Congress Is Going Back to School

Kristina Peterson:

During Congress’ two-week recess, House Republican leaders assigned lawmakers some homework: go visit charter schools.

The field trips were part of a coming House push on education, a topic that has received relatively little attention in Congress lately amid the battles about health care and budgets.

But with major fiscal fights delayed until after November’s midterm elections, leaders of both chambers are preparing to focus on education as lawmakers return to Washington this week. Though the campaign-season sniping about the health-care law shows few signs of abating, Democrats and Republicans alike view education legislation as a key plank in their agendas for expanding opportunity and a comfortable arena in which to seek support from younger voters and families.

The GOP-controlled House is pushing a bipartisan bill aimed at expanding access to charter-school funding and making it easier to open new charter schools modeled after those that have been the most successful. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), long a proponent of broadening school choice, said in a memo Friday that the House would vote on the bill the week of May 5.

College Towns Are Pits of Income Inequality

Hamilton Nolan:

Interesting little tidbit for all good liberals to chew over: a list of the U.S. cities with the very worst income inequality includes an inordinate number of university towns.

Bloomberg today has published a list of the 50 American cities with the greatest income inequality. The top three are Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami, all predictable southern metropoli. But take away the major cities, and what really stands out is the fact that the second-tier cities that make the list include a ton of college towns. For example:

How the Military Collects Data on Millions of High School Students

Charles Davis:

The calls started when I was a junior in high school—always in the evening, always after The Simpsons and always with an older gentleman on the other end of the line.

“Charles, there’s someone who wants to speak you,” my mother would yell from the kitchen. She showed no concern as she handed me the phone, no alarm in her eyes over all the calls she was getting from strange middle-aged men looking to chat up her vulnerable teenage son. That’s because these creepers called themselves “colonels” and “sergeants,” which lent authority to their predation. These men were military recruiters – and the bed they wanted to get me in was housed in some barracks.

A few weeks earlier, a uniformed Marine had come to my high school, set up an efficient little booth in the cafeteria and, in exchange for a stupid hat or a bumper sticker, convinced me and some other boys desperate to be men to give him our names and home phone numbers. After that, at least once a week I had to deal with a recruiter calling me “dude” or “man” while promising that military service would allow me to see the world and sleep with many of its women.

Self-Regulation: American Schools Are Failing Nonconformist Kids

Elizabeth Weil:

f the possible child heroes for our times, young people with epic levels of the traits we valorize, the strongest contender has got to be the kid in the marshmallow study. Social scientists are so sick of the story that some threaten suicide if forced to read about him one more time. But to review: The child—or really, nearly one-third of the more than 600 children tested in the late ’60s at Bing Nursery School on the Stanford University campus—sits in a room with a marshmallow. Having been told that if he abstains for 15 minutes he’ll get two marshmallows later, he doesn’t eat it. This kid is a paragon of self-restraint, a savant of delayed gratification. He’ll go on, or so the psychologists say, to show the straight-and-narrow qualities required to secure life’s sweeter and more elusive prizes: high SAT scores, money, health.

I began to think about the marshmallow kid and how much I wanted my own daughter to be like him one day last fall while I sat in a parent-teacher conference in her second-grade classroom and learned, as many parents do these days, that she needed to work on self-regulation. My daughter is nonconformist by nature, a miniature Sarah Silverman. She’s wildly, transgressively funny and insists on being original even when it causes her pain. The teacher at her private school, a man so hip and unthreatened that he used to keep a boa constrictor named Elvis in his classroom, had noticed she was not gently going along with the sit-still, raise-your-hand-to-speak-during-circle-time program. “So …” he said, in the most caring, best-practices way, “have you thought about occupational therapy?”

A High-School Freshman’s Investing Lesson: Time Horizons Matter

Jonah Jakob:

You don’t have to be old enough to drive to play master of the universe. I’m just 15 years old, but in a national stock-market game sponsored by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, I quickly grasped the way hedge fund managers must feel when they make decisions.

My friend Zachary Weiss and I had two months to beat 1,235 other groups of New Jersey high schoolers. There wasn’t any real money at stake, so we were playing for glory and, in the case of Northern Valley Demarest Regional High School, where we’re freshmen, a tour of the New York Stock Exchange.

Unfortunately, we won’t be visiting the Big Board. We didn’t even finish in the top half. But we learned some valuable lessons. First, that you shouldn’t have a two-month time frame in mind when investing. And second, that people do funny things when their own money isn’t at stake.

As the game was getting underway, my dad, who writes The Wall Street Journal’s Ahead of the Tape column, showed me some of the most volatile securities out there, which my partner and I thought of as essential for victory in a short-term game where anything can happen.

Deciding the market probably would rise, we sold short securities that produced double the daily return of VIX futures. My dad explained that, on average, they should lose over 90% of their value each year. We also bought securities that did the opposite. We used the proceeds from our shorts and bought on margin, increasing our risk and potential return. Then Vladimir Putin came into our lives and we found ourselves in 1,016th place.

Are US universities choosing rich Chinese students over Asian Americans?

Lily Kuo:

An editorial in the Chinese financial magazine Caixin points out another potential obstacle for Asian Americans trying to get into college: hundreds of thousands of wealthy Chinese students that are flocking to US schools every year.

American universities, especially elite schools, have been suspected of admitting a disproportionately low number of Asian American students given their high test scores and academic performance. Over the past five to six years, these schools—faced with less private and public funding—have also started depending on international students who pay full tuition to pick up the bill. “Asian Americans now face a double barrier to entry at US universities,” writes the Caixin author Wu Yuci.

Rate Buster

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
4 May 2014

Back in the day, when Union contracts specified the number of widgets each worker was expected to produce during a shift, that number was called “the rate.” Anyone who produced more than that number was called a “rate-buster,” and was subjected to pressure, sanctions, and the like, from fellow union members, until the production was once more within the agreed rate for that job.

There are “rates” in education as well, for students. In general, when they are assigned nonfiction papers, even many high school students are asked to write 3-5 pages. The International Baccalaureate asks for Extended Essays of 4,000 words (16 pages) at the end of a candidate’s time in the program, but that is quite out of the ordinary.

Recently a Junior at one of the most prestigious (and most expensive) New England preparatory schools expressed an interest in preparing a paper to be considered by The Concord Review, where the published history research papers average 6,000 words (24 pages), but she was concerned because her teachers limited history papers at that school to 1,000 words or less (4 pages).

When The Concord Review started calling for history research papers by secondary students in 1987, the suggestion was that papers should be 4,000-6,000 words (or more), (16-24 pages) and students have been sending in longer papers ever since. One 21,000-word paper on the Mountain Meadows Massacre (c. 80 pages) was submitted by a nationally-ranked equestrienne, who later went to Stanford. When she asked her teacher if it was OK that her paper would be quite long, he said, “Yes.”

But she (and he) are rate-busters, who are willing to go beyond the common expectations for what high school students are capable of in writing serious history research papers. In his introduction to the first issue of The Concord Review, Theodore Sizer, former Dean of the School of Education at Harvard, and former Headmaster at Andover, wrote:

“Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them.

We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing.”

Not much has changed since Dr. Sizer wrote that in 1988. Teachers and others continue to find ways to limit the amount of nonfiction writing our students do, with the result, of course, that they do not get very good at it. But no matter how much college professors and employers complain that their students and employees can’t write, our “union rules” at the k-12 level ensure that students do very little serious writing.

This is not the result of a union contract on rates, but it does come in part from the fact that, for instance in many public high schools, teachers can have 150 or more students. This provides a gigantic disincentive for them in assigning papers. They must consider how much time they have to advise students on term papers and to evaluate them when they are submitted. But the administration and the school committees do not want nonfiction writing to get, for example, the extra time routinely given to after-school sports.

In addition, some significant number of teachers have never written a thesis, or done much serious nonfiction writing of their own, which makes it easier for them to be comfortable in limiting their students to the minimum of nonfiction writing in school.

The Concord Review has published 101 issues with 1,110 history research papers by secondary students from 46 states and 39 other countries, so there are some “rate-buster” teachers out there, even in our public high schools. It is even clearer, from the number of excellent “independent study” papers we receive, that many more students, when they see the exemplary work of their peers, follow the rule that says “Where there’s a Way there’s a Will,” and they take advantage of the fact that the journal not only does not tell them what to write about, it does not limit the length of the papers they want to write. When we see the number of these fine nonfiction papers, it should make us regret all the more everything we do to press our potential student “rate-busters” to do less than they could. We don’t do that in sports. Why in the world do we do it in academics?

The Bias for White Men

Scott Jaschik:

A survey of more than 6,000 faculty members, across a range of disciplines, has found that when prospective graduate students reach out for guidance, white males are the most likely to get attention. The survey also found that public university faculty members are much more likely than their private counterparts to respond equally to students of varying backgrounds. And the greatest victims of discrimination may be those with names that suggest they are Chinese women.

The study (abstract available here) — just released by the Social Science Research Network — aims to identify whether academics create pathways for students of all kinds who want to enter graduate school.

For the study, three researchers sent faculty members letters (as would-be grad students), expressing interest in talking about research opportunities in the program, becoming a graduate student and learning about the professor’s work. The letters asked for a 10-minute discussion. The letters were identical in every way except for the names of the fictional people sending them (see text at bottom of article).

In an Era of Increasing Fiscal Constraints, An Inexplicable Shift in Hiring Patterns in Higher Education


In this past week’s issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, there is a very revealing graph representing the changes in employment in colleges and universities from 1976 to 2011. The graph is based on an analysis of IPEDs data by AAUP’s John Curtis.

Full-Time Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty

1976 – 353,681

2011 – 436,293

Increase – 23%

Graduate Student Employees

1976 – 160.086

2011 – 358,743

Increase – 123%

Full-Time Executives

1976 – 97,003

2011 – 233,368

Increase 141%

Full-Time Non-Tenure Track Faculty

1976 – 80,883

2011 – 290,238

Increase – 259%

Part-Time Faculty

1976 – 199,139

2011 – 768,071

Increase – 286%

Full-Time Non-Faculty Professional Staff

1976 – 150,319

2011 – 704,505

Increase – 369%

If we simply could not afford to maintain a level of faculty on tenure tracks proportionate to student enrollment, that would be one thing.

When Diversity Doesn’t Come Easy

Stacey Patton:

Leigh-Anne Francis wishes she had listened to her pregnant wife, who begged her not to leave the house that night. She could have been at home putting the finishing touches on her syllabi and lecture notes, instead of handcuffed to a bench at a local police station.

It was August 29, 2013, the night before the start of the fall semester at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, a midsize public college in the picturesque foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Francis, a Jamaican-born professor fresh out of graduate school, was prepping for her first lectures when she decided to make a late run to pick up Thai take-out. She was excited about starting her new tenure-track job in black studies and U.S. history at Oneonta—one she had landed months before earning a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University. (I studied history at Rutgers, too, and I took a few courses with Francis.) Francis and her wife Jenny, who is white, had moved from northern New Jersey just six days earlier.

Telling Students to Earn Less: Obama now calls for reforming his bleeding college loan program.

The Wall Street Journal:

The federal student loan program is becoming so costly to taxpayers that even President Obama is pretending to fix it. Readers will recall Mr. Obama as the man who has spent much of his Presidency expanding this program, creating new ways for borrowers to avoid repayment, and then campaigning about these dubious achievements on campuses nationwide.

Now Team Obama is acknowledging that his policies are turning out to be more expensive than he claimed. Participation in federal debt-forgiveness programs is surging. In a mere six months the number of borrowers who’ve signed up for such plans has increased to more than 1.3 million from less than a million, with total balances rising to $72 billion from $52 billion. Maybe the White House didn’t understand that when you give people an economic incentive not to repay a loan, more people won’t repay.

Rural states such as Iowa, Vermont and Nebraska are among the best at keeping kids in school until graduation — but other top performers include Texas, Tennessee and Missouri

Stephanie Simon:

“This is really, really good news,” said John Gomperts, the president of America’s Promise Alliance, a coalition of nonprofits, businesses and educators focused on raising the graduation rate. “For a country that can feel like it’s struggling to make progress, this is a pretty big story of positive change.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will discuss the data Monday morning at a “Building a Grad Nation” summit hosted by America’s Promise. The group released a report Monday detailing state-by-state performance, based on 2012 data.

But the strong national gains mask sharp disparities between states — and between groups of students.
In Nevada, fewer than one in four students with disabilities earns a high school diploma. In Montana, 81 percent do.

In Minnesota, just 59 percent of low-income students graduate, compared with 87 percent of their wealthier peers. The disparity between income groups is almost as big in Colorado, Connecticut, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor noted that the state has made some progress: Graduation rates jumped more than 6 percent for low-income students in 2012. But that only brought them up to a 70 percent graduation rate — compared to a 94 percent rate for their more affluent peers. “There remains much more work to do,” Pryor said. To make up ground, the state is focusing on chronically absent students. It’s also pushing to expand choice by introducing more magnet and charter schools in a bid to keep more teenagers engaged.

On Student Loans

Jenni Dye:

But when I attended UW for law school, my total debt quickly topped $100,000, with interest rates locked in at 6.8 percent and 8.8 percent due to changes in federal law. Consolidation couldn’t reduce the interest rate, as federal law required my loan remain at the average of my existing interest rates.

But, because IBR payments may not cover accruing interest, after paying roughly $20,000 toward my loans in the past five years, I now owe more than I did when I graduated. Under IBR, any amounts owed after 25 years of repayment may be forgiven, but under current law that forgiveness will be taxable, leaving borrowers to make a large balloon payment to the IRS. Meanwhile, the federal government is projected to earn $127 billion off student loans in the next 10 years.

Multiply my story by the thousands upon thousands of borrowers in Wisconsin alone — and by our families, many of whom have helped us along the way. And multiply it by our kids, who will enter college while we are still trying to pay off our own debt. Then you start to have a picture of the impact of $1 trillion of student debt.

Elite journals are losing their position of privilege

George Lozano:

The digital age has brought forth many changes to scholarly publishing. For instance, we now read papers, not journals. We used to read papers physically bound with other papers in an issue within a journal, but now we just read papers, downloaded individually, and independently of the journal. In addition, journals have become easier to produce. A physical medium is no longer necessary, so the production, transportation, dissemination and availability of papers have drastically increased. The former weakened the connection between papers and their respective journals; papers now are more likely to stand on their own. The latter allowed the creation of a vast number of new journals that, in principle, could easily compete at par with long-established journals.

In a previous blog, and paper, we documented that the most widely used index of journal quality, the impact factor, is becoming a poorer predictor of the quality of the papers therein. The IF already had many well documented and openly acknowledged problems, so that analysis just added another problem to its continued. The data set used for that analysis was as comprehensive as possible, and included thousand of journals. During subsequent discussions, the issue came up of whether the patterns we documented at a large scale also applied to the handful of elite journals that have traditionally deemed to be the best.

Hence, in a follow-up paper we examined Nature, Science Cell, Lancet, NEJM, JAMA and PNAS (just in case, the last 3 are New Engl. J. Med., J. Am. Med. Ass., and Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.). We identified the 1% and 5% most cited papers in every year in the past 40 years, and determined the percentage of these papers being published by each of these elite journals. In all cases, except for JAMA and the Lancet, the proportion of top papers published by elite journals has been declining since the late-eighties.

The University of California Admissions Bait and Switch

Bob Samuels:

The UC has published its 2014 admissions’ statistics, and while the system is still required to admit all qualified students from California, a secret tactic is being used to make sure that it increases the number of high-paying non-resident and international students. What the UC is doing is admitting students from California, but not offering them places at the campuses of their choice. Simply put, students are applying to Berkeley and UCLA, but they are being admitted to Merced and Riverside.

