ObamaCore Public Education, or “We Know Best”

Lee Cary:

With the nationalizing of the American healthcare system well underway, nationalizing public education pre-K through 12 is the next big thing on the progressive agenda. Wait for it.
It will be called ObamaCore Education, for short.
The original 2008 Obama campaign Blueprint for Change document included a “Plan to Give Every American Child a World Class Education” and linked to a 15-page, single-spaced document entitled “Barack Obama’s Plan For Lifetime Success Through Education.” It offered a litany of proposals as part of a broad, federal intervention into America’s public education system.
A case can be made that the regime would have been better off, in the long run, nationalizing public education before healthcare, because the fundamental transformation of education would have been easier.
How so? you ask.
The reasons for the relative ease — compared to ObamaCare — of installing ObamaCore Education were cited in the American Thinker back in June 2009.

Related: Up for re-election Madison School Board President Ed Hughes: “The notion that parents inherently know what school is best for their kids is an example of conservative magical thinking.”; “For whatever reason, parents as a group tend to undervalue the benefits of diversity in the public schools….”. Remarkable.

Craigslist ad claims to be from incoming Harvard student offering to pay someone $40k a year to attend class, graduate for them

Matt Rocheleau:

An advertisement that appeared briefly on the classifieds website Craigslist claimed to be posted by an incoming Harvard University student offering to pay $40,000 a year to have someone pretend to be the student for four years.
Whoever posted the ad wrote that they had already been accepted to start in the fall of 2014 at Harvard, which sent acceptance notices to 992 early action applicants for the class of 2018 a few days ago.
The ad poster said that they would, of course, also pay for tuition, books, housing, transportation and other living expenses. And, a $10,000 bonus would be given if the student imposter graduated successfully.

Millions of American students need to learn English

Trevon Milliard:

More than 5.3 million American public school students would struggle to understand this sentence.
These students need to be taught the English language in addition to the usual material in math, science, and social studies. This presents a monumental challenge for educators nationwide, according to Patricia Gandara, a UCLA education professor whom President Barack Obama appointed to the Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. She is also co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Speaking at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar, held in May at Stanford University, Gandara referenced a nationwide survey given to teachers already trained for the growing number of English-language learners, commonly called ELLs.
“In the words of teachers themselves, they don’t feel qualified,” Gandara said.

Illinois Pension Reform: An Interview With State Senator Daniel Biss

Teacher Pensions:

Chad Aldeman: First, can you say why you are interested in pension reform, and what made this bill important?
Daniel Biss: I’m interested in pension reform because the first two years of my service in the Illinois General Assembly were years that followed a very significant tax increase and yet saw extremely deep cuts in discretionary spending to areas of public service that I cared deeply about, the reasons that I entered public service in the first place.
The size of our pension payments was so large that if we tried to address our budget problems without looking at pensions, we would be signing ourselves up for deep and never-ending impacts on the rest of state government. I just couldn’t get to a place where that seemed acceptable. I sought out changes to the pension system that ultimately strengthened and preserved it for those who rely on it the most.
This bill makes significant changes to the pension system in a way that seeks to do three very important things. The first is to achieve significant budgetary savings. After this legislation, our state payments over the next 30 years will be $160 billion dollars lower. Number two, this bill achieves those savings in a way that is consistent with my policy priorities, namely sheltering those with the smallest pensions and those who are most reliant on their pensions, as well as those who have served the longest. Number three, for the first time in history, Illinois will be making its actuarially required payments in keeping with national actuarial standards. Not only do we get on an actuarial payment schedule, we put in place protections to ensure that we stay on that schedule going forward.

Commentary: The Idiot’s Guide to the Common Core Standards

Ellie Herman:

How much do you know about the Common Core Standards? Choose all that apply. The Common Core is:
a) a new set of nationwide standards that will encourage deep thinking instead of rote memorization
b) a new round of edu-crap, like No Child Left Behind
c) replacing state standards in 45 states including California
d) causing surprisingly large numbers of students to freak out and start weeping uncontrollably during initial tests all across the East Coast
e) causing Arne Duncan to infuriate opponents by dismissing them as “white suburban moms”
f) going to push fiction out of English classrooms
g) going to have no effect on the teaching of fiction
h) going to change everything
i) going to change nothing
j) going to make testing companies billions of dollars

Closing the “Word Gap” Between Rich and Poor

NPR staff

In the early 1990s, a team of researchers decided to follow about 40 volunteer families — some poor, some middle class, some rich — during the first three years of their new children’s lives. Every month, the researchers recorded an hour of sound from the families’ homes. Later in the lab, the team listened back and painstakingly tallied up the total number of words spoken in each household.
What they found came to be known as the “word gap.”
It turned out, by the age of 3, children born into low-income families heard roughly 30 million fewer words than their more affluent peers.
Research since then has revealed that the “word gap” factors into a compounding achievement gap between the poor and the better-off in school and life. The “word gap” remains as wide today, and new research from Stanford University found an intellectual processing gap appearing as early as 18 months.
That study led to some increased calls for universal preschool, but some say that’s not early enough.
“I recognized that we need to really start in the cradle,” says Angel Taveras, mayor of Providence, R.I.
He says two-thirds of kindergarteners in the city show up on their first day already behind national literacy benchmarks.
Next month, with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Taveras’ city will launch “Providence Talks,” a new effort to take on the “word gap.” Providence will distribute small recording devices — essentially word pedometers — that tuck into the vest of a child’s clothing. These will automatically record and calculate the number of words spoken and the number of times a parent and child quickly ask and answer each other’s questions.
“We are very hopeful that we can be the laboratory here in Providence, and as we have success we can share it with the rest of the country,” Taveras says.
The idea was inspired in part by a research program called 30 Million Words in Chicago.
Aneisha Newell says that program taught her to talk to her young daughter in new ways. She says she never realized bath time — with colors and shapes of bubbles and toys to describe — could be a teachable moment. She ended up breaking the program’s record for the most words spoken.
And then there was the moment her daughter — not yet 3 years old — used the word ‘ridiculous’ correctly. Newell was amazed.
“It was just something that made me feel good as a parent,” she says.
Progress like Newell’s stems from a special kind of parent-child interaction, says Dana Suskind, a professor of surgery and pediatrics at the University of Chicago, who started the 30 Million Words program.
“We can’t just have people saying 30 million times ‘stop it!’ It’s got to be much more,” she says.
The parent should “tune in” to what the child is looking at, talk about it and ask questions that can create a sort of “serve and return” between parent and child.
Suskind says that research shows overhearing a cell phone conversation or sitting in front of a television program doesn’t cut it when it comes to building a child’s brain.
She and others hope to expand their style of training to day care centers and beyond. She says she hopes to eventually have it be routine for parents to learn about this at their newborn’s first hearing screening. She wants them to understand that their talk matters well before their baby starts talking back.

Science, Math & History: the struggle to marry content & pedagogy

Larry Cuban:

Entangled, impossible to separate, that is what content and pedagogy have been and are in U.S. schooling. But not to reformers.
For decades, in science, math, and history policymakers, researchers, teacher educators, practitioners, and parents have argued over what kind of content should be taught in classrooms, playing down the inevitable presence of pedagogy or how the subject should be taught. Amnesiac reformers, pumped full of certitude, have pushed forward with “new science,” “new math” and “new history” curricula many times over the past century believing that the content in of itself-particularly delivered by academic experts-will magically direct teachers how to put innovative units and lessons into practice in their classrooms.
Well-intentioned but uninformed, these reformers have ignored how knotted and twisted together they are. Knowing content is one strand and how to teach it is the other. Entwined forever.

Why the 2014 Newark mayoral race is so important to the teacher unions

Laura Waters:

Did you hear about last Monday’s “National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education?” Maybe not. Despite a media blitz from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, despite allocations of $1.2 million of teachers’ union dues, despite organized protests in 90 cities across the country, this event had little impact.
For New Jersey, the more meaningful signal was sent by the AFT’s decision to hold its “Day of Action” in Newark. (Pennsylvanians headed over to Gov. Corbett’s Philly office on Broad Street.)
Newark, after all, is the heart of N.J. education reform territory and boasts the state’s most progressive teacher contract (signed last year with great acclaim), an extensive and successful cadre of charter schools that educates one in four public school students, and a superintendent whose latest initiative embraces parental empowerment through a universal enrollment plan. Some of that progress is at stake as Newark residents get ready to pick a replacement for Senator Cory Booker.

Next Step, Exogamy?

Robin Hanson:

Integration seems one of the great political issues of our era. That is, people express great concern about factional favoritism based on race, ethnicity, religion, class, gender, age, etc., and push for laws and policies to prevent it, or to encourage mixing and ties across factional boundaries. I’ve tended to assume that such policies have been sufficient, and perhaps even excessive.
But a student, Randall McElroy, wrote a paper for my grad law & econ class, that got me thinking. He wrote about how the Hopi indians dealt with mass immigration in part by defining newcomers as a new clan, and then forbidding within-clan marriage. Such “exogamy” has apparently been a common strategy in history: force mixing and friendly ties between factions by requiring all marriages to be between factions.
I was reminded of Cleisthenes redesigning the political system of ancient Athens to break up the power of region-based alliances that had caused endemic political conflict. He created ten equal tribes, where a third of each tribe was taken from a different type of region, plain, coast, or hills, and made these tribes the main unit of political organization.

Does reading on screen beat paper?

Rhymer Rigby:

American Airlines completed its transition to “paperless cockpits” this year, after giving pilots iPads in place of the 3,000-plus pages of documents and manuals they used to carry.
At professional services group PwC, meanwhile, staff must walk to a printer and enter a passcode to produce their hard copy – an extra step that was designed to cut the waste created by uncollected printouts.
If the paperless workplace is finally arriving, as these examples suggest, it is worth asking whether there is a difference between reading on screens and on paper – and whether all screens are created equal.
Anne Mangen, an associate professor at the University of Stavanger in Norway who specialises in reading, says the answer depends on the complexity of the content and the type of screen.
For skimming a short message, the medium may not matter, adds Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in the US.
But a screen is not necessarily best suited to “deep” reading, where the aim is to pick up more insight and come up with novel thoughts. In this situation, she says: “Paper seems to offer some advantages.”

When the Economy Transcends Humanity

Robin Hanson:

What will our economy, workplaces, and society look like when we can copy our brains and build virtual workers to do our jobs? An economist looks at the next great era, a world dominated by robots.
What might a world full of robots as smart as humans look like? Experts in robotics and artificial intelligence have given a lot of thought to when and if such robots might appear. Most say it will happen eventually, and some say it will happen soon.
Knowing when advanced robots will appear doesn’t tell us how they will change the world. For that, we need experts in social science, like economists.
Here, I outline a scenario of what a new robot-based society might look like. Some people say I shouldn’t do this, because it’s impossible, while others just say it is unscientific. Even so, I’m doing it anyway, because it seems useful and it’s fun.
Keep in mind, however, that I’m not arguing that this scenario is good; I’m just applying basic economics to make best guesses about what things would actually be like. While most of you have probably seen movies depicting worlds with smart robots, as an economist I intend to show you we can do a lot better by using careful economic analysis. We can actually say quite a lot about this new world.

Wisconsin Teacher Evaluation System Commentary

Erin Richards:

In 2009 when the federal government announced the requirements for states to compete for billions of dollars of school reform grants, Wisconsin’s name came up — but not in the context state leaders wanted.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan called a Wisconsin law on the books at the time “simply ridiculous” because it prohibited using student test scores as a factor in evaluating teacher performance. Wisconsin never won a grant through the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition.
Nearly five years later, the state is on the brink of rolling out an evaluation system for educators in all K-12 public school districts, but the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction still hasn’t determined how to tie student outcomes into those ratings.

Wisconsin adopts a small part of MTEL

Middleton good enough, smart enough to get to bottom of cheating

Chris Rickert:

The U.S. government has arguably run far afoul of international and national law by torturing terrorism suspects and collecting private citizens’ phone records.
We’re just coming out of a recession caused largely by heretofore respectable banking, real estate and other moneyed interests who played fast and loose with the rules.
And recent years have seen many a hero athlete nabbed for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
So I find it hard to heap too much abuse on Middleton High School students accused of widespread cheating. They wouldn’t be wrong to point to the front page of almost any day’s newspaper and reprise a line from that old war-on-drugs public service announcement: “I learned it by watching you!”
Still, while we grown-ups have set some pretty bad examples, it would be a shame if Middleton’s grown-ups perpetuate that recent tradition by declining to dig too deeply into the cheating allegations.

