The American Museum of Exploding Cars and Toys That Kill You

J Nathan Matias:

To find out the answer, Nikki Bourassa (@nikkiboura) and I organized a road trip from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society to visit the American Museum of Tort Law in Winchester Connecticut– the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to any part of the law.

(I am deeply grateful to Berkman-Klein Fellow and lawyer Salome Viljoen for reviewing this post and suggesting edits to make the legal information more accurate)
On the drive, we listened to a podcast by 99% invisible that told the fifty-year story of research and activism on the idea that car design influences people’s safety. I learned that the Egg Drop science fair project has its origin in the safety crusade of engineering professor Hugh DeHaven, who used the stunt to show that engineers were better at protecting eggs than protecting human bodies. DeHaven also pioneered crash testing, invented the three-point seatbelt, and laid the groundwork for today’s focus on vehicle safety.

research can’t change the world on its own; we need activists, lawyers, and courageous citizens who work for the public good
As a researcher, I’ve tended to focus on people like DeHaven, who changed how we understand, measure, and improve societal problems. I’ve written about the science behind public-interest environmental safety, food safety, and digital safety. But research can’t change the world on its own; for that, we need activists, lawyers, and courageous citizens who work for the public good. Our trip to the Museum of Tort Law gave me an introduction to the legal systems that make research meaningful to people’s lives.

Fiction is outperforming reality’: how YouTube’s algorithm distorts truth

Paul Lewis:

It was one of January’s most viral videos. Logan Paul, a YouTube celebrity, stumbles across a dead man hanging from a tree. The 22-year-old, who is in a Japanese forest famous as a suicide spot, is visibly shocked, then amused. “Dude, his hands are purple,” he says, before turning to his friends and giggling. “You never stand next to a dead guy?”

Paul, who has 16 million mostly teen subscribers to his YouTube channel, removed the video from YouTube 24 hours later amid a furious backlash. It was still long enough for the footage to receive 6m views and a spot on YouTube’s coveted list of trending videos.

‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia

The next day, I watched a copy of the video on YouTube. Then I clicked on the “Up next” thumbnails of recommended videos that YouTube showcases on the right-hand side of the video player. This conveyor belt of clips, which auto-play by default, are designed to seduce us to spend more time on Google’s video broadcasting platform. I was curious where they might lead.

The answer was a slew of videos of men mocking distraught teenage fans of Logan Paul, followed by CCTV footage of children stealing things and, a few clicks later, a video of children having their teeth pulled out with bizarre, homemade contraptions.

From Disruption to Dystopia: Silicon Valley Envisions the City of the Future

Joe Kotkin:

The tech oligarchs who already dominate our culture and commerce, manipulate our moods, and shape the behaviors of our children while accumulating capital at a rate unprecedented in at least a century want to fashion our urban future in a way that dramatically extends the reach of the surveillance state already evident in airports and on our phones.

Redesigning cities has become all the rage in the tech world, with Google parent company Alphabet leading the race to build a new city of its own and companies like Y Combinator, Lyft, Cisco, and Panasonic all vying to design the so-called smart city.

It goes without saying, this is not a matter of merely wanting to do good. These companies are promoting these new cities as fitter, happier, more productive, and convenient places, even as they are envisioning cities with expanded means to monitor our lives, and better market our previously private information to advertisers.

This drive is the latest expansion of the Valley’s narcissistic notion of “changing the world” through disruption of its existing structures and governments and the limits those still place on the tech giants’ grandest ambitions. This new urban vision negates the notion of organic city-building and replaces it with an algorithmic regime that seeks to rationalize, and control, our way of life.

In reality, Google is entering the “smart city” business in no small part to develop high-tech dormitories for youthful tech workers and the cheaper foreign noncitizen workers in the U.S., including H1B indentured servants; overall noncitizens make up the vast majority of the Valley’s tech workforce. Even as the tech fortunes have grown ever larger, the companies own workers have been left behind, with the average programmer earning about as much today as she did in 1998 even as housing costs in tech hubs have exploded.

All-gender bathrooms coming to every Madison public school

Karen Rivedal:

Within a few months, all 48 regular district schools will have a specially designated all-gender bathroom, as will the rented or owned space where alternative education programs are based and district headquarters. Only a “handful” of bathroom projects remain, Kepler said.

Despite spending nearly $20,000 per student, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Since Standing Rock, 56 Bills Have Been Introduced in 30 States to Restrict Protests: In the year since the last activists were evicted, the crackdown on journalists and activists has only intensified.

Zoë Carpenter :

February 23, 2017: Law-enforcement officers point their weapons at two water protectors praying near the Sacred Fire of the main resistance camp of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Both men were arrested, along with the photographer, shortly after this image was taken. (Tracie Williams)

On February 23 of last year, a day when the frozen ground had started to turn to mud, law-enforcement officers rolled into the Oceti Sakowin camp near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota. Donald Trump had been inaugurated a month earlier, and the new president quickly reversed an Obama administration decision to deny Energy Transfer Partners a permit to finish construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.78 billion project running directly under the Missouri River. The water protectors, as protesters called themselves, had been fighting the pipeline since the spring of 2016, concerned that the proposed route cut through ancestral land of spiritual significance, and that a pipeline leak could contaminate the primary water supply to the reservation. The small group who had remained through the bitter winter at Oceti Sakowin had been ordered to leave by February 22 or face eviction and arrest. Most did; a few dozen remained the following the day, when Humvees with snipers on their roofs rolled into camp, a helicopter buzzing above them.

This is America: 9 out of 10 public schools now hold mass shooting drills for students

Lexia Fernández Campbell:

“Are you kids good at running and screaming?” a police officer asks a class of elementary school kids in Akron, Ohio.

His friendly tone then turns serious.

“What I don’t want you to do is hide in the corner if a bad guy comes in the room,” he says. “You gotta get moving.”

This training session — shared online by the ALICE Training Institute, a civilian safety training company — reflects the new normal at American public schools. As armed shooters continue their deadly rampages, and while Washington remains stuck on gun control, a new generation of American students have learned to lock and barricade their classroom doors the same way they learn to drop and roll in case of a fire.

How to Study Mathematics

Lawrence Neff Stout, :

In high school mathematics much of your time was spent learning algorithms and manipulative techniques which you were expected to be able to apply in certain well-defined situations. This limitation of material and expectations for your performance has probably led you to develop study habits which were appropriate for high school mathematics but may be insufficient for college mathematics. This can be a source of much frustration for you and for your instructors. My object in writing this essay is to help ease this frustration by describing some study strategies which may help you channel your abilities and energies in a productive direction.

The first major difference between high school mathematics and college mathematics is the amount of emphasis on what the student would call theory—the precise statement of definitions and theorems and the logical processes by which those theorems are established. To the mathematician this material, together with examples showing why the definitions chosen are the correct ones and how the theorems can be put to practical use, is the essence of mathematics. A course description using the term “rigorous” indicates that considerable care will be taken in the statement of definitions and theorems and that proofs will be given for the theorems rather than just plausibility arguments. If your approach is to go straight to the problems with only cursory reading of the “theory” this aspect of college math will cause difficulties for you.

The second difference between college mathematics and high school mathematics comes in the approach to technique and application problems. In high school you studied one technique at a time—a problem set or unit might deal, for instance, with solution of quadratic equations by factoring or by use of the quadratic formula, but it wouldn’t teach both and ask you to decide which was the better approach for particular problems. To be sure, you learn individual techniques well in this approach, but you are unlikely to learn how to attack a problem for which you are not told what technique to use or which is not exactly like other applications you have seen.

College mathematics will offer many techniques which can be applied for a particular type of problem—individual problems may have many possible approaches, some of which work better than others. Part of the task of working such a problem lies in choosing the appropriate technique. This requires study habits which develop judgment as well as technical competence.

The Age of Unregulated Social Media Is Over

Justin Hendrix:

In line with Sesno’s remarks, each of the technology executives pushed back on the British lawmakers, arguing that their companies are hardly unregulated. And while it is true that they are subject to a variety of data protection laws and must comply with a panoply of laws in hundreds of countries that govern questions such as how they work with law enforcement, they are still hardly accountable for the sorts of externalities we are seeing today. It seems right that democracies should demand more be done to address the scale of misinformation, propaganda, hate speech, dark political advertising and other vile content that flows freely across the platforms. Simon Hart referred to “regulation that is accountable, democratic and transparent.”

The running theme to these exchanges with the parliamentary members is clear- it isn’t whether these companies should be subject to further regulation, but rather how, and with what goals in mind? In the UK and Europe, these questions are gaining steam. In the United States, it is time for the conversation to come out of the back room and into the public square. The British inquiry was in stark contrast to the November 2017 hearings on Capitol Hill, where House and Senate Intelligence Committee members never once uttered the word “regulation” while questioning Google, Facebook and Twitter’s attorneys.

On High School Graduation Rates: Want to Buy My Bridge?

Robert Slavin:

In response to these stories, teachers across America wrote to express their views. Almost without exception, the teachers said that the situation in their districts is similar to that in DC. They said they are pressured, even threatened, to promote and then graduate every student possible. Students who fail courses are often offered “credit recovery” programs to obtain their needed credits, and these were found in an investigation by the Los Angeles Times to have extremely low standards (https://robertslavinsblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/the-high-school-graduation-miracle/). Failing students may also be allowed to do projects or otherwise show their knowledge in alternative ways, but these are derided as “Mickey Mouse.” And then there are students like some of those at Ballou, who did not even bother to show up for credit recovery or Mickey Mouse, but were graduated anyway.

The point is, it’s not just Ballou. It’s not just DC. In high-poverty districts coast to coast, standards for graduation have declined. My colleague, Bob Balfanz, coined the term “dropout factories” many years ago to describe high schools, almost always serving high-poverty areas, that produced a high proportion of all dropouts nationwide. In response, our education system got right to work on what it does best: Change the numbers to make the problem appear to go away. The FBI might make an example of DC, but if DC is in fact doing what many high-poverty districts are doing throughout the country, is it fair to punish it disproportionately? It’s not up to me to judge the legalities or ethics involved, but clearly, the problem is much, much bigger.

Some people have argued with me on this issue. “Where’s the harm,” they ask, “in letting students graduate? So many of these students encounter serious barriers to educational success. Why not give them a break?”

Educating Black Boys

Iman Rastegari, Leah Shafer :

Every year, far too many African American boys fail to graduate from high school and attend a competitive four-year college. What’s standing in their way?

