What’s next for Wikipedia?

The Economist:

IN 2012, after 244 years in print, Encyclopedia Britannica became online-only. Now a group of German fans of Wikipedia, an online, user-generated encyclopedia, are raising money for a move in the opposite direction. A print version of the English Wikipedia–1,000 bulky volumes and 1,193,014 pages–will be on show at a gathering of Wikipedians later this year. A world tour will probably follow: a global victory lap for the internet’s most impressive crowd-sourced creation.
The books will be instantly out of date; several times a second an article is amended online. But that is not the point. Wikipedia, which was founded in 2001 by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, has a right to show off. With articles on subjects as diverse as Spaghetti code (“a pejorative term for source code”) and SpaghettiOs (“an American brand of canned spaghetti”), it has 1,600 times as many articles as the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is the world’s fifth most popular website, with editions in 287 languages. (The English one is the biggest, with 4.4m articles.) On any given day 15% of all internet users visit it, amounting to 495m readers a month.

The worst thing about China’s education system

Kan Wei:

Chinese pupils are once again at the top of international education rankings. Recent further in-depth analysis of results from the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, have now shown that it’s not just pupils from Shanghai and Beijing coming top of the class. Children from rural areas and disadvantaged environments of China also outperformed peers in other countries.
UK education secretary Liz Truss is leading a visit to China with a group of teachers to observe why. But she should be mindful of copying a system that is being questioned by some Chinese researchers for the stress it puts on children.
Chinese pupils spend more time in school than British children. School days are longer and holidays are shorter. On average, under the current system, the length of the secondary school year is 245 days. Chinese pupils get around four weeks off in winter, and seven weeks in summer, including weekends and all kinds of traditional festivals. That’s a total of 175 days off, 37 days fewer than UK pupils.

New Jama study: US toddler obesity rate plummets


The obesity rate among young US children has fallen by 43% since 2003-2004, the first broad decline in years, a new national study has found.
Obesity among US children ages two to five dropped to 8.4% in 2011-2012 from 13.9%, the survey found.
Scientists have not identified an exact cause but say a decrease in sugary beverage consumption may contribute.
Childhood obesity has been shown to increase risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease and stroke later in life.
The study was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) on Tuesday.

The Teaching/Research Tradeoff in Law: Data from the Right Tail

Tom Ginsburg & Thomas J. Miles:

There is a long scholarly debate on the tradeoff between research and teaching in various fields, but relatively little study of the phenomenon in law. This analysis examines the relationship between the two core academic activities at one particular school, the University of Chicago Law School, which is considered one of the most productive in legal academia. We use standard measures of scholarly productivity and teaching performance. For research, we measure the total number of publications for each professor for each year, while for teaching, we look at the average teaching rating. Net of other factors, we find that, under some specifications, research and teaching are positively correlated. In particular, we find that students’ perceptions of teaching quality rises, but at a decreasing rate, with the total amount of scholarship. We also find that certain personal characteristics correlate with productivity. The recent debate on the mission of American law schools has hinged on the assumption that a tradeoff exists between teaching and research, and this article’s analysis, although limited in various ways, casts some doubt on that assumption.

Madison Schools’ attendance area changes hard — but probably worth it

Chris Rickert:

One advantage to redrawing the lines is that it could delay the financial hit of having to build a new school. Some school officials are already talking referendum. Plus, with space available in the district, is there really any good reason any student should be forced to attend class in what was formerly a closet, as some at Sandburg Elementary do?
More troubling is the effect crowding could have on low-income students who, statistically at least, struggle academically and might benefit from better learning environments.
According to data collected by the Department of Public Instruction, 48.9 percent of Madison elementary students were considered “economically disadvantaged” last school year. For the five schools over capacity now, that percentage was 48.4.
But two of those schools are more affluent and are expected to see their enrollments drop below 100 percent capacity by 2018-19. Most of the seven schools expected to be over capacity in 2018-19 serve less affluent areas of Madison, and collectively, the seven had a student population that was 57.8 percent economically disadvantaged last year.

Madison has long supported a wide variation in school demographics. The chart above, created from 2013-2014 Madison School District middle school demographic data, illustrates the present reality, with the largest middle school – near west side Hamilton – also featuring the smallest percentage low income population.

Sharing Student Data In The Cloud: Should We Be Worried?


U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan is addressing educators in Washington today on the issue of student data — everything from attendance and health records to test scores and disciplinary data.
There’s a big fight going on in many states over whether that data should be stored online and managed by third parties like inBloom, a nonprofit funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Inbloom declined Here & Now’s request for an interview, but we are joined by two people with very different views on this: Mary Fox-Alter, superintendent of schools in Pleasantville, N.Y., and Aimee Rogstad Guidera, executive director of the Data Quality Campaign.

Parents push for Miss. special education vouchers

Associated Press:

Parents who want Mississippi lawmakers to approve special education vouchers are adding their voices in support.
House and Senate lawmakers held a hearing Tuesday to showcase the proposals. Natalie Gunnels of Tupelo told lawmakers that public school administrators can’t or won’t take care of students like her son Patrick, who has trouble walking, is sensitive to noises, and has trouble reading and writing.
“It’s obvious to me and my husband that the public school system is not equipped to educate the Patricks of our state,” Gunnels said.
The plan would give debit cards with more than $6,000 on them to parents who withdraw their special education students from public schools. The money could be spent on private school tuition or private tutoring services.
Mandy Rogers, a disability advocate, said that the state has been promising improvements but not delivering since the federal law was passed.

Union Leaders Put Common Core in the Cold

Tim Daly:

This week, National Education Association (NEA) president Dennis Van Roekel released an open letter to his members criticizing the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and demanding a series of “course corrections,” without which NEA will no longer back the initiative.
Van Roekel joins Randi Weingarten, the president of the smaller and more urban American Federation of Teachers, in turning his back on the new standards, which were voluntarily adopted and designed to establish a more credible and consistent definition of proficiency across academic subjects.
It’s worth keeping a few things in mind.

Time to close Del. education diversity gap

Melva Ware and Laurisa Schutt

February is Black History Month and we’re thinking about the critical need for more diverse educators in our state. Delaware’s public school population is 45 percent African-American and Latino and 52 percent white. Teachers of color in our state have comprised 13 percent of the teacher workforce statewide for two decades.
This disparity goes far beyond optics and affects how students see themselves, what they believe is possible, and what they understand about the world outside their school buildings.
Students benefit from the insights and experiences of teachers who reflect all communities in Delaware to shape the curriculum and day-to-day experiences offered in our schools. Their pre-K though grade 12 experience must prepare them to thrive in a diverse world, and to believe amazing and unstoppable things about their potential within it. This concerns all of us.
Our students of color, particularly those growing up in low-income communities, lag behind their more affluent peers in early literacy, graduation rates, and college matriculation and completion. According to the Delaware Department of Education, African-American teens make up 44 percent of all dropouts, even though they make up 33 percent of the high school student population. African-American and Latino dropout rates outpace the state average by 20 percent.

AAE Op-Ed: Shattering the Teachers Union Stereotype

Gary Beckner:

Transforming education for the 21st century has become a top national priority.
With seemingly countless emerging ideas and advocates, teachers are often overlooked as valuable allies. In order to promote positive and practical change in our system, we must listen to the devoted teachers on the front lines.
For too long, individual teachers’ voices have fallen on deaf ears in favor of the self-preserving agenda of the teachers unions. Focused primarily on maintaining a system of forced dues and political power, the union’s outdated model isn’t serving a profession eager to embrace the future.
Do hard-working educators stand in solidarity with union leaders to protect the status quo? Hardly. To establish a credible teacher voice, we must recognize that teachers are not in lock-step agreement with unions as their leaders suggest.

Popping the higher education bubble

James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley:

LAST WEEK, Kenneth Griffin, the founder and CEO of the investment firm Citadel, announced a gift of $150 million to Harvard University to subsidize financial aid. It’s not only Harvard that’s back in the money. A survey earlier this month showed that giving to colleges and universities was back at pre-recession levels, with a record $33.8 billion in charitable contributions during the 2013 fiscal year, almost a 10 percent increase over 2012. Most of this increase was, according to the survey by the Council for Aid to Education, “due to the rebounding in the stock market.”
This is great news for higher education but bad news for higher education reformers who have been hoping that the financial crunch might cause colleges to rethink their operating assumptions. It is no small irony that faculty tend to be anti-capitalist while the financial stability of their institutions depends heavily on the stock market. Alas, no matter how much college faculty bad-mouth the 1 percent, the wealthy seem to have a soft spot for the ivory tower.

Newark’s Unusual Route to Performance based Layoffs

John Mooney:

It’s a process invoked by school districts across New Jersey only a few times each year, a request for a waiver from state regulations that gets into the minutia of school operations.
A district might want to hire a registered nurse instead of a certified school nurse as required by the rules, for example. Last year, a district wanted to put a school psychologist in as a guidance.
Yet Newark’s School Superintendent Cami Anderson has upped the ante in the little-used waiver process by requesting that the Christie administration let her lay off potentially hundreds of teachers over the next three years based on performance first, and seniority second.
The waiver request, filed on Friday, maintains that there is leeway in the state statute that requires dismissals be based on seniority alone, a policy known as “last in, first out,” and that the state’s education commissioner has the discretion to allow what Anderson termed a “performance-based” system to be used when making dismissals.

Laura Waters has more

Broad Foundation emails indicate charter operators reluctant to expand without TFA presence

Chad Sommer and Jennifer Berkshire:

By Chad Sommer and Jennifer Berkshire
Last weekend, former Newark Star columnist Bob Braunpublished a bombshell column, arguing thatthe state-appointed superintendent of Newark, NJ schools, Teach For America (TFA) alum Cami Anderson, wants to waive seniority rules to fire upwards of 700 tenured Newark teachers and replace a percentage of them with TFA recruits. Executive Director of Teach For America New Jersey, Fatimah Burnam Watkins, quickly dismissedBraun’s assertions as *conspiracy theories*, while claiming TFA has a small footprint in Newark. But the heated back-and-forth misses the larger issue: TFA plays an increasingly essential role in staffing the charters that are rapidly expanding, replacing public schools from Newark to Philadelphia to Chicago to Los Angeles. In fact, newly released documents indicate that many charter operators won’t even consider opening new schools without TFA to provide a supply of *teacher talent.*
TFA a requirement
Emails sent by the Broad Foundation, a leading advocate of market-based education reform and charter expansion, and acquired through a freedom of information request, reveal that many charter management organizations consider TFA presence in a region a necessary prerequisite for opening new schools.
According to the documents, charter management organizations including Rocketship, KIPP, Noble, LEARN and Uncommon Schools all indicated that a supply of TFA teachers was a general pre-condition for expanding into a new region. The emails, which detail the Broad Foundation’s failed efforts to lure high-performing charter operators to Detroit, were released as part of a trove of thousands of documents requested as part of an investigation into Michigan’s embattled Education Achievement Authority.

Teachers at Saucedo say “No” to state tests

Sarah Karp:

With nearly 40 percent their students already opting out of the ISAT, teachers at Saucedo Scholastic Academy–a high-achieving magnet school–took the bold step on Tuesday of voting to refuse to administer it.
In only one other instance–at a high school in Seattle last year–have teachers in one school made a unified group decision not to give a mandated test. National opponents of standardized testing applauded the decision and said it will send a signal across the country.
ISAT testing is conducted for eight hours over two weeks, starting on March 3. Testing opponents have already launched a drive to urge families in CPS to “opt out” of the ISAT, which is being administered for the last time this year.

Skills are more than the sum of school data

Andrew Hill:

Pisa stands for Programme for International Student Assessment. But judging from the reaction to the OECD rankings of educational attainment, it may as well mean Parental Index of Social Anxiety.
The latest analysis of the global league table showed that the 15-year-old children of Chinese janitors and street-sweepers were better at maths than the offspring of many other countries’ professionals and managers. The news added fuel to this week’s visit to Shanghai by a UK education minister, bent on finding the secret of local children’s success and replicating it at home.
But British concerns were reflected around the world, with telling local variants. Spain’s El Confidencial highlighted that Madrid’s teenagers were outperforming Catalonia’s. Corriere della Sera wondered why, against the grain of other countries, the children of Italian managers beat those of professionals, who have higher educational attainment. (If you will inherit the family law firm or accounting practice, you get lazy, suggested one OECD researcher).