Looking at the latest statistics, we see that Berkeley accepted 8,391 students from California, 3,071 from out of state, and 1,333 international students. Likewise, UCLA accepted 9,128 from California, 4,095 from out of state, and 2,537 international students. So out of the 28,555 students accepted by both campuses, 11,036 are not from California. These students (39% of the total admittees) each pay $23,000 exrtra for tuition, and they do not receive financial aid. Of course, not all of these students will accept their admission offers, but if all of them did, the two campuses would bring in an additional $254 million.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: How to Get Rich Just by Moving

Ben Steverman:

What if you could get a 20 percent discount on everything from beer to real estate? You can. You just have to move to Danville, Illinois.

And that’s assuming you live in a town with average prices. Residents of Honolulu and New York, the two most expensive cities in the U.S., would see a 35 percent drop in their cost of living in Danville, according to new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Feel like moving to Pittsburgh? Now there’s a city in a sweet spot, with cheap prices and, according to new BEA data that adjust average incomes for local inflation, relatively high incomes. Pittsburgh is 6.6 percent cheaper than the national average, and residents are the 36th best-paid in the U.S., bringing home almost $48,000 annually per person.

Locally, Middleton’s property taxes are 16% less than Madison’s for a similar home.

ASA Statement on Using Value-Added Models for Educational Assessment

American Statistical Association:

Many states and school districts have adopted Value-Added Models (VAMs) as part of educational accountability systems. The goal of these models, which are also referred to as Value-Added Assessment (VAA) Models, is to estimate effects of individual teachers or schools on student achievement while accounting for differences in student background. VAMs are increasingly promoted or mandated as a component in high-stakes decisions such as determining compensation, evaluating and ranking teachers, hiring or dismissing teachers, awarding tenure, and closing schools.

The American Statistical Association (ASA) makes the following recommendations regarding the use of VAMs:

The ASA endorses wise use of data, statistical models, and designed experiments for improving the quality of education.

VAMs are complex statistical models, and high-level statistical expertise is needed to develop the models and interpret their results.

Estimates from VAMs should always be accompanied by measures of precision and a discussion of the assumptions and possible limitations of the model. These limitations are particularly relevant if VAMs are used for high-stakes purposes.

VAMs are generally based on standardized test scores, and do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.

VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects – positive or negative – attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model.

Under some conditions, VAM scores and rankings can change substantially when a different model or test is used, and a thorough analysis should be undertaken to evaluate the sensitivity of estimates to different models.

Much more on value added assessment, here.

A year into his School in the Cloud documentary, Jerry Rothwell shares the highs and lows of watching students teach themselves

Natasha Scripture:

British director Jerry Rothwell, the winner of the first annual Sundance Institute | TED Prize Filmmaker Award, has spent the past year trailing TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra as he sets up the first locations of the School in the Cloud. Traveling between a remote village in India and a forward-thinking elementary school in the U.K., Rothwell has watched Mitra, a Newcastle University professor, plant the seeds of his global education experiment that lets children learn on their own, and from each other, by tapping into online resources and their inner sense of wonder.

The subject matter of School in the Cloud is definitely different from Rothwell’s previous films, which include Donor Unknown, about a sperm donor and his many offspring; Town of Runners, about an Ethiopian village famed for its athletes; and Heavy Load, about a group of people with learning disabilities who form a punk band. But Rothwell says he has long been interested in education and technology, so was up for this challenge.

School in the Cloud is slated for release in April 2015. Now that Rothwell is halfway through the project, we thought we’d check in with him to see how it’s going …

When use of pseudo-maths adds up to fraud

Stephen Foley:

An academic journal called the Notices of the American Mathematical Society may seem an unlikely periodical to have exposed fraud on a massive scale. The investigation, published in the current edition, is certainly not going to sit among the nominees for next year’s Pulitzer prizes. But a quartet of mathematicians have just published a piercing article in the public interest and in the nick of time.

In their paper, entitled Pseudo-Mathematics and Financial Charlatanism, they make the case that the vast majority of claims being made for quantitative investment strategies are false.*

By calling it fraud, the academics command attention, and investors would be wise to beware. With interest rates about to turn, and a stock market bull run ageing fast, there have never been such temptations to eschew traditional bond and equity investing and to follow the siren sales patter of those who claim to see patterns in the historical data.

The (unnamed) targets of the mathematicians’ ire range from individual technical analysts who identify buy and sell signals in a stock chart, all the way up to managed futures funds holding billions of dollars of clients assets.

There will be many offenders, too, among investment managers pushing “smart beta” strategies, which aim to construct a portfolio based on signals from history.

Commentary on School Choice vs Status Quo Models

Several letters to the NY Times:

A prevailing belief in the United States is that education is the great opportunity equalizer — a silver bullet that can lift kids out of poverty and transform them into productive citizens. Yet the reality of our “make or break” education system is that race and social class largely determine the quality of one’s educational life, from pre-K to graduate school.

“Global cities” like New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles boast diverse populations and cultural depth, but their public school systems remain highly segregated. Much of this has to do with housing and rapid rates of gentrification. But it also has to do with the slow repeal of public policy focused on school integration in favor of privatization, accountability schemes and school choice. A recent University of California, Los Angeles study, for example, argues that in New York City, private and charter schools are exacerbating the problem of “apartheid” schooling.

Getting into the Ivies

David Leonhardt:

ASK just about any high school senior or junior — or their parents — and they’ll tell you that getting into a selective college is harder than it used to be. They’re right about that. But the reasons for the newfound difficulty are not well understood.

Population growth plays a role, but the number of teenagers is not too much higher than it was 30 years ago, when the youngest baby boomers were still applying to college. And while many more Americans attend college than in the past, most of the growth has occurred at colleges with relatively few resources and high dropout rates, which bear little resemblance to the elites.

So what else is going on? One overlooked factor is that top colleges are admitting fewer American students than they did a generation ago. Colleges have globalized over that time, deliberately increasing the share of their student bodies that come from overseas and leaving fewer slots for applicants from the United States.

Related: “Financial Aid Leveraging”.

College life ain’t what it used to be

Gary Silverman:

But I’m revisiting my youthful folly in this forum in the interest of the historical record. Looking back on it, my romantic notions about love and higher education were rooted in a world that is no more – the pre-internet, postwar suburb (mine being located on Long Island, outside New York City).

When I mailed in my university applications a few hours before the start of the American bicentennial year of 1976 – using white liquid paper to correct my typing mistakes on forms of different colours – I was many years away from owning my first cell phone, tablet or personal computer. There was no such thing as Facebook or Twitter, either.

As a result, just about the only other college applicants I knew lived in the same place I did. I’m talking about a corner of the East Meadow public school district that fed the smaller of the two high schools in that jurisdiction – W Tresper Clarke (which was named after a former president of the East Meadow board of education, then and now the only man in my experience who wanted to be called Tresper).

I was provincial in a way that would be nearly impossible today – even in many of the more remote corners of the planet. But the curious thing is that my lack of contact with young people anywhere else bred a near certainty that they would be more interesting than the ones with whom I was raised.

Sharecroppers. Migrant Workers. Adjuncts?

David Perry:

Do you think adjunct rights are a civil-rights issue?” This question came to me from a young scholar about to defend his Ph.D. He’s just finishing a great one-year position but does not have employment yet for next year.

Trying to answer his question led me into an interesting group of writings that link the conditions of adjuncts to historically oppressed and exploited peoples such as slaves, sharecroppers, and migrant workers. This language may be misguided. But its apparent utility reveals one of the big obstacles to improving the condition of adjuncts in higher education today.

Clearly, the conditions of adjuncts are deplorable. From the homeless adjunct protesting in New York to the countless stories of inequity, struggle, hunger, and ostracism, the human toll of adjunctification should appall anyone who pays attention.

Over the past few years, an increasing number of voices have argued that adjunctification is best understood as something especially terrible rather than an all-too-typical example of the rise of contingency across the North American workforce. Why do advocates need to go to such rhetorical lengths to gain our sympathy?

Free college plan laudable but ideological

Chris Rickert

Far be it from me to diss two free years of college for every American student.

And there are some decent reasons to support a recent proposal from a pair of UW-Madison faculty that would provide just that.

The problem is that students could get their free rides only at public institutions, and only if the federal government agreed to start stiffing the private ones. That’s as much an ideological shot across the bow as a way to solve problems plaguing higher education.

With tuition and student debt loads soaring, the paper by associate professors Sara Goldrick-Rab and Nancy Kendall was sure to get attention.
To free up the money needed to make their new entitlement possible, they propose cutting private colleges and universities off from the $80 billion money spigot known as federal financial aid.

Privates aren’t worthy of taxpayer dollars, they argue, in part because they aren’t subject to the same oversight as public institutions, and they eat up a disproportionate share of student aid.

While they enrolled only about 29 percent of undergraduates in 2012-13, privates collected 35 percent of Pell grants and 49 percent of Supplemental Educational Opportunity grants, the authors note.

There’s no doubt that some johnny-come-lately, for-profit private colleges have taken advantage of government largesse while failing to graduate students.

In a story last week in the UW-Madison student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, Goldrick-Rab calls out the University of Phoenix specifically.
But for every University of Phoenix, there’s an Edgewood College or a Beloit College — long-standing, mission-driven, nonprofit and generally positive influences on Wisconsin and the rest of the world.

Apartheid, just less black and white: ‘Inequality is the new apartheid. “Your life path is largely determined before birth’; Kansas City & Madison per student spending fails to address the gap

Simon Kuper

I especially see apartheid in the US. True, the country has made racist speech taboo. Use a racial epithet in public and your career combusts. That’s lovely. However, American school taxes are usually raised locally, and many neighbourhoods are segregated, and so most poor black children attend underfunded schools where they learn just enough to do lowly jobs for whites. The US later tries to airlift a few victims out of the ghetto through “affirmative action”, but by then the damage is done. Like apartheid South Africa, the US ensures through schooling that most black people won’t succeed. It just doesn’t call this “Bantu education”.

My instinctive measure of a society is how closely it resembles South African apartheid. On that score the Netherlands – despite ample racist speech – arguably beats the US, because the Dutch give so-called “black schools” more funding than white suburban schools. Similarly, ethnically mixed-up London has less apartheid than segregated Paris.

South African apartheid determined people’s life paths from before birth. If you were a white embryo, you’d be fine. A black embryo wouldn’t. I remember, aged about 16, sitting on the porch of some ridiculous white adult fraud, listening to him preach about the stupidity of his black servants, and realising: this guy needs to believe he made his own success. Few people at the top can think, “Luckily, I chose the right parents.” Instead they tell themselves a story about work and talent – even though their maid probably outworks them, and nobody ever cared whether she had talent.

Inequality is the new apartheid. Your life path is largely determined before birth. The ruling classes pass on their status by sending their children to exclusive schools, much like in apartheid Johannesburg.

Happily, ethnicity is no longer always decisive. Still, today’s apartheid delivers outcomes as unequal as the old apartheid did. One measure of a society’s inequality is its Gini coefficient. South Africa’s Gini in 1995, just after apartheid, was a shocking 0.59 (where 0 is perfect equality, and 1 is perfect inequality). But Manhattan today has almost exactly the same Gini: 0.6, according to the US Census Bureau. Amazingly, South Africa itself has become less equal since apartheid: by 2009 the country’s Gini had risen to 0.63, says the World Bank.

From the comments:

There are several key errors regarding school funding- many of the poorest performing schools spend the most per pupil. Schools and taxes are funded at the local AND state level, as well as directed by school boards elected locally and state DOE’s … these have been run almost exclusively by one philosophical perspective for more than 50 years, with the corruption and lack of accountability that comes with it … and results have gotten worse, not better. Maybe time for a change of concept!?!

Madison spends about double the national average per student yet has long tolerated disastrous reading results. Money may be a factor, but as the Kansas City experiment reveled, it is hardly decisive.

Madison Schools’ “Special Education Audit” Document

Consultants for the Madison Schools (PDF):

The leadership has established a director of MTSS with the C&I department, which is critical from both functional and symbolic purposes.

District leadership has a strong Strategic Framework in place to support the MTSS process with the present focus on reading, with subsequent focus on writing and numeracy.

The data suggests with the attenuation of the special education population (i.e., from 17.8% to 14% in the last 3 years), early intervening processes are having a positive effect.

Despite inconsistencies in the process, schools are starting to use similar methodologies to screen (e.g., AimsWeb® & MAP), core materials (e.g., Mondo®) and interventions for students (Voyagers, Rewards, Language!)

The lowest score – 6% – was in the US


William Shakespeare is the UK’s greatest cultural icon, according to the results of an international survey released to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth.

Five thousand young adults in India, Brazil, Germany, China and the USA were asked to name a person they associated with contemporary UK arts and culture.

Shakespeare was the most popular response, with an overall score of 14%.

The result emerged from a wider piece of research for the British Council.

The Queen and David Beckham came second and third respectively. Other popular responses included JK Rowling, Adele, The Beatles, Paul McCartney and Elton John.


Travel Agents, Technology, and Higher Ed

Joshua Kim:

I am a higher ed technology optimist.

I think that technology will improve higher education.

I believe that we will leverage technology to tackle challenges around costs, access,and quality.

But what if I’m wrong?

What if technology ends up pushing us backwards in higher ed?

One reason why I worry about technology and higher ed is because I like to go on vacation with my family.

To plan our vacations we use technology. Websites to search out destinations. Kayak to find flight. Airbnb to find someplace to stay.

And each year we struggle to find family vacations that will work for everyone. How to satisfy the needs to two teenagers and their parents? What happens when you throw in grandparents? Or younger cousins?

Parent to Obama: Let me tell you about the Common Core test Malia and Sasha don’t have to take but Eva does

Rebecca Steinitz:

We have something very important in common: daughters in the seventh grade. Since your family walked onto the national stage in 2007, I’ve had a feeling that our younger daughters have a lot in common, too. Like my daughter Eva, Sasha appears to be a funny, smart, loving girl, who has no problem speaking her mind, showing her feelings, or tormenting her older sister.

There is, however, one important difference between them: Sasha attends private school, while Eva goes to public school. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support your decision to send Malia and Sasha to private school, where it is easier to keep them safe and sheltered. I would have done the same. But because she is in private school, Sasha does not have to take Washington’s standardized test, the D.C. CAS, which means you don’t get a parent’s-eye view of the annual high-stakes tests taken by most of America’s children.

I have been watching Eva take the Massachusetts MCAS since third grade. To tell you the truth, it hasn’t been a big deal. Eva is an excellent student and an avid reader. She goes to school in a suburban district with a strong curriculum and great teachers. She doesn’t worry about the tests, and she generally scores at the highest level.

Much more on the Common Core, here.

Madison Schools’ 2014-2015 $402,464,374 Budget Document (April, 2014 version)

The Madison School District (3MB PDF):

Five Priority Areas (just like the “Big 10”) but who is counting! – page 6:
– Common Core
– Behavior Education Plan
– Recruitment and hiring
– New educator induction
– Educator Effectiveness
– Student, parent and staff surveys
– Technology plan

2014-2015 “budget package” 3MB PDF features some interesting changes, beginning on page 92, including:

1. + $986,314 to other Wisconsin public school districts due to Outbound open enrollment growth and $160,000 for Youth Options (page 108)

2. + 5.3% Teacher & Staff Health insurance spending is $44,067,547, or 11% of total spending! (Page 92). Total teacher & staff benefits are $73,248,235 or 18% of total spending. Let’s compare (as best we can):

Madison: 18% budget web page. Note, Madison’s is likely higher than 18% as I did not count all “funds” beyond teachers and certain staff. I’ve sent an email to the District for a complete number.

