Factory-Model Education System,” advises Joel Rose, the co-founder of the New Classrooms Innovation Partners. Education Next’s Joanne Jacobs points us “Beyond the Factory Model.” “The single best idea for reforming K–12 education,” writes Forbes contributor Steve Denning, ending the “factory model of management.” “There’s Nothing Especially Educational About Factory-Style Management,” according to the American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess.

I’d like to add: there’s nothing especially historical about these diagnoses either.
Blame the Prussians

The “factory model of education” is invoked as shorthand for the flaws in today’s schools – flaws that can be addressed by new technologies or by new policies, depending on who’s telling the story. The “factory model” is also shorthand for the history of public education itself – the development of and change in the school system (or – purportedly – the lack thereof).

How to Save American Colleges

Kate achelderachelder

s a college administrator, Mr. Daniels has also taken notice of the bureaucratic accreditation process that is a prerequisite for receiving federal funds. Six regional groups blessed by the Education Department, as well as a coterie of program-specific organizations, sign off on an institution’s programs. The ostensible goal when Congress coupled federal funding with accreditation in the 1952 G.I. Bill was to protect students from colleges hawking worthless degrees.

That hasn’t happened. Instead, universities devote considerable resources to a useless process. Almost no institution misses the mark, and since accreditation is done geographically, an upper-tier school like Purdue is accredited by the same agency that has given accreditation to Indiana University East, where the six-year graduation rate is about 18%.

Purdue pays $150,000 annually in direct accreditation fees, working with any combination of 17 agencies—but that doesn’t include time. Stanford University Provost John Etchemendy said in a 2011 letter that the school spent $849,000 in one year of a multiyear accreditation. “One suspects you have some basic inertia and some folks would rather spend their time being busy with this than doing something more productive,” Mr. Daniels says with a faint smile. “I refer of course to the people on other campuses.”

‘All this time and money and in the end some really lousy schools get accredited, so I’m not sure what the student—the consumer—learns. An awful lot of make work involved, or so it seems,” he says. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) is considering reforms, including untangling accreditation from federal funding, an idea that Mr. Daniels says “ought to be looked at.”

There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America

Christopher Ingraham

Imagine being 10 years old and being led, along with your 6-year-old sibling, into the backseat of a police cruiser. The police promise to take you home to your parents. It’s only three blocks away, and you know they are searching for you frantically.

But instead of taking you home, the police detain you there, in the car, for three hours, without a meal or access to a restroom. The sun sets, night falls. Eventually the cops take you to a facility maintained by Child Protective Services where you’re kept for another several hours. You still haven’t had any dinner. You aren’t reunited with your parents until 10:30 p.m., nearly six hours after your ordeal began.

Madison Schools’ 2015-2016 $413,703,424 Budget Update

Curriculum and units of instruction in English and Spanish Language Arts and designed and launched for entire school year

Re-design of summer school plan completed to expand access through increased enrollment and attendance

First phase of Parent Academy launched with new course offerings this summer

Academic tutoring framework completed to ensure that all tutoring services provided to students are aligned to best practice and support student learning

New teacher screening and selection process launched for this hiring season focused on quality and diversity of workforce

Toolkit to support high-functioning teacher teams developed and provided to schools

Improved school improvement planning toolkit on track to be provided to schools this spring for planning for next school year
Referendum passes with 82% of the vote

The documents include total spending, which is nice to see. Much more on the 2015-2016 budget, here.

140 page budget document (pdf).

Development of the Madison School District Employee Handbook

Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff (PDF):

We know that our vision as a District doesn’t come to life without a thriving workforce. That is why we are working hard to provide our employees with the resources and support they need to do their best work. To be successful for all students, we must be a District that attracts, develops and retains the best employees.

The District’s current employee contracts expire June 30, 2016; after one more school year. The District is responsible for developing a handbook that will take the place of those contracts. The MMSD Employee Handbook will be collaboratively developed and reflective of expectations of both employees and the District (as the employer).

Purpose of the Handbook
As a result of Act 10’s restrictions on collective bargaining, school boards have been developing employee handbooks. The purpose of a handbook is to establish the foundation for the relationship between the District and its employees and outline mutual expectations. In general, an employee handbook is a compilation of the policies, procedures, working conditions, and behavioral expectations that guide employee actions in the workplace. A handbook also includes information about employee compensation and benefits, and additional terms and conditions of employment. The primary distinction between a CBA and a handbook is that a CBA mainly sets forth the obligations of the employer but a handbook also outlines obligations of the employee. It is our goal for the employee handbook to be a comprehensive resource/document for staff incorporating not only previous CBA provisions but also Board policies and Human Resources policies governing employment issues and providing links to applicable documents. We are also looking to create uniform language regarding benefits and conditions of employment across employee groups.

Process for Development
Pursuant to the process outlined for the handbook creation, the CBAs are to form the foundation for the development of the handbook. An Oversight Committee comprised of District and employee representatives has been working collaboratively in the initial stages to develop the table of contents for the handbook. The District representatives on the Oversight Group are: Jennifer Cheatham, Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff, Lisa Kvistad, Caroline Racine Gilles, Chad Wiese, Tremayne Clardy, Karen Kepler and Heidi Tepp. The employee representatives on the Oversight Group are: Doug Keillor, Mike Lipp, Peg Coyne, Kristopher Schiltz, Erin Proctor, Neil Rainford, Rob Larson and Dave Branson.

Table of Contents (PDF).

MTI & District Working to Freeze Health Insurance Premiums

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

MTI Executive Director John Matthews and MMSD Asst. Superintendent for Finance Mike Barry, along with District HR Director Deirdre Hargrove-Krieghoff and Benefits Manager Sharon Hennessy, have met with representatives of the three firms (Unity, GHC and Dean Health) which provide health insurance for District employees, to plead the case that premiums should be frozen for the ensuing fiscal year. Contract renewals for the insurers are effective July 1.

In the meetings, Matthews & Barry stressed that because of the impact of State revenue controls on school boards and Governor Walker’s proposed budget, the District and its employees face severe financial problems. One way to provide relief to employees, they told insurers, is to hold health insurance premiums at their current levels. The firms pledged to respond by the end of April. While Matthews talked about the large negative impact of Act 10 on wages, Barry told the firms that Walker’s proposed Budget would cause the District a shortfall of $12.5 million and he said District management would not recommend its employees contribute to the health insurance premium.

Chinese Pronunciation Wiki

allset learning

If you’ve just started learning Mandarin Chinese, you’re correct to put a lot of effort into learning correct pronunciation. You really need to learn pinyin right away, and we strongly recommend you take the time to familiarize yourself with our pinyin chart.

But even if you’re an elementary learner or an intermediate learner, chances are you could still gain a lot from working a bit more on your pronunciation. Below is an example of how pronunciation topics can and should be studied across various levels.

School Choice Kids Graduate Earlier in Baltimore

Kristin DeCarr:

A recent survey by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that students who participate in the privately-funded Baltimore school choice program, set up for students of low-income families, are on average graduating high school earlier than those students who are not part of the program and are attending college at higher rates than local and national averages.

Released this week, the survey, called “The Achievement Checkup,” looked at the progress of students who received private school scholarships through the Children’s Scholarship Fund Baltimore from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

Author Alex Schuh discovered that 18% of students who received the scholarship graduated high school within three years. National data finds this percentage to be 2.9% for students who do not have the scholarship offered to them. On a local level, 97% of scholarship students graduated high school. Meanwhile, the graduation rate at Baltimore County Public Schools is 34 to 64%.

How does a teacher’s race affect which students get to be identified as ‘gifted’?

Emma Brown:

Black students are more likely to be identified as “gifted” when they attend schools with higher proportions of black teachers, according to a new study, and Latino students are more likely to be called gifted when they go to schools with more Latino teachers.

The study doesn’t get at why there is such a correlation, but it adds another layer to a long-simmering debate about why black and Latino children are less likely to be called “gifted” than their white and Asian peers.

How One School Supports BYOT With a Parent University

Nicole Allbritton:

Sending Parents Back to School

With all of the technological changes occurring at such a rapid speed, Keene identified the need for training among faculty and parents. Launching Parent University early this spring, Keene declared, “It is the missing piece to the transformational puzzle.”

With the change to a BYOT environment, Keene naturally expected that parents would have questions. Can students access inappropriate websites during school? What if my child’s device is stolen or damaged? My child’s book bag is already too full; how do you expect him/her to carry a device, too? All of these questions are reasons why, Keene said, it was necessary to set up hour-long, monthly Parent University sessions in which attendees could feel free to ask about any ed tech topic of interest.

Report That Says Online Learning Growth Is Slowing Misses Big Pictur

Michael Horn:

For 12 years, the Babson Survey Group in partnership with other organizations, including the Online Learning Consortium (formerly the Sloan Consortium), has done critical research into the growth of online learning in American higher education that it publishes in the report Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States. The research has been enormously helpful in understanding the actual numbers of students learning online in accredited institutions and how the institutions themselves—from the administration to faculty—view online learning.

Initially, the research arguably gave a reasonably complete view of the state of online learning in all of higher education, as it showed online learning growing rapidly with growth rates of over 20 percent in 2003, 2005, and 2009. But as of late, the research has suggested that the growth of online learning is flattening. It was 6.1 percent in the fall of 2012 and, according to the most recent report published in January 2015, 3.7 percent in the fall of 2013. Does this mean that online learning is not the disruptive innovation it was heralded to be?

I don’t think it does. As Clayton Christensen is fond of saying, God didn’t create data; humans create data to try to capture the complexity of the world around them. By its nature, data is backward looking, and most data is incapable of telling the truth. In this case, I think the flattening growth rate of online learning for credit within accredited institutions misses the bigger picture—although I do think it suggests that the pending disruption may take somewhat longer than many have forecasted in the past.

Madison Schools’ Leadership has allowed students to protest

Richard Berg:

The Young, Gifted and Truant crowd really “jumped the shark” when they blocked all traffic on East Washington Avenue recently. But let’s not forget who helped to enable this crowd of malcontents.

The Madison Police Department has bent over backward to accommodate this sort of action. And Madison School Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham helped bus students to a march.

So police and school leaders have basically issued licenses for truancy whenever the spirit moves the lawless students. Students blocked traffic at 10:30 a.m. on a work day. A real leader would have declared this an unlawful assembly that endangered the public by about 10:31 a.m. A real leader would have cleared the street by 10:35 a.m. End of story.

what’s really important about the arizona state mooc announcement

org theories:

Arizona State has been in higher ed news a lot this week. The Atlantic just published a fairly fawning article on ASU’s partnership with Starbucks, featuring trenchant critiques of traditional colleges like, “The customer service is atrocious.”

Today, the news is ASU’s announcement that it will offer its entire freshman year online, through MOOCs. (Just when you thought they were dead!) Here’s the deal: ASU is partnering with EdX, the nonprofit Harvard-MIT collaboration, to produce the MOOCs. Students don’t have to apply, and they don’t have to pay in advance. But after they complete the class, if they decide they want college credit, they can pay ASU $300-600 (the final price is not set) and it will show up on a transcript indistinguishable from any other class.

Of course, people love to hate on ASU president Michael Crow. Dean Dad pointed out that Maricopa Community College, in ASU’s backyard, only charges $250 a credit and provides library access, among other amenities. John Warner focuses on the importance of the first year to student persistence, implying that disadvantaged students will be hurt. Jonathan Rees amps up the rhetoric, calling ASU the first “predator university.”

The Closing of the Millennial Mind on Campus

Edward Morrissey:

Three incidents this week demonstrate the gap between education and indoctrination. Oberlin College in Ohio and Georgetown University in Washington DC both had groups invite Christina Hoff Sommers, a conservative critic of the current version of feminism, to speak on their campuses. Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, composes a weekly video blog called the Factual Feminist, and most of her work challenges both the assumptions and conclusions of “third-wave” feminism, especially as practiced on college campuses.

Much of what Sommers writes aims to counter the arguments that have become treated as unconditional truths, but which do not stand up to empirical tests. Those assumptions include the oft-cited and roundly debunked claim that one in five women on American college have been or will be victims of sexual assault during their student careers, or that women only earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. Both of these continue to be promoted not just by campus activists but also by the White House, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Going “Write only”


The discussion in The Republic maintains that would-be citizens of the ideal republic should be exposed to music that cultivates their good qualities, and prohibited from listening to the bad. Much modern music creates agitation and aggression. I’ll listen to serene and balanced songs like Gregorian chant and neoclassical, preferably from my own recordings rather than online streaming.

To further insulate myself from the pernicious influence of online mediocrity I will disable image loading in my browser. Online pictures are of two kinds: mundane photographs and a simplified telegraphic advertising style, for logos and minimal ornament. The “product style” is made of highly saturated homogeneous clean shapes and serves merely as simple mnemonics for products or services. The craftsmanship is these images is intentionally low because the images are meant to recall a product as efficiently as possible.

Extended time on the internet inures us to constraint and simplification. Take your average startup company logo and compare it with the free expression of a skilled painter. The logo looks cheap and comical, a petty token designed to evoke unthinking trust and visual association. It is easier than ever before in history to publish information worldwide, but paradoxically we produce lower quality work. Or maybe it’s the survivorship bias again. Think of a nineteenth century book with ornate etched print illustrations. The etching, and even the pressing and collating of pages were difficult processes but somehow the artists outdid us, we who can so easily create, modify and distribute images. Goodbye cartoonish web images, let me be immersed in nature and see uninhibited art instead.

