Newsroom Open House

The Simpson Street Free Press will celebrate 23 years of academic success – Sunday, November 2, 12-3pm. Visit Dane County’s first after-school (and summer) youth center dedicated solely to core subject academics. Meet our student writers and see academic achievement in action. Get a newsroom tour from local kids who tackle achievement gaps everyday – with writing and hard work. Preview data that shows real results. SSFP students will thank all of you, the many Friends and supporters who make this youth center, and our students, successful. Location: South Towne Mall, 2311 West Broadway.

The Simpson Street Free Press (SSFP) delivers core subject academic instruction in after-school settings. Students (ages 8-18) write and produce five separate youth newspapers, including a new bilingual publication: La Prensa Libre de Simpson StreetSSFP graduates (now in college) supervise younger students. SSFP also operates a network of youth book clubs. The goal of the SSFP is to foster literacy, spark student success, and bridge achievement gaps.

The SSFP formula accomplishes multiple outcomes. Central to SSFP pedagogy is across the curriculum instructional practices. Lesson plans are designed to support in-school learning. Students encounter predictable connections to the school day. Young writers conduct research, use technology, write and read extensively. They learn practical and transferable academic strategies. They acquire real-world workplace skills. School grades and attendance are measured.  SSFP students participate in civic discourse and influence their peers. As their name suggests, free speech and journalism are great ways to spark learning.

How Standing Desks Can Help Students Focus in the Classroom

Holly Korbey

The rise of the standing desk may appear to be a response to the modern, eat-at-your-desk, hunched-over worker chained to her computer, but history paints a different picture: Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson all stood while they worked. Donald Rumsfeld had a standing desk, and so did Charles Dickens. Workplaces are moving toward more standing desks, but schools have been slower to catch on for a variety of reasons, including cost, convenience, and perhaps the assumption that “sit down and pay attention” is the best way to learn.

Mark Benden, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M Health Science Center, is looking to change all that. Too much sitting is bad for our health, he said, and students are now facing a host of challenges that may stem in part from too much time in a chair, including obesity and attention disorders. So five years ago, Benden and his team began studying what happened to students when they got out of their traditional seats and moved to standing desks.

Innovation in Education: An Empty Promise

Mike Crowley:

Innovation is among the most abused buzzwords in education today. While few doubt the need for schools to innovate, often, it seems, some school leaders – innovation chasers – those who are keen to attach the label of “innovator” to themselves, have failed to understand what innovation really means.

Horace Dediu has coined the term “innoveracy” to describe those who suffer from innovation illiteracy, the inability to understand the concept and role of innovation. This, he contends, is rooted in a “misuse of the term and the inability to discern the difference between novelty, creation, invention and innovation”. I tend to agree with Dediu’s perspective: too often what is falsely celebrated as innovation is, in reality, mere novelty.

Disastrous reading results remain job number one.

Uncontrolled expansion: how private colleges grew

Andrew McGettigan:

Greg Clark, the new universities minister, has a revised job specification for his higher education responsibilities. Along with preventing violent extremism and promoting education exports, his ministerial brief states that he will oversee “widening participation for students and providers”. It seems that the term “widening participation” has been redefined to mean encouraging more private colleges into the sector.

In this way, Clark takes on the legacy left by his predecessor, David Willetts, who told assembled university heads at the Universities UK spring conference in 2011 that “the biggest lesson I have learned is that the most powerful driver of public sector reform is to let new providers into the system. They do things differently in ways none can predict.”

Millions of pounds of public funding is already being spent to support study at private providers, but beyond well-known private institutions such as BPP University and the University of Buckingham, a host of less familiar private colleges are benefiting from recent policy changes.

This University Teaches You No Skills—Just a New Way to Think

Issie Lapowsky:

Ben Nelson says the primary purpose of a university isn’t to prepare students for a career. It’s to prepare them for life. And he now has $70 million to prove his point.

Nelson is the founder and CEO of a new experiment in higher education called Minerva Project. He says when it comes to learning, job training is the easy part. With the emergence of online courses, it’s easier and cheaper than ever to acquire the hard skills you need to land a job. “Why would you spend a quarter of a million dollars and four years to learn to code in Python?” he says. “If that’s the role of universities, you’d have to be insane to go to universities.”

But that doesn’t mean Nelson believes the country’s liberal arts colleges are doing a particularly terrific job either. He argues most schools do little more than teach students a core canon of information, a practice he says is archaic, given how much information people have access to these days. “Today, it’s absurd to say you need to know this information and without this information, you’re not an informed person,” he says.

Berkeley, a city consumed by a soda tax


On Nov. 4, Berkeley voters will show where they stand on Measure D, the so-called Soda Tax. The proposed tax on sugary beverages has been one of the most hotly debated Berkeley issues in the city’s history, and certainly one that has brought in record levels of campaign expenditure. The No on Measure D lobby has spent $2.3 million in an attempt to defeat the tax, according to campaign finance reports. Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has contributed $432,071 in support of the soda tax. (That includes $265,235 for network advertising for commercials during the World Series, $96,836 for cable ads, and a cash donation of $170,000 to the Yes on Measure D effort.) UC Berkeley’s Robert Reich has been vocal in his views — writing a blog post about the issue titled “In its battle with Big Soda, Berkeley may once again make history,” and shooting a video on the same subject.

Gael McKeon has spent several weeks documenting both sides of the campaign with his camera to create this photo essay of a pivotal moment in Berkeley’s political history, one that may set the stage for change nationwide. We publish it exclusively on Berkeleyside. (The ‘No on D’ campaign declined to participate in this story.)

Academics must question more: Romila

Pheroze L. Vincent:

Historian Romila Thapar asked a full house of Delhi’s intelligentsia on Sunday why changes in syllabi and objections to books were not being challenged.

Prof. Thapar was delivering the third Nikhil Chakravartty Memorial Lecture here on Sunday, titled ‘To Question or not to Question: That is the Question.”

“There are more academics in existence than ever before but most prefer not to confront authority even if it debars the path of free thinking. Is this because they wish to pursue knowledge undisturbed or because they are ready to discard knowledge, should authority require them to do so,” the eminent historian asked.

7 countries where Americans can study at universities, in English, for free (or almost free)

Rick Noack:

Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they’ve done the opposite.

The country’s universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens — and even of foreigners.

Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study. It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English — and it’s not the only country. Let’s take a look at the surprising — and very cheap — alternatives to pricey American college degrees.

An American School Immerses Itself in All Things Chinese (nothing like this in Madison)

Jane Peterson:

On weekday mornings, a stream of orange buses and private cars from 75 Minnesota postal codes wrap around Yinghua Academy, the first publicly funded Chinese-immersion charter school in the United States, in the middle-class neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis. Most pupils, from kindergarten to eighth grade, dash to bright-colored classrooms for the 8:45 a.m. bell, eager to begin “morning meeting,” a freewheeling conversation in colloquial Mandarin.

Meanwhile, two grades form five perfect lines in the gym for calisthenics, Chinese style. Dressed neatly in the school’s blue uniforms, the students enthusiastically count each move — “liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi.”

By 9:15, a calm sense of order pervades the school as formal instruction begins for math, reading, social studies, history and science. Instructors teach in Mandarin, often asking questions that prompt a flurry of raised hands. No one seems to speak out of turn. “We bring together both East and West traditions,” explains the academic director, Luyi Lien, who tries to balance Eastern discipline with Western fun.

Madison has largely killed off any attempt at innovative charter schools. Ironically, the Minneapolis teachers union is authorized to approve for charter schools.

Rethinking the Lecture: In the Information Age, It’s Time to Flip the Classroom

Ryan Craig:

It’s been my experience that too much of the same thing tends to end badly — and higher education is no exception. It was that way in college when my roommate Chris decided his life’s work was to take the Doodle Challenge — at the time, beating the record of 19 burgers within a 2.5 hour session at The Yankee Doodle, the local greasy spoon.

For Chris, downing 20 burgers meant two things: immortality by way of his name on a plaque above the door and not having to pay for the 20 burgers. Chris started out strong. It wasn’t until the tenth burger that he showed any signs of slowing. But, at burger number 12, Chris began to cough and spit, and we knew his chance at glory was over.We paid the bill and enveloped Chris like a fallen prizefighter, hustling him out of the Doodle. That was the last Chris saw of the Doodle for some time, but not the last he saw of those burgers.

Kano Rides Global Coding Wave

Lorraine Luk:

Riding on growing interest in coding, London-based startup Kano Computing Ltd. has shipped thousands of toolkits that allow users to build a computer and write software easily.

Last year, Kano raised about $1.5 million through crowd-funding site Kickstarter to manufacture the kit. The company has also raised over $2 million from investors including Index Ventures, Apple’s former Senior Director James Higa and Lady Gaga’s former manager Troy Carter to strengthen its team and further develop the product, said Kano co-founder and chief executive Yonatan Raz-Fridman.

The company has shipped 18,000 kits to customers on its pre-order list, including Kickstarter CEO Yancey Strickler and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, said Raz-Fridman. Since the beginning of this month, the Kano kit has been available for $149.99 online, including free shipping to 86 countries.

Princeton Gets 10 Times as Much Tax Money per Student as Public Colleges

Joe Pinsker:

In 2002, Meg Whitman (Princeton class of ‘77), then president of eBay, pledged $30 million to her alma mater to be put toward building a dorm in her own name. The ultimate cost of the 500-student dorm, which required “skilled masons to cut thousands of pieces of stone” and featured three-inch-thick oak doors, worked out to about $200,000 per bed. Despite parting with $30 million at the time, one economist estimated that the real cost of the donation to her was much less: $20 million, thanks to the tax exemptions that come with donating to a university. In essence, the U.S. Treasury covered the $10 million gap.

The government—and thus, taxpayers—give a surprising amount of money to elite private colleges, a lot of which is hard to see because it comes in the form of tax deductions like Whitman’s. Equally hard to see, and perhaps even more lucrative, is that the federal government doesn’t tax the income that universities earn on their billion-dollar endowments. Some of these deductions exist to promote research; others exist because colleges, as institutions, make commitments to serve the public good.

The Inheritance of Education

Richard V. Reeves and Joanna Venator:

Income is the currency of most mobility research – but money is not all that matters in life. There is a long list of other goods in life, including education, wellbeing, trust, agency, interesting work, and so on. Like most mobility researchers, we focus on income because it does matter in itself; because it can be converted to many of the other goods; and because it provides a robust basis for measurement and comparison.