Middleton: 15.7% 2013-2014 Budget (PDF) Middleton – Cross Plains School District Budget web page. Middleton’s document summarizes spending across all funds (Page 8), something that I did not find in the Madison document (Pages 110-123 summarize aspects of Madison’s spending).

Boston: 14.1% Boston Schools 2013-2014-2015 budget xls file) Boston schools’ budget information.

Long Beach: 15.9% (Long Beach Budget Document (PDF)) Long Beach budget information.

Madison Superintendent Cheatham cited the Boston and Long Beach Schools for “narrowing their achievement gap” during a July, 2013 “What Will be Different This Time” presentation to the Madison Rotary Club.

3. “Educational Services” (Page 96) benefits are $21,581,653 up 4.5%.

4. “Food Services” (Page 98) benefits are $2,446,305, up 4.2%.

5. 10.3%: MSCR’s health insurance cost increase (page 99). MSCR spending and property tax growth (“Fund 80”) has been controversial in the past.

The Madison School District’s per student spending has been roughly constant for several years at about $15,000. Yet, certain budget elements are growing at a rather high rate, indicating an ability to manage effectively by reallocating and raising tax dollars or the presence of a rather fluid budget.

“focused instead on adult employment”

Retired Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 Madison Rotary speech is always worth revisiting:

Zimman’s talk ranged far and wide. He discussed Wisconsin’s K-12 funding formula (it is important to remember that school spending increases annually (from 1987 to 2005, spending grew by 5.10% annually in Wisconsin and 5.25% in the Madison School District), though perhaps not in areas some would prefer.

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

Zimman noted that the most recent State of Wisconsin Budget removed the requirement that arbitrators take into consideration revenue limits (a district’s financial condition @17:30) when considering a District’s ability to afford union negotiated compensation packages. The budget also added the amount of teacher preparation time to the list of items that must be negotiated….. “we need to breakthrough the concept that public schools are an expense, not an investment” and at the same time, we must stop looking at schools as a place for adults to work and start treating schools as a place for children to learn.”

The price of budget spaghetti manifests itself via little to no oversight – see legitimate questions on the District’s most recent $26,200,000 maintenance referendum (another tax increase looms). These documents, while reasonably detailed, are impossible to compare to recent budgets.

The demise of Lawrie Kobza’s 2 page “citizen’s budget” will lead to growing cost of living and achievement gaps, including nearby Districts such as Middleton where a comparable homeowner spends 16% less on property taxes.

Trying to Improve Status Quo Education Models; Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

Motoko Rich:

DC Prep operates four charter schools here with 1,200 students in preschool through eighth grade. The schools, whose students are mostly poor and black, are among the highest performing in Washington. Last year, DC Prep’s flagship middle school earned the best test scores among local charter schools, far outperforming the average of the city’s traditional neighborhood schools as well.

Another, less trumpeted, distinction for DC Prep is the extent to which it — as well as many other charter schools in the city — relies on the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic group governed by the family that founded Walmart

Since 2002, the charter network has received close to $1.2 million from Walton in direct grants. A Walton-funded nonprofit helped DC Prep find building space when it moved its first two schools from a chapel basement into former warehouses that now have large classrooms and wide, art-filled hallways.

One-third of DC Prep’s teachers are alumni of Teach for America, whose largest private donor is Walton. A Walton-funded advocacy group fights for more public funding and autonomy for charter schools in the city. Even the local board that regulates charter schools receives funding

Related: Madison’s long term disastrous reading results, at $15k/student annual spending.

Everyone Should Teach Writing

Ellen Goldberger:

Most of my faculty colleagues agree that Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), in which the task of teaching writing is one assigned to all professors, not just those who teach English or composition, is an important academic concept. If we had a WAC playbook, it would sound something like this: students need to write clear, organized, persuasive prose, not only in the liberal arts, but in the sciences and professional disciplines as well. Conventional wisdom and practical experience tell us that students’ ability to secure jobs and advance in their careers depends, to a great extent, on their communication skills, including polished, professional writing.

Writing is thinking made manifest. If students cannot think clearly, they will not write well. So in this respect, writing is tangible evidence of critical thinking — or the lack of it — and is a helpful indicator of how students construct knowledge out of information.

The WAC playbook recognizes that writing can take many forms: research papers, journals, in-class papers, reports, reviews, reflections, summaries, essay exams, creative writing, business plans, letters, etc. It also affirms that writing is not separate from content in our courses, but can be used as a practical tool to apply and reinforce learning.

Colleges Want Students with Character, But Can’t Measure It

Eric Hoover:

Jon Boeckenstedt devours data. As DePaul University’s associate vice president for enrollment management, he studies how the institution’s 16,000 undergraduates are doing, trying to forecast their performance. Many in his position would turn to standardized tests like the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and the ACT (American College Testing). But Boeckenstedt believes the tests carry too much weight in college admissions. “We know there are students for whom the tests don’t represent their true ability,” he says. Today more than 800 four-year colleges and universities in the United States no longer require standardized tests as part of their admissions process—that’s about 20 percent of the total. In 2011, DePaul became the largest private nonprofit among these.

The flaws in standardized testing are well-documented at this point. They punish disadvantaged students and minorities, entrench class lines, and their predictive powers only forecast a student’s progress as far as the first semester of their freshman year. The University of California, Berkeley1 economist Jesse M. Rothstein has found that the combination of a student’s high school grades and demographic information predicted first-year grades in college about as well as her high school grades and SAT scores do. Based on his experience evaluating undergraduate performance, Boeckenstedt agrees. “It’s double counting,” he says.

Powerful Force Teaching Students the Very Essence of Being Americans

Nat Hentoff:

During the continuously explosive debates about education reform and teacher evaluation, no mention has been made by the media in all its forms of a persistently effective national teaching force in enabling college students to know how to become self-governing Americans for the rest of their lives.

Nor have I previously identified the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education as not only a foremost civil rights and civil liberties leader, but also as an educational leader in truly Americanizing American colleges — an education American students almost never get in their classes.

I have, of course, often cited another such tirelessly liberating educational force, John Whitehead’s Rutherford Institute. However, I focus now on the future impact of FIRE being primarily responsible for the first ever U.S. state, Virginia, to bring full college students’ First Amendment rights to all outdoor areas of university campuses there instead of tiny “free speech zones.”

To Take the Helm, State Ed Agencies Need a Navigator

Ashley Jochim:

Today the Fordham Institute added to a growing stack of reports about what states can do to support dramatic improvements in K-12 education. It’s important to think hard about states, which have constitutional authority over K-12 and provide most of the money, but historically have done little to drive reform efforts.

Enter our friend and colleague Andy Smarick, whose latest report with Juliet Squires suggests state education agencies can play an effective leadership role if they become smaller, and get most of their work done via contracts and partnerships with independent organizations. These ideas, adapted from the pioneering work of Osborne and Gaebler on reinventing government, suggest SEAs need to develop the capacity to steer rather than row.

While Andy and Juliet’s take on the state role is clarifying, it leaves three nagging questions: First, how will states find the independent providers they need to perform key functions, including providing technical assistance to low-performing schools? Second, how will the SEA attract high-level staff capable of overseeing key contractors? Finally, how will the SEA get the political backup to act decisively?

OED Goes out of Print

Padraic Flanagan

It’s all academic for now anyway, they say, because the third edition of the famous dictionary, estimated to fill 40 volumes, is running at least 20 years behind schedule.

Michael Proffitt, the OED’s first new chief editor for 20 years, said the mammoth masterpiece is facing delays because “information overload” from the internet is slowing his compilers.

His team of 70 philologists, including lexicographers, etymologists and pronunciation experts, has been working on the latest version, known as OED3, for the past 20 years.

Michael Proffitt revealed to Country Life magazine that the next edition will not be completed until 2034, and likely only to be offered in an online form because of its gargantuan size.

“A lot of the first principles of the OED stand firm, but how it manifests has to change, and how it reaches people has to change,” said the 48-year-old Edinburgh-born editor.

Work on the new version, currently numbering 800,000 words, has been going on since 1994. The first edition, mooted in 1858 with completion expected in 10 years, took 70 years.

“Although the internet has made access easier,” said Mr Proffitt, “it’s also created the dilemma of information overload.

“In 1989, we looked for five years’ recorded usage before a word entered the dictionary. Now, it’s 10 years because there is so much more material to sift through.

Why (And How) Students Are Learning To Code

Katie Lepi:

Coding is more important now than ever before. With computer related jobs growing at a rate estimated to be 2x faster than other types of jobs, coding is becoming an important literacy for students to have and a more integral part of education and curricula. The handy infographic below takes a look at some of the interesting statistics about coding and computer science jobs. So if you aren’t yet sure why learning to code is important, you’ll find out below. Keep reading to learn more!

What Will Become of the Library?

Michael Agresta:

Around the turn of the 20th century—a golden age for libraries in America—the Snead Bookshelf Company of Louisville, Ky., developed a new system for large-stack library shelving. Snead’s multifloor stack systems can still be seen in many important libraries built in that era, for instance at Harvard, Columbia, the Vatican, and at Bryant Park in New York City. Besides storing old bundles of bound paper, Snead’s stacks provided load-bearing structural support to these venerable buildings. To remove the books would literally invite collapse.

A recent attempt by the New York Public Library to do away with the stacks at its main branch and move its research collection to New Jersey invited just this concern. Engineers described the idea of removing the shelves that support the Rose Reading Room as “cutting the legs off the table while dinner is being served.” The plan was to transform the interior of the iconic 42nd Street building from its original purpose—a massive storage space for books with a few reading rooms attached—to a more open, services-oriented space with many fewer books on-site. An outcry from scholars and preservationists may yet halt the NYPL’s renovation, with a final verdict on the way this year.

The Student Becomes the Teacher

Jeffrey Young:

Over the past year, a boy genius from Mongolia has been schooling MIT on how to improve the elite institution’s free online courses.

When he was just 15, the Mongolian wunderkind Battushig Myanganbayar earned a perfect score in MIT’s first massive open online course, or MOOC. Designers of the course touted him as a poster boy for the power of free courses to spread high-quality education to the farthest reaches of the globe, and the New York Times hailed his story. But leaders of edX, the consortium started by MIT and Harvard University to develop free online courses, also did something else: They offered the star student a job, hoping he could make their MOOCs work better for other high schoolers.

As it turns out, edX needed the help. Despite the hope that courses from name-brand universities would draw students from high schools and less-selective colleges, some 70 percent of people taking edX courses already hold a college degree. MOOCs today are primarily serving the education haves, not disadvantaged learners.

“That certainly surprised me,” said Anant Agarwal, the CEO of edX and the instructor of the course Myanganbayar aced. “I expected more people who were in college [and high school],” he added. “We’re looking to change a few things to increase that number.” (Other MOOC providers have seen similar demographic trends, he notes.)

The Liberal Arts Are in Trouble–Should We Celebrate?

—No, the humanities should step up and proudly proclaim: “We are the purveyors of beauty more lethal than you may possibly be able to bear and knowledge more profound than you can yet fathom. We are your vehicle into the past and into the minds of other human beings. Within our precincts are works of unparalleled eloquence, wit, and imagination; to die without having experienced them is to have led a life shortchanged.” [Heather Mac Donald]

As students and their families rethink the value of the liberal arts, defenders of traditional education are understandably ambivalent. On the one hand, the diminished stature of the liberal arts seems long overdue, and this critical reevaluation might lead to thoughtful reform. On the other, this reevaluation might doom the liberal arts to irrelevance. To that end, Minding the Campus asked a list of distinguished thinkers a straightforward question: should we be unhappy that the liberal arts are going down? Here are responses from Heather Mac Donald, Thomas Lindsay, and Samuel Goldman.


Heather Mac Donald, Manhattan Institute

We shouldn’t only be unhappy if the liberal arts are “going down.” We should be ashamed. Our highest duty as a civilization is to keep alive those works from the past that gave birth to our present freedoms and that constitute the most profound expressions of what it means to be human.

I see no evidence that a “critical evaluation” of the liberal arts is underway, beyond an ignorant flight on the part of some college students towards more allegedly marketable majors. This idea of a job-ready major is a fallacy; outside of vocational training and some select STEM fields, few majors, whether economics or philosophy, have a direct connection to most jobs.

But while the marketable major is an illusion, there is no question that the conceit is driving many students away from humanistic study. The irony is that colleges are themselves wholly responsible for endangering those fields that were once their very raison d’être. For it is their sky-high tuitions that are fueling this migration into purportedly more bankable fields and their adolescent politicization of the humanities that is failing to give students a reason to look back.

Tuition levels are the result of universities’ own decision-making—above all, their insatiable drive to expand their student services bureaucracy. No branch of that endlessly growing bureaucracy is more senseless and self-indulgent than the diversity superstructure, founded as it is on a demonstrable lie: that colleges are bastions of discrimination against minorities and females.

Colleges could eviscerate the “I can’t afford to be a literature major” argument overnight by eliminating their wasteful bureaucracies and slashing their tuitions by half. In the meantime, the humanities should fight back against attrition with their strongest suit. Forget the “we teach critical thinking” gambit, and other mealy-mouthed efforts at asserting a vacuous, process-oriented relevance. No, the humanities should step up and proudly proclaim: “We are the purveyors of beauty more lethal than you may possibly be able to bear and knowledge more profound than you can yet fathom. We are your vehicle into the past and into the minds of other human beings. Within our precincts are works of unparalleled eloquence, wit, and imagination; to die without having experienced them is to have led a life shortchanged.”

Obviously, the humanities themselves have rendered such arguments off-limits with their plunge into narcissistic identity politics. Such terms as “beauty” and “knowledge” are deeply “contested,” as they say in High Theory, if not egregiously embarrassing. But if all that a liberal arts degree can offer students is another tour of oppression and victimhood, there’s no reason not to major in sociology. If the humanities go down, the loss will be universal, but they will have only themselves to blame.


Thomas Lindsay, Texas Public Policy Foundation

No one should be happy that the liberal arts are going down. Properly understood, the liberal arts constitute the core of the examined life defended in Socrates’ famous statement, “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.” In our secular age, the liberal arts represent the last, best hope of ennobling democracy, of liberating us from absorption in the present, of raising our gaze above ourselves, without which we risk sinking below the level of the beasts.

When we understand the liberal arts as indispensable to freeing us from unconscious thralldom to the unexamined assumptions that form our and every culture, we see that they are not “going down.”

They went down some fifty years ago. Beginning with the near-wholesale abandonment by our colleges and universities of a required core curriculum, which was replaced by its present-day impostors–“general education” and “distribution requirements”—our universities have become “multi-versities,” where courses are dished out in nearly as indiscriminate fashion as lunch choices at the campus cafeteria.

Going deeper, what brought down the liberal arts was the denial on the part of universities that there are absolute truths toward which the liberal arts might lead us and therewith liberate us from the unexamined life. In taking down the liberal arts, relativism simultaneously has toppled the authority of the defense of limited government and individual liberty articulated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the U.S. Constitution. And this simultaneous takedown is no accident: The American experiment in self-government, like the liberal arts, stands or falls with the power of human reason to discover truth.

In this light, “market pressures” are not the chief factor driving the current, “critical reevaluation of the liberal arts.” More precisely, market pressures on the liberal arts are hardly new—Tocqueville’s time spent here in the 1830s led him to observe that democracy in America favors an education in what is useful toward securing comfortable self-preservation. But while market forces are not new, American society has of late come more and more to realize that the liberal arts, as currently impoverished by relativism, are of less and less value.