Urban Men In Poverty

Sponsored by UW-Madison La Follette School of Public Affairs, in partnership with Marquette University Law School:

The situation of low wage/low income urban men has not been widely documented or discussed. What we know, or believe we know, is that they are predominantly racial minorities; their incarceration rate is high; they have low levels of education and skills; they face a worsened low-skill labor market; they are largely single; many are under court mandates for child support; many have child support arrears; many work largely off-the-books.

This half-day seminar will give an overview of the problem for the United States, Wisconsin and Milwaukee. Particular focus will be on incarceration, child support and labor markets, with next steps outlined by a national expert on demonstration projects that have produced measurable and replicable results.

Save the children — or maybe just the adults — from standardized tests!

Chris Rickert:

Madison School District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said “test preparation is really limited to getting a feel for the technical part of the test, not the content.”

She wasn’t aware of any district survey to gauge student impressions of testing — something that, to me, wasn’t surprising. The education establishment often focuses as much on the needs of adults as on the needs of the children.

Personnel rules favoring the most senior, most educated teachers, for example (and not necessarily the most competent) have long been a part of public education.

Similarly, among the main concerns of parents who are opting their children out of testing is whether results will be used to evaluate teachers and schools.

Now if only what’s best for parents and other adults was always what’s best for children.

Related: A letter to parents supporting “no teacher left behind”.

The Best Person for the Job? Think Again

Lauren Weber:

Among the hiring myths that took root during the recession, here’s a particularly tenacious one: A person with a college degree makes a better employee than a person with a high-school diploma.

A September 2014 report by labor market analysis firm Burning Glass Technologies documented pervasive “credential creep” in positions that historically didn’t call for a bachelor’s degree but now are more likely to require one. For example, Burning Glass found a 21% credential gap for computer helpdesk workers, meaning 39% of workers in that field hold a BA but 60% of current job postings require one.

Employers use a college degree as a proxy for many things—critical thinking or communication skills, technical prowess, or simply the ability to follow a goal through to the end.

But what if they’re wrong, at least some of the time? What if a degree really isn’t a predictor of success or, in some jobs, is an impediment to success?

A review of client data by Sunstone Analytics, a San Francisco recruiting startup that works with several large employers, turned up some unexpected insights about what high performers have in common at individual companies.

Commentary on Madison Schools’ Governance, Priorities & Spending

David Blaska

Voters just approved a $41 million spending referendum. Now the Madison Metro School District says it needs to cut $10.8 million to cover a deficit. This is after rewarding its unionized teachers and support staff with a 2.5% pay increase in the budget approved late last year.

Who is running this store? Hint: It ain’t the Koch Brothers.

The cuts will require eliminating 110 positions, mostly teachers. How does this help minority achievement?

The school board rushed to ratify union contracts four years ago while protesters were still camping overnight in the State Capitol. The district scheduled a special meeting on a Saturday morning with only the minimally required public notice. I attended that meeting, but the public — the three of us who found the meeting — were not allowed to speak. The contract required no teacher contribution to their generous health insurance coverage.

School districts that took advantage of Act 10 are not laying off teachers.

Madison is paying for this folly by collecting teachers union boss John Matthews’ dues for him. Some of that money finds its way back to finance the school board members’ election campaigns. Sweet deal for the union, wormy apples for the students and their families, self-tapping screws for the taxpayers.

I continue to find it fascinating that Madison plans to expand two of its least diverse schools: Hamilton and Van Hise, despite capacity elsewhere and the District’s long term disastrous reading results.

Today’s Personality Tests Raise the Bar for Job Seekers

Lauren Weber:

The Delaware North Cos., a hospitality company whose customer-service representatives help people plan vacations at national parks, sometimes struggles these days to keep 80 or so seats filled at its call center in Fresno, Calif.—a city tied for the 9th-highest unemployment rate in the U.S.

The company has no shortage of job applicants. But finding the right candidates has gotten tougher since the company started using a customized assessment last year to see how applicants stack up against top call-center workers in such traits as friendliness, curiosity and the ability to multitask.

Managers said the new test, administered online, has reduced turnover and allowed Delaware North to more accurately select applicants who best fit the job. “Now we understand better what makes a great reservation sales applicant,” said Andy Grinsfelder, vice president of sales and marketing for the Buffalo, N.Y.-based company’s parks and resorts division.

Minnesota’s youth exodus spells trouble ahead for labor force

Jackie Crosby:

She grew up in Maple Grove, went to college at the University of Minnesota, and lived in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. But when the 27-year-old met with a job recruiter last year, she was set on the Pacific Northwest.

“I don’t think I’ll be back,” said Sperzel, now with a Seattle ad agency.

States are scrambling for young professionals like Sperzel to help offset the wave of baby boomer retirements. Minnesota is falling behind in that competition.

The state has lost residents every year since 2002, with young adults most eager to leave. About 9,300 18- to 24-year-olds move out annually, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

That — combined with a declining birthrate and an aging population — has demographers and civic leaders sounding alarms.

“It’s a lapel-grabbing moment,” said Peter Frosch, a vice president at Greater MSP, a St. Paul nonprofit focused on economic development in the Twin Cities metro.

Arizona State University Offers Full Freshman Online Curriculum

Melissa Korn:

Arizona State University is teaming up with edX, a nonprofit platform for massive open online courses, to offer a full freshman-year curriculum to the public as it seeks to expand its student base and improve college attendance and graduation rates.

The program, Global Freshman Academy, will award up to a full year of academic credit to people who successfully complete eight web classes on general education subjects such as astronomy and Western civilization, designed and taught by Arizona State faculty.

Students can take the classes for no fee, or—after passing final exams—pay up to $200 per credit hour, or about $4,800 for the full year of credit. Those who finish the course sequence, which includes a mix of required and elective classes, would be able to apply to Arizona State for admission with sophomore standing.

Rich colleges and universities are getting a lot richer, study finds

Nick Anderson:

The 10 richest universities in America hold nearly a third of the total wealth, in cash and investments, amassed by about 500 public and private institutions. The 40 richest hold almost two-thirds of the total wealth.

And their financial edge is widening. These schools are drawing an outsized share of gifts to colleges and universities. Their assets grew at at a far faster rate from 2009 to 2014 than the portfolios of schools in the middle and bottom of the pack.

Those are the findings from Moody’s Investors Service, released Thursday, in a study of the balance sheets of 503 institutions in the portfolio of the credit-rating firm. The study illuminates the disparity between the haves and the have-nots in higher education.

Some Real High School Reading

Professor Sussman:

Serving as a TA for Professor Sussman will get you three things: great advice, spectacular reading recommendations, and lots of high quality tea. I can’t share the advice or the tea, but I can compile a reading list. Some of the materials on this list represent research paths that lead to unexplored territory. Some are textbooks that express concepts so clearly they will change your life and make you weep for joy. I hope that you will get something interesting out of this reading list, wherever you are in life – there’s stuff I wish I knew about in middle school, and there are things I can’t wait to read this summer. Enjoy! (and send corrections to!)

–Robert McIntyre

Why GEMM is at the heart of deep learning

Pete Warden:

So what is GEMM? It stands for GEneral Matrix to Matrix Multiplication, and it essentially does exactly what it says on the tin, multiplies two input matrices together to get an output one. The difference between it and the kind of matrix operations I was used to in the 3D graphics world is that the matrices it works on are often very big. For example, a single layer in a typical network may require the multiplication of a 256 row, 1,152 column matrix by an 1,152 row, 192 column matrix to produce a 256 row, 192 column result. Naively, that requires 57 million (256 x 1,152, x 192) floating point operations and there can be dozens of these layers in a modern architecture, so I often see networks that need several billion FLOPs to calculate a single frame. Here’s a diagram that I sketched to help me visualize how it works:

Professor Manager

Colleen Flaherty:

Full-time faculty members at Ohio public institutions are objecting to proposed legislation with big implications for their right to organize unions. Tucked deep into a 3,090-page budget bill pending before the state’s House Finance Committee is language that would reclassify professors who participate in virtually anything other than teaching and research as supervisors or managers, and therefore exempt from collective bargaining. So serving on a committee, for example, turns a professor into a manager.

The language is nearly identical to another, ultimately failed piece of state-level legislation from four years ago, but faculty members consider the new bill a serious threat — and they’re warning legislators of the possible consequences of its success.

“What would happen if this passes, I think, is that faculty would choose simply not to do service and without that, universities would grind to a halt,” said John McNay, chair of the history department at the University of Cincinnati’s Blue Ash campus and president of the Ohio conference of the American Association of University Professors. “People ought to be aware t

Grit, Privilige and American education’s Obsession With Novelty

Rachel Cohen:

Twice a week for 30 minutes, fifth graders at KIPP Washington Heights, a charter school in New York City, attend “character class.” Each lesson is divided into three parts, according to Ian Willey, the assistant principal who teaches it. First, students find out what specific skill they’ll be focusing on that day. “This morning we’re going to learn how to set a long-term goal,” Willey might tell them. Next, students are asked to practice the skill. In this case, students may imagine they have a long-term project to complete, and then work to construct a timeline with incremental deadlines. In the final part of the lesson, students would take time to collectively reflect. “What was hard about this exercise?” Willey might ask. “What went well? Did anyone feel nervous? What did you do when you felt nervous?” And because part of KIPP’s mission is to help build character, the students would then classify their new skill as one or more of KIPP’s seven targeted character goals. In this example, the students were learning “grit.”

Few ideas inspire more debate in education circles than grit, which means having dedication to and passion for long-term goals. Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, first popularized the concept in 2007; she believes that if we can teach children to be “grittier” in schools, we can help them achieve greater success. Paul Tough, a journalist who published a 2012 bestseller, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, also brought grit into the national spotlight. Many policymakers and school leaders have since jumped at the idea. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised Tough’s “fantastic book”—arguing that teaching skills like grit “can help children flourish and overcome significant challenges throughout their lifetimes.” Districts all over the country are exploring how they can incorporate grit into their curriculum. In 2013, Duckworth was awarded $625,000 by the MacArthur Foundation to continue researching ways to cultivate grit in schools.

Unlearning Due Process….

Professor K.C. Johnson

On April 6, 2015, Professor KC Johnson of Brooklyn College and City University of New York Graduate Center spoke on “Unlearning Due Process: Troubling Trends on Campus,” and a video of his presentation can be viewed below. This event was part of the Law & Liberty’s academic freedom project, which is generously funded by the Mailman Foundation. The event was co-sponsored with Federalist Society.

National Labor Relations Board to review graduate student petition seeking union recognition

Emma Kolchin-Miller:

The National Labor Relations Board decided to review the current precedent that denies recognition for graduate student unions at private universities on Friday afternoon.

The decision comes after the New York chapter of the National Labor Relations Board dismissed a petition on Feb. 6 for union recognition from the Graduate Workers of Columbia—a group of Columbia graduate students seeking official union recognition. The National Labor Relations Board also decided to review a petition from graduate students at the New School on Friday, according to Capital New York.

Students from the Graduate Workers of Columbia say the decision is important, but expected.

“We expected the National Labor Relations Board to grant review,” Maida Rosenstein, president of United Auto Workers Local 2110, the union that GWC would join if it gained recognition, said. “This is the only just and democratic way to proceed, because there is no reason for teaching assistants and research assistants not to have the right to decide for themselves on whether or not they want to unionize.”

Madrassah Education in Pre-colonial and Colonial South Asia

Ali Riaz:

This paper traces the history of madrassahs (Islamic seminaries) in South Asia from their inception in the 12th century until the end of colonial rule in 1947.The paper argues that many of the pre-colonial rulers of South Asia, including the Mughals (1526–1857), played key roles in promoting education and providing patronage of various educational institutions, including madrassahs. The policies of British colonial rule (1757–1947), however, made the most indelible marks on madrassah education, not only directly, wherein their policies have impacted on the structure, functions and curriculum of madrassahs, but also indirectly, through the prompting of responses from the ulama and the Muslim community that determined the contours and the content of madrassah education.The paper examines the roles of various strands of madrassah education, and the interplay of politics and curriculum of various major madrassahs. The paper demonstrates that madrassah as a concept and as an institution has come a long way, that its contents and contours have undergone changes, and that as an institution it has largely remained embedded within the society.

Why I Taught myself 20 Languages

Timothy Doner:

During the past few years, I’ve been referred to in the media as “The World’s Youngest Hyperpolyglot” — a word that sounds like a rare illness. In a way it is: it describes someone who speaks a particularly large number of foreign languages, someone whose all-consuming passion for words and systems can lead them to spend many long hours alone with a grammar book.

But while it’s true that I can speak in 20 different languages, including English, it took me a while to understand that there’s more to language than bartering over kebabs in Arabic or ordering from a menu in Hindi. Fluency is another craft altogether.

I began my language education at age thirteen. I became interested in the Middle East and started studying Hebrew on my own. For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I was soon hooked on the Israeli funk group Hadag Nachash, and would listen to the same album every single morning. At the end of a month, I had memorized about twenty of their songs by heart — even though I had no clue what they meant. But once I learned the translations it was almost as if I had downloaded a dictionary into my head; I now knew several hundred Hebrew words and phrases — and I’d never had to open a textbook.

African American Homeschooling as Racial Protectionism

Ama Mazama:

Homeschooling, common among white Americans, is showing an increase among African-Americans kids, as well. African Americans now make up about 10 percent of all homeschooled children in this fastest-growing form of education. However, the reasons for black kids to be homeschooled may not be the same as for white kids. My research shows that black parents homeschool their children due to white racism.

