How to Play the College Financial-Aid Game

Annamaria Andriotis:

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

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

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

Anything But Affordable And Excellent

UVA Students United:

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

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

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

Meet the School That Hates Rules

Brian Foglia:

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

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

“Awesome! How old will you be?”


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

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

Perdido Street School:

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

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

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

Related: a change to Wisconsin arbitration rules.

How to get into Harvard

Deborah Friedell:

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

Via Glenn Greenwald.

The Impact of Learning Online at Scale

Anne O’Loughlin:

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

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

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

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

Pauline Rose:

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

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

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

Is Milwaukee’s education marketplace killing school pride?

Jay Bullock:

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

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

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

School pride is irrelevant if students cannot read.

Colleges are raising costs because they can

Malcolm Harris:

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

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

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

What Your College Isn’t Telling You About Costs

Sara Goldrick-Rab & Robert Kelchen:

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

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

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

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

The Color of Student Debt

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

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

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

The Co-Operative University: Labour, Property & Pedagogy

Joss Winn:

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

Big Shift Pushed in Custody Disputes

Ashby Jones:

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

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

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

Is College Worth It? That Depends

Brandon Busteed:

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

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

Teaching Math in the 21st Century

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

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

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

From the Introduction:

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

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

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

Ed-Tech’s Inequalities

Audrey Watters:

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

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

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

Starving for Wisdom

Nicholas Kristof:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How The Constitution Protects “Free Range Parents”

Ilya Somin:

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

I. Parental Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment.

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

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

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

Wordflex: “Brain Friendly English”

Robert Scheiner:

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

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

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

Peter Gilliver:

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

Cheating In The Digital Age

Carla Rivera:

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

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

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

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

In Defense of Success Academy

Danielle Hauser:

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 29

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

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

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

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

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

Reach Out and Read Wisconsin Wisconsin Bookworms

Schools of Hope

Born Learning: Parent-Child Home Program Play and Learn

Read Up!

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

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

PDF Announcement.

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

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

Melissa Korn:

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

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

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

Time for Charters to Lead on Special Education

Robin Lake, via a kind Deb Britt email:

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

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

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

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

Most Americans Say Higher Education Not Affordable

Brandon Busteed and Stephanie Kafka:

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

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

Want Reform? Principals Matter, Too

Will Miller:

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

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

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

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

Via a kind Mary Wyman email:

Guten Tag!

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

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

More details in flyer attached.

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

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

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

To apply:

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

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

1. Child’s Name

2. Child’s Age

3. Child’s Level of German

4. Name of Parent(s)

5. Contact Email Address

6. Contact Telephone Number

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

Liebe Grüße,

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

Visit our website at:

“The Plight of History in American Schools”

Diane Ravitch writing in Educational Excellence Network, 1989:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

via Will Fitzhugh.

Charter High Schools and the “Backfill” Debate

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

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

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

A Response to “Breaking the Mold”

Paul Hill and Ashley Jochim

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

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

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

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

Paul Hill & Ashley Jochim

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

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

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

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

Changes in the Madison Teacher Transfer Process

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

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

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

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

April 7, 2015 newsletter (PDF).

NJEA and Heritage Foundation: Perfect Together

Laura Waters:

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

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

Weakening Standardized Tests Amounts to ‘Killing the Messenger’

Eva Moskowitz:

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Guldi

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

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

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

David Boaz:

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

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

The Quantified Baby

Anna Prushinskaya:

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

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

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

Lyndsay Layton:

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

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

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

The surprising downsides of being clever

David Robson:

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

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

Has America gone lunatic on the subject of unattended children?

Megan McArdle:

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

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

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

Jeffrey Sellingo:

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

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

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

This Is What the Fourth Industrial Revolution Looks Like

Daniel Oberhaus:

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

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

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

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

Lack of vocational education stifles US mobility

Sam Fleming:

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

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

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

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

Tessa Wong:

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

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

Kenneth Chang and Alex Bellos.

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

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

Dave Daley (PDF), via a kind reader:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Ron Haskins:

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

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

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

Stan Schroeder:

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

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

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

Donna St. George & Brigid Schulte:

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

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

‘Free-range’ kids and our parenting police state

Petula Dvorak:

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

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

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

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

The new paperless revolution in Chinese reading

David Moser:

Two decades ago, after I had studied Chinese for about four years, I suddenly realized that I had never read a novel in Chinese. In fact, I had not read any Chinese book in its entirety – the task was just too daunting. This would be a rather embarrassing admission for a fourth-year student of, say, Spanish, but back then this was a pretty common situation for us learners of Chinese.

I had fairly good spoken Mandarin and a fair sense for the written language. Yet reading Chinese literature was virtually impossible. There were so many unfamiliar characters on virtually every line of the text that there was no way I could look them all up. So usually I would give up in despair after a frustrating few paragraphs of: “Here, Second-Elder-Sister, quickly take this (something) that our father (something) to Old Chen when his (something) was so tragically (something, something) during the Japanese (something), and never speak of this (something) to a soul (something something), I beg you!” You know the feeling.

At that time Qian Zhongshu’s famous novel Weicheng《围城》was having a revival of popularity, partly due to a TV series adaptation of the novel. My friends at Peking University were all raving about it, so I decided to read the book myself – and I mean really read it. My goal was to understand every word, every idiom, and every unfamiliar character, getting as close to a full understanding of the text as I possibly could.

A tuk tuk road trip across India in aid of charity Educate Girls

Paul Niel:

Immediately, we are surrounded by children and other curious locals. Clare gets chatting to Shanthi, a school teacher and organiser of a helpline that assists girls forced into child labour, and within minutes we are invited for tea, where we are given first-hand insights into how the school system works in southern India. Shanthi tells us of the pride she has for her district, where almost all the children have attended at least elementary school and literacy levels are high. However, she confirms that lots of girls leave school between the ages of 10 and 12, to get married or to work to help their families.