Further, the more impoverished the liberal arts become, the greater the ferocity with which they seek no longer to educate but rather to indoctrinate students into relativism’s willfully unexamined assumptions. On this latter point, no less than Harvard’s recent report on the humanities, “Mapping the Future,” agrees. The primary concern of “Mapping” is students exiting the humanities. Since 1966, humanities majors have dropped from 14 to 7 percent of degrees nationwide. In examining the reasons for the exodus, Harvard confesses to driving off independent-minded students repelled by the intolerance too often taught and practiced in the humanities. “Mapping” acknowledges, “We sometimes alienate” humanities students who get the message “that some ideas are unspeakable.”

Another factor often neglected amid our current concern over the fall of liberal arts study is the rise of the societal goal that nearly all should go to college. This educational romanticism fatally neglects the fact that mastery of a coherent, rigorous liberal arts curriculum is achievable by but a fraction of the great numbers now attending college thanks to the college-for-all orthodoxy. Thus, “Mapping’s” concern over the percentage-drop in humanities majors is likely overwrought, because, if the liberal arts are not for everybody, sending ever-more students to college should only be expected to reduce the percentage of humanities majors relative to the now-larger pool. The college-for-all agenda also has played no small role in diluting the rigor of what does remain of the liberal arts, thereby contributing to the popular perception that they lack intellectual respectability.

As to whether or not the critical reevaluation of the liberal arts will lead to their thoughtful reform or doom them to irrelevance, my point in this piece is that the pervasive relativism and concomitant intolerance currently found in the liberal arts already has doomed them in the deepest, most meaningful sense. We can and must, of course, hope that a reevaluation will produce thoughtful reform, but that does not answer the question, “From where and whom will reform come?” From the market? The liberal arts properly constituted were always looked to as a guide to rescue a purely market-oriented focus from falling guilty to the charge that it knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. From politicians? They have feared and likely will continue to fear pushback from those chiefly responsible for dooming the liberal arts, the higher-education establishment, which enjoys an organized, well-funded lobbying effort in both Washington, D.C., and the state capitols–whereas the people lack both the intensity and the organization required to threaten politicians’ electoral imperative.

This is far from saying that we should not hope that a critical reevaluation yields thoughtful reform. But hope is not a strategy. The fundamental question is this: Who will educate the educators? Any successful strategy must entail no less than a refounding of the American academy, which is to say, must entail restoring the quest for wisdom as the highest human possibility. Absent this, the most fundamental of human revolutions, one is hard-pressed to expect anything other than a continued descent into misology, intolerance, and barbarism.


Samuel Goldman, George Washington University

The phrase “going down” is too general. Rather than a single entity, “the liberal arts” designates a far-flung constellation of activities and institutions. In order to assess the fate of the liberal arts, these dimensions have to be distinguished. Here are a few key elements of liberal arts, with some thoughts on challenges and prospects for each:

Liberal arts colleges. Liberal arts colleges are in big trouble. According to a 2012 article in the journal Liberal Education there were 212 liberal arts colleges (LACs) in the United States in 1990. Today, there are only 130.

Arguments about the higher education bubble would lead one to expect that the colleges that dropped off the list went bust. That’s not the case: only a few of the missing LACs actually closed. Instead, they changed their curricula, emphasizing pre-professional or vocational education.
This trend has affected remaining LACs, too. According to Swarthmore president Rebecca Chopp, only 10 residential liberal arts colleges in the country offer no vocational majors whatsoever. And at 55% of LACs, only about half the students graduate with liberal arts. In sum, there are many fewer liberal arts colleges than there used to be. And those that survive aren’t as humanistic as they used to be.

The weak job market almost certainly discourages students from enrolling in LACs or, if they do, majoring in the humanities. But the real problem is the abandonment of the justification for the LAC. Having rejected many of their traditional religious, civic, and moral responsibilities in the 1970s, LACs now have trouble explaining what they’re for. No wonder students prefer options that seem more likely to lead to employment and often cost less.

More serious teaching and learning goes on at liberal arts colleges than conservative critics sometimes suggest. Nevertheless, it is inconceivable that they will recommit as institutions to traditional ideals. As result, they will likely continue to die out, whether through actual closure or vocationalization. In a few decades, the only survivors may be elite LACs, which offer valuable branding as well as the small-scale setting in which some students thrive, and religious colleges which retain the sense of vocation that inspired the founders of American high education.

Undergraduate Education. The picture here isn’t quite so dire. Recent reports have trumpeted the finding that number of degrees conferred in liberal arts subjects has dropped precipitously since the 1960s. It turns out, however, that most of the drop occurred in the 1970s–long before the current economic crisis or the culture wars of the 1990s. So the challenge to undergraduate enrollments doesn’t seem to be either new market pressures or recent intellectual developments. In fact, much of the drop is attributable to women entering non-humanities fields as their professional opportunities expanded.

But this interpretation offers no cause for self-congratulation. The fact remains that the liberal arts hemorrhaged students in the 1970s–and have done nothing to win them back since. At elite universities, moreover, the number of humanities majors at elite universities has dropped in the last decade. The social sciences appear to be the main beneficiaries of the shift.

Unlike the crisis of liberal colleges, this problem has a solution. Professors and departments of the liberal arts don’t need major institutional commitments to attract more students. They do need to offer better courses. “Better” means two things: First, effective humanities courses need to focus on serious content of enduring importance rather than specialist research or pop culture ephemera. Second, they must include rigorous reading and writing requirements, which equip students with the flexible skills that employers value more than specific job training.

Offering better courses won’t be easy, but it’s certainly possible. For that reason, I’m relatively optimistic about the prospects for liberal arts education within larger universities. The liberal arts will probably not recover the central role they enjoyed in the golden age of American higher education after World War II. But they don’t have to accept irrelevance.

Graduate Education. This subject is almost too depressing to discuss. For mostly self-serving reasons, departments of liberal arts subjects continue to admit far more Ph.D. students than they could ever hope to place in jobs. That wouldn’t be so bad if these students were honestly informed of their prospects and provided with adequate funding. Too often, however, they’re led to believe that chances of employment are much better than they really are and used as cheap labor to staff the classes that tenured faculty don’t want to teach.

The future of the graduate system is murky. For mysterious reasons, enrollment in doctoral programs in the arts and humanities actually increased by 7.7% in 2013. On the other hand, good (meaning pessimistic) information about the risks and rewards of graduate school in the humanities is much easier to find than in the past. So if more people are going forth to the slaughter, they can be expected to know what awaits them.

The Life of the Mind. But liberal education can’t be reduced to colleges, course offerings, or graduate program. As Leo Strauss suggested, these are organized settings for a certain kind of experience: the experience of things that the Greeks described as kalon–the fine, the beautiful, the noble. Do the liberal arts today offer this experience?

It seems to me that this question can’t be answered on the systematic level. The experience of the beautiful is something that happens to and among individuals engaged in study and discussion with and about great works and great minds. All the humanities majors in the world wouldn’t guarantee it. And the economic pressures and intellectual fads can’t preclude it.

So in the long run, I’m optimistic. The traditional objects of liberal arts study—the intellectual and artistic products of Western civilization–are too rich and too rewarding to go down permanently. Plato will still be Plato, Augustine will still be Augustine, Shakespeare will still be Shakespeare in fifty years, or a hundred, or a thousand. Barring social or environmental cataclysm, they will always find readers. And some of those readers will organize themselves for purposes of serious learning and teaching. Perhaps that will occur within universities, perhaps outside them. Either way, the liberal arts will survive.

Amid Affirmative Action Ruling, Some Data on Race and College Enrollment

Phil Izzo:

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics suggest that there has been a convergence among races going to college in recent years. But though there has been progress in equal representation in college for high-school graduates of different races, affirmative action can only help with one barrier to higher education. The high-school graduation rates for black and Hispanic students remain low and there are growing disparities by income.

College-enrollment rates by race: Among all high-school graduates, about 67% went to either a two- or four-year college, according to the most recent Digest of Educational Statistics prepared by the Education Department. That number is a three-year moving average for 2012 that aims to smooth out annual volatility.

Breaking it down by race, 69% of Hispanic high-school graduates, 67% of white graduates and 62% of black graduates went on to college in 2012. More than 80% of Asian graduates enrolled in a higher-education program.

Student Loan Borrowers’ Costs To Jump As Education Department Reaps Huge Profit

Shahien Nasiripour:

The U.S. Department of Education is forecast to generate $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their families, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Beginning in the 2015-16 academic year, students and their families are forecast to pay more to borrow from the department than they did prior to last summer’s new student loan law, which set student loan interest rates based on the U.S. government’s costs to borrow. The higher costs for borrowers would arrive at least a year sooner than previously predicted.

James Kvaal, a top White House official, last year dismissed the possibility that student borrowers would pay higher costs under the new law. The Consumer Protection Financial Bureau on Monday warned borrowers about a “jump” in rates.

The projection, made public Monday by the nonpartisan budget scorekeepers, provides the federal government’s best estimate of how much the government’s student loan program will cost taxpayers. That the program is predicted to generate an average annual profit of about $12 billion through 2024 is likely to fuel calls for the Obama administration and Congress to take additional steps to reduce borrowers’ debt burdens, which the Education Department pegs at an average of more than $26,000.

The University and the Company Man

Tressie McMillan Cottom:

The U.S. higher education crisis has been well documented. College is overpriced, over-valued, and ripe for disruption (preferably, for some critics, by the outcome-driven private sector). At the same time, many Americans are flailing in the post-recession economy. With rising income inequality, persistent long-term unemployment, and declining real wages, Americans are searching for purchase on shifting ground. Not so long ago, the social contract between workers, government, and employers made college a calculable bet. But when the social contract was broken and policymakers didn’t step in, the only prescription for insecurity was the product that had been built on the assumption of security. We built a university system for the way we worked. What happens to college when we work not just differently but for less? And what if the crisis in higher education is related to the broader failures that have left so many workers struggling?

There is a lot of talk right now about how we will work in the future, but it’s mostly based on the realities of how we work today. Many express concerns about the quality and quantity of “good jobs,” which sociologist Arne Kalleberg has characterized as jobs that pay a living wage, are on a ladder of career opportunity, and provide all the material benefits that make for economic security (such as retirement funds and health care). Beneath the surface of debates about yawning income inequality are empirical arguments about job polarization—the idea that the labor market is being pulled at both ends like taffy by global competition, technological change, and policy. At one end are high-skill, high-paying “good” jobs. At the other end are low-skill, low-paying “bad” jobs. The middle, meanwhile, is getting thinner and thinner. And job creation—as underwhelming as it is—is not evenly distributed among the jobs people want and the jobs people have to take. There are more bad new jobs than good. Economists Nir Jaimovich and Henry Siu argue that in the 1980s jobs with lower skill requirements (and pay) started to increase their share of the labor market. That trend has only picked up after the great recession.

Some Brief Spoken Comments on Comp/Rhet, Academic Labor, and the Future of English Studies

Brian T. Hill:

FFor the time being, I’m going to talk about material realities shared by comp/rhet and its others, rather than their differences.

There are all kinds of things I could say about the disciplinary and labor crises in our field, but for now I will focus on an interrelated set of areas with some brief comments, criticisms, or proposals for each: academia’s prestige economy, organized labor, graduate admissions, advisement, the “star system,” and, last and most importantly, undergraduates. Some of these thoughts and recommendations are very small, and some are quite a bit larger.

For starters, campuses, programs, and departments have few if any internal material incentives to make transformational structural changes to the existing divisions of labor. The current arrangement exists for a number of interrelated reasons, but surely one of the most pertinent reasons is that it’s economically beneficial for institutions to organize labor in a tiered wage and title system, with no-contract or low wage or no-benefits work, with labor delivered ‘just-in-time,” etc. Hence the enduring importance and prominence of labor strikes as one of the few bargaining tools still available to workers.

Ignoring Gifted Student Work

Will Fitzhugh:

While Chester Finn, Andy Smarick, Amanda Ripley, and others are bringing new attention to the methods and structures for the education of our most gifted high school students, for the most part that attention does not get much beyond what the adults do, could do, or should do with gifted students. There is little or no attention to the actual academic work of such students, other than on various tests, and evidently no consideration of how examples of the best work of such students, for instance on their science research, as in the Intel and Siemens competitions or their history research papers, as seen in The Concord Review, could be used to inspire not only their gifted peers at the secondary level, as well as other students, but to demonstrate that we not only wish to recognize the best efforts of adults in the work of educating the gifted, but to honor the actual academic achievements of gifted students as well.

However, it has long been the sad case that most experts and pundits who write about the education of the gifted—and of students in general—restrict their vision to what the adults are doing, and never seem able to notice that high school students are knowledge workers too, and fact that some are writing 15,000-word history research papers of first-rate quality, or conducting, often with the advice of a college professor, original scientific research of value as well.

These EduPundits give none of their limited attention to exemplary academic work by students, so they naturally don’t see it, and they don’t include any in their discussions of the education of the gifted. They fail to notice that in our high schools there are a good number of young autodidacts, and ignoring their work continues to produce a shamefully limited discussion of gifted education in almost every case.

Scholars at several levels have learned from and been inspired by the work of their peers, and it is most unfortunate that such important opportunities have been largely overlooked by the condescension or myopia of those writing about gifted education for our more serious high school students.

A few examples of work by high school students published in The Concord Review:

Albert Shanker was one of a tiny handful of unusual individuals [24 years ago] who understood right away that The Concord Review was not meant to benefit only, or even mainly, those whose work was published, but rather was “equally important” for those students who could be inspired, by reading the diligent work of their peers in this journal, to make more of an effort with their own academic work in high school….as he wrote in The New York Times in 1990: “The Concord Review is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system. As we’ve known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process—or better yet become involved in it—productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits—history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned—it’s no wonder that they are bored and disengaged. The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously.”

Jessica Leight [summa cum laude at Yale] (PDF)

Colin Rhys Hill [Christ Church College, Oxford]

Alexandra Petri [summa cum laude at Harvard]

Sarah Valkenburgh [summa cum laude at Dartmouth]

Jennifer Shingleton [summa cum laude at Princeton]

“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
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TCR Institute [2002]
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Social Studies Standards: “Doing” Common Core Social Studies: Promoting Radical Activism under the Obama Department of Education

“Were the Common Core authors serious about ‘college-readiness,’ they would have taken their cue from publisher Will Fitzhugh, who for decades has been swimming against the tide of downgraded writing standards (blogging, journal-writing, video-producing). To this end, he has been publishing impressive student history papers in his scholarly journal, The Concord Review. The new (CC) standards, to Fitzhugh, enable ‘students to be ignoramuses who may be able to talk glibly about their instant New Deeper critical analysis of selected test passages.’ They will, however, ‘not have enough knowledge to do them a bit of good in college or at any workplace.’ They are effectively being taught the art of propaganda through multimedia rather than the art of writing from a knowledge base in history….”

Mary Grabar, via Will Fitzhugh:

The word “doing” appears frequently in the NCSS guidelines, as it does in the Department of Education’s 2012 report, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” which was criticized roundly by the National Association of Scholars for using civics education to promote radical activism and anti-Americanism in higher education, instead of providing a knowledge base in history, civics, and geography.

In 2009, when I attended the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference, I learned that most of the educators bristled at the idea of following educational “standards.” Most of the sessions involved sharing strategies for formally adhering to standards, while covertly turning students into activists for radical causes. Among these were repeal of immigration laws, statehood for Washington, D.C., and acceptance of Islam as superior to Christianity. Instead of being given a knowledge base in history, civics, and geography, students were emotionally manipulated into being advocates, attending protests, and lobbying legislators.