Much more on Middleton, here (including 16% lower property taxes).

Young Souls Portray the Wit of ‘Hamlet,’ With Brevity

Michael Roston and Erik Piepenburg:

Let it not be said that Shakespeare means nothing to young people.
“The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark,” may have first been performed 500 years ago. But when The New York Times asked high school and college students to use Instagram to record short videos of lines from William Shakespeare’s tale of royal intrigue and revenge, nearly 500 students seized the opportunity. Scholars differ on whether or not Hamlet was the most vengeful teenager in Danish royal history. But the young people who made these many short videos demonstrated the many ways they were able to connect the world they dwell in with Prince Hamlet’s tragedy.
From basements and bedrooms to classrooms and cloistered locations, hundreds of students hit the “record” button on a smartphone and delivered up novel interpretations of Shakespeare’s words. We feature some of our favorite short Hamlet videos below, along with explanations from several students about what inspired their performances.

Buoyed by changes in public education

Lynne Varner:

Lasting improvements in public education have been hard-won and tempered by a discovery that change in the K-12 system will never be swift, but rather incremental.
Reflecting on the two decades I’ve written about education in Washington state, I notice a sea change. Remember when students misbehaving in school were suspended or, depending on the transgression, kicked out permanently? The Washington state Legislature is among a number of states curbing the practice of school suspensions and expulsions.
Not long ago, struggling students were relegated to low-level academic tracks. The best teachers were given the gift of high-performing “deserving” kids.
Expectations of rigor were placed on the shoulders of students in gifted programs. Now, Washington state and other states require students to take an advanced course.

We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn

Geoffrey Collier, via a kind Erich Zellmer email:

The parlous state of American higher education has been widely noted, but the view from the trenches is far more troubling than can be characterized by measured prose. With most students on winter break and colleges largely shut down, the lull presents an opportunity for damage assessment.
The flood of books detailing the problems includes the representative titles “Bad Students, Not Bad Schools” and “The Five Year Party.” To list only the principal faults: Students arrive woefully academically unprepared; students study little, party much and lack any semblance of internalized discipline; pride in work is supplanted by expediency; and the whole enterprise is treated as a system to be gamed in which plagiarism and cheating abound.
The problems stem from two attitudes. Social preoccupations trump the academic part of residential education, which occupies precious little of students’ time or emotions. Second, students’ view of education is strictly instrumental and credentialist. They regard the entire enterprise as a series of hoops they must jump through to obtain their 120 credits, which they blindly view as an automatic licensure for adulthood and a good job, an increasingly problematic belief.

A School With a Sense of Place

Deborah Fallows:

We arrived at The Grove School in Redlands, California, just before their winter break, at about noon and right in time for lunch.
The Grove School is a public charter school with about 200 students in grades 7 through 12. It follows the Montessori system, and it adjoins a private Montessori elementary school. The complex has citrus groves on one side and pastures, livestock enclosures, farm buildings, and vegetable gardens on the other. The effect is of a rural-area school that happens to be on the edge of a city.
The middle school on the campus is called The Farm, and students there grow some of the produce for the school lunches, including the one we ate. High schoolers do rotations in the kitchen in preparing, cooking, and cleaning up the meal. On the day we visited the menu was called “Hawaiian,” and included chicken, rice, pasta (with some carrots, maybe from the farm) and a chunk of pineapple. It was much better than the school lunches I remember.
Grove is a fairly new school in Redlands, graduating its first class in 2002. When my husband, Jim, grew up in the town, every student from every corner of the town went to its one high school, Redlands High. As the area grew, the RHS enrollment became unmanageably large. When Jim graduated in the late 1960s, he had 800+ classmates; a generation later, the town’s population had doubled, from around 35,000 to nearly 70,000, and the school was swollen too. Now two more 4-year public high schools have opened: Redlands East Valley in 1997, with an enrollment of about 2300 in grades 9 – 12, and Citrus Valley High School, which graduated its first class in 2012. Redlands High itself now has about 2300 students in grades 9 – 12.

L.A. Teachers and Education Reform Coalition: Irreconcilable Differences?

Lisa Alva Wood:

QUIT. I had to.
Hopefully, you’ve never picked up the telephone and felt the hair stand up on the back of your neck as you realized who was on the phone and what they were talking about, felt your heart empty out and felt dread and despair flooding in. I have, twice. The first time, it was my ex-husband. The second time, it was the United Way of Los Angeles. I phoned into a conference call that wasn’t what I expected, and it ended my relationships with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Teachers for a New Unionism and Educators for Excellence, and put some others in the doghouse. The call confirmed some of the most discouraging talk I’d heard or read, and some of my most disappointing experiences. After what I heard, I couldn’t stay any longer.
photo (1)We’ve had a hard time with education reform in Los Angeles, and with a broken relationship between LAUSD and UTLA; what happened this fall just made it all worse. Early in the school year, LAUSD began implementing a plan to provide iPads to every student in the district, and distributed the devices at 47 schools. Students at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights quickly figured out how to overcome security filters that blocked social media sites, and the rollout had issues at two other schools. The iPads were quickly recalled and the bumbling start of the iPad program made national headlines in late September and early October. The school board soon erupted in a fit of 20-20 hindsight that was not improved by subsequent emergency meetings. All of this is chronicled in the press, but I mention it to set the stage for a little feint that John Deasy pulled on October 24, 2013, right after the iPad scandal and right before he was going to be called in for his own job evaluation. It was the last straw. Although I had publicly stuck up for him after a UTLA poll of 16,000 educators rendered a 91% “no confidence” vote, I lost all faith in him with the iPad situation, and had to face some very hard realities about reform groups in LA.

Nursing Scholar Sheds Light on Bullying in Academia

Ed Moorhouse:

Bullying isn’t only a problem that occurs in schools or online among young people. It can happen anywhere to anyone, and a Rutgers-Camden nursing scholar is shedding some light on how it is becoming increasingly common in academia.
“What worries me is the impact that bullying is having on the ability to recruit and retain quality educators,” says Janice Beitz, a professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing-Camden. “It has become a disturbing trend.”
Beitz is a co-author of “Social Bullying in Nursing Academia,” an article published in the September/October 2013 edition of Nurse Educator that draws upon interviews conducted with 16 nursing professors who were the victims of social bullying in an academic nursing workplace. Beitz says that the participants described in detail instances in which they were slandered, isolated, physically threatened, lied to, or given unrealistic workloads, among various other bullying tactics.

How China’s disabled are fighting for the right to an education

Angela Meng:

For 45-year-old Li Jinsheng, who’s visually impaired, it has been a long struggle to obtain permission to sit an exam that would put him on the road to fulfilling his dream of a career in law.
Now he has finally won an eleventh hour nod to sit next year’s National College Entrance Examination in China. He now hopes his battle will start a national discussion on the subject of the rights of China’s disabled to an education.
Li recalled that at one point an examination authority official from Zhumadian city, Henan province, refused his application to sit the entrance exam because the test papers were not available in Braille.
“We’re not letting you register because we’re trying to be responsible for you,” the official reportedly had told Li, according to Xinhua.
Sadly, this was not Li’s first brush with the often frustrating bureaucracy of China’s many provinces. Around 2002, Li struggled for 15 months to get permission for a self-study examination in traditional Chinese medicine. Li’s stance on education for the disabled even earned him an audience with Deng Pufang, the paraplegic son of the late Deng Xiaoping, who complimented Li’s bravery.

The hard graft of finding a graduate job in the City of London

Emma Jacobs:

This summer Michael Olagunju and his friend Zain Abbas decided that if they were to get the jobs they so desired – as an investment banker and an actuary, respectively – they needed to do something to lift them above the torrent of featureless email applications by their graduate peers. So they dusted off their best suits and each made a placard advertising themselves and stood outside Canary Wharf, the east London hub of finance.
“I knew there had to be a better way to get noticed,” says 22-year-old Mr Olagunju, who qualified with a first-class degree in maths from Aberdeen university. “I just needed to get my toe in the door.”
Competition for graduate- level jobs is fierce. According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics last month, almost half the UK’s new graduates are working in non-graduate jobs. Forty-seven per cent of those who had finished their degree in the past five years were working in roles such as sales assistants and care workers. Recent analysis by the Financial Times showed that people who graduated this year are earning 12 per cent less than their counterparts before the financial crash.
Typically, positions at investment banks or fund managers are highly contested. These industries receive 135 applications per job, according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters.

Colleges Trim Staffing Bloat Amid Tuition Backlash and Cuts in State Subsidies, Schools Target Efficiencies

Douglas Belkin:

After years of cuts in state subsidies and growing resistance to rising tuition, U.S. colleges and universities are starting to unwind decades of administrative bloat and back-office waste that helped push up costs and tuition.
The State University of New York system shaved $48 million in the past two years by cutting unused software licenses and consolidating senior administrators.
Expense Report
How a few colleges went about improving efficiency to cut costs
University of California, Berkeley, restructured its management chain and cut 280 management positions. Savings: about $20 million a year.
University of Kansas centralized some of its 800 computer servers to keep fewer rooms chilled to 64 degrees. Energy savings: about $1 million a year
The SUNY system consolidated elevator-service contracts. Maintenance savings: $500,000 a year.
The University of California, Berkeley, cut $70 million since 2011 by centralizing purchasing and laying off a layer of middle managers, among other things.
And the University of Kansas revamped its back-office operations to save about $5 million in 2013. One example of the fresh efficiency: A new way of deploying maintenance workers shaved an hour of drive time from their shifts each day.
Jeffrey Vitter, the provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of Kansas, said for years schools put off the hard choices on reining in costs. “There clearly is a sense of urgency now and that frankly is a big part that allows us to move forward,” he said. Since reordering its back offices last year, the school, which educates 30,000 students, uses 11 million fewer pieces of paper a year.

Wisconsin Certification Elections and AAE


Last week, voters in 408 Wisconsin districts participated in union certification elections to determine their future representation. According to the results, 19 teachers unions decertified. All told, workers rejected over 70 of 408 school district unions during annual recertification elections.
The largest school districts included New Berlin, Menomonee Falls, Pewaukee, Berlin, and Waterford. Additionally, substitute teachers with the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association also decertified with 128 of 320 members voting for the union.
While the majority of unions will continue to negotiate contracts for education employees, there are large districts throughout the state that are unwilling to pay high dues for outdated representation and partisan politics. Here at AAE, we believe this historic vote ushers in a new era of accountability for the state’s unions. Teachers deserve to hold unions accountable to their members.

N.J. School Boards Association to study ways to close economic achievement gap

Peggy Mcglone:

The New Jersey School Boards Association has created a task force on student achievement to help local boards identify strategies to improve student performance and close the economic achievement gap.
Members of 11 school boards from urban, rural and suburban districts are joined by education and community leaders to review relevant research and address issues ranging from curriculum to access to technology. The task force will present best practices and make recommendations that local boards can use to improve student performance.
“Overall New Jersey’s students performing well on nationwide measures of academic progress, but when one digs deeper, a troubling statistic becomes apparent: a persistent economic achievement gap,” the association’s executive director Lawrence Feinsod said. “Poverty is no friend to academic achievement. Neither should it be an excuse for allowing children not to succeed.”

The Professor in the Home

Tony Woodlief:

Every month, money flies from my checking account to the education savings accounts of my children, because I don’t want them to become hobos. This is one way I allay my fear the world will eat them up. It’s a mark of a good parent to worry over where–and whether–his child will go to college, isn’t it?
I need to confess a profoundly un-American heresy: I question what my children will get for the money. I don’t question the value of education (though we make it a panacea for deeper ills of the soul); I doubt the capacity of most educational institutions to impart much beyond what one could obtain with, as the protagonist in Good Will Hunting notes, “a dollar-fifty in late charges at the public library.”
I know there are teachers who can help a student get far more out of Dracula, say, than he might acquire on his own. They can cultivate in him a healthy awareness of the various psycho-sexual literary analytical clubs with which the text has been bludgeoned for decades, for example, or even help him challenge dominant beliefs about what Dracula, and monster literature more broadly, means to us culturally. There are teachers like that; I’ve seen them in action, and they are a heartening, humbling species to behold.