Back on the road, our adventure takes another unexpected turn – beach roads have turned into windy mountain roads, palm trees into jungle. Cruising down a steep lane, our rickshaw loses its way on a dangerous hairpin turn and goes straight into a stone wall. With no seatbelts or airbags, Tom and I are sent flying, but it is the tuk tuk that comes off worse – the windshield, axis and entire front end are broken. We convince a mechanic in a nearby village to repair it, but it will take a few days.

Sagar, in Karnataka – the huge state in southwest India – is a sleepy town and it takes a while to find accommodation. We decide to visit a local school and are welcomed with open arms and big smiles. Classes are stopped as hundreds of schoolchildren listen to our presentation, the highlight of which is a short geography lesson about our five home nations – we can’t get enough of all those curious faces.

“he hadn’t ever worked in education”

Erin Richards:

“Our model was: Let’s get aggressive. Accountability. Testing. Internal reviews. Let’s improve,” he said.

Rodriguez created a new board to focus specifically on academics and fundraising for St. Anthony. He oversaw the development of an on-campus medical clinic for families and the opening of a day care and 3-year-old kindergarten in 2013, as well as the expansion of the new high school as it added a grade each year.

Like most urban schools serving predominantly low-income students in Milwaukee, overall state test scores for St. Anthony were and still are low. In the fall of 2010, just 7% of children could read proficiently, and about 10% could do math on grade level.

State data shows they jumped considerably by the fall of 2013: 12% of children were proficient in reading; 19% were proficient in math. That beat the average math proficiency score for all voucher schools but was the same for reading.

St. Anthony scores about the same as Milwaukee Public Schools; score comparisons vary, depending on whether all students or just low-income students are compared.

“I feel like I’ve been called to effect change for underserved kids,” Rodriguez said.

He’s been a visible figure for doing that at St. Anthony.

America’s most controversial educator

Robert Pondsco:

If you don’t live in New York City or within the education policy universe, Eva Moskowitz might not be on your radar screen. She should be. With a recent front page piece in The New York Times about the extraordinary results posted by her network of 32 Success Academy charter schools and how those results were achieved, Moskowitz is the most controversial figure in American education today.

She’s also a devastatingly effective political player whose name is on every credible short list of candidates to be New York’s next mayor, and deservedly so. Her successful battles with incumbent Mayor Bill de Blasioare becoming legendary.

But she’s as much educator as politico. When New York adopted more rigorous, Common Core-aligned tests two years ago, scores slumped statewide, including at most of Gotham’s successful charter schools. But Success Academy soared. While just 29 percent of New York City students met the new, higher English standards last year, 64 percent of those attending Success Academies were proficient; in math, they nearly tripled the weak city-wide performance. A stunning 94 percent of Success Academy students, mostly low-income children of color, made the grade.

China’s Dickensian Boarding Schools

Dexter Roberts:

In the U.S. the words “boarding school” conjure images of children attending class in ivy-covered buildings, eating in oak-paneled dining halls, and exercising on well-manicured sports fields. An increasing number of these fortunate students come from wealthy families all over the globe—many from China.

That cosseted world is unimaginable to the 33 million children living and studying in China’s 100,000 rural boarding schools—a number roughly equal to two-thirds of all children enrolled in U.S. public schools. At a rural elementary school in a poor, mountainous region of Shaanxi province in China’s northwest, the 60-odd students, age 5 to 14, sit for their lessons in dirty, concrete-walled classrooms. Meals, cooked on wood-fired stoves, are spare; meat is a once-a-week extravagance. Eighteen boarders sleep in bunks in unheated rooms.

Setting Off a Race for Fiscal Transparency

Josh Mandel & Fineas Baxandall:

An open government is one in which citizens are empowered to hold their elected officials accountable. Even in today’s atmosphere of hyper-partisanship, leaders from across the political spectrum can agree that advancing the cause of transparency is integral for enabling taxpayers to follow the money.

In 2010, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) developed a scorecard to grade all 50 states’ online-transparency initiatives, and specifically how well they provide public access to checkbook-level spending data. The goal was to spark competition that would inspire, motivate and in some cases publicly pressure state-government leaders across the country to improve the transparency of their fiscal operations.

U.S. PIRG’s state rankings for 2015 were recently released, and nowhere was there a better turnaround story than in Ohio. Two years ago, Ohio had received a grade of D-plus. Taken aback by that grade — which dropped again in 2014, to D-minus — the Ohio treasurer’s office (led by one of the authors of this column, state Treasurer Josh Mandel) set out to meet and even surpass best practices for making budgets, contracts, subsidies and “off-budget” expenditures open to public scrutiny. That effort has paid off dramatically, raising the state’s transparency ranking from a dismal 46th last year to first in the nation in 2015, with Ohio earning the first-ever A-plus grade.

From the Boardroom to the Classroom: Can Corporate America Inform Teacher Evaluation?

Angela Minnici and Jenni Fipaza:

Deloitte recently quizzed executives about their views on performance management. A whopping 58 percent of those who took the public survey believe that their current performance management approach “drives neither employee engagement nor high performance.”

Sounds a bit like the national conversation about teacher evaluation systems across the United States, right? As tempting as it is to think that business has identified the silver bullet to improving employee performance, apparently leaders from that world don’t think so.

Instead, it seems like we’re all struggling to find better ways to engage employees, move them from average to exceptional performance, and keep high performers from leaving. But as policymakers and wonks debate the merits of teacher evaluation systems, are there at least some lessons learned from corporate America that we should be paying attention to?

Finland’s Latest Educational Move Will Produce a Generation of Entrepreneurs

David Hill:

Silander said about 70 percent of Finnish high school teachers have already received training in the “phenomenon-based” approach, which began testing two years ago. So far student outcomes have improved and teacher response has been positive.

Marjo Kyllonen, Helsinki’s education manager, who leads the initiative said, “We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow.”