Flash forward to 2014. Now the objectives of these social studies teachers are the objectives of Obama’s Department of Education. The Common Core “standards” for math and English Language Arts are the law in 45 states. Those for science and social studies have been written, but are still voluntary.

Eschewing traditional forms of knowledge acquisition and writing (the old standards), “The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: State guidance for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history” promote the idea of doing social studies. Yes, “doing.”

The word “doing” appears frequently in the guidelines, as it does in the Department of Education’s 2012 report, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” which was criticized roundly by the National Association of Scholars (myself included) for using civics education to promote radical activism and anti-Americanism in higher education.

In order to advance similar activism, the authors of the K-12 “C3 Framework” caricature traditional education as pouring knowledge into students who are passive vessels. But traditional, classical education, founded on a firm base of knowledge, is the kind that works and best prepares students for adult life. It incorporates three levels of learning outlined by the Atlanta Classical Academy charter school, as taken from their successful petition before the Board of Education:

Grammar Stage (mastery of key foundational facts, rules, and tools, imparted by teachers who are experts in their subject);
Logic Stage (mastery of relationships, categories, and order to create coherent frameworks);
Rhetoric Stage (communication and reasoning).

Notably, Common Core skips the first step, reducing it to a haphazard process of “discovery”—a hallmark of progressive education. The cart is put before the horse through “experiential” learning, where students “practice the arts and habits of civic life.”

There is no sense that students should first acquire a solid foundation of historical knowledge. Rather, students are left to do “inquiry” with “Four Dimensions”: 1) “developing questions and planning inquiries;” 2) “applying disciplinary concepts and tools;” 3) “evaluating sources and using evidence;” and, 4) “communicating conclusions and taking informed action.”

It can hardly be said that children are capable of “taking informed action.” Yet the cover photographs of the report draft (dated April 9, 2013) reveal the authors’ aims by showing children in a public forum, looking at a globe (perhaps plotting their next business move in the “twenty-first century workplace”?), and in a group leaning over plans (mimicking modern-day advertisements of the corporate working world). The final photo shows a street protest with signs saying, “No” to toxic waste.

Such photos belie the authors’ claim that “Advocates of citizenship education cross the political spectrum” and are “bound by a common belief that our democratic republic will not sustain unless students are aware of their changing cultural and physical environments; know their past; read, write, and think deeply; and, act in ways to promote the common good.” Rather, these advocates use children for their own aims, placing adult burdens on them, while denying them a real education.

The Objectives for Second Grade

Age-inappropriateness also becomes evident in a table called “Suggested K-12 Pathway for College, Career and Civic Readiness Dimension 1.” It states that “by the end of grade 2” (emphasis added) the student will construct compelling questions and “explain why the compelling question is important to the student” and “identify disciplinary concepts found or implied in a compelling question.” (A note explains, “Students, particularly before middle school, will need considerable guidance and support from adults to construct questions that are suitable for inquiry.” Of course, they would need “guidance.” That’s where the teacher can impose her own, leading questions.)

The second-grader, furthermore, in a mind-boggling quest, must “make connections between supporting questions and compelling questions” and “identify ideas mentioned and implied by a supporting question” and then “determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions.”

Writing assignments do not follow an age-appropriate progression, either. Dimension 4, “Communicating Conclusions,” calls for second-graders to “construct an argument with reasons” and “present a summary of an argument using print, oral and digital technologies.” High school seniors are to do similar tasks in a slightly more sophisticated form, for example, in constructing arguments, using multiple sources, and acknowledging counterclaims and evidentiary weaknesses.

What can a “college-ready” senior do?

While second-graders are asked to “think like historians,” the high school senior is asked to perform unscholarly tasks, such as presenting “adaptations of arguments and explanations that feature evocative ideas and perspectives on issues and topics to reach a range of audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, maps) and digital technologies (e.g., internet, social media, digital documentary).” Even essays and reports get buried amidst posters, social media, and digital documentaries.

The authors refer back to the English Language Arts (ELA) standards for guidance, but these are vague and loose, for example, Standard 7, which “focuses on ‘short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions.” The social studies standards also go back to the ELA’s emphasis on “Speaking and Listening Standards,” wherein “students engage one another strategically using different forms of media given a variety of contexts in order to present their knowledge and ideas.” As if these were really vigorous, the authors cite “examples,” such as participating in a “range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners” and making “strategic use of ‘media and visual display’ when presenting.”

This is hardly preparation for college work in the traditional sense. Traditional work would involve sifting through historical material knowledgeably, and compiling it in the well-reasoned format of a scholarly paper. Were the Common Core authors serious about “college-readiness,” they would have taken their cue from publisher Will Fitzhugh, who for decades has been swimming against the tide of downgraded writing standards (blogging, journal-writing, video-producing). To this end, he has been holding contests and publishing impressive student papers in his scholarly journal, The Concord Review. The new standards, to Fitzhugh, enable “students to be ignoramuses who may be able to talk glibly about their instant New Deeper critical analysis of selected test passages.” They will, however, “not have enough knowledge to do them a bit of good in college or at any workplace.” They are effectively being taught the art of propaganda through multimedia rather than the art of writing through a knowledge base in history, civics and geography.

The new social studies standards are not surprising, considering the work of social studies teachers behind the scenes at conferences and elsewhere. They now have an administration that supports their radical aims. Consider the members of the “writing team” of this report, including this large majority:

Kathy Swan, lead writer/project director: associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Kentucky, and coauthor of And Action! Doing Documentaries in the Social Studies Classroom. Her research focuses on “standards-based technology integration, authentic intellectual work, and documentary-making in the social studies classroom.”

Keith C. Barton, professor of curriculum and instruction and adjunct professor of history at Indiana University and co-author of Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools and Teaching History for the Common Good.

Flannery Burke, associate professor of history at Saint Louis University who specializes in environmental history, the history of the American West, and gender studies.

Susan W. Hardwick, professor emerita of geography at the University of Oregon and co-host of the Annenberg/PBS series The Power of Place.

John Lee, associate professor of social studies education at North Carolina State University and co-director of the New Literacies Collaborative, (connected to Linda Darling-Hammond).

Peter Levine, Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Tufts University, author of Engaging Young People in Civic Life, and a proponent of left-wing “civic engagement.”

Karen Thomas-Brown, associate professor of social studies and multiculturalism at the University of Michigan-Dearborn with research interests in “neoliberalism and the impact of globalization on the operation of secondary urban centers in developing countries.”

Cynthia Tyson, professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, “where she teaches courses in multicultural and equity studies in education; early childhood social studies; and multicultural children’s literature.”

Bruce VanSledright, professor of history and social studies education at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. His research focuses on “doing history.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks, professor of history, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a special interest in women’s and gender history.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

Toss out abusive college administrators

Glenn H. Reynolds:

Like most professors, I hate doing administrative work. And since somebody has to do it, universities have increasingly built up a corps of full-time administrators. That’s fine, but lately, the administrative class has grown too numerous and too heavy-handed. As colleges and universities increasingly face financial pressures, it’s time to rethink.

Full-time administrators now outnumber full-time faculty. And when times get tough, schools have a disturbing tendency to shrink faculty numbers while keeping administrators on the payroll. Teaching gets done by low-paid, nontenured adjuncts, but nobody ever heard of an “adjunct administrator.”

But it’s not just the fat that is worrisome. It’s administrators’ obsession with — and all too often, abuse of — security that raises serious concerns. At the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, Clyde W. Barrow, a leading professor, has just quit, complaining of an administration that isolates itself from students and faculty behind keypads and security doors.

Isolation is bad. But worse still is the growing tendency of administrators to stifle critics by shamelessly interpreting even obviously harmless statements as “threats.” A recent example took place at Bergen Community College, where Professor Francis Schmidt was suspended, and ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination over a “threat” that consisted of posting a picture of his 9-year old daughter wearing a Game Of Thrones T-shirt. The shirt bore a quote from the show, reading: “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.” Bergen administrator Jim Miller apparently thought the picture, which was posted to Schmidt’s Google Plus account, was somehow intended as a threat to him. (Schmidt had filed a labor grievance a couple of months earlier.)

Default by Death

Michael Stratford:

Some student loan borrowers have reported to federal consumer protection officials that their private lenders automatically placed them in default when their cosigner died or filed for bankruptcy, even when the borrowers were otherwise paying the loan on time.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau highlighted that issue on Wednesday in a report analyzing the more than 2,300 complaints it had received about private student loan companies from the beginning of last October through the end of March. (The volume of complaints was up by more than one-third compared to the same period last year).

The issue is that some private student loans contain terms allowing lenders to demand the full outstanding amount of a loan when a borrower’s cosigner — often a parent or grandparent — dies or files for bankruptcy protection, according to Rohit Chopra, the CFPB’s student loan ombudsman who authored the report.

‘Free Speech Zones’ and Other College Lies

Virginia Postrel:

The parents and newly admitted students visiting colleges this month are asking questions about social life, study habits and — everyone’s favorite topic these days — job prospects after graduation. These are all important subjects, but if you care about your child’s intellectual development, or just want to keep the kid out of trouble, you should also ask about the university’s attitudes toward free speech.

For more than a decade I’ve been on the board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a civil-liberties watchdog group that defends the rights of college students and faculty. As you probably assumed, many cases FIRE gets involved in stem from “politically correct” censorship; but the range of university abuses is much wider than that. The motives often have less to do with ideology than with administrative bullying, paranoia or stupidity.

To take a particularly absurd example, in January a Bergen Community College professor was placed on leave after he posted on Google+ a photograph of his young daughter wearing a “Game of Thrones” T-shirt with the quote, “I will take what is mine with fire & blood.” An administrator deemed the photo a disturbing threat of violence.

Texas’s ‘Impossible’ $10K Degree Marches On

Thomas Lindsay:

When Bill Ayers observed that “every revolution is impossible until it happens, and then, looking backwards, every revolution appears inevitable,” it is safe to say that he did not have in mind any endeavors of conservative Texas governor Rick Perry. But with his 2011 state of the state address, Perry may have launched a revolution of his own. Perry challenged Texas’s public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000 in tuition, fees, and books, and to achieve the necessary cost reductions by teaching students online and awarding degrees based on competency.

The idea met with skepticism. Andy Brown, who was then chairman of the Travis County Democrats, labeled Perry’s “scheme to serve up $10,000 college degrees … preposterous,” adding that “nobody in higher education believes that is even possible.” Peter Hugill, a Texas A&M professor who at the time was president of the Texas Conference of the American Association of University Professors, posed the rhetorical question: “Do you really want a stripped-down, bare-bones degree?” Hugill went on to declare that “$10,000 seems to me a number someone pulled out of the air.”

If these reactions suggested Perry was out of step with the higher-education establishment, the public’s reaction suggested that defenders of the status quo had fallen out of step with students, their parents, and taxpayers. Baselice and Associates conducted a public-opinion survey commissioned by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, finding that 81 percent of Texas voters believed public universities could be run more efficiently. Nationally, a 2011 Pew study found that 57 percent of prospective students believed a college degree no longer carries a value worth the cost. Seventy-five percent of respondents declared college simply unaffordable.

Student-Debt Forgiveness Plans Skyrocket, Raising Fears Over Costs, Higher Tuition

Josh Mitchell:

Government officials are trying to rein in increasingly popular federal programs that forgive some student debt, amid rising concerns over the plans’ costs and the possibility they could encourage colleges to push tuition even higher.

Enrollment in the plans—which allow students to rack up big debts and then forgive the unpaid balance after a set period—has surged nearly 40% in just six months, to include at least 1.3 million Americans owing around $72 billion, U.S. Education Department records show.

The popularity of the programs comes as top law schools are now advertising their own plans that offer to cover a graduate’s federal loan repayments until outstanding debt is forgiven. The school aid opens the way for free or greatly subsidized degrees at taxpayer expense.

At issue are two federal loan repayment plans created by Congress, originally to help students with big debt loads and to promote work in lower-paying jobs outside the private sector.

” financial aid leveraging is the act of repackaging financial aid so that it is specifically directed at students that a complex algorithm determines as most likely to make the school more money”

USM Economics Blog:

Wanting to look into this, I did a little bit of Googling about Noel-Levitz to see if I could find out anything of use about them. As it mentions above, they are an “enrollment management” consulting firm- the largest in the United States. What enrollment management consulting firms tend to offer universities and university systems is something called “financial aid leveraging.” If you clicked that link, you’ll see that it’s pretty hard to understand exactly what that is. I found that an article from the Atlantic from a few years ago explained it far more clearly than the companies that do it: in short, financial aid leveraging is the act of repackaging financial aid so that it is specifically directed at students that a complex algorithm determines as most likely to make the school more money. Frequently, this means taking financial aid away from the people who need it the most and giving it to people who are more likely to stay in school. If you look at the operating budget documents, you’ll notice that a majority of Noel-Levitz’s recommendations are related to financial aid.

While you can have a discussion of ethics about this practice on its own, something else is what made me uncomfortable:

Noel-Levitz is a former subsidiary of Sallie Mae, the student loan giant. If you’re not acquainted with Sallie Mae’s reputation, a quick Google search should remedy that.

Now, Sallie Mae isn’t what it used to be; it’s no longer officially tied to the government (now it’s publicly traded and has changed its name to SLM). However, in 2013, Sallie Mae was contracted by the Department of Education as the servicer of almost 20% of new federal student loans. That means, in general, that the more federal student loans there are, the more money Sallie Mae makes. In addition, Sallie Mae will sometimes sell off some of its loans in the form of financial securities. However, the income from those contracts ($109 million in 2013) pales in comparison to its income from selling those securities ($13.8 billion in 2012) and offering their own private student loans ($37.5 billion in loans outstanding as of Dec 31, 2013). In fact, the direct federal loan program has been a huge source of competition for Sallie Mae.

In other words, since it’s no longer originating federal student loans (which used to be its biggest source of revenue), Sallie Mae will make more money if there are more private student loans (especially if those private student loans go to the students most likely to repay them. More on that in a minute).

From the Noel Levitz 2014 Discounting Report

A Lack of Affirmative Action Isn’t Why Minority Students Are Suffering

Ron Christie:

To this end, the Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action upholding the ban on affirmative action in public-university admissions takes America one step closer to President Kennedy’s dream. In a 6-2 decision, the Court held that a ballot initiative by Michigan residents to bar the use of race preferences as a factor of admission was constitutional.

On a Court that has consistently issued closely contested opinions—often in 5-4 decisions—the overwhelming majority of the Justices recognized the importance and the legality of people in several states like Michigan to prohibit the use of race as a factor in admissions. Despite the commentary to the contrary which is likely to follow in the coming days, the Court did not address whether colleges or universities could use race as a factor of admission—they wisely left the decision to the voters in individual states to make such a decision.

Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy opined:

Here, the principle that the consideration of race in admissions is permissible when certain conditions are met is not being questioned…. The decision by Michigan voters reflects the ongoing national dialogue about such practices.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Moving in with parents becomes more common for the middle-aged

Walter Hamilton:

Debbie Rohr lives with her husband and twin teenage sons in a well-tended three-bedroom home in Salinas.

The ranch-style house has a spacious kitchen that looks out on a yard filled with rosebushes. It’s a modest but comfortable house, the type that Rohr, 52, pictured for herself at this stage of life.

She just never imagined that it would be her childhood home, a return to a bedroom where she once hung posters of Olivia Newton-John and curled up with her beloved Mrs. Beasley doll.