This may come as a surprise since, for many, we live in an age of alleged color blindness and post-racialism, characterized by the declining significance of race and racism. My research found strong evidence to suggest that racism is far from being a thing of the past. I found covert institutional racism and individual racism still persist and are largely responsible for the persistence of profound racial disparities and inequalities in many social realms. Schools, of course, are no exception, which helps one understand why racism is such a powerful drive for black homeschoolers.

In the spring and fall of 2010, I interviewed 74 African-American homeschooling families from around the U.S. While the size of my sample does not allow me to claim that it is representative of the whole African-American homeschooling population, it was nonetheless large enough to allow me to capture the main reasons why black parents tend to homeschool their children.

Counter-Terrorism Officials Helped Track Black Lives Matter Protesters

Darwin BondGraham:

On December 9, 2014, at 4:48 p.m., an internal email with the subject line, “Reminder for Tonight and this week: Do Not Advise Protesters That We Are Following Them on Social Media,” circulated among dozens of California Highway Patrol commanders. The message read: “A quick reminder … as you know, our TLO [Terrorism Liaison Officers] officers are actively following multiple leads over social media.” The note continued, “this morning, we found posts detailing protesters’ interaction with individual officers last night. In the posts, protesters are stating that we (CHP) were claiming to follow them on social media. Please have your personnel refrain from such comments; we want to continue tracking the protesters as much as possible. If they believe we are tracking them, they will go silent.”

In recent years, police agencies throughout the United States have scoured social media as part of criminal investigations. But the police are also watching social media to spy on political protesters, especially those they suspect will engage in acts of civil disobedience. During the recent Black Lives Matter protests, local and state police agents monitored protesters on social media and activist websites. Several hundred CHP emails obtained by the Express show that social media is now a key source of intel for the police when monitoring political protests.

Test refusal is a mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy:

“Test refusal is a mistake because it eliminates important information about how our kids are doing. Those who call for opting out really want New York to opt out of information that can help parents and teachers understand how well their students are doing,” he said. “We can’t go back to ignoring the needs of our children.”

Lisa Rudley, a founding member of NYS Allies for Public Education that has organized rallies and sponsored advertisements throughout the state promoting the opt-out movement, cheered the numbers.

“The governor and legislature spoke on April 1 with their plan for our children’s education,” said Rudley, also a parent with children in Ossining Union Free School District in Ossining, N.Y. “Parents are responding in force, ‘We do not consent!’ If it’s not good enough for the best private schools in the country, it’s not good enough for our kids.”

The Slow Death of the University

Terry Eagleton:

A few years ago, I was being shown around a large, very technologically advanced university in Asia by its proud president. As befitted so eminent a personage, he was flanked by two burly young minders in black suits and shades, who for all I knew were carrying Kalashnikovs under their jackets. Having waxed lyrical about his gleaming new business school and state-of-the-art institute for management studies, the president paused to permit me a few words of fulsome praise. I remarked instead that there seemed to be no critical studies of any kind on his campus. He looked at me bemusedly, as though I had asked him how many Ph.D.’s in pole dancing they awarded each year, and replied rather stiffly “Your comment will be noted.” He then took a small piece of cutting-edge technology out of his pocket, flicked it open and spoke a few curt words of Korean into it, probably “Kill him.” A limousine the length of a cricket pitch then arrived, into which the president was bundled by his minders and swept away. I watched his car disappear from view, wondering when his order for my execution was to be implemented.

The Student-Loan Problem Is Even Worse Than Official Figures Indicate

Josh Mitchell:

Nearly one in three Americans who are now having to pay down their student debt–or a staggering 31.5%–are at least a month behind on their payments, new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests. That figure is far higher than official delinquency measures reported by the Education Department and the New York Fed. And it’s also likely the most accurate.

Here’s why: The official measures reflect delinquencies as a share of all Americans with student debt, but millions of borrowers aren’t even required to make payments yet. Many are currently in college or grad school and thus don’t have to make payments until six months after they leave. Others are out of school and past that grace period but have received permission by their lender—the federal government in most cases—to suspend payments for a range of reasons, such as being unemployed.

A formula for success has eluded Milwaukee’s Bradley Tech High School

Alan Borsuk:

In the early 2000s, a high school was launched on the far south side without much fanfare. It was expected to be small, it was housed in part of an older Milwaukee Public Schools building, and, other than among those directly involved, expectations were modest.

Elsewhere on the south side, close to downtown, a large high school was launched with great fanfare, a striking new building, broad support, and great hopes that it would play an important role in building the workforce of Milwaukee’s future.

One turned out to be, in my big book, the best single development within the MPS main roster of schools in a generation. It was the unheralded small operation, Reagan High School, which has grown to well over 1,200 students and is known for its International Baccalaureate college-prep program.

The other turned out to be a sad, troubling disappointment: Bradley Tech. It had troubles from the time it opened in 2002, it has gone through waves of leaders and teachers, and it has never thrived. Few attend the school by choice. Discipline, attendance, and student success were weak.

Some measures have gotten worse in recent years and enrollment has declined. The technical and vocational programs it offers are actually good but are utilized by relatively few students. Overall, data suggest it may well be the lowest-performing large high school in the state.

A new effort, involving some of the biggest education and civic players in the city, was launched last week to turn around Bradley Tech, to make it “the Bradley Tech that was really promised,” as MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver put it. The heads of MPS, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee spread the word about how committed they were to Bradley Tech and how closely they are working together.

Harvard’s Les Miserables: Labor exploitation becomes a rallying cry in the academic Third World.

Wall Street Journal:

Imagine a land where the most highly educated citizens work for a pittance. Where the local lord treats them more or less as he pleases because the supply of workers is greater than the work available. Where the nobles enjoy lives of relative ease and comfort while the people who do most of the work struggle to make ends meet.

These aren’t the sans-culottes of late 18th-century France. We’re talking about the modern American university. Specifically, Harvard—at least if you believe the complaints by the graduate students trying to unionize there. They have a case, too, even if their solution isn’t the cure they think it is. Even taking into account the value of the tuition relief that grad students receive in exchange for the teaching and research they do, their low pay and limited benefits are all too real.

These grad students (and part-time adjuncts) carry much of the teaching load at universities for one reason: They are cheaper. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, at Harvard the average professor’s salary is $205,000. Grad students get a fraction of this, and the glut of Ph.D.s means most will never find the professorships they seek.

Why technology-assisted learning will never, on its own, solve our education crisis.

Peg Tyre:

At the Carpe Diem-Meridian School in Indianapolis, row after row of students are wearing headphones and staring into computer screens. Although they look like employees at a call center, they are actually fifteen-year-olds tackling algebra concepts. Their lessons were delivered earlier in the day by a software program offered by Edgenuity and reinforced by an instructor. Now the students are working through problems on their monitors, to show they have mastered it. Their results will be quickly fed back to their instructors, who will use it to shape the next day’s instruction.

Two students finish quickly and check the overhead monitor for their next task. Others are sweating through sophisticated problems. A few, who are struggling with the material, are working on problems that a software algorithm has determined are simpler but will help build the foundational skills they need. And, as in any classroom, some students are using ancient technology that has become less central at Carpe Diem schools — a notepad and a pen — to make abstract doodles.

Prof, no one is reading you An average academic journal article is read in its entirety by about 10 people. To shape policy, professors should start penning commentaries in popular media.

Asit Kiswas & Juliette Kirchherr:

MANY of the world’s most talented thinkers may be university professors, but sadly most of them are not shaping today’s public debates or influencing policies.

Indeed, scholars often frown upon publishing in the popular media. “Running an opinion editorial to share my views with the public? Sounds like activism to me,” a professor recently noted at a conference, hosted by the University of Oxford.

The absence of professors from shaping public debates and policies seems to have exacerbated in recent years, particularly in social sciences.

In the 1930s and 1940s, 20 per cent of articles in the prestigious The American Political Science Review focused on policy recommendations. At the last count, the share was down to a meagre 0.3 per cent.

End the college application inflation

Glenn Kessler:

As the father of a high school senior who suffered this spring through the angst of waiting for college acceptance notices at a time when some top schools reject more than 90 percent of applicants, I have a simple suggestion to reduce some of the craziness.

Place two limits on college applications: Students should be allowed to submit no more than 10 through the Common Application and no more than four to the eight Ivy League universities.

The Common App, which was created 35 years ago with the sensible goal of streamlining the college admissions process, currently limits students to 20 applications. But that’s too many. The ease of applying — and the fear of rejection — makes students submit to increasingly more schools.

How to Play the College Financial-Aid Game

Annamaria Andriotis:

High-school seniors could be forgiven for thinking that comparing college financial-aid offers requires an advanced degree.

The letters have been pouring in over the past few weeks. But along with the excitement comes a challenge: sorting through offers that often differ in ways that can blur the bottom line.

Many colleges and universities list grants together with loans that must be paid back, or gloss over fees and other expenses that can add up to thousands of dollars. Some letters show the total costs that students will bear, while others leave aspiring engineers and artists to do the math on their own.

Anything But Affordable And Excellent

UVA Students United:

As criticism of the Affordable Excellence model has intensified, Rector George Martin and Pres. Teresa Sullivan have kicked their PR machine into high gear. The pair wrote an open letter to the General Assembly pitching the new model. Sullivan sent out a vague, buzzword-packed email to the entire UVA community touting its supposed affordances. And administrators rolled out a slick new explainer website full of smiling faces. All of this obscures the damage this model will do and the outrageous lack of transparency behind its passing.

The BOV’s rushed attempts to approve the model signal that the body was anticipating student outrage. The proposed model was made available to the public during the same meeting it was introduced and voted on. When students tried to voice concerns the next day, they found themselves locked out of a public building and face-to-face with armed law enforcement officers.

Board member John Griffin claims the high tuition/high aid model represents a hybrid plan that maintains UVA’s ‘elite’ status while simultaneously helping low-income students. However, experts have thoroughly debunked the model, showing that it does little to lower the net cost of attendance or increase socioeconomic diversity (see the resources below). In addition, financial aid at UVA has not kept up with skyrocketing tuition, as evidenced by recent AccessUVA cuts. High tuition/high aid just absolves UVA from making a commitment to low-income students by forcing other students to bear the burden.

Meet the School That Hates Rules

Brian Foglia:

“Hi Lucy. How are you today?” The young girl looked up at me as I gave her a friendly wave.

“Hello,” she replied. “Tomorrow’s my birthday.”

“Awesome! How old will you be?”


It wasn’t exactly an extraordinary conversation, but it was big for Lucy. We had met a year earlier, when I began interning at the Jersey Shore Free School: A Sudbury School, in Little Silver, N.J. I had decided to found my own democratic school, South Jersey Sudbury School, and wanted to first get some hands-on experience and mentoring from the Jersey Shore school’s founder, Dr. Jeri Quirk.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: NY State Fast Tracks $26 million Tax Break For Sony, Cuomo Gets $300,000 From Sony Execs

Perdido Street School:

Just weeks before a California fund-raiser with Sony executives that netted Governor Andrew Cuomo’s re-election campaign $300,000, a Sony executive requested the fast-tracking of $26 million in film credits from New York State.

Keith Weaver, executive vice president for worldwide government affairs at Sony Pictures Entertainment, wrote to an Empire State Development employee about some “pending production tax credits.”

“I need your help, as we need to resolve a number of pending production tax credits by 1/15/14 in order to realize the benefit this year. Our tax and production finance folks were steadfastly working the process, but now we have approximately $26M in tax credits outstanding… We most assuredly can’t leave $26M hanging out there for another full year (i.e., next tax filing period),” he wrote on Dec. 20, 2013, according to emails obtained by hackers and published in searchable form Thursday by Wikileaks.

Related: a change to Wisconsin arbitration rules.

How to get into Harvard

Deborah Friedell:

WikiLeaks has published all the Sony emails that had been hacked last November, and made them searchable by keyword. In 2014, a senior executive emailed an Ivy League vice-president of philanthropy: he’d like to endow a scholarship, anonymously, ‘at the $1mm level’. In another email, he tells a development officer that his daughter is applying to the college as her first choice. It’s all very decorous. The development staff arrange a ‘customised’ campus tour for his daughter and a meeting with the university’s president; but he asks for no favours and nothing is promised. An email from the president says that his daughter’s application will be looked at ‘very closely’. She gets in. He writes to his sister: ‘David… called me. he is obsessed with getting his eldest in Harvard next year.’ She replies: ‘If David wants to get his daughter in he should obviously start giving money.’ Obviously.

Via Glenn Greenwald.

The Impact of Learning Online at Scale

Anne O’Loughlin:

One might argue that with so many copies in print and the tremendous growth of online retailers like, Clay’s books would be able to reach many more people, and thus be the vehicle to scaling his theories. However, a book cannot capture the power of collective learning, particularly when the theories are needed by a team that is aiming to execute on difficult strategic change.

Clay is cognizant that when someone reads his book, they don’t always describe his theories in the best way. And then, like a game of telephone, the theories become distorted and lose their effectiveness as each person tells the next.

As Clay puts it, “I thought of myself as writing to millions of people, but I have realized that’s the wrong way to frame things. Because what I write is consumed individually by individual people who have a book or an article…everybody else on the team didn’t learn that way of thinking about the problem. Your readers are your resellers of the ideas; [and through] the process of selling and reselling, the idea just loses its momentum.”

Bringing the data revolution to education, and education to the data revolution

Pauline Rose:

Calls for a data revolution are putting the spotlight on the importance of more and better data as a means to hold policymakers to account for post-2015 goals. In many ways, education has been at the forefront of approaches to measuring progress over the past 15 years. The influence of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report (GMR) and the efforts of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) in improving the availability of education data provide important lessons for tracking progress post-2015. This experience should play an important contribution to informing the practical next steps for the data revolution.