The new approach aims to encourage different kinds of learning, shifting from facts to problem solving, individual work to collaboration. In other words, instead of skill-oriented instruction, this topical structure prioritizes the four Cs—communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration—skills that are central to working in teams, a reflection of the ‘hyperconnected’ world we live in today.

Interestingly, this approach is similar to a homeschooling method called Unit Studies, a throwback to the one-room schoolhouse with students of multiple ages working together but at different skills and levels of understanding. Of course, this method is convenient for homeschooling families with multiple children and minimal resources, but modern workplace teams also consist of people at various skills levels with limited budgets. Additionally, U.S. homeschoolers don’t always have access to the latest technologies beyond the Internet. Curiously, this parallels the Finnish school systems, which have relied on innovative teaching methodologies instead of educational technologies to consistently perform better than American students.

Do Financial Responsibility Scores Reflect Colleges’ Financial Strength?

Robert Kelchen:

In spite of the vast majority of federal government operations being closed on Thursday due to snow (it’s been a rough end to winter in this part of the country), the U.S. Department of Education released financial responsibility scores for private nonprofit and for-profit colleges and universities based on 2012-2013 data. These scores are based on calculations designed to measure a college’s financial strength in three key areas: primary reserve ratio (liquidity), equity ratio (ability to borrow additional funds) and net income (profitability or excess revenue).

A college can score between -1 and 3, and colleges that score over 1.5 are considered financially responsible without any qualifications and can access federal funds. Colleges scoring between 1.0 and 1.4 are considered financially responsible and can access federal funds for up to three years, but are subject to additional Department of Education oversight of its financial aid programs. If a college does not improve its score within three years, it will not be considered financially responsible. Colleges scoring 0.9 or below are not considered financially responsible and must submit a letter of credit and be subject to additional oversight to get access to funds. A college can submit a letter of credit equal to 50% of all federal student aid funds received in the prior year and be deemed financially responsible, or it can submit a letter equal to 10% of all funds received and gain access to funds but still not be fully considered financially responsible.

Harvard and Stanford’s business schools don’t look as good as Brigham Young’s when you account for debt

Max Nisen

Most business school rankings have one of Harvard or Stanford on top, their graduates command the highest salaries, and benefit from particularly powerful networks. But a report from student lender M7 Financial puts them below Brigham Young’s Marriott School, and alongside less prestigious schools including Ohio State’s and the University of Washington’s, while Bloomberg Businessweek’s top-ranked program, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, is in the second-lowest tier.

The difference between M7’s methodology and others is that it focuses entirely on an average student’s ability to pay back typical loan obligations after graduation. The list leaves out quite a few highly regarded schools, including Wharton, Columbia, and the University of Chicago, because they didn’t provide debt figures to US News, which is where M7 drew its debt data from.

The report doesn’t explicitly rank schools, it groups them by rating. Brigham Young is the only A+, meaning it typically leaves attendees with a “modest” debt burden. Pepperdine and the Thunderbird School of Global Management are the only programs to get a “B,” the lowest rating, indicating a “demanding” debt burden.

Common problems with Common Core reporting

Alexander Russo:

“Something big is happening in New Jersey,” PBS NewsHour special correspondent John Merrow intones ominously at the start of last week’s NewsHour segment on standardized testing in New Jersey and elsewhere. “It’s happening in Newark … . It’s happening in Montclair … . And it’s happening in the state capital.”

The “something big,” according to PBS and other media outlets, is growing grassroots resistance among parents and students to a new set of tests being administered nationwide for the first time.

But so far, at least, much of the media’s coverage of this spring’s Common Core testing rollout has been guilty of over-emphasizing the extent of the conflict, speculating dire consequences based on little information, and over-relying on anecdotes and activists’ claims rather than digging for a broader sampling of verified numbers. The real story—that the rollout of these new, more challenging tests is proceeding surprisingly well—could be getting lost.

The Career With the Biggest Financial Payoff

Akane Otani:

To figure out how return on investment for a bachelor’s degree varies with career choices, PayScale tracked the median salary for people in the U.S. who completed its salary survey online who had graduated between 1995 and 2014. For each career, it looked at the difference in 20-year earnings between someone who had a bachelor’s degree and someone with only a high school diploma. From that differential, it then subtracted the cost of college to arrive at the ROI number.

The analysis excluded careers that require advanced degrees, like law and medicine—which explains in part why health care, otherwise a field that can pull in sky-high salaries, was middling on PayScale’s list.

The Average Student Debt Load in D.C. is a Whopping $40,885

Josh Mitchell

The nation’s student-debt tab has more than doubled since the recession to roughly $1.3 trillion, but the burden varies greatly by state.

The nation’s capital of Washington, D.C.—one of the most educated cities in the U.S. and home to high-priced private schools–is the most indebted compared with states when it comes to average federal student-loan debt. Some 140,000 borrowers in D.C. owe a whopping average of $40,885, according to new data released by the White House. Georgia is second on the list with 1.45 million residents owing an average $30,443. North Dakota sits at the bottom, with 114,000 borrowers owing an average $22,379.

Finding Schools That Work

Alan Borsuk:

I asked Dan McKinley, as he reaches retirement, what he has learned in nearly a quarter-century of involvement in efforts to improve the education of high-needs children in Milwaukee. He gave me four answers, and we’ll get to those.

Then, a few days later, he sent me a fifth lesson — the most important one, he said.

“It really is all about love,” he said. “When you visit a school, if you can’t feel the love, you know there is something missing in the educational program. The school may be working hard, but outcomes of all that work are probably not that good.

“This is what the policy-makers miss: In the end, it is not about teacher data or management techniques. It is about a community of people dedicated to high ideals who work every day to bring out the best in the children they love.”

McKinley and the organization he headed all these years, PAVE, have been good at spotting the love and spotting the quality in schools.