Dwindling Midwest High School Grads Spur College Hunt

Janet Lorin::

Harvard University Pennants
A waning number of high school graduates from the Midwest is sparking a college hunt for freshman applicants, with the decline being felt as far away as Harvard and Emory universities.
The drop is the leading edge of a demographic change that is likely to ease competition for slots at selective schools and is already prompting concern among Midwestern colleges.
“You can’t create 18-year-olds in a lab,” said Brian Prescott, director of policy research at the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Boulder, Colorado. “Enrollment managers are facing an awful lot of pressure that they can’t do much about.”
Nationally, the high school Class of 2012 ushered in a first wave of declines in the number of graduates, according to a report by the commission. The trend will worsen after 2025, when admissions officers face the impact of a drop in births that began with the 2007 recession. Over the next two decades, the biggest drain in graduates will be in the Midwest and Northeast. The demographic shifts are compounded by economic factors as the cost of higher education continues to rise.

Legislation Seeks to Ban Data Mining Students via School Software

Natasha Singer:

A leading California lawmaker plans to introduce state legislation on Thursday that would shore up privacy and security protections for the personal information of students in elementary through high school, a move that could alter business practices across the nearly $8 billion education technology software industry.
The bill would prohibit education-related websites, online services and mobile apps for kindergartners through 12th graders from compiling, using or sharing the personal information of those students in California for any reason other than what the school intended or for product maintenance.
The bill would also prohibit the operators of those services from using or disclosing the information of students in the state for commercial purposes like marketing. It would oblige the firms to encrypt students’ data in transit and at rest, and it would require them to delete a student’s record when it is no longer needed for the purpose the school intended.
“We don’t want to limit the legitimate use of students’ data by schools or teachers,” Senator Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat who is the sponsor of the bill and the president pro tempore of the California Senate, said in a phone interview. “We just think the public policy of California should be that the information you gather from students should be used for their educational benefit and for nothing else.”
Lawmakers like Mr. Steinberg are part of a growing cohort of children’s advocates who say they believe that regulation has failed to keep pace with the rapid adoption of education software and services by schools across the country.

Related: Google admits data mining student emails in its free education apps.

Why We Never Get Over High School

Deborah Fallows:

“Hello. Where did you go to high school?” When so many of you nominated this question as your natural conversation starter, as I mentioned here last week, it was tempting to dismiss it as an example of how Americans never quite get over high school. Was this just about Fast Times at Ridgemont High, or 90210, or The O.C., or forever remembering all the other schools in your league? Or maybe you all are 18 years old. But you wrote with such enthusiasm, thoroughness, and conviction, that it looked like something else was going on. So, I decided to look again.
Your nominations of this particular question came in from all corners of the country–all mid-sized cities–like Louisville, New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Charlotte. They came from all ages of you, from the millennials to those who wrote that a half century ago, this question was also asked in Chicago and San Francisco, when those cities were arguably more “mid-size” than they are today. You also said this was the question of Oahu (where we know the young Barack Obama of modest means attended the elite private school, Punahou) and from Melbourne, Australia.
From your descriptions, it became clear that “Where did you go to high school?” is another way of asking “Where do you live?” But you aren’t seeking a simple answer of name or geography with either of those questions. You are using those questions to seek valuable information about the socio-economic-cultural-historical background of a person. It helps you orient that person in the context of the world as you live it and interpret it.

Teens defend ‘fail factory’ school in error-filled letters

Susan Edelman:

These kids should learn write from wrong.
Earlier this month, The Post exposed a scheme at Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum HS for Business Careers in which failing students could get full credit without attending class, but instead watch video lessons and take tests online. One social-studies teacher had a roster of 475 students in all grades and subjects.
Red-faced administrators encouraged a student letter-writing campaign to attack The Post and defend its “blended learning” program. Eighteen kids e-mailed to argue that their alma mater got a bad rap.
Almost every letter was filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.
A junior wrote: “What do you get of giving false accusations im one of the students that has blended learning I had a course of English and I passed and and it helped a lot you’re a reported your support to get truth information other than starting rumors . . .”
Another wrote: “To deeply criticize a program that has helped many students especially seniors to graduate I should not see no complaints.”

At Private Schools, Another Way to Say ‘Financial Aid’

Paul Sullivan:

SHANNON LUBIANO never dreamed she could send her children to the Duke School, an independent elementary school in Durham, N.C., where the tuition is $15,000 for prekindergarten, rising to nearly $18,000 for eighth grade.
But then a friend told her about the school’s indexed tuition plan — essentially a pay-what-you-can model for a private education — and that made all the difference for her.
“When I tell other people about it, they are shocked,” said Ms. Lubiano, whose husband, a chef, owns a restaurant in town. “They had looked at the Duke School in the past and got run off by the cost.”
Duke is part of a small group of independent schools, mostly in the Southeast and West, that have adopted indexed tuition as both a financial aid strategy and a way to attract people who would not otherwise apply to private school.
“We got to indexed tuition as a philosophical journey,” said Dave Michelman, head of school at Duke. “We’re committed to socioeconomic diversity. If you’re committed to that it seems a little off-putting to say if you come here we’ll give you charity. That’s what financial aid sounds like.”

New Baltimore schools chief navigated complex terrain in Milwaukee

Erica L. Green, Liz Bowie and Jean Marbella:

— Newly named to head Baltimore’s public schools, Gregory E. Thornton has unfinished business in the district he is leaving behind after 31/2 tumultuous years.
Wearing a red T-shirt, he arrived Friday at a school where, to peals of laughter, the 59-year-old would join kids in a “jump rope-a-thon.” But, as so frequently happened during his tenure, there were political hoops to jump through first.
“How are we doing?” Thornton asked a state senator he spied in the welcoming crowd.
It was not so much a pleasantry as a pulse check: How are we doing, he meant, in thwarting two bills that would close public schools and sell empty facilities to private schools that accept vouchers?
In a brief exchange, the senator mentioned a potentially worrisome legislator, and Thornton said he’d already talked to her the previous night. And then, it was time to “make some noise” as he exhorted the school crowd who had gathered to jump rope in honor of a phys ed teacher who started the tradition 35 years ago.
It was just another day navigating the complicated terrain of Milwaukee Public Schools.

West Point is placing too much emphasis on football

Dwight Mears:

On Dec. 15, shortly after Army football’s 12th consecutive loss to the U.S. Naval Academy, the superintendent of West Point, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen , announced that he was considering institutional changes to build a winning program. “When America puts its sons and daughters in harm’s way, they do not expect us to just ‘do our best’ . . . but to win,” he wrote. “Nothing short of victory is acceptable. . . . Our core values are Duty, Honor, Country. Winning makes them real.”
Soon after, Army Athletic Director Boo Corrigan argued that West Point ought to take “an educated risk” by relaxing admission requirements in favor of superior football recruits. The superintendent has said that he does not intend to relax standards, but Corrigan’s views are backed by powerful alumni, including retired Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins, a Heisman Trophy winner who has participated in three study groups assessing Army football. “I think it’s crucial that West Point stand out as a place of winners,” Dawkins recently said. Thus his view that it’s “entirely fair to accept some risks” in the admission of football recruits.
As a West Point graduate and faculty member, I find many of these arguments troubling. Academy leaders and alumni have often asserted that performance on the gridiron has a direct impact on our ability to win our nation’s wars and that we therefore have a moral imperative to win in football. But the facts do not support that assertion.

What Comes After the Public University?

Ann Larson:

With total student loan debt over one trillion dollars, millions of students and families can never hope to repay what they owe, especially since there are no individual solutions to the problem. Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and student loan lenders can and do garnish debtors’ wages and social security checks. The powers of lenders to collect are unprecedented in the history of creditor/debtor relations.
Yet, belief in upward mobility through education is still a profoundly American ideal. In the midst of the latest recession, politicians and elites have argued not for the redistribution of wealth but for making college “more affordable” in the belief that increasing access to education makes more fundamental social changes unnecessary. Forgotten, too, in the emphasis on college financing is that education is not just a path to a job. It’s a site of human desire, aspiration, and hope for the future.
As a former teacher and a student debtor, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of higher education. And as an education activist, I’ve been coming to terms with what it means to fight for public education while mourning the death of the university. Before explaining what I mean by “the death of the university,” I will provide some details about my own political history and how it has shaped my current thinking.

Madison Schools Considers School Boundaries, Might Low Income Distribution be Addressed?

Molly Beck:

Board member T.J. Mertz said that sometime in the next six or seven months the board will begin a process of seriously looking at facilities issues, including whether to embark upon the contentious fix of changing any of the district’s school boundaries, among other solutions.
“In multiple areas we’re either at or will be very, very soon at or over capacity, and we continue to have schools that are fairly well under capacity,” Mertz said. “There’s going to have to be something done … and I’m of the get-started-with-this-sooner-rather-than-later school.”

Related: We have seen this movie before. 10 Reasons to Combine Lapham & Marquette.
The Myth of Public Schools

Tap for a larger version

Madison has long supported a wide variation in school demographics. The chart above, created from 2013-2014 Madison School District middle school demographic data, illustrates the present reality, with the largest middle school – near west side Hamilton – also featuring the smallest percentage low income population.

The Academic Writing Thing

Matthew Pratt Guterl:

When Nicholas Kristof, the soft-hearted liberal on the New York Times op-ed page, decided that political scientists had given up on writing for a broader public, a digital avalanche of blog posts, letters to the editor, and tweets, followed. The APSA, Corey Robin, Claire Potter, and basically the entire editorial collective of Jacobin took the man to task for, basically, channeling the laziest version of Tom Friedman. Why, Kristof seemed to be asking, casually leafing through the past few issues of the New Yorker, can’t more people write like Jill Lepore? This is a fine question, but – as Robin points out – it isn’t the right question at all, and it probably isn’t an honest question, either.
Now, just as Kristof’s more recent and weak apologia has been begrudgingly accepted, here comes Joshua Rothman, writing in the New Yorker itself, and asking, with an eye on the recent contretemps, “Why is Academic Writing so Academic?” Where Kristoff seemed detached, Rothman is engaged, and genuinely interested in trying to understand why the professoriate writes for itself. Our gnomish academic audiences matter more, he sums, because they determine tenure and promotion. “Academic writing and research,” he concludes, “may be knotty and strange, remote and insular, technical and specialized, forbidding and clannish–but that’s because academia has become that way, too. Today’s academic work, excellent though it may be, is the product of a shrinking system. It’s a tightly-packed, super-competitive jungle in there.”
Yes, there is is truth to this. A tight labor market means increased specialization and less risk-taking, leading one to assume that writing a dense essay that is sure to be published in a top journal is a safer bet (for promotion and hiring) than trying to publish in N+1. (Though there are plenty, despite the assumption, who do both). And when we read each other’s work for venues that are chiefly academic, we tend to wonder more about the disciplinary stakes and less about the quality of the prose. Generally, that is.

Upton Sinclair on college presidents

Louis Proyect:

Thus the college president spends his time running back and forth between Mammon and God, known in the academic vocabulary as Business and Learning. He pleads with the business man to make a little more allowance for the eccentricities of the scholar; explaining the absurd notion which men of learning have that they owe loyalty to truth and public welfare. He points out that if the college comes to be known as a mere tool of special privilege it loses all its dignity and authority; it is absolutely necessary that it should maintain a pretense of disinterestedness, it should appear to the public as a shrine of wisdom and piety. He points out that Professor So-and-So has managed to secure great prestige throughout the state, and if he is unceremoniously fired it will make a terrific scandal, and perhaps cause other faculty members to resign, and other famous scientists to stay away from the institution.
The president says this at a dinner-party in the home of his grand duke; and next morning he hurries off to argue with the recalcitrant professor. He points out the humiliating need of funds-just now when the professor’s own salary is so entirely inadequate. He begs the professor to realize the president’s own position, the crudity of business men who hold the purse-strings, and have no understanding of academic dignity. He pleads for just a little discretion, just a little time-just a little anything that will moderate the clash between greed and service, the incompatibility of hate and love.

UC endowment has worst investment returns among largest US college funds

Lance Williams, Erica Perez & Jennifer Gollan:

The University of California’s $11.2 billion endowment has produced the worst investment returns of any of the richest colleges in the country over the past decade, an analysis by The Center for Investigative Reporting shows.
From the 2004 through 2013 fiscal years, the investment payout for the UC endowment ranked last among the 10 U.S. universities with the largest endowment funds. The university earned an average of 7.3 percent on the combined endowment of the system and individual campuses, while the other nine colleges – which include the public University of Michigan and University of Texas – averaged 10 percent.
In 2013, the UC endowment’s return improved dramatically. But better performance over the previous nine years would have meant tens of millions of dollars a year to spend during a decade when the state’s premier public university system saw massive cuts in state funding.
Thousands of employees in the 10-campus system lost their jobs and students felt the pain acutely, as their education costs more than doubled.

Why is Academic Writing so Academic?