Building on this experience, a roundtable held at the Overseas Development Institute on 17 November brought together over 40 technical experts, who debated approaches to measuring progress towards post-2015 education targets, with a focus on learning and equity. The meeting coincided with the launch of consultation on post-2015 education indicators by the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to the EFA Steering Committee. As noted in the opening remarks on the data revolution by Neil Jackson, Chief Statistician at DFID, in many ways the education sector is leading the way in thinking about how to monitor post-2015 progress in concrete ways.

One of the problems that the GMR and UIS faced in tracking progress over the past 15 years was that indicators were not set at the time of deciding on education for all goals in 2000, hence the importance of the current consultation process. Another was that data have not been available a sufficiently disaggregated form to track progress on the most disadvantaged subgroups within each country, that is those most likely to be left behind. The GMR’s World Inequality Database on Education (WIDE), drawing on internationally-comparable household survey data, has been one step forward in presenting data in an accessible format to show that the poorest children living in rural areas, and often girls, are still far from completing primary school in many countries, and that many are also not learning the basics in reading and mathematics even if they have spent time in school.

Is Milwaukee’s education marketplace killing school pride?

Jay Bullock:

I know that this problem is not unique to Milwaukee, and it’s probably not exclusively the fault of our marketplace, as much as I like to blame it. Comparable urban districts have high mobility rates even without a lot of school vouchers – a quick googling turns up annual figures like 30 percent for Minneapolis, 26 percent in Cincinnati, and a staggering 119 percent in St. Louis one recent year. This compares to the GAO’s finding that, nationally, the number is well under 10 percent.

So I guess that’s my challenge to Erin Richards while on her fellowship. What effect, exactly, does a voucher program and marketplace like here in Milwaukee have on mobility? And more than that, on school spirit and loyalty?

Because if MPS is banking on a strong alumni program to help its high schools, something needs to change in schools now to create those loyal graduates. As long as this city remains a marketplace, I fear that kind of school pride is never coming back.

School pride is irrelevant if students cannot read.

Colleges are raising costs because they can

Malcolm Harris:

Why does college cost so much? Commentators continue to look for clues. So far, two main schools of thought have emerged. According to the first, fees have increased to make up for declines in government appropriations for higher education. According to the second, bloated administrations are wasting the money on frivolous extras unrelated to the core instructional mission.

Though the two views aren’t mutually exclusive and both are supported by evidence, there remains an ideological divide between them. People who believe educating citizens is the government’s job, no matter the cost (generally those on the political left), tend to believe the first, while people who would rather shrink government (generally those on the right) are more inclined to the waste hypothesis. As a result, explaining college-cost increases becomes a kind of proxy fight in which neither side accepts the other’s good faith and both are usually proved right.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, law professor Paul F. Campos widened the gap. While its title, “The real reason college tuition costs so much,” oversells the case a bit, its main point is sound: Government funding for higher education has gone up a lot. Even if funding per student is down a little bit as more kids pursue degrees, calling it a massive defunding is disingenuous. However, because Campos didn’t focus much on the subsidy per student, it opened him to attack from his opponents. And attack they did, in Slate, Crooked Timber, Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere. Still, Campos is right that the defunding explanation is weak, even in light of increased enrollment.

What Your College Isn’t Telling You About Costs

Sara Goldrick-Rab & Robert Kelchen:

One-third of colleges give students unrealistically low estimates of their living expenses, a new study finds.

It’s an exciting time of year for families and their college-bound students. Acceptance letters arrive, celebration ensues, college visits get scheduled. Now your biggest college worry switches to how you’re going to afford it.

As professors who study college affordability, we know that rising tuition is of real concern to parents and students. But our research has uncovered a surprising and previously little-known source of unnecessary confusion, worry, and heartbreak for students and parents: About one-third of colleges are providing families with cost of attendance estimates that are at least $3,000 less than the amount we estimate the school will really cost.

These are the findings of our recent study, in which we took a close look at what colleges estimate it costs to live off-campus, and what other sources say it really costs. We focused on the off-campus living costs because only 13% of today’s college students fit the traditional stereotype of living on campus. Fully 50% live off-campus on their own. (The rest live with their families and so tend to have lower living costs.)

The Color of Student Debt

Sara Goldrick-Rab, Robert Kelchen & Jason Houle (PDF):

Borrowing federal loans in order to finance college expenses is now a common student experience in American higher education. Half of all first-year undergraduates accept federal loans, with median debt among college seniors amounting to about $20,000 in 2011-12. Total outstanding student loan debt recently reached $1.11 trillion, up more than ten percent in the last year. More than ten percent of student loans are currently at least 90 days delinquent, a rate that has nearly doubled over the last decade.

As the volume of student debt in the country rises and becomes more visible, policymakers have become more vocal about their concerns with the size of loans, their purposes, and the likelihood of that they will be repaid, along with the potential impact of student loan debt on the economic, psychological, and social well-being of recent generations of young adults. Related discussions focus on rising college costs, rates of non- completion, and the declining purchasing power of grant aid. In upcoming debates over the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, several responses are reportedly being considered, including efforts to hold colleges and universities more accountable for reducing student borrowing (through the use of cohort default rates) and/or lowering costs (by introducing college ratings), attempts to reduce borrowing by improving financial education and loan counseling, and changes in eligibility criteria for certain federal loans (particularly Parent PLUS Loans) in order to restrict borrowing.

The Co-Operative University: Labour, Property & Pedagogy

Joss Winn:

I begin this article by discussing the recent work of academics and activists to identify the advan- tages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education, and then focus on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic framework of ‘Student as Producer’. Throughout I employ the work of Karl Marx to theorise the role of labour and property in a ‘co-operative university’, drawing particularly on later Marxist writers who argue that Marx’s labour theory of value should be understood as a critique of labour under capitalism, rather than one developed from the standpoint of labour.

Big Shift Pushed in Custody Disputes

Ashby Jones:

Prompted partly by fathers concerned that men for too long have gotten short shrift in custody decisions, about 20 states are considering measures that would change the laws governing which parent gets legal and physical control of a child after a divorce or separation.

The laws generally encourage judges to adopt custody schedules that maximize time for each parent. Some of the measures, such as those proposed in New York and Washington state, take an additional step by requiring judges to award equal time to each parent unless there is proof that such an arrangement wouldn’t be in a child’s best interests.

Critics of these bills contend that they threaten to take discretion away from judges and risk giving leverage to abusive men. They also say the laws are poorly targeted because typically the only custody cases that end up in court are ones in which former spouses are too hostile toward each other to effectively practice shared parenting anyway.

Is College Worth It? That Depends

Brandon Busteed:

A college degree is something Americans have always valued. Even Americans without a college degree believe that education beyond high school is important. But recent Gallup research indicates that 25% of all college graduates in the U.S. fail to thrive in their overall careers and lives. Gallup has found six elements of emotional support and experiential learning in college that are correlated with long-term career and life success, and one-quarter of college graduates — who otherwise met the academic standards to get a diploma — missed out on all six of these critical elements. These graduates’ outcomes — compared with those who hit all six — are so drastically worse off that it calls into question the value of their collegiate experience.

The Gallup-Purdue Index — a massive study of 30,000 college graduates in the U.S. — measured the degree to which graduates were engaged in their work and thriving in their purpose, social, financial, community and physical well-being. These measures of workplace engagement and well-being are important because they are predictive of critical outcomes such as worker productivity, absenteeism and healthcare cost burden, among many others. Beyond simply measuring graduates’ earnings — an important but very narrow measure of success — Gallup looked at the whole picture. Using these broader and arguably more important outcome measures, Gallup has found that simply getting a degree is not enough.

Teaching Math in the 21st Century

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

“I am not an outright proponent of the philosophy that ‘If you want something done right, you have to live in the past’, but when it comes to how to teach math there are worse philosophies to embrace,” Barry Garelick explains as he continues from where he left off in his last book (“Letters from John Dewey/Letters from Huck Finn”). He describes his experiences as a long-term substitute teacher at a high school and middle school. He teaches math as he best knows how while schools throughout California make the transition to the Common Core standards. It is the 50th anniversary of key historical events including the JFK assassination and the Beatles’ arrival in the U.S. It is also the 50th anniversary of his first algebra course, the technical and personal memories of which he uses to guide him through the 21st century educational belief system that surrounds him. Among other things, he concludes that “the eighth grade traditional Algebra I class has become an endangered species open to a newly formed and very small elite.”

It is a book for anyone concerned with what Common Core is bringing about in the name of 21st century math education, STEM education, and “21st century skills.”

From the Introduction:

“This book takes place in the 21st century and a school district in California. Like many districts in the U.S., it is married to the groupthink-inspired conception known as 21st century learning. Those who have fallen under the spell of this idea believe that today’s students live in the digital world where any information can be Googled, and facts are not as important as “learning how to learn”. It is a brave new world in which students must collaborate, be creative, work as a team and construct new meanings. Teaching subjects such as math, history, science and English (now called Language Arts) as separate disciplines is an outmoded concept; they should be blended into an integrated discipline.

“In the world of 21st century learning, one prevailing belief is that procedures don’t stick; they are forgotten. Habits, however, are forever. Students are to be taught “learning skills”, “critical and higher order thinking” and “habits of mind” in order to prepare for jobs that have not yet been created.

“In short, it is an educational orientation that I and others like me 1) do not believe in and 2) find ourselves immersed in. It was the underlying belief system in which I had to work during two long-term sub assignments which are the subject of the book you are about to read.”

Ed-Tech’s Inequalities

Audrey Watters:

To the contrary, I maintain that civil rights remain the civil rights issue of our generation. When we see, for example, the Supreme Court overturn part of the Voting Rights Act, when we see rampant police violence against marginalized groups, when we see backlash against affirmative action and against Title IX protections, when we see pervasive discrimination – institutionalized – in people’s daily lives, when we see widespread inequalities – socioeconomic stratification based on race, ethnicity, gender, geography – we need to admit: there are things that, as Tressie McMillan Cottom has argued, the “education gospel cannot fix.”

And yet the dominant narrative – the gospel, if you will – about education and, increasingly education technology, is that it absolutely is “the fix.”

Education technology will close the achievement gap; education technology will close the opportunity gap. Education technology will revolutionize; education technology will democratize. Or so we are told. That’s the big message at this week’s ASU-GSV Summit, where education technology investors and entrepreneurs and politicians have gathered (registration: $2995) to talk about “equity.” (Equity and civil rights, that is; not equity as investing in exchange for stock options and a seat on the Board of Directors, I should be clear. Although I’m guessing most of the conversations there were actually about the latter.)

Starving for Wisdom

Nicholas Kristof:

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.”

That epigram from E.O. Wilson captures the dilemma of our era. Yet the solution of some folks is to disdain wisdom.

“Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” Rick Scott, the Florida governor, once asked. A leader of a prominent Internet company once told me that the firm regards admission to Harvard as a useful heuristic of talent, but a college education itself as useless.

Parents and students themselves are acting on these principles, retreating from the humanities. Among college graduates in 1971, there were about two business majors for each English major. Now there are seven times as many. (I was a political science major; if I were doing it over, I’d be an economics major with a foot in the humanities.)

I’ve been thinking about this after reading Fareed Zakaria’s smart new book, “In Defense of a Liberal Education.” Like Zakaria, I think that the liberal arts teach critical thinking (not to mention nifty words like “heuristic”).

So, to answer the skeptics, here are my three reasons the humanities enrich our souls and sometimes even our pocketbooks as well.

First, liberal arts equip students with communications and interpersonal skills that are valuable and genuinely rewarded in the labor force, especially when accompanied by technical abilities.

How The Constitution Protects “Free Range Parents”

Ilya Somin:

Montgomery County, Maryland police and Child Protective Services officials recently detained 10 year old Rafi Meitiv and his 6 year old sister Dvora, for hours merely because they were seen walking home from a local park alone (including a lengthy period when they were not allowed to contact their parents). They were picked up by police just three blocks from their home. CPS previously detained the children for exactly the same reason in December, investigated the parents for supposed “neglect,” and tried to pressure them into changing their parenting practices. The parents, who believe in following a “free range” approach to child-raising that fosters autonomy and responsibility, intend to file a lawsuit against CPS.

I. Parental Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.

I don’t yet know for certain what issues will be raised in the suit. But I hope the Meitivs will make the case that the state has violated parental rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Longstanding Supreme Court precedent strongly suggests that “free range” parents are entitled to protection against the kind of state interference with their child-raising decisions that happened here.

In two landmark cases in the 1920s, Meyer v. Nebraska and Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects parents’ and guardians “to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” In Pierce, the Court applied that right to strike down an Oregon law requiring all children aged 8 to 16 to attend public schools rather than private ones, despite the state’s argument that standardized public schooling would ensure that all children get a good education.

In the 2000 case of Troxel v. Granville, the Court reaffirmed the “fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children,” which it called “perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.” The plurality opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (joined by three other members of the Court) emphasized that state officials must apply a strong presumption that parents’ decisions about the upbringing of their children are correct, and cannot abridge parental control over child-raising based on “mere disagreement” with the parents’ choices. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas argued for even stronger protection of parental autonomy, noting that laws that infringe on “fundamental” constitutional rights are usually subject to “strict scrutiny” – the highest standard of judicial review. Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissenting opinion also advocated a strong presumption in favor of parental control.