In the second episode of Walking the Talk, we explore obstacles on the road to college, and other issues affecting student equity, in a conversation with John Silvanus Wilson, the former president of Morehouse College and former executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a position to which he was appointed by President Barack Obama. Walking the Talk, hosted by HGSE’s Domonic Rollins, is a series of video conversations streamed live on Facebook, exploring challenging questions around diversity, inclusion, and identity as they are lived and expressed in the real world. See the first installment in the series.

Here, we excerpt the audio of Rollins and Wilson’s live conversation; you can read our summary of the conversation, and the takeaways, below.

Related: They’re all rich white kids and they will do just fine, not!

How I Cracked Facebook’s New Algorithm And Tortured My Friends

Katie Notopoulos:

Last Saturday — 12 days ago now — I shared a cringeworthy video on Facebook: a 6-minute clip of a twentysomething white woman showing off her small, blandly decorated Brooklyn apartment. Sort of the pumpkin spice latte version of MTV Cribs — innocuous, but annoying. Ever since, this video has been waging a reign of terror over my friends and family, showing up at the top of their feeds every single day, over and over and over. They are complaining to me on Facebook. They are complaining to me in real life. They are tweeting me about it and emailing me. Begging me to remove this cursed video that greets them each time they open Facebook.
 
 And of course, they commented on my post. And then people commented on the comments. The more people commented, the more the video showed up on other people’s feeds. As the rage around this post intensified, so did the comments. Coworkers I sit next to commented. College friends commented. Someone I went to preschool with commented. A vicious, algorithmically delicious cycle.
 
 After a few days, the comments shifted from “I hate this woman’s apartment” to “why is this video constantly at the top of Facebook?” or “please, I beg you, delete this video,” and eventually, my boss commenting “please write about this.”

University of Wisconsin System Approves One City’s Charter School Application

Via a kind email:

Dear Friends.

Last night, we learned that our application to establish One City Senior Preschool as a public charter school serving children in 4 year-old and 5 year-old kindergarten was approved by the University of Wisconsin System. We are very excited! This action will enable us to offer a high quality, tuition-free education to young children living in Dane County that prepares them for school success prior to beginning first grade.

We currently offer an exciting and proven curriculum that emphasizes early reading and math literacy development, creativity, and STEM learning through play. Our program features a full-time chef, healthy meals program, field trips, Family Perks, great partnerships, and a diverse and highly qualified staff. Beginning in the summer of 2018, we will implement our new co-curricular Sports and Fitness Program for children enrolled in our school. As a year-round preschool, our program will include fun summer, fall, winter and spring sports and fitness learning and activities.

We have other exciting news to share with you this month, too. Please look out for this, along with information about our staff hiring and enrollment for 2018-19 school year.

Stay tuned!

Kaleem Caire
Founder & CEO

Beginning September 1, 2018, One City will operate two different preschools in our current facility: One City Junior Preschool for children ages 1 to 3 and One City Senior Preschool for children ages 4 and 5. We will offer two 4K classrooms and two kindergarten (5K) classrooms.

Our Senior Preschool will be tuition-free while our Junior Preschool will continue to offer scholarships to families who need assistance with paying our lower than average weekly tuition rates. Wisconsin currently does not offer per-pupil funding for public school children younger than age 4, so families must continue to pay tuition for children ages 3 and younger.

Why two schools? We were required by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to create a separate school to receive state-funded tuition aid for our 4K/5K charter school.

Because we will operate two different schools, we are changing our name from “One City Early Learning Centers, Incorporated” to “One City Schools, Incorporated”. We will begin using the new name on March 1, 2018.

In the mean time, we look forward to working with the Madison Metropolitan School District, University of Wisconsin System and its campuses, Edgewood College and other partners to expand educational access and opportunities for children in our city and region.

Much more about One City Early Learning Centers, here.

Kaleem Caire

A majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school, and more recently the Montessori charter school.

Civics: Presidents Obama, Trump, The FBI, Politics and the FISA Court

Andrew McCarthy:

So we arrive at the knotty question for Obama political and law-enforcement officials: How do we “engage with the incoming team” of Trump officials while also determining that “we cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia”?

How do we assure that an investigation of Trump can continue when Trump is about to take over the government?

What is the answer? Let’s consider what happened the next day.

Related:

Everyone from President Trump to a petty thief is at the same disadvantage when talking to prosecutors. :

Former federal prosecutor Ken White created a stir with his recent argument at Reason.com that neither President Donald Trump nor anyone else should voluntarily meet with investigators. By anyone else, White does not simply mean other people facing scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. He means you and me. Ever.

According to White, the only reason prosecutors ever really want to interview targets is to trap them into a story and catch them in a lie. If they’re after you, you can’t talk your way out of trouble. Sure, you might have information that would exonerate you, but your lawyer can instead convey it informally to the investigators, without any risk.

White is right, but he doesn’t go far enough. Prosecutors want to catch you in a lie because, when they can’t prove an underlying crime, it’s often easy to prove that you lied to them. That’s where the problem arises. I’ve been telling my astonished law students for decades that except in certain well-defined circumstances, lying to investigators shouldn’t be a crime. And it shouldn’t. Period.

Part of the reason for my position involves symmetry. As long as government investigators are allowed to deceive you, you should be allowed to deceive government investigators. And deceive you they may — rather willy-nilly. If a suspect confesses after police falsely tell him that his fingerprints were found at the crime scene, fine. If a suspect confesses after police falsely tell him that they have satellite images and DNA evidence linking him to the crime, fine. My view is that suspects should have the same freedom. If you can throw the police off the scent by telling them you weren’t there … fine. 1

This last point is important. White argues that investigators rarely talk to suspects without strong evidence of their guilt. Again, you’re not likely to be able to talk them out of pursuing you. So if your lie changes the course of the investigation, the case must not have been that strong to begin with. Another reason not to criminalize the lie.

BuzzFeed believes that evidence of the alleged D.N.C. break-in by Russian hackers might help the online publisher in a libel suit. But the D.N.C. says releasing information might make it vulnerable to more hacking.

FISA Court.

We looked at how a thousand college students performed in technical interviews to see if where they went to school mattered. It didn’t.

Samantha Jordan:

On our platform, we’re fortunate to have thousands of students from all over the U.S., spanning over 200 universities. We thought this presented a unique opportunity to look at the relationship between school tier and interview performance for both juniors (interns) and seniors (new grads). To study this relationship, we first split schools into the following four tiers, based on rankings from U.S. News & World Report:

Eight reasons Facebook has peaked

Amol Rajan:

On the surface, Facebook is one of the most successful commercial propositions in the history of business. Its market capitalisation is today over half a trillion dollars. Shares are six times more valuable today than five years ago. Though they trade at a lower price to its forward earnings multiple than at any time since Facebook went public, in 2012, the overall picture is one of astonishing growth and wealth.

As the unmissable Miles Johnson wrote in the Financial Times yesterday: “The social network… is increasing revenues at more than 50 per cent a quarter and earnings per share at more than 70 per cent, making its profitability and growth light-years ahead of the average US-listed company”.
That analysis comes in an article which suggests that, for now, Facebook is “valued at a discount to the wider market despite giddy growth”. As short-term advice for investors, this strikes me as correct.

Yet the medium and longer-term picture look very different. In fact, Facebook is accumulating enemies and challenges at such a rate that its horizons have suddenly become somewhat clouded.

Why Men Are the New College Minority

Jon Marcus:

This fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. And the trend shows no sign of abating. By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women.

The new minority on campus? Men.

That’s an irony not lost on Jennifer Carlo, the vice president of student engagement and student affairs at Carlow University, which is trying all kinds of ideas to bolster its supply of men—including showcasing male college-success stories as examples to prospective applicants.

“It didn’t used to be that you were worried about providing role models and mentors for males,” Carlo mused.

As chancellor search continues, Weingarten dismisses Orlando schools chief as ‘Joel Klein type’

Monica Disare and Alex Zimmerman:

Another is that she may not have the union support that has proven valuable to Mayor Bill de Blasio. She definitely doesn’t have the support of Randi Weingarten, the influential leader of the American Federation of Teachers.

Weingarten told Chalkbeat this week that she was “surprised” to hear Jenkins’ name surface, and compared her to leaders of the so-called education reform movement who have had contentious relationships with teacher unions.

“I think that Barbara Jenkins is much more in line with the Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee types than she is in line with the Carmen Fariña types,” Weingarten said, comparing the polarizing former schools chiefs of New York City and Washington, D.C. to the city’s current schools chancellor.

More, here.

Principal pays kids not to fight

Joanne Jacobs:

At a high-poverty, low-performing K-8 school in Philadelphia, eighth graders don’t get into fights any more. Their principal promised to pay each student $100 if they reach graduation without any fighting, reports Kristen A. Graham on Philly.com. If any of the 33 eighth graders break the peace, they all lose the money.
“They have a choice — to become the violence they see in their day-to-day lives, or to be peaceful models for our school and our community,” said Stephanie Andrewlevich, principal of Mitchell Elementary. She’s put up her own money, but hopes a sponsor will cover the rewards.

Teaching excellence should be celebrated

Alicia Duran:

My 10 years as a high school English teacher at Volcano Vista in Albuquerque were awesome. I love the art of teaching, the science of teaching and the joys of teaching. My students’ learning came first, which is at the heart of why I love our profession – making an impact on kids’ lives.
Yet, in my career in APS, I was always struck by how my student achievement growth wasn’t acknowledged or rewarded by my school or district. I was treated the same as every other teacher – as if every teacher delivers at the exact same level for kids. It didn’t matter that my students grew almost two years academically in one school year. … This has been the nature of our profession for much of the past century.

Tucson Arizona versus Columbus Ohio: open enrollment

Matthew Ladner:

I believe that open enrollment is a big reason that Arizona has been leading the nation in NAEP gains, and that charter and private choice programs deserve some credit the eagerness with which districts participate. Take a look at Columbus on the above map- a large urban district literally surrounded by districts choosing not to allow open enrollment transfers. Now take a look at the school district map of Pima County. The Tucson Unified School District is surrounded by districts that do participate in open-enrollment- actively.

Much more on open enrollment, here.

Tech’s Ethical ‘Dark Side’: Harvard, Stanford and Others Want to Address It

Natasha Singer:

The medical profession has an ethic: First, do no harm.

Silicon Valley has an ethos: Build it first and ask for forgiveness later.

Now, in the wake of fake news and other troubles at tech companies, universities that helped produce some of Silicon Valley’s top technologists are hustling to bring a more medicine-like morality to computer science.