The highly educated, badly paid, often abused adjunct professors

Charlotte Allen:

On Nov. 20, just two weeks before their final exam for the semester, students enrolled in a night class in political science at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga received a rude surprise. They were told by a dean that their professor, Stefan Veldhuis, who had been teaching at the public community college in San Bernardino County for nearly a decade, had been abruptly fired the day before.
The students don’t know why they lost their instructor because Chaffey has refused to comment on the matter. Veldhuis told a reporter for the online trade paper Inside Higher Ed that a Chaffey administrator simply phoned him and told him he was no longer a “good fit.” He speculates that the firing might be related to his informing the college that another Chaffey employee was having sex in a classroom, and that the employee might have retaliated by falsely accusing Veldhuis of something.
In any event, Veldhuis was a popular instructor at Chaffey, with a 4.8 (out of 5) rating on RateMyProfessor, and many of his students have rallied to his defense, setting up a support page for him on Facebook. The online magazine Slate took up the cry, declaring that “terminating professors midsemester with no reason and no due process is abhorrent.”

Big Data Wins the War on Christmas

Matthew Chingos:

The holiday seasons of 2012 and 2013 in the education world have been dominated by the release of new international test-score data, and the accompanying hand-wringing about the performance of the U.S., with advocates of every stripe finding a high-performing country with existing policies that match what they always thought the U.S. ought to do. Here at the Chalkboard we often take on the dangers of analyses that draw causal conclusions from correlational data, particularly when the analyst is free to keep mining the data until the desired pattern is revealed. There are certainly many real examples that illustrate this important point, but today I’d like to illustrate it with a frivolous example about the Yuletide, based on real data and analyses.
With one week to go before Christmas, most Americans are too busy going to holiday parties and shopping for last-minute gifts to worry about college ratings, teacher evaluation systems, and the other education policy issues of the day. Could the festive holiday spirit get in the way of putting students first? Or is it possible that a little holiday magic might increase student achievement?

Santa Claus, Big Data and Asymmetric Learning

David Eaves:

This Christmas I had a wonderfully simple experience of why asymmetric rates of learning matter so much, and a simple way to explain it to friends and colleagues.
I have a young son. This is his first Christmas where he’s really aware of the whole Christmas thing: that there is a Santa Claus, there is a tree, people are being extra nice to one another. He’s loving it.
Naturally, part of the ritual is a trip to visit Santa Claus and so the other day, he embarked on his first visit with the big guy. Here’s a short version of the transcript:
Santa: “Hello Alec, would you like to talk to Santa?”
Alec: (with somewhat shy smile…) “Yes.”
Santa: “So Alec, do you like choo-choo trains?”
Alec: (smile, eyes wide) “Yes.”
Santa: “Do you like Thomas the choo-choo train?”
Alec: (practically giggling, eyes super wide) “Yes!”

Oakland school serving black boys to shut down

Jill Tucker:

An Oakland public school created to serve African American males will shut down in January, just 18 months after it opened.
The 100 Black Men of the Bay Area Community School, a public charter school, struggled financially and suffered administrative turnover as well as loss of enrollment during its three semesters of operation. Its last day will be Jan. 24.
The school, located at the former Thurgood Marshall Elementary campus in the city’s southeast hills, had 120 students at the start of this school year and 75 this week.
Short of funds
“Our problem is a lack of money, not a mismanagement of funds,” said Dr. Mark Alexander, a member of the school’s board of directors. “This is the responsible thing to do.”
Alexander believes the closure will be a hiatus to give the school time to reorganize, determine what went wrong and reopen in the next year or two.
“It’s a setback for us,” he said. “We’ve come too far to let this dream go.”

Related: The proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School – rejected by a majority of the Madison School Board.

How U.S. schools misteach history of racial segregation

CRichard Rothstein:

In the last week, we’ve paid great attention to Nelson Mandela’s call for forgiveness and reconciliation between South Africa’s former white rulers and its exploited black majority. But we’ve paid less attention to the condition that Mandela insisted must underlie reconciliation–truth. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Mandela established, and that Bishop Desmond Tutu chaired, was designed to contribute to cleansing wounds of the country’s racist history by exposing it to a disinfecting bright light. As for those Afrikaners who committed even the worst acts of violence against blacks, they could be forgiven and move on only if they acknowledged the full details of their crimes.
In the current issue of the School Administrator, I write that we do a much worse job of facing up to our racial history in the United States, leading us to make less progress than necessary in remedying racial inequality. We have many celebrations of the civil rights movement and its heroes, but we do very little to explain to young people why that movement was so necessary. Earlier this week, the New York Times described how the Alabama Historical Association has placed many commemorative markers around Montgomery to commemorate civil rights heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, but declined–because of “the potential for controversy”–to call attention to the city’s slave markets and their role in the spread of slavery before the Civil War. Throughout our nation, this fear of confronting the past makes it more difficult to address and remedy the ongoing existence of urban ghettos, the persistence of the black-white achievement gap, and the continued under-representation of African Americans in higher education and better-paying jobs.
One of the worst examples of our historical blindness is the widespread belief that our continued residential racial segregation, North and South, is “de facto,” not the result of explicit government policy but instead the consequence of private prejudice, economic inequality, and personal choice to self-segregate. But in truth, our major metropolitan areas were segregated by government action. The federal government purposefully placed public housing in high-poverty, racially isolated neighborhoods (pdf) to concentrate the black population, and with explicit racial intent, created a whites-only mortgage guarantee program to shift the white population from urban neighborhoods to exclusively white suburbs (pdf). The Internal Revenue Service granted tax-exemptions for charitable activity to organizations established for the purpose of enforcing neighborhood racial homogeneity. State-licensed realtors in virtually every state, and with the open support of state regulators, supported this federal policy by refusing to permit African Americans to buy or rent homes in predominantly white neighborhoods. Federal and state regulators sanctioned the refusal of the banking, thrift, and insurance industries to make loans to homeowners in other-race communities. Prosecutors and police sanctioned, often encouraged, thousands of acts of violence against African Americans who attempted to move to neighborhoods that had not been designated for their race.

Anonymous letters allege cheating in place for years at Middleton High

Molly Beck, via several kind readers:

Cheating on math exams at Middleton High School began years ago and focused on students sharing photographs of test questions with their peers, two letters sent to the school allege.
The letters, one purportedly from a parent and one said to be from a student, both unsigned, name no students or teachers’ classes but describe a system in which many students participated in cheating, which included the selling of test questions, first-period students sharing test questions and students calling in sick on test days and later obtaining test information.
The letters, obtained by the State Journal under the state’s Open Records Law, were sent to the school this month. Officials this month made about 250 students retake a calculus exam because of suspected cheating

The Wrong College Ratings

Bradley Bateman:

LYNCHBURG, Va. — BY the beginning of the 2015 school year, college students will have yet another tool for evaluating their higher-education options — only this one won’t come from U.S. News and World Report or Playboy, but the Department of Education. And rather than ranking academic quality or opportunities to party, this list will rate schools on “value.”
At a time when the cost of college is soaring and millions of Americans are being shut out of higher education, a government-approved list of colleges that offer students more bang for their buck might sound like a good idea. But it’s not.
The ratings, proposed by President Obama in August, would evaluate schools based on criteria including tuition levels, graduation rates, how many students receive Pell grants and how much money recent graduates earn.
The problem is, the program won’t just shape the choices students make; it will create potentially perverse incentives for the schools themselves.
Ratings based on graduate earnings will encourage schools to minimize preparation for lower-paying but socially valuable professions like social work, ministry and preschool education. Ratings based on graduation rates will encourage them to admit fewer students who might be less prepared for college, who graduate in lower numbers.

Newly Discovered Eighth Grade Exam From 1912 Shows How Dumbed Down America Has Become

Michael Snyder:

Have you ever seen the movie “Idiocracy”? It is a movie about an “average American” that wakes up 500 years in the future only to discover that he is the most intelligent person by far in the “dumbed down” society that is surrounding him. Unfortunately, that film is a very accurate metaphor for what has happened to American society today. We have become so “dumbed down” that we don’t even realize what has happened to us. But once in a while something comes along that reminds us of how far we have fallen. In Kentucky, an eighth grade exam from 1912 was recently donated to the Bullitt County History Museum. When I read this exam over, I was shocked at how difficult it was. Could most eighth grade students pass such an exam today? Of course not. In fact, I don’t even think that I could pass it. Sadly, this is even more evidence of “the deliberate dumbing down of America” that former Department of Education official Charlotte Iserbyt is constantly warning us about. The American people are not nearly as mentally sharp as they once were, and with each passing generation it gets even worse.
Just check out some of the questions from the eighth grade exam that was discovered. Do you think that you could correctly answer these?…
-Through which waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?

Related: Madison Literary Club Talk: Examinations for Teachers Past and Present.

Inside the Box People don’t actually like creativity.

Jessica Olien:

Unfortunately, the place where our first creative ideas go to die is the place that should be most open to them–school. Studies show that teachers overwhelmingly discriminate against creative students, favoring their satisfier classmates who more readily follow directions and do what they’re told.
Even if children are lucky enough to have a teacher receptive to their ideas, standardized testing and other programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top (a program whose very designation is opposed to nonlinear creative thinking) make sure children’s minds are not on the “wrong” path, even though adults’ accomplishments are linked far more strongly to their creativity than their IQ. It’s ironic that even as children are taught the accomplishments of the world’s most innovative minds, their own creativity is being squelched.

Arts education: A look at how Michigan’s schools teach music, drama, painting and more

Brian Smith:

From parents funding elementary art classes out of their own pockets, to a school district with more than 100 art and music teachers, to urban charter schools specializing in the arts, Michigan’s arts education landscape is as varied as its geography.
Over the next week, online and in print, MLive will take a look at how schools across the state teach the arts, focusing on how districts have cut, maintained or brought back classes through hard budget choices and generous fundraising.
The state’s educational guidelines call for students from kindergarten through high school to learn about dance, visual art, music and theater, and the Michigan Merit Curriculum requires students to complete one course in “visual, performing or applied arts” in order to graduate and receive a high school diploma.
That graduation requirement, coupled with budget pressures facing districts across the state, has often put elementary and middle school arts programs on the chopping block.

Simple Approaches to School Improvement

David Cohen:

Schools in the city of Sanger, California, struggle with many of the educational challenges you’d anticipate in a rural, farming community, populated largely by migrant workers with low incomes and little English. Yet in the past decade, Sanger schools have beaten the odds, improving educational outcomes for their students in many significant ways.
You can find the details in this AP story by Gosia Wozniacka, at the San Diego Union-Tribune web site: Farm town develops education success formula. The story echoes much of what David Kirp said about improving schools in his book Improbable Scholars, (reviewed here). While his book focuses on Union City, New Jersey, he does refer to Sanger as an example of similar conditions producing similar improvements.
The most important take-away from these stories is that school improvement does not require dramatic overhauls in curriculum or governance. Rather, it’s mainly a matter of stability and trust, the key conditions that allow people to build a shared understanding of the challenges they face and how to best serve their students, developing home-grown solutions that everyone commits to supporting.
Here’s a sample of the article, which I hope you’ll read in its entirety:

Scarsdale Elementary School Program Review


The Principals of the five elementary schools and Scarsdale Assistant Superintendent Lynne Shain took center stage at the Board of Education meeting on Monday night December 9 to present a review of the elementary school program in the district. This presentation is one of a series of special reports that have been presented at Board of Education meetings in preparation for school budget discussions for 2014-15. The Principals reviewed the curriculum, program elements and staffing to give an overview of activities at the five schools, explain what’s now being done and the associated costs.
It was an impressive review of many of the elements of the elementary program and it can be viewed on the Scarsdale Schools website on the Video on Demand page here or read the highlights of the presentations below.
Shain explained that the highly professional staff, small class sizes, student support, emphasis on basic skills plus interdisciplinary programs and critical and creative problem solving all contribute to a successful K-8 program that allows students to excel in high school and beyond. In response to new federal and state requirements to teach the core curriculum the district has made modest modifications to the curriculum where needed.