Schooling and Social Mobility

But the transmission of education advantage is also of great interest. Even if someone does not convert a higher level of education into higher income, they are still better off. They can choose more interesting jobs, even if they are not highly-paid. They have more knowledge of the world and possibly of themselves. Education is a good in its own right, not just as a ticket to a fatter paycheck.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Having Babies New Sex-Ed Goal as Danish Fertility Rates Drop

Frances Schwartzkopff:

Sex education in Denmark is about to shift focus after fertility rates dropped to the lowest in almost three decades.

After years of teaching kids how to use contraceptives, Sex and Society, the Nordic country’s biggest provider of sex education materials for schools, has changed its curriculum to encourage having babies under the rubric: “This is how you have children!”

Infertility is considered “an epidemic” in Denmark, said Bjarne Christensen, secretary general of the Copenhagen-based organization. “We see more and more couples needing to get assisted fertility treatment. We see a lot of people who don’t succeed in having children.”

Today’s key fact: you are probably wrong about almost everything

Alberto Nardelli and George Arnett:

Britons overstate the proportion of Muslims in their country by a factor of four, according to a new survey by Ipsos Mori that reveals public understanding of the numbers behind the daily news in 14 countries.

People from the UK also think immigrants make up twice the proportion of the population as is really the case – and that many more people are unemployed than actually are.

Such misconceptions are typical around the world, but they can have a significant impact as politicians aim to focus on voter perceptions, not on the actual data.

Bobby Duffy, managing director of the Ipsos Mori social research institute, said:

On Teacher Quality (Status Quo in Madison)

Frank Bruni:

More than halfway through Joel Klein’s forthcoming book on his time as the chancellor of New York City’s public schools, he zeros in on what he calls “the biggest factor in the education equation.”

It’s not classroom size, school choice or the Common Core.

It’s “teacher quality,” he writes, adding that “a great teacher can rescue a child from a life of struggle.”

We keep coming back to this. As we wrestle with the urgent, dire need to improve education — for the sake of social mobility, for the sake of our economic standing in the world — the performance of teachers inevitably draws increased scrutiny. But it remains one of the trickiest subjects to broach, a minefield of hurt feelings and vested interests.

Klein knows the minefield better than most. As chancellor from the summer of 2002 through the end of 2010, he oversaw the largest public school system in the country, and did so for longer than any other New York schools chief in half a century.

That gives him a vantage point on public education that would be foolish to ignore, and in “Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools,” which will be published next week, he reflects on what he learned and what he believes, including that poor parents, like rich ones, deserve options for their kids; that smaller schools work better than larger ones in poor communities; and that an impulse to make kids feel good sometimes gets in the way of giving them the knowledge and tools necessary for success.

Related: Madison’s recent 2014-2015 budget simply perpetuates the monolithic K-12 governance model, despite its long term, disastrous reading results.

Most Autistic People Have Normal Brain Anatomy


Published in Cerebral Cortex by Israeli researchers Shlomi Haar and colleagues, the new research reports that there are virtually no differences in brain anatomy between people with autism and those without.

What makes Haar et al.’s essentially negative claims so powerful is that their study had a huge sample size: they included structural MRI scans from 539 people diagnosed with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 573 controls. This makes the paper an order of magnitude bigger than a typical structural MRI anatomy study in this field. The age range was 6 to 35.

The scans came from the public Autism Brain Imaging Data Exchange (ABIDE) database, a data sharing initiative which pools scans from 18 different neuroimaging centers. Haar et al. examined the neuroanatomy of the cases and controls using the popular FreeSurfer software package.

Parents feel ‘unequipped’ to help children with maths

Josie Gurney-Read:

“It’s not a subject, maths, it’s a language. A language, without which, we cannot communicate. The teaching of arithmetic and algebra, for example, is like teaching the grammar of this language.”

It will perhaps be unsurprising to most that Carol Vorderman, who spent 26 years as co-host on the Channel 4 quiz show Countdown, should be working towards giving schoolchildren the resources and opportunity to achieve highly in maths at primary school.

Having created The Maths Factor – an online maths school for primary age children – four years ago, Vorderman will attend the first ‘graduation day’ today, for children who have made exceptional progress through the program.

Related: Math Forum.

study found student outcomes improved markedly in classes where faculty did practically anything other than lecture.

Rachel Pincus:

Being a nonprofit, however, looking for some financial help with this initiative, which also includes preparing teachers to introduce coding skills for the first time. The approximate cost of bringing coding classes to such a large audience will be $5 million, $1 million of which is spent just running the campaign itself. To this end, they’ve used a popular crowdfunding platform to an unusual end: instead of serving up some new gadget or material perk, their Indiegogo page for the initiative instead promises some more cerebral perks, including a Q&A; for you or your school with founder and CEO Hadi Partovi or even an opportunity to “act like Oprah for a day.” Larger donors can get tax deductions for their contributions, in a similar way to more conventional donation channels.

UNC-Chapel Hill Should Lose Accreditation

Brian Rosenberg:

I have read many responses to the report of corruption at Chapel Hill. Some argue that those at the center of the activities were simply trying to help at-risk students, to which my response is that awarding credits and grades without providing instruction is not “help” in any sense that I can accept. In the case of student athletes, I see it as closer to exploitation for the benefit of the university. Some argue that this behavior is widespread among institutions with highly visible Division I sports programs and therefore should provoke no particular surprise or outrage.

I hope that this last claim is untrue. If it is, however, the only way to alter such behavior is to respond with force and clarity when it is uncovered. Reducing the number of athletic scholarships at Chapel Hill, or vacating wins, or banning teams from postseason competition, is in each case a punishment wholly unsuitable to the crime. The crime involves fundamental academic integrity. The response, regardless of the visibility or reputation or wealth of the institution, should be to suspend accredited status until there is evidence that an appropriate level of integrity is both culturally and structurally in place.

Anything less would be dismissive of the many institutions whose transcripts actually have meaning.

Rethinking vocational high school as a path to college

Emily Hanford:

For years, vocational high schools have been seen as a lesser form of schooling – tracking some kids off to work while others were encouraged to go on to college and pursue higher income professions. But things are changing. Vocational high schools are focusing much more on preparing students for higher education.

At one of those schools – Minuteman Regional High School in Lexington, Massachusetts – students can learn traditional trades like carpentry, plumbing and welding. They can also learn high tech fields such as video game design, engineering, and biotechnology.

Minuteman students spend half their time in vocational classes – often referred to as “career and technical classes – and half their time in academic courses. About 60 percent of the school’s graduates go on to college. That’s not the way things were when principal Ernest Houle learned welding at a vocational high school back in the 1980s.

“The highest-level math I ever had in high school was an Algebra 1,” says Houle. “And that only happened my sophomore year because it fit in the schedule.”

RACE FOR A SCHOOL PLACE: Trojan Horse academy among most sought after schools

Emma McKinney:

A school at the heart of the Trojan Horse scandal has proven to be one of most sought after secondaries in the Midlands, the Birmingham Mail can exclusively reveal.

Park View School the Academy in Alum Rock was flooded with 884 applications – despite only being able to offer 120 places to pupils this academic year.

The over-subscribed school was so popular with parents wanting their child to start Year 7 at the controversial academy this September that it was flooded with more than SEVEN applications for each of its places.

School discipline: is this working?

This American Life:

Stories of schools struggling with what to do with misbehaving kids. There’s no general agreement about what teachers should do to discipline kids. And there’s evidence that some of the most popular punishments actually may harm kids.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Government Salaries Compared to Teachers and Other Professions

In addition to supporting members of Congress and civil servants, U.S. taxpayers support welfare recipients. And they support them lavishly, too. Hawaii, Massachusetts, and D.C. residents receive sizeable welfare payments (read: salaries). Indeed, the magnitude of these payments exceeds the average salary of an American teacher, as well as a soldier deployed in Afghanistan, by at least $10,000 per year.

The public can forget all the clap-trap they are hearing about austerity. Indeed, a fairly dull knife could cut billions of dollars from the U.S. government’s largess.

How Standing Desks Can Help Students Focus in the Classroom

Holly Korbey:

The rise of the standing desk may appear to be a response to the modern, eat-at-your-desk, hunched-over worker chained to her computer, but history paints a different picture: Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson all stood while they worked. Donald Rumsfeld had a standing desk, and so did Charles Dickens. Workplaces are moving toward more standing desks, but schools have been slower to catch on for a variety of reasons, including cost, convenience, and perhaps the assumption that “sit down and pay attention” is the best way to learn.

Mark Benden, Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at Texas A&M Health Science Center, is looking to change all that. Too much sitting is bad for our health, he said, and students are now facing a host of challenges that may stem in part from too much time in a chair, including obesity and attention disorders. So five years ago, Benden and his team began studying what happened to students when they got out of their traditional seats and moved to standing desks.

It’s really difficult to fire a bad teacher. A group of Silicon Valley investors wants to change that

Danny Kim:

On a warm day in early June, a Los Angeles County trial-court judge, Rolf M. Treu, pink-cheeked beneath a trim white beard, dropped a bombshell on the American public-school system. Ruling in Vergara v. California, Treu struck down five decades-old California laws governing teacher tenure and other job protections on the grounds that they violate the state’s constitution.

In his 4,000-word decision, he bounded through an unusually short explanation of what was an unprecedented interpretation of the law. Step 1: Tenure and other job protections make it harder to fire teachers and therefore effectively work to keep bad ones in the classroom. Step 2: Bad teachers “substantially undermine” a child’s education. That, Treu wrote, not only “shocks the conscience” but …

In this innovative kindergarten class, A is for ‘Action!’

Nita Lelyveld:

The palm trees are made of construction paper, the waves of shiny fabric. The actors wear straw hats, sunglasses and loud Hawaiian shirts.

They lean back in lawn chairs, legs too short to touch the ground. One holds a goblet, the other a picture book. In the background, Madonna sings of “La Isla Bonita.”

“Action!” the director calls out. Then, “Drink from your cup, Dyana, drink, drink, drink. Abel, read, turn the page.”

The shooting schedule has been grueling, especially given that the talent can’t stay on task for more than 10 minutes.

I am a 14-year-old Yazidi girl given as a gift to an ISIS commander. Here’s how I escaped.