This semester, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are jointly offering a new course on the ethics and regulation of artificial intelligence. The University of Texas at Austin just introduced a course titled “Ethical Foundations of Computer Science” — with the idea of eventually requiring it for all computer science majors.

And at Stanford University, the academic heart of the industry, three professors and a research fellow are developing a computer science ethics course for next year. They hope several hundred students will enroll.

Rather ironic.

Retraining isn’t a clear answer to lost jobs

Steve LeVine:

Amy Goldstein’s Janesville is this year’s Hillbilly Elegy — the go-to volume for understanding what is really going on in the hearts of the U.S. midsection. The book chronicles six years in a Wisconsin town where the demise of its central actor — a General Motors plant — pushes many of its long-middle class residents into poverty.

Quick take: In a survey that Goldstein commissioned, she found that, contrary to the popular consensus, reskilling is not necessarily the answer for reemploying people thrown out of work.

Why Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the apocalypse in New Zealand

Mark O’Connell:

If you’re interested in the end of the world, you’re interested in New Zealand. If you’re interested in how our current cultural anxieties – climate catastrophe, decline of transatlantic political orders, resurgent nuclear terror – manifest themselves in apocalyptic visions, you’re interested in the place occupied by this distant archipelago of apparent peace and stability against the roiling unease of the day.

If you’re interested in the end of the world, you would have been interested, soon after Donald Trump’s election as US president, to read a New York Times headline stating that Peter Thiel, the billionaire venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, considered New Zealand to be “the Future”. Because if you are in any serious way concerned about the future, you’re also concerned about Thiel, a canary in capitalism’s coal mine who also happens to have profited lavishly from his stake in the mining concern itself.

Thiel is in one sense a caricature of outsized villainy: he was the only major Silicon Valley figure to put his weight behind the Trump presidential campaign; he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didn’t like how they wrote about him; he is known for his public musings about the incompatibility of freedom and democracy, and for expressing interest – as though enthusiastically pursuing the clunkiest possible metaphor for capitalism at its most vampiric – in a therapy involving transfusions of blood from young people as a potential means of reversing the ageing process. But in another, deeper sense, he is pure symbol: less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future, a human emblem of the moral vortex at the centre of the market.

Why Isochrone Maps Are Enjoying a Renaissance

Cara Giaimo:

This blobby social lifesaver is an isochrone map: one that indicates not just the physical distance between places, but the amount of time it takes to get from one spot to another. When they were first introduced in the 19th century, individual isochrone maps tended to center on a particular place, and contained a set amount of information: one might tell you how many days’ journey it was from London to anywhere else in the world, while another showed how many hours it would take to get from the central train station in Melbourne, Australia, to a series of more remote stops.

Now, the increasing availability of geographical and transit-related data has led to an explosion in isochrone experiments. Whether you’re trying to shorten your commute, visualize transportation-related inequalities, or simply get coffee with someone who lives across the river, there’s probably a map for that.

Volk Heroes This fun new book about how Germans raise their kids will break American parents’ hearts.

Rebecca Schuman:

In a memorable scene of Sara Zaske’s guide to German-style parenting, Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children, Zaske sends her 4-year-old daughter Sophia to her Berlin preschool with a bathing suit in her bag. It turns out, however, that the suit is unnecessary: All the tykes at Sophia’s Kita frolic in the water-play area naked. Later that year, Sophia and the rest of her Kita class take part in a gleefully parent-free sleepover. A sleepover! At school! For a 4-year-old! These two snapshots of life as a modern German child—uninhibited nudity; jaw-dropping independence—neatly encapsulate precisely why Zaske’s book is in equal turns exhilarating and devastating to an American parent.

America’s Graduation rate malfeasance

Brandon Wright:

Recent stories have cast doubt on the stratospheric graduation rates reported in myriad states, including accounts in Alabama, California, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Texas—and of course Washington, D.C., where one-third of recently awarded diplomas are reportedly attributable to educators violating district policies related to pupil absences and credit recovery.

These are just the scandals we know about. “This is sad and infuriating and, as local education reporters across the country know, not at all uncommon,” tweeted Erica L. Green, an education reporter at the New York Times, when the D.C. scandal broke. Green used to cover education for the Baltimore Sun. And what we need today is for more folks on more school beats to investigate whether similar malfeasance is occurring in their districts and states—because such behavior is almost certainly more widespread than has yet seen the light of day.

If it is, we must identify causes and propose solutions. The issue is not measurement and accountability writ large, as our friends Lindsey Burke and Max Eden proposed recently. People cheat on Wall Street too, but that doesn’t mean companies should stop reporting quarterly earnings or that the SEC should stop checking on them.

Instead, the most obvious culprits are utopian graduation rate targets that have pushed some educators to do the unthinkable. That is, the problem isn’t reporting graduation rates and using them as part of an accountability system; it’s setting goals for them that can’t possibly be achieved. We should set more realistic targets that take into account the achievement level of students when they enter ninth grade.

U.S. Charter Schools Produce a Bigger Bang with Fewer Bucks

Corey DeAngelis:

The evidence is in. And it’s great news for kids in charter schools. A just-released study by my colleagues at the University of Arkansas and me finds that, overall, public charter schools across eight major U.S. cities are 35 percent more cost-effective and produce a 53 percent higher return-on-investment (ROI) than residentially assigned government schools.

And every single one of the cities examined exhibited a charter school productivity advantage over their district school counterparts. As shown in Figure 1 below, charter schools outperformed district schools in each city on student achievement despite receiving significantly less resources per student. Charter schools in all eight cities studied are getting more bang for the buck. And in places like D.C. and Indianapolis, charter schools are doing more with a lot less.

Locally, a majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter School.

A Black Mother’s Survival Guide for Her Teenage Son

Meredith Walker:

My son is big for his age. At only 16, he’s already 6’4” and 225 pounds. As he grew, I began to have a lot of anxiety because I knew he could get mistaken as an adult. And being an adult black male in St. Louis — like anywhere in America — can be uniquely dangerous, especially when the police are involved. This article was published in collaboration with Vice.So recently my son and I began having The Conversation: What to do if he gets stopped by a police officer.

The Day ICE Knocked on My Door
No matter what’s going on, I tell him, stay quiet. Keep your eyes down. Lower your shoulders. Let the air out of your chest. Get the bass out of your voice. Sound as much like a child as possible. And above all, do not make any sudden moves. Whatever they ask you to do, I tell him, yo

Parent-Driven Charter System a Role Model

Max Eden & Matthew Ladner:

One year ago, President Trump nominated Betsy DeVos for secretary of education. Shortly thereafter, the technocratic faction of the education reform establishment joined with the teachers’ unions to declare war against her and against Michigan’s charter schools. The evidence, they said, is clear: Michigan’s charter schools are uniquely awful. But the evidence has been piling up that Michigan charter schools are actually unusually good.

The first shot fired came from the opinion pages of the New York Times, where Tulane University professor Doug Harris declared that DeVos’ nomination represented, “a triumph of ideology over evidence.” He held her responsible for charter schools in Detroit, which he called “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.”

The evidence has been piling up that Michigan charter schools are actually unusually good.

Oddly, Harris linked his claim to a Stanford study showing that Detroit’s charter schools significantly outperform its traditional public schools. He, and the rest of Michigan charter critics, also ignored studies from the Mackinac Center and Excellent Schools Detroit that also showed a substantial charter edge.

Locally, Madison lacks K-12 governance diversity, having rejected the proposed Madison preparatory IB charter school and more recently the Montessori charter.

The cost of forsaking C

Ozan Onay:

The C programming language is not trendy. The most recent edition of the canonical C text (the excitingly named The C Programming Language) was published in 1988; C is so unfashionable that the authors have neglected to update it in light of 30 years of progress in software engineering. Everyone “has been meaning to” learn Rust or Go or Clojure over a weekend, not C. There isn’t even a cute C animal in C’s non-logo on a C decal not stuck to your laptop.
But Myles and I are not trendy people, so we insist that all of our students become fluent in C. A fresh class of C converts has just finished working through the K&R bible, making this a good time for me to reflect on why we deify this ancient tongue.
We give students four reasons for learning C:

Is America having second thoughts about free speech?

Damon Linker:

On many college campuses, groups of left-leaning students insist that free speech should be conditional on speakers adhering to explicit standards of diversity and avoiding the infliction of emotional harm on the members of marginalized groups through the spreading of “hate.”

From the opposite ideological direction, President Trump believes that the government should “take a strong look” at libel laws to keep news organizations from subjecting his own administration to negative coverage.

Finally, from the center-left come calls to use anti-discrimination law to punish organizations that oppose the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and accommodations for transgender people. If that happens — either by passing new laws that explicitly add to existing anti-discrimination statutes or by courts treating the members of these groups as protected classes covered by existing law — the result will almost certainly be a significant constriction of speech, as those holding more conservative views will face sanction for expressing them in public.

Campus Rhetoric

Sandor Farkas:

One hour into the lecture, an audience member asked her whether she thinks Buchanan’s libertarian philosophy was motivated by “personal greed” or “malevolence,” to which she responded by speculating that support for individual liberty might actually be the result of a mental disorder.

“It’s striking to me how many of the architects of this cause seem to be on the autism spectrum—you know, people who don’t feel solidarity or empathy with others, and who have difficult human relationships sometimes,” she answered.”

The Worst Hyperinflations in History: Hungary

Bryan Taylor:

If you were to ask most people which country suffered the worst inflation in history, they would answer Germany, since Germany’s hyperinflation after World War I is probably the most famous. By 1923 when Germany finally put an end to its hyperinflation, it took 1 trillion old Marks to get 1 new Rentenmark. As devastating as the German inflation was, there were three hyperinflations that made the German case look amateurish: Hungary in 1946, Yugoslavia in 1992-1993 and Zimbabwe from 2004 to 2009. Of these three, Hungary’s was the worst of them all.

Hungary was no stranger to hyperinflation. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was on the losing side of World War I and was broken up after the war. The new nation of Hungary lacked the proper government structures, so it turned to printing money to fill the hole in its budget. Before World War I, there were 5 Kronen to the US Dollar, but by 1924 there were 70,000 Kronen to the US Dollar. So Hungary replaced the Kronen with Pengö at the rate of 12,500 Pengö to the Kronen in 1926.

Related: US Debt Clock.

Are our kids being educated, or are we all just getting schooled?