Joshua Rothman:

A few years ago, when I was a graduate student in English, I presented a paper at my department’s American Literature Colloquium. (A colloquium is a sort of writing workshop for graduate students.) The essay was about Thomas Kuhn, the historian of science. Kuhn had coined the term “paradigm shift,” and I described how this phrase had been used and abused, much to Kuhn’s dismay, by postmodern insurrectionists and nonsensical self-help gurus. People seemed to like the essay, but they were also uneasy about it. “I don’t think you’ll be able to publish this in an academic journal,” someone said. He thought it was more like something you’d read in a magazine.
Was that a compliment, a dismissal, or both? It’s hard to say. Academic writing is a fraught and mysterious thing. If you’re an academic in a writerly discipline, such as history, English, philosophy, or political science, the most important part of your work–practically and spiritually–is writing. Many academics think of themselves, correctly, as writers. And yet a successful piece of academic prose is rarely judged so by “ordinary” standards. Ordinary writing–the kind you read for fun–seeks to delight (and, sometimes, to delight and instruct). Academic writing has a more ambiguous mission. It’s supposed to be dry but also clever; faceless but also persuasive; clear but also completist. Its deepest ambiguity has to do with audience. Academic prose is, ideally, impersonal, written by one disinterested mind for other equally disinterested minds. But, because it’s intended for a very small audience of hyper-knowledgable, mutually acquainted specialists, it’s actually among the most personal writing there is. If journalists sound friendly, that’s because they’re writing for strangers. With academics, it’s the reverse.

The New College Campus

The New York Times:

Imagine meeting someone who says she works at a university. Some years ago, it would have been fairly safe to assume that she was a professor, and a member of the middle class with enviable job security. Not anymore. Two reports make clear that the nature of the college work force has changed substantially, possibly to the detriment of educational quality.
The Just-In-Time Professor,” released last month by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, describes a growing population of more than one million adjunct and other nontenure-track instructors. “In 1970, adjuncts made up 20 percent of all higher education faculty,” the report says. “Today, they represent half.”
As a rule, adjuncts have few or no benefits. They are generally paid per course, and paid poorly. (The Coalition on the Academic Workforce estimates that the median pay for a standard three-credit course is $2,700.) Because adjuncts often teach several classes in order to cobble together a living, they have little time for the research necessary to advance their careers.

Proposed Wisconsin Academic Standards Bills (Replacing the “Common Core”)

The Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

The following links provide a lot of additional details on the legislation that would replace the Common Core State Standards within 12 months with model academic standards created in Wisconsin. Please stay informed and contact your legislators with your thoughts.

2013 Senate Bill 619.
Assembly Substitute Amendment 1 to Assembly Bill 617 (ASA1/AB617)
Video message from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Tony Evers.
Governor Scott Walker staff drafted bill aimed at Common Core State Standards.
A Critique of the Wisconsin DPI and Proposed School Choice Changes.

Cut off Harvard to Save America

Richard Vedder:

College endowments totaled $448.6 billion in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, an increase of 11.7 percent compared with a year earlier, according to recently released data.
As we know, this wealth is concentrated among a privileged few. Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities all have almost $2 million in endowment funds for every student.
We’ve heard the argument that what these institutions do with their privately raised money is their business and that they provide a lot of financial aid opportunities for less affluent students. But these endowments are of dubious value and can be attacked on two grounds. First, they promote inefficiency through misallocation of resources. Second, they are anti-meritocratic.
Regarding inefficiency, Adam Smith got it right more than 200 years ago in “The Wealth of Nations.” College endowments, he said, “have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers.” At the University of Oxford, he complained, “public professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretense of teaching.”

A Campus More Colorful Than Reality: Beware That College Brochure

Deena Prichep:

Diallo Shabazz was a student at the University of Wisconsin in 2000 when he stopped by the admissions office.
“One of the admissions counselors walked up to me, and said, ‘Diallo, did you see yourself in the admissions booklet? Actually, you’re on the cover this year,’ ” Shabazz says.
The photo was a shot of students at a football game — but Shabazz had never been to a football game.
“So I flipped back, and that’s when I saw my head cut off and kind of pasted onto the front cover of the admissions booklet,” he says.
This Photoshopped image went viral and became a classic example of how colleges miss the mark on diversity. Wisconsin stressed that it was just one person’s bad choice, but Shabazz sees it as part of a bigger problem.

Teaching mathematics: Time for a ceasefire

The Economist:

IF THE world’s education systems have a common focus, it is to turn out school-leavers who are proficient in mathematics. Governments are impressed by evidence from the World Bank and others that better maths results raises GDP and incomes. That, together with the soul-searching provoked by the cross-country PISA comparisons of 15-year-olds’ mathematical attainment produced by the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, is prompting educators in many places to look afresh at what maths to teach, and how to teach it.
Those countries languishing in the league tables fret about how to catch up without turning students off the subject with boring drill. Top performers, most of them Asian (see chart), fear that their focus on technical proficiency does not translate into an enthusiasm for maths after leaving school. And everyone worries about how to prepare pupils for a jobs market that will reward creative thinking ever more highly.
Maths education has been a battlefield before: the American “math wars” of the 1980s pitted traditionalists, who emphasised fluency in pen-and-paper calculations, against reformers led by the country’s biggest teaching lobby, who put real-world problem-solving, often with the help of calculators, at the centre of the curriculum. A backlash followed as parents and academics worried that the “new math” left pupils ill-prepared for university courses in mathematics and the sciences. But as many countries have since found, training pupils to ace exams is not the same as equipping them to use their hard-won knowledge in work and life.

An inconvenient child My six-year-old son was removed from school as a danger to others. His crime? A disability you could find in any classroom

Michael Graziano:

A few months ago, my son, who is in second grade, went on a field trip. As the class assembled in the parking lot, a new child joined in. He had metal leg braces and difficulty walking. Nobody quite knew how to talk to him and so he was left by himself at the edge of the crowd. But my son seemed drawn to him. As the little boy in braces began to struggle up the steps of the bus, my son went over to help and then sat beside him. Throughout the bus ride, they talked together. According to the teachers, that new little boy soon seemed like the happiest child in the group. One of the most sociable children in the class had made friends with him, and that goes a long way towards building self-esteem when you feel isolated and anxious.
I’m very proud of what my son did. He showed compassion. He was still a new pupil himself, and he had suffered bullying related to a disability of his own. The way he was treated at his previous school was so horrible that he might easily have decided to pay it back rather than forward. But kids can be amazingly smart about how to treat one another. After all, it wasn’t the children who bullied him at his old school. It was the adults.
Our son’s movement problem emerged slowly – so slowly that we didn’t notice at first. When he was five, he moved more like a three-year-old. He was happy and chatty, but he had difficulty writing, drawing, cutting, pasting, and sitting straight and still in a chair. Milk tended to spill an awful lot in his vicinity. His kindergarten teacher at his elementary school noted these difficulties, but the school decided he was in the normal range and didn’t require any extra support.

How to tweet like a teenager

Gillian Tett:

A few years ago, “Carmen”, a 17-year-old Latino girl in Boston, split up with her boyfriend. She wanted to tell her friends how upset she felt and duly put a post on her Facebook page. But there was a problem. Carmen’s mother (like, I daresay, many FT readers) monitored her daughter’s Facebook page – and Carmen did not want to tell her about the break-up. So, to signal her loss to her friends, she posted a message with the Monty Python song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.
Her mother thought this meant Carmen was happy: her friends, however, understood that Carmen was using private teen code, since they often communicated with songs. They started a conversation with text messages – away from her mother’s eyes. Carmen had thus maintained her “privacy”, even on a public space.
Just a trivial example of teenage behaviour? Danah Boyd, a digital anthropologist who now works at Microsoft Research, does not think so. She has spent the past decade analysing how teenagers use social media by watching the subtle cultural signals, rituals and group dynamics that a more traditional anthropologist might track in an Amazonian village or “tribal” Papua New Guinea. And after conducting extensive research in 18 states across the US, she argues in a new book, It’s Complicated, that some of the received wisdom about social media is wrong. Teenagers are not being corrupted by Facebook and Twitter, as (adult) pundits often fear. Instead, they are developing adaptive skills for this new digital age. As a result, the kids are (mostly) “all right”, she insists, even if their behaviour occasionally baffles adults.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin’s Legacy for Unions

Steven Greenhouse:

All over the state, public executives are exercising new authority. Instead of raising teachers’ salaries, the Mequon-Thiensville School District, near Milwaukee, froze them for two years, saving $560,000. It saved an additional $400,000 a year by increasing employee contributions for health care, said its superintendent, Demond Means. And it is starting a merit pay system for teachers, a move that has been opposed by some teachers and embraced by others.
Ted Neitzke, school superintendent in West Bend, a city of 31,000 people north of Milwaukee, said that before Act 10 his budget-squeezed district had to cut course offerings and increase class sizes. Now, the district has raised the retirement age for teachers and revamped its health plan, saving $250,000 a year. “We couldn’t negotiate or maneuver around that when there was bargaining,” Mr. Neitzke said. “We’ve been able to shift money out of the health plan back into the classroom. We’ve increased programming.”
James R. Scott, a Walker appointee who is chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission, which administers the law regarding public-employee unions, said that “as a result of Act 10, the advantages that labor held have been diminished.” He added: “It’s fair to say that employers have the upper hand now.”
In Oshkosh, Mark Rohloff, the city manager, says the law has saved his city $1.2 million a year, largely because employees are now paying more of their pension and health contributions. But he said state aid cuts of $2 million a year left his city with an $800,000 shortfall.
Among the city’s 560 city workers, union membership has fallen to 225, down from 450. The police and the firefighters, who were exempted from Act 10’s restrictions on collective bargaining, make up most of the remaining union members. Mr. Rohloff said his city’s police and firefighters have averaged annual raises of 2.5 percent, while the other workers had no across-the-board raises from 2010 to 2012, and received a 1 percent increase in 2013.
“Some of the employees who are not represented feel they’re second-class citizens compared to other employees,” Mr. Rohloff said.
Demoralization is the flip side of Act 10. In Oneida County in northern Wisconsin, the county supervisors jettisoned language requiring “just cause” when firing employees. Now, said Julie Allen, a computer programmer and head of the main local for Oneida County’s civil servants, morale is “pretty bad” and workers are afraid to speak out about anything, even safety issues or a revised pay scale. “We don’t have just cause,” she said. “We don’t have seniority protections. So people are pretty scared.”

Much more on Act 10, here.

Rural China’s tough lessons in resilience

Andreas Schleicher:

Students in Shanghai have the highest results in international Pisa tests. But what is the state of education for China’s rural poor, far away from the showcase cities? Andreas Schleicher, who runs the Pisa tests, went to find out.
About 1,900 miles south west of Shanghai is Qiao Tou Lian He elementary school.
It’s an hour’s drive from the town of Tengchong, which might seem a small distance in comparison, but most of the school’s children have never made it to Tengchong.
Providing an education for children in such sparsely-populated rural areas is one of China’s major challenges.
While the economic and social development of these rural regions has been remarkable, China’s coastal cities are racing ahead at an even faster pace.

Children of UK professionals fall behind Asians in maths

Helen Warrell:

The children of cleaners in Asian cities such as Shanghai and Singapore are better at maths than the offspring of doctors and lawyers in the US and UK, according to an analysis of the global Pisa test rankings published on Tuesday.
The international league table, first released by the OECD in December, had shown 15-year-olds in Shanghai to be top in maths, while the UK languished in 26th place and the US in 36th.
But fresh scrutiny has revealed that the state-educated children of British professionals are on average a whole school year behind the children of “elementary” workers in Shanghai in maths ability, and around three months behind the same group in Singapore. The gap is even wider between US professionals and Asian cleaners or caterers.

Why I Chose Academia

Bradley Voytek:

A little over a week ago I ran two panels at a conference called Beyond Academia organized by a group of UC Berkeley PhD students and post-docs.
This was a great conference particularly because this is the right time, and the Bay Area is the right place, for people with strong quantitative skills looking for other opportunities outside of academia. The startup-up culture, the high-density of exciting technical work, and the density of a highly educated populous offer a lot of options for people looking.
The desire to “jump ship” is further compounded by the terribly poor pay for post-docs and grad students. Most of our pay is set nationally by the NIH and is not adjusted for cost-of-living differences, which means that NIH-funded post-docs in San Francisco (with a median rent of $1363/mo) get paid the same as post-docs in Iowa City (with a median rent of $734/mo).
After however many years of education for a PhD my UCSF take-home pay after federal and state taxes, etc. is about $2800/mo. I’m a father; if I wanted to use UCSF daycare and live in UCSF post-doc housing I would be paying $1998/mo for daycare and at least $1099/mo for a studio. Imagine if I was a single parent? This would make my net take-home pay negative $297/mo.
Ivory Towers indeed.