Wordflex: “Brain Friendly English”

Robert Scheiner:

Featuring more than two million language nodes, this fascinating tool offers a truly interactive, engaging reference for word lovers of all ages and interests.

Developed specifically to leverage the unique capabilities of iPad, and with full coverage of both American and British English via premium content from the Oxford University Press, Wordflex mind-maps word entries into dynamic trees that are filled with synonyms, antonyms, syntactical associations, origins, context-sensitive definitions, phonetic pronunciations, or even slang usage and occasional illustrations.

Did you know that James Murray… was a prolific preacher of sermons?

Peter Gilliver:

Throughout his life Murray was a devout member of the Congregational Church: not only devout, but also very active. Already in his teens he was a Sunday school teacher in his home town of Denholm, and he was soon also giving addresses and sermons. After he took up a teaching post at Mill Hill School—a well-known school for the sons of Nonconformists—in 1870, he gave many sermons in the school chapel. Former Mill Hill boys recalled the vividness of his preaching and reading; one recalled his reading of the biblical passage about the confrontation between Elijah and the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel (which was in fact one of his favourite readings: ‘I never tire of reading it’, he later said). ‘How he scorched them. Why, I am sure many boys of that period felt convinced that Elijah sure had a red beard and word a scarlet hood.’

Cheating In The Digital Age

Carla Rivera:

Stanford University’s honor code dates to 1921, written by students to help guide them through the minefield of plagiarism, forbidden collaboration, copying and other chicaneries that have tempted undergraduates since they first arrived on college campuses.

Exams aren’t proctored, and students are expected to police themselves and speak up when they see others committing violations.

But there appears to have been a massive breakdown during the recent winter quarter, culminating in “an unusually high number of troubling allegations of academic dishonesty” reported to officials, according to a letter to faculty from Provost John Etchemendy.

“Among a smattering of concerns from a number of winter courses, one faculty member reported allegations that may involve as many as 20% of the students in one large, introductory course,” Etchemendy said in the March 24 letter.

In Defense of Success Academy

Danielle Hauser:

When I think of the demands on teachers today, I picture the cover of the classic children’s folktale “Caps for Sale,” in which a mustachioed cap salesman falls asleep under a tree, wearing his entire stock of wares on his head. This image, unsurprisingly conjured by an elementary and middle school teacher of five years, suggests the staggering expectations policy-makers and the public have of teachers in the 21st century.

Teachers are expected to possess strong content knowledge, pedagogical expertise in rooms of diverse learners, and a heroic grasp of classroom psychology. They must close gaps in content mastery, develop students’ interpersonal skills, and create project-based learning experiences that require critical thinking and analytical reasoning. Of course, they are assumed to have artistic skill in designing inviting classroom environments and jaw dropping bulletin boards, as well as technical proficiency in integrating new media to make lessons engaging for the modern kid. They are to do all this and much more with a calm, cool demeanor, on a meager paycheck, and with minimal recognition–as teachers, our “caps” runneth over.
I spent four years teaching at Success Academy Charter Network, which recently came under attack in the New York Times for the incredible demands made of their teachers and students. And yes, Success is upfront about their unwavering commitment to excellence and setting a high bar for all involved, but what I found to be most staggering was the profound support offered to teachers to meet the demands of the day.

Lcally, Madison continues to lack K-12 diversity. a majority of the School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school.

Early Literacy Event (Madison) 29 April 2015 6:30-8:30p.m.

Wednesday, April 29

6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Urban League of Greater Madison
2222 South Park Street Madison, WI 53713

Come learn about the importance of early literacy experiences in closing the achievement gap … and how you can get involved!

Presentation (6:30 – 7:30)
Dipesh Navsaria, M.P.H, M.S.L.I.S., M.D. – “BOOKS BUILD BETTER BRAINS”
Dr. Navsaria is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the U.W.-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the Founding Medical Director of “Reach Out and Read Wisconsin.” In his talk, he will take us on an expansive journey through neuroscience, poverty, education, public policy, and the emerging literacy of very young children.

Professor Compton-Lilly is an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the U.W.- Madison School of Education. In her talk, she will explore a wide range of family literacy practices – more than just bedtime stories – that engage young children and provide them with opportunities to grow as novice readers and writers.

Networking and refreshments (7:30 – 8:30)
Representatives from the following local early literacy initiatives will be present to distribute literature and answer questions about their programs:

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin Wisconsin Bookworms

Schools of Hope

Born Learning: Parent-Child Home Program Play and Learn

Read Up!

Please consider bringing one or more new children’s books to the event. The books will be distributed among the several participating early literacy programs.

This event is sponsored by the Harvard Club of Wisconsin as part of the Harvard Alumni Association Global Month of Service.
The event is free and open to the public.

PDF Announcement.

Related: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

For U.S. Universities, the Rich Get Richer Faster

Melissa Korn:

The higher-education wealth gap is growing—not just between those who do or don’t have college degrees but among colleges themselves.

The coffers of the nation’s 40 wealthiest universities, including Harvard University, Stanford University and the University of Michigan, are filling at a faster rate than those of other schools, thanks to particularly strong investment performances and generous donors, according to a report to be published Thursday by Moody’s Investors Service.

“It’s really a tale of two college towns, if you will, or cities,” said Karen Kedem, vice president and senior credit officer at Moody’s. “Looking ahead, the expectation is that this [gap] will only widen.”

Time for Charters to Lead on Special Education

Robin Lake, via a kind Deb Britt email:

Last week I jumped all over Andy Smarick on Twitter for suggesting that practices like the DC Public Charter School Board’s Secret Shopper program (where staff pretend to be parents searching for a school for a child with a disability) and requiring charter schools to take students mid-year place the needs of a small number of students over the good of the whole. Citing a long list of philosophers, Andy argued that in dogged pursuit of equity we risk undercutting successful efforts to help students.

Legal issues aside,* Andy raises a commonly held argument from charter advocates and a compelling theoretical perspective: “We can’t save some kids if you expect every school to be everything to everybody.” The famous Lifeboat Dilemma comes to mind: there is a point at which pulling one more person into a lifeboat compromises everyone’s future. I get it.

*Of course, any charter school that is its own Local Education Agency cannot legally exclude or “counsel out” students with special needs unless the state law makes some special provision. Parents have the right to decide, with their IEP team, which school offers the best and Least Restrictive Environment for their child. What Andy is suggesting, I guess, is that authorizers should not too strenuously enforce the law.

But here’s the problem. Charter supporters invoke this dilemma all too easily and abstractly. While it’s obvious that the weight of one more person can swamp a boat, the analogy is misleading when it comes to schools. The lifeboat analogy allows a school to define its own risk to avoid admitting a student. It lets a school unilaterally decide not to serve someone.

Most Americans Say Higher Education Not Affordable

Brandon Busteed and Stephanie Kafka:

While the majority of all Americans believe higher education is available to anyone in the U.S. who needs it, some are more likely to feel this way than others do. For instance, Hispanics are more optimistic (73%) than whites (58%) that this type of education is available to all.

Although a majority of all Americans view these educational opportunities as available, few believe it is affordable to those who need it. More than three-quarters (79%) of American adults do not think that education beyond high school is affordable for everyone in the U.S. who needs it, while more than one in five (21%) think it is.

Want Reform? Principals Matter, Too

Will Miller:

POLITICIANS and education reformers are fixated on the performance of teachers, but they often overlook another key ingredient for improving student achievement: principals. The problem is that great principals often don’t end up in the schools that need them most — those with poor and minority students. School districts, states and universities need to do much more to get outstanding principals into these schools.

A generation ago, good principals were efficient middle managers. They oversaw budgets, managed complicated bus schedules and delivered discipline. That started changing in the mid-1990s. Today’s principal needs to be much more focused on the quality of teaching in the classroom.

Take Clayborn Knight, principal of Nesbit Elementary School in Tucker, Ga., where more than 90 percent of his 2,100 students live in poverty. Mr. Knight arrives by 6 a.m. to form his game plan for the day and handle administrative matters so he can help teachers improve instruction during the rest of the day. He roams from classroom to classroom to observe teachers, give them informal feedback and present model lessons.

GSoM – Sommercamp Registration and Scholarship Deadline – May 1st!

Via a kind Mary Wyman email:

Guten Tag!

The deadline to register your child (entering 1st – 6th grade in fall 2015) for the German summer camp is fast approaching: Friday, May 1st!

Sign up today for this great experience! And spread the word to friends, family and neighbors!

More details in flyer attached.

We still have a full scholarship to a kid who would like to attend our German immersion camp this summer!

The scholarship is coming from an anonymous donor, who would like to provide this great summer camp experience to a kid with little or no prior German exposure in financial need.

Please, spread to word to friends and neighbors about the camp and this scholarship.

To apply:

To apply for this scholarship, the kid should write a brief letter (about 5 sentences) AND draw a picture about why he/she would like this German immersion experience. What is the kid’s connection to German language and/or culture? What does the kid hope to gain from this experience?

Please, send the application (the brief letter and picture) in an email with the subject line “GSoM Summer Camp – Scholarship Application” to the German School of Madison email: Please, make sure to write the following information on the application or in the application email:

1. Child’s Name

2. Child’s Age

3. Child’s Level of German

4. Name of Parent(s)

5. Contact Email Address

6. Contact Telephone Number

The deadline for applications AND registration is Friday, May 1st, 2015.

Liebe Grüße,

German School of Madison-Deutsche Schule Madison, Inc.Madison, Wisconsin

Visit our website at:

“The Plight of History in American Schools”

Diane Ravitch writing in Educational Excellence Network, 1989:

Futuristic novels with a bleak vision of the prospects for the free individual characteristically portray a society in which the dictatorship has eliminated or strictly controls knowledge of the past. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the regime successfully wages a “campaign against the Past” by banning the teaching of history, closing museums, and destroying historical monuments. In George Orwell’s 1984, the regime routinely alters records of the past; it rewrites newspapers and books to conform to political exigencies, and offending versions are destroyed, dropped “into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.”

If knowledge of the past does in fact allow us to understand the present and to exercise freedom of mind—as totalitarian societies, both real and fictional, acknowledge by dictating what may be studied or published—then we have cause for concern. The threat to our knowledge of the past arises, however, not from government censorship but from our own indifference and neglect. The erosion of historical understanding among Americans seems especially pronounced in the generation under thirty-five, those schooled during a period in which sharp declines were registered in test scores in virtually every subject of the school curriculum.

Based on the anecdotal complaints of college professors and high school teachers about their students’ lack of preparation, there was reason to suspect that the study of history had suffered as much erosion and dilution as other fields. To test whether students had a secure command of the “foundations of literacy,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered the first national assessment of history and literature in the spring of 1986.

One object of the test was to ascertain whether students had ready command of essential background knowledge about American history.

The results were not reassuring. Presumably there is certain background information about American history so fundamental that everyone who goes to school should have learned it by age seventeen (and nearly 80 percent of those who took the assessment were enrolled in the second semester of their high school American history course). In What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, Chester Finn, Jr., and I pointed out that there had never been a test of this kind on a national basis and that there was no way to know whether students were learning more or less about history than in the past.

Nonetheless, we found it disturbing that two-thirds of the sample did not know that the Civil War occurred between 1850 and 1900; that nearly 40 percent did not know that the Brown decision held school segregation unconstitutional; that 40 percent did not know that the East Coast of the United States was explored and settled mainly by England and that the Southwest was explored and settled mainly by Spain, that 70 percent did not know that the purpose of Jim Crow laws was to enforce racial segregation, and that 30 percent could not find Great Britain on a map of Europe.

Since the test had never been given before, critics were quick to quarrel with our judgment that student performance was disappointing. Perhaps, they suggested, students thirty or fifty years ago might have done worse on a comparable test. Others complained that the test should also have been given to a representative sample of the adult population, because if adults don’t know such things, then high school students should not be expected to know them either.

Still others complained that we should not expect students to know or care about history because our society does not reward people who value learning, whether teachers or professors. And there were critics who insisted that the test relied too much on factual knowledge, which is insignificant compared to learning how to think. The most repeated criticism was that the results were of no importance because the study of history itself was of no importance, of no utility whatever in the world today. Again and again, the questions were posed, “What can you do with history? What kind of job will it get you?”

Polemics can be both endless and frustrating because there is almost always some truth in every assertion and counter-assertion. Everything the critics said was true to some extent. But it was also true that the assessment revealed that students were not learning some important things they should know about American history. Whether their counterparts in the past knew less, and whether adults today know less, is beside the point. Three wrongs don’t make a right.

Plainly, a significant number of students are not remembering the history that they have studied; they are not integrating it into their repertoire of background knowledge, either as fact or as concept. In reality, as every student of history ought to recognize, facts and concepts are inseparable. Some information is so basic, so essential that all students must know it in order to make sense of new learning. Nor can students be expected to think critically about issues unless they have the background knowledge to support their reasoning. Insisting that facts have a rightful place in the study of history does not mean that history must be learned by rote.

However one learns about the Civil War, however innovative or unorthodox the teacher’s methodology, the student should know that it took place in the latter half of the nineteenth century, not because of the singular importance of that isolated fact, but because that fact connects the events to a particular place in time, to a larger context, and to a chronological setting in which it is possible to make judgments about causes and consequences and relationships among events in the same era.

Was there once a golden age in the study of history? There may have been, but I know of no evidence for it. In 1943, The New York Times reported the results of a test given to seven thousand college freshmen in thirty-six institutions. It was an open-ended test, not a multiple-choice test. Only 45 percent could name four of the specific freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights; fewer than 25 percent could name two achievements of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Theodore Roosevelt; less than 15 percent could identify Samuel Gompers as a leader of organized labor or Susan B. Anthony as an advocate of women’s rights; and only 6 percent could name the thirteen original colonies.