Matt Halvorson :

John Taylor Gatto was named New York State’s Teacher of the Year three years in a row from 1988-1990. Nearly 400,000 active teachers currently belong to the union in the Empire State, so even being mentioned in a conversation about the state’s best teachers has you breathing rarified air. Winning the award outright three straight years is an astounding singular achievement. Gatto was clearly at the pinnacle of his profession.

I stumbled onto the transcript of his third and final acceptance speech, and despite a quarter-century having passed, I find that he raised many of the same questions I have been wrestling with myself — and many I don’t think I had quite reached yet, or been quite bold enough to even ask myself.

I find that Gatto also echoes much of the stifling rigidity I struggled against as a kid growing up in the schools he’s describing. It echoes just as loudly the fears I’ve struggled as an adult to name when I think about sending my own kids into the same system of public schools — a fear that is only magnified by having kids of color.

Obituary: Pakistan’s bravest citizen is no more

Ahmed Rashid:

NOBODY in Pakis­tan’s brief history, which has witnessed four military coups, has matched Asma Jahan­gir for her dedication to public service, her belief in the rule of law, her relentless defence of democracy and pursuit of free and fair elections. She stood for both peace and justice with all of Pakistan’s neighbours.

Indians too mourned her loss as did people around the world. She was loved by millions while her detractors treated her with the utmost respect. At a time when Pakistan is once again facing immense political uncertainties and severe tensions with the US and all its neighbours, Asma’s role as a voice for peace and sanity was absolutely vital. Sadly that voice has now gone silent and for the time being there is nobody with the stature or the willingness to take her place.

Throughout her life she took enormous risks. She was the bravest of the brave.

Portland Public Schools admits retaliation against teacher who spoke out on sexual misconduct; will pay for lost wages

Bethany Barnes:

Portland Public Schools retaliated against a substitute teacher for reporting sexual misconduct by one of its employees, a district investigation has found.

A human resources investigation found Caprice, who has asked to only be identified by her first name, was iced out of substitute teaching positions because she reported to the district in 2012 that then-teacher Mitch Whitehurst had demanded oral sex from her and a friend when they were students in the 1980s.

Madison East High School teacher leaves job amid allegations he harassed students

Amber Walker:

A physical education teacher at Madison East High School has left work after being accused of inappropriate behavior by a student and will not return to the school, according to an email sent to parents Tuesday.

East principal Michael Hernandez’ email to parents said an investigation was initiated into allegations against Gary Calhoun, a veteran East teacher. Calhoun obtained his permanent state teaching license in 1984 and was hired by the Madison Metropolitan School District in 1988. Calhoun graduated from East in 1975 and has served as the school’s baseball coach.

The Case for the “Self-Driven Child”: In a new book, an argument for giving children more of a sense of control over their lives

Gareth Cook:

We are raising the anxious generation, and the conversation about the causes, and the potential cures, has just begun. In The Self-Driven Child, authors William Stixrud and Ned Johnson focus on the ways that children today are being denied a sense of controlling their own lives—doing what they find meaningful, and succeeding, or failing, on their own. Screen time, the authors say, is part of the problem, but so are well-meaning parents and schools, who are unwittingly taking from children the opportunities they need to grown stronger, more confident, and more themselves. Stixrud and Johnson answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

What makes you think that children do not have enough control over their live?

Stixrud: We know that a low sense of control is highly associated with anxiety, depression, and virtually all mental health problems. Researchers have found that a low sense of control is one of the most stressful things that people can experience. And since the 1960’s, we’ve seen a marked rise in stress-related mental health problems in children and adolescents, including anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Just in the last six or seven years, there has been an unprecedented spike in the incidence of anxiety and depression in young people.

Half the DNA on the NYC Subway Matches No Known Organism

Sarah Zhang:

The results of a massive new DNA sequencing project on the New York City subway have just been published. And yup, there’s a lot of bacteria on the subway—though we know most of it is harmless. What’s really important, though, is what we don’t know about it.

The PathoMap project, which involved sampling turnstiles, benches, and keypads at 466 stations, found 15,152 life-forms in total, half of which were bacterial. The Wall Street Journal has created a fun, interactive microbial map of the subway out of the data, showing where on the lines the bacteria “associated with” everything from mozzarella cheese to staph infections was found.

What students know that experts don’t: School is all about signaling, not skill-building

Bryan Caplan:

Parents, teachers, politicians and researchers tirelessly warn today’s youths about the unforgiving job market that awaits them. If they want to succeed in tomorrow’s economy, they can’t just coast through school. They have to soak up precious knowledge like a sponge. But even as adulthood approaches, students rarely heed this advice. Most treat high school and college like a game, not an opportunity to build lifelong skills.

Is it possible that students are on to something? There is a massive gap between school and work, between learning and earning. While the labor market rewards good grades and fancy degrees, most of the subjects schools require simply aren’t relevant on the job. Literacy and numeracy are vital, but few of us use history, poetry, higher mathematics or foreign languages after graduation. The main reason firms reward education is because it certifies (or “signals”) brains, work ethic and conformity.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Can’t Beat Washington, So He’s Joining It: The Influence Game

Spencer Soper, Naomi Nix, Ben Brody and Bill Allison:

It capped a year of criticism from Trump about Amazon’s market power, impact on jobs and ties to the Washington Post, which Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos owns. While that Twitter barrage grabbed headlines, behind the scenes, the e-commerce giant was furiously expanding lobbying efforts that have quickly made it one of the most-influential companies in Washington, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

In the past five years, Amazon increased lobbying spending by more than 400 percent, a rate of change that far exceeds rivals’. It lobbied more government agencies than any other tech company, pressed its case on as many issues as Google, and outspent everyone in the industry except for the search giant, the data show.

“They quietly went from Chihuahua to Great Dane in just a few years,” said Bruce Mehlman, a former top technology policy official under President George W. Bush.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: “Household Debt Increased, Fifth Consecutive Year Of Positive Annual Growth” by Bill McBride on 2/13/2018 03:11:00 PM

Bill McBride:

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Center for Microeconomic Data today issued its Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit,which reported that total household debt increased by $193 billion (1.5%) to $13.15 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2017. This report marks the fifth consecutive year of positive annual household debt growth. There were increases in mortgage, student, auto, and credit card debt (increasing by 1.6%, 1.5%, 0.7% and 3.2% respectively) and another modest decline in home equity line of credit (HELOC) balances (decreasing by 0.9%). The Report is based on data from the New York Fed’s Consumer Credit Panel, a nationally representative sample of individual- and household-level debt and credit records drawn from anonymized Equifax credit data.
Read more at http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2018/02/ny-fed-q4-report-household-debt.html#7qrOuYQiUUgSTlkq.99

Two universities stop censorial outrage mobs dead in their tracks

Ari Cohn::

Online outrage mobs are all the rage recently, standing at the ready to inundate colleges and universities with demands to punish a student or professor the moment they say something that offends others. Unfortunately, administrators too often capitulate, abandoning the principles of free speech that they are bound, either legally or by virtue of the promises they have made, to uphold. As I posited last month, administrators may be so willing to forsake freedom of expression when faced with a horde of angry internet denizens because they fear that if they do not, the bombardment will continue, keeping their institution in a negative press cycle and giving the impression that they do not take whatever issue is at stake seriously enough. I warned:

Harvard’s New President Could Extend Diversity To Encompass Ideology

Ira Stoll:

Dear Lawrence Bacow: Congratulations on being named as the next president of Harvard University. I am hoping that you are a huge success in the new job. I have a Harvard degree and own a house in Boston, and the value of both those assets may fluctuate depending on your success or failure.

Also, you mentioned in the introductory video that your father was a Jewish immigrant to America from Minsk. One of my own grandfathers was also a Jewish immigrant from Minsk, so I feel like I have even more of a personal stake.

The main reason I’m rooting for you, though, is that strong universities are good for America and good for the world. They cure diseases, fuel economic growth and job creation, expand opportunity, inspire creativity, and reward excellence.

Unfortunately, as you also mentioned, the reputations of American colleges and universities are pretty tarnished at the moment. At Harvard, there are still plenty of applicants lined up and willing to pay. In Washington and all across America, though, there are plenty of people who think higher education is one of America’s problems, and that our campuses have become cesspools of leftist indoctrination and elitist privilege. That perception can be costly: the Republican Congress and President Trump imposed a new endowment tax on Harvard and similar institutions.

Minnesota is less likely to offer gifted programming than other states, report shows

Erin Hinrichs:

For instance, she reminds Hudson of the conversation she had with the woman who administered his initial IQ test about the cultural bias embedded in standardized testing. There was one question that asked kids to identify a picture of a rooster. It’s the sort of question that trips up more poor, urban kids, the administrator told her, because they’d misidentify it as a chicken.

“That,” she pointed out, “was not an example of intelligence but of exposure. Yet questions like that are being used to determine if kids should be in gifted programming.”

Potential testing flaws aside, a new report published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think tank headed up by Michael Petrilli, a former Bush administration aide, shows that Minnesota may not be doing enough to tap into the potential of students like Hudson. And the holdup may be something much more obvious: a lack of gifted programs.

Its researchers examined the so-called “gifted gap” and found that Minnesota schools are less likely to offer gifted programming, on the whole, than schools in other states. Here, only 51.5 percent of schools have gifted programs, compared to 68 percent nationally.

Further breakdown of these numbers shows that more affluent Minnesota schools are actually at the national average, with 64.5 percent offering gifted programming. That means the disparity between Minnesota and the national average is driven by a lack of offerings at middle- and high-poverty schools.

And here is where the need for reforms in the way students are flagged and tested for gifted programming may come into play: Even in high-poverty schools that do offer gifted programming, black students are less likely to actually be enrolled in them than their white and Asian peers.

Inside The Virtual Schools Lobby: ‘I Trust Parents’

Anya Kamenetz:

Marcey Morse had unwittingly found herself smack in the middle of a costly and bitter feud, pitting state authorities and mainstream charter school organizations on the one side, and virtual schools on the other. The latter have the support of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and some state-level politicians.

Unlike for the rest of the nation’s charter school students, virtual schools take place entirely online. The students are generally at home, on laptops, reading material, doing exercises, taking tests. The teachers are reachable by online chat, video conference and telephone. No after-school programs, no uniforms, no school nurse, no playground, no buildings at all. The only supervision comes from parents.

The main issue at stake in the fight is this: Virtual schools’ test scores and graduation rates have, consistently, been very low. So low that their performance, along with, at times, disputes over attendance, have led them to be shut down or placed at risk of closure in states including Colorado, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Tennessee.