Kansas teen uses 3-D printer to make hand for boy

Mara Rose Williams:

When he was 4 years old, he took apart his mother’s dining room table and gliding ottoman.
Last year, he built a computer, pretty much from scratch.
But it’s what the 16-year-old Louisburg High School junior made about two months ago that has him most excited these days. Not because it was so challenging, but because it’s already changing the life of a family friend’s 9-year-old son who was born without fingers on one hand.
Using a 3-D printer at the Johnson County Library, Wilde made a prosthetic hand that opens and closes and can even hold a pencil.
Just ask young Matthew how he feels about Wilde.
“He’s awesome,” the boy said, thrusting his mechanical hand high above his head.

Meet 5 academics who have switched disciplines mid-career

Daniel Drolet:

Spend a little time Googling and you can quickly come up with names of famous people who switched careers in mid-stream. Julia Child, for example, worked in intelligence for the U.S. government before transitioning to cookbook author and television chef. Harrison Ford was a carpenter before he made it big in acting. And Peter Mansbridge worked as a baggage handler (and sometime flight announcer) at the Churchill, Manitoba, airport before starting a successful career in broadcast journalism.
But switching disciplines mid-stream in academia? It is a risky move that requires self-confidence and the ability to both see and seize opportunities. One would think an academic career switch is fairly rare, and yet it wasn’t hard to find several Canadians who’ve done it and thrived.

The Dark Power of Fraternities

Caitlin Flanagan:

One warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him–under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself–to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole.
Also on the deck, and also in the thrall of the night’s pleasures, was one Louis Helmburg III, an education major and ace benchwarmer for the Thundering Herd baseball team. His response to the proposed launch was the obvious one: he reportedly whipped out his cellphone to record it on video, which would turn out to be yet another of the night’s seemingly excellent but ultimately misguided ideas. When the bottle rocket exploded in Hughes’s rectum, Helmburg was seized by the kind of battlefield panic that has claimed brave men from outfits far more illustrious than even the Thundering Herd. Terrified, he staggered away from the human bomb and fell off the deck. Fortunately for him, and adding to the Chaplinesque aspect of the night’s miseries, the deck was no more than four feet off the ground, but such was the urgency of his escape that he managed to get himself wedged between the structure and an air-conditioning unit, sustaining injuries that would require medical attention, cut short his baseball season, and–in the fullness of time–pit him against the mighty forces of the Alpha Tau Omega national organization, which had been waiting for him.
It takes a certain kind of personal-injury lawyer to look at the facts of this glittering night and wrest from them a plausible plaintiff and defendant, unless it were possible for Travis Hughes to be sued by his own anus. But the fraternity lawsuit is a lucrative mini-segment of the personal-injury business, and if ever there was a deck that ought to have had a railing, it was the one that served as a nighttime think tank and party-idea testing ground for the brain trust of the Theta Omicron Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega and its honored guests–including these two knuckleheads, who didn’t even belong to the fraternity. Moreover, the building codes of Huntington, West Virginia, are unambiguous on the necessity of railings on elevated decks. Whether Helmburg stumbled in reaction to an exploding party guest or to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is immaterial; there should have been a railing to catch him.
And so it was that Louis Helmburg III joined forces with Timothy P. Rosinsky, Esq., a slip-and-fall lawyer from Huntington who had experience also with dog-bite, DUI, car-repossession, and drug cases. The events of that night, laid out in Helmburg’s complaint, suggested a relatively straightforward lawsuit. But the suit would turn out to have its own repeated failures to launch and unintended collateral damage, and it would include an ever-widening and desperate search for potential defendants willing to foot the modest bill for Helmburg’s documented injuries. Sending a lawyer without special expertise in wrangling with fraternities to sue one of them is like sending a Boy Scout to sort out the unpleasantness in Afghanistan. Who knows? The kid could get lucky. But it never hurts–preparedness and all that–to send him off with a body bag.

Homework and homesickness

Emma Jacobs:

Christine Xue wants to be an architect. Her mother, who runs a financial services business in their home region of Chengdu, southwest China, does not share this ambition for her daughter. She would rather her only child opted for something altogether more secure – accountancy, perhaps, or maybe banking. So the 17-year-old is resigned to studying physics at university in order to appease her parents. Secretly, however, she harbours hopes that one person may be able to bring her parents round to architecture: her guardian, Ophelia Colley.
The well-groomed Ms Colley, 33, helps her young charge navigate the mysteries of the British education system, translates school reports for her parents and is on hand to support Ms Xue through the loneliness of living far away from home while studying at Queen Margaret’s School in the desolate Yorkshire countryside. The girls’ boarding school, on the grounds of a former Georgian estate, is beautifully elegant but on an icy-cold, rain-soaked day like today, it looks rather sombre and grey.
Ms Colley, originally from Hong Kong, sees her role as an advocate for her mainland Chinese and Hong Kong teenagers, not just liaising with the school but also the parents. It is her duty, she says, to educate the parents in western ways, telling them they need to adopt a new perspective. For parents rooted in Chinese culture and traditions, it can be difficult to understand their child’s outlook infused with western experiences.

Class in America: Mobility, measured

The Economist:

AMERICANS are deeply divided as to whether widening inequality is a problem, let alone what the government should do about it. Some are appalled that Bill Gates has so much money; others say good luck to him. But nearly everyone agrees that declining social mobility is a bad thing. Barack Obama’s state-of-the-union speech on January 28th dwelt on how America’s “ladders of opportunity” were failing (see article). Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio, two leading Republicans, recently gave speeches decrying social immobility and demanding more effort to ensure poor people who work hard can better their lot.
Just as the two sides have found something to agree on, however, a new study suggests the conventional wisdom may be wrong. Despite huge increases in inequality, America may be no less mobile a society than it was 40 years ago.
The study, by a clutch of economists at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, is far bigger than any previous effort to measure social mobility. The economists crunch numbers from over 40m tax returns of people born between 1971 and 1993 (with all identifying information removed). They focus on mobility between generations and use several ways to measure it, including the correlation of parents’ and children’s income, and the odds that a child born into the bottom fifth of the income distribution will climb all the way up to the top fifth.

Leave tech college tax base alone

John Torinus:

Following the general wisdom that says, “Leave well enough alone,” let’s not mess with the basic structure that supports the Wisconsin Technical College System (WCTS).
Gov. Walker and the Republican legislature have opened the subject by proposing a property tax cut of more than $400 million through the mechanism of reducing the property tax raised annually for the technical colleges.
Note, though, that this return of a projected windfall budget surplus through that channel is a one-time deal. It is not a permanent change to the tax structure that supports the 16 the colleges.
Nor should it be.
Funding two of our major educational institutions, K-12 and the University of Wisconsin, has been stressful to say the least over the last decade. It will be a major issue in the campaign for governor this year.
The funding crunch stems from the fall-off in state tax revenues during the Great Recession and the grudging recovery. Further, Medicaid has chewed up much of the meager growth in the state’s sales and income taxes. That under-managed program is crowding out many other priorities, even though the feds pay 60% of the tab.

Why is math research important?

Cathy O’Neil:

As I’ve already described, I’m worried about the oncoming MOOC revolution and its effect on math research. To say it plainly, I think there will be major cuts in professional math jobs starting very soon, and I’ve even started to discourage young people from their plans to become math professors.
I’d like to start up a conversation – with the public, but starting in the mathematical community – about mathematics research funding and why it’s important.
I’d like to argue for math research as a public good which deserves to be publicly funded. But although I’m sure that we need to make that case, the more I think about it the less sure I am how to make that case. I’d like your help.
So remember, we’re making the case that continuing math research is a good idea for our society, and we should put up some money towards it, even though we have competing needs to fund other stuff too.
So it’s not enough to talk about how arithmetic helps people balance their checkbooks, say, since arithmetic is already widely known and not a topic of research.

American unions membership declines as public support fluctuates

Drew DeSilver:

Last week’s vote by workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn. plant against joining the United Auto Workers union — despite VW’s tacit encouragement — points up the challenges faced by U.S. organized labor. Even though unions retain much public support, the share of American workers who actually belong to one has been falling for decades and is at its lowest level since the Great Depression.
In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2013, about half (51%) of Americans said they had favorable opinions of labor unions, versus 42% who said they had unfavorable opinions about them. That was the highest favorability rating since 2007, though still below the 63% who said they were favorably disposed toward unions in 2001. In a separate 2012 survey, 64% of Americans agreed that unions were necessary to protect working people (though 57% also agreed that unions had “too much power”).
As of last year, however, only 11.3% of wage and salary workers belonged to unions, down from 20.1% in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (At their peak in 1954, 34.8% of all U.S. wage and salary workers belonged to unions, according to the Congressional Research Service.) While the unionization rate among public-sector workers has held fairly steady over that 30-year span (just over a third of government workers are unionized), it’s plummeted in the private sector — from 16.8% in 1983 to 6.7% three decades later. The reasons for that decline are many and heatedly debated — from the impact of globalization on U.S. manufacturing to intense hostility from businesses to unions’ relative lack of success in organizing service- and information-industry workers.

Related: “Anonymous” On The Battle Of Chattanooga.

The flipped classroom as MOOC waste product.

Jonathan Rees:

This is a hard post for me to write. For one thing, I have an article coming out in the next Academe that covers some of this ground. For another thing, as my friend Phil Hill knows all too well, I have a #Slatepitch in for an essay on the evils of the flipped classroom. I think they’re going to take it (eventually – assuming the one and only Rebecca Schuman doesn’t do it first), so I don’t want to give away the whole store here.
But this paragraph is just way too much for me to bear:

The MOOC, in our view, is the ideal way to flip the classroom, replacing both the lecture and the textbook. Whether they build their own content or draw on an existing MOOC, professors can off-load content to on-line formats and spend face-to-face time interacting with students. Students will actively debate history -for instance-rather than transcribing the professor’s lecture. Universities will not be destroyed, only lectures, and in their demise better conversations will happen

.To make matters worse, I’ve met one of the co-authors of those words. Louis Hyman teaches at Cornell, his books on the history of debt are excellent and if I had all the time in the world I’d be taking his upcoming MOOC on the history of capitalism just for the sheer enjoyment of it. I’ll bet you anything that he’s a terrific lecturer, but if you think I’d let him or anybody else replace my own content on any subject you’ve got another thing coming.
Why not? I need to back up a little in order to explain that.

Teaching While Black

Patricia Matthew:

If race is a construct, gender is a construct, and teaching is a performative act, where and how do I exist in the classroom as a real black woman?

“I am expected to woo students even as I try to fend them off; I am supposed to control them even as I am supposed to manipulate them into loving me. Still I am aware of the paradox of my power over these students. I am aware of my role, my place in an institution that is larger than myself, whose power I wield even as I am powerless, whose shield of respectability shelters me even as I am disrespected.” – Patricia Williams. The Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Mad Law Professor

This is part three in a series by Dr. Matthew. See Part 1 and Part 2 at her blog.On the first day of class one semester a male student called me Mrs. Matthews. It was the very beginning of the school year, and I’d been on sabbatical the previous winter, which meant I had eight full months to work on two big projects–an anthology about race and tenure in the humanities and my book about the history of the novel and its intersections with 19th-century medical and conduct discourse. It also meant I had had no interactions with students, even in passing. I live in Brooklyn but teach in New Jersey, so when I’m away from school I’m really away from school. The only student I had interacted with was the graduate student helping me with background research for the introduction to the race and tenure anthology. This is probably why, when I heard “Mrs. Matthews,” I replied without thinking, “Everything about that is wrong.”
I’m funny about people misspelling my last name. I think if it were, say, “Pryzbylewski” I wouldn’t get upset about it. That’s a hard name to spell, but “Matthew” is easy. Yet people add an “s” on the end all the time–telemarketers, doctors, Verizon, restaurant hostesses, and students. In the classroom, I can tell myself that I get persnickety about it because I’m teaching my students to pay attention to details, but I suspect I’m just funny about my name. And, when I’m at school, I’m funny about my title. Outside of work I rarely use it. In fact, when people ask me what I do for a living I just tell them I teach instead of saying I’m a university professor. But at school I assume that, like my male colleagues, students will refer to me as Dr. or Professor instead of Miss or Mrs. Depending on my mood or the time of the semester, I am either good-natured or sarcastic about this mistake. Early in the term I might say, “I may be large and contain multitudes but I am also singular, so please note there is no “s” at the end of my name,” or I try to keep it simple by saying “that’s Matthew two t’s no s.” When students (and when the mistake is made it’s almost always a male student making the mistake) call me Miss or Mrs., I’m neither good-natured nor sarcastic. That’s a mistake of a different kind. I try not to be too aggressive scary-feminist about the whole thing, but I’m quick to point out the error. Neither of these are high on my list of the problems of a tenured academic, but a recent comment on a student evaluation reminds of how being read as “black” by students has shaped my teaching, for better or ill.