Compared to the college freshmen of 1943, today’s high school juniors do well; after all, 50 percent of today’s sample identified Gompers and 69 percent identified Susan B. Anthony. But our test takers had some critical advantages: first, they took a multiple-choice test, which limits their options and jogs their memory with the right answer; second, Gompers and Anthony are included in their high school textbooks, but were not always included in the textbooks of forty years ago; third, the multiple-choice format virtually guarantees that a minimum of 25 percent will guess the right answer.

The search for comparability may be a blind alley. After all, the historical knowledge that seems most important will differ with each generation, because the salient issues are different for each generation. Today, we expect youngsters to learn about the history of civil rights and minorities, and we stress social history as well as political history. On the NAEP test, there were a number of questions about recent history, like Watergate and Sputnik. Such questions obviously could not have been asked forty years ago, and some of them may seem unimportant forty years from now.

The questions we may reasonably ask about history instruction in the schools are whether students are learning what schools are trying to teach them; whether the history that schools are teaching is significant, current, and presented in ways that encourage student engagement; whether enough time is provided to study issues and events in depth and in context; whether students learn to see today’s issues and events in relationship to the past; whether events are studied from a variety of perspectives; whether students understand that the history they study is not “the truth,” but a version of the past written by historians on the basis of analysis and evidence; and whether students realize that historians disagree about how to define the past.

I first became concerned about the condition of history in the schools while visiting about three dozen campuses across the country in 1984-1985, ranging from large public universities to small private liberal arts colleges. Repeatedly, I was astonished by questions from able students about the most elementary facts of American history. At one urban Minnesota campus, none of the thirty students in a course on ethnic relations had ever heard of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.

How were they learning about ethnic relations? Their professor described the previous week’s role-playing lesson. The class had been visited by a swarthy man who described himself as an Iranian, made some provocative statements, and then launched into a tirade, chastising them for being prejudiced against him (in reality, he was an Italo-American from Long Island, and not an Iranian at all). This “lesson” hardly compensated for their ignorance about the history of immigration, of racial minorities, of slavery and segregation, or of legislative and judicial efforts to establish equality in American life.

As a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, I lectured at various campuses on the virtues of a liberal education and its importance to society today. After one such speech at a university in the Pacific Northwest, a professor of education insisted that high-school students should concentrate on vocational preparation and athletics, since they had the rest of their lives to learn subjects like history “on their own time.” Time and again, I heard people wonder why even prospective teachers should have a liberal education, particularly if they planned to teach below the high school level. The younger the children, according to the skeptics, the less their teacher needs to know; they seemed to think that knowing and nurturing were incompatible.

In my meetings and talks with students, who were usually the best in the education or the history program, I was surprised to find that most did not recognize allusions to eminent historical figures such as Jane Addams or W.E.B. DuBois. As I traveled, I questioned history professors about whether their students seemed as well prepared today as in the past. None thought they were. Even at such elite institutions as Columbia and Harvard, professors expressed concern about the absence of a common body of reference and allusion to the past; most said their students lacked a sense of historical context and a knowledge of the major issues that had influenced American history. As a professor at Berkeley put it to me, “They have no furniture in their minds. You can assume nothing in the way of prior knowledge. Skills, yes; but not knowledge.”

Those who teach at non-elite institutions perceived an even deeper level of historical illiteracy. Typical were comments by Thomas Kessner, a professor of history at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York: “My students are not stupid, but they have an abysmal background in American or any other kind of history.” This gloomy assessment was echoed by Naomi Miller, chair of the history department at Hunter College in New York. “My students have no historical knowledge on which to draw when they enter college,” she told me.

“They have no point of reference for understanding World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, or the Holocaust.” She expressed dismay at her students’ indifference to dates and chronology or causation. “They think that everything is subjective. They have plenty of attitudes and opinions, but they lack the knowledge to analyze a problem.” Professor Miller believes that “we are in danger of bringing up a generation without historical memory. This is a dangerous situation.”

In search of some explanation for these complaints, I visited social studies classes in New York City. In one high school, where most of the three thousand students are black, Hispanic, and/or recent immigrants, a teacher said to me, “Our students don’t see the relevance to their own lives of what a lot of dead people did a long time ago. American studies means more to them than American history.”

I observed a class in American studies, where the lesson for the day was state government, its leaders and their functions. When the teacher asked whether anyone knew what the state attorney general does, a girl answered tentatively, “Isn’t he the one that says on the cigarette box that you shouldn’t smoke because it gives you cancer?” The teacher responded, incorrectly, “Yes, but what else does he do?” The teacher went on, earnestly trying to explain what New York’s secretary of state does (“he keeps the state’s papers”) and to find some way to connect the work of these officials to the students’ daily lives. The youngsters were bored and apathetic. Watching their impassive faces, I thought that a discussion of the Crusades or the Salem witchcraft trials or Nat Turner’s rebellion would be infinitely more interesting, and relevant, to their adolescent minds.

In another American studies class the topic for the day was the Dred Scott decision. Ah, I thought, I will now see how historical issues are dealt with. The class began with ten minutes of confusing discussion about how students would feel if they were drafted and told they had to serve in Vietnam. The teacher seemed to think this was relevant to the students (since it was relevant to her own generation), although it was not clear that the students had any idea what the war in Vietnam was about. What she was trying to do, I finally realized, was to get the students to wonder who is a citizen and how citizenship is defined. It was a worthy aim, but the rest of the lesson shed little light on the meaning of the Dred Scott decision. The students were told he was a slave who had been brought into a free territory and then sued for his freedom; they were also given a brief definition of the Missouri Compromise. With this as background, the teacher divided them into groups, each of which was a miniature Supreme Court, where they would decide whether Dred Scott should be a slave or go free. Ten minutes later, no surprise, each little Supreme Court recommended that Dred Scott should be a free man, and the class ended. They did not learn why Chief Justice Roger B. Taney decided otherwise, nor did they learn the significance of the Dred Scott decision in the antislavery agitation, nor its importance as a precursor to the Civil War. Since the course was law studies, not American history, the students had no background knowledge about sectional antagonisms, about slavery, or about anything else that preceded or followed the Civil War.

When I expressed surprise about the complete absence of traditional, chronological history in the social studies curriculum, the chair of the social studies department said, “What we teach is determined by guidelines from the State Education Department. In the late 1960s the state decided to deemphasize chronological history and to focus instead on topical issues and social science concepts. We followed suit.” A teacher chimed in to explain, “We don’t teach history, because it doesn’t help our students pass the New York State Regents examination in social studies.” This teacher claimed to have compiled a list of concepts that regularly appear on the Regents examinations; his students prepare for the Regents by memorizing the definitions of such terms as “cultural diffusion” and “social mobility.”

What happened to the study of history? Many factors contributed to its dethroning; some relate to the overall American cultural situation, others to specific institutional forces within the schools and changes in the social studies field. Those who claim that American culture devalues history make a strong case. Despite the fervor of history buffs and historical societies, Americans have long been present- and future-oriented. I suspect that it has never been easy to persuade Americans of the importance of understanding the past. Trends in recent years have probably strengthened popular resistance to historical study. Even in the academy, rampant specialization among college faculties has made professors less willing to teach broad survey courses, less concerned about capturing the attention of non-majors or the general public by tackling large questions.

Within the schools, the study of history has encountered other kinds of problems. During the past generation, history was dislodged from its lofty perch as “queen” of the social studies by the proliferation of social sciences, electives, and other courses. Many in the social studies field say that history still dominates the social studies, since almost all students take the traditional one-year high school course in American history, and about half the students take a one-year course in world history. However, even though the high school American history course may be secure, researchers have found “a gradual and persistent decline in requirements, courses and enrollments” in history at the junior high school level, as well as a reduction of requirements and course offerings in world history in high schools. Indeed, the only history course that is well entrenched in the curriculum is the high school survey of American history.

To some teachers, social studies means the study of the social sciences, and many schools offer electives in sociology, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology. Some see the field as primarily responsible for the study of current social problems. Others see it as a field whose overriding objective is to teach students the essentials of good behavior and good citizenship. Still others declare that the goal of the social studies is to teach critical thinking, or values, or respect for cultural diversity.

Because of the ill-defined nature of the social studies field, it is easily (and regularly) invaded by curricular fads, and it all too often serves as a dumping ground for special-interest programs. Whenever state legislatures or interest groups discover an unmet need, a new program is pushed into the social studies curriculum. Each state has its own pet programs, but under the copious umbrella of social studies can be found courses in such subjects as energy education, environmental education, gun-control education, water education, sex education, human rights education, future studies, consumer education, free-enterprise education and a host of other courses prompted by contemporary issues.

This indiscriminate confusion of short-term social goals would have dismayed those historians who first took an active interest in history in the schools. In 1893 a distinguished panel of historians, including the future President Woodrow Wilson, recommended an eight-year course of study in history, beginning in the fifth grade with biography and mythology and continuing in the following years with American history and government, Greek and Roman history, French history, and English history. Criticizing the traditional emphasis on rote learning, the Committee of Ten argued that history should teach judgment and thinking, and should be conjoined with such studies as literature, geography, art, and languages. The historians’ recommendations were aimed at all children, not just the college-bound: “We believe that the colleges can take care of themselves; our interest is in the schoolchildren who have no expectation of going to college, the larger number of whom will not enter even a high school.”

In 1899 the Committee of Seven, a group of historians created by the American Historical Association (AHA), recommended a four-year model high school curriculum: first year, ancient history; second year, medieval and modern European history; third year, English history; and fourth year, American history and government. It was expected that students would read biographies, mythology, legends, and hero tales in the elementary years, and that this reading would provide a foundation for their subsequent study of history. The Committee of Seven’s proposal set a national pattern for American high schools for years to come. Like the Committee of Ten, the Seven believed that history should be the core of general education for all students in a democracy.

This four-year model history curriculum came under increasing attack, however, from the newly emerging field of social studies, whose major purpose (according to a 1918 report known as The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education) was “social efficiency.” Characteristic of the progressive effort to make education socially useful, the new report, which for decades has been considered the most influential document in American education, rejected those studies that seemed not to contribute directly to the goal of training students to take their place in society.

Moreover, The Cardinal Principles broke sharply with the findings and recommendations of earlier committees. It endorsed differentiated curricula, based on students’ future vocational goals, such as agriculture, business, clerical, industrial, and household arts programs. Much of the history that had been taught had no immediate social utility and thus its advocates had difficulty claiming a place in the curriculum. In the decades that followed, as the curriculum incorporated more courses that seemed socially useful or were intended to teach social skills, the time available for history shrank. Many schools collapsed their courses in ancient history, European history, and English history into a single, and optional, one-year course called “world history” or “Western civilization.”

The new emphasis on short-term social utility also affected the curriculum in the early grades. The various reform reports of the early twentieth century had recommended that young children read exciting stories about remarkable people and events that changed the course of history. In most city and state curricula, children in the early grades studied distant civilizations and read their myths and legends in addition to learning the stories about heroes and the folktales of their own country. They also celebrated holidays and learned about their local community through field trips, an emphasis called “home geography.” But by the 1930s this curriculum began to be replaced by studies of family roles and community helpers. Instead of thrilling biographies and mythology, children read stories about children just like themselves.

The new curriculum for the early grades, called “expanding environments” or “expanding horizons,” was factual and immediate, ousting imaginative historical literature and play from the early grades. Increasingly, time in the early grades was devoted to this fixed pattern: kindergarten, myself; first grade, my family; second grade, my neighborhood; third grade, my city. There was no evidence that children preferred to read about postal workers over tall tales, stories of heroes, or ancient Egyptians. Nonetheless, the new curriculum gradually swept the country, pushing historical content out of the early grades.

Not until the late 1980s did the social studies curriculum in the primary grades attract sustained criticism. According to leading cognitive psychologists, the “expanding environments” approach has no grounding in developmental research. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that it dwells unnecessarily on what the child already knows or does not need to go to school to learn. In 1987, a content analysis of social studies textbooks for the early grades was conducted at the University of Georgia. One of the investigators, Professor A. Guy Larkins, concluded, “If asked to choose between teaching primary-grades social studies with available texts or eliminating social studies from the K-3 curriculum, I would choose the latter. Much of the content in current texts is redundant, superfluous, vacuous, and needlessly superficial.” Larkins also complained that children were reading about taking field trips instead of actually taking field trips, seeing pictures of a generic community rather than investigating their own.

Learning again and again about the roles of family members and community helpers in the primary years may well be extremely boring for children who are used to watching action-packed stories on television and seeing dramatic events on the evening news. The me-centered curriculum fails to give children a sense of other times and places, and fails to appeal to their lively imaginations. Children might enjoy the study of history if they began in the early grades to listen to and read lively historical literature, such as myths, legends, hero stories, and true stories about great men and women in their community, state, nation, and world. Not only in the early grades but throughout the kindergarten to twelfth grade sequence, students should read lively narrative accounts of extraordinary events and remarkable people. Present practice seems calculated to persuade young people that social studies is a train of self-evident, unrelated facts, told in a dull manner.