The travails of virtual schools have split the charter school movement. The national organizations representing traditional charter schools have sought to put daylight between themselves and virtual schools, going so far as to question “whether virtual schools should be included in the charter school model at all,” in the words of NACSA.

The 10 worst colleges for free speech: 2018

FIRE:

Every year, FIRE chooses the 10 worst colleges for free speech — and unfortunately, 2017 left us with plenty of options: Campuses were rocked by violent mob censorship, monitored by bias response teams, plagued by free speech zones, and beset by far too many disinvitation attempts. Although the number of colleges with the most restrictive speech codes has continued to decline, 90 percent of schools still maintain codes that either clearly restrict or could too easily be used to restrict free speech.

Today, we present our 2018 list of the 10 worst colleges for free speech. As always, our list is presented in no particular order, and it includes both public and private institutions. Public colleges and universities are bound by the First Amendment; the private colleges on this list, though not required by the Constitution to protect student and faculty speech rights, explicitly promise to do so.

A new feature of this year’s list is our Lifetime Censorship Award. This “honor” goes to the one college or university that is so frequently discussed as a contender for our annual “worst colleges for free speech” list that it deserves special recognition. This year, that school is DePaul University.

Are you a student or faculty member whose free speech rights are imperiled on campus? Submit a case to FIRE. Also, check out FIRE’s Guides to Student Rights on Campus to help you fight for free speech, due process, religious liberty, and more.

The Enlightenment Is Working

Steven Pinker:

Consider the U.S. just three decades ago. Our annual homicide rate was 8.5 per 100,000. Eleven percent of us fell below the poverty line (as measured by consumption). And we spewed 20 million tons of sulfur dioxide and 34.5 million tons of particulate matter into the atmosphere.

Fast forward to the most recent numbers available today. The homicide rate is 5.3 (a blip up from 4.4 in 2014). Three percent of us fall below the consumption poverty line. And we emit four million tons of sulfur dioxide and 20.6 million tons of particulates, despite generating more wealth and driving more miles.

Labor 2030: The Collision of Demographics, Automation and Inequality

Karen Harris, Austin Kimson, Andrew Schwedel:

Demographics, automation and inequality have the potential to dramatically reshape our world in the 2020s and beyond. Our analysis shows that the collision of these forces could trigger economic disruption far greater than we have experienced over the past 60 years (see Figure 1). The aim of this report by Bain’s Macro Trends Group is to detail how the impact of aging populations, the adoption of new automation technologies and rising inequality will likely combine to give rise to new business risks and opportunities. These gathering forces already pose challenges for businesses and investors. In the next decade, they will combine to create an economic climate of increasing extremes but may also trigger a decade-plus investment boom.

In the US, a new wave of investment in automation could stimulate as much as $8 trillion in incremental investments and abruptly lift interest rates. By the end of the 2020s, automation may eliminate 20% to 25% of current jobs, hitting middle- to low-income workers the hardest. As investments peak and then decline—probably around the end of the 2020s to the start of the 2030s—anemic demand growth is likely to constrain economic expansion, and global interest rates may again test zero percent. Faced with market imbalances and growth-stifling levels of inequality, many societies may reset the government’s role in the marketplace.

Lessons From a Slow-Motion Robot Takeover

Virginia Postrel:

From the cab of Rodney Terry’s state-of-the-art John Deere cotton stripper, harvesting cotton seems like the easiest job in the world. We chug along at four or five miles an hour, watching the giant machine’s bright yellow fingers gobble up eight rows of bolls at a time. White rows magically turn brown as we pass over them. Then comes the reveal, as every few minutes a plastic-wrapped cylinder eight feet across plops out the back, holding as much as 5,000 pounds of cotton ready for the gin.

“This thing is just constantly moving,” says Terry, who farms 6,000 acres in Ropesville, Texas, a half hour’s drive southwest of Lubbock. The stripper cost a whopping $700,000, but it’s amazingly efficient. Terry can harvest 100 to 120 acres a day, compared to 80 with the previous generation of equipment, which had to stop periodically to empty its basket of harvested cotton into a trailer. He can also keep working in windy weather that would blow away loose bolls waiting to be wrapped in the field.

Most important, he no longer needs to hire a half dozen harvest workers to supplement his three full-time employees. Finding reliable seasonal laborers for farms and gins is increasingly difficult in West Texas. Locals blame government benefits that offer a better deal than temporary work. (“Don’t get me started,” says Terry.) Bringing in the harvest with his new setup takes only two people at a time: one to steer the stripper and one to drive a tractor that lines up the modules for the gin to pick up. Full-timers handle everything, and the machine can run all night if needed.

Small cities face greater impact from automation

Morgan R. Frank, Lijun Sun, Manuel Cebrian, Hyejin Youn, Iyad Rahwan:

The city has proved to be the most successful form of human agglomeration and provides wide employment opportunities for its dwellers. As advances in robotics and artificial intelligence revive concerns about the impact of automation on jobs, a question looms: how will automation affect employment in cities? Here, we provide a comparative picture of the impact of automation across US urban areas. Small cities will undertake greater adjustments, such as worker displacement and job content substitutions. We demonstrate that large cities exhibit increased occupational and skill specialization due to increased abundance of managerial and technical professions. These occupations are not easily automatable, and, thus, reduce the potential impact of automation in large cities. Our results pass several robustness checks including potential errors in the estimation of occupational automation and subsampling of occupations. Our study provides the first empirical law connecting two societal forces: urban agglomeration and automation’s impact on employment.

$1.5 Million to Get Into an Ivy

Scott Jaschik:

In 2005, Inside Higher Ed reported that a leading private college consultant was charging $9,999 each to 10 attendees for a weekend “boot camp” on college admissions. The idea that parents would pay that kind of money for a few days of advice stunned and appalled many.
These days, $9,999 may be pocket change in the world of elite college consulting. A lawsuit filed last week by Ivy Coach revealed that it charged a woman in Vietnam $1.5 million to help her daughter apply to 22 elite colleges, as well as seven top boarding schools she sought to attend in high school, before applying to college. The fee was worth it, the lawsuit says. In December, an (unnamed) Ivy League institution granted the daughter early admission.

But, the lawsuit charges, the Vietnamese mother has paid only half of the $1.5 million. The family, the lawsuit says, is part of the “international aristocracy who have enlisted Ivy Coach’s premium services.”

The lawsuit says that Ivy Coach provided “substantial guidance and effort” to help the daughter apply to Amherst, Dartmouth and Williams Colleges; Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, New York, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford and Tufts Universities; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and the Universities of California (Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego campuses); Chicago, Pennsylvania and Southern California. The legal papers reviewed by Inside Higher Ed reference 22 colleges, but only 21 are named.

The American “Empire” Reconsidered

A. G. Hopkins:

Whether commentators assert that the United States is resurgent or in decline, it is evident that the dominant mood today is one of considerable uncertainty about the standing and role of the “indispensable nation” in the world. The triumphalism of the 1990s has long faded; geopolitical strategy, lacking coherence and purpose, is in a state of flux. Not Even Past, or perhaps Not Ever Past, because the continuously unfolding present prompts a re-examination of approaches to history that fail to respond to the needs of the moment, as inevitably they all do.

Item World: The St. Paul Teachers Contract Settlement Edition

Beth Hawkins:

Does anybody remember the coup de gras leaders of the current St. Paul School Board delivered to former Superintendent Valeria Silva? Recruited, funded and swept to electoral victory by the teachers’ union, the first thing they did upon taking office two years ago was to settle the last contract talks by granting raises of 2 percent in each of the next two years, to the tune of $21 million. On top of the contract’s automatic “step and lane” increases, which cost an additional 2 percent to 4 percent a year.

This of course exacerbated the district’s shortfall, which the new board majority believed could be made by up by cutting fat at the administrative level. They didn’t like the budget Silva presented, sent her back to do it their way and when the river of superfluous money failed to appear volunteered to buy out her contract. They didn’t have cause to let her go, so the cost of this maneuver approached $1 million.

And so how bitter is the irony that in recent weeks these same relative board newcomers have found themselves pleading publicly that there is no money? And that their 2016 decision in fact compounded the size of the shortfall today?

Like so much else in Washington, the national debt is speeding out of control with no working brakes and no one apparently at the wheel.

Kevin Williamson:

am not much one for rubbernecking at car crashes. (I’m not setting you up for a Congress joke, here. That comes later.) Most of the time they are scary but ultimately insignificant episodes involving a little property damage and a great deal of inconvenience. Sometimes they are much worse, and I couldn’t help looking at the car blazing in the middle of the freeway in the middle of the day, looking more like it had been bombed or hit with a rocket than like it had been involved in an accident. Thick black smoke covered both sides of the highway, and as the flames poured out of the doors and windows, I thought to myself that it’s a lucky thing that in real life burning cars don’t explode like they do in the movies.

Lawmakers Move Bill To Get More Teachers Into Schools

Jeanne Lindsay:

With a teacher shortage in the state, lawmakers want to help license more teachers by waiving some testing requirements some educators see as a barrier to getting into the classroom.

Shon Harris says he’s had trouble passing the math requirement for his elementary school teacher license. In part, because it includes material he won’t even teach his fourth grade students.

“It goes all the way up to high school geometry, despite the fact that most of the skills on the test won’t be taught in the elementary classroom,” Harris says.

Florida House passes sweeping schools and voucher bill

Gary Fineout:

Following a sharply worded partisan debate, the Republican-controlled Florida House on Thursday passed a sweeping education bill that would add yet another private-school voucher program in the state while also making a vast array of changes on everything from school testing to how much money charter schools can receive.

It’s the second year in a row that House Speaker Richard Corcoran and GOP leaders have pushed to overhaul Florida’s schools, which have been constantly altered and reshaped during the nearly 20 years that Republicans have controlled state government. It’s not clear the entire measure will pass, although Senate Republicans say they support many key provisions.

The fierce debate echoed previous ones in which Republicans asserted they were creating more choices for parents, while Democrats said the sweeping scope of the bill was designed to divert money from traditional public schools to schools run or controlled privately.

Inside the Two Years that Shook Facebook—and the World

Nicholas Thompson:

In any case, Facebook’s move into news set off yet another explosion of ways that people could connect. Now Facebook was the place where publications could connect with their readers—and also where Macedonian teenagers could connect with voters in America, and operatives in Saint Petersburg could connect with audiences of their own choosing in a way that no one at the company had ever seen before.