Let schools compete and students will be winners

Gabriel Sahlgren and Julian Le Grand:

Put a child of a cleaner from Shanghai or Singapore up against a scion of the western elite in a standardised test and guess who will come out top? According to the latest research, the western kids will trail their Asian counterparts by the equivalent of a whole school year.
This prompted another bout of anxiety of a kind that has become increasingly common since 2001, when the global Pisa survey of educational attainment was first published. Parents once drew comfort from steady improvements in school-leaving grades in places such as the UK. Confronted with evidence of how their children’s accomplishments compared to those of students in faraway places, many westerners have taken fright.
Next week Elizabeth Truss, a British education minister, will lead a fact-finding mission to Shanghai to try to find out what the schools there are doing right. Yet in their rush to copy the winning formula of high-performing countries in east Asia, politicians risk drawing the wrong conclusions. Schools in Shanghai are very different from those in Ms Truss’s constituency in southwest Norfolk. But not all of those differences play a role in Shanghai’s superior performance. Some are irrelevant. Some may even be harmful. And some will be idiosyncratic features of the school she happens to visit, rather than representative of the system. It is easy to point out how a good school differs from a bad one, and conclude that you have found the secret to high achievement – but it is also lazy, unscientific and wrong.

Cheating at CalTech

Seth Roberts:

Caltech has a serious problem with undergraduates cheating on academic work, which Caltech administrators appear to be ignoring. A few years ago, one alumnus considered the problem so bad that he urged other alumni to stop donating. I attended Tech (that’s what we called it) for a year and a half in the 1970s. I didn’t think cheating was a problem then. Now it is.
A recent article in the Times Higher Education Supplement by Phil Baty praised Caltech’s “honor system”, which includes trusting students not to cheat on exams. A Caltech professor of biology named Markus Meister told Baty that “cheats simply cannot prosper in an environment that includes such small-group teaching and close collaboration with colleagues because they would rapidly be exposed.” That strikes me as naive. How convenient for Meister that there is no need to test his theory — it must be true (“cheats simply cannot prosper”).

Administrator Hiring Drove 28% Boom in Higher-Ed Work Force, Report Says

Scott Carlson:

Thirty-four pages of research, branded with a staid title and rife with complicated graphs, might not seem like a scintillating read, but there’s no doubt that a report released on Wednesday will punch higher education’s hot buttons in a big way.
The report, “Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive: Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education,” says that new administrative positions–particularly in student services–drove a 28-percent expansion of the higher-ed work force from 2000 to 2012. The report was released by the Delta Cost Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan social-science organization whose researchers analyze college finances.
What’s more, the report says, the number of full-time faculty and staff members per professional or managerial administrator has declined 40 percent, to around 2.5 to 1.

Why I Chose Academia

Bradley Voytek:

A little over a week ago I ran two panels at a conference called Beyond Academia organized by a group of UC Berkeley PhD students and post-docs.
This was a great conference particularly because this is the right time, and the Bay Area is the right place, for people with strong quantitative skills looking for other opportunities outside of academia. The startup-up culture, the high-density of exciting technical work, and the density of a highly educated populous offer a lot of options for people looking.
The desire to “jump ship” is further compounded by the terribly poor pay for post-docs and grad students. Most of our pay is set nationally by the NIH and is not adjusted for cost-of-living differences, which means that NIH-funded post-docs in San Francisco (with a median rent of $1363/mo) get paid the same as post-docs in Iowa City (with a median rent of $734/mo).
After however many years of education for a PhD my UCSF take-home pay after federal and state taxes, etc. is about $2800/mo. I’m a father; if I wanted to use UCSF daycare and live in UCSF post-doc housing I would be paying $1998/mo for daycare and at least $1099/mo for a studio. Imagine if I was a single parent? This would make my net take-home pay negative $297/mo.

The Pell Grant Poll Tax

Tressie McMillan Cottom:

$5,785 may not do much for you at Duke where tuition exceeds $50,000 a year. But, it can put a serious dent in the tuition at Durham Tech Community College (approx. $13,000). With some state aid, institutional aid, and some luck a student might be able to get some of that workforce training everyone from the President of the United States and all the captains of the private sector claim we need.
Pell grants help poor students overcome the consequences of choosing to be born to parents without means.
For almost the entire history of higher education in this country, college was for the sons (and much later the daughters) of wealthy families. The GI Bill created a national model for distributing aid to students without the benefit of inter-generational wealth to go to college.
But, the GI Bill was not evenly or fairly distributed. Despite the disproportionate number of black men and women who served in the military two decades after it was integrated, black folks had a hard time getting the aid they’d been promised.

Teacher Strike Looms in Portland, Oregon

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

The streets of Portland resemble those of Madison in 2011, only in Portland it is the Board of Education’s failure to bargain in good faith which is causing the labor dispute.

“Fighting for the Schools Portland Students Deserve”
is a predominant sign. This refers to the School Board’s failure to implement an Arbitrator’s Award which would provide additional planning time and reduce class size to provide more time for teachers to work with students and their individual learning styles; individual differences.
The District has nearly $30 million it could access to address the issues presented by the Portland Association of Teachers, but the Board refuses. Instead the Board of Education threatens to take away the early retirement (TERP) benefit, even though it saves the District significant money. Among other issues are just cause and due process standards, videotaping instruction for evaluative purposes and the District improperly using “letters of expectation” to bully teachers.
The Union plans to strike if Contract issues are not resolved by February 20.

Stitch in time: years of toil pay off for a daughter’s special day

Justin Jin:

The old iron key turns on the third attempt and 50-year-old Wu Yuemeng pushes the door open with her knee. She motions her daughter into a seldom-used upstairs bedroom that is dominated by a dusty, century-old wooden loom and a metal-banded chest.
Wu reaches into the chest and takes out treasures, as her daughter – the cheerful 19-year-old Xia – looks on. She pulls out hand-woven shoes, finely embroidered silk ribbons and fabrics dyed with intriguing patterns – all of which are ethnic Dong costumes and accessories. Finally, she reveals the prize: a glittering ceremonial headpiece with swaying golden leaves (see magazine cover) that has been passed down by generations of mothers to their daughters.
Layer by layer, lace by lace, Wu drapes her daughter in the garments she began making while pregnant with Xia, before she knew her baby would be a girl, let alone what kind of girl she would grow up to be. After Xia was born, Wu continued to weave and embroider ribbons and shirts whenever she was not in the fields planting rice.
Dong women embroider with just a single needle and without a fixed pattern, using their stitches to express their feelings for their children. The Dong people of impoverished Guizhou province have no written language, but their textile craftsmanship is unmatched in its refinement, and is a clear communication of love.

A Progressive Education

The Wall Street Journal:

New York City is worth watching these days as Mayor Bill de Blasio begins his new “progressive” government. His first priority seems to be a political and economic assault on charter schools.
The number of charters in New York City grew by over 900% under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and they now teach some 70,000 kids out of 1.1 million. Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes has twice found that the city’s charter students do better in reading and math than their counterparts at district schools.
Manhattan Institute senior fellow Stephen Eide on why forcing New York City charter schools to pay rent will impact educational outcomes. Photo credit: Associated Press.
Mr. de Blasio plans to redress this inequity by handicapping charters. His Department of Education has already zeroed out $210 million in funding from its 2015-2019 capital budget for charter construction. The new mayor has also announced a moratorium on co-locations, a policy that allows charters to share facilities with district schools and provides for a more efficient use of space. Twenty-five co-locations approved last year under Mr. Bloomberg may be in jeopardy.
Mr. de Blasio explains that kids in district schools may feel like they’re getting an inferior education if a charter moves in next door and renovates. Charters are public schools that also raise private money, and state law requires the city to match the private funds on district schools that charters spend on upgrades to prevent a disparity. So by killing co-location Mr. de Blasio can also spend less on district schools.

The Dawn of the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee:

The advances we’ve seen in the past few years–cars that drive themselves, useful humanoid robots, speech recognition and synthesis systems, 3D printers, Jeopardy!-champion computers–are not the crowning achievements of the computer era. They’re the warm-up acts. As we move deeper into the second machine age we’ll see more and more such wonders, and they’ll become more and more impressive.
How can we be so sure? Because the exponential, digital, and recombinant powers of the second machine age have made it possible for humanity to create two of the most important one-time events in our history: the emergence of real, useful artificial intelligence (AI) and the connection of most of the people on the planet via a common digital network.
Either of these advances alone would fundamentally change our growth prospects. When combined, they’re more important than anything since the Industrial Revolution, which forever transformed how physical work was done.

Scalia criticizes education — and Chicago pizza

Art Golab:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia accused American schools of failing to properly educate citizens in their civic duties, railed against the state favoring non-religion over religion and even took a swipe at Chicago style pizza.
Scalia spoke Friday night at the Union League Club of Chicago’s 126th annual George Washington’s Birthday celebration.
Calling the founder of our country “my favorite president,” and “a man of conscience and steadfast determination,” Scalia then launched into an analysis of how the founding fathers and leading teachers of the period viewed education and how far he believes educators, like courts have strayed from their original intentions.
He lamented that most students in elite law school classes he speaks at have never read the Federalist Papers. “It is truly appalling that they should have reached graduate school without having been exposed to that important element of their national patrimony, the work that best explains the reasons and objectives of the constitution.”

What Students Think About Using iPads in School

Katrina Schwartz:

All 870 students at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, Calif. will soon have school-issued iPads that they can use both at school and at home. The school has slowly rolled out the program over the past three years, trying to work out the kinks before issuing the expensive devices to every student. Before students can take the devices home, they’ll have to take a course to get their “digital driver license,” which includes digital citizenship and learning their way around the device.
Eighth grade students at Hillview have had their iPads since the beginning of the school year. Read more on how teachers are using the devices in class so far and their hopes for the future. Here, they weigh in on how the devices change what happens in class, how they think about learning and how they organize their school work.

Should I Attend College?


I am a current high school senior who intends to go into the software industry. I’m trying to decide between enrolling in college to pursue a BS in Computer Science or entering directly into the workforce.
My conundrum is this: I intend to seek a front-end engineering job, and am already very competent in front-end technologies. I have a fair number of items on my resume, mostly from personal projects and internships. I anticipate being able to acquire a moderately well-paying ($60,000 to $80,000+) development job after leaving high school. However, I’m also worried that not pursuing a degree will exclude me from certain well-paying jobs, especially later in my career.
I’m also quite worried about the debt load that a degree would require. I anticipate having to take out between $50,000 and $100,000 in loans to finance a degree.

The Pleasures Of ‘Teaching To the Test’

James Samuelson:

Is standardized testing anti-student? Many educators and commentators believe so, vehemently. No more “drill and kill,” some detractors demand. Kids are not robots goes another refrain. Others argue that standardized testing is a soul-sapping exercise in rote learning that devalues critical thinking and favors students of higher-income parents who can afford test-prep classes or private tutors.
On the contrary: Testing is good for the intellectual health of students. It is also an excellent way for teachers to better understand the particular academic challenges their students face.
First, standardized tests are a critical thinker’s dream. Multiple-choice questions often ask students to evaluate evidence and make inferences. Consider a sample multiple-choice question for the New York State English Language Arts test, which is administered in the public schools. It asks students to identify the tone of a paragraph excerpted from Andrew Carnegie’s “The Gospel of Wealth” (1889).

Why It Makes Sense for Students to Grade One Another’s Papers

Barry Peddycord III:

By the time this post appears, the first peer-graded assignment in Cathy Davidson’s Coursera MOOC, “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education,” will have come and gone, and students will be well into the second. Unlike programming projects, algebra exercises, and multiple-choice questions that can all be reliably graded by a computer, Coursera offloads the task of evaluating essays to students. After the deadline for an assignment has passed, students have a week to evaluate five of their classmates’ essays using a rubric developed by the teaching staff. A student who fails to evaluate his or her classmates does not get a grade for the assignment, and in our course will not be able to achieve the statement of accomplishment “with distinction.” Whether students see that as a chore, duty, or opportunity, the necessary assessment is eventually done–for better or for worse.
Peer grading can be a controversial proposition. When students’ scholarships and internships are riding on their grades, it isn’t surprising that they hesitate to allow their classmates–who know as much as they do about the course material–to have any effect on their final assessment. Instructors scoff at the idea that students can be left to evaluate one another, certain that they will collude so that everyone will receive an A without doing any of the work. In its worst incarnation, peer grading can be a scheme for lazy professors to offload on students the boring work of assessment.