By mid-century most American public schools had adopted a nearly standardized social studies curriculum: Children in kindergarten and the first three grades studied self, home, family, neighborhood, and community; children in fourth grade studied state history; in fifth grade, American history; in sixth grade, world cultures; seventh grade, world geography; eighth grade, American history; ninth grade, civics or world cultures; tenth grade, world history; eleventh grade, American history; twelfth grade, American government. While there have been many variations from district to district, this has been the dominant social studies curriculum for the last fifty years. Most cities and states follow the model for the early grades, teach one year of American history in elementary school and again in junior high school, and require a single year of American history for high school graduation. Most, however, do not require the study of world history in the high school years.

Despite this format’s persistent emphasis on social relevance and student interest, surveys have repeatedly shown that students find social studies to be less interesting and less important than their other school subjects. Why is this field, whose intrinsic human interest is so compelling, so often perceived as boring? There are many possible answers, including the compendious, superficial, and dull textbooks students are assigned to read. But the curricular pattern itself must be in some measure at fault, as it forces repetition of courses on the one hand and too little time for study in depth on the other. Both problems are surefire formulas for dullness, and curriculum planners have been thus far unable to resolve either of them.

When the usual curricular model is followed, American history is taught three times: in the fifth grade, the eighth grade, and the eleventh grade. The question is whether to teach a complete survey course (from pre-Columbian times to the present) at each of the three grade settings. If the survey is taught three times, there is no time to go beyond the textbook, to explore significant questions, to examine original sources or to conduct mock trials or debates. Some districts have broken away from the “coverage” survey by instead teaching major topics and themes in American history, but this approach is clearly insufficient when youngsters fail to understand chronology, the sequence of events, or the causal connections among events.

Another alternative to the survey is to devote each of the three years of American history to a different time period. The usual pattern is that the elementary school course concentrates on exploration and settlement and daily life in the colonies; the junior high course emphasizes the nineteenth century; and the high school year carries the student from the Civil War to the present. The advantage of the latter program is that it allows for time to treat issues in depth, without neglecting chronology. The disadvantage is that it allows no time for mature students to examine the Revolutionary era, when the principles of American government were shaped, or to consider the constitutional conflicts that led to the Civil War. It is also problematic in light of population mobility from state to state, as well as the immigrant influx from other countries, which means that newcomers in the middle or later grades will miss out on important events in the life of the early Republic.

While there is no easy answer to this problem, the history curriculum adopted in California in 1987 attempts to meld the two approaches; each year concentrates on a different time period, but each course begins and ends with an intensive review of critical issues and events. In the world history program, the most pressing problem is time. In most districts where world history is taught, it is studied for only one year, not nearly enough time to encompass the history of the world. New York State adopted a two-year global studies sequence in 1987 (though not strong on history), and California adopted a mandatory three-year world history sequence in the same year. Most other states, however, do not require even one year of world history.

Furthermore, the social studies field is divided about whether world history should emphasize Western Europe or global studies. When the course focuses on Western Europe, it is unified by attention to the evolution of democratic political institutions and ideas, as well as to their betrayal by genocide, war, and racism. When the course is global studies (as, for example, in New York State), equal attention is given to Western Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and other regions. The “Western civilization” course has been criticized by some as “ethnocentric,” while the “global studies” approach has been criticized by others for superficiality, for incoherence, and for minimizing the importance of the West in world history. No matter which approach is taken, a single year is insufficient to study world history.

The difficulty of trying to compress the history of the world into an introductory course is exemplified by one widely-adopted text, in which World War II is reduced to a brief summary and the Holocaust to two sentences: “Many millions of civilians also lost their lives. Six million Jews alone were murdered at Hitler’s orders.”

Does it matter if Americans are ignorant of their past and of the world’s? Does it matter if they know little of the individuals, the events, the ideas, the forces, and the movements that shaped their nation and others? If the study of history is to gain public support and attention,
historians must directly answer the utilitarian challenge. They must be prepared to argue that the study of history is useful in its own terms. Those who study history learn how and why the world came to be what it is, why things change and why they stay the same.

Knowledge of history is both useful and necessary for our society because everyone has the right to choose our leaders and to participate in our civic and social life. All citizens, not just the few, are expected to understand major domestic and international issues. Without historical perspective, voters are more likely to be swayed by emotional appeals, by stirring commercials, or by little more than a candidate’s photogenic charisma.

Even between elections, a knowledge of history is vital today for the average citizen and vital for the health of our political system. Politicians and news organizations regularly poll the public to assess their view of domestic and international issues. When public sentiment is clear, the government and the media take heed. When the public is ill-informed or uninterested, policymakers are free to act without the consent of the governed. Americans today require historical background in order to understand complex social and political questions in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.

Writers and editors in national newspapers and magazines assume the presence of a historically literate public by alluding without further explanation to historic events and individuals. Without a historically literate public, readily able to understand such references,
newspapers and television journalism will have no choice but to simplify their vocabulary, to reduce their coverage of serious topics, and serve as little more than headline and amusement services, devoid of significant context.

Those who have a professional commitment to the study of history have a particular responsibility to improve the way it is taught and learned in the schools. Organizations such as the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) have a direct responsibility for the quality of history instruction. The teacher-scholar collaboratives sponsored by these organizations are one valuable means to assist professionals in the schools. There are others. For example, professional associations should lobby to ensure that teachers of history have actually studied history in college; in several states, including New York and California, social studies teachers may be certified without ever having studied any history. Professional associations could assist curriculum planners in enriching the study of history at every grade level. The AHA and OAH could provide invaluable support to state curriculum offices that are pressured by powerful interest groups to rewrite or water down the history curriculum; some kind of review mechanism could fend off unreasonable demands.

In 1932, Henry Johnson of Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote a delightful review of the teaching of history throughout the ages, somewhat misleadingly entitled An Introduction to the History of the Social Sciences. Johnson quoted a sixteenth-century Spanish scholar, Juan Vives, to explain why it is valuable to study history: “Where there is history,” wrote Vives, “children have transferred to them the advantages of old men; where history is absent, old men are as children.” Without history, according to Vives, “no one would know anything about his father or ancestors; no one could know his own rights or those of another or how to maintain them; no one would know how his ancestors came to the country he inhabits.” Johnson cited the view of the seventeenth-century French oratorians that “history is a grand mirror in which we see ourselves…The secret of knowing and judging ourselves rightly is to see ourselves in others, and history can make us the contemporaries of all centuries in all countries.”

History will never be restored as a subject of value unless it is detached from vulgar utilitarianism; it should not be expected to infuse morals or patriotism. Properly taught, history teaches the pursuit of truth and understanding; it establishes a context of human life in a particular time and place, relating art, literature, philosophy, law, architecture, language, government, economics, and social life; it portrays the great achievements and terrible disasters of the human race; it awakens youngsters to the universality of the human experience as well as to the particularities that distinguish cultures and societies from one another; it encourages the development of intelligence, civility, and a sense of perspective. It endows its students with a broad knowledge of other times, other cultures, other places. It leaves its students with cultural resources on which they may draw for the rest of their lives. These are values and virtues that are gained through the study of history, values and virtues essential to the free individual exercising freedom of mind. Beyond these, history needs no further justification.

via Will Fitzhugh.

Charter High Schools and the “Backfill” Debate

Paul Hill & Tricia Maas, via a kind Deb Britt email:

A debate about “backfill”—whether charter high schools should add students to replace those who drop out—has just begun (see here, here, and here). Some argue that successful charter school models should not have to deviate from their focus by admitting children who don’t enter at the beginning of 9th grade. Others believe that a school is inherently inequitable if it closes its doors to any subset of the local population. The current debate is raw and polarized between the extremes that schools should never have to backfill students, or that they be legally required to replace every student they lose.

As usual, the extremes are unrealistic. There is no way to completely relieve charters of any pressure to backfill, because lost enrollment means lost revenue. On the other side, it makes no sense to require schools to fill every vacancy, no matter when it occurs and no matter whether the newly admitted student has any chance to earn enough credits and skills to graduate.

A Response to “Breaking the Mold”

Paul Hill and Ashley Jochim

Mike Kirst’s review of our book, A Democratic Constitution for Public Education, is insightful and constructive and raises important questions about how our proposal would work in practice.

He correctly points out that public school principals are not trained for the roles we propose — setting priorities, making hiring decisions and budget tradeoffs (e.g. between salaries and purchase of on-line instruction), making the school attractive to families and teachers, and leading continuous improvement. But, as we argue, principals and potential principals won’t ever have these capacities unless and until the job changes, so that people wanting to take full responsibility seek it, and people wanting to avoid full responsibility avoid it. The same is true with pre-service training: it won’t cover a more ambitious set of skills until the job requires them.

When the school job changes (as it did in England where school heads got hiring and budget authority, and in New York City under Joel Klein’s school autonomy policy) the principal pool changes. Some school leaders use capacities they always had but couldn’t use, others learn what they need, and others quit and are replaced by people attracted to the new, more demanding job. This isn’t instantaneous but natural turnover allows steady replacement of people who don’t want to or can’t adapt. The system we have proposed also relieves principals of a lot of burdens, e.g., the many central office demand to attend meetings and be “trained” (or arrange staff training) in whatever the central office is peddling. How to prepare/retrain/select school leaders requires careful analysis, and happily there are exemplars in the places above.

True, changes in principal capacity will require new forms of training and support. But, these needs are finite, and they will be met only if the job changes.

Paul Hill & Ashley Jochim

Andy characterized this arrangement as a continuation of the district and predicted that the transition would never be made, based on the leopard/spots metaphor. But under our plan, the district would be replaced by an entirely new entity, based on new law and established with a totally different set of powers than local school boards now have. It is hard to see how this is the old “district” unless the term is used equivocally (i.e., at one time to describe an organization that operates schools directly and at another time to refer to a geographic area).

Andy also thinks that the role we assign the CEC in overseeing the transition to the new system will preserve the old district. Again, we disagree.

Though the replacement of school boards with CECs would be complete and instantaneous, schools that operated under the old school board would still need to exist to serve the children enrolled in them. This would continue until the CEC either authorized replacements or recognized them as independent school providers eligible to operate under the new rules.

Educators who worked in those schools, or in the central office created by the now-defunct school board, would need to make a transition to the new system. Teachers and principals would transition from being district employees to employees of newly independent schools; their jobs would then depend on those schools’ continuation. Central office employees would have the opportunity to form or join new nonprofit assistance providers who could offer services to schools (which could decide what and whether to buy) or find new lines of work.

Changes in the Madison Teacher Transfer Process

Madison Teachers, Inc Newsletter, via a kind Jeannie Kamholtz email (PDF):

Attention is called to two significant changes regarding the transfer process for members of MTI’s teacher bargaining unit. While surplus can be declared up to July 1, this year the District acted early. Thus, reassignment from surplus is expected to be substantially completed before May 1. After that date, vacancies will be posted for internal transfer through July 15. New this year is a modification enabled by Governor Walker’s Act 10, i.e. all applicants for a vacant position will be considered equally, whether the applicant is internal or a new hire.

Positions will be filled on the basis of qualifications as determined by the District. Given that internal and external applicants will be considered at the same time, the District will require internal applicants to complete a pre- screening application in order to be considered for transfer. One must complete an online form and participate in a phone interview with a Human Resources Analyst before he/she can be referred to an interview for a specific vacancy. The pre-screening application only needs to be completed once per school year for any subsequent transfer opportunity.

The pre-screening process is focused on a set of eight “competencies” that have been developed by the District. Information about this process, including the list of “competencies,” has been sent to all members of MTI’s teacher bargaining unit and can be found on the MMSD website: adison.pdf.

April 7, 2015 newsletter (PDF).

NJEA and Heritage Foundation: Perfect Together

Laura Waters:

Almost everyone is finding something to like in the new U.S. Senate bill that would replace No Child Left Behind, titled the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. (Here’s a summary.) Conservatives, Tea Partiers, and local control devotees coo at the diminution of federal oversight while liberals and progressives approve of the bill’s preservation of disaggregated data, which allows schools and states to spotlight the academic growth of children in poverty and those with disabilities.

There’s a chief dissenter, however, among the celebrants. Teacher union leaders, especially, those from the National Education Association (NJEA’s parent) despise the bill’s retention of annual standardized tests in third to eighth grade and once in high schools. NEA has fought stridently (AFT more softly) for “grade span testing” — once in elementary school, once in middle school, once in high school — and, judging by the draft bill, the country’s largest teacher labor union appears to have lost this battle.

Weakening Standardized Tests Amounts to ‘Killing the Messenger’

Eva Moskowitz:

This week, 1.1 million children in New York State will take Common Core-aligned standardized tests amidst a growing national revolt against testing.

Standardized tests don’t measure real learning, just superficial test-taking skills, and our obsession with them is destroying our nation’s schools by taking away from real learning.

As the mother of a high school student who just took the SATs, I can empathize with those holding such views. But, as the head of a network of charter schools, I know these tenets of the anti-testing movement to be false.

My schools are known for our students’ high test scores. Although we admit students by lottery, 94 percent of our eighth graders pass the English exam compared to 14 percent in central Harlem, where most of these students come from. Some believe we accomplish these results by a laser-beam-like focus on test prep at the expense of overall education. They’re wrong.

The Challenges of Beginning a Scholarly Debate in the 21st Century

Jo Guldi

C. P. Snow’s The Two Cultures (1959) began a critical debate about the role of the humanities in an increasingly scientific world. It was also the receipt of such enormous criticism that Snow later wrote The Two Cultures: A Second Look (1963). In the last few months David Armitage and I have experienced a technologically-accelerated version of the same. In the 21st Century, this debate happens not only between colleagues, but also via pseudonymous blogs and retweeted punchlines.