Driven by economic necessity — Rohr has been chronically unemployed and her husband lost his job last year — she moved her family back home with her 77-year-old mother.

At a time when the still sluggish economy has sent a flood of jobless young adults back home, older people are quietly moving in with their parents at twice the rate of their younger counterparts.

Chicago’s Nifty Pilot Program To Fix Our Student-Loan Mess

George Anders:

Meet Alaric Blair, a 47-year-old elementary school teacher from Calumet City, Ill. He is strict, pleasant and ambitious. Right now, he’s taking advanced classes at Chicago’s Dominican University, hoping to recast himself as a school principal. It’s costing him $10,000 — and he has no desire to get tangled up in the current student-loan mess.

Anyone paying for higher education in the U.S. knows we’ve reached a financial crisis. Tuition keeps rising much faster than inflation. Going in debt to cover costs has become so common that education loans now exceed $1 trillion. Borrowers’ fates are shockingly inconsistent. Some graduates rapidly dig their way out of debt and enjoy better lives as fully accredited doctors, actuaries or the like. Others can’t finish costly programs or strike out in the job market, leaving them ill-served by easy credit. There’s no flexibility in this system: repayment schedules keep ticking.

Back in 1955, economist Milton Friedman argued in favor of financing education with variable-repayment systems that tied into students’ eventual earnings. Top earners would repay more. Dropouts and hard-luck cases would be treated more leniently. Modern-day researchers such as Miguel Palacios of Vanderbilt University continue to advocate equity-based financing, tied to a fixed percentage of future earnings. Yet such approaches exist mostly in academic white papers, rather than in the real world.

Texas Leads the Way on Higher-Ed Accountability

Minding the Campus:

For years, Washington has failed to make universities accountable to the students and taxpayers funding them. This failure was epitomized by the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, which forbade the Department of Education from creating a “student unit record system, an education bar code system, or any other system that tracks individual students over time.” The bill, argued the New America Foundation’s Kevin Carey, sought to “prevent public officials from asking honest questions about what, exactly, taxpayers are getting in exchange for their support.” Though both Republicans and Democrats have recently called for accountability measures on the federal side, it’s unclear that they’ll make progress anytime soon.

Where Washington has failed, however, Texas already has succeeded. When it comes to Texas public higher education, knowing the truth could make you free–debt-free, that is, or, if not entirely free of debt, perhaps less burdened with it than the average college graduate today.

Texas is credited with having “the most sophisticated and publicly available higher-education data set in the country.” In 2004, Governor Rick Perry signed an executive order which asserted that “the public has the right to demand complete accountability for its investment in institutions of education.” Accordingly, the order, entitled “Relating to accountability of higher education systems and institutions,” calls on the state’s public universities to “provide the citizens of Texas, the Governor, and the Legislature with the information necessary to determine the effectiveness and quality of the education students receive at individual institutions.”

This wasn’t just talk. Last year, the Texas Legislature passed Texas House Bill 1296, which requires the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to “prepare information comparing institutions of higher education in this state and post the information” on THECB’s website. This information is to be provided to any “public school student who requests the information.” The mandated information includes identifying “postsecondary education and career opportunities, including information that states the benefits of four-year and two-year higher education programs, postsecondary technical education, skilled workforce careers, and career education programs.”

Reinventing School Lunches

Liz Stinson:

IDEO recently took on a particularly picky client: Kids. More specifically, kids who should be eating school lunches on the regular, but weren’t.

The San Francisco Unified School District hired the design firm (through a donation from the Sarah & Evan Williams Foundation) last spring to answer a nagging, persistent question: How do you get kids to eat lunch at school, and get them to do so consistently?

This was a big problem. The district has more than 55,000 students attending 114 schools. Nearly 60 percent of them qualify for free or reduced lunch, but only 60 percent qualifying students were taking advantage of it. Only around 40 percent of all students were eating the lunches on a regular basis. It was a wasted opportunity, and an expensive one at that. “The school district was running a huge operation at what ended up being a deficit because kids weren’t really participating,” says Sandy Speicher, an associate partner at IDEO.

Why can’t his daughter take AP calculus?

Jay Matthews:

Walter Fields’s 15-year-old daughter is a sophomore at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J. She scored advanced proficient on state math tests in middle school and received an A in algebra in eighth grade.

For reasons that mystify Fields and his wife, their daughter was not recommended for the ninth-grade geometry course that would keep her on the track to Advanced Placement calculus her senior year. Only when they contacted the principal and the math department chair was she placed in that advanced course. The geometry teacher encouraged her dream to become an engineer. She had a B most of the year but slipped to a C because of the demands of lettering in basketball and track, her father said.

Now she is in a fix. Her Algebra 2 teacher made clear on Parents Night, her father said, that “she did not like school sports and suggested students needed to choose between being involved in a sport and being enrolled in her course.” The teacher has proved to be, her father said, very discouraging. His daughter has struggled.

“The teacher’s response to our questions regarding our daughter’s performance was ‘she just doesn’t seem to get it,’ ” Fields said. “When we pressed the teacher she curtly suggested that maybe this wasn’t the right class for our daughter.” Her geometry teacher was apparently so alarmed that she told Fields’s daughter to come see her if she needed help. Fields and his wife are well-educated African Americans. He thinks Columbia High is hindering his daughter’s progress because of her race. He and other parents are preparing to file a lawsuit on that issue. Fifty-six percent of Columbia students are black, but just 14.4 percent of AP calculus students in the 2011-12 school year were of that race. Seventy-three percent were white.

Wisconsin Sen. Olsen unbowed by pressure from Common Core opponents


Olsen said he sees the Common Core standards as an improvement over Wisconsin’s old standards and points to support from the conservative Fordham Foundation and business leaders like Bill Gates, who argue the standards are needed to remain competitive in a global economy. He wants to avoid a situation similar to Indiana, which dropped Common Core only to end up adopting something similar anyway.

While he thinks that some groups are using the issue to “gin up” membership and hopes it will fade away after the 2014 elections, he also says the issue’s staying power will likely depend on how Gov. Scott Walker handles it.

“The governor put the money in the budget for the [Smarter Balanced] test, and I was asking him and his staff all along, ‘Is he going to stand strong on his position supporting this?'” Olsen said. “And all of a sudden, one day, he turned 180 degrees. ‘Well, we can do better.’ Well, I’ve been waiting to find out what ‘better’ is. I’ve been waiting to find out what ‘more rigorous’ is. I’ve been waiting to find out what’s the problem is. It’s easy to say this stuff, but there’s nothing behind it. And when you say things like this, people believe it.”

Links: Luther Olsen.

Common Core.


Those Master’s-Degree Programs at Elite U

Kevin Carey:

igher education has a long and fraught relationship with the labor market. From colonial colleges training clergymen to the Morrill Act, normal schools, and the great 20th-century expansion of mass higher education, colleges have always been in the business of training people for careers. The oldest university in the Western world, in Bologna, started as a law school. Ask students today why they’re going to college and the most common answer is, by far, “to get a job.”

But most colleges don’t like to see themselves that way. In educators’ own minds, they are communities of scholars above all else. Colleges tend to locate their educational missions among the lofty ideals of the humanities and liberal arts, not the pedestrian tasks of imparting marketable skills.

In part, this reflects the legitimate complexity of some institutional missions. But the fact remains that most professors were hired primarily to teach, most institutions are not research universities, most students are enrolled in preprofessional programs, and, it seems, few colleges have undergraduate curricula that match their supposed commitment to the liberal-arts ideal.

10 Rules for Students and Teachers Popularized by John Cage

Open Culture:

One of those whom he inspired was Sister Corita Kent. An unlikely fixture in the Los Angeles art scene, the nun was an instructor at Immaculate Heart College and a celebrated artist who considered Saul Bass, Buckminster Fuller and Cage to be personal friends.

In 1968, she crafted the lovely, touching Ten Rules for Students and Teachers for a class project. While Cage was quoted directly in Rule 10, he didn’t come up with the list, as many website sites claim. By all accounts, though, he was delighted with it and did everything he could to popularize the list. Cage’s lover and life partner Merce Cunningham reportedly kept a copy of it posted in his studio until his dying days. You can check the list out below:

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student: Pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher: Pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined: this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

The bottom line when picking a university: ‘No debt for our daughter or for us’

Michelle Singletary:

A year ago, I was where many parents are right now. My daughter Olivia was faced with the decision of where to attend college.

I’ll admit I was pretty adamant leading up to the choice that many families have to make by May 1, which is the deadline for accepted students to declare where they will attend college. No student loans. No debt for our daughter or us.

However, when Olivia started looking at schools that were out of our financial comfort zone, my husband and I realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. Our daughter is a great student. She took advanced placement classes and participated in extracurricular activities. And when she said her “I’ll-be-crushed-if-I-don’t-get-in” school was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we began to get anxious.

We didn’t have enough saved to cover all the out-of-state expenses for four years at UNC. Absent any aid, the cost at UNC would have been more than $183,000, including tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies, travel and personal expenses. And that figure doesn’t include the likelihood of price increases.

Still, how could we deny her heart’s desire? She swooned after a tour of the campus. She bought UNC paraphernalia. Even the school color — light blue — is her favorite color.

She didn’t get into her dream school. And honestly, we were relieved.

You might think it’s easy for us now to say we wouldn’t have let her go. Yet, trust me, we would have had to break her heart.

Her rejection made the decision of where she would go easier for us. But what if it’s not as easy for you? What if your child does have a choice, and that choice is beyond your means?

One in five UK teachers abused online by parents and pupils, survey says

Richard Adams:

One in five teachers have received abuse aimed at them on social media and online forums from parents and pupils – some as young as seven – a survey by the NASUWT union has found.

One teacher about to go on maternity leave was told online by a parent: “My son will fail now because of you.”Another discovered a Facebook page set up by a pupil claiming the teacher wanted to kill him. One pupil told a teacher via Twitter: “You are a paedo and your daughter is a whore.”

About 7,500 teachers responded to a survey on the use of technology conducted by the NASUWT, which is holding its annual conference in Birmingham.

The Economics of Prestige or stuntcasting for cash

James Hoff:

Whether or not Krugman’s scholarship and teaching ability warrant such a superior salary is certainly worthy of debate, but the real issue for most commentators is not how much CUNY will pay Krugman, but how little they are asking him to do. CUNY is essentially offering him what used to be called a sinecure. Like ecclesiastical appointments “without the care of souls,” the terms of Krugman’s contract require him to do almost nothing his first year and then teach just one graduate seminar each year for as long as he would like to stay at CUNY. This required teaching in the second year is less than half of the usual course load for most distinguished professors at the Graduate Center, some of whom teach three classes per year and advise several dissertations at a time. Whether Krugman will advise or sit on any dissertation committees remains to be seen.

It is clear from his acceptance email however, that he is interested in doing as little work as possible: “My biggest concern is time, not money — and your description of the time commitment, one seminar per year plus public events and commitments to LIS [Luxembourg Inequality Study] (which I would want to do in any case) sounds as if it’s within the parameters I had in mind.”

So, in essence, for the first two years CUNY is paying Krugman $450,000 (plus $10,000 in travel and research costs each year, and a one-time relocations cost of $10,000) to teach one seminar and to participate in public events.

On the surface this seems like an outrageous expenditure, but there is an obvious market logic at work here. It is clear that CUNY and the Graduate Center are banking on the brand recognition that a figure like Krugman bestows upon a university. As a Facebook friend of mine succinctly put it, Krugman is essentially “stuntcasting for cash,” and one has to wonder how long before his name is plastered on subway ads promoting CUNY’s “best and brightest.”

Family Structure and Inequality

Atif Mian & Amir Sufi:

What are the determinants of inequality? The first step in answering this question is defining exactly what we mean by inequality. A working paper by Chetty, Hendren, Kline, and Saez takes an interesting approach: it measures inequality based on the likelihood that a child born into a poor family will rise in the overall income distribution.

They call this measure “absolute upward mobility.” If absolute upward mobility is high, it means a child born into a poor family has a good chance of rising in the overall income distribution. If it is low, that means the poor child will likely be poor when she grows up.

The authors construct upward mobility for different cities. A city with a high score is considered more equal; a child born to a relatively poor family in the city has a good chance of rising in the income distribution. A city with a low score is more unequal, as a poor child is likely to remain poor as an adult.

The part of the study that interests us most is the correlation between their measure of inequality and other variables at the city level. In other words, what characterizes the most “unequal” cities?

Denied University of Michigan hopeful learns tough lesson

Mitch Albom:

First, we should remember that Brooke Kimbrough is still in high school. She is, as the Beatles once sang, just 17.

So even if she ruffled feathers this past week claiming she should have been admitted to the University of Michigan — despite lower grades and test scores — because she is African American and the school needs diversity, the best thing is not to insult her or dismiss her.

The best thing is to talk to her.

So I did. We spoke for a good 45 minutes Friday. I found her passionate, affable, intelligent and, like many teens her age, adamant to make a point but, when flustered, quick to say, “I don’t have all the answers.”

The problem is, she went public as if she did. She was the focus of a U-M rally organized by the advocacy group BAMN (By Any Means Necessary). A clip of her went viral, yelling as if her rights had been denied:

Why 14 Wisconsin high schools take international standardized test

Alan Borsuk:

Patricia Deklotz, superintendent of the Kettle Moraine School District, said her district, west of Milwaukee, is generally high performing. But, Deklotz asked, if they talk a lot about getting students ready for the global economy, are they really doing it? PISA is a way to find out.

“It raises the bar from comparing ourselves to schools in Wisconsin,” she said. “This is something that can benchmark us against the world.” Deklotz said she wants the school staff to be able to use the results to analyze how improve their overall practices.

One appeal for taking part in the PISA experiment: The 14 Wisconsin schools didn’t have to pay out of their own pockets.

The Kern Family Foundation, based in Waukesha County, is one of the leading supporters of efforts aimed at improving the global competitiveness of American schoolchildren. Kern convened the invitation-only conference in Milwaukee. And as part of its support of the effort, it is picking up the tab — $8,000 per school — for the 14 schools.

“The Kern Family Foundation’s role is to support and convene organizations focused on improving the rising generation’s skills in math, science, engineering and technology to prepare them to compete in the global marketplace,” Ryan Olson, education team leader at the foundation, said in a statement.

A second somewhat-local connection to the PISA initiative: Shorewood native Jonathan Schnur has been involved in several big ideas in education. Some credit him with sparking the Race to the Top multibillion-dollar competitive education grant program of the Obama Administration. Schnur now leads an organization called America Achieves, which is spearheading the PISA effort.

Until now, Schnur said in an interview, there hasn’t been a way for schools to compare themselves to the rest of the world. Participating in PISA is a way to benefit from what’s being done in the best schools in the world.

Each participating school will get a 150-page report slicing and dicing its PISA results. That includes analysis of not only skills but also what students said in answering questions about how their schools work. Do kids listen to teachers? Do classes get down to business promptly at the start of a period? Do students have good relationships with teachers?

Schleicher told the Milwaukee meeting that PISA asked students why they think some kids don’t do well in math. American students were likely to point to lack of talent as the answer. In higher-scoring countries, students were more likely to say the student hadn’t worked hard enough. “That tells you a lot about the underlying education,” he said.

Related Much more on PISA and Wisconsin’s oft criticized WKCE, here

The Common Core makes simple math more complicated. Here’s why.

Libby Nelson:

You might not know what a number sentence is. Neither does Stephen Colbert, who recently suggested “word equation” and “formula paragraph” as nonsensical synonyms.

But millions of American students soon will. Math education is in the middle of big changes — including new ways of learning that might frustrate parents even more than students.