Much more on Scarsdale, here.
Scarsdale plans to spend $143,899,713 during the 2013-2014 school year for 4,700 students or $30,616 (!) per student. This is about double Madison’s $15K/student, which is itself, double the United States average. Scarsdale demographics & Madison.

Solve math problems with logic

Manila Standard Today:

An educational and enrichment workshop was recently conducted by the Galileo Enrichment Learning Program where the multi-awarded mathematician and Singapore Math advocate Dr. Queena Lee-Chua together with her son Scott, shared with the participants the fundamentals of Singapore Math and demonstrated how this fun learning approach is used to solve word problems.
Multi-awarded mathematician and Singapore Math advocate Dr. Queena Lee-Chua shared with the participants the fundamentals of Singapore Math and demonstrates how this fun-learning approach is used to solve word problems.
The workshop, held at Nuvali Evoliving AVR, Sta. Rosa City, Laguna, was organized by Galileo Sta. Rosa, attended by parents and their kids, as well as by teachers from different pre-schools and elementary schools in and outside Manila. It was indeed an enlightening and engaging time for everyone as the mother and son tandem proved to the audience that complex mathematical problems can be solved with simple math logic.

Much more on Singapore Math, here.
Related: Math Forum Audio/Video.

Exceptional Minds School Helps Kids with Autism Find Their Niche

Maane Khatchatourian:

For the majority of young adults diagnosed with autism, finding a skilled job — especially one in the entertainment biz — is a pipe dream. But thanks to Exceptional Minds digital arts vocational school, it doesn’t have to be.
With the school’s help, four autistic students in their early 20s were hired to work on post-production visual effects for “American Hustle.” Arielle Guthrie, Lloyd Hackl, Patrick Brady and Eli Katz, who are in the program’s third and final year, provided rotoscoping services — the laborious process of outlining elements in key frames for digital manipulation — from EM’s Sherman Oaks, Calif., studio.
One of the program’s instructors, Josh Dagg, closely supervised the project, which the students worked on for five weeks on top of their full course loads. Dagg said most people with Autism Spectrum Disorders — when they feel mentally engaged — can focus with laser precision on a task for hours on end. Students in the program represent a wide range of individuals afflicted with a varying severity of symptoms. The students who worked on “American Hustle” had milder forms of autism.
“I want them to look forward to a career of personal and professional success rather than a lifetime of people telling them that ‘because you hit this particular number in this genetic lottery, you are now a glorified houseplant,’ ” Dagg said. “That’s a very real fear for a lot of people (with autism).”

In the ‘silent prison’ of autism, Ido speaks out

Thomas Curwen:

The high school student’s ‘Ido in Autismland’ is part memoir and part protest, a compelling message to educators on how to teach people such as him.
I t-h-i-n-k …
Ido Kedar sits at the dining room table of his West Hills home. He fidgets in his chair, slouched over an iPad, typing. He hunts down each letter. Seconds pass between the connections.
… A-u-t-i-s-m-l-a-n-d …
He coined the word, his twist on Alice’s Wonderland.
“C’mon,” says his mother, Tracy. “Sit up and just finish it, Ido. Let’s go.”
He touches a few more keys, and then, with a slight robotic twang, the iPad reads the words he cannot speak.
I think Autismland is a surreal place.
For most of his life, Ido has listened to educators and experts explain what’s wrong with him. Now he wants to tell them that they had it all wrong.
Last year, at the age of 16, he published “Ido in Autismland.” The book — part memoir, part protest — has made him a celebrity in the autism world, a young activist eager to defy popular assumptions about a disorder that is often associated with mental deficiency.

Wisconsin DPI collecting testimony on Common Core

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

DPI held public hearings on the Common Core State Standard today, December 19, in Milwaukee, LaCrosse, and Ashland. The public may submit written testimony on the CCSS to DPI until January 3, 2014. Testimony may be send via email to CCSSTestimony @dpi.wi.gov or mailed to DPI at P.O. Box 7841, Madison, WI 53707-7841.
This is separate from the legislative hearings on the CCSS which were held in October. The following information has been provided by DPI to update us on developments since the legislative hearings.
NEW Developments since October Hearing Opportunity
On December 11, the Assembly special committee on CCSS released the following report and on December 12, voted on eight recommendations crafted after hearing public testimony at the four hearings in October. Read more about the outcome of that vote from the committee chair press release here or view the Wisconsin Eye video of this vote and discussion here (120 min).
On December 11, the Senate special committee released their report and recommendations. It is unclear whether the Senate committee will also vote on their recommendations.

WWC Review of the Report “The Impact of Dual Enrollment on College Degree Attainment: Do Low-SES Students Benefit?”

What Works Clearinghouse:

This study used data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS:88) to examine the effects of dual enrollment programs for high school students on college degree attainment. The study also reported whether the impacts of dual enrollment programs were different for first generation college students versus students whose parents had attended at least some college. In addition, a supplemental analysis reports on the impact of different amounts of dual enrollment course-taking and college degree attainment.
Dual enrollment programs offer college-level learning experiences for high school students. The programs offer college courses and/or the opportunity to earn college credits for students while still in high school.
The intervention group in the study was comprised of NELS participants who attended a postsecondary school and who participated in a dual enrollment program while in high school (n = 880). The study author used propensity score matching methods to create a comparison group of NELS participants who also attended a postsecondary school but who did not participate in a dual enrollment program in high school (n = 7,920).

Via Noel Radomski

Chinese fakes hit Japan’s luxury diaper market

Julian Ryall:

Counterfeit diapers are damaging both the reputation and bottom line of Japanese manufacturers in China, with companies in Tokyo calling on local authorities to act.
The booming Chinese market is proving a lucrative one for Japanese firms such as Daio Paper, which makes the hugely popular Goo.n line of disposable diapers. And because they are superior to Chinese products, that has elevated them to the status of a luxury product.
That popularity, however, has made them a target for the fakers.
The quality of the copies – the diaper looks like the genuine article and the packaging is indistinguishable – means that the counterfeiters can charge almost the same price as the real thing, between 155 and 185 yuan (HK$234). That figure is double the price in Japan, underlining the importance of the Chinese market to Japanese firms.
It is only when the diapers are put to the test that the differences become clear. The copies are made of a rougher material and absorb less liquid.
This has caused big problems for companies such as Daio Paper, as angry parents complain about the quality of diapers that they believed were genuine products.

China’s academic obsession with testing

Kelly Yang, via a kind John Dickert email:

This month, for the third time in a row, the Asians kicked American butt — academically, that is. On reading, science and math, students in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore earned the top scores on the international PISA test. U.S. students scored below or near the worldwide average, prompting suggestions that American education as a whole is failing. As a Hong Kong educator, I’m confident that the last thing the United States needs to copy is Chinese education.
Here in this city of 2 million parents , there are 2 million school principals, all ordering after-school academic courses like appetizers in a restaurant. Parents are the headmasters because our schools no longer control the education process. A 2011 survey estimated that 72 percent of Hong Kong high school students receive tutoring outside of school, often until late in the evening. So when our schools get out, the school day is just beginning for most kids.
Long before the term “tiger mom” was coined, Chinese parents had a history of obsessing over academics. The other day, I overheard two parents talking about their sons. One mom turned to the other and shrieked, “I found him in his room, just sitting there. Not doing anything!” The other gasped and shook her head in disbelief.
Their sons are 6 years old.

Milwaukee Public Schools shows slight gain in reading, math scores on national exam

Erin Richards, via a kind Wisconsin Reading Coalition email:

Milwaukee Public Schools students’ average reading and math scores on a national exam ticked up slightly in fourth and eighth grade between 2009 and 2013, according to a new report released Wednesday.
But — and there always seems to be a “but” — only the score change in eighth-grade math was statistically significant over those years.
And compared with the performance of 20 other urban districts in 2013, MPS ranked in the bottom four for math and the bottom six for reading.
Still, MPS officials were optimistic about the latest results of the Trial Urban District Assessment, praising the district’s average scale-score increases in reading and math in fourth and eighth grades over the past two years — even though federal statisticians said those changes did not fall outside the margin of testing error.
“Would we like to see statistically significant change? Sure,” said Melanie Stewart, MPS director of assessment. “But in all four areas, we are trending in the positive direction.”
Results from the urban district assessment come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a government-sponsored exam administered about every two years that’s considered the best gauge of how students are doing in reading and math.
National and state results on the 2013 assessment were released last month.
Fuller said MPS and community leaders need to think about reaching out to other urban districts showing improvement.
“We can’t keep acting like there’s nobody out there teaching poor, young black and brown students how to read,” Fuller said.

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

Why do people who chose not to study science and math opine on the virtues of studying science and math?

Philip Greenspun:

The New York Times editorial board contains people who studied history, economics, law, history (again), journalism, journalism (again), history (again, this time for the “science” expert), journalism, English literature, French literature, English literature (again), comparative literature, law, psychology, international relations, German, modern history, and law. Yesterday, the group signed an editorial entitled “Missing from Science Class; Too Few Girls and Minorities Study Tech Subjects.” The group of history and literature majors confidently wrote about the benefits of a tech education, how to motivate women and people with particular skin colors, and the sagacity of President Obama’s proposal on preschools (my previous post on the subject; note that Obama has previous extolled the virtues of STEM education for people other than himself (example)).
Why would folks who apparently preferred other subjects suggest that women and particular minority groups be encouraged to study tech subjects that they themselves did not like and ended up not needing?
Separately, here is a much more substantive approach to the challenge of getting more women interested in computer science: “Feminism and Programming Languages” by Arielle Schlesinger. Excerpts:

The Wisconsin Specific Learning Disabilities Rule took full effect on December 1

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email

requently Asked Questions about Making Specific Learning Disability (SLD) Eligibility Decisions has been updated to reflect full implementation of all components of the SLD eligibility rule. The document is posted at http://sped.dpi.wi.gov/files/sped/pdf/sld-faq.pdf.
SLD in Plain Language, including a one page summary of the eligibility criteria for SLD is posted at http://sped.dpi.wi.gov/files/sped/pdf/sld-plain-language.pdf.
Wisconsin’s Specific Learning Disabilities (SLD) Rule: A Technical Guide for Determining the Eligibility of Students with Specific Learning Disabilities update is posted at http://sped.dpi.wi.gov/files/sped/pdf/sld-guide.pdf.
DPI recommends that you replace any earlier versions of the guide or the FAQs with their updates. Look forward to an updated overview of SLD PowerPoint presentation, and other updates in the coming days and weeks.

Thinning the Ph.D. Herd

Rebecca Schuman:

Faculty and graduate students at Johns Hopkins University, an elite private research institution that costs undergrads $61,000 per year, are up in arms about a new strategic plan that proposes sweeping changes (and cuts) to its Ph.D. programs. Some 275 graduate students, concerned about the viability of their departments, have petitioned the university to reconsider, arguing to Inside Higher Ed that such downsizing could be emulated around the country if it takes effect. But these grad students should be more concerned about their viability after the Ph.D.–which is grim. Johns Hopkins knows this, and is taking drastic but needed measures. I’m all for it, and I’d be delighted, not dismayed, if other universities emulated this strategy.
Here’s the plan, which faculty and students have demanded the administration reconsider: Over the course of the next five years, Hopkins would like to cut its graduate enrollment by 25 percent, and use those savings to raise the remaining grad-student stipends (what “nonemployees” get instead of a salary) to $30,000 per year.
This reduction would result in fewer graduate seminars. More importantly, though, instead of roughly one-half the instruction in the university being done by graduate students, only one-fourth would be, and this will put senior faculty in more contact with the undergraduate hoi polloi than they have been in decades. (The fact that Hopkins plans to fire no tenured faculty–merely to force them into contact with undergrads–is why these reductions seem much more reasonable than the ones at, say, Minnesota State University-Moorhead.) Meanwhile, the grad students that do remain will be paid well: that $30,000 is straight-up baller cash in the grad-school world–current stipends at JHU are around $20,000, and I received around $16,000 at UC-Irvine.

Teaching Isn’t Rocket Science. It’s Harder.