Mohammed Salih:

As the sun rose over my dusty village on Aug. 3, relatives called with terrifying news: Jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) were coming for us. I’d expected just another day full of household tasks in Tel Uzer, a quiet spot on the western Nineveh plains of Iraq, where I lived with my family. Instead, we scrambled out of town on foot, taking only our clothes and some valuables.

After an hour of walking north, we stopped to drink from a well in the heart of the desert. Our plan was to take refuge on Mount Sinjar, along with thousands of other Yazidis like us who were fleeing there, because we had heard a lot of stories about Islamic State brutality and what they had done to non-Muslims. They’d been converting religious minorities or simply killing them. But suddenly several vehicles drew up and we found ourselves surrounded by militants wearing Islamic State uniforms. Several people screamed in horror; we were scared for our lives. I’ve never felt so helpless in my 14 years. They had blocked our path to safety, and there was nothing we could do.

Florida school boards: Standard charter contracts unconstitutional?

Travis Pillow:

Florida school boards are questioning the constitutionality of standard charter school contracts as the state Board of Education gets set to vote on rules creating them.
Their objections appear in hundreds of pages of recent comments and letters to the state Department of Education. The Florida School Boards Association wrote in July: “We view this as an unconstitutional encroachment on the school board’s authority to operate, supervise, and control all public schools within the school district.”

The comments and letters were obtained by redefinED through a public records request. They reflect more than a year of public pushing and behind-the-scenes wrangling over standardized charter school contracts. The rules creating them are set to come before the state board at its November meeting.

The proposed contracts were set in motion by a 2013 law. Backed by charter school advocates, the law required the Department of Education to develop a standard contract that would serve as a starting point for agreements between charter schools and every district in the state. The stated goal: To streamline the contract process, set a baseline for expectations and create an opportunity for more meaningful negotiations.

Perhaps the author might research District operations?


Ronald E. LaPorte, via a kind Richard Askey email:

Dear Friends,

Ebola is frightening. Most information from TV, Facebook, and from our governments is poor. We want to change this by providing to you the best possible scientific information about Ebola from leading scientists from Nigeria, Africa, the Library of Alexandria and experts world wide.

We have created a cutting edge lecture on Ebola for you to teach your students, share with your faculty and distribute to your friends. The Lecture has been translated by 20 scientific experts into Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Hebrew, Japanese, Malay, Pashtu, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. It present the best possible scientific knowledge about this disease.

Ebola Virus Disease is a severe, highly infectious and often fatal illness that first appeared 40 years ago. The present outbreak is the most devastating compared the previous 33. It is producing enormous fear and rumors due to lack of good quality scientific information. The outbreak and fear have almost ‘crushed’ the affected countries economically, health care and science

The Ebola Outbreak causes havoc due to misinformation. We therefore brought together a team of leading scientists from Nigeria, Africa and internationally to provide the best possible scientific information and share this lecture with you and the world.

We provide this to you as a “gift that is meant to be given”. Please share this with your students and faculty, and post the lecture on Facebook, tell others about it through Twitter, etc. The Library of Alexandria Lecture is free, developed by the global scientific community.

Include links to this from Universities, Libraries, schools media, etc.

Let us continue to learn and share the scientific facts about Ebola.

Drs. Elegba, Kana, Bello-Manga and Adiri
Faculty of Medicine
Kaduna State University, Nigeria
Ismail Serageldin, Ph.D., Director Library of Alexandria
Ronald LaPorte, Ph.D. Director Emeritus WHO Collaborating Centre, Pittsburgh

If you have questions contact Musa Kana, or Ron

And The Remarkable team of translators that can be found at the Lecture

October 2014

‘The Bell Curve’ 20 years later: A Q&A with Charles Murray

James Pethokoukis:

October marks the 20th anniversary of “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” the extraordinarily influential and controversial book by AEI scholar Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein. Here, Murray answers a few questions about the predictions, controversy, and legacy of his book.

It’s been 20 years since “The Bell Curve” was published. Which theses of the book do you think are the most relevant right now to American political and social life?

American political and social life today is pretty much one great big “Q.E.D.” for the two main theses of “The Bell Curve.” Those theses were, first, that changes in the economy over the course of the 20th century had made brains much more valuable in the job market; second, that from the 1950s onward, colleges had become much more efficient in finding cognitive talent wherever it was and shipping that talent off to the best colleges. We then documented all the ways in which cognitive ability is associated with important outcomes in life — everything from employment to crime to family structure to parenting styles. Put those all together, we said, and we’re looking at some serious problems down the road. Let me give you a passage to quote directly from the close of the book:

Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

  1. An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
  2. A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
  3. A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. (p. 509)

Madison Schools’ 2014-2015 Budget a No No for Governor Candidate Burke

Chris Rickert:

It’s no surprise Democratic nominee for governor and Madison School Board member Mary Burke isn’t saying how she plans to vote Monday on a proposed school district budget that includes a $100 tax increase for the average homeowner.
For purely political reasons, dropping that particular dime would be a pretty dumb thing to do.

Budgets are way more than just their impact on taxpayers/voters, though. They also reflect a school district’s priorities and approach to educating children and compensating teachers.

Burke hasn’t released an education plan in her campaign for governor, so it might be nice to know how she feels about some of those details before they start counting the votes nine days from now.

Specifically, I asked her about:

$4.1 million in spending on technology upgrades, including a plan to eventually put tablet computers in the hands of most students.

$1.5 million for a new behavior plan that de-emphasizes punishment in favor of teaching positive behavior skills.

$250,000 for a new staff evaluation system.

$150,000 for a “grow your own” system for recruiting employees, including ones that — in a district with an ethnically diverse student body but an almost all-white teaching staff — are “culturally responsive.”

Continuing to provide union staff with automatic raises for seniority and degree attainment.

Burke’s response was brief, emailed, unrevealing and on-message: “They all have merits but need to be considered in light of whether we can fund them while being responsible to the taxpayers.”

A scouring of the video recordings and available minutes of this year’s budget meetings also didn’t shed much light on where she stands.

She rarely offered an opinion during the meetings, but when she did it was usually as a voice of fiscal restraint, questioning the size of the tax levy and highlighting the need to take into account the current year budget’s effect on future years’ budgets.

Of course, it’s pretty safe to assume that Burke will vote against any budget that includes a tax increase. She has reminded reporters that’s what she did back in June when the preliminary budget was before the board. And she was the lone “no” vote on the final 2013-14 budget in November 2013, 27 days after she announced her run for governor.

Props to Rickert for diving into the details…. A no vote is rather easy, but this annual exercise simply perpetuates Madison’s monolithic K-12 governance model, despite its long term, disastrous reading results.

What’s at Risk Without MTI?

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

Over the past few weeks, discussions have been occurring throughout the District about MTI’s upcoming MTI Recertification Elections. One of the most frequently asked questions by newer staff, those who are not aware of MTI’s many accomplishments over the years is, “what is at risk if we lose the Union?” To answer that question, one only needs to look around the State of Wisconsin to see what has happened in other school districts where employees no longer have a collective voice in the workplace.

In many school districts, employers have increased employee health insurance premium
contributions to 12%. Such an increase would decrease an employee’s pay between $61 and $212 per month, depending on the plan the individual has selected. Your Union is currently working with the District to collaboratively identify potential sources for health insurance savings rather than implementing a premium co-pay. The five Contracts for MTI represented employees do not now mandate any employee contribution toward health insurance.

For teachers who are new parents, MTI’s Contract provides paid time off during maternity leave via a combination of personal sick leave and Sick Leave Bank benefits. Non-probationary teachers also have the Contract right to take unpaid child rearing leaves of absence for a semester, a full school year, or up to two school years should they need or desire to stay home with their child(ren) for a period of time regardless of the child’s age. Those rights could disappear or erode without a Union to advocate for them.

For longtime teachers, educational assistants, clerical-technical staff and security assistants approaching retirement, MTI’s Contracts provide retiring employees with 100% of the value of their accumulated sick leave for the payment of post-retirement insurances. Many school districts have capped or reduced such benefits, forcing longtime employees to work longer in order to afford post- retirement insurance premiums.

Other school districts have added classes to the workday (without additional pay); extended the work year (without additional pay); required mandatory evening obligations (without additional pay); reduced benefits for disabled employees; eliminated planning time; pro-rated insurance benefits based on part-time status; eliminated just cause and due process protections against unfair discipline or dismissal; and destroyed salary schedules.

MTI encourages all represented employees to spend a few moments to page through their Collective Bargaining Agreement to see the entirety of the issues that the Union has negotiated for them over the past decades. Any or all of those negotiated items would be subject to employer discretion or whim without a Union as your collective voice. Standing together, we can continue to advocate for working conditions/learning conditions that educational employees and students need. Voting to recertify is the first step towards maintaining your collective voice at work.

Why Government Spends More Per Pupil at Elite Private Universities Than at Public Universities

Robert Reich:

Imagine a system of college education supported by high and growing government spending on elite private universities that mainly educate children of the wealthy and upper-middle class, and low and declining government spending on public universities that educate large numbers of children from the working class and the poor.

You can stop imagining. That’s the American system right now.

Government subsidies to elite private universities take the form of tax deductions for people who make charitable contributions to them. In economic terms a tax deduction is the same as government spending. It has to be made up by other taxpayers.

These tax subsidies are on the rise because in recent years a relatively few very rich people have had far more money than they can possibly spend or even give away to their children. So they’re donating it to causes they believe in, such as the elite private universities that educated them or that they want their children to attend.

Madison’s Planned Tax & Spending Growth Documents: Redistributed State Tax Dollars up 20.6% Since 2011!

Madison School District PDF:

For MMSD, the most important aspect of multi-year budget planning is the careful use of ‘unused tax levy authority’ which can be carried forward from one year to the next. For 2014-15, the budget has available just over $8.8 million of ‘unused tax levy authority’ which was carried forward from 2013-14.1

The 2014-15 budget calls for use of $5.1 million (or 58%) of this carried-over tax levy authority, with the balance of $3.7 million preserved and carried forward into the 2015-16 budget. Partial use of the carried-over tax levy authority was targeted early in 2014-15 budget development to support the new technology plan. It also supports the compensation increase included in this budget recommendation. We believe this is an appropriate extent of use and caution against any additional use of the $8.8 million in the 2014-15 budget year.
There are two primary reasons for this recommendation, both of which lie ahead in the 2015-16 school year and beyond.