The Myth of the Bell Curve

Josh Bersin

There is a long standing belief in business that people performance follows the Bell Curve (also called the Normal Distribution). This belief has been embedded in many business practices: performance appraisals, compensation models, and even how we get graded in school. (Remember “grading by the curve?”)
Research shows that this statistical model, while easy to understand, does not accurately reflect the way people perform. As a result, HR departments and business leaders inadvertently create agonizing problems with employee performance and happiness.
Witness Microsoft’s recent decision to disband its performance management process – after decades of use the company realized it was encouraging many of its top people to leave. I recently talked with the HR leader of a well known public company and she told me her engineer-CEO insists on implementing a forced ranking system. I explained the statistical models to her and it really helped him think differently.
Does human performance follow the bell curve? Research says no.
Let’s look at the characteristics of the Bell Curve, and I think you’ll quickly understand why the model doesn’t fit.

The Wal-Mart-ization of higher education: How young professors are getting screwed

Keith Hoeller:

In 2009, Money Magazine published a survey titled “The 50 Best Jobs in America.” Their reporters analyzed job data and conducted an online survey of thirty-five thousand people, taking into account such factors as salaries, flexibility, benefit to society, satisfaction, stress, job security, and growth prospects. The proverbial college professor sat high on the list at No. 3, with a median salary of $70,400 for nine months’ work, top pay of $115,000, and a ten-year growth prospect of 23 percent. College teaching earned “A” grades for flexibility, benefit to society, and satisfaction, and a “B” for job stress, with 59 percent of surveyed professors reporting low stress.
While acknowledging that “competition for tenure-track positions at four-year institutions is intense,” Money claimed that graduate students with only a master’s degree could find a part-time teaching job: “You’ll find lots of available positions at community colleges and professional programs, where you can enter the professoriate as an adjunct faculty member or non-tenure-track instructor without a doctorate degree.”
Similarly, the 2000 “American Faculty Poll” conducted by the academic pension giant Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) seemed to corroborate the high job satisfaction rate for professors. “The poll found that 90 percent of the faculty members surveyed were satisfied with their career choices and would probably make the same decisions again,” reported Courtney Leatherman, in her Chronicle of Higher Education story about the survey.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Technology and wealth inequality

Sam Altman:

Thanks to technology, people can create more wealth now than ever before, and in twenty years they’ll be able to create more wealth than they can today. Even though this leads to more total wealth, it skews it toward fewer people. This disparity has probably been growing since the beginning of technology, in the broadest sense of the word.
Technology makes wealth inequality worse by giving people leverage and compounding differences in ability and amount of work. It also often replaces human jobs with machines. A long time ago, differences in ability and work ethic had a linear effect on wealth; now it’s exponential. [1] Technology leads to increasing wealth inequality for lots of other reasons, too–for example, it makes it much easier to reach large audiences all at once, and a great product can be sold immediately worldwide instead of in just one area.
Without intervention, technology will probably lead to an untenable disparity–so we probably need some amount of intervention. Technology also increases the total wealth in a way that mostly benefits everyone, but at some point the disparity just feels so unfair it doesn’t matter.
Wealth inequality today in the United States is extreme and growing, and we talk about it a lot when someone throws a brick through the window of a Google bus. Lots of smart people have already written about this, but here are two images to quickly show what the skew looks like:

Public Trust in Government: 1958-2013

Pew Research:

Public trust in the government, already quite low, has edged even lower in a survey conducted just before the Oct. 16 agreement to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
Explore public attitudes towards the federal government over time and compare the data with other key national indicators, such as consumer sentiment, the unemployment rate and changes within the elected leadership.

Over the last 25 years the number of administrative employees at U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled

Walter Russell Mead:

Last week we highlighted a study showing that university administrative positions rose 28 percent in the last decade, but a new study from the NECIR suggests that the problem is even worse.
Over the last 25 years the number of administrative employees at U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled, according to a joint study by the New England Center of Investigative Reporting and the American Institutes for Research. The ratio of nonacademic positions to faculty positions doubled at both public and private institutions. Overall, the industry has added an average of 87 administrative positions per day, a rate has scarcely slowed since the economic downturn, despite tuition increases. Even more surprising, academic institutions have added more administrative employees despite part-time faculty taking on more teaching duties than full-time professors.

This Just In: Money is Still Not the Answer…

Matthew Ladner:

I decided that it would be a bit easier to digest to do the chart by individual subjects and use points rather than percentages of a standard deviation and combined tests as an axis. Also revenue per pupil was easier to find than expenditures. So what you see up there is a first crack at 4th grade reading between 1998 and 2013. No shock- money is still not the answer (yes I am looking right at you New York and Wyoming).

Note Wisconsin’s spending growth combined with much lower than average academic performance.

Wage Premium From College Is Said to Be Up

Shaila Dewan:

The millennials — born after 1980 — are the best-educated generation in history. By early adulthood, a third have college degrees, and those degrees help them earn more than ever before. So scholars at the Pew Research Center were puzzled when they found that the median, inflation-adjusted income of 25- to 32-year-olds had changed very little since 1965.
The reason, they discovered, is that even though a college degree is worth more, a high school degree alone is worth a lot less. Its value, in terms of wages, has declined enough to cancel out almost all the gains by all the millennials who have earned four-year degrees.
From 1965 to 2013, according to a new Pew report called “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” the typical high school graduate’s earnings fell more than 10 percent, after inflation.
“That is one of the great economic stories of our era, which you could define as income inequality,” said Paul Taylor, an author of the report. “The leading suspects are the digital economy and the globalization of labor markets. Both of them place a higher premium on the knowledge-based part of the work force and have the effect of drying up the opportunities for good middle-class jobs, particularly for those that don’t have an education.”

As World’s Kids Get Fatter, Doctors Turn to the Knife

Shirley Wang:

Daifailluh al-Bugami was just a year old when his parents noticed that his lips turned blue as he slept at night. It was his weight, doctors said, putting pressure on his delicate airways.
Now Daifailluh is 3, and at 61 pounds he is nearly double the typical weight of a child his age. So the Bugamis are planning the once unthinkable: To have their toddler undergo bariatric surgery to permanently remove part of his stomach in hopes of reducing his appetite and staving off a lifetime of health problems.
That such a young child would be considered for weight-loss surgery–something U.S. surgeons generally won’t do–underscores the growing health crisis here and elsewhere in the Middle East. Widespread access to unhealthy foods, coupled with sedentary behavior brought on by wealth and the absence of a dieting and exercise culture, have caused obesity levels in Saudi Arabia and many other Gulf states to approach or even exceed those in Western countries.

Fourth-grader Martius Bautista wins Madison’s All-City Spelling Bee

Dennis Punzel:

Martius Bautista’s goal heading into the Madison All-City Spelling Bee, was a simple one.
“Just try my best,” said Martius, a fourth-grader at Edgewood Campus School.
His best turned out to be even better than the best.
In capturing the trophy at the Mitby Theatre of Madison Area Technical College, Martius had to outduel two-time All-City champion and reigning Badger State champion Aisha Khan, an eighth-grader at Spring Harbor Middle School.
Those two emerged as the finalists after Marissa Stewart, a seventh-grader at Black Hawk Middle School bowed out in the 24th round.
Aisha and Martius each got their first seven words in the finals correct before Aisha was confronted with “bolivar,” the currency of Venezuela.

Giant snowball batters Reed dorm

Chris Lydgate:

A giant runaway snowball crashed into a Reed dorm on Saturday evening, ripping a wall off its studs and narrowly missing a window. No one was injured in the collision.
College officials say the ball was some 40 inches in diameter and weighed from 800 to 900 pounds. “It was a big snowball,” says maintenance manager Steve Yeadon.
The episode started Saturday during a storm that dumped as much as 12 inches of snow on Portland. A couple of students decided to make a large snowball in the quadrangle formed by the Grove dorms, according to an incident report from the Community Safety Office. They rolled it back and forth across the Grove Quad in what must have at first seemed a Sisyphean undertaking. But as time went on, the frozen sphere picked up more and more snow, gained mass, and grew increasingly ponderous. Soon a rumor sprang up that the Doyle Owl was entombed in its icy heart. By 8 p.m., a crowd had gathered in the Quad and was chanting “Roll it! Roll it!”

Quality surges in ranks of young teachers

Jay Matthews:

I hear from many experienced teachers who feel the emphasis on student test results has hurt their profession. But to young people coming into the profession, the situation does not look so dark. Education leaders influenced by European and Asian methods are raising standards for those who can enroll in teacher training, while making the training deeper, with more participation by skilled veterans.
Many more teachers are required now to earn degrees in their subjects. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation has set new standards for teacher training programs in which entrants should have a collective college grade-point average of at least 3.0 and college admission test scores above the national average by 2017.
The higher targets might already be having an effect. An article in the quarterly journal Education Next by Dan Goldhaber, a former Alexandria School Board member, and Joe Walch, both of the Center for Education Data & Research at the University of Washington, says new teachers have significantly higher SAT scores than in previous years. Average SAT performance of first-year teachers in 2008-2009 was at the 50th percentile, compared with the 45th percentile in 1993-1994 and 42nd percentile in 2000-2001.
In the past, teacher candidates had lower SAT scores than college classmates choosing other jobs, but in 2008-2009, “graduates entering the teaching profession . . . had average SAT scores that slightly exceeded average scores of their peers entering other occupations,” the researchers said.

Teacher Retention In An Era Of Rapid Reform

Matthew Di Carlo:

The Center for American Progress (CAP) recently released a short report on whether teachers were leaving the profession due to reforms implemented during the Obama Administration, as some commentators predicted.
The authors use data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a wonderful national survey of U.S. teachers, and they report that 70 percent of first-year teachers in 2007-08 were still teaching in 2011-12. They claim that this high retention of beginning teachers, along with the fact that most teachers in 2011-12 had five or more years of experience, show that “the teacher retention concerns were unfounded.”
This report raises a couple of important points about the debate over teacher retention during this time of sweeping reform.
First, however, I must point out that, due to an analytical error, the 70 percent retention figure is incorrect. The authors wanted to see how many first year teachers from 2007-08 were still in the profession in 2011-12. What they did was identify fifth-year teachers (in 2011-12), and then looked at these teachers’ responses to another question asking their first year of teaching. 70 percent said it was 2007-08 (five years earlier), and so the CAP report concludes that 30 percent of first year teachers in 2007-08 had left the profession.

“Pathways to Prosperity”: Presentation to the Madison School Board (2.17.2014)

Robert Schwartz (1.7MB PDF):

Of the millions of American high school students who receive their diplomas this month, 70 percent will move on to college. Unfortunately, by the time they reach their mid-twenties, fewer than half of those students will earn a four-year college degree. Recent studies tell us that even among those under 25 who have earned a college degree, as many as half may be unemployed or, more typically, underemployed. For those young people with no college degree, or worse yet no high school diploma, the situation is even more dire.
In February 2011 the Pathways to Prosperity Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) released a report challenging our excessive focus on the four-year college pathway, arguing that we need to create additional pathways that combine rigorous academics with strong technical education to equip the majority of young people with the skills and credentials to succeed in our increasingly challenging labor market. Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century hit a nerve with employers, educators, and state officials struggling with high unemployment rates, perceived skills mismatches, and the devastating effect of the financial crisis on young people.
The enormous interest generated by the Pathways report has led to the launch of the Pathways to Prosperity Network, a collaboration between the Pathways to Prosperity Project at HGSE, Jobs for the Future (JFF), and six states focused on ensuring that many more young people complete high school, attain a postsecondary credential with currency in the labor market, and launch into a career while leaving open the prospect of further education. To accomplish this goal, participating states will deeply engage with employers and educators to build career pathways systems for high school-aged students. Each state will be led by a coalition of key public and private sector leaders committed to mobilizing and sustaining political and financial support for the agenda and addressing legislative or regulatory barriers that inhibit progress. The work will initially focus on one or two key regional labor markets within each state, but the long-term goal is to create a statewide system of career pathways that can serve a majority of students.