Ryan Fuller:

In 2007, when I was 22, I took a position as an aerospace engineer working on the design of NASA’s next-generation spacecraft. It was my dream job. I had just received a degree in mechanical engineering, and the only career ambition I could articulate was to work on something space-related. On my first days of work, I was awestruck by the drawings of Apollo-like spacecraft structures, by the conversations about how the heat shield would deflect when the craft landed in water and how much g-force astronauts could withstand. I couldn’t believe I wasn’t just watching a documentary on the space industry–I was inside it.
I was extremely motivated during my first year of work. I got in earlier and stayed later than most, and I tried to learn everything I could from my more experienced colleagues. The work wasn’t easy. Our team was trying to re-engineer, with modern technology, something that was designed in the ’60s. As a design engineer, I had to integrate the efforts of several different groups that often didn’t talk to each other or even get along very well. My deadlines haunted me like a thousand nightmares. Over the course of the next few years, though, I received awards and exceptional performance reviews, and I gained the respect of my colleagues, some of whom had been in the business for about as long as I had been alive.

Seattle Times and OSPI Sign Deal for SPS Student Data

Melissa Westbrook:

KUOW obtained a copy of the two-year agreement between the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and The Seattle Times, signed last month, which authorizes eight Times journalists to work with, but not publish, confidential student and staff information, including names and Social Security numbers.
“Wow,” said Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda. “I wasn’t aware of [this agreement], and I don’t think any of my staff was aware that this was being considered and approved.”
“This is really disconcerting for us, because we’ve been assuring families that we are really mindful about following [data privacy] rules,” Banda said.
The contract outlines measures the Times must take to secure confidential data it receives, including allowing OSPI to inspect Times facilities and requiring any confidential information to be returned or destroyed when the contract expires.
One sour note – KUOW did not explain the “grant-funded” Education Lab project at Seattle Times is thru the Gates Foundation.

Middleton High School investigating allegations of widespread cheating

Molly Beck, via a kind reader’s email:

Middleton High School officials are investigating claims of cheating, including allegations of students sharing and selling photographs of test questions.
Nearly 250 seniors at Middleton High School were told to retake a calculus test this week after the school learned last week of suspected cheating among its test takers, a spokesman said.
The scope of the investigation widened after the school received four letters from parents and students indicating such cheating had occurred before and in other subjects.
In a letter to parents Thursday, principal Denise Herrmann and associate principal Lisa Jondle said during the course of their investigation into alleged sharing of photos of calculus test questions, they received letters from students and parents “which provided additional information to the scope and severity of cheating on tests in courses across the curriculum,” prompting the school to notify all parents of the allegations.
Herrmann and Jondle asked parents for their support “in talking with your students about the ramifications of engaging in some of the dishonest assessment practices reported to us.”

Wisconsin Recertification Votes Mean What You Want Them to Mean

Mike Antonucci:

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission released the results of this year’s 408 union recertification elections. If you are a union person, you were encouraged that “about 90 percent of the groups said yes to recertifying.” If you are a union opponent, you were encouraged that “workers rejected over 70 of 408 school district unions.”
I don’t read much into the results either way. Some unions chose not to recertify, and since the law puts the apathetic on the “no” side, we have no sense of the depth of opposition. Since doing nothing was the same as voting no, there was no reason to vote no unless you felt very strongly about it.
The locals that achieved support from a majority of members can feel proud of their accomplishment in such an environment, but even the largest victories still leave them with 25 percent or more of their rank-and-file who don’t want them or can’t be bothered making a phone call to record their support.

Taking stock of Jonathan Raymond’s tenure and legacy at Sac City

John Fensterwald:

Jonathan Raymond saw his charge as superintendent of Sacramento City Unified as transforming the district. This week, after 4½ years leading the 42,000-student district, he departs with a credible list of accomplishments at least partly attributable to his leadership.
Some of those – progress in implementing Common Core standards, greatly expanded summer programs, new college and career programs tied to businesses and the community, home-school visits and new parent-teacher partnerships – will survive. So too probably will the new focus on social and emotional aspects of learning, which, Raymond said, “is really catching on like the beginning of a wild blaze.”
Other changes, though – protections he provided a half-dozen once low-performing Priority Schools and a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law tied in part to adoption of a new teacher evaluation system – will remain under attack from the teachers union with whom Raymond repeatedly clashed.

School board races matter, and there’s still time to run

The Capital Times:

Candidates who lose a race for public office face a choice. They can give up on campaigning and step back to the sidelines of the American experiment. Or they can wade back into the competition — better prepared and more determined to prevail.
Gaylord Nelson lost his first race for the state Legislature.
So did Scott Walker.
Robert M. La Follette lost and lost before he won the governorship.
Bill Proxmire lost statewide race after statewide race before he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Paul Soglin lost his first race for mayor of Madison.
And Madison firefighter and paramedic Michael Flores lost his first race for the Madison School Board in 2012.

Much more on the 2014 Madison School Board election, here.

I Am a Teacher With Really Bad Handwriting

Andrew Simmons:

My students squint desperately at my handwritten comments on their papers. They turn the paper sideways as if a fresh angle might lend clarity. They shrug or giggle and fold the paper up, resigned to the grade and regrettably impervious to the constructive criticism I carefully crafted the previous night.
“I can’t read this, Simmons,” a student sometimes announces. I hustle over to translate and feel the warmth of real shame creeping along my neck when it takes me more than a few seconds to figure out what I’ve written. I can read my own writing, but even I am sometimes momentarily baffled by what I behold.
I have terrible handwriting. Being left-handed and not particularly committed to tidiness in any capacity, my scribbling, whether cursive, print, or some ugly amalgam, never evolved significantly from my elementary-school days. If anything, it is now worse.

Semester that was: Chancellor Rebecca Blank aims to up UW reputation

Aliya Iftikhar:

Chancellor Rebecca Blank arrived at the University of Wisconsin this fall in a time of strained relations between the university and state Legislature.
With goals of increased funding, faculty retention and continuing the Wisconsin Idea, Blank said she came into her position with low expectations for state funding.
Nonetheless, Blank said she would advocate to keep current funding levels and also work to establish good communication and relationships with the Legislature.
Blank also advocated for a balance between affordable higher education and new revenue streams. To do so, she emphasized improving private donor funding.

Madison’s Lake Wobegon schools?

Chris Rickert:

Nearly 30 percent of the students at Madison’s Marquette Elementary School were classified last year as “talented and gifted,” or TAG, according to the school district.
That may not be Lake Wobegon territory — where “all the children are above average” — but it’s still pretty hard to believe.
Such alleged widespread student giftedness isn’t just the case at one district school.
Yes, there are wide variations among Madison elementary and middle schools in percentage of TAG students, but figures from the district suggest that on average districtwide, there are about twice as many TAG students as one would expect given national averages and expert opinion.
The National Association for Gifted Children estimates that about 6 percent of American school children are gifted.
The federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics put the gifted and talented number at 6.7 percent as of 2006, the most recent year for which data are available.

Much more on “talented & gifted” programs, here, including a recent parent group complaint.

What Does Your MTI Contract Do for You? The Right to File a Grievance

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

When a union member files a grievance it means that the member and his/her union believes that their employer has failed to live up to its end of a provision which the employer agreed to include in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. They are called “agreements” for a reason: the union and the employer pledged that what they agreed upon in negotiations is what both will live by, that it is best for the employees and the employer. A Collective Bargaining Agreement is a legally binding Contract.
Filing a grievance sets in motion a process for resolving the employee’s complaint, often a complaint which could have been resolved easily and informally through discussion. Once a grievance is filed, the union and the employer meet in a process set forth in the Collective Bargaining Agreement to discuss the reasons on which the grievance is based. When the issue cannot be resolved through discussions, the union may take the complaint to a neutral third party (an arbitrator) who will decide whether management has violated the Contract. Wisconsin law assures that union- represented employees cannot be retaliated against because of filing a grievance.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement is the Constitution of the workplace, and only unionized employees, like members of MTI, are protected by a Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Poverty influences children’s early brain development

University of Wisconsin-Madison News
Poverty may have direct implications for important, early steps in the development of the brain, saddling children of low-income families with slower rates of growth in two key brain structures, according to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
By age 4, children in families living with incomes under 200 percent of the federal poverty line have less gray matter — brain tissue critical for processing of information and execution of actions — than kids growing up in families with higher incomes.
“This is an important link between poverty and biology. We’re watching how poverty gets under the skin,” says Barbara Wolfe, professor of economics, population health sciences and public affairs and one of the authors of the study, published today in the journal PLOS ONE.
The differences among children of the poor became apparent through analysis of hundreds of brain scans from children beginning soon after birth and repeated every few months until 4 years of age. Children in poor families lagged behind in the development of the parietal and frontal regions of the brain — deficits that help explain behavioral, learning and attention problems more common among disadvantaged children.
The parietal lobe works as the network hub of the brain, connecting disparate parts to make use of stored or incoming information. The frontal lobe, according to UW-Madison psychology professor Seth Pollak, is one of the last parts of the brain to develop.
“It’s the executive. It’s the part of the brain we use to control our attention and regulate our behavior,” Pollak says. “Those are difficulties children have when transitioning to kindergarten, when educational disparities begin: Are you able to pay attention? Can you avoid a tantrum and stay in your seat? Can you make yourself work on a project?”
The maturation gap of children in poor families is more startling for the lack of difference at birth among the children studied.
“One of the things that is important here is that the infants’ brains look very similar at birth,” says Pollak, whose work is funded by the National Institutes of Health. “You start seeing the separation in brain growth between the children living in poverty and the more affluent children increase over time, which really implicates the postnatal environment.”

The Darkest Term: Teacher Stress and Depression

Andrew Old:

To sum up, I have been teaching for 10 years now in mainstream and BESD. Last year has been awful. Wanted to quit; couldn’t cope; cried all the time at home; worked ridiculous hours to keep up; didn’t sleep. Also, I’ve put on nearly 3 stone through poor diet, eating on the run and comfort eating and look about 50 (I’m 31). I went to the doctors because I was ill a lot and, once I’d explained symptoms, he medicated me for work-related anxiety.
Months passed and there was no change really so I went back. Now I take mild antidepressants too on top of anxiety meds. Generally it’s helped and I can cope better but I definitely had to get out of my current school as it is going to the dogs. So short-staffed it is silly; no PPA; always on duty; no time to get anything done. 13 hour days most days.

Lecturers must stand with students to preserve the right to protest

Nina Power:

Three years ago today, parliament voted by a narrow margin to triple tuition fees and cut the educational maintenance allowance. Outside, thousands of students, lecturers and others gathered in the freezing cold to protest against everything the vote represented – the closing off of further and higher education to all but the rich and those prepared to take on thousands of pounds worth of debt for a job that might never come. Riot police charged horses into crowds, lashed out with batons to devastating effect and kettled hundreds for hours on Westminster Bridge. Dozens were later charged with serious public order offences, although juries thankfully didn’t buy it, acquitting 18 of the 19 who pleaded not guilty.
Three years later, we find the right to protest yet more eroded. Following successful student actions in support of cleaning staff, “occupational-style protests” have recently been the subject of an injunction at the University of London, turning a civil matter criminal, and recent “Cops Off Campus” demos have seen a return of aggressive police tactics in the form of physical violence, kettling and mass police presence. The only thing the police seemed to have “learned” from last time was the short-term impact of mass arrests – as the 286 anti-fascist protesters arrested recently in Tower Hamlets will know. Protesters are loaded into police vans or specially commissioned buses, taken to police stations all over London and sometimes even outside the city, held for hours, released on police bail with ludicrous conditions (not to enter the city of Westminster, or to attend any protests, or to congregate in groups of four), then the charges are dropped many months down the line.

How iOS7 is forcing a redesign of Montessori education

Bobby George:

The Montessori method of teaching relies heavily on natural materials. One of the first things people notice about our classrooms, for example, is the abundance of activities involving wood. And so it made sense that as we duplicated the Montessori experience in digital form, the materials presented looked the same way. On an iPhone or iPad, the experience we offered children was largely rooted in the real world.
The introduction of iOS7–a new operating system that removes ties to the physical world in many ways–has changed everything. It’s more transparent, noticeably lighter, and seemingly faster.
We desire the same traits in a digital Montessori education. And that’s led to a rethinking of the aesthetic that is so thoroughly dependent on woodgrain–and all its shadows and textures that are now relics of Apple’s previous operating system. The new version forced us to seriously consider how our apps would look and feel, and how children would engage with them. As we’ve changed to reflect this, the question becomes, will children still interact with the digital material as they do the physical one when it isn’t grounded in their real-world experience?