First, greater use of ‘carried-over tax levy authority’ to support additional spending this year will decrease equalization aid next year. Equalization aid, which is the district’s second largest source of revenue (behind only property taxes) is based on a formula which contains disincentives for spending above a prescribed level (the ‘secondary shared cost ceiling’). For example, a sharp increase in shared cost per pupil in 2012-13 contributed to an 11% equalization aid loss in 2013-14.

Looking ahead to 2015-16, depending on the state budget, MMSD is expected to see a 5-10% aid loss next year. Additional spending in 2014-15 would only increase the expected aid loss. For every two dollars ($2) MMSD spends above the secondary cost ceiling, we lose one dollar ($1) in equalization aid.

Second, the 2015-16 revenue budget forecast is very uncertain. It is outside of the current two-year state budget, the framework which determines school district revenues. Therefore, we recommend carrying over the $3.7 million to provide sufficient revenues to meet the needs of the 2015-16 school year.

The uncertainty of 2015-16 revenues, along with anticipated cost pressures on next year’s budget, including health insurance costs and increased technology investments, to name just two factors, make it essential that unused tax levy authority is preserved and carried-over into 2015-16.

1. Facing a major aid loss in 2013-14, the district ‘under-levied’ by $8.8 million to hold the tax levy increase to 3.384% on 0.35% tax base growth.

The District continues to use a single data point analysis for “State Aid” or redistributed state dollars. The District received a substantial increase in state tax dollars during the prior year….

Much more on the District’s 2014-2015 budget, here.

Inspired By NYU, GESO Reemerges In Force

Paul Bass:

“GESO—you are workers. The work you do is important,” Tyisha Walker told the crowd. Walker (pictured after delivering her remarks) is secretary treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 35, which represents Yale’s blue-collar workers; and a West River alder. She responded to the second, less-spoken case opponents have made against GESO in its earlier incarnation: That Yale’s blue-collar and pink-collar unionized workers will show up at rallies for the graduate students in order to earn their return support in contract battles with the university, but they’ll never risk their own jobs and go out on strike for GESO. “We stand with you,” Walker declared.

The economic impact of school suspensions

Lucia Graves:

Tiambrya Jenkins was just 14 years old when she got into a fistfight that would change the course of her educational trajectory. Following an after-school scuffle between Jenkins and a white classmate, the two girls—both freshmen at Rome High School in Georgia—were transferred to an alternative school as punishment. Her white classmate was allowed to return to their original school after 90 days. But Jenkins spent the rest of the year at the transitional academy, a place she describes as more like prison than school. “It was really, really boring. You just sat there all day until the bell rang,” she says. “They didn’t teach us anything.”

At the academy, minor missteps such as talking out of turn or violating the dress code were used as reasons to delay a student’s return to high school, Jenkins says. Simple organizational mistakes like showing up late or forgetting class materials were seen as acts of defiance and could turn the clock back to zero on a student’s 90 days at the transitional academy. After forgetting her notebook one day and suffering the consequences, Jenkins began stashing spares in an abandoned house across the street from the school, “just in case.”

Two years later, Jenkins is back at her old high school, but she still feels hopelessly behind. Once a top math student, she’ll be lucky to achieve a passing mark in advanced algebra this year. “I don’t even know what we’re learning,” Jenkins says. “The teacher, she’ll be teaching something, and I don’t even know what it is. I just see a bunch of numbers on the board.”

Much more on discipline and school violence, here.

One City: New School, New Look, Great Progress

Kaleem Caire, via a kind email:

We’ve been quiet because we’ve been building. We have some exciting updates to share with you as we move forward to establish One City Early Learning Centers on Madison’s South Side. Since August, we have:

Established a 15-member Board of Directors
Filed for nonprofit recognition with the IRS
Identified a site for our preschool on Fisher Street
Selected our logo mark (see above)
Identified an exceptional Director for our school
Recruited some wonderful volunteers
Secured the support, guidance and encouragement of key stakeholders in early childhood education, the Greater Madison community and the State of Wisconsin

Now, the heavy push to secure partnerships and financial support to get this preschool open begins. We would love to hear from you if you can help. Please email or contact us at our information below.

We hope to share the details of our plans and our excitement about this preschool with every single person we know, because this is that important. We’d love to share our plans with you, your friends and your colleagues at your home, office, service group, place of worship or community organization. To download the one page summary on One City, click here. We’ve also placed two short videos below that speak to the critical need for communities to nurture and support children early. Watch. Learn. Be inspired. We are!

Our mission: To prepare young children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life, and ensure they enter grade school reading-ready.

Our vision: A Greater Madison where every child is reading and succeeding at grade level by the time they complete third grade.

Our philosophy: A child’s ecosystem of support and the environments in which they are educated and raised must be healthy, safe, inspiring and provide adequate resources and stability in order for them to reach their full potential.

Our focus: Strong children, families and neighborhoods. Wherever we develop a One City preschool, we will also work to strengthen families, build community and partner with residents to develop the neighborhood. If the family and the village are healthy, the children will be, too.

We hope you will join us on this journey. Thank you.

Much more on Kaleem Caire’s relentless drive to improve rigor and opportunity in Madison.

A childhood gift that says ‘I believe in you’ becomes a lifetime of meaning

Alan Borsuk:

The service counter guy at the hardware store understood what he was looking at as soon as he saw the screw. “This is from some old, special chair,” he told my wife when she stopped in on Monday.

Right. A chair with a special story that, I suggest, speaks to some of the core aspects of what can lead a child to a successful life.

My father was a very talented pianist as a child. In his early teens, he soloed with the Madison symphony, playing Gershwin’s Concerto in F. He loved piano and he had great potential.

My grandparents ran a corner grocery store near the University of Wisconsin campus. They and their five children lived in a small apartment over the store. This was the mid-1930s, the height of the Depression, so you know they didn’t have much.

One afternoon, my father came home from high school, climbed the stairs, and, as he tells the story, nearly fell to the floor. A Steinway grand piano was sitting in the living room.

Can you imagine the sacrifice my grandparents made to get that piano? That’s how important their children were to them. That’s how much they wanted to do all they could to help their children reach their potential and have a good life.

And those children did have good lives. They graduated from high school. They went to college. They worked, they married, and they were good citizens of communities as big as New York City, as small as Two Rivers. Each in his or her own way did well.

Finally shred the New York City charter-school Cap

James Merriman:

This month, New York State approved 17 new city charter schools to open over the next few years. Sadly, they could be among the last.

Sometime in 2015, New York State will have to stop approving new charters. That’s not because these schools haven’t proven themselves (their achievement often far exceeds that of the districts they reside in). It’s not because there isn’t enough demand (50,000 families are on waitlists).

Rather, it’s because state law currently caps the number of charters allowed to open, and we’ve almost reached the limit.

Putting the brakes on a wildly successful education strategy is bad policy. It’s terrible for the city’s kids, thousands of whom will be denied schools that have shown they can close the achievement gap in some of our most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

There is an obvious answer: Simply eliminate this arbitrary and artificial barrier to creating more great public schools. After all, we’ve already twice raised the number of charter schools that can be opened in New York City, from 100 to 200 in 2007 and then again by another 114 in 2010.

The riddle of black America’s rising woes under Obama

Edward Luce:

A paradox haunts America’s first black president. African-American wealth has fallen further under Barack Obama than under any president since the Depression. Yet they are the only group that still gives him high ratings. So meagre is Mr Obama’s national approval rating that embattled Democrats have made him unwelcome in states that twice swept him to power. Those who have fared worst under Mr Obama are the ones who love him the most. You would be hard-pressed to find a better example of perception-driven politics. As the Reverend Kevin Johnson asked in 2013: “Why are we so loyal to a president who isn’t loyal to us?”

The problem has taken on new salience with the resignation of Eric Holder. America’s first black attorney-general has tried to correct the gulag-sized disparities in prison sentencing between blacks and whites. His exit leaves just two African-Americans in Mr Obama’s cabinet. Given the mood among Republicans, it is hard to imagine the US Senate confirming a successor to Mr Holder who shares his priorities.

Mr Obama shot to prominence in 2004 when he said there was no black or white America, just the United States of America. Yet as the continuing backlash to the police shooting of an unarmed young black man in Ferguson has reminded us, Mr Obama will leave the US at least as segregated as he found it. How could that be? The fair answer is that he is not to blame. The poor suffered the brunt of the Great Recession and blacks are far likelier to be poor. By any yardstick – the share of those with subprime mortgages, for example, or those working in casualised jobs – African-Americans were more directly in the line of fire.

Study Finds Gains for Students at Manhattan Charter With High Teacher Pay

Leslie Brody:

A small New York City charter school opened five years ago with an attention-grabbing premise: Paying teachers $125,000 salaries would lure ace faculty and help poor children learn.

A new study of the middle school, called The Equity Project, suggests that the experiment is working. The report to be released Friday by Mathematica Policy Research said the school’s students made more progress than similar children attending traditional city schools.

After four years at the charter school, eighth-graders showed average test score gains in math equal to an additional year and a half of school, compared with district students. The study found these charter students’ gains equaled more than an extra half-year in science and almost an extra half-year in English.

The Equity Project made headlines in 2008 when it announced it would pay nearly double the average salary of teachers in the city’s district schools. Joshua Furgeson, one of the report’s authors, said it shows that a “school that focuses its resources and attention on hiring and developing the best teachers can substantially improve student achievement.”

The Changing Profile of Student Borrowers Biggest Increase in Borrowing Has Been Among More Affluent Students

Richard Fry:

Share of College Graduates From High-Income Families who Borrow Has DoubledIn 2012, a record share of the nation’s new college graduates (69%) had taken out student loans to finance their education, and the typical amount they had borrowed was more than twice that of college graduates 20 years ago. A new Pew Research Center analysis of recently released government data finds that the increase in the rate of borrowing over the past two decades has been much greater among graduates from more affluent families than among those from low-income families. Fully half of the 2012 graduates from high-income families borrowed money for college, double the share that borrowed in 1992-93.

The rise in the rate of borrowing was also substantial among upper-middle-income graduates, with 62% of 2012 graduates from upper-middle-income households leaving college with debt, compared with 34% roughly 20 years ago.

The State of Education Reform

Chester Finn:

This short essay cannot begin to say all that deserves to be said about the state of ed-reform in America in 2014, but it gives me an opportunity to do some stocktaking, recount a bit of history, and flag some challenges for the future.