III
In February of 2016, just as the Trending Topics fiasco was building up steam, Roger ­McNamee became one of the first Facebook insiders to notice strange things happening on the platform. McNamee was an early investor in Facebook who had mentored Zuckerberg through two crucial decisions: to turn down Yahoo’s offer of $1 billion to acquire Facebook in 2006; and to hire a Google executive named Sheryl Sandberg in 2008 to help find a business model. McNamee was no longer in touch with Zuckerberg much, but he was still an investor, and that month he started seeing things related to the Bernie Sanders campaign that worried him. “I’m observing memes ostensibly coming out of a Facebook group associated with the Sanders campaign that couldn’t possibly have been from the Sanders campaign,” he recalls, “and yet they were organized and spreading in such a way that suggested somebody had a budget. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘That’s really weird. I mean, that’s not good.’ ”

But McNamee didn’t say anything to anyone at Facebook—at least not yet. And the company itself was not picking up on any such worrying signals, save for one blip on its radar: In early 2016, its security team noticed an uptick in Russian actors attempting to steal the credentials of journalists and public figures. Facebook reported this to the FBI. But the company says it never heard back from the government, and that was that.

Philly’s 7th Ward: The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has told Congress schools are seriously inequitable. No one heard.

Citizen Stewart:

And finally, and perhaps most importantly at the moment, we can recruit, hire and retain a diverse corps of high-quality teachers and principals who live out the ideals of equity even without adequate resources. These leaders, both within schools and on the systems level, continue to work relentlessly and creatively to access alternative funding streams because students are sitting in front of us right now and it cannot wait.
No, Superman is not coming. She and he are already here toiling in our most high-needs schools for our most high-needs students. But even Superman needs help. It’s time to demand it.

Half of Americans want to regulate news on social media

Shannon Bond:

Nearly half of Americans favour regulating how websites such as Facebook and Google select what news stories they show to readers, according to a new report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation, in the latest sign of growing public concern over big tech.

The study comes just days after Facebook announced sweeping changes to its news feed to prioritise posts from friends and family over content from media outlets, businesses and brands, in response to warnings that the world’s largest social network may be harming its users and society.

The role that technology platforms have come to play in people’s lives has come under scrutiny, with concerns over Facebook’s inability to curb the spread of Russian propaganda and hoax stories during the 2016 election and worries that the way news is presented in online feeds creates filter bubbles that exacerbate political polarisation.

The Gallup-Knight survey suggests the public shares some of those concerns. It found 57 per cent of Americans say the methods that websites use to choose which stories to show to visitors — including their past viewing history — presents “a major problem” for democracy. But they are divided on what to do about it: 49 per cent favour regulation of how websites provide news, while 47 per cent said the sites should be free to use whatever methods they choose.

The Rise of ‘Digital Poorhouses’

Tanvi Misra:

It’s this speech that Virginia Eubanks, an associate professor of political science at the University at Albany, SUNY, comes back to at the end of her new book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. In it, Eubanks takes a hard look at some of the seemingly agnostic—and even well-meaning technologies—that promise to make the U.S. welfare apparatus well-oiled and efficient. Automated systems that gauge eligibility for Medicaid and food stamps, databases that match homeless folks to resources, statistical tools that detect cases of child abuse are all considered game-changers for welfare institutions. But Eubanks demystifies these complex-sounding technologies, detailing the ways they can compromise the human rights and dignity of the very people they claim to help. King’s vision on this front, as with many others, is yet to be realized, she argues.

CityLab caught up with Eubanks to talk about some of the main themes in her book.

UW-Stout students must appreciate ‘social differences’ to graduate

Kelsey McSorley:

“Understanding global perspectives and how they are formed is not just a prerequisite for becoming a global citizen; it is necessary for becoming an engaged citizen of any local community,” asserts the preamble of the document approving the new mandate, noting that course requirements play “a critical role in helping students develop an understanding of the deeply interconnected nature of the world.”

In order to fulfill the requirement, students must complete at least six credits from a list of approved courses that address at least two out of four categories: Global Self-Awareness, Global Knowledge, Global Viewpoint, and Global Engagement.

“Global self-awareness” courses, for instance, focus on embracing the “values of diverse others,” helping students to “develop appreciation for diverse voices and stories and the contributions of cultures and countries different from one’s own.”

The “global knowledge” goal, meanwhile, addresses “the deeply interconnected nature of the world,” with courses exploring concepts like how “the impact of globalized capitalism and neoliberalism on economic systems, inter and intra-societal stratification, civil and human rights, and sustainability” form the “historical roots” of inequities around the world.

The “global viewpoint” category aims to introduce students to different cultural and historical perspectives, while the “global engagement” element teaches students to “take effective critical action” on the basis of their new knowledge by “contributing to positive change in globally diverse, interconnected, and interdependent natural, social, and business environments.”

Supply and Demand for Public School Teachers in Wisconsin

Peter Goff, Bradley Carl, and Minseok Yang:

This report presents findings on key features of the Wisconsin teacher labor market, including mobility, attrition, supply, and demand. We use data from multiple sources (including state staffing and credentialing files, application and vacancy information, and statewide survey data on perceptions of staffing challenges) to (a) establish a common vocabulary around categories of labor supply—specifically which positions are high supply, which are medium supply, and which are low supply; (b) provide a baseline against which subsequent reports can build and future policies can be assessed; (c) provide a common base of empirical evidence to focus and foster debate; and (d) identify aspects of the teacher labor market that are problematic.
Key findings

• High attrition rates among those in low-supply positions exacerbate staffing challenges.

• There are two external applicants (those not currently teaching in a Wisconsin public
school) for every one internal applicant; yet, in the low-supply category, this external-to- internal applicant ratio is closer to 1:1, suggesting that policies that increase the labor supply may be warranted for these positions.

• There is a marked increase in the use of emergency credentialing to bring teachers entering the labor market into classrooms, and there is an increase in the number of individuals who remain on emergency certificates in consecutive years.

• Use of emergency credentialing appears incongruous with policy intent, as district leaders report using this tactic to fill 30% of high-supply vacancies.

• The prime hiring times are early March through mid-May, which therefore is the optimal time for districts to find candidates across all three labor supply categories.

• Opinions as to whether a teacher shortage exists vary with the kind of position being filled.

According to district leaders, low-supply positions draw “too few” applicants (seldom more than 10 per vacancy), reinforcing perceptions of a labor shortage. In contrast, drawing fewer than 18 applicants for high-supply positions is considered too small of an applicant pool by district leaders; the perception of a teacher shortage arises with roughly half of the vacancies for these high-supply positions.

• Regardless of the depth of the vacancy pool, district administrators perceive a lack of quality in applicants; they consider 83% of applicants for low-supply positions, 64% of medium-supply applicants, and 50% of high-supply applicants to be of low quality.

The 1 % of the population accountable for 63 % of all violent crime convictions

Örjan Falk, Märta Wallinius, […], and Nóra Kerekes :

The nationwide multi-generation register was used with many other linked nationwide registers to select participants. All individuals born in 1958–1980 (2,393,765 individuals) were included. Persistent violent offenders (those with a lifetime history of three or more violent crime convictions) were compared with individuals having one or two such convictions, and to matched non-offenders. Independent variables were gender, age of first conviction for a violent crime, nonviolent crime convictions, and diagnoses for major mental disorders, personality disorders, and substance use disorders.

Finance has become untethered from productive work.

Matt Levine:

“Berkeley is the center of the resistance, and for the resistance to work, it must have a coin,” says a city council member, in a sentence that makes as little sense as every other sentence in this story. You can just sell the municipal bonds. Why sell “tokens” that are backed by municipal bonds? Fine, fine, you want to issue the bonds “on the blockchain”? I will allow it, you gotta keep track of the bonds somehow, that is some harmless buzzwordery. But throwing in the buzzword “token” is, I think, a bridge too far.

Elsewhere here is John Quiggin arguing that “the Bitcoin bubble should finally destroy our faith in the efficiency of markets.” In particular, he notes that Bitcoin is a terrible currency, and then dismisses the alternative argument that Bitcoin’s value comes from its usefulness as a store of value:

Civics: How the secret spy court really works

Katie Bo Williams:

In 2016, the court reviewed 1,752 applications and certifications. In total, about 98 percent of applications were granted, either as originally requested or with modifications.

Almost 80 percent of the warrants were granted as requested. About 19 percent, 339 applications were granted with edits — like including a reporting requirement or shortening the duration of the proposed surveillance.

Twenty-six applications were denied in part and nine were denied in full.

Critics say that the FISC is a “rubber-stamp” court because so few applications are denied. Its defenders argue that the final approval rate is misleading because the vetting and editing process is so rigorous.

D.C.’s Scandal and the Nationwide Problem of Fudging Graduation Numbers

Cathwrine Gewertz:

The headlines made a big splash, and yet they were strangely familiar: Another school system was reporting a higher graduation rate than it deserved.

The most recent scandal-in the District of Columbia-is just the latest example in a growing case file of school systems where investigators have uncovered bogus graduation-rate practices.

Those revelations have unleashed a wave of questions about the pressures and incentives built into U.S. high schools, and fueled nagging doubts that states’ rising high school graduation rates-and the country’s current all-time-high rate of 84 percent-aren’t what they seem.

The IPS Magnet School Conundrum

Matthew Gonzales:

Three years ago, my wife and I moved downtown for the typical reasons: to enjoy the amenities of urban living; to be closer to interesting arts, dining, and nightlife opportunities; and to live among people who shared what we imagined were our socially progressive values.

We also had our eye on a downtown elementary school for our two young sons: Center for Inquiry 2, a highly regarded Indianapolis Public Schools magnet that offers the prestigious International Baccalaureate program. Several of our friends already sent their kids there, and they assured us it was a fantastic school.

Enrollment at CFI (and all IPS magnets) is lottery-based and governed by rules that give some families an edge over others. For example, hopefuls who live in a “priority zone” around a magnet school get an advantage, as do those who have a child already attending the school of their choice.

We first played the magnet lottery when we enrolled our oldest son in pre-kindergarten—a process that’s playing out in thousands of Marion County homes this month. Since CFI 2 doesn’t have a pre-K program, we made CFI 27—a duplicate of CFI 2 in the nearby Kennedy-King neighborhood—our first choice on the lottery application. But we didn’t get in. Instead, we got ou

Bill to prohibit campus ‘free speech zones’ introduced in U.S. Senate

Tyler Coward:

On Wednesday, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah announced that he was introducing legislation to protect free speech on campus. The bill, called the “Free Right to Expression in Education Act,” would prohibit public institutions of higher education from quarantining free expression into small, misleadingly labeled “free speech zones” on their campuses. If enacted, the measure would free tens of thousands of public university students from these restrictive, unconstitutional zones.