Teacher salaries in Wisconsin down 5.4 percent since 1990 (excluding benefits)

Mike Ivey:

The average teacher salary in Wisconsin is $55,171, down 2.1 percent since 2000 when adjusted for inflation, according to a new report from a national education group.
The Wisconsin salary, which does not include benefits, is comparable to the U.S. average of $56,383. Teacher salaries nationally have fallen by 1.5 percent since 2000, adjusted for inflation.
By comparison, Minnesota teacher salaries have risen by 3.3 percent since 2000 to $56,268.

View the report, here.

Proposed Wisconsin Bill would allow charter schools to expand free of districts, unions

Erin Richards and Jason Stein:

Wisconsin could see a dramatic rise in the number of charter schools operating outside of districts and without teachers unions, under a new Assembly bill brought by Republicans that would take independent charters statewide.
The proposed legislation would eliminate district-staffed charters and empower a new slate of authorizers to approve independent charters: all four-year and two-year University of Wisconsin System institutions, as well as all the state’s regional educational service agencies and technical college district boards.
The measure comes as Republican lawmakers intensify their efforts to pass a charter-school bill in the remaining months of the session.
Independent charters are controversial because they are public schools run like private businesses; they don’t employ unionized staff and don’t have to answer to school boards. They exist through a contract, or charter, with an approved nondistrict entity.
Advocates see the schools as important to reform efforts because they’re not bogged down by school system bureaucracy and have more flexibility in curriculum and staffing.
Opponents criticize the schools for not having to follow the same rules as traditional districts, and for being the darlings of business interests. The schools also, in effect, reduce funding for traditional public schools the charter pupil otherwise might have attended.

Justified anger: Rev. Alex Gee says Madison is failing its African-American community

Rev. Alex Gee:

I had just finished my presentation about the mass incarceration of African-American men to a Downtown Rotary luncheon when a woman from the audience approached me.
“Wonderful presentation, Dr. Gee!” she told me, adding she was intrigued by my data and insights about Wisconsin’s mass incarceration phenomenon.
She added, “If you don’t mind, I must tell you that I am so glad that you are not some angry black man!”
This well-intentioned white Rotarian had just heard how Wisconsin has an epidemic and leads the nation in the incarceration of African-American males between 20 and 24 years old.
Giving these kinds of presentations typically takes a toll on me because of the bleakness of the subject matter, the pain in my soul unearthed by the topic and the typically blank stares by people who wonder why we are still talking about racial disparities in 2013.
“I am an angry black man,” I responded. “Why would you think I wasn’t angry over what is happening in and to my community? Is it because I put on my best face and ‘safe’ black voice for you today?”

Worst-Ever Homeschool Law Proposed in Ohio

Home School Legal Defense Association:

With the introduction of Senate Bill 248 on December 3, 2013, by Senator Capri Cafaro, Ohio has suddenly become a frontline in the battle over homeschooling freedom.
SB 248 is breathtakingly onerous in its scope. It requires all parents who homeschool to undergo a social services investigation which would ultimately determine if homeschooling would be permitted. Social workers would have to interview parents and children separately, conduct background checks and determine whether homeschooling is recommended or not. If it is not recommended, parents would have to submit to an “intervention” before further consideration of their request to homeschool.
SB 248 was offered by sponsors as a way to respond to the death of 14-year-old Teddy Foltz-Tedesco in January 2013. News reports indicate that Teddy had been abused for years by his mother’s boyfriend, Zaryl Bush. After teachers reported abuse to authorities, Teddy’s mother withdrew him from public school, allegedly to homeschool him. Reports tell a sad story of a broken home where neighbors, friends, family, police, teachers and others knew Teddy was suffering ongoing abuse. Finally, Bush beat Teddy so severely that he later died of his injuries. Both Bush and Teddy’s mother are now in prison. A news report can be found online.

Leaked! Harvard’s Grading Rubric

Nathaniel Stein:

From: The Dean of Harvard College
To: The Faculty
In light of the controversy regarding so-called grade inflation, please take a moment to review the grading guidelines rubric, reproduced below:
¶ The A+ grade is used only in very rare instances for the recognition of truly exceptional achievement.
For example: A term paper receiving the A+ is virtually indistinguishable from the work of a professional, both in its choice of paper stock and its font. The student’s command of the topic is expert, or at the very least intermediate, or beginner. Nearly every single word in the paper is spelled correctly; those that are not can be reasoned out phonetically within minutes. Content from Wikipedia is integrated with precision. The paper contains few, if any, death threats.
A few things can disqualify an otherwise worthy paper from this exceptional honor: 1) Plagiarism, unless committed with extraordinary reluctance. 2) The paper has been doused in blood or another liquid, unless dousing was requested by the instructor. 3) The paper was submitted late (with reasonable leeway — but certainly by no more than one or two years).
An overall course grade of A+ is reserved for those students who have not only demonstrated outstanding achievement in coursework but have also asked very nicely.

The Discomfort Zone: Want to teach your students about structural racism? Prepare for a formal reprimand.

Tressie McMillan Cottom:

Shannon Gibney is a professor of English and African diaspora studies at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC). When that’s your job, there are a lot of opportunities to talk about racism, imperialism, capitalism, and history. There are also a lot of opportunities to anger students who would rather not learn about racism, imperialism, capitalism, and history. I presume MCTC knows that; they have an African diaspora studies program. Back in January 2009, white students made charges of discrimination after Gibney suggested to them that fashioning a noose in the newsroom of the campus newspaper–as an editor had done the previous fall–might alienate students of color. More recently, when Gibney led a discussion on structural racism in her mass communication class, three white students filed a discrimination complaint because it made them feel uncomfortable. This time, MCTC reprimanded Gibney under their anti-discrimination policy.
Elevating discomfort to discrimination mocks the intent of the policy, but that’s not the whole of it. By sanctioning Gibney for making students uncomfortable, MCTC is pushing a disturbing higher-education trend. When colleges and universities become a market, there is no incentive to teach what customers would rather not know. When colleges are in the business of making customers comfortable, we are all poorer for it.

U.S. Rare in Spending More Money on the Education of Rich Children

Lisa Wade:

“The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students,” writes Eduardo Porter for the New York Times. This is because a large percentage of funding for public education comes not from the federal government, but from the property taxes collected in each school district. Rich kids, then, get more lavish educations.
This means differences in how much we spend per student both across and within states. New York, for example, spends about $19,000 per student. In Tennessee they spend $8,200 and in Utah $5,321. Money within New York, is also unequally distributed: $25,505 was spent per student in the richest neighborhoods, compared to $12,861 in the poorest.

Single-Sex vs. Coed: The Evidence

single sex schools:

What’s the evidence? What have researchers found when they compare single-sex education with coeducation?
Let’s begin with two recent studies in which students were RANDOMLY assigned either to single-gender or coed classrooms, with no opt-out. We are aware of no other studies in which students were randomly assigned either to single-gender or coed classrooms, with no parental opt-out allowed. Any such study would be illegal in the United States; in the United States, federal statute 34 CFR 106.34 requires that any assignment to a single-gender classroom or school must be completely voluntary.
In the first study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania traveled to Seoul South Korea, because in Seoul, students are RANDOMLY assigned either to single-gender or to coed high schools. The assignment is truly random, and compulsory. Students cannot “opt out” of either the single-gender format or the coed format. This policy of random assignment was instituted in 1974 specifically to prevent clustering of students from particular backgrounds at particular schools. In recent decades, many Korean school districts have loosened the policy and they now allow parents to express preferences or to “opt out” of particular schools. But not in Seoul. In Seoul, it’s still a true random assignment with no opt-out.
The scholars from Penn recognized that the random nature of the assignment creates the opportunity to compare single-gender schools with coed schools, without the usual confounding variables which would accompany any attempt at a similar comparison among North American schools. All the schools in the study are publicly-funded; none of them charges any fees or tuition. The researchers found no differences between the single-gender and the coed schools in terms of teacher quality or in teacher training. Class sizes in the boys’ schools were no different than in the typical coed school, and class sizes were actually slightly larger in girls’ schools than in the typical coed school. There were no differences in socioeconomic background or prior academic achievement between students attending single-gender schools and those attending coed schools.

A Lesson In Mismanagement: Despite borrowing $10 billion to fund school construction, Chicago still has an overcrowding problem. Millions also went to schools that now stand empty.

Jason Grotto, Alex Richards andHeather Gillers:

More than a decade ago, demographic projections signaled an important reversal for Chicago Public Schools: Enrollment was about to shrink dramatically.
Yet CPS leaders appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley issued billions of dollars in bonds to repair, expand or replace the vast majority of the district’s schools regardless of future needs and without voter input, a Tribune investigation found.
In total, CPS officials have borrowed more than $10 billion in general obligation bonds since 1996 to fund school construction projects, debt that has contributed to the system’s current financial crisis. Officials poured $1.5 billion of that money into schools that today are less than 60 percent full.
Along the way, CPS invested $100 million in schools it closed this year, in part, because they were underused. About half of that spending came after demographic projections predicted districtwide enrollment drops.

Top of the class: How much impact does where your child ranks in primary school have on their later confidence and exam results?

Richard Murphy and Felix Weinhardt:

Conventional wisdom suggests that it is always best to place children with higher-performing peers.
Our research, which looks at their later outcomes, indicates that this is
not necessarily true.
Imagine two pupils of the same high ability: one is top of their class but the other is in the middle because their school attracts many high-ability children.
We find that the pupil who was top of the class becomes more confident and performs better in secondary school than the pupil who had the same test score in primary school but a lower rank.
These rankings are inferred by the pupils themselves as it is not standard practice for teachers to discuss rankings. We find that being highly ranked during primary school has a positive effect on later test scores that is equivalent to being taught by a highly effective teacher for one year. And being ranked in the top quarter of your primary school peers as opposed to the bottom quarter improves later test scores by twice as much as being taught by a highly effective teacher for one year.

The Capacity Challenge: What It Takes for State Education Agencies to Support School Improvement

Ashley Jochim, Patrick J. Murphy , via a kind Deb Britt email:

The push to raise standards and increase student outcomes has placed state education agencies (SEAs) at the center of efforts to improve the performance of the nation’s lowest-performing schools, but few are well positioned to deliver on that imperative. Federal and state initiatives like Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and Common Core State Standards pose challenges that most agencies are not prepared to meet.
Seeking to understand what SEAs are doing to meet new and existing obligations, researchers conducted interviews with state chiefs and analyzed agency initiatives and budgets in 10 states with varied approaches to school and district improvement. They found no evidence that those with the most money had better data systems or more comprehensive accountability systems. And few SEAs engage in the type of budget analysis that would enable them to assess whether their investments align with their priorities or are paying off.
While the lack of legal authority to intervene in failing schools sometimes limited the ability of states to act on their school improvement strategies, the researchers found that states that had such authority rarely used it.