Organizationally, the modern Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Foundation that birthed it have been around for seventeen years, but the reformist zeal and philosophy that it inherited from the Educational Excellence Network carry us back to 1981. Two years before A Nation at Risk, Diane Ravitch and I—and a handful of fellow travelers—had concluded that American K–12 education needed a kick in the pants, a kick toward greater quality, primarily in the form of stronger student learning. (More of that tale can be found on our website here and here.)

That’s thirty-three years ago, before many of today’s ed reformers were even born, and, while Diane has obviously deviated from that path in recent years, I like to think I’ve continued to trudge down it, along with an ever-growing cadre of fellow reformers and—since 1997—with Fordham’s organizational and human resources pushing us onward.

It turns out millennials are actually really good at saving money

Jonelle Marte:

Millennials are looking beyond beach vacations and nights out when it comes to finding the best way to use their cash.

More of them are putting money away for retirement, according to a new analysis released Thursday by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. About 40,000 workers in their 20s and early 30s signed up for their employer’s 401(k) plan for the first time during the first half of this year, the report found. That is up 55 percent from the same time last year and more than the 37 percent increase seen for all age groups.

“If you look at the millennials, they’re actually by nature better savers,” says Kevin Crain, managing director and senior relationship executive for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The bank analyzed data from its 401(k) business, which has $128.9 billion in assets and includes 2.5 million participants.

Successful but stressed, students urged to find balance

Kelly Meyerhofer:

Nicolet High School senior Sammi Castle juggles three Advanced Placement courses, an internship, two honors classes, four extracurricular clubs and two sports.

Winter is Castle’s off-season, but a soccer boot camp is starting next week. This “strongly encouraged” program runs twice a week until as late as 10 p.m. even though the season does not start until March.

She’s also in the midst of completing seven college applications.

“Everyone’s driven,” Castle said. “But everyone’s also sick of it.”

Welcome to the life of a Nicolet High School student — and a jam-packed schedule that has become, for many high-achieving high school students, all too typical.

Kenneth Ginsburg spoke this week to Nicolet, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay High School students about how to handle the stress and expectations attached to their diplomas. And although his message was geared to the trio of high-performing North Shore high schools, it would have resonated across the metro area in suburban schools that cater to families that are comparatively affluent.

Customize Learning and Move Students Away from Memorizing and Regurgitating

Nick Grantham:

In this fascinating and inspiring TEDx talk, Philip Kovacs, Associate Professor of Education at UAH in Huntsville, discusses how he is working to convince schools and school systems to stop using textbooks and instead to harness the power of the web.

I first came across Philip’s work after reading a brilliant piece he wrote titled An Open Letter to My Son’s Kindergarten Teacher. If you haven’t read it, then get onto it immediately, if you have, then I am sure you will enjoy his thought provoking video below.

Brain-Training Companies Get Advice From Some Academics, Criticism From Others

Rebecca Koenig:

With metaphors like those, brain-game companies entice people to buy subscriptions to their online training programs, many of which promise to increase customers’ “neuroplasticity,” “fluid intelligence,” and working memory capacity. They even claim to help stave off the effects of aging.

Leading scientists have criticized those promises, though. The loudest objection came on Monday, when the Stanford Center for Longevity and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, in Berlin, released “A Consensus on the Brain-Training Industry From the Scientific Community,” a statement objecting “to the claim that brain games offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline.”

A Math Teacher on Common Core

Brooke Powers:

Before Common Core I was a typical math teacher. I had my curriculum maps and and state standards which read like a skill and drill check list that I marked off one by one whether the kids understood them or not. I used really “great” methods and math terminology like “butterfly method”, “keep switch flip”, “leave opposite opposite”, and so many more that I would love to forget. I moved to Kentucky the year that KCAS (Kentucky’s Common Core) was adopted and thought “how different could it be?” The answer to that question can be answered easily with a quick peak inside my classroom today.

Today, my classroom is cognitively busy and alive with excitement about numbers. We no longer focus on skills, timed tests, facts, or catchy phrases to make students remember things that have no meaning to them. Today, we do math talks, counting circles, estimating, and reasoning instead of direct instruction. We take the time to understand numbers and their meanings rather than memorizing facts. I don’t drill random formulas and information into students heads so that they can remember it long enough to pass a test rather than understanding it to a depth that can be applied to real life.

I really do understand the reason so many parents seem to get upset about the “new math” associated with Common Core. After all, it is change and change is difficult but here is what I know. I have talked to tons of adults and not one has told me that they have to take skill and drill tests daily at work or risk being fired. When I ask what they have to do at work I get a lot of answers but there is always a common theme, in real life we are no longer asked to use math as a check list of skills that we either know or don’t know. Instead real life is about using the math to solve real problems, to be a critical thinker, to reason, and actually understand what is happening around them. Those are all the things along with many more that Common Core has brought to my classroom.

Much more on the Common Core, here.

Related: Math Forum Audio & Video.

Shift in NJEA’s stance on charter schools fraught with tension

Laura Waters:

The New Jersey Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s new charter school bill on Oct. 16. One of the lobbyists there was New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer. As he approached the podium you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. This well-spoken and diplomatic head of New Jersey’s primary teachers’ union was in a bind, compelled to triangulate between the NJEA’s historically consistent support for these independent public schools and a swelling rebellion within union ranks demanding a more combative stance against charters.

Indeed, teacher union leaders like Steinhauer are in an increasingly difficult position. For more than a century political alliances have been easy and predictable: teacher unions were umbilically tied to the Democratic Party and, really, moderates of any ilk. But suddenly a more radical faction is forcing union leaders to shift from that safe center and, as Steinhauer did last week, testify against sensible updates to charter-school law and other reforms.

Locally, a majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school.

IS imposes new rules on education in Syria, Iraq

Ali Mamouri:

The Islamic State (IS) project goes beyond making a political change for the region’s map. The organization seeks a comprehensive and fundamental change at all levels, whether culturally, socially, economically or politically. It is a major ideological revolution akin to the communist revolutions in Russia and China.

Commonly, such ideological revolutions introduce radical cultural changes in the educational system, as soon as the groups that have launched them take up the reins of political power. Cultural goals are the main priorities of these groups, which view political power merely as a means to achieve these goals.

This has already happened in Russia, China, Iran and other countries that witnessed ideological revolutions and coups. The nature of the cultural changes differs according to the pattern and nature of these revolutions.

The communist revolutions sought to eliminate the bourgeoisie’s power from educational and cultural systems. The Islamic revolution in Iran, on the other hand, aimed at the Islamization of science and knowledge by eliminating scientific and scholarly theories that are not in line with their religious visions, expelling teachers from schools and universities who do not abide by religious disciplines.

Rejecting Common Core & Rigor?

Stephanie Simon:

“We should be completely prepared for lots of folks to get cold feet starting now,” said Andy Smarick, a policy analyst at Bellwether Education Partners. States that have already moved to Common Core tests have seen student scores plunge and parent protests soar — and as the spring testing season creeps closer, similar outcomes “are staring our leaders in the face” in states from coast to coast, he said.

“Claims of ‘We’re not ready,’ and ‘This will be too disruptive’ are sure to spike,” Smarick said.

The nascent district rebellion comes against a backdrop of growing public frustration with standardized testing in general. In New York last spring, as many as 60,000 students refused to take the state’s Common Core tests. Similar opt-out movements have swelled in states from Georgia to Connecticut to California, where a coalition called “Pencils Down” has been organizing parents to boycott the exams.

A few teachers in Florida and Colorado have even staged small mutinies of their own, announcing that they would not give standardized tests to their students. A public letter from a Colorado teacher titled “I refuse to administer the PARCC” caught fire on social media last month.
Supporters of the Common Core have taken note of the public mood and tried to get ahead of iti/blockquote>

Vatican Library Puts 4,000 Ancient Manuscripts Available Online For Free

Message to Eagle:

The Vatican Apostolic Library is now digitising its valuable ancient religious manuscripts and putting them online via its website, available for the public to view for free, as well as turning to crowdfunding to help it complete its work.

The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 AD and holds over 80,000 manuscripts, prints, drawings, plates and incunabula (books printed prior to 1500 AD) written throughout history by people of different faiths from across the world.

Big data is coming to education; the next step is figuring out how to use it


Big data is coming to education; the next step is figuring out how to use it.

Horace Dediu is an expert at using big data to understand technology’s accelerating development. He has been interviewed by Forbes, Fortune, and various other news sources as an Apple expert, and his independent blog, Asymco, is filled with facts and data regarding mobile communication products and the companies that create and sell them. Dediu’s model is the opposite of that of most analysts: he charges for his opinions but offers all of his data for free. On November 7 at Impact Hub, Dediu will share both data and opinions with educational leaders at SPARK Seattle 2014.

With the upcoming educational leadership event in mind, we conducted a brief personal interview with Dediu. Read the full interview below!

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: the Midwest Declines while the South Rises

Aaron Renn:

This is an absolute blowout, with a massive amount of red on the map showing areas to which Chicago is actually losing young adults. Honestly, this only makes sense given the well known headline negative domestic migration numbers for Chicago.

I do find it interesting that there’s a strong draw from Michigan. Clearly Michigan has taken a decade plus long beating. There’s been strong net out-migration from Michigan to many other Midwestern cities during that time frame, and its the same in Cleveland, which also took an economic beating in the last decade. This is just an impression so I don’t want to overstate, but it seems to me that a disproportionate number of the stories about brain drain to Chicago give examples from Michigan. Longworth uses the examples of Detroit and Cleveland. These would appear to be the places where the argument has been truly legitimate, but that doesn’t mean you can extrapolate generally from there.

What’s more, even if a young person with a college degree does move to Chicago from somewhere else, will they stay there long term? They may circulate out back to where they came from or somewhere else after absorbing skills and experience. It’s the same with New York, DC, SF, etc. I’ve said these places should be viewed as human capital refineries, much like universities. That’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it’s a big plus for everybody all around. Chicago is doing fine there. But it’s a more complex talent dynamic than is generally presented, a presentation that does not seem to be backed up by the data in any case.

Related: Madison’s planned property tax increase.

Comparing Madison & College Station, TX….

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Candidates


A surprise for California voters: the hottest race in next month’s statewide election is for Superintendent of Public Instruction, a nonpartisan office with limited powers. Incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck embody both sides of the national conflict over public education—which has made for a close race. We’ll talk to them both about teacher tenure, standardized testing, and John Deasy, former Superintendent of the LAUSD.

Getting the IT education you need without the debt: Could studying abroad be the answer?