For years, while the State of Wisconsin was allowing schools of hugely varying quality to receive public money through the private school voucher program or independent charter programs, and while voucher advocates took a pass on getting involved in quality, PAVE picked the places it supported financially with care and smart eyes.

Mediocre schools and especially those that were just horrible got almost nothing from PAVE, which was a conduit for millions of dollars in scholarship help, no-interest loans and other help to many of the most promising schools in the city.

The Rejected Madison Preparatory IB Academy Charter School, In The News

Chris Rickert:

A reader with a much keener sense of irony than I emailed this week to point out that the site identified 3 1/2 years ago for the aborted Madison Preparatory Academy is slated to become home to a new police station by 2017.

That’s right. In a city with some of the highest rates of black incarceration in the country, a police station is taking the place of a school aimed at improving the prospects of poor, minority students.

The Madison Prep charter school was the brainchild of the Urban League of Greater Madison and its then-CEO, Kaleem Caire, and was to occupy the former Mount Olive Lutheran Church building at 4018 Mineral Point Road.

Madison Prep would have featured single-sex classrooms, longer school days, required parental involvement and other strategies not usually seen in a Madison public schools system that has struggled to educate black children.

In December 2011, it was voted down by a majority white, uniformly liberal school board over concerns about its cost, accountability to taxpayers, and use of nonunion employees. Madison’s overwhelmingly white teachers union opposed the school.

Now, Madison appears to be moving ahead with a plan to demolish the church and an adjoining house and replace them with a $9 million police station that will increase the number of stations from five to six and, police said, relieve pressure on officers serving the populous West Side.

Much more on the rejected Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school

A Letter To Parents Supporting “No Teacher Left Behind”

New Jersey Mom:

I’m one of you – except that I didn’t opt my children out of PARCC testing. But otherwise, I am. I am white, a progressive Democrat, and pay a lot of property taxes. We moved to our town because the schools lead New Jersey and the nation’s list of best schools. I’ve got kids in the public schools, which makes me an oddity amongst my neighbors. But, despite the warts, I believe in public schools. And yes, I do value teachers. I believe them to be well meaning, seeking to do their best on behalf of my children.

But they are not infallible. And it is my role as a parent to monitor their work with my children. I don’t always believe that they know what’s best. And truth be told, I often wonder about their mastery over the content that they teach. Many of our family’s dinnertime conversations have centered on correcting the day’s mistakes. For instance, my child’s third grade math teacher taught that the “product of three sixes” was 18 (3 x 6) versus the actual product of three sixes, i.e., 6 x 6 x 6. A teachable moment at home that night with our eight year old: “No one – not even your teacher – is always right. Question everything.”

How to negotiate a better financial aid package

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

Your high school senior is basking in the glow of college acceptance letters. Three or four schools want her to join their class of 2019, and nothing can bring her down, except for the cost.

Unless you’re one of those lucky families whose kid receives a full ride, chances are the scholarships and grants schools offer will fall short of what your child actually needs. And that means you might want to start negotiating.

Many families don’t realize it, but there is often a little wiggle room in financial aid awards. FAFSA, the form the government and colleges use to determine need- and some merit-based aid, doesn’t capture all circumstances that might affect a family’s ability to pay for school. For instance, there’s no line to include the cost of caring for an elderly parent or special needs child, the kind of expenses that could warrant more aid, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, a college planning Web site. So if you weren’t able to share that kind of information with the school, now is the time to bring it up to see if that shakes free some more assistance.

Expectation and Variance from High School to Grad School

Count Bayesie:

Here many people stop learning about probability. This is sort of any annoying place to stop. At this point we are stuck with this muddled idea of a random variable (ie a variable that behaves randomly), that by this level in mathematical progress should seem pretty confusing. The randomly behaving variable is okay for students that don’t have much experience with math, but variables should not be ‘random’. What started as a teaching aid has become something that’s both magical and confusing.

Additionally we have the problem that we need two separate models for Discrete and Continuous Probability Distributions. An even bigger issue is that we never talked about a third type of probability distribution that involves both discrete and continuous components!

Fortunately, we have the answers to all these issues in the development of rigorous probability with measure theory! We introduce the formalized idea of a Random Variable, generalize both discrete and continuous probabilities as a sample space Ω (Omega), and use the Lebesgue Integral to sum up over the sample space. Formally Ω is a set of possible events. And the Lebesgue Integral can be understood simply as a generalization of the Integral covered in basic calculus that is more robust. Our mu is finally E[X] and our generalized form of expectation is:

American students head to Germany for free college

by Kirk Carapezza, Produced by Mallory Noe-Payne:

Despite the high cost of college in this country, most American students will choose to go to school here. But a growing number of students are getting their degrees in other countries, like Germany, where taxpayers pick up the tab. WGBH’s On Campus team recently traveled to Cologne to explore this higher education defection, and the implications for the United States.

At a cafe just around the corner from the University of Cologne, students sink into big armchairs and sip lattes.

This is Rachael Smith’s favorite place to spend down time between classes. The 26-year-old is working on her master’s degree and has been living in Germany for almost two years.

The John Oliver / Snowden and political Disengagement

Glenn Greenwald:

The data on American political apathy is rather consistent, and stunning. Begin with the fact that even in presidential election years, 40 to 50 percent of the voting-age public simply chooses not participate in the voting process at all, while two-thirds chooses not to vote in midterm elections.

Even more striking is what they do and do not know. An Annenberg Public Policy Center poll from last September found that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government, and only 38 percent know the GOP controls the House. The Center’s 2011 poll “found just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol.”

On social media, mom and dad are watching

George Gao:

On Facebook, Parents Are Friends with Their TeensBut that doesn’t mean parents aren’t monitoring their teenagers’ behaviors in other ways. With so much of a teenager’s social activities now happening online, parents have had to adapt. Today, 60% of parents say they’ve checked their teenagers’ profile on a social networking site, including roughly similar shares of moms (62%) and dads (58%), according to new Pew Research Center data.