Via the website. Much more here, here and here.
Related: wisconsin2.org

What’s Holding Back American Teenagers? Our high schools are a disaster

Laurence Steinberg:

High school, where kids socialize, show off their clothes, use their phones–and, oh yeah, go to class.
Every once in a while, education policy squeezes its way onto President Obama’s public agenda, as it did in during last month’s State of the Union address. Lately, two issues have grabbed his (and just about everyone else’s) attention: early-childhood education and access to college. But while these scholastic bookends are important, there is an awful lot of room for improvement between them. American high schools, in particular, are a disaster.
In international assessments, our elementary school students generally score toward the top of the distribution, and our middle school students usually place somewhat above the average. But our high school students score well below the international average, and they fare especially badly in math and science compared with our country’s chief economic rivals.
What’s holding back our teenagers?
One clue comes from a little-known 2003 study based on OECD data that compares the world’s 15-year-olds on two measures of student engagement: participation and “belongingness.” The measure of participation was based on how often students attended school, arrived on time, and showed up for class. The measure of belongingness was based on how much students felt they fit in to the student body, were liked by their schoolmates, and felt that they had friends in school. We might think of the first measure as an index of academic engagement and the second as a measure of social engagement.
On the measure of academic engagement, the U.S. scored only at the international average, and far lower than our chief economic rivals: China, Korea, Japan, and Germany. In these countries, students show up for school and attend their classes more reliably than almost anywhere else in the world. But on the measure of social engagement, the United States topped China, Korea, and Japan.
In America, high school is for socializing. It’s a convenient gathering place, where the really important activities are interrupted by all those annoying classes. For all but the very best American students–the ones in AP classes bound for the nation’s most selective colleges and universities–high school is tedious and unchallenging. Studies that have tracked American adolescents’ moods over the course of the day find that levels of boredom are highest during their time in school.
It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents–it’s every single thing we have tried.
One might be tempted to write these findings off as mere confirmation of the well-known fact that adolescents find everything boring. In fact, a huge proportion of the world’s high school students say that school is boring. But American high schools are even more boring than schools in nearly every other country, according to OECD surveys. And surveys of exchange students who have studied in America, as well as surveys of American adolescents who have studied abroad, confirm this. More than half of American high school students who have studied in another country agree that our schools are easier. Objectively, they are probably correct: American high school students spend far less time on schoolwork than their counterparts in the rest of the world.
Trends in achievement within the U.S. reveal just how bad our high schools are relative to our schools for younger students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, routinely tests three age groups: 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. Over the past 40 years, reading scores rose by 6 percent among 9-year-olds and 3 percent among 13-year-olds. Math scores rose by 11 percent among 9-year-olds and 7 percent among 13-year-olds.
By contrast, high school students haven’t made any progress at all. Reading and math scores have remained flat among 17-year-olds, as have their scores on subject area tests in science, writing, geography, and history. And by absolute, rather than relative, standards, American high school students’ achievement is scandalous.
In other words, over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries, and performance standards, and despite billions of dollars invested in school reform, there has been no improvement–none–in the academic proficiency of American high school students.
It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents–it’s every single thing we have tried. The list of unsuccessful experiments is long and dispiriting. Charter high schools don’t perform any better than standard public high schools, at least with respect to student achievement. Students whose teachers “teach for America” don’t achieve any more than those whose teachers came out of conventional teacher certification programs. Once one accounts for differences in the family backgrounds of students who attend public and private high schools, there is no advantage to going to private school, either. Vouchers make no difference in student outcomes. No wonder school administrators and teachers from Atlanta to Chicago to my hometown of Philadelphia have been caught fudging data on student performance. It’s the only education strategy that consistently gets results.
The especially poor showing of high schools in America is perplexing. It has nothing to do with high schools having a more ethnically diverse population than elementary schools. In fact, elementary schools are more ethnically diverse than high schools, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Nor do high schools have more poor students. Elementary schools in America are more than twice as likely to be classified as “high-poverty” than secondary schools. Salaries are about the same for secondary and elementary school teachers. They have comparable years of education and similar years of experience. Student-teacher ratios are the same in our elementary and high schools. So are the amounts of time that students spend in the classroom. We don’t shortchange high schools financially either; American school districts actually spend a little more per capita on high school students than elementary school students.
Our high school classrooms are not understaffed, underfunded, or underutilized, by international standards. According to a 2013 OECD report, only Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. Contrary to widespread belief, American high school teachers’ salaries are comparable to those in most European and Asian countries, as are American class sizes and student-teacher ratios. And American high school students actually spend as many or more hours in the classroom each year than their counterparts in other developed countries.
This underachievement is costly: One-fifth of four-year college entrants and one-half of those entering community college need remedial education, at a cost of $3 billion each year.
The president’s call for expanding access to higher education by making college more affordable, while laudable on the face of it, is not going to solve our problem. The president and his education advisers have misdiagnosed things. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of college entry in the industrialized world. Yet it is tied for last in the rate of college completion. More than one-third of U.S. students who enter a full-time, two-year college program drop out just after one year, as do about one fifth of students who enter a four-year college. In other words, getting our adolescents to go to college isn’t the issue. It’s getting them to graduate.
If this is what we hope to accomplish, we need to rethink high school in America. It is true that providing high-quality preschool to all children is an important component of comprehensive education reform. But we can’t just do this, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. Early intervention is an investment, not an inoculation.
In recent years experts in early-child development have called for programs designed to strengthen children’s “non-cognitive” skills, pointing to research that demonstrates that later scholastic success hinges not only on conventional academic abilities but on capacities like self-control. Research on the determinants of success in adolescence and beyond has come to a similar conclusion: If we want our teenagers to thrive, we need to help them develop the non-cognitive traits it takes to complete a college degree–traits like determination, self-control, and grit. This means classes that really challenge students to work hard–something that fewer than one in six high school students report experiencing, according to Diploma to Nowhere, a 2008 report published by Strong American Schools. Unfortunately, our high schools demand so little of students that these essential capacities aren’t nurtured. As a consequence, many high school graduates, even those who have acquired the necessary academic skills to pursue college coursework, lack the wherewithal to persevere in college. Making college more affordable will not fix this problem, though we should do that too.
The good news is that advances in neuroscience are revealing adolescence to be a second period of heightened brain plasticity, not unlike the first few years of life. Even better, brain regions that are important for the development of essential non-cognitive skills are among the most malleable. And one of the most important contributors to their maturation is pushing individuals beyond their intellectual comfort zones.
It’s time for us to stop squandering this opportunity. Our kids will never rise to the challenge if the challenge doesn’t come.

Laurence Steinberg is a psychology professor at Temple University and author of the forthcoming Age of Opportunity: Revelations from the New Science of Adolescence.
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Eva Moskowitz: Teachers Union Enemy No. 1

Matthew Kaminski:

For several months running, the Bill and Eva Show has been the talk of New York City politics. He is the new mayor, Bill de Blasio, an unapologetic old-school liberal Democrat, scourge of the rich and of public charter schools. She is Eva Moskowitz, fellow Democrat and educational-reform champion who runs the city’s largest charter network.
How did Ms. Moskowitz, a hero to thousands of New Yorkers of modest means whose children have been able to get a better education than their local public schools offered, end up becoming public enemy No. 1?
She is the city’s most prominent, and vocal, advocate for charter schools, and therefore a threat to the powerful teachers union that had been counting the days until the de Blasio administration took over last month from the charter-friendly Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assailed by Mayor de Blasio and union leaders, Ms. Moskowitz is fighting back with typically sharp elbows.
“A progressive Democrat should be embracing charters, not rejecting them,” she says. “It’s just wacky.”
As she reminds every audience, the 6,700 students at her 22 Success Academy Charter Schools are overwhelmingly from poor, minority families and scored in the top 1% in math and top 7% in English on the most recent state test. Four in five charters in the city outperformed comparable schools.

Google admits data mining student emails in its free education apps

Jeff Gould:

When it introduced a new privacy policy designed to improve its ability to target users with ads based on data mining of their online activities, Google said the policy didn’t apply to students using Google Apps for Education. But recent court filings by Google’s lawyers in a California class action lawsuit against Gmail data mining tell a different story: Google now admits that it does data mine student emails for ad-targeting purposes outside of school, even when ad serving in school is turned off, and its controversial consumer privacy policy does apply to Google Apps for Education.
At SafeGov.org our work has long focused on the risks of allowing targeted online advertising into schools. This issue has come to the fore as companies like Google and Microsoft have launched a worldwide race to introduce their web application suites into as many schools as possible. In this article we review the background of this debate and then present important new evidence regarding the practices of one of the leading players, Google.
The suites in question are known as Google Apps for Education and Office 365 Education, respectively, and they include basic apps such as email, word processing, spreadsheets, live document sharing, simple web forms and messaging. Their key selling point is that they offer students something almost as good as a traditional office suite in the convenient format of a browser window, and – best of all for cash-strapped schools – they do so at no cost.
Of course as the economist said there is no such thing as a free lunch, and we must look carefully at the business motives behind these firms’ generosity. Here an important difference between the two leaders emerges. Both Google and Microsoft generate substantial revenues by selling online office suites to government and enterprises for annual subscription fees. If the firms offer essentially the same suites to schools for free, it is surely in part because they hope that when students move into the workplace they will demand the same online tools they learned to use in school. This is a business model that is honest about its intentions and serves the interests of both students and the firms. However, there is an additional component in the Google business model that involves advertising, and this is where the trouble begins.

University of Maine at Presque Isle drops grades for proficiencies across its curriculums

Paul Fain:

The University of Maine at Presque Isle is moving beyond grades by basing all of its academic programs on “proficiencies” that students must master to earn a degree.
University officials announced the planned move to proficiency-based curriculums on Thursday. While many details have yet to be hashed out, the broad shift by the public institution is sure to raise eyebrows.
“We are transforming the entire university,” said Linda Schott, Presque Isle’s president. “In the next four years, for sure, all of our programs will be proficiency-based.”
That means students will progress through in-person, online and hybrid degree programs by demonstrating that they are proficient in required concepts, which faculty members will work to develop. Schott said the university will start by converting general education requirements, and then move to majors.

I Graduated High School, Now What?

College Inside Review:

Say you wake up at 8 am. You shower, eat breakfast, brush your teeth… and get to work at 9. You spend your day working, leave the office at 5, and get home at about 5:30. You unwind a for a few minutes, and then start making dinner. By the time you’re done cooking, eating and cleaning, it’s 7 o’clock. You want to make sure that you get in your daily exercise, but you need to digest first, so after watching TV for a half hour, you start your workout. An hour later, it’s 8:30. And after showering, it’s 8:45. You now have about 3 hours before you go to sleep and start your day over again.
There are two points I want to make.
Your career is very important. Aside from routine daily activities, the majority of your day will be work. That big 8 hour chunk. 9-to-5. And since this will be true for, say, 50 years, I don’t think that it’d be too much of a stretch to say that the majority of your life will be work. For this reason, I think that it’d be wise to give this decision the time and thought that it deserves.
When you ask people, “What do you want to do with your life?”, I don’t think that they give you an honest answer. I don’t think they’re trying to deceive you, but I think that they’re answering a different question. The question that they hear is, “Given that I’ll be busy from 9-5 every weekday for 50 years, what else would I like to fit in to my life?”.

There Is No Demand for Higher Education

John Warner:

The champions of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and other digitally mediated mass-produced education often speak of the “necessity” of transitioning to this model because of all of the increasingly onerous expense of traditional higher ed and unmet demand for education.
Clay Shirky believes the need is dire: “The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.” (It’s worth noting that Shirky said close to the opposite of this in 2012, before the limitations of MOOCs became so readily apparent).
I don’t mean to pick on Shirky specifically–I’ve done that already. His post is just the freshest example of an attitude that’s widely shared by important people like Bill Gates, Coursera founder Daphne Koller, and Udacity’s Sebastian Thrun, not to mention the venture capitalist community that fuels this industry with their investment dollars.

Why Teachers Won’t Be Replaced By Software

Elliott Hauser:

Marc Andreesen believes that software is eating the world. It’s a very visceral image, and in one sense it’s absolutely true. Software is spreading into every industry, changing how established players must play and even what the rules of the game are. But while many in Silicon Valley and Educational Technology think that software will “eat” teachers, replacing many of them, at trinket we believe software’s role is to create openness, making teachers better and more connected. Far from there being less teachers in the future, we think openness will enable and encourage more people than ever to teach.
Godawful Teachers?
In the midst of a longer Twitter conversation I was having with him and others (which I will likely blog about separately), Andreesen made an interesting comment:

After the heat, will Common Core standards shed light?

Alan Borsuk:

The Common Core standards call for fifth graders to understand metaphors. So here’s a story from my life last week that I fear may end up being a metaphor for the Common Core campaign.
I had a flat tire. AAA came promptly, put on that weird little spare in my trunk, and didn’t charge me anything. It turned out there was a nail in the tread.
The tire was repaired and put back on my car. In a pleasant surprise, I didn’t have to pay for the repair because the tire was under warranty.
I was quite pleased to have this fixed for free. But then I thought how I really had paid, both with my AAA dues and with the money the tire cost me. Furthermore, I realized things had been returned only to where they started — I had the same tire on the car and nothing was actually any different than before I ran over the nail.
Are you paying attention, fifth graders? Here’s the metaphor: The tire episode was a fair amount of hassle, it’s over now, I dealt with it, but nothing was really better in the end.
Is this where we’re headed with the Common Core? A lot of work for the same results?