Andrada Fiscutean:

Students who want to dodge the tens of thousands of euros in fees and living expenses that come with getting a degree in IT might want to consider Romania.

Landing a good job in technology often means spending several years at university, and racking up a huge bill. However, there are ways to cut the cost of education, including studying abroad. Romania, Europe’s software development powerhouse, could prove a cheaper option worth considering: fees are only a fraction of those found in the UK or US, and a student with a part-time job can break even at the end of the year. Student essentials, too, are wallet-friendly: students at Bucharest’s campus Regie can land themselves a large pizza for a mere €3, for example.

Compare and contrast to monolithic K-12 models.

Teaching to the Authentic Assessment

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

Back in September, when I was doing my sub-assignment for the high school, I attended a math department meeting the day before school began. Sally from the District office presided, and among the many things she told us at that session was that this year the students in the District would not have to take what is known as the STAR test, by order of the superintendent of the District. “And as you know, the Superintendent is like the Pope. What he says goes.”

While this last was uttered partly in jest, the reaction in the room was celebratory. The STAR exam has been an annual ritual in California and in May of each year about two weeks are devoted to a review and prep for this test, which is keyed to California’s pre-Common Core math and English standards. Such activities inspire accusations that schools are “teaching to the test”. But now in the midst of a transition to implementing Common Core math standards, California was looking at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam that would be given officially starting the following school year. (Actually, they don’t call it an exam; they call it an “assessment”. You’ll forgive me if I call it an exam.) For now, however, the state would be field testing the exam. What this meant was anyone’s guess: perhaps this first go-round on SBAC would be to provide a baseline to see how students scored prior to full implementation of Common Core. Or perhaps it was to fine tune the questions. Or both. Or neither.

In any event, when I started my new assignment at the middle school, I had to have my classes take a practice SBAC exam. The day before I was to take all my classes into the computer lab for the practice exam, I attended an after-school faculty meeting.

I had started my assignment at the school earlier that week, so the principal introduced me to the group. I was welcomed by applause, and urgings by fellow teachers to help myself to the tangerines that were brought in for the occasion. I took two tangerines, and as if he were taking that as his cue, the principal started the discussion.

Better Ways to Teach Teens to Drive

Sue Shellenbarger:

It’s one of the most dreaded rites of child-rearing—teaching a teenager to drive.

Many parents are riding shotgun with their teens for 40 hours or more to provide the supervised practice required to get a driver’s license in most states. Most do a good job of teaching steering, parking and controlling the car. Parents are not so good, however, at teaching the skills young drivers need to actually avoid accidents, according to new research. Now, there are new techniques and even guides that have grown out of new scientific research into the parent-child dynamic in the car.

Suzy Hoyle of Wallingford, Pa., has taught two of her three children to drive. “It’s a scary ride,” she says, “but I think it’s very important they gain confidence and learn that they can do it.” She has picked up tips from friends (have your teen drive on snow, stash the cellphone in the glove compartment) and refrained from criticizing her daughter Ashley, now 18, when she hugged the right shoulder, uncomfortably close to several trees.

New Tool for Children With Speech Errors

Sumathi Reddy

It is one of the most common and hard-to-fix speech errors: making the “r” sound.

Researchers and speech therapists say the use of an unlikely tool—an ultrasound probe—could help children who have difficulty saying the letter “r” correctly. Instead of red, these children might say wed. Or buhd instead of bird.

About 10% of preschool children have some sort of speech or sound disorder, experts say. Many children naturally outgrow these, or get help correcting the problem with conventional speech therapy. But when the problem is pronouncing “r,” speech errors can persist; studies have estimated that 2% to 3% of college-age people still have trouble with the sound.

Madison’s monolithic K-12 model, costs more & does less while the world races by…

Kevin Roose interviews Wisconsin native Marc Andreesen:

But let’s just project forward. In ten years, what if we had Math 101 online, and what if it was well regarded and you got fully accredited and certified? What if we knew that we were going to have a million students per semester? And what if we knew that they were going to be paying $100 per student, right? What if we knew that we’d have $100 million of revenue from that course per semester? What production budget would we be willing to field in order to have that course?

You could literally hire James Cameron to make Math 101. Or how about, let’s study the wars of the Roman Empire by actually having a VR [virtual reality] experience walking around the battlefield, and then like flying above the battlefield. And actually the whole course is looking and saying, “Here’s all the maneuvering that took place.” Or how about re-creating original Shakespeare plays in the Globe Theatre?

Latest spending increase plans while long term disastrous reading results continue.

Cost Disease.

And, a focus on adult employment.

New Jersey teacher Union implosion, irrelevance or evolution?

Laura Waters:

Last Thursday, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Sen. Teresa Ruiz’s new charter school bill. One of the lobbyists there was New Jersey Education Association President Wendell Steinhauer and as he approached the podium you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy. This well-spoken and diplomatic head of NJ’s primary teachers’ union was in a bind, compelled to triangulate between NJEA’s historically consistent support for these independent public schools and a swelling rebellion within union ranks demanding a more combative stance against charters.

Indeed, teacher union leaders like Steinhauer are in an increasingly difficult position. For over a century political alliances have been easy and predictable: teacher unions were umbilically tied to the Democratic Party and, really, moderates of any ilk. But suddenly a more radical faction is forcing union leaders to shift from that safe center and, as Steinhauer did Thursday, testify against sensible updates to charter-school law and other reforms.

UK Teacher “Initiativeitis”

Tristram Hunt

alk to any teacher and they will tell you the chief frustration with their job is workload. The relentless churn of initiative-itis from this government has seen the workload of the average primary and secondary classroom teacher increase by nine hours and six hours a week respectively.

This is what happens when you announce curriculum changes overnight. Change marking criteria on a whim. Shift grade boundaries by diktat. And wilfully denigrate the professionalism of teachers.

Event: Breakthroughs in Education and Social Mobility Research: Isabel V. Sawhill

American Institute for Resaerch, via a kind email:

For low-income and minority students, education is the key to success and upward mobility. But evidence has shown in past decades that education has not been acting as the Great Equalizer. The Breakthroughs in Education and Social Mobility Research speaker series brings to light the most promising research illuminating the educational pathways to upward mobility. The series features some of the nation’s top scholars who are uncovering innovative and insightful evidence about what inhibits and enhances mobility.

The series will contribute to a new synthesis of findings informing education and social mobility policy and practice in the coming years. This goal is aligned with the long-term mission of the Equity Project at AIR, which is to work with others to open the doors of opportunity for all children and young adults. Please join us in welcoming our first speaker, Isabel V. Sawhill.

This Free App Uses Your Smartphone’s Camera to Do Your Math Homework for You

DL Cade:

Your smartphone’s camera might fall short of the typical DSLR in just about every respect, but there is one thing it now do that not even your ultra-portable mirrorless camera can handle: your math homework.

No, we’re not talking about shutting down the camera and opening your calculator app, what we’re talking about is PhotoMath, a new app from MicroBLINK that uses your smartphone camera to solve equations for you.

Either a great study aid, or a terrifying new cheating tool that teachers the world over will now have to contend with, PhotoMath is no slouch. Check out the demo below if you don’t believe us:

Elections, Rhetoric & Madison’s Planned $454,000,000 2014-2015 Budget That Features a 4.2% Property Tax Increase

Molly Beck:

Mary Burke faces a key vote on the Madison School Board on Monday a week before the gubernatorial election: whether or not to back a $454 million budget that raises taxes and delivers a 1 percent base pay raise to teachers.

Burke, challenging incumbent Gov. Scott Walker in a tight race, declined Tuesday to say how she’d vote. But she pointed out to reporters that she voted against a preliminary version of the budget that included a smaller tax increase than the final proposal to be voted on Monday.
“We did have a preliminary budget earlier that had a similar type of tax increase and I voted against it because I thought it wasn’t being as responsible as we need to be to the taxpayers in Madison,” Burke said Tuesday before casting an early ballot for the Nov. 4 election. “Certainly that issue will come up Monday night.”

If she backs the budget, she risks giving ammunition to Walker and other Republicans in a race that is going down to the wire.

Much more, here.

2014-2015 Madison School District budget notes and links.

For More Teens, Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline

Gary Fields & John Emshwiller:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Madison Plans 4.2% Property Tax Increase

Molly Beck:

The Madison School District property tax levy would increase by 4.2 percent under the district’s final budget proposal.

That’s up from a 2 percent increase contained in the district’s preliminary budget approved in June.

The final 2014-15 district budget, which must be adopted by the School Board by Nov. 1, also includes a slight bump in the salary increase district staff were expecting this school year.

If approved, teachers will see a 1 percent raise in their base pay for the 2014-15 school year, a slight increase from the 0.75 percent increase the preliminary district budget included when it was adopted by the School Board in June. The salary increase is in addition to increases staff receive based on their level of education, training and years spent teaching, which brings the total increase to about 2.4 percent, according to assistant superintendent for business services Michael Barry.

Madison spends more than $15k annually per student, about double the national average. Yet, the District has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

A comparable Middleton home’s property taxes are 16% less than Madison.

American Schools Are Training Kids for a World That Doesn’t Exist

Davud Edwards:

Are Americans getting dumber?

Our math skills are falling. Our reading skills are weakening. Our children have become less literate than children in many developed countries. But the crisis in American education may be more than a matter of sliding rankings on world educational performance scales.

Our kids learn within a system of education devised for a world that increasingly does not exist.

To become a chef, a lawyer, a philosopher or an engineer, has always been a matter of learning what these professionals do, how and why they do it, and some set of general facts that more or less describe our societies and our selves. We pass from kindergarten through twelfth grade, from high school to college, from college to graduate and professional schools, ending our education at some predetermined stage to become the chef, or the engineer, equipped with a fair understanding of what being a chef, or an engineer, actually is and will be for a long time.

We “learn,” and after this we “do.” We go to school and then we go to work.

In Context: The big business of high school sports


Illinois based-Paragon Marketing Group is working on a deal to bring high school football to a national audience. The group – which brought LeBron James’s high school basketball games to TV – is currently in negotiations with several states and ESPN to bring some type of high school football playoff to television. ESPN wouldn’t comment on the negotiations, with Paragon saying the talks are ongoing and private.

Yet, at least one contract between Paragon and one of the states it’s working with has been made public: Florida officials have agreed to let two state high schools participate in such a playoff each year.