Parents are especially aware of their teens’ behavior on Facebook, the largest social media platform. Among Facebook users, the vast majority of parents (83%) say they’re “Facebook friends” with their teenager, according to a new survey conducted during the fall of 2014 and winter 2015. (For more on teens’ use of Facebook, see our latest report.)

W.H. Auden’s 1941 Literature Syllabus Asks Students to Read 32 Great Works, Covering 6000 Pages

Open Culture:

Grimes’ reference to a report card is relevant, since what we’re discussing today is the instruction in grand themes and “great books” represented by W.H. Auden’s syllabus above for his English 135, “Fate and the Individual in European Literature.” Granted, this is not an intro lit class (although I imagine that his intro class may have been punishing as well), but a course for juniors, seniors, and graduate students. Taught during the 1941-42 school year when Auden was a professor at the University of Michigan, his syllabus required over 6,000 pages of reading in just a single semester (and for only two credits!).

Wisconsin Regents OK tuition boost, rip legislator’s comments on Blank

Karen Herzog:

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents finalized tuition increases for nine campuses on Friday, and pushed back against a key lawmaker who blasted UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank for proposing a 35% tuition increase over four years for nonresident undergraduates.

UW-Madison will boost tuition for nonresident undergraduates 11.75% next year. Wisconsin resident undergrads at UW-Madison and all other UW campuses will not see tuition increases; their tuition has been frozen for the past two years and likely will remain frozen for the next two years.

UW-Madison also is raising tuition for both in-state and out-of-state students in business graduate programs, the doctor of nursing practice program and the professional schools of pharmacy, medicine and veterinary medicine to bring them closer to their peers in the Big 10. Those increases range from 9% to 20%.

Nonresident undergraduate tuition for the flagship campus this fall will increase by $3,000, to $28,523. International students will pay the same increase, plus $1,000. The other tuition increases range from 9% for all pharmacy school students to 20% for nonresident veterinary medicine students.

Blank proposed a four-year plan for tuition increases. The regents only gave the green light to the first two years, but indicated support for the four-year plan.

Blank’s plan would boost nonresident undergraduate tuition by a total $10,000 over four years — $3,000 each of the first two years and $2,000 each of the following two years. Nonresident undergrads this year paid $25,523, while resident undergrads paid $10,410. The new nonresidnet tuition rate does not apply to Minnesota students, who attend UW schools under the decades-old Minnesota-Wisconsin Interstate Tuition Reciprocity Agreement.

The Algorithmic Self

Frank Pasquale:

At a recent conference on public health, nutrition expert Kelly Brownell tried to explain our new food environment by making some striking comparisons. First, he contrasted the coca leaf—chewed for pain relief for thousands of years by indigenous people in South America, with little ill effect—with cocaine, a highly addictive, mind-altering substance. Then he contrasted a cob of corn with a highly processed piece of candy derived from corn syrup. Nutritious in its natural state, the concentrated sugar in corn can spark unhealthy, even addictive behaviors once poured into candy. With corn and with coca, the dose makes the poison, as Paracelsus put it. And in the modern era of “food science,” dozens of analysts may be spending millions of dollars just to perfect the “mouthfeel” and flavor profile of a single brand of chips.1

Should we be surprised, then, that Americans are losing the battle of the bulge? Indeed, the real wonder is not that two-thirds of the US population is overweight, but that one-third remains “normal,” to use an adjective that makes sense only in relation to an earlier era’s norms.2

Investigating Cooper Union’s Governance

James Stewart:

In what should be a ringing alarm for nonprofit boards across the country long accustomed to minimal scrutiny or accountability, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York has signaled that the laissez-faire approach to nonprofit governance is over.
Mr. Schneiderman’s office has sent letters to the board members of Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the prestigious college founded in Manhattan in 1859 by the philanthropist Peter Cooper on the premise that it be “open and free to all.” Last year, after the school said it faced financial ruin otherwise, it began charging tuition.
The investigation, reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, is focusing on the board’s management of its endowment; its handling of its major asset, the Chrysler Building; its dealings with Tishman Speyer Properties, which manages the skyscraper; and how it obtained a $175 million loan from MetLife using the building as collateral, according to people involved. (All are issues I highlighted when I examined the Cooper Union endowment almost two years ago.)

This mom is coding iPad apps to help her autistic child explore the world

Daniela Hernandez:

Lee and her husband, who was getting his doctorate in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered their son’s condition was serious enough that they wouldn’t be able to go back to the life they had as game developers in South Korea. The family decided to stay in the U.S. Lee started toying with the idea of creating iPhone apps for children with special needs.

“Maybe I can develop something for my child to help him learn and help him explore the world,” Lee remembers thinking. But kids with autism sometimes have trouble with coordination and Lee found the iPhone screen was too small to support apps with which her son could interact. But when Apple launched the iPad with its bigger screen in April 2010, Lee and her husband saw an opening. They started a company, LocoMotive Labs, to develop a suite of iPad apps designed especially for children with autism. When he was about five, their son had been diagnosed with autism.

Colleges Launch Food Pantries to Help Low-Income Students

Miriam Jordan:

For several months last year, between her classes at the University of California campus here, Sierra Henderson stopped in at a tiny basement room to pick up free canned vegetables, pasta and cereal.

“If the pantry wasn’t here I might have had to consider taking time off school to work full-time,” said the 21-year-old food-science major.

Food pantries, where students in need can stock up on groceries and basic supplies, started cropping up on campuses in large numbers after the recession began in 2007. More than 200 U.S. colleges, mostly public institutions, now operate pantries, and more are on the way, even as the economy rebounds.

Among factors driving the trend: Tuition has soared 25% at four-year public institutions since 2007, according to the College Board, and costs such as housing, books and transportation have also risen significantly in recent years.