The Common Core state standards, now in place in 44 states, will require that elementary school kids not just to know how to subtract, multiply and divide, but to understand what they’re doing and why.

That means more number sentences — the term, if you’re curious, just means “equations” — and other unfamiliar concepts, like area multiplication and number line subtraction.

Mathematics for Programmers

Mathematics for Educators:

Disclaimer: I write this as a computer-scientist that uses math a lot in his work (I’m a research assistant at a university).


There are three (overlapping) aspects of math in computer science:

Math that is actually useful.
Math that you can run into, and is generally good to know.
Math that lets you build more awesome math.
First is essential, because the students need to be able to do stuff. Second is important, because you cannot teach students everything, and at the same time trying to get into a new field all by yourself is quite hard (i.e. it’s good to know the barest basics of everything). The third are these which aren’t directly useful, but present meta-concepts that happen all the time (a bit like design patterns in programming); you can live without them, but intuition you gain there makes life much easier.

The list was sorted by (subjectively defined) importance.

Mathematics: Why the brain sees maths as beauty

James Gallagher:

Mathematicians were shown “ugly” and “beautiful” equations while in a brain scanner at University College London.

The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by “beautiful” maths.

The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty.

The likes of Euler’s identity or the Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh.

The study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60 formula to rate.

One of the researchers, Prof Semir Zeki, told the BBC: “A large number of areas of the brain are involved when viewing equations, but when one looks at a formula rated as beautiful it activates the emotional brain – the medial orbito-frontal cortex – like looking at a great painting or listening to a piece of music.”

The more beautiful they rated the formula, the greater the surge in activity detected during the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans.

“Neuroscience can’t tell you what beauty is, but if you find it beautiful the medial orbito-frontal cortex is likely to be involved, you can find beauty in anything,” he said.

The Single Mother, Child Poverty Myth

Matt Bruenig:

I see it often claimed that the high rate of child poverty in the US is a function of family composition. According to this view, the reason childhood poverty is so high is that there are too many unmarried parents and single mothers, and those kinds of families face higher rates of poverty. The usual upshot of this claim is that we can’t really do much about high rates of childhood poverty, at least insofar as we can’t force people to marry and cohabitate and such.

One big problem with this claim is that family composition in the US is not that much different from family compositions in the famed low-poverty social democracies of Northern Europe, but they don’t have anywhere near the rates of child poverty we have.

Small U.S. Colleges Battle Death Spiral as Enrollment Drops

Michael McDonald

At a Dowling College campus on Long Island’s south shore, a fleet of unused shuttle buses sits in an otherwise empty parking lot. A dormitory is shuttered, as are a cafeteria, bookstore and some classrooms in the main academic building.

“There’s a lot of fear here,” said Steven Fournier, a senior who lived in the now-closed dorm for his first three years. “It’s not the same college I arrived at.”

Dowling, which got a failing grade for its financial resources from accreditors last month, epitomizes the growing plight of many small private colleges that depend almost entirely on tuition for revenue. It’s been five years since the recession ended and yet their finances are worsening. Soaring student debt, competition from online programs and poor job prospects for graduates are shrinking their applicant pools.

Do We Over-Invest in Non-Traditional Students?

Richard Vedder:

Here’s a scary statistic about American higher-ed: more than 40 percent of college students don’t graduate. But that number hides enormous variations in drop-out behavior. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center has issued a “state supplement” report filled with interesting statistics; Here are some:

Completion rates are vastly lower for part-time students relative to full-time ones;

Students attending private schools are more likely to graduate than those at public institutions;

Far more two-year public college students fail to complete their degree than successfully do so;

Interstate variations in completion rates are large;

Roughly 20 percent of those completing schools graduate from an institution different than the one they originally attended, although that proportion is lower at four-year schools;

Those entering colleges right out of high school are much more likely to get a degree in six years than those who wait to attend college;
Women are more likely to complete school then men.

Segregation Now: In Tuscaloosa today, nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.

Nikole Hannah-Jones:

Though James Dent could watch Central High School’s homecoming parade from the porch of his faded white bungalow, it had been years since he’d bothered. But last fall, Dent’s oldest granddaughter, D’Leisha, was vying for homecoming queen, and he knew she’d be poking up through the sunroof of her mother’s car, hand cupped in a beauty-pageant wave, looking for him.

So, at about 4:30 in the afternoon on October 18, Dent, age 64, made his way off the porch and to the curb along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the West End of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Soon he could hear the first rumblings of the band.

There was a time, little more than a decade ago, when the Central High School homecoming parade brought out the city. The parade started in the former state capital’s lively downtown and seemed to go on for miles. The horns of one of the state’s largest marching bands, some 150 members strong, would bounce off the antebellum mansions along the streets. Revelers—young and old, black and white, old money and no money—crowded the sidewalks to watch the elaborate floats and cheer a football team feared across the region.

Central was not just a renowned local high school. It was one of the South’s signature integration success stories. In 1979, a federal judge had ordered the merger of the city’s two largely segregated high schools into one. The move was clumsy and unpopular, but its consequences were profound. Within a few years, Central emerged as a powerhouse that snatched up National Merit Scholarships and math-competition victories just as readily as it won trophies in football, track, golf. James Dent’s daughter Melissa graduated from Central in 1988, during its heyday, and went on to become the first in her family to graduate from college.

But on that sunlit day last October, as Dent searched for Melissa’s daughter in the procession coming into view, he saw little to remind him of that era. More caravan than parade, Central’s homecoming pageant consisted of a wobbly group of about 30 band members, some marching children from the nearby black elementary schools, and a dozen or so cars with handwritten signs attached to their sides. The route began in the predominantly black West End and ended a few blocks later, just short of the railroad tracks that divide that community from the rest of the city.

More: Share Six Words on Race & Education.

Related: 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 (18.3%) low income population. Nearby Cherokee Middle School’s low income population exceeds 60%!

Secret Military Test, Coming Soon to Your Spanish Class

Michael Erard:

Imagine a test that could tell you how good you can ultimately get in any foreign language, from Hindi to Welsh, from Igbo to Spanish, before you’ve even learned how to say “hello” or “please pass the butter.” Tres alléchant, no? Most adults would have to put in 10 years or more of dedicated work to find out if they have what it takes to end up with the vocabulary, accent, and grammatical sensibilities of a near-native speaker. This test could direct them from the debút.

And it may be coming your way soon.

Called the Hi-LAB (or “High Level Language Aptitude Battery”), it was developed by University of Maryland researchers working on a government contract in order to predict a person’s ability to learn a language to a very high level. Since its release in 2012, the Hi-LAB has been rolled out to government agencies and military training schools and will eventually be available for civilians as well. (Details of the Hi-LAB were only recently released to the public.) In the same way that America’s space program and the Cold War created spin-off products and technologies that altered civilian life, the Hi-LAB could become one of the first civilian benefits to come out of America’s war on terror.

Madison Schools’ 2014-2015 Budget Update; Assumes 16% Increase in Redistributed State Tax Dollars, 2.11% Property Tax Growth; About $400,000,000 for 27,186 students

The Madison School District (600K PDF):

This is the fourth and final installment of the series of updates designed to keep the board informed during the 2014-15 MMSD budget development process. The first update reviewed the budget process, priorities, and expected revenues. The second update explained our goals for a school-based staffing process that was more responsive to the needs of each school and its students. The third and most recent update explained our vision for reallocating at least $500,000 from central office accounts to schools’ non-personnel budgets. This update is a follow-up on that vision.

Zero-Based Budget Development: Central Office Departments
Throughout the 2014-15 budget process, we have remained focused on MMSD’s Strategic Framework, which emphasizes the importance of the work being done at each school, particularly as it relates to the School Improvement Plans (SIPs). We recognize that schools must have the support and resources needed to successfully implement their SIPs. At the same time, however, we are also faced with the limitations of the current school funding situation, which creates a finite pool of resources available to the district.

A key benefit of a zero-based approach to budget development is that it enables us to examine current resource distribution, identify district priorities, and then realign resources to support those priorities and student learning. Because the work of the central office is designed around the schools, our goal was to identify opportunities for redistributing resources from the central office departments to the schools with a targeted amount of $500,000 – $1,000,000.

Taking a collaborative approach to the process, we met with the leaders of each central office department to thoroughly review their existing budgets and find areas to create better efficiencies. Through this process, we were also able to improve their resulting budgets by aligning their resources with their actual budgetary needs and creating a cleaner set of accounts for them to use during the 2014-15 fiscal year.

After several rounds of meetings, we successfully identified $1,000,000 in the central office budgets that was available to be repurposed. We reallocated from accounts for supplies, travel, substitutes and temporary staffing, equipment and consulting services. Of the $1,000,000 amount, half will be used to fund locally staff that were previously funded, partially or wholly, by Title I[M1]

Related: Madison Schools 2013-2014 budget charts, background & missing data.

Local, National & Global School Voucher Perspectives

Matthew DeFour on Madison School Board Member and Gubernatorial Candidate Mary Burke:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said Tuesday that if elected, she would eliminate the new statewide voucher program and private school tax deduction in the next budget.

Burke, a Madison School Board member, previously said she didn’t support the statewide voucher program.

In response to a question at a luncheon at the Madison Club about what she would cut in the next state budget, Burke went further, calling statewide vouchers “a new entitlement program we frankly don’t need.” She also identified the private school tax deduction as something she would cut.

“I respect people’s choice in making that, but I don’t think we should be subsidizing that choice,” Burke said, referring to sending children to private schools.

Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign issued a statement in response to Burke’s comment.

“Gov. Walker believes every child, regardless of ZIP code, deserves access to a great education, and parents should have the right to choose the best educational environment for their children, whether it’s a public, private, charter or home school,” spokeswoman Alleigh Marre wrote in an email.

Both the tax deduction and the statewide voucher program were introduced in the 2013-15 budget signed by Walker.

Uppity Wisconsin on Mary Burke (October 2013):

o, yesterday, when Mary Burke finally made a promise and told the Wisconsin State Journal that, although she opposed Walker’s statewide expansion of vouchers, she nonetheless would do nothing to remove the statewide voucher program, jaws dropped throughout Wisconsin’s progressive community:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said Monday she wouldn’t have expanded private school vouchers statewide, which Gov. Scott Walker did in this year’s state budget.

However, Burke said if elected she would keep the statewide program in place with a cap of 1,000 students and seek accountability for private schools receiving public funds in Milwaukee.

Vouchers a conservative entitlement program — John Skille

Gov. Scott Walker says he believes every child deserves access to a great education. He believes parents should have the right to choose the best educational environment for their children, and extends that choice to private, charter and religious schools.

This is a campaign to privatize education in the belief competition will produce improvement in public education. Many fall victim to this notion and forget competition is the process by which both winners and losers are created.

Educators remind us we are not in the business of creating losers. We want all students to grow in an environment that challenges them.

If we create a system that results in closing or chastising schools because of student test scores, or firing or chastising teachers for the numerical averages of their students, you can see the “thin ice” on which this thesis rests.

Elizabeth Warren’s Quiet Support for Public School Vouchers by Carrie Lucas:

If all goes right for Massachusetts Democrats in November, they will fill the seat once held by liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy with a school voucher supporter who has proposed radically reforming public education in America.

You won’t find a call for school vouchers on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign website. Education is listed first among the candidate’s top priorities, but the website sticks to safe, poll tested platitudes calling for “good public schools, good public universities, and good technical training” as the key to a having a competitive workforce.

Yet in her 2003 book, The Two Income Trap, Warren and co-author Amelia Warren Tyagi cite the traditional public schools system, in which children are assigned to a school based on their residence, as a key source of economic pressure for families with children. Warren and Tyagi call for system-wide reforms to break the link between where a child lives and where they go to school, and specifically make the case for a fully-funded voucher program that would enable children to attend any public school.

Sweden’s School Choice: Vouchers for All and “The notion that parents inherently know what school is best for their kids is an example of conservative magical thinking.”; “For whatever reason, parents as a group tend to undervalue the benefits of diversity in the public schools….”.

Elections, Propaganda and Education


The Left parties always told their members that election campaigns were to be used as opportunities for the ideological education of the masses. Losing or winning was not as important for them. But lately, we see them hobnobbing with ‘bourgeois parties’, striking tactical alliances and seldom talking directly with the people. They seem to have totally withdrawn themselves from this educational role.

We see our leaders keeping away from ‘sensitive issues’. Bad enough. Worse is that they are advised to do so even by our political analysts and academics. Why blame the politicians from shunning the role of educators? Look at the silence in the departments of Political Science in our universities in these noisy times. It was painful to see the campus, students and teachers not participating in this great exercise of democracy. We did see them campaigning in constituencies as representatives of different political parties but the fact that the campus restrained itself from discussing this election academically should worry us. Imagine lakhs of young men and women, first time voters, spending their best hours on the campus, trying to extract meaning from the cacophony of the propaganda war unleashed through electronic channels and other media, left on their own. My daughter wants to know as to what would change fundamentally in our lives after the chosen saviour is elected. Why have her textbooks or her school failed to anticipate this young anxiety and devise academic or educational means to address it? To leave the youth at the mercy and vagaries of their instincts and intuition and not create opportunities to examine their common sense is worse than not finishing the syllabus on time.

Related: “The notion that parents inherently know what school is best for their kids is an example of conservative magical thinking.”; “For whatever reason, parents as a group tend to undervalue the benefits of diversity in the public schools….”.

Maryland Cracks Down on Distance Education

Carl Straumsheim:

he Maryland Higher Education Commission is cracking down on institutions that provide distance education to students in the state. But the commission has a problem: It doesn’t know who those distance education providers are.

The commission last month fired off letters addressed to presidents and provosts of institutions that offer fully online programs (seen at the bottom of this article), asking them to self-report if they enroll students in Maryland.

“As of July 1, 2012, higher education institutions offering fully online education to Maryland residents must submit an application to register with the Maryland Higher Education Commission,” the letter reads. “A review of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System has revealed that in 2012 your institution offered fully online programs and enrolled Maryland residents. If any of your current students are Maryland residents and are enrolled in fully online programs, the aforementioned regulation applies to your institution.”

After explaining how Maryland regulates out-of-state providers, the letter presents them with three options: Confirm that the institution enrolls students in Maryland, then pay an annual registration fee of $1,000 and a bond valued at five times the average cost of tuition; confirm that the institution is interested in enrolling students in Maryland, and pay the same fee; or decline any interest in enrolling students in Maryland, thereby barring those students from enrolling altogether.

Mathematics Awareness Month 2014: Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery


Juggling has been around for centuries, and yet in the mid-1980s an entirely new class of tricks was found, all coming from using math to analyze what had previously been thought to be unanalyzable. Including Time Travel.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. This story begins with the idea that we can find and identify the patterns within the patterns of juggling. Mathematician and master juggler Colin Wright demonstrates:

Artists ‘have structurally different brains’

Melissa Hogenboom:

Artists have structurally different brains compared with non-artists, a study has found.

Participants’ brain scans revealed that artists had increased neural matter in areas relating to fine motor movements and visual imagery.

The research, published in NeuroImage, suggests that an artist’s talent could be innate.

But training and environmental upbringing also play crucial roles in their ability, the authors report.

As in many areas of science, the exact interplay of nature and nurture remains unclear.

Taking the erudition out of SAT

Stephanie Simon:

The College Board this morning disclosed more detail about its revamped SAT. The good news for anxious teens: It’s a lot easier in some respects than its previous versions.
 The obscure vocabulary words, meant to bedevil, have been banished. So there’s no need to churn obsessively through flash cards memorizing the definitions of “pellucid” and “crepuscular” and “euphony.” The number of math topics has been winnowed considerably; the exam now focuses intently on algebra, though there are still some questions from other disciplines. The essay is now optional. The College Board will no longer deduct points for incorrect answers.
 King: Paul ‘feeding into paranoia’
 And guessing just got substantially easier: There are now four choices for each multiple choice question, not five.