Paragon Marketing Group will pay the Florida High School Athletic Association $10,000 each year for allowing the state’s schools to participate in a national playoff or bowl series. If two or more teams from Florida are picked to participate by Paragon, the Florida High School Athletic Association would receive $40,000.

Meanwhile, Florida high schools participating in a playoff will receive $12,500 for appearing in the game, and another $25,000 in merchandising fees. Paragon Marketing, the group organizing the event has until October 31st to cancel a playoff or high school bowl series this year, according to the contract the team signed with Florida.

School Standards Rebellion

Stephanie Simon:

Florida students no longer need chemistry, physics or Algebra II to graduate from high school. Texas just scrapped its Algebra II requirement. And the Washington state board of education last month reversed its own resolution calling for a foreign language mandate, over concerns that it appeared too elitist.

A standards rebellion — or in the eyes of the opponents, the dumbing down of America — is sweeping red states and blue, promoted by both Republicans and Democrats. President Barack Obama has called for a rigorous college-prep curriculum for all students. States, however, are responding with defiance: They’re letting teens study welding instead of Spanish, take greenhouse management in place of physics and learn car repair instead of muddling over imaginary numbers.

It’s a cold, hard fact: our world is becoming a better place

Max Roser:

Is it actually true that we are building a better world? Or are those who claim that things are always getting worse the ones in the right? Whether we’re discussing the way of the world over a pint in the pub or dissecting the issues at an academic conference, it’s a topic that lingers constantly: how is the world changing?

The evidence to answer these questions is out there, but it is often obscured by media headlines. So we created to present long-term data on how our world is changing. Using empirical data, visualised in graphs, we tell the history of the world that we live in, looking at long-term economic, social and environmental trends. For each topic the quality of the data is discussed and comprehensive lists of the data sources are provided, giving a trustworthy and transparent starting point for researchers.

Harnessing depression: A writer’s journey

Dave Girard:

Last November, my father took his own life. I’m frequently aware of the fact that the depression which helped drive him to that dark fate lives on in my genes. That’s a doozy of a legacy to inherit, but it’s one that has not been wholly negative for me.

Getting to the point where I could write this article involved a series of debates. I debated talking about my father’s suicide; I debated “outing” myself as a depression sufferer; I debated not talking about it and what that meant. I decided in the end that I would be the worst kind of hypocrite if I believed that dialog about depression was essential but was unwilling to start that dialog myself. I hope that my story can help others understand why the traits that cause depression have been both a plague and a gift to so many.

Nothing’s easy when talking about depression. Navigating this sensitive topic is fraught with traps and taboos that can make Israel the good option at dinner discussion. But this dialog is important, and hopefully we can lift the grim veil that hangs over this subject before disaster strikes someone we know and love. Even as it goes underreported, suicide now kills more people than car accidents in the US.

Technology or Reading? Top Down vs. BYOD in Madison

Pat Schneider

The Madison Metropolitan School District is launching a $27 million initiative that by 2018-19 will provide each student in grades second through twelve with a wireless computing device. Students in kindergarten and first grade will have computing access at a 2 to 1 ratio of students to devices.

But the MMSD tech plan does not include any additional technical support positions.

“We do need to make sure to have good technological support in place — it’s something we’ll have to monitor,” Andrew Statz, the district’s chief information and information technology officer told the school board early this year. But other school districts going to 1 to 1 computing are not hiring additional tech staff, Statz said.

Although now retired school board member Marj Passman suggested the ratio of tech support staff to devices would become unmanageable with the addition of thousands of new devices, Statz said things will be different because the new equipment will be leased, not owned by the school district.

“When you are looking at leased equipment, when something is faulty with the equipment, part of the lease is replacing it,” he said. “We’ve also identified an opportunity to create a course for students to take for credit that’s like the AV club back in the day — an opportunity for students who are interested to identify themselves, be supervised and get some real world experience,” he said.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that our monolithic public schools are planning to adopt a technology approach largely built around those of the now declining PC era.

It would seem that supporting (and perhaps subsidizing) a BYOD (bring your own device) model might be far more effective from a personal responsibility, cost and support perspective.

The District’s past Infinite Campus implementation experience (expensive and not required…) does not bode well for this new scheme.

How Income Share Agreements Could Play a Role in Higher Ed Financing

Beth Akers:

In response to growing concerns over the issue of higher education finance, policy makers, advocates, and entrepreneurs have developed and proposed an array of solutions to address the shortcomings of our current system. Income Share Agreements (ISAs) are one such proposal that deserves more attention. ISAs allow students to raise funds to pay for their degrees by selling “shares” in their future earnings. This solution is sometimes dismissed as a gimmick, akin to indentured servitude, despite the fact that it has the potential to offer improvements over traditional loans in terms of shielding students from risk and providing information about quality, two widely held objectives among advocates and policy makers.

ISAs are financial instruments that can be administered by the government or by private financial institutions, just like loans, savings accounts and insurance policies. Their defining characteristic is that an individual gains access to capital, cash to pay for college, in exchange for a promise that they will pay back a fraction of their earnings for a prescribed period of time to the entity that administered the agreement. Unlike a loan, where the total to be repaid is known up front, individuals who use ISAs to “borrow” money will pay back an amount that depends on their actual earnings. A graduate who earns less than expected will pay back less than the full amount of the initial funding, while graduates who earn more than expected will pay back more than their share. ISAs are not broadly used in the United States, but are being used in a few particular settings, including trade schools that train web developers in exchange of 18% of their first-year income, and a non-profit who funds low-income students in California.

From Isaac Newton to the Genius Bar: Why it’s time to retire the concept of genius.

Darron McMahon:

Geniuses are a dying breed.

And yet, they seem to be all around us. We live at a time when commentators speak without irony of “ordinary genius” and claim to find it everywhere. From the “genius bar” at the local Apple Store to bestselling books that trumpet “the genius in all of us,” geniuses seem to abound. But if we consider the idea of “genius” as it has evolved across history, it starts to look like we don’t really need geniuses as we once did. It may be that we don’t need them at all. The increasing banality of genius in the contemporary world has begun to dissolve it as a useful category.

The modern genius emerged in 18th-century Europe as the focal point of a secular devotion of the sort previously reserved for saints. Like the prophets of old, these geniuses were conceived as higher beings endowed with natural gifts—intelligence, creativity, and insight took the place of grace. They, too, were granted a privileged place in the order of creation. As one astounded contemporary asked of Isaac Newton, among the first exemplars of the modern genius, “Does he eat, drink, and sleep like other men?” His virtues, commented another, “proved him a Saint [whose] discoveries might well pass for miracles.” Newton had revealed the laws of the universe—had he not?—he had seen into the mind of God.

Just like their saintly predecessors, the bodies of “geniuses” were treated as holy relics. Upon his death in 1727, Newton was buried in Westminster Abbey, resting place of the saints, and though his skull and bones were left intact (contemporaries marveled instead at his tomb, his death mask, and the many items he had owned and touched), the remains of other geniuses were picked over and venerated as the relics of the special dead. Three of Galileo’s fingers were detached when his body was exhumed in 1737; Voltaire’s heart and brain were absconded with at his death in 1778. Admirers fashioned rings from the repatriated bones of René Descartes during the French Revolution, and the skull of the great German poet Schiller was housed in a special shrine in the library of the Duke of Weimar in the early 19th century.

Adoptees reaching out to Hong Kong birth parents

Alice Woodhouse:

Almost 50 years ago, two-week-old Serena Sussex was found abandoned in a cardboard box in a Sai Ying Pun stairwell.

Last week Sussex, now a 49-year-old artist, visited the building on Hing Hon Road where she was found and said she wanted to reassure local birth mothers that their children could lead happy lives.

“I want to let mums that were forced or had to abandon [their children] due to their circumstances know that a lot of adoptees are very happy. If they wanted to get in touch there is an opportunity for them to find us,” Sussex said.

“I would have liked to have known my birth mother, who she was and what she is doing now.”

Sussex was 2½ years old when a British family adopted her and moved to the United Kingdom. She is now an award-winning artist based in Brighton, southern England, whose oil paintings are in exhibitions and collections across the world.

She spent her early years at the Chuk Yuen Children’s Reception in Wong Tai Sin, East Kowloon, where she believes there was little stimulation. She said her new parents had to teach her to cry and her speech was impaired.

Should You Go to College?

Kathleen Geier, Nancy Folbre, Anna Clark and Susan Feiner

Should you go to college? The answer used to be self-evident: college was a path to upward mobility, a ticket to middle-class adulthood. Higher education played a particularly critical role for women looking to secure independence through financial stability. But increasingly, stories about college focus on the relentless burden of student debt and efforts to channel students toward majors that will help them beat the ugly job market. In this installment of The Curve, Anna Clark, Susan Feiner, Nancy Folbre and host Kathleen Geier do the math, exploring the role that colleges play in breaking or boosting the class hierarchy in today’s economic landscape.

Anna Clark: You can’t use the word “debt” without stumbling on its double meaning. A seemingly simple term for money owed, it is steeped in morality. “Forgive us our debts” goes the Christian prayer, meaning “sins.” As David Graeber points out, our language of business depends on our language of ethics. “Reckoning,” “forgiveness,” “accountability” and “redemption” refer to both the state of our soul and our credit status. Our understanding of who owes what to whom defines our vocabulary for right and wrong. History is as much a story of lenders and borrowers as it is a story of rich and poor.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Across Wisconsin, uneven property assessments fly in the face of fairness

Raquel Rutledge and Kevin Crowe

James Fleischman and his wife, Barbara, have lived in their five-bedroom ranch on Applewood Drive in Glendale for about three decades.

In recent years, the assessed value of their house hovered around $331,400, and they paid about the same in property taxes as their next-door neighbor.

But when the four-bedroom Cape Cod next door sold last year, all that changed. The assessor slashed the value from $319,400 to $249,900, a drop of nearly 22%.

That cut shaved $1,642 off the new owners’ tax bill.

When the Fleischmans opened their bill, they owed $640 more. In fact, all the residents of Glendale whose property values didn’t go down paid more.
Gary Porter
This Glendale home owned by James and Barbara Fleischman has had the same assessed value for years while the assessed value of a neighbor’s house dropped significantly after a sale.

That change in their neighbor’s value didn’t account for all of the Fleischmans’ tax increase. Glendale officials had increased the overall tax levy, and the assessor had lowered a smattering of other residential properties.

But the change violated the state constitution, which was crafted to make the tax burden fair. Assessors are not supposed to modify values of individual properties based on market conditions unless they are revaluing entire neighborhoods or communities.