Meanwhile, more students from low-income families are attending college. For instance, four out of every 10 undergraduates in the UC system, which includes UC Berkeley and UCLA, now hail from households with an annual income of $50,000 or less.

New Jersey education politics

Caren Chesler:

To illustrate his point, the Newark-born governor turned to Camden, still the nation’s poorest large city. “There is no better example of what we can achieve if we put aside party and pettiness than the results we are seeing in Camden,” Christie said. He described a new, enlarged county police force that cut the city’s murder rate in half and reduced violent crime by 22 percent. He heralded a reformed school system that has brought new leadership and more accountability to troubled city classrooms and new schools to long-neglected neighborhoods. A medical school has opened downtown and fresh investment by Rutgers University is bringing “bright new citizens” to Camden’s neighborhoods, the governor said.

“Hope and optimism are up — fear of failure is down,” Christie said.

A studied politician who has long had his eye on Washington, Christie knows that his Camden story makes for great national newspaper stories and even better television. But how true is his rendition and how much does it reflect his larger policy priorities and governing approach? Has Chris Christie actually been good for New Jersey’s cities? That’s what Next City and NJ Spotlight have come together to find out in this collaborative exploration of the governor’s record on job creation and economic development, transportation infrastructure, housing, education, and crime in the state’s urban centers. While we have focused on five of New Jersey’s oldest and most notable cities — Camden, Newark, Jersey City, Trenton, and Paterson — our findings are relevant across the state and region, not only as indicators of Christie’s leadership but also as indicators of what should be considered in the next gubernatorial election. With 1,195.5 people per square mile in 2010, New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the country. Given the density, it’s not all that surprising that 94 percent of the population lives in urban areas, making it one of the two most citified states in the nation, tied with California, according to the U.S. Census. New Jersey will never prosper until its cities do. And when those cities finally thrive, the state as a whole will see benefits that until now have been out of reach.

Cheating in Atlanta: A Teachable Moment

Jason Riley:

You’ve probably heard that a jury last week convicted 11 Atlanta public-school educators of racketeering for their roles in what prosecutors described as one of the largest test-cheating scandals in U.S. history. You may not have heard that George W. Bush is to blame. Confused? I’ll explain.

The state decided to investigate cheating in the public schools after an analysis of test results by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found suspiciously high gains in math and reading proficiency. “A miracle occurred at Atherton…

Of K-12 Talkers and Doers

Rick Hess:

This has all struck me again over the past few weeks as folks have reacted to my new book The Cage-Busting Teacher. What’s particularly striking is how some talkers seem to regard attention to the stuff of doing as a show of insufficient “reform” ardor. I’ve heard self-proclaimed reformers dismiss any concern for teachers frustrated by idiotic accountability systems as “pandering.” They’ve scoffed at the notion that timid, inept district management shares the blame for problematic staffing, telling me that this just “excuses the unions.” They quietly insist that focusing on cage-busting teachers is “fine” but distracts from the more pressing business of “getting the policies right.”

I couldn’t disagree more strongly with such sentiments. As someone who’s been an unapologetic school “reformer” since last century, back before it was cool, I can confidently say they reflect a vision of “reform” that I regard as misguided. To my mind, a healthier view embraces a few simple tenets governing the relationship between talkers and doers.

The future Of The Post Doc

Kendall Powell:

By the time Sophie Thuault-Restituito reached her twelfth year as a postdoctoral fellow, she had finally had enough. She had completed her first postdoc in London, then moved to New York University (NYU) in 2004 to start a second. Eight years and two laboratories later, she was still there and still effectively a postdoc, precariously dependent on outside grants to secure and pay for her position. Her research on Alzheimer’s disease was not making it into high-profile journals, so she was unable to compete for academic positions in the United States or Europe. She loved science and had immense experience, but with two young children at home, she knew she needed something more secure. “My motivation was gone. I was done with doing research,” she says.

So in 2013, Thuault-Restituito moved into a job as a research-laboratory operations manager at NYU, where she coordinates building renovations and fosters collaboration between labs. She enjoys the fact that her staff position has set hours, as well as better pay and benefits. But at the time of the move, she mourned the loss of a research career and she regrets the years wasted pursuing one. “I stayed five years more than I should have,” she says.

Thuault-Restituito is the face of a postdoctoral system that is broken. These highly skilled scientists are a major engine driving scientific research, yet they are often poorly rewarded and have no way to progress in academia. The number of postdocs in science has ballooned: in the United States alone, it jumped by 150% between 2000 and 2012. But the number of tenured and other full-time faculty positions has plateaued and, in some places, it is even shrinking (see Nature 472, 276–279; 2011). Many postdocs move on to fulfilling careers elsewhere, but those who want to continue in research can find themselves thwarted. They end up trapped as ‘permadocs’: doing multiple postdoc terms, staying in these positions for many years and, in a small but significant proportion, never leaving them. Of the more than 40,000 US postdocs in 2013, almost 4,000 had been so for more than 6 years (see ‘The postdoc pile-up’).

Mapped: Where England’s best schools are pushing up house prices

Peter Spence:

Many parents are willing to invest thousands of pounds in school fees, hoping to offer their children the best start in life. Even for those who don’t opt to send their children to private school, a good education can come at a cost.

This map illustrates where house prices have been bumped up by good local schools.
Each dot represents a school in England. The larger the dot, the greater the relative cost of homes around the school compared to the rest of the region. This premium indicates where good school could be driving up nearby house prices.

The colour of each dot represents how well pupils perform in exams. The darker the shade, the better the grades. Use the “visible layers” toggle to switch between views of schools by GCSE and A-level performance.

The data, compiled by Savills in its report The Education Equation, show that for many the “most cost efficient option is to tap into high performing state schools, without school fees to worry about”.