Private school with global ambition to open in D.C. and China in 2019

Nick Anderson:

An education company backed by U.S. and Chinese investors is launching a global private school for students ages 3 to 18, with the first two campuses scheduled to open next year in Washington and the Chinese coastal city of Shenzhen.

Whittle School & Studios will offer foreign-language immersion — Chinese in the United States, English in China — with a curriculum centered on mastery of core academic subjects, ­student-driven projects and off-campus learning opportunities in major world cities.

On Thursday, veteran education entrepreneur Chris Whittle plans to announce the debut of the D.C. campus in fall 2019 at a prominent site near a cluster of embassies — the striking aluminum and glass edifice at 4000 Connecticut Ave. NW once known as the Intelsat building.

Single Mothers Are Not the Problem

David Brady, Ryan M. Finnigan and Sabine Hübgen:

No group is as linked to poverty in the American mind as single mothers. For decades, politicians, journalists and scholars have scrutinized the reasons poor couples fail to use contraception, have children out of wedlock and do not marry.

When the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution formed a bipartisan panel of prominent poverty scholars to write a “Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty” in 2015, its first recommendation was to “promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage.”

The other Stockholm syndrome

Josh O’Kane:

Sara Hjellstrom had just had a tonsil operation when a friend, DJ-producer Mike Perry, handed her the roots of a song he hoped she could turn into a hit. Sitting on the couch in her Stockholm apartment, Hjellstrom built Perry’s four chords into a tropical house track, with help from her songwriting partner Nirob Islam. The beat, top-line melody and the words came near-instantly.

Hjellstrom wanted her own voice on the track, but had been told by her doctors not to sing. Being from Sweden, though, where music is treated like a job – a profession, really, such as an engineer or electrician – she wanted to get that job done. So, a half an hour after she began writing, she stepped into her walk-in closet and recorded the vocals – in a single take.

In June, 2016, that song, The Ocean, began a six-week summer run atop Sweden’s charts, reaching No. 11 on Billboard’s American dance chart, too. Hjellstrom, who’s taken on the alias SHY Martin, instantly went from music-school student to coveted co-writer and guest performer, jumping on tracks by the Chainsmokers, Kygo and Bebe Rexha.

Would A Federal Student Loan Overhaul Bring Down Law School Tuition?

ABA Journal:

Could reforming the federal student-loan program be a way to halt the skyrocketing cost of attending law school? At the 2018 ABA Midyear Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, the American Bar Foundation gathered a panel together to discuss the issue in The Perennial (and Stubborn) Challenge of Cost, Affordability and Access in Legal Education: Has it Finally Hit the Fan?

“If I have to put the blame for the title of this panel on any one place, I would put it on these student loan programs and the fact that they are basically unregulated, really, in terms of the amount,” said Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education.

“The students can borrow as much money through those programs as they want,” Currier said. “So if Harvard Law School or New England Law School said, ‘Tuition at our school next year is $200,000, and living expenses are $50,000,’ the federal government wouldn’t say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me!’ They would say, ‘Where can we send that check for $250,000?’” …

Currier and Stephen Daniels, a senior research professor at the American Bar Foundation, both drew attention to a current bill that would impact the federal student-loan program and potentially cause havoc for law schools and law students. HR 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity through Education Reform Act was introduced in the House of Representatives in December.

German court rules Facebook use of personal data illegal

Hans-Edzard Busemann, Nadine Schimroszik:

The verdict, from a Berlin regional court, comes as Big Tech faces increasing scrutiny in Germany over its handling of sensitive personal data that enables it to micro-target online advertising.
 
 The Federation of German Consumer Organisations (vzvb) said that Facebook’s default settings and some of its terms of service were in breach of consumer law, and that the court had found parts of the consent to data usage to be invalid.
 
 “Facebook hides default settings that are not privacy-friendly in its privacy center and does not provide sufficient information about it when users register,” said Heiko Duenkel, litigation policy officer at the vzvb.
 
 “This does not meet the requirement for informed consent.” The vzvb posted a copy of the ruling on its website. A court spokesperson confirmed that a judgment had been handed down but declined further comment.

What Happens When You Put 500,000 People’s DNA Online

Sarah Zhang:

Every big, ambitious project has to start somewhere, and for U.K. Biobank, it was at an office building south of Manchester, where the project convinced its very first volunteer to pee into a cup and donate a tube of blood in 2006.

U.K. Biobank would go on to recruit 500,000 volunteers for a massive study on the origins of disease. In addition to collecting blood and urine, the study recorded volunteers’ height, weight, blood pressure; tested their cognitive function, bone density, hand-grip strength; scanned their brains, livers, hearts; analyzed their DNA. In breadth and depth, the study is the first of its kind.

Handling all the samples was a logistical challenge. To process thousands of tubes of blood, for example, U.K. Biobank’s lab needed a new robotics system. (This ultimately came from a company that builds machines for packing sausages, not unlike tubes of blood in shape.) Each tube of blood was split into its component parts—red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma—and run through a battery of tests. White blood cells contain DNA, which the project had analyzed, too. When all was said done, U.K. Biobank had assembled one of the largest single genetic data sets ever. It all took a while.

The Gap Between The Science On Kids And Reading, And How It Is Taught (Madison’s Long Term, Disastrous Reading Results)

Claudio Sanchez:

Mark Seidenberg is not the first researcher to reach the stunning conclusion that only a third of the nation’s school children read at grade level. The reasons are numerous, but one that Seidenberg cites over and over again is this: The way kids are taught to read in school is disconnected from the latest research, namely how language and speech actually develop in a child’s brain.

Seidenberg is a cognitive scientist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In his latest book, Language at the Speed of Sight, he points out that the “science of reading” can be a difficult concept for educators to grasp. He says it requires some basic understanding of brain research and the “mechanics” of reading, or what is often referred to as phonics.

I talked with Seidenberg about what it will take to improve reading instruction. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Much more on Mark Seidenberg and Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

Madison spends far more than most, now nearly $20,000 per student.

Why Do Intellectuals Support Government Solutions?

Julian Sanchez:

Back in the 1980s, the late philosopher Robert Nozick wrote an essay asking: “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Happily, the question as Nozick framed it is somewhat less relevant today, as Western intellectuals have increasingly accepted the superiority of someform of market economy to full-blown socialist planning. But a variant form remains: Why do intellectuals seem so disproportionately attracted to “progressive” political views and government-centric means of remedying social ills?

For those of us who tend to favor a relatively small and limited government, and prefer that social problems be addressed by private and voluntary mechanisms, it should be a source of some discomfort that these views find so little favor among some of the most highly educated and intelligent sectors of the population—the “elites” of popular conservative demonology. One simple explanation for this pattern, after all, would be that left wing political views are disproportionately attractive to the highly educated and intelligent because they’re best supported by logic and evidence. Following Aumann’s agreement theorem, this would imply that libertarians should regard the disagreement of large numbers of well-informed people who are at least as intelligent as we are as prima facie evidence that our views are in error, and revise them accordingly.

We all live on campus now

Andrew Sullivan:

Over the last year, the most common rebuttal to my intermittent coverage of campus culture has been: Why does it matter? These are students, after all. They’ll grow up once they leave their cloistered, neo-Marxist safe spaces. The real world isn’t like that. You’re exaggerating anyway. And so on. I certainly see the point. In the world beyond campus, few people use the term microaggressions without irony or an eye roll; claims of “white supremacy,” “rape culture,” or “white privilege” can seem like mere rhetorical flourishes; racial and gender segregation hasn’t been perpetuated in the workplace yet; the campus Title IX sex tribunals where, under the Obama administration, the “preponderance of evidence” rather than the absence of a “reasonable doubt” could ruin a young man’s life and future are just a product of a hothouse environment. And I can sometimes get carried away.

The reason I don’t agree with this is because I believe ideas matter. When elite universities shift their entire worldview away from liberal education as we have long known it toward the imperatives of an identity-based “social justice” movement, the broader culture is in danger of drifting away from liberal democracy as well. If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges — your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression — will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.

Gainfully employed? New evidence on the earnings, employment, and debt of for-profit certificate students

Stephanie Riegg Cellini:

As the U.S. Department of Education proposes weakening the Gainful Employment (GE) rules regulating for-profit and vocational education programs, accurate estimates of the earnings outcomes and debt incurred by students in these programs are essential for judging the merits of various policy options.

In a forthcoming paper for the Journal of Human Resources, co-authored with Federal Reserve Board of Governors Senior Economist Nicholas Turner, we generate comprehensive new estimates of labor market outcomes and debt incurred by students in vocational (or career-technical education, “CTE”) certificate programs in the for-profit sector. We compare for-profit students’ outcomes to the outcomes of similar students in similar public sector certificate programs. We further compare the employment and earnings of for-profit students to demographically similar individuals who do not pursue any postsecondary education.

Commentary on student debt policy

Eric Levitz:

Late last year, congressional Republicans passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut, which delivered the lion’s share of its benefits to the wealthy and corporations. The GOP did not justify this policy on the grounds that all corporate shareholders and trust-fund hipsters deserved to have their wealth increased. Rather, the party argued that, however one felt about making the rich richer, the tax cuts would ultimately benefit all Americans by increasing economic growth and lowering unemployment.

But what if we could have achieved those objectives, at roughly the same price, by forgoing tax cuts — and wiping out every penny of student debt in the United States, instead?

The word you won’t find in report on early education innovations — ‘Wisconsin’

Alan Borsuk:

“Of the 2.5 million students who dropped out of high school last year, about 1.6 million were firmly set on that trajectory when they were 8 years old.”

I know that the gaps in success that are such a central education problem in America are clear by the time millions of children start kindergarten, not to mention when they are 8 and generally entering third grade.

But that statement, in a report issued several days ago by the Education Commission of the States, hit me with fresh force. The commission, based in Denver, is a nonpartisan organization that serves legislators and policy-makers in just about every state.

Guide to statistics in a misleading age

Tim Harford:

“The best financial advice for most people would fit on an index card.” That’s the gist of an offhand comment in 2013 by Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago. Pollack’s bluff was duly called, and he quickly rushed off to find an index card and scribble some bullet points — with respectable results.