When we published The History Manifesto in October, we set out to rouse a debate in the university, and in history departments in particular, about the methods and ambitions of our profession in a moment of global warming, growing inequality, academic specialization, and short-term thinking. The debate took off beyond our wildest dreams; usually positive, sometimes controversial, and even occasionally dipping into extreme ire as individual personalities took issue with our text, some of them choosing to duel in the footnotes instead of to engage the substantive, positive vision that we wrote to offer. A deliberation of this variety and passion on all sides is evidence, we believe, of a healthy engagement by the profession. Like others creatures, when historians are aroused, they experience emotions, sometimes violently.

The case for letting taxpayers choose whether their money goes to schools or the police or Medicaid.

David Boaz:

A taxpayer who thinks that $600 billion is too much to spend on military in the post-Cold War era could choose to allocate less to that function than the government requested. A taxpayer who thinks that Congress has been underfunding Head Start and the arts could allocate double the requested amount for those programs.

There would be quite a bit of debate, of course, over how to list programs in the 1040-D program. Spending interests would want to use broad categories–national defense, health, education, job training. Opponents of spending would prefer to narrow the categories so taxpayers can see what they’re really buying– defense of Japan and Korea, war in Iraq, farm subsidies, mass-transit “demonstration” projects in West Virginia, and so on. Libertarians and the arts establishment might agree on listing just “arts,” while the religious right might lobby to have the category broken into “fine arts,” “pork-barrel arts,” and “obscene art.” Language would be an issue – “corporate welfare” or “loans for small businesses”?

The Quantified Baby

Anna Prushinskaya:

During my pregnancy, the birth of my son, and the early months of parenthood, technology has been there to mediate every step of the way. I often wonder, as I spend time with my baby, my phone always nearby, what the experience would be like without it. Though I strive to be mindful, rarely am I actively deciding to use the phone or not; I often pick it up as a reflex.

I suppose it all started with trying to get pregnant. I am rather neurotic, and though I had no reason to believe that I would have trouble getting pregnant, when it came time to try, I found myself Googling my way to various online “communities.” Did you know that there are apps and forums for tracking basal body temperature? A BBT increase often indicates that ovulation has occurred, which is the optimal time to try to make a baby. On these forums, people share their temperatures, charts, qualitative descriptions of cervical mucus, so that all may benefit from the resulting database of knowledge. The month I got pregnant, I was diligently charting my own bodily symptoms on one such site: waking up each morning, running to the bathroom to take my temperature and make the attendant observations, logging onto the site to record it all. My chart is now forever part of that structure of information. A woman might compare her chart to mine, hoping for a similar outcome—I did get pregnant, after about five months of doing this.

Is it a student’s civil right to take a federally mandated standardized test?

Lyndsay Layton:

The nation’s major civil rights groups say that federally required testing — in place for a decade through existing law — is a tool to force fairness in public schools by aiming a spotlight at the stark differences in scores between poor, minority students and their more affluent counterparts.

And they are fighting legislative efforts to scale back testing as lawmakers on Capitol Hill rewrite the nation’s main federal education law, known as No Child Left Behind.

“Removing the requirement for annual testing would be a devastating step backward, for it is very hard to make sure our education system is serving every child well when we don’t have reliable, comparable achievement data on every child every year,” Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, said in recent testimony before the Senate education panel. Her group joined 20 civil rights organizations to lobby Congress to keep the requirement to test all children each year in math and ­reading.

The surprising downsides of being clever

David Robson:

The first steps to answering these questions were taken almost a century ago, at the height of the American Jazz Age. At the time, the new-fangled IQ test was gaining traction, after proving itself in World War One recruitment centres, and in 1926, psychologist Lewis Terman decided to use it to identify and study a group of gifted children. Combing California’s schools for the creme de la creme, he selected 1,500 pupils with an IQ of 140 or more – 80 of whom had IQs above 170. Together, they became known as the “Termites”, and the highs and lows of their lives are still being studied to this day.

As you might expect, many of the Termites did achieve wealth and fame – most notably Jess Oppenheimer, the writer of the classic 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. Indeed, by the time his series aired on CBS, the Termites’ average salary was twice that of the average white-collar job. But not all the group met Terman’s expectations – there were many who pursued more “humble” professions such as police officers, seafarers, and typists. For this reason, Terman concluded that “intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated”. Nor did their smarts endow personal happiness. Over the course of their lives, levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide were about the same as the national average.

Has America gone lunatic on the subject of unattended children?

Megan McArdle:

Why has America gone lunatic on the subject of unattended children? Parents hover over their kids as if every step might be their last. If they don’t hover, strangers do, calling the police to report any parent who leaves their child to run into the store for a few minutes. What’s truly strange is that the parents who are doing this were themselves left to their own devices in cars, allowed to ride their bikes and walk to the store unsupervised, and otherwise given the (limited) freedom that they are now determined to deny their own kids. The police are making arrests that would have branded their own parents as criminals. To hear people my age talk about the dangers of unsupervised children, you would think that the attrition rate in our generation had been at least 30 percent.

Even people who haven’t gone crazy are afraid of the Pediatric Patrol. A mom of my acquaintance whose house backs up to a school playground, with a gate that lets her children walk straight into the schoolyard, is afraid to let them go through the gate without an adult, for fear that someone would call the same nutty CPS that has taken to impounding the Meitiv children. She compromises by letting them play alone in the playground only when she is in the backyard, so that she can intervene if the police arrive.

Are master’s degrees on their way out? Alternatives grow as enrollment fades

Jeffrey Sellingo:

When George Washington University announced last week that it was laying off nearly 50 employees to reduce costs, the university’s president, Steven Knapp, blamed a decline in enrollment in graduate and professional programs.

Graduate degrees and professional certificates have been the fastest-growing segment of higher education in recent years, and the thinking has always been that when the economy improves, fewer people go back to school for such credentials because they can more easily get jobs instead.

Into this environment, the UW-Madison Chancellor has raised tuition, substantially.

This Is What the Fourth Industrial Revolution Looks Like

Daniel Oberhaus:

The fourth industrial revolution, more commonly known as “Industry 4.0,” derives its name from a 2011 initiative spearheaded by businessmen, politicians, and academics, who defined it as a means of increasing the competitiveness of Germany’s manufacturing industries through the increasing integration of “cyber-physical systems,” or CPS, into factory processes.

CPS is basically a catch-all term for talking about the integration of smart, internet-connected machines and human labor. Factory managers are not simply reimagining the assembly line, but actively creating a network of machines that not only can produce more with fewer errors, but can autonomously alter their production patterns in accordance with external inputs while still retaining a high degree of efficiency.

In other words, Industry 4.0 is the production-side equivalent of the consumer-oriented Internet of Things, in which everyday objects from cars to thermostats to toasters will be connected to the internet.

This would be a “completely new approach to production,” according to a rep​ort released in 2013 by the Industrie 4.0 Working Group, a conglomerate of major industrialists, artificial intelligence experts, economists and academics.

Lack of vocational education stifles US mobility

Sam Fleming:

“If we care about social mobility in America we can’t just dismiss this,” says Mr Holzer, who released a report for Brookings on the topic this month. “It requires America to be more serious about career and technical education than it has been in a long time.”

Economic debate has been dominated by discussion of the “hollowing out” of the middle of the workforce because of new digital technologies and globalisation. This narrative, which is leaving its mark on the UK general election as well as US politics, suggests that opportunities will be concentrated in very highly skilled jobs and the lower end of the wage spectrum such as food service, where recent hiring has been rapid.

But in the US experts say this understates the significance of middle-skilled jobs which require some postsecondary training but not necessarily a university degree.

Cheryl’s Birthday: Singapore’s maths puzzle baffles world

Tessa Wong:

A school maths question posted on Facebook by a Singaporean TV presenter has stumped thousands, and left many asking if that’s really what is expected of Singaporean students.
The question asks readers to guess the birthday of a girl called Cheryl using the minimal clues she gives to her friends, Albert and Bernard.

Cheryl’s Birthday was initially reported to be an examination question for 11-year-olds.
Students stressed by tough examinations is a perennial issue here, and Cheryl’s Birthday reignited concerns that the education system was too challenging.

Kenneth Chang and Alex Bellos.

Related: The infliction of Connected Math on our children is worth a deep dive.

Classroom disorder increases in Milwaukee and Madison after school administrators unveil a new discipline policy

Dave Daley (PDF), via a kind reader:

Lunch break over, students at a Madison high school file into class. The bell rings. Only a little more than half the students are in their seats, but the teacher starts anyway, ticking off homework assignments.

Two students trickle in, one carrying a bag from a fast-food chain, the other a basketball under his arm. “Hey, man — gimme some fries,” calls out a stu- dent. The kid with the fast-food bag saunters over, bag open, warning his hungry classmate
not to take too many. More students join in, begging for fries, too.
At the front of the room, the teacher struggles to stay on topic and get his students’ focus

back on the lesson. The student with the fries is making his way to his seat, kids reaching into his bag as he passes, snatching fries, joshing him — “Wow, you are old!” — about his generosity.

The student is the center of attention. The teacher stares at him as he finally slides into his seat. The teacher picks up the lesson, just as three more late students trickle in, one eating a bag of Cheetos, a second munching a candy bar.
More calls ring out. “C’mon — some chips, dude, bring ’em over here.” The teacher stops. No one is listening anyway. Everyone’s attention is on still more late-arriving kids, half a dozen this time, the students laughing and calling out to one another as they saunter to their seats.

One of the late students sees the hard look on the teacher’s face. “Sorry, I’ll be quiet now,” he offers as he sits down.

Hunched over their desks, the top performing students — the good kids — are reading their books or doing homework, trying to concentrate as the hubbub swirls around them. Finally, 15 minutes after the bell rang, everyone is seated, and the teacher can pick up the lesson.

No one is disciplined for tardiness. Or for bringing food into the classroom. Or for disrupt- ing class. The teacher does not bother writing up the late students — repeat offenders — even though habitual tardiness is an infraction of the school’s discipline code. There is no point filling out an office referral form; the teacher knows administrators will just ignore it.


The Madison Metropolitan School District, the state’s second
largest with more than 27,000 students, is in its second semester of a kid-friendly discipline policy aimed at keeping rule-breaking students in school. But some are questioning it.

“Utter chaos,” says the teacher who struggles every day to get his students seated after the bell rings. “It feels like the inmates are running the institution.”
Madison’s new suspend-as-a-last-resort discipline policy mirrors a shift by schools across the country from tough zero-tolerance to a far less punitive approach that tries to keep kids in school under the mantra that children don’t have a chance of learning if they’re not in the classroom.

That more relaxed approach, which emphasizes teaching kids positive behaviors, is already in place in the Milwaukee and Racine school districts, where it is dramatically cutting suspension rates.

Like many schools across the country, Milwaukee is using the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports concept, which emphasizes teaching students what behavior is expected rather than meting out punishment after bad behavior.

K-12 Tax And Spending Climate: The federal debt is worse than you think

Ron Haskins:

Of all the failures of recent Congresses and Presidents, none is more important than their failure to deal with the nation’s long-term debt. Although Congress tied itself in knots trying to address the problem, the growth of debt remains, in the words of the Congressional Budget Office, “unsustainable.”

Debt figures tell part of the story. When the Great Recession hit, the federal debt was equal to about 40 percent of GDP. But to fight the recession, Congress enacted an $800 billion dollar stimulus bill. Stimulus spending, combined with already enacted spending and tax policy, resulted in four years of trillion dollar deficits. As a result, the debt ballooned to 78 percent of GDP in 2013, almost twice the pre-recession level. The annual deficit is now declining at a stately pace, but by 2016 it will begin increasing again, and by 2020 under CBO’s alternative fiscal scenario, we will once again return to annual deficits above a trillion dollars, thereby once again greatly increasing the national debt.

Chess grandmaster kicked out of competition for using smartphone in the bathroom

Stan Schroeder:

Georgian national chess champion, grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze was kicked out of a tournament in Dubai after it was discovered he was using a smartphone in the bathroom during a game, the BBC reports.

Nigalidze’s opponent, Armenian champion Tigran Petrosian, complained to the officials that Nigalidze was visiting the bathroom a little too regularly. Nigalidze always used the same cubicle for extended periods of time; after investigating, the officials found a smartphone buried in the trash bin.

‘Free-range’ parents plan to file lawsuit after police pick up children

Donna St. George & Brigid Schulte:

A D.C-based law firm will file suit and pursue “all legal remedies” to protect the rights of the Maryland parents whose two young children were taken into custody for more than five hours Sunday after someone reported them as they made their way home unsupervised from a Silver Spring park, the firm said Tuesday.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were “rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions” of Maryland Child Protective Services and Montgomery County police, said attorney Matthew Dowd, of the firm Wiley Rein, in a written statement.

‘Free-range’ kids and our parenting police state

Petula Dvorak:

“The police coerced our children into the back of a patrol car and kept them trapped there for three hours, without notifying us, before bringing them to the Crisis Center, and holding them there without dinner for another two and a half hours,” their mom, Danielle Meitiv, said to her Facebook friends. “We finally got home at 11 pm and the kids slept in our room because we were all exhausted and terrified.”

What a pathetic way to fight about parenting styles. Because the kids are the biggest victims in all this.

Imagine the cops telling two young children to get into the car as they argue that they know their way home, they know where they are going and that their dad said they could walk home. This is what happened in December. And Rafi and Dvora had nightmares about police snatching them that time, their mom told me.

Mom and Dad were dragged into court for that incident, and the nation debated whether they are good or bad parents. Montgomery County ruled that they were guilty of unsubstantiated child neglect. Which means no one could decide who was right.

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