University of Florida admits 3,000 students — then tells them it is only for online program

Valerie Strauss:

The 3,118 applicants accepted this way to the university — above and beyond the approximately 12,000 students offered traditional freshman slots — did not apply to the online program. Nor were they told that there was a chance that they would be accepted with the online caveat. They wound up as part of an admissions experiment.

The new program, begun in 2015, is called the Pathway to Campus Enrollment, or PaCE, and according to Steve Orlando, senior director of the university’s media relations, it “allows us to offer admission to additional qualified applicants with academic potential and demonstrated success.”

Literature and Money

Dora Zhang:

When I try to explain to my students this mysterious thing called “close reading,” I often use a metaphor. Books are like people, I say. They’re complicated and multilayered, and they take time to get to know. Like people, they’re not always upfront about (or even aware of) their intentions and motivations. You have to listen carefully and observe closely and read between the lines.

I was introduced to this metaphor as a graduate student during a talk on pedagogy by a brilliant, beloved English professor, and I remember how apt it seemed. Some of my favorite people have always been novels. They were my steady companions through adolescence and heady crushes in college, and I went to graduate school because I wanted to get to know them more intimately. Embarking on a doctorate seemed like the natural way to take our relationship to the next level.

Teaching Math As An Art form

Karen Herzog:

The numbers reflect her success. So does the admiration of her students and colleagues. Stalder will be honored at Friday’s UW System Board of Regents meeting with one of three annual Regents Teaching Excellence Awards, based on letters of recommendation from colleagues and students. Professor Gregory S. Aldrete of UW-Green Bay’s Department of History and the UW-La Crosse Department of Mathematics were also selected.

Stalder and colleague Paul Martin of UW-Marathon County — who was among those who nominated her for the award — developed a course that’s so successful and promising for teaching college students who struggle with math, it’s being used with impressive results at UW-Milwaukee, where more than 36% of freshmen require developmental math to prepare them for college-level math.

A version of the course also is being adapted for the UW System’s new competency-based Flex Option degree program for adult learners who set out to finish a degree started years ago, but who may have forgotten math they learned in high school.

The birth of a zombie statistic – Teacher Data

Sam Freedman:

This matters because the 40% figure creates a false narrative about a profession in crisis. I agree with ATL that teacher workload is too high – often driven by nonsense compliance rules around marking and planning. I agree that it’s a very stressful and tiring job and that many first year teachers don’t get the support they need. But the vast majority of those who start teaching do stay and succeed. Exaggerating the problem through dodgy statistics risks putting off new entrants to the profession – which we really can’t afford to do at the moment given an improving economy and changes to teacher training are creating serious recruitment issues.

More, here.

College freshmen flunk financial literacy 101

Jillian Berman:

The same teens saddled with thousands of dollars in debt to attend college have little understanding of how to put themselves in the best position to pay it back.

On average, freshmen at four-year colleges could only answer about two out of six questions correctly about topics like the right amount of money to set aside in case of a financial emergency, the conditions placed on student loan borrowers and how long a late payment remains on your credit history, according to a study released Thursday.

A Texas Solution To The Nation’s College Debt Crisis?

Tom Lindsay:

But there could be better news on the horizon. The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill—the “I CAN” Bill (“Incentivizing College Affordability Now”)—that would take statewide a new initiative called the Texas Affordable Baccalaureate Program (TABP), which offers targeted college degrees for far less than what Texas public university students currently pay.

The breakthrough can’t come fast enough for students. According to a recent summary of data compiled by the Texas comptroller’s office, “In 2012, 20.5 percent of . . . [Texas’s] student loan borrowers were more than 90 days delinquent, surpassing the national rate of 17 percent and marking the 10th highest rate in the country.” The comptroller’s report adds, “Particularly worrying is the fact that rising tuition rates are driving an equally steep increase in college loan debt. . . . Many Texas college graduates and former students are entering adult life hobbled by years and even decades of crippling debt.”

An Honest College Admissions Rejection Letter

Mimi Evans:

The Admissions Committee has carefully considered your application and we regret to inform you that we will not be able to offer you admission in the entering class of 2015, or a position on one of our alternate lists. The applicant pool this year was particularly strong, and by that I mean the Admissions Committee once again sent candidates like you multiple enticing pamphlets encouraging you to apply, knowing full well we had no intention of accepting you.

However, you will be pleased to know that you have contributed to our declining admissions rate, which has helped our university appear exclusive. This allows us to attract our real candidates: upper-class kids and certified geniuses who will glean no new information from our courses or faculty, whose parents can incentivize us with a new swimming pool or lacrosse stadium.

Via Paul Brody.

Tablet computers and an online curriculum were supposed to help revolutionize schools. That hasn’t happened

Laura Colby:

“After all of these years of investment, it would really behoove them to show some wins,” said Tim Nollen, an analyst at Macquarie Capital USA in New York who has a “neutral” rating on News Corp. shares. “So far, I haven’t seen any.”

Joel Klein, Amplify’s chief executive officer, said he always considered the company a long-term bet. “I wish that things would move more quickly,” said Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “But when these things move quickly, sometimes you wind up creating a lot more problems.” (Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which competes with News Corp. in delivering financial news.)

Technology often takes longer to implement than expected, but the changes, too are larger than originally thought.

“Parental Cooperativeness”

Brendan Foley & Jane Miller:

In December the district blamed a projected $2 million shortfall for FY2016 on ‘skyrocketing’ out of district costs, and said that it could not implement a proposed free full-day kindergarten program as a result. That action generated distrust and backlash by the special education community, and this most recent release of data has parents ready to file complaints at the state and federal levels.

The seven-page memo from Rick Pelletier, Director of Student Services, to the Superintendent was included in the School Committee packet as part of its budget justification package last week. The memo includes a spreadsheet that listed all the students with out of district placements – and also included a ranking on ‘parental cooperativeness.’ The amount of data included could indicate a violation of state and federal law.