Buried Treasure: Unique Schools Serving Unique Students

Bethany Gross:

As the charter movement grew, so did concern that charter schools would become boutique schools for affluent families. By 2010, that concern had been dispelled—half of the 1.8 million students in charter schools came from low-income families. But it was increasingly clear that many charter schools were exclusive in another way: they were not enrolling as many special education students as the district-run schools nearby.

Sometimes, this gap happens because charter schools find other, effective ways to serve students who might have been assigned to special education in their traditional schools. But in other cases it’s a genuine disparity of service. That’s especially concerning in the several states where charter schools hold the status of an independent district (called “LEA status”) and are thus legally obligated to serve all students regardless of their learning needs.

It’s not just a matter of numbers but of purpose. As I’ve learned in helping my family find good educational and life opportunities for my severely disabled aunt, the best environments for people with special needs are often small, flexible, and dedicated to a specialized mission—characteristics that charter schools tend to share.

In 2010, Robin Lake edited Unique Schools Serving Unique Students: Charter Schools and Children with Special Needs, a much-needed book that turned attention to special education in charter schools. Unlike much of the coverage of the issue, Unique Schools wasn’t dedicated to calling out where charters fell short. Rather, the book stands out because the contributors showed where real solutions existed for families, and how those opportunities could be leveraged even more widely.

UK’s National Union of Teachers conference votes on new strikes for June

Richard Adams:

The National Union of Teachers is to consider a call for a further national day of strikes in the week beginning 23 June, potentially closing schools in England and Wales.

The union, which will vote on the proposal at its annual conference in Brighton on Saturday, says it is prepared to go it alone in taking industrial action, without the other main teachers’ union, the NASUWT.

According to a priority motion to be presented to the conference that starts on Friday, the NUT will consider progress in talks with the Department for Education over pay and conditions before finally deciding on strike action.

Although the NUT and NASUWT have taken combined action in the past, the NASUWT declined to take part in the NUT’s most recent national strike on 26 March this year.

The motion says: “In the event that significant progress is not being made, seek to co-ordinate national strike action in the week beginning Monday 23 June”.

Child bullying victims still suffering at 50 – study


Children who are bullied can still experience negative effects on their physical and mental health more than 40 years later, say researchers from King’s College London.

Their study tracked 7,771 children born in 1958 from the age of seven until 50.

Those bullied frequently as children were at an increased risk of depression and anxiety, and more likely to report a lower quality of life at 50.

Anti-bullying groups said people needed long-term support after being bullied.

A previous study, from Warwick University, tracked more than 1,400 people between the ages of nine and 26 and found that bullying had long-term negative consequences for health, job prospects and relationships.

The Confidence Gap Evidence shows that women are less self-assured than men—and that to succeed, confidence matters as much as competence. Here’s why, and what to do about it.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman:

For years, we women have kept our heads down and played by the rules. We’ve been certain that with enough hard work, our natural talents would be recognized and rewarded.
 We’ve made undeniable progress. In the United States, women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men do. We make up half the workforce, and we are closing the gap in middle management. Half a dozen global studies, conducted by the likes of Goldman Sachs and Columbia University, have found that companies employing women in large numbers outperform their competitors on every measure of profitability. Our competence has never been more obvious. Those who closely follow society’s shifting values see the world moving in a female direction.

Learning to Code: The New (Hong Kong) After-School Activity

Lorraine Luk:

With the advent of smartphones and handy mobile applications that help you hail a cab or find a gas station, the use of software has become more tightly intertwined with our daily lives. The success stories of some app developers have encouraged students and professionals to learn coding, the language of the future.
 Coding class at First Code Academy. First Code Academy
 Michelle Sun, a former Goldman Sachs technology analyst decided to take a three-month programming bootcamp at the Hackbright Academy in Silicon Valley after her first mobile application venture failed due to her lack of technical knowledge. Since then she worked as a programmer at Bump, a local-file-sharing app startup later acquired by Google and taught coding in high schools in the Bay Area.
 Inspired by her previous employer Joel Gasoigne–the founder of Silicon Valley-based social media management tool Buffer who made the app as a weekend project to meet his own needs to space out his tweets– the Hong Kong native founded a code learning workshop called First Code Academy in Hong Kong last year to pass on lessons she has learned.
 Sun spoke about coding in her daily life and the goals of her Hong Kong-based startup First Code Academy. Below are edited excerpts.

Yes, IQ Really Matters: Critics of the SAT and other standardized testing are disregarding the data

David Z. Hambrick and Christopher Chabris:

The College Board—the standardized testing behemoth that develops and administers the SAT and other tests—has redesigned its flagship product again. Beginning in spring 2016, the writing section will be optional, the reading section will no longer test “obscure” vocabulary words, and the math section will put more emphasis on solving problems with real-world relevance. Overall, as the College Board explains on its website, “The redesigned SAT will more closely reflect the real work of college and career, where a flexible command of evidence—whether found in text or graphic [sic]—is more important than ever.”
 A number of pressures may be behind this redesign. Perhaps it’s competition from the ACT, or fear that unless the SAT is made to seem more relevant, more colleges will go the way of Wake Forest, Brandeis, and Sarah Lawrence and join the “test optional admissions movement,” which already boasts several hundred members. Or maybe it’s the wave of bad press that standardized testing, in general, has received over the past few years.
 Critics of standardized testing are grabbing this opportunity to take their best shot at the SAT. They make two main arguments. The first is simply that a person’s SAT score is essentially meaningless—that it says nothing about whether that person will go on to succeed in college. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and longtime standardized testing critic, wrote in Time that the SAT “needs to be abandoned and replaced,” and added:

Out in Front, and Optimistic, About Online Education

D.D. Guttenplan:

Besides his name and email address Richard C. Levin’s new black-and-white business cards contain just two short lines of type: “Coursera” and “CEO.” Mr. Levin, the former president of Yale University, was named head of the online education company late last month.

With seven million registered users and 25 million course enrollments to date Coursera is the largest provider of massive open online courses, or MOOCs. A for-profit company, its main rivals include Udacity, another commercial firm, and edX, a nonprofit backed by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But with its sole revenue stream coming from a small minority of students who enroll in its “Signature Track” — which charges a fee of around $50 to verify a student’s identity, and issues a certificate upon successful completion of the course — questions have been raised about how long its backers will have to wait to see a return on their investment.

In a recent interview, Mr. Levin predicted that the company would be “financially viable” within five years. He began by disagreeing with Andrew Ng, Coursera’s co-founder, who described Coursera as “a technology company.”

There’s more to a good life than college

Teresa Williams:

A smooth hand-off of his department to new owners in St. Louis took eight months. So it was a long goodbye to work he enjoyed and 17 years of friendships.

The transition was doubly difficult because of how he views work. Commit long-term to your employer, he says. Give your absolute best. This is how you live out your calling and live into what comes next.

But where’s next? And what next?

These are my husband’s questions. They are also our son’s questions.

Silas graduates high school next spring and is knee-deep in campus visits and SAT test prep. As he talks aloud about his future, we hear his inner conflict: Do I pursue what I love? I’m not even sure what that is yet. Maybe I should just pick a career that will make me a lot of money.

“When you could pay your way through college by waiting tables, the idea that you should ‘study what interests you’ was more viable than it is today when the cost of a four-year degree often runs to six figures,” wrote Glenn Harlan Reynolds, in an essay for The Wall Street Journal.

Our son worries about choosing the wrong path. No more are the 20s the years of do-overs.

Class war in English villages as lack of primary school places hits families

Richard Adams & Sian Elvin:

Caroline Beevers and her family moved to Stotfold, Bedfordshire, for the usual reasons: a pretty village, fast transport links to central London and the promise of good schools. The trouble was, they were not the only ones.

“It’s a nice village, the people are nice, there’s lots for the kids. The schools were a major factor in why we moved here,” said Beevers, whose four-year-old, Adam, starts school this September. “We thought we didn’t mind which of the schools he got into because they all seemed pretty good. To be honest it didn’t occur to me we wouldn’t get into any of the three village schools. You’d think we’d be covered really.”

While most of the 600,000 families applying for primary school reception places across England found out this week they had been accepted by their first, second or third preferences, it was not the case for an unlucky few, such as the Beevers family.

Instead of gaining a place at the local state primary school a short walk away, the authority, Central Bedfordshire council, allocated the family a place six miles away, with no direct public transport.

The Sad Demise of Collegiate Fun

Rebecca Schuman:

A few years ago, the psychologist Peter Gray released a fascinating—and sobering—study: Lack of free play in millennials’ overscheduled lives is giving kids anxiety and depression in record numbers. Why? They’re missing what Gray’s generation (and mine) had: “Time to explore in all sorts of ways, and also time to become bored and figure out how to overcome boredom, time to get into trouble and find our way out of it.”
 What happens when a bunch of anxious kids who don’t know how to get into trouble go to college? A recent trip back to my beloved alma mater, Vassar—combined with my interactions with students where I teach and some disappointing sleuthing—has made it apparent that much of the unstructured free play at college seems to have disappeared in favor of pre-professional anxiety, coupled with the nihilistic, homogeneous partying that exists as its natural counterbalance. The helicopter generation has gone to college, and the results might be tragic for us all.
 I certainly noticed a toned-down version of this trend at Vassar, which in my day was where you went to get seriously weird (all right, not Bennington-weird or Hampshire-weird, but weird). A lot about the place was the same—interesting, inquisitive students; dedicated faculty; caring administrators—but it was also dead all weekend! The closest I saw to free play time was, I kid you not, a Quidditch game.

Chemerinsky and Menkel-Meadow on curricular reform

Orin Kerr:

I don’t find these suggestions very useful. First, don’t most schools already have these “new” courses? I’m most familiar with the curriculum where I teach, but we already have one or several courses in each of those named fields.

Second, I don’t see how the listed “problem-based” seminars are supposed to help. What legal issues do students study in their Word Peace class, and how does expertise in World Peace help students get jobs? Presumably students aren’t expected to practice World Peace law. And I assume no one expects that two-credit seminars will actually create world peace.

Third, if the problem with law schools is that students need these courses but don’t take them now, then the answer is to mandate these courses rather than simply offer them. At most schools, almost everything after the first year is an elective. Merely adding new electives that most students won’t take is at best a symbolic answer to the alleged problem.

Keep reading and math scores going up

Wisconsin State Journal:

First the good news: Reading scores in Wisconsin are improving.

The latest statewide test suggests 36.6 percent of students are proficient or advanced in reading, and 48.6 percent are proficient or advanced in math.

That’s up slightly from the previous year, with slow yet steady improvement over several years.

Let’s keep those scores going up.

Wisconsin also should stay committed to the higher state standards known as Common Core. Educators across Wisconsin have been preparing for Common Core for years. The Legislature wisely adjourned this spring without altering these important academic standards.

Common Core will make it much easier to compare the performance of Wisconsin students to their peers in other states and around the world. The state’s previous standards were vague and inadequately prepared students for college or career.


The Long, Lonely Job of Homo academicus Focusing the research lens on the professor’s own schedule

John Ziker:

The days of the ivory tower are a distant memory. We may hear about them from our ancestors — our teachers’ teachers’ predecessors who lived in the days when social philosophers wrote voluminous comparative works and most teaching was done in small groups in the Socratic tradition. But my mentors also taught me to be wary of idealizing the past. Discrimination, sexism and exclusivity characterized those times. And the theories of human nature that social philosophers and historians expounded back then were biased as a result. No, the ivory tower is not some golden era to which academics are striving to return.

But one concept from those days of yore — the principle of academic freedom — remains hallowed in the minds of most scholars. Without academic freedom, it is likely that the spirit of inquiry and intellectual development would wither away under the ever-looming “bottom line.” Academic freedom is what keeps Homo academicans stomachs full and mental juices hot. Without academic freedom, higher education faculty would have all the drudgery without the satisfaction of discovery. We love what we do, and if we don’t, we get out.

Teaching Arabic in the US after 9/11

Chris Stone

On 9 May 2013 I was stabbed in front of the US Embassy in Cairo. My attacker was a young college-educated Egyptian man who had come from his village that day to kill an American in “revenge over U.S. policies in the Middle East.” At the time, I was living in Egypt and conducting research as part of my sabbatical from Hunter College of the City University of New York where I teach Arabic. The day I was stabbed, I had come to the Embassy looking to have a translation of my marriage certificate authenticated so that my wife’s Egyptian residency permit might be renewed.

After the attack, a few Egyptian journalist friends wrote about the event, partly to rectify some of the early misreporting in the Egyptian press. The main shared goal of their articles, though, was to declare that my attacker could not have picked a less appropriate target, given my love of Arabic and Arab culture. These overly generous portrayals did not prevent me from asking myself very early on: was I really such an unsuitable target? Not that my attacker knew what I do for a living, but the thought crossed my mind that perhaps, someone out for revenge on US policy in the Arab and Islamic World after 11 September 2001 could do worse than inadvertently target a teacher of Arabic.

“It is around sports that questions of power, money, racism and culture crystallise particularly clearly’

Gillian Tett:

A couple of decades ago Orin Starn, an American-based cultural anthropologist, went to Peru to conduct a study of a poor Andean community. It was a classic of the genre.

But since then Starn has made another important discovery: sometimes it is even more interesting to flip the lens and look at tribes in modern American life instead. He recently published a fascinating book on Tiger Woods, looking at golf as a cultural symbol. And as a self-styled “sport anthropologist”, who now works as professor at Duke University, North Carolina, he has also pondered the thorny question of lacrosse.

It is easy to see why. This week Bill Cohan, a banker turned journalist who has previously written exposés on Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns, published an account of a 2006 scandal about rape allegations against Duke University’s male lacrosse team. And after reading his exhaustive, fascinating tale, The Price of Silence, the only thing that surprises me is that there are not more academics working in this nascent discipline of sports anthropology, given how much material there is to explore.

What You Don’t Know About Financial Aid (but Should)

Richard Perez-Pena:

Marilyn Ferreira has solved her share of financial puzzles — running a business, buying a home and arranging a mortgage, raising six children as a single mother. But none of that compared to the challenge of understanding the cost of sending her brood to college.

She and her daughter Kelsey are in the thick of it now, weighing Kelsey’s admissions and financial aid offers from various colleges before the May 1 deadline, trying to make meaningful comparisons and just hoping they aren’t blindsided by something they missed. She has an important advantage in making sense of the terminology and the numbers: a lot of experience, with two sons now in college and a daughter already graduated.

“But it’s still confusing to me, probably the most confusing thing I’ve had to deal with,” said Ms. Ferreira, 48, a dance instructor who lives midway between Boston and Providence, R.I. “I couldn’t have figured it out on my own the first time, and I’m still not sure I could.”

It becomes clear over a long conversation that she does not understand how colleges define basic, crucial terms like “need,” “aid” or “need-blind admission,” and she does not know that those definitions vary from place to place. Her confusion is distressingly common, as demonstrated in studies, surveys and interviews with students and parents.

An array of policy analysts from think tanks to the White House say things should change. “It’s a ridiculously complicated system, if you can even call it a system, and a lot of people don’t get it,” said Sandy Baum, a research professor at George Washington University’s graduate education school, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a leading expert on college pricing. “If you put five aid offers from different colleges together, they’re all different, and it’s very, very difficult to compare. That problem could be solved.”

Related: Questions About Financial Aid?