Peach Baskets

In 1891, when Mr. James Naismith (he got his MD in 1898) put two peach baskets with the bottoms out at about 10 feet up at each end of the gymnasium in Springfield, Massachusetts, how many high school students do you think could make the three-point shot? Zero.
Today, when people see the exemplary history research papers published in The Concord Review, the most common reaction is: “These were written by High School Students?!” The reason for this disbelief is that most adults (even Edupudits, etc.) today no more expect high school student to write 11,000-word research papers than people in 1891 expected them to be able to make a three-point shot or dunk the basketball.
Theodore Sizer, late Dean of the Harvard School of Education and Headmaster of Phillips Academy, Andover, wrote, in 1988, that:
Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them. We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing. At least if and when they reflect about it, adolescents have cause to resent us old folks. We do not signal clear standards for many important areas of their lives, and we deny them the respect of high expectations. In a word, we are careless about them, and, not surprisingly, many are thus careless about themselves. “Me take on such a difficult and responsible task?” they query, “I’m just a kid!” All sorts of young Americans are capable of solid, imaginative scholarship, and they exhibit it for us when we give them both the opportunity and a clear measure of the standard expected. Presented with this opportunity, young folk respond. The Concord Review is such an opportunity, a place for fine scholarship to be exhibited, to be exposed to that most exquisite of scholarly tests, wide publication. The Concord Review is, for the History-inclined high school student, what the best of secondary school theatre and music performances, athletics, and (in some respects) science fairs are, for their aficionados. It is a testing ground, and one of elegant style, taste and standards. The Review does not undersell students. It respects them. And in such respect is the fuel for excellence.”
Since 1987, The Concord Review has published more than a thousand 6,000-word, 8,000-word, 11,000-word, 15,000-word, and longer history papers by secondary students from 46 states and 38 other countries, and, as we only take about 5% of the ones we get, evidently several more thousands of high school students have written serious history papers and submitted them. But I was recently asked, “How many high school students do you think could actually write papers like that?”–Suggesting that it must be a very small number indeed! As small perhaps as the number of high school students who could make that three-pointer in 1891?
Some examples: Colin Rhys Hill, of Atlanta, Georgia, decided to write a 15,000-word history research paper on the Soviet-Afghan War; Sarah Willeman of Byfield, Massachusetts, decided she wanted to write a 21,000-word paper on the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah in 1857; Nathaniel Bernstein, of San Francisco, chose to write an 11,000-word paper on the unintended consequences of Direct Legislation reforms in the early 1900s in California; and Jonathan Lu, of Hong Kong, wrote a 13,000-word paper on the Needham Question (why did Chinese technology stall after 1500?)…(send to fitzhugh@tcr.org for pdfs of these papers).
“Where there’s a Way, there’s a Will,” I sometimes think. If peach baskets exist, some day somewhere a high school student or two will try to shoot a ball through one. Obviously by now the number of such students who can make a three-point shot is very large. We even have nationally-televised high school basketball games in which they can demonstrate such an achievement. If an international journal for the academic history research papers of secondary students exists, perhaps some students will actually write and submit them?
Most people may tell a high school students that they are not capable of doing the reading and the writing for a long serious history research paper. Most of their teachers do not want to spend the time coaching for and reading them. But my advice to any prospective high school author is (pay no attention to the people who tell you that you are only capable of writing a five-paragraph essay), and:
Prepare yourself over hours, weeks, months, and years of practice.
Make sure your feet are behind the three-point line.
Take the shot.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

British Library Releases 16, 17 & 18 Century Digitized Books

Ben O’Steen:

We have released over a million images onto Flickr Commons for anyone to use, remix and repurpose. These images were taken from the pages of 17th, 18th and 19th century books digitised by Microsoft who then generously gifted the scanned images to us, allowing us to release them back into the Public Domain. The images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of.
Which brings me to the point of this release. We are looking for new, inventive ways to navigate, find and display these ‘unseen illustrations’. The images were plucked from the pages as part of the ‘Mechanical Curator’, a creation of the British Library Labs project. Each image is individually addressible, online, and Flickr provies an API to access it and the image’s associated description.
We may know which book, volume and page an image was drawn from, but we know nothing about a given image. Consider the image below. The title of the work may suggest the thematic subject matter of any illustrations in the book, but it doesn’t suggest how colourful and arresting these images are.

Universities as Commercial Enterprise, an Ongoing Case Study

Dave Brockington:

This essay on the current experience at the University of Michigan published on Inside Higher Ed, made the rounds last week. Titled “Corporate Values”, it includes several quotes that speak directly to my ten year experience at my current institution. To wit:

America’s public research universities face a challenging economic environment characterized by rising operating costs and dwindling state resources. In response, institutions across the country have looked toward the corporate sector for cost-cutting models. The hope is that implementing these “real-world” strategies will centralize redundant tasks (allowing some to be eliminated), stimulate greater efficiency, and ensure long-term fiscal solvency.

As I’ve argued in the past, the experience in Britain serves as both a model and a warning to my colleagues in the United States. Decisions are taken purely on a revenue-stream criterion. If eliminating one undergraduate program will allow resources to be shifted to another, thus resulting in a marginally enhanced revenue stream on a per-student basis, then such a move has appeal. Those of us providing the “content” are treated as interchangeable parts, have superficial input in decision making (which is typically window dressing as one of many “stakeholders” in the institution, designed to assuage concerns of consultation). Management decisions are conducted with no transparency, and handed down as edicts. There’s no entertainment of feedback, let alone constructive criticism. Again this resonates:

5 Things Faculty Can Actually Do About the Academy, Part 3: The Humanities Resembles a Pyramid Scheme, and We Should Be Bothered By That

Rebecca Harris:

Earlier this fall semester, Dr. Anne-Marie Womack (Tulane), a colleague from my graduate institution, and I had a piece about the academic job market in English published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the piece, we make the argument that departments should strive to make the first round of job applications free of cost for candidates. The idea for this piece arose when we were on a flight together to campus visits and we got into a discussion about how much money we had spent on Interfolio during the job search “season”. Both of us had applied to more than 100 jobs, and for myself the Interfolio cost alone was north of $600. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Interfolio, it is a dossier service that allows a candidate to put his or her materials together, including confidential letters of recommendation, and send them as one package to the hiring committee responsible for the job search. The minimum cost for sending a dossier through Interfolio is $6, and in the case of print materials, the price increases as the page count goes up. For most jobs I applied to, the committee required at minimum a CV, three confidential letters of recommendation, a teaching philosophy, a writing sample, and a job letter in the first round of application.
Due to the volume of this type of application, the cost for a single Interfolio dossier could go as high as $20. Given such a high cost to applicants, most often graduate students, adjuncts, and postdoctoral fellows, and the fact that many jobs in English had as many as 500 applicants in the first round, we argued that departments and schools should work to make the process free to applicants by requiring only an electronic submission of a CV and job letter in the first round.
We further argued that this system would also provide feedback and reassurance to applicants advanced to the next round of the search by contacting them for materials like the writing sample and confidential letters of recommendation. Requesting more materials from a short list, we claimed, “would also alert us of our success and would mark a significant personal accomplishment in what can be a very anonymous process.”

A Right to the University

Brenna Bhandar:

On 4 December, the University of London was granted an injunction from the High Court that prohibits ‘persons unknown (including students of the University of London) from ‘entering or remaining upon the campus and buildings of University of London for the purpose of occupational protest action’ for the next six months. Many such injunctions have been granted to universities across the country over the past four years, with increasing frequency and ever wider restrictions on student protest. In this case, the University of London argued that the occupation of Senate House threatened the liberty and freedom of senior university personnel, and presented a risk of damage to property, despite assurances from the occupiers that staff were free to come and go from the building and no such damage would occur. The eventual eviction of the occupiers was rough and violent. On 5 December, 35 students were arrested and several of them detained overnight. Some were assaulted by the police.
‘The action is restorative,’ the occupiers’ official statement said, ‘displacing the undemocratic and unaccountable management with a democratic space for the free pursuit of knowledge, critical enquiry and dissent.’ Their specific demands related to the democratic deficit in university governance, the privatisation of service provision and the student loan book, and the working conditions of academic, cleaning and maintenance staff.
The use of injunctions to quash protest is an indicator of how deeply privatisation has taken root in British universities. Injunctions are a private law remedy. They are being granted to prohibit protest as if universities, as legal persons, were like any other private property owner; as if students were like any people at large, violating the property rights of the university. The claimant in this case alerts the court to the Code of Student Discipline, implying that students who take part in sit-ins and occupations are in breach of their contract with the university. The right to express dissent, the rights of freedom of association and expression, and entirely legitimate concerns about university governance, are excised from the ostensibly private realms of property and contract.

Apocalypse, New Jersey: A Dispatch From America’s Most Desperate Town

Matt Taibbi:

The first thing you notice about Camden, New Jersey, is that pretty much everyone you talk to has just gotten his or her ass kicked.
Detroit’s Debt Crisis: Everything Must Go
Instead of shaking hands, people here are always lifting hats, sleeves, pant legs and shirttails to show you wounds or scars, then pointing in the direction of where the bad thing just happened.
“I been shot six times,” says Raymond, a self-described gangster I meet standing on a downtown corner. He pulls up his pant leg. “The last time I got shot was three years ago, twice in the femur.” He gives an intellectual nod. “The femur, you know, that’s the largest bone in the leg.”
“First they hit me in the head,” says Dwayne “The Wiz” Charbonneau, a junkie who had been robbed the night before. He lifts his wool cap to expose a still-oozing red strawberry and pulls his sweatpants down at the waist, drawing a few passing glances. “After that, they ripped my pockets out. You can see right here. . . .”
Even the cops have their stories: “You can see right here, that’s where he bit me,” says one police officer, lifting his pant leg. “And I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’m going to have to shoot this dog.'”
“I’ve seen people shot and gotten blood on me,” says Thomas Bayard Townsend III, a friendly convicted murderer with a tear tattoo under his eye. “If you turn around here, and your curiosity gets the best of you, it can cost you your life.”

The Homeschool Apostates

Kathryn Joyce:

At 10 P.M. on a Sunday night in May, Lauren and John,* a young couple in the Washington, D.C., area, started an emergency 14-hour drive to the state where Lauren grew up in a strict fundamentalist household. Earlier that day, Lauren’s younger sister, Jennifer, who had recently graduated from homeschooling high school, had called her in tears: “I need you to get me out of this place.” The day, Jennifer said, had started with another fight with her parents, after she declined to sing hymns in church. Her slight speech impediment made her self-conscious about singing in public, but to her parents, her refusal to sing or recite scripture was more evidence that she wasn’t saved. It didn’t help that she was a vegan animal-rights enthusiast.
After the family returned home from church, Jennifer’s parents discovered that she had recently been posting about animal rights on Facebook, which they had forbidden. They took away Jennifer’s graduation presents and computer, she told Lauren. More disturbing, they said that if she didn’t eat meat for dinner she’d wake up to find one of the pets she babied gone.
To most people, it would have sounded like overreaction to innocuous forms of teenage rebellion. But Lauren, who’d cut ties with her family the previous year, knew it was more. The sisters grew up, with two brothers, in a family that was almost completely isolated, they say, held captive by their mother’s extreme anxiety and explosive anger. “I was basically raised by someone with a mental disorder and told you have to obey her or God’s going to send you to hell,” Lauren says. “Her anxiety disorder meant that she had to control every little thing, and homeschooling and her religious beliefs gave her the justification for it.”

the post-MOOC-hype landscape: what’s REALLY next?

Bonnie Stewart:

The short version (see slide 4) is this: there are currently two solitudes in the MOOC conversation, and it’s not a cMOOC/xMOOC divide. One solitude – the mainstream media discourse – is essentially a unicorn, in the sense that its promises are fantasies of salvation and solutionism that have very little to do with the actual practice of higher education. The other – the practitioners’ discourse(s), broadly represented by the various interests around the table at #mri13 – is a Tower of Babel. Still, this solitude, loosely and cacophonously affiliated as it is, nonetheless leans towards discussing MOOCs in terms of learning. And in the wake of twenty-odd months of hype in which the dominant public narratives about higher ed have been all glorious revolution or ghastly spectre, I think it’s time to seize this (likely momentary) lull in unicorn sales and try to talk about MOOCs as learning. We need to make ourselves familiar with what the post-hype landscape of higher ed looks like, and address the issues and opportunities it’s left us with. In learning terms. On as many public platforms as we can. In stereo.
In other words, challenge the empty narratives that your administrators or your faculty have been sold. Find ways to talk about why what you’re doing matters. Change the narrative from unicorns back to what education is about: learning. End story.

Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up In Math and Science, the Best Fend for Themselves

NY Times Editorial, via a kind reader:

“Federal, state and local governments and school districts have put little effort into identifying and developing students of all racial and economic backgrounds, both in terms of intelligence and the sheer grit needed to succeed. There are an estimated three million gifted children in K-12in the United States, about 6 percent of the student population. Some schools have a challenging curriculum for them, but most do not.”
In a post-smokestack age, there is only one way for the United States to avoid a declining standard of living, and that is through innovation. Advancements in science and engineering have extended life, employed millions and accounted for more than half of American economic growth since World War II, but they are slowing. The nation has to enlarge its pool of the best and brightest science and math students and encourage them to pursue careers that will keep the country competitive.
But that isn’t happening. Not only do average American students perform poorly compared with those in other countries, but so do the best students, languishing in the middle of the pack as measured by the two leading tests used in international comparisons.
On the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment test, the most recent, 34 of 65 countries and school systems had a higher percentage of 15-year-olds scoring at the advanced levels in mathematics than the United States did. The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland all had at least twice the proportion of mathematically advanced students as the United States, and many Asian countries had far more than that.
Other tests have shown that America’s younger students fare better in global comparisons than its older students do, which suggests a disturbing failure of educators to nurture good students as they progress to higher grades. Over all, the United States is largely holding still while foreign competitors are improving rapidly.
Federal, state and local governments and school districts have put little effort into identifying and developing students of all racial and economic backgrounds, both in terms of intelligence and the sheer grit needed to succeed. There are an estimated three million gifted children in K-12 in the United States, about 6 percent of the student population. Some schools have a challenging curriculum for them, but most do not.

Related: parents file talented & gifted complaint with the Madison School District.

2 New York City Colleges Draft Rules That Restrict Protests

Ariel Kaminer:

At Cooper Union, it was outrage over a new tuition policy. At City College, it was anger over the closing of a community center. At both Manhattan colleges, student protest shut down buildings, garnered headlines and largely defined campus life over the past year. Now those two very different institutions are considering policies that could restrict how, when and where students can express dissent, while raising the penalties for those who disobey.
Representatives of Cooper Union’s student government were surprised when, a few weeks ago, administrators showed them a draft of a new code of conduct. In addition to addressing matters like fire safety and drug use, the document would forbid “deliberate or knowing disruption of the free flow of pedestrian traffic on Cooper Union premises” and “behavior that disturbs the peace, academic study or sleep of others on or off campus.” A section on bullying and intimidation mentions communication, in any medium, that “disrupts or interferes with the orderly operation of the Cooper Union.”

Taiken nyuugaku: Experiencing local school in Japan


Pristine was born in Japan and she was only 3 years old when we moved to Dubai in 2007. She only spoke Japanese then but as our stay in the UAE became longer and longer (7 years in a few weeks!) and with Pristine attending British curriculum international school, she has lost her grip not just on the language but also being away from Japan too long, been detached from the Japanese culture and tradition aspect.
When we went for vacation to Japan this summer, we enrolled Pristine in the local Japanese public school – something we’ve always wanted to do for years now. She has spent more of her years here than in Japan and we didn’t want her to forget half of what she is.
More specifically, we want her to experience both worlds.
Taiken nyuugaku: a special program for Japanese kids who lived overseas. They come home for the summer, and experience life in a Japanese school. We knew lots of children who did it. We thought it was a great way to reconnect with her roots, not mention hone her Japanese language skills and most importantly, to be with Japanese children her age, in Japan.

Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2013: MOOCs and Anti-MOOCs

Audrey Watters:

Barely a week has gone by this year without some MOOC-related news. Much like last year, massive open online courses have dominated ed-tech conversations.
But if 2012 was, as The New York Times decreed, the year of the MOOC, 2013 might be described as the year of the anti-MOOC as we slid down that Gartner Hype Cycle from the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” For what it’s worth, Gartner pegged MOOCs at the peak back in July, while the Horizon Report says they’re still on the horizon. Nevertheless the head of edX appeared on the Colbert Report this year, and the word “MOOC” entered the Oxford Online Dictionary – so whether you think those are indications of peak or trough or both or neither, it seems the idea of free online university education has hit the mainstream.
MOOCs: An Abbreviated History
To recap: in 2008, Dave Cormier coins the term “MOOC” to describe George Siemens’ and Stephen Downes’ course “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge.” In the Fall of 2011, Stanford offers open enrollment in online versions of three engineering classes: Artificial Intelligence (taught by Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig), Machine Learning (taught by Andrew Ng), and Databases (taught by Jennifer Widom). In December 2011, MIT unveil MITx. In January 2012, Thrun announces he’s leaving Stanford to launch Udacity. In April 2012, Ng, along with Stanford colleague Daphne Koller, launch Coursera. In May 2012, Harvard and MIT team up for edX. In December 2012, 12 British universities partner to launch their MOOC platform, FutureLearn. And in 2013…

Madison’s latest budget spends about $15K per student.

Get politics, unions out of education


I read with interest all of the comments about the Glenda Ritz/Indiana State Department of Education controversy, both pro and con. I am of the opinion that the office, regardless of who is elected or appointed, or Democrat or Republican, will have little if any effect on the kind of education our children will continue to receive.
I grew up in rural South Texas and went to two-room schools through middle school and to a 100-student high school. The 21 graduates in my high school class all could read by second grade and none ended up in prison or with a felony conviction. I think that held true for most of the students in that era. We had no stadium, no swimming pool, no state and federal education standards, no teachers union, minimal school funding, and yet we all learned to read and write and do basic math, and how to get a job and get to work.
Today, our public schools are about everything but teaching the basics, and yet that is what makes the most difference in our students’ future. Vast amounts of public tax dollars are spent on impressive buildings and facilities, indoctrinating instead of teaching, teaching a vast array of non-essential subjects, political correctness, huge sports complexes, and on and on. Yet many of our students do not gain the basic skills of reading and writing and financial literacy.

Advocate for children in special education has witnessed big changes

Alan Borsuk:

It is not easy to make Tom Phillipson happy when it comes to the way a child who needs special education is being served in Milwaukee.
He’s a charming, warm guy in many ways. But get him involved in a child’s needs and he’s demanding and persistent. I doubt “puppy dog” is the phrase that comes to mind first for people on the receiving end of his attention.
It is time to sing praises of Phillipson and to provide some perspective on changes in how special education is handled in Milwaukee and beyond. In some ways, the last few years have been a time of significant improvements, but there is much more distance to go.
The improvements can be summed up with two points:
There are more ambitious goals for children with special-education needs than there used to be.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act, 12 years old now, has a lot of failings. But one good thing it did was set out that schools were expected to see every segment of their student population achieve, and that included kids in special-ed. It was a bold statement that led to much more focus on the academic needs of the children, not just on taking care of them in school.
And, with a lot of pushing, compliance with special-education laws has gotten better. Milwaukee Public Schools is a good example of that. The impact of a lawsuit brought against MPS in 2001 is one of the reasons.

Teachers Seek to ‘Reclaim’ Education

Michelle Chen:

After years of being backed into a corner, on Monday public-school teachers stood up in defiance against what they see as their chief bully–budget-slashing school reforms that have made school more stressful and less fulfilling for both them and their students.
Under the banner of a National Day of Action to Reclaim the Promise of Public Education, educators, students and community groups coordinated demonstrations, rallies and other public gatherings in dozens of cities. In the long run, the day of action kicked off a broader campaign by a coalition of unions and community groups to chart an alternative path to education reform.
According to a policy statement by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the leading union behind the campaign, and its partner groups, the goal is to foster “a community-union movement for educational equity and excellence.” While that agenda may sound neutral to the uninitiated, it speaks to growing resentment toward the prevailing reform rhetoric pushed by the White House and many politicians: corporate-oriented “standards” and “management,” leading to a test-heavy curriculum focused on math and reading at the expense of all else. First imposed under the No Child Left Behind law of the Bush administration, this hardline approach rests on the belief that a lack of academic rigor and “ineffective” educators are impeding U.S. students’ performance. The prescription has been an avalanche of high-stakes testing, public-school funding cuts and free-market privatization measures such as charter schools, often funded by corporate-oriented philanthropists and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Museums, MOOCs and MoMA: the future of digital education realised?

David Scott:

When pressed on what the main issues confronting educators in the 21st century are, Deborah Howes is unequivocal in her response. “The biggest challenge in looking ahead is letting go of familiar habits preventing you from reaching other audiences that expect and need to learn in different ways.”
Ms Howes, the Director of Digital Learning at New York’s iconic Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), is well placed to reflect on the future of education, particularly as it increasingly evolves – and involves – online.
MoMA’s digital education offerings include seven fee-based courses (offered via their website) and, more recently, a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offered via Coursera.

via Noel Radomski.

Maryanne Wolf on Dyslexia as a Gift

To the best of our knowledge via the Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

Jim Fleming: Maryanne Wolf knows as much as anybody on the planet about what the human brain is actually doing when it reads. She runs The Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University and enjoyed significant popular success for her last book, “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.” But as Anne Strainchamps found out, Wolf is equally passionate about the dyslexic brain.
Maryanne Wolf: I like to say that the dyslexia brain is proof and daily evidence that the brain was never wired to read. Now there are all these children in the world, all these individuals are walking around with brains that are so often, I can’t say that for every single person, but so often these are brains that are wired to see spatial patterns, to see the big picture, to go outside of the box, to think holistically. Often they’re artists, they’re architects and yeah, that same advantage or set of advantages which made them before literacy, our generals, out builders, a lot of our great figures, that made a disadvantage at the same time for some of the wiring that goes into left hemisphere language processes.
Now the real, if, if you wanna know my real task in life, it’s to re-conceptualize or to help re-conceptualize dyslexia from being thought of as a deficit or something wrong with the brain, to realizing this is an extraordinary and beautiful brain that we have failed as an educational system to know how to teach easily when it comes to reading. But that is the failure, not the child, but of us to understand.
And one of the joys for me in brain imaging is that we’re able to look and see how many of our individuals with Dyslexia have such interesting right hemispheric processes, and when you look at how t hey read are using the right hemisphere inefficiently for a left hemisphere-like task.

The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder

Alan Schwarz:

After more than 50 years leading the fight to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Keith Conners could be celebrating.
Severely hyperactive and impulsive children, once shunned as bad seeds, are now recognized as having a real neurological problem. Doctors and parents have largely accepted drugs like Adderall and Concerta to temper the traits of classic A.D.H.D., helping youngsters succeed in school and beyond.
But Dr. Conners did not feel triumphant this fall as he addressed a group of fellow A.D.H.D. specialists in Washington. He noted that recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. He questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”

Building Brain Literacy in Elementary Students

Judy Willis:

For many students, the brain isn’t a hot topic of conversation. This is especially true for younger students who are still trying to understand the world around them, and are still far from developing physiological self-awareness of the very thing that gives them that self-awareness.
But helping students develop “brain literacy” doesn’t have to be a matter of dry science pumped full of confusing jargon. Understanding the brain can be empowering for students as they recognize their ability to strengthen it each time they use it. As a teacher, you can emphasize how using the executive functions, both in the classroom and outside of school, increases their strength for academic success. Practice makes perfect!
To reduce anxiety about new “stuff” in the classroom — whether related to Common Core State Standards, struggles with reading, or something else entirely — you can find opportunities to emphasize students’ ability to literally build the brains they want. Remind them that, when they turn in a story, demonstrate a science principle in a skit, or even raise their hand to respond to a question, they grow more dendrites and add new layers of myelin to their axons. To them this may sound gross, but it’s actually good news. By activating these brain networks, they continuously use their executive functions as they apply new learning. Like a muscle, the brain responds to interaction and activity.

Let’s Bring The Polymath — and the Dabblers — Back

Samuel Arbesman:

I noticed recently that books with the phrase “The Last Man Who Knew Everything” all share in common that their subjects lived during the period close to the Scientific Revolution, roughly between 1550 to 1700. (The examples I own are about Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit priest born in 1602; Thomas Young, who studied topics such as optics and philology and was born in 1773; and Philadelphia area professor Joseph Leidy, who was born in 1823.)
It’s as if the Scientific Revolution — and the knowledge it spawned — killed the ability to Know Everything. Before then, it was not only possible to be a generalist or polymath (someone with a wide range of expertise) — but the weaving together of different disciplines was actually rather unexceptional. The Ancients discussed topics such as ethics, biology, and metaphysics alongside each other. The Babylonian Talmud discusses everything from astronomy and biology to morality and law, weaving them together into a single compendium.
So what changed? Scientific knowledge exploded in size, mainly due to the application of the scientific method to our surroundings. As that knowledge base and its domain experts grew exponentially, we began classifying and ordering all that we understood — from the classification taxonomy of Carl Linnaeus to manuals for categorizing mental disease. We made sense of our world by dividing information into manageable portions and distinct areas of proficiency.