The list, which replaces student names with numbers, remains in alphabetical order. Information included the student’s current grade, the out-of-district school, the last school attended, the year the student began attending the new school, information on whether or not the decision was made by the IEP team, a legal settlement (typically kept strictly confidential), or if the student moved in from another town, and miscellaneous detail such as the involvement of the Department of Children and Families, passage of MCAS assessments, and more.

The office of Student Services also published its rating of parents according to their ‘cooperativeness with the district.’ Parents rated a ‘1’ are cooperative, ‘2’ somewhat cooperative, and those rated ‘3’ are ‘not cooperative.’

Colleges, how in good conscience can you do this to kids?

Chris Lehman:

This year has been a fantastic year for Science Leadership Academy college acceptances. We’ve seen our kids get into some of the most well respected schools in record numbers – and many of our kids are the first SLA-ers to ever get accepted into these schools.

Whether or not they are able to go to is another question.

Today, I was sitting with one of our SLA seniors. She’s gotten into a wonderful college – her top choice. The school costs $54,000 a year. Her mother makes less than the federal deep poverty level. She only received the federal financial aid package with no aid from the school, which means that, should she go to this school, she would graduate with approximately $200,000 of debt.

She would graduate with approximately $200,000 of debt – for a bachelor’s degree.

Related: How much should you pay for a degree?

Now, how in good conscience could a college do that? I’ve sat with kids as they’ve opened the emails from their top choice schools. Watching the excitement of getting into a dream school is one of the real joys of being a principal. It’s just the best feeling to see a student have that moment where a goal is reached

What Can Quebec Teach Us? A Preliminary Analysis of the University as a Site of Struggle

William Clare Roberts:

Though the basic course of events in Que­bec over the past sev­eral months has been widely reported, I want to address two ques­tions that might be of greater inter­est to those strug­gling in and around uni­ver­si­ties elsewhere.

First, I want to look at how the Que­bec stu­dent strike artic­u­lates, on the one hand, the con­flict and inter­play between the social­ist aspi­ra­tions and cor­po­ratist real­i­ties of a pub­lic uni­ver­sity sys­tem, and on the other, the pres­sures put on that sys­tem by the dreams of dol­lar bills float­ing through the heads of admin­is­tra­tors and the “aus­ter­ian” belt-tightening of gov­ern­ments. These are not sim­ple real­i­ties; uni­ver­sity admin­is­tra­tors hop­ing to open the flood­gates of tuition and donor dol­lars are con­tin­gently allied with gov­ern­ment min­is­ters con­vinced by fear that fis­cal aus­ter­ity is the only way for­ward. I believe that a Marx­ist analy­sis of the university’s place in the cap­i­tal­ist econ­omy will clar­ify the stakes of the stu­dents’ strug­gle against this con­tin­gent alliance of hope and fear within the admin­is­tra­tive apparatus.

Sec­ond, I want to ask, very briefly, whether this analy­sis has any trac­tion out­side of Que­bec. What con­di­tions have pro­duced these 100 days of increas­ingly wide­spread and increas­ingly ambi­tious clamor? Can these con­di­tions be repli­cated by oth­ers elsewhere?

March Madness Makers and Takers

David Ingold and Adam Pearce:

Twenty five years ago, the NCAA decided something had to be done about March Madness money. The year before, CBS agreed to pay a record $1 billion to broadcast the 1991-1997 tournaments. That was fine with the powerhouse basketball schools that routinely made it into the postseason: Under the rules at the time, they divided most of the revenue based on the number of games they won.

Conference officials feared that without a change, a handful of schools would get rich while others got nothing, and the student athletes competing in the tournament would face increasing financial pressure to win games.

What’s on a third grader’s mind? Find out at Young at Art

Gayle Worland:

Every art teacher in a Madison public school was invited to submit up to three works of art from among their students for Young at Art. MMOCA staff picked up the art works, prepared them for display and designed the exhibition based on what teachers selected.

“We don’t edit anything. Whatever is submitted to the exhibition is installed in the exhibition,” Castelnuovo said. “We leave it to (the teachers) to decide what is going to best reflect what’s going on in the schools in terms of the art education curriculum.”

Bill Increasing Power of Student School Board Member Seems Poised for Passage

Louis Peck:

There has been a student member of the county school board since the late 1970s, elected by middle and high school students throughout the county and who serves for a year alongside seven adult board members. A 1989 law gave the student member limited voting rights, and the pending legislation would expand those rights to include issues such as capital and operating budgets, collective bargaining, changes in school population boundaries and school closings. At least one other major jurisdiction in the state, Anne Arundel County, now accords similar powers to the student school board member.

Under the bill, the one area in which the student member would continue to be barred from voting involves so-called negative personnel matters, such as disciplinary action against teachers and other school employees.


James Mollison:

For school kids, recess is the big release in a sometimes-tedious day of sitting still, paying attention, keeping quiet and leaving one’s neighbors alone. It’s a collective blowing off of steam and nervous energy that, one has to think, is necessary to prevent all-out mutiny.

During these periods of outdoor recreation, small collections of students engage in all manner of self-guided activity, from sports to games to climbing and innocent flirtation. There are injuries and frustrations and conflicts that kids have to work through. These small scenes of joy and drama are captured beautifully in James Mollison’s latest book, Playground, published this month by Aperture.

In Mollison’s photographs, playground landscapes from schools all over the world—Britain, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Kenya and the U.S., among many countries—are filled with young people who are fully engaged, oblivious to the camera. The images are scenic and delightful, illustrating both the common activity of recreation and the differences in the places children have available to them. Some are wooded, others paved and urban. Some look posh, others hardscrabble. Some are majestic. Some aren’t playgrounds at all. The work is a continuation of Mollison’s interest in the lives of children around the world, which began with his book Where Children Sleep, a bestseller that depicted children of different nationalities, from widely varying socioeconomic backgrounds, in their bedrooms.

Curated Education Information