When I heard about Pollack’s notion — he elaborated upon it in a 2016 book — I asked myself: would this work for statistics, too? There are some obvious parallels. In each case, common sense goes a surprisingly long way; in each case, dizzying numbers and impenetrable jargon loom; in each case, there are stubborn technical details that matter; and, in each case, there are people with a sharp incentive to lead us astray.

The case for everyday practical numeracy has never been more urgent. Statistical claims fill our newspapers and social media feeds, unfiltered by expert judgment and often designed as a political weapon. We do not necessarily trust the experts — or more precisely, we may have our own distinctive view of who counts as an expert and who does not. 

Commentary on Wisconsin Teacher Union Certification Election Data

Dave Zweifel:

The MTI case was a narrow one. Like all public unions, thanks to Scott Walker’s infamous Act 10 MTI has to hold an annual certification election supervised by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to continue representing workers. But Act 10 requires approval of not the majority of those voting, but a majority of all members, whether they vote or not.

During a recent multiday election, the union had asked WERC for a list of members who had voted, but WERC turned down the request, claiming that it might open employees who hadn’t voted to intimidation from the union. MTI filed suit for the list under the state’s open records law and won in Dane County Circuit Court.

The state appealed to the high court, which quickly reversed the lower court’s decision. It shouldn’t, given the current control of the court, have come as a surprise.

What was a surprise, though, was the court’s cavalier dismissal of the open records argument, a dismissal that many openness advocates believe could spell huge problems for future records cases. In essence, the court ruled that it is more important to protect union members from the possibility they may be pressured to vote than to uphold the state’s historic openness laws.

Much more on Madison Teachers, Inc., here.

Business schools have a problem with fintech

Helen Barrett:

All fintech is doing is changing the way in which financial services are delivered. It is not a transformation of the underlying principles of finance — it is focused solely on the operational implementation of it. As one dean put it to me recently, fintech is really just about writing apps. So why, with a handful of exceptions, are business schools great at teaching finance, but dismal at fintech?

According to our anonymised alumni survey, it is because many schools are not teaching it at all. “I would have appreciated courses around technology and finance,” wrote one, wistfully. Some other schools were teaching it, but clearly not well. “We did fintech case studies, but I did not leave the programme with a firm grasp of it,” wrote another.

This matters because fintech is no longer an upstart movement. A 2015 Goldman Sachs report estimated that $4.7tn of financial services revenues was at risk of displacement from fintech groups. As my colleague Jonathan Moules has reported, talented MBA graduates are clamouring to work in fintech — either in start-ups or new “intrapreneurship” jobs created by established banks and professional services firms.

Civic engagement or illegal electioneering? How a school voting project became a conservative target

Emma Platoff:

Laura Yeager founded Texas Educators Vote in fall 2015 to spur local educators to practice what they preached. Why, she wondered, were Texas teachers talking about the importance of political participation in class, but not always modeling that behavior themselves?

More than two years later, her civic engagement effort has stirred up a right-wing maelstrom, leading conservative organizations and some powerful elected officials to question whether it’s breaking the law.

Headed up by the influential group Empower Texans, adversaries say the educators’ organization, and others like it, might be using illegal tactics to boost liberal policies. Yeager counters that her group is merely trying to promote voting — and is only drawing backlash because staunch conservatives are worried public education-focused voters will unseat their candidates.

How thousands of Florida parents are customizing education for children with special needs

Travis Pillow:

Florida’s newest private school choice program is no ordinary voucher, a new report finds.

The analysis, released this week by EdChoice, found that in the first two years of the Gardiner Scholarship program, roughly four out of ten parents used the scholarships to pay for multiple educational services — not just private school tuition.

The scholarship program is available to children with specific special needs. It has grown to become the nation’s largest education savings account. The accounts allow parents to control the funding the state would spend to educate their child. They can spend the money on a range of education-related expenses, from textbooks and school tuition to tutoring and therapy.

How the ‘Places That Don’t Matter’ Fueled Populism

Leonid Bershidsky:

British writer David Goodhart’s “somewhere versus anywhere” framework, pitting those who are left behind by modernity versus globalist cosmopolitans, has worked for many people as an explanation of recent populist successes throughout the Western world. But what if the places in which rooted “somewheres” live explain the populist phenomenon better than any other problems these people face in adapting to what passes for progress these days?

That, in a nutshell, is the idea London School of Economics professor of economic geography Andres Rodriguez-Pose puts forward: in other words, that populist ballot-box successes are a “revenge of the places that don’t matter.” Interpersonal inequality, he argues, isn’t the driving force here. Territorial inequality is.

“Lagging or declining regions voted differently to prosperous ones,” Rodriguez-Pose writes, in the Brexit referendum, the 2016 U.S. and Austrian presidential elections, the 2017 French presidential and German parliamentary elections — as well as, for example, in Thailand’s 2011 election.

Medieval people knew that love and pain and dread and desire made the experience of education possible, and could also sow ruin

Irina Dumitrescu:

Around the year 1116, Fulbert, the canon of Notre-Dame Cathedral, sought a live-in tutor for his gifted niece. The young woman was already well-known for her learning, so Fulbert chose an ostentatiously brilliant philosopher for the job. The man he hired had already challenged some of the best minds of his time, and was currently employed as master of the schools at Notre-Dame. He was a leading light of the Parisian intelligentsia. Given complete authority to teach and punish Héloïse, Abelard seduced her instead.

Truth Decay: The Diminishing Role of Facts in Public Life

Jeff Schechtman:

The shrinking role of facts and evidence-based analysis in American public life poses a threat to democracy, to policy making, and to the very notion of civic discourse.

This is the alarming conclusion spelled out in the RAND Corporation’s recently released 300+ page report provocatively titled “Truth Decay.” The co-author of this report, RAND political scientist Jennifer Kavanagh, is Jeff Schechtman’s guest on this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast.

The report’s authors compare what’s happening now in the public arena to four other historical periods when truth was under siege: the era of “yellow journalism,” the rise of tabloids and talk radio, the impact of television on news media, and even the advent of so-called New Journalism.

What the authors found, Kavanaugh says, is that disagreements over objective facts have never been so wide and so deep.

Duluth schools remove ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from curriculum

Pam Louwagie:

Students in Duluth will no longer automatically get schooled in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or the trials of Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

In an effort to be considerate of all students, the two novels, which contain racial slurs, will no longer be required reading in the district’s English classes next school year. They will still be available in the schools for optional reading, however.

“The feedback that we’ve received is that it makes many students feel uncomfortable,” said Michael Cary, director of curriculum and instruction for the district. “Conversations about race are an important topic, and we want to make sure we address those conversations in a way that works well for all of our students.”

Cary said the decision, made as a group by district leaders and leaders in Duluth’s secondary schools, came after years of concerns shared by parents, students and community groups. The change was announced to district staff members late last week.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Surging pension costs push more California cities toward bankruptcy

Dan Walters:

From one end of California to the other, hundreds of cities are facing a tsunami of pension costs that officials say is forcing them to reduce vital services and could drive some—perhaps many—into functional insolvency or even bankruptcy.

The system that manages pension plans for the state government and thousands of local governments lost a staggering $100 billion or so in the Great Recession a decade ago and has not recovered. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) is rapidly increasing mandatory contributions into its pension trust fund to make up for those losses, cope with a host of rising expenses and, it would appear, stave off the prospect of its own insolvency.

City managers, facing annual increases in contributions of 15-plus percent, are feeling the squeeze, which a new Stanford University study finds is crowding out “resources needed for public assistance, welfare, recreation and libraries, health, public works, other social services, and in some cases, public safety.”

The Real Reason We Need to Stop Trying to Protect Everyone’s Feelings

Ryan Holiday:

There is a trend afoot to conveniently remember the works of authors like Ray Bradbury and Aldous Huxley as warnings against distant totalitarianism and control. But this only scratches the surface of what these books are about.

Earlier this year a community college student in San Bernardino protested being required to read a Neil Gaiman graphic novel in one of her classes. It was too graphic, apparently. Her father—who does not seem to understand that his daughter is a separate human being (an adult one no less)—told The Los Angeles Times, “If they [had] put a disclaimer on this, we wouldn’t have taken the course.” A mom in Tennessee has complained that the gynecological information in the book in the bestselling nonfiction science book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, is too pornographic for her 10th grade son.

While these conservative complaints about the content of books is unfortunately as old as time. We’re also seeing surge in a different type.

A Rutgers student has proposed putting trigger warnings on The Great Gatsby. Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” was banned on many college campuses for promoting rape. Last year, Wellesley students created a petition to remove an art project featuring a lifelike statue of a sleepwalking man in his underwear in the snow because it caused “undue stress.” Controversial speakers (many conservative) have been blocked from speaking at college commencements. Pick up artists—never convicted of any crime—have had their visas revoked due to trending Twitter hashtags.

Unionized Charter Schools 2016-17

Public Charters:

In 2010, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (National Alliance) collected data to determine the teachers’ union status of every charter school nationwide. Prior to the release of the 2010 report, the number of unionized charter schools was largely unknown. In 2009-10, the National Alliance reported that roughly 12 percent of charter schools participated in collective bargaining agreements with teachers’ unions. In the years since the 2010 report, union votes at several charter schools in Illinois, Louisiana, and Washington, DC received significant media attention, raising questions about whether a growing number of charter schools were unionizing. To examine whether there has been a growth in unionized charter schools, the National Alliance collected data from the 2016-17 school year. The national data from 2009-10 and 2016-17 are presented in Table 1. The state data from 2009-10 and 2016-17 are presented in Table 2. D

The Argument Against Quantum Computers

Katia Moskvitch:

Sixteen years ago, on a cold February day at Yale University, a poster caught Gil Kalai’s eye. It advertised a series of lectures by Michel Devoret, a well-known expert on experimental efforts in quantum computing. The talks promised to explore the question “Quantum Computer: Miracle or Mirage?” Kalai expected a vigorous discussion of the pros and cons of quantum computing. Instead, he recalled, “the skeptical direction was a little bit neglected.” He set out to explore that skeptical view himself.

$20 Billion Hidden in the Swamp: Feds Redact 255,000 Salaries

Adam Andrzejewski:

The only thing the bureaucratic resistance hates more than President Trump is the disclosure of their own salaries. It’s a classic case of the bureaucracy protecting the bureaucracy, underscoring the resistance faced by the new administration.

Recently, Open the Books filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (pictured) for all federal employee names, titles, agencies, salaries, and bonus information. We’ve captured and posted online this data for the past 11 years. For the first time, we found missing information throughout the federal payroll disclosures. Here’s a sample of what we discovered from the FY2017 records:

Curated Education Information