‘The bigger message it imparts is this: making things with your hands can be really cool’

Gillian Tett:

A few months ago I took a short holiday with my two daughters on Dartmoor. True to (British) form, it drizzled – constantly. So I braced myself for battles about how much television the girls could watch, or how many games they could play on my phone. But then fate – or a brilliant piece of innovation – intervened. The hotel where we were staying, Bovey Castle, featured a “Lego room service” menu, next to the normal food menu, which allowed guests to borrow Lego sets. My daughters dialled for some kits.
Three days later, the room was full of models, including a highly complex “Lone Ranger silver mine”, that featured crankshafts, pulleys and fiddly little buckets. My daughters brimmed with pride. Best of all, they barely watched any Disney Channel or minded the rain.
Is there a bigger moral here? I would love to think so. Last weekend The Lego Movie opened in North America and parts of Europe, to rapturous reviews and packed cinemas, earning some $69m in the first weekend alone. Having seen the movie, however, I was not entirely dazzled. It is striking to see that much Lego on a screen – the film features no fewer than 3,863,484 Lego bricks. It is also heartening to see an eight-decade-old Danish company reinvent itself, after earlier bouts of decline, by finding new focus buying intellectual property (hence the appearance of Batman Lego, Star Wars Lego and so on). But compared with some of the other brilliantly witty kids’ films, the dialogue seems clunky. So does the predictably feel-good message (that kids need to be resilient, ambitious and let their creative spirits fly).

An Approach That Uses Computers a Bit to Ask Questions on Numbers and Stuff in Big School

Peter Rowlett:

Here I attempt to write the abstract for my thesis, ‘A Partially-automated Approach to the Assessment of Mathematics in Higher Education’, “using only the ten hundred words people use the most often”.
Katie Steckles pointed out via the latest Carnival of Mathematics that quantum computer scientist Scott Aaronson posted an explanation of his research using only the 1000 most common words in English, inspired by the xkcd comic ‘Up-Goer Five’, which did the same for a labelled diagram of the Saturn V rocket (the ‘Up-Goer Five’). Scott’s post links to The Up-Goer Five text editor, a fabulous innovation that allows typing in a box and highlights when a word isn’t on the same list of words used in the xkcd diagram. I used this to write a version of my thesis abstract. Beyond what the text editor wanted, I also voluntarily adjusted some terms that are on the list, but presumably not in the way I mean them. Particularly, ‘deep learning’ and ‘open-ended questions’ didn’t get highlighted. I’ve gone for a fairly close, word-by-word translation, though clearly some parts could be rewritten completely to be clearer.
My thesis abstract (the version I handed in) is in a previous blog post, if you want to view it for comparison. Here’s my Up-Goer Five version.

Massive open online forces: The rise of online instruction will upend the economics of higher education

The Economist:

UNIVERSITIES have not changed much since students first gathered in Oxford and Bologna in the 11th century. Teaching has been constrained by technology. Until recently a student needed to be in a lecture hall to hear the professor or around a table to debate with fellow students. Innovation is eliminating those constraints, however, and bringing sweeping change to higher education.
Online learning takes many forms. Wikipedia, a user-generated online encyclopedia, contains wonderfully detailed explanations. YouTube offers instruction on how to boil an egg as well as lectures on cosmology. Within many universities the online is displacing the offline. Professors publish course materials and videos of their lectures on the web. Students interact with each other and submit assignments by e-mail. Even those living on university campuses may nonetheless learn largely online, skipping lectures and reporting only for the final exam.
In America, bowing to the inevitable, universities have joined various startups in the rush to provide stand-alone instruction online, through Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Though much experimentation lies ahead, economics can shed light on how the market for higher education may change.
Two big forces underpin a university’s costs. The first is the need for physical proximity. Adding students is expensive–they require more buildings and instructors–and so a university’s marginal cost of production is high. That means that even in a competitive market, where price converges towards marginal cost, modern education is dear.

Are education funds being wasted?

Michelle Rhee and Susan Combs:

We’re professionals from different backgrounds: one a Democrat and education reformer, the other a Republican comptroller of public accounts for Texas. We may not agree on everything, but we are coming together around two common beliefs.
We both believe that nothing is more important to America’s economic future than a world-class public education system. We also believe that limited education dollars should be invested in proven programs that benefit kids, not in unnecessary administration, overhead or red tape.
Today we’re spending more than $600 billion a year in public schools across the country, and few of us are happy with the results. Over the last five decades, in fact, U.S. education spending has skyrocketed by 350%, yet achievement levels have remained stagnant.

Male, Mad and Muddleheaded: Academics in Children’s Picture Books


Like many academics, I love books. Like many book-loving parents, I’m keen to share that love with my young children. Two years ago, I chanced upon two different professors in children’s books, in quick succession. Wouldn’t it be a fun project, I thought, to see how academics, and universities, appear in children’s illustrated books? This would function both as an excuse to buy more books (we do live in a golden age of second hand books, cheaply delivered to your front door) and to explain to my kids – now five and a half, and twins of three – what Mummy Actually Does.
It turns out it’s hard to search just for children’s books, and picture books, in library catalogues, but I combed through various electronic library resources, as well as Amazon, eBay, LibraryThing, and Abe, to dig up source material. I began to obsessively search the bookshelves of kids books in friend’s houses, and doctors and dentist and hospital waiting rooms, whilst also keeping on the look out on our regular visits to our local library: often academics appear in books without being named in the title, so dont turn up easily via electronic searches. Parking my finds on a devoted Tumblr which was shared on social media, friends, family members, and total strangers tweeted, facebooked, and emailed me to suggest additions. People sidled up to me after invited guest lectures to whisper “I have a good professor for you…” Two years on, I’ve no doubt still not found all of the possible candidates, but new finds in my source material are becoming less frequent. 101 books (or individual books from a series*) and 108 academics, and a few specific mentions of university architecture and systems later, its time to look at what results from a survey of the representation of academics and academia in children’s picture books.

The Tenure Code

Ilan Stevens:

At Amherst College, where I’ve taught for more 20 years (oy, gevalt!), a couple of years ago a tenure case was brought down in part because of the word “solid.” I’ve put it in quote marks in part because tenure cases are multiheaded monsters: Their rise or fall as a result of countless factors. In this particular one, one of the factors–and, ultimately, a stumbling block–was this much-contested word.
An outside reviewer had used it to describe a candidate’s publications record. It became a subject of debate among the Committee of Six and the department supporting the candidate.
Here I need to offer a quick crash course through the college’s hierarchical structure, or at least a portion of it. The Committee of Six, a judicial body of elected faculty whose job it is to legislate on a large number of issues, is in charge of reviewing tenure cases once the candidate’s department has offered its recommendations. For these cases, the C6 looks at, among other things, every student evaluation, every letter from peers, and every outside review with utmost dedication. In other words, it is a painful, meticulous process of what I call logocrasy: a Kafkaesque labyrinth of language. The president then endorses or rejects the C6 tenure recommendation.

Teacher Tenure Put to the Test in California Lawsuit

Erica Philips:

On the witness stand here Tuesday, Beatriz Vergara bit her lip and looked toward her mother and sister in the gallery as Eileen Goldsmith, a lawyer for California’s biggest teachers unions, began cross-examining the 15-year-old.
Ms. Vergara is one of nine student plaintiffs in a lawsuit bearing her name that challenges California’s strong employment protections for teachers. She testified earlier that three of her middle-school instructors had failed to teach or discipline students properly. “I think a teacher’s supposed to motivate you, encourage you, keep you going to school,” the 10th-grader said. “If you have a bad teacher, you’re not going to want to go to school.”
How well certain teachers educated Ms. Vergara and her fellow plaintiffs is at the heart of the closely watched case. Research has pointed to teacher quality as the biggest in-school determinant of student performance, and in recent years many states have moved to simplify dismissal procedures for ineffective teachers and encourage districts to consider teacher performance in layoff decisions rather than conducting reductions in force based only on seniority.

Why is Singapore’s school system so successful, and is it a model for the West?

David Hogan:

For more than a decade, Singapore, along with South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Finland, has been at or near the top of international leagues tables that measure children’s ability in reading, maths and science. This has led to a considerable sense of achievement in Finland and East Asia and endless hand-wringing and head-scratching in the West.
What then do Singaporean teachers do in classrooms that is so special, bearing in mind that there are substantial differences in classroom practices between – as well as within – the top-performing countries? What are the particular strengths of Singapore’s instructional regime that helps it perform so well? What are its limits and constraints?
Is it the right model for countries seeking to prepare students properly for the complex demands of 21st century knowledge economies and institutional environments more generally? Is Singapore’s teaching system transferable to other countries? Or is its success so dependent on very specific institutional and cultural factors unique to Singapore that it is folly to imagine that it might be reproduced elsewhere?

Caltech: secrets of the world’s number one university

Phil Baty:

If one were to reduce the story of the California Institute of Technology to numbers, it would be difficult to know where to start.
It is 123 years old, boasts 57 recipients of the US National Medal of Science and 32 Nobel laureates among its faculty and alumni (including five on the current staff).
It is the world’s number one university – and has been for the past three years of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings – and has just 300 professorial staff.
In short, it is tiny, and it is exceptionally good at what it does.
Ares Rosakis, chair of the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, describes Caltech as “a unique species among universities…a very interesting phenomenon”. “Very interesting” may be something of an understatement.
Caltech’s neat and unassuming campus sits in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Pasadena, in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains.

On university administrations’ collusion with the surveillance state

Privacy SOS:

University presidents are in unique and powerful positions, overseeing institutions that are supposed to protect and foster free critical inquiry, and serve as safe-zones for the pursuit of intellectual investigation, open debate, and dissent. That’s why it’s particularly disturbing to witness the transformation of Janet Napolitano from DHS director to university system president.
In September 2013, former director of the Department of Homeland Security Napolitano became the president of one of the nation’s largest public university systems, the University of California. In her role as president of the UC system, Napolitano oversees almost 19,000 faculty members and over 200,000 students, as well as a staff of nearly 200,000.
Soon after she started the job, Napolitano embarked on a “listening and learning” tour of all the UC campuses. She was reportedly met with protest by immigrant and undocumented students, who did not forget that their university president once steered the biggest deportation ship in the history of the United States. (The Obama administration will soon have deported two million people, most of whom were kicked out of the country during Napolitano’s reign at DHS, the parent organization of ICE.)

As Tuition Increases, So Do College Bureaucracies

Richard Vedder:

Put 50 randomly selected U.S. professors in a room. Within 10 minutes they will be complaining about the growing number of administrators in their universities. Professors aren’t right about everything, yet they have a point in this case.
An examination of federal data on the explosion in college costs reveals how far colleges have gotten away from their original mission of providing “higher” education.
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2010-11, nonprofit colleges and universities spent $449 billion. Less than 29 percent of that — $129 billion — went for instruction, and part of that amount went for expenses other than professors’ salaries. Yes, the $449 billion includes money spent on auxiliary enterprises (food and housing operations, for example), hospitals and “independent operations” (whatever they are). Suppose we subtract the $85 billion that pays for all of that from the total. That leaves $364 billion. The $129 billion for instruction of students is still only 35 percent of that.

It’s Not Faculty Salaries

Ry Rivard:

Colleges’ attempts to curb employee costs by hiring part-time faculty members and using grad students are being offset by administrative hires and rising benefit costs, according to a new study by the Delta Cost Project at the American Institutes for Research.
The study uses federal data to examine hiring trends going back to 1990. Over all, it found, colleges have hired at a faster pace from 2000 to now than they did in the 1990s, but that tempo didn’t do enough to keep up with an influx of millennials and other students who flocked to colleges amid the recession.

Captive Consumers: How Colleges Prepare Students For a Life of Debt

Grace Bowyer:

While it’s certainly foolish to rush into committing to college, it’s just as foolish to dismiss it without thought. That’s why when I turned 18 I decided to take a ‘gap year’. I did this because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and it seemed like common sense to gather more information before making any irrevocable, life-altering choices.
Lots of my friends were having graduation parties, which is where the topic came up the most (and was the least avoidable). This is what you talk about at that age. You talk about it with parents, friends, friends’ parents, teachers, guidance counselors, admissions officers; almost anyone you happen to be making polite small talk with. I even wound up defending my decision to my doctor during a check-up.
Eventually, I started to doubt. Was I taking a huge risk by not going, or even by waiting a year to consider my options?
Now that I have more perspective on the situation, it seems absurd that this sort of pressure is heaped upon so many high school graduates every year. It comes forcefully and from all directions. But the urgency is the most confusing part: what real penalty can I expect for waiting a year? Will the job market cease to be there? Is it a race, where the job goes to whoever gets there first? If that’s true, what does that mean for the people who graduate a year after me? And whatever the downsides, how do they compare to rushing into a major life decision (and lots of personal debt) with little idea of what you want out of it?