Yet assessors are doing it.


Voucher Politics & Commentary

Alan Borsuk:

What about Burke wanting to kibosh that small statewide program, while leaving the Milwaukee and Racine program alone (except, she says, she’ll take steps to deal with low-quality voucher schools)? If you oppose one voucher program, shouldn’t you oppose them all?

My reading of it is as simple as saying the statewide program is small and not yet deeply rooted. It’s vulnerable.

Undoing Milwaukee and Racine vouchers — especially Milwaukee – would most likely be a nightmare, as a practical matter. MPS is not ready to take on a flood of new kids and the impact on the state budget would be substantial. The Milwaukee and Racine programs are now deeply rooted. Parents like their schools. The fight over cutting off vouchers would be epic.

The political realities on vouchers for either Burke or Walker are almost sure to be difficult next year. Burke most likely would face an all-Republican or split legislature where she’ll have a ton of problems. Killing the statewide voucher program may be undoable.

For Walker, even with a Republican-controlled legislature, the same may be true when it comes to expanding vouchers. Too much opposition and too much cost would spell, at most, a small expansion for the statewide program, I bet.

As much as advocates on both sides of the voucher debate dream of big victories – unlimited vouchers or the death of vouchers – my guess is we’re in the zone where we’re going to stay. These programs will continue to be hot potatoes, but changing the potato recipe is not going to be easy.

Walker and Burke both know that, best as I can see.

Much more on vouchers, here.

TCR Academic Coaches

Via a kind Will Fitzhugh email:

The Concord Review Academic Coaching Service, founded in 2014, provides individual online guidance for students worldwide in writing high-caliber history and social-science research papers of around 6,000 words or more. Our service provides the necessary support for high school students who are able to and interested in going academically above and beyond what their schools require. Students will be assigned one coach online, whose availability and historical expertise matches their needs. Our coaches are past Concord Review authors and often Emerson Prize winners who currently attend or have graduated from Columbia, the University of Chicago, New York University, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Working with their coach, students will improve in academic writing, a skill necessary for any career path, to stand out in college and other competitive program admissions, and to excel in high school and beyond. We work with students writing papers outside of class and students writing International Baccalaureate Extended Essays, and on papers for any class where academic non-fiction writing is important. If you are interested in and/or have questions about The Concord Review Academic Coaching Service, please contact or


Identifying The Worst Colleges In America

Claudio Sanchez:

For years,Washington Monthly has been rating and ranking the nation’s colleges.

But for its 2014 edition, the magazine has done something new. It has put out a list of what it says are the nation’s worst colleges. That is, schools with high tuition, low graduation rates and high student debt rates.

Consider the case of Ferrum College, a small, private, liberal arts school in southern Virginia. As the magazine points out, the school accepts over 90 percent of the kids who apply every year, but barely half ever come back for their second or sophomore year.

Ferrum students borrow more, default on their loans more and are less likely to graduate, compared with similar institutions. That’s why Ferrum finds itself on the magazine’s “worst” list.

An Education on School Funding

Phil Kadner:

If a politician opens his mouth to talk about school funding in Illinois, chances are good he’s lying.

That’s the one hard and fast recommendation I have for voters and taxpayers after writing about education financing in this state for nearly 25 years.

It holds true for the current election for governor, where both candidates are promising to improve public school funding. It’s all about helping the children, don’t you know.

I was the first to expose the shell game that state legislators played with state lottery money, which was sold to the public for many years (via radio commercials) as a way of financing public education.

Jargon Commentary: competency-based education

Ray Henderson:

One issue I’ve noticed, however, is that many schools are looking to duplicate the solution of CBE without understanding the the problems and context that allowed WGU, CfA and Excelsior to thrive. By looking at the three main CBE initiatives, it is important to note at least three lessons that are significant factors in their success to date, and these lessons are readily available but perhaps not well-understood.

Lesson 1: CBE as means to address specific student population

None of the main CBE programs were designed to target a general student population or to offer just another modality. In all three cases, their first consideration was how to provide education to working adults looking to finish a degree, change a career, or advance a career.

How Apple’s Siri Became One Autistic Boy’s B.F.F.

Judith Newman:

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything.

Teachers Unions Are Putting Themselves On November’s Ballot

Haley Sweetland Edwards:

While many political power brokers have quietly agreed this year’s midterms are big snooze—boring, uncreative, and largely meaningless—the teachers unions stand out as a loud, insistent counterpoint.

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union, is on track to spend between $40 million and $60 million this election cycle, while the smaller American Federation of Teachers (AFT) plans to pony up an additional $20 million—more than the organization has spent on any other past cycle, including high-spending presidential election years.

School Superintendents: Vital or Irrelevant?

Matthew M. Chingos, Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst & Katharine M. Lindquist:

Superintendents are highly visible actors in the American education system. As the highest ranking official in a school district, the superintendent receives a lot of credit when things go well, and just as much blame when they don’t. But should they?

Research emerging over the past decade has provided strong evidence of the substantial effects that teachers have on their students’ achievement. More recent findings suggest that principals also have meaningful, albeit smaller, effects on student achievement. However, there is almost no quantitative research that addresses the impact of superintendents on student achievement. This report provides some of the first empirical evidence on the topic.

In an earlier report, Do School Districts Matter, we found a small but educationally meaningful association between the school district in which a student is educated and learning outcomes. The present report addresses the extent to which these district effects are due to the district leader vs. characteristics of districts that are independent of their superintendents. We do so by examining five specific questions using K-12 student-level administrative data from the states of Florida and North Carolina for the school years 2000-01 to 2009-10:

On Remedial Math

Ron Schacter

Many of the graduates entering college from New York’s Hampton Bays High School in 2011 weren’t ready for higher education math.

At neighboring Suffolk County Community College, 68 percent of the first-year students from Hampton Bays had to take remedial math.

“These numbers were horrifying to us and created a real sense of urgency,” says Denise Sullivan, the assistant superintendent for curriculum at the Hampton Bays Schools.

Sullivan approached the college president to discuss the problem and forged an innovative partnership.

In an uncommon move, Sullivan and the chair of the mathematics department at the college created a high school course that mirrors the remedial class that students deficient in math have to take when they start college.

The college was “thrilled.” “Nobody else was taking this approach,” Sullivan says. The college had found that only 20 percent of the students who entered in need of developmental courses went on to graduate.

Related: Math Forum audio & video.

Why Germany Is So Much Better at Training Its Workers

Tamar Jacoby:

At last, unemployment is easing. But the latest low rate—hovering below 6 percent–obscures a deeper, longer-term problem: “skills mismatches” in the labor force, which will only worsen in years to come. According to the most recent figures, 9.3 million Americans are unemployed, but 4.8 million jobs stand empty because employers can’t find people to fill them. With new technology transforming work across a range of sectors, more and more businesses are struggling to find workers with the skills to man new machines and manage new processes.

One solution has enchanted employers, educators, and policymakers on both sides of the aisle: European-style apprenticeship. The Obama administration is about to announce $100 million worth of apprenticeship grants—and wants to spend another $6 billion over the next four years. Meanwhile, lawmakers as different as Democratic Senator Cory Booker and Republican Senator Marco Rubio have expressed interest in the idea.

Americans should proceed with caution.

A New Kind of College Rating System

Paul LeBlanc:

Many of my fellow college presidents remain worried about the Obama Administration’s proposed (and still being developed) rating system for higher education. While Education Department officials have been responsive and thoughtful about our concerns, many among us fundamentally do not trust government to get this right.

Or anyone, for that matter. After all, we already have lots of rating systems and they mostly seem flawed — some, like U.S. News and World Report, extremely so. Institutions game the system in various ways. Rarely do rating systems capture the complexity of the industry with its rich mix of institutions, missions, and student markets served. Almost always, they are deeply reductionist.

Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Finds

Douglas Quenqua:

It has been nearly 20 years since a landmark education study found that by age 3, children from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than more affluent children, putting them at an educational disadvantage before they even began school. The findings led to increased calls for publicly funded prekindergarten programs and dozens of campaigns urging parents to get chatty with their children.

Now, a growing body of research is challenging the notion that merely exposing poor children to more language is enough to overcome the deficits they face. The quality of the communication between children and their parents and caregivers, the researchers say, is of much greater importance than the number of words a child hears.

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the pre-eminence of high school sports

Laura Waters:

Last week seven high school football players from Sayreville War Memorial High School were charged with aggravated criminal sexual contact through a series of brutal hazing rituals. This wrenching news made headlines in the New York Times, CNN, London’s Daily Mail, and Australia’s International Business Times. If you google “Sayreville War Memorial High School + hazing” you’ll get over one million hits.

The plethora of news reports describes the details of the Sayreville assaults that occur every year in the beginning of the football season. First a senior player howls and turns out the lights in the locker room. Then, according to a parent of a player who requested anonymity, “in the darkness, a freshman football player would be pinned to the locker-room floor, his arms and feet held down by multiple upperclassmen.” After that, the victim would be hauled to his feet and one of the perpetrators would force his finger into the victim’s rectum and then stick that finger in the victim’s mouth.

Apply for a Teacher Scholarship to Raft the Canyon with NCSE


Apply for an all-expenses-paid eight-day raft trip down the Grand Canyon with the National Center for Science Education! Winners will receive free airfare, lodging before and after the trip, and the trip of a lifetime, exploring the wonders of Grand Canyon with a team of scientists, educators, and science fans. The application form is at the bottom of the page, but please review this information on eligibility, requirements, and what to expect from the trip before submitting an application. Contact with any questions. The deadline for applications is January 5, 2015.

If you are interested in helping teachers participate in this adventure of a lifetime, you can donate to the Scholarship Fund.

The Ivy League is ripping off America!

Robert Reich

Imagine a system of college education supported by high and growing government spending on elite private universities that mainly educate children of the wealthy and upper-middle class, and low and declining government spending on public universities that educate large numbers of children from the working class and the poor.

You can stop imagining. That’s the American system right now.

Government subsidies to elite private universities take the form of tax deductions for people who make charitable contributions to them. In economic terms a tax deduction is the same as government spending. It has to be made up by other taxpayers.

A Cure for Hyper-Parenting

Pamela Druckerman:

I recently spent the afternoon with some Norwegians who are making a documentary about French child-rearing. Why would people in one of the world’s most successful countries care how anyone else raises kids?

In Norway “we have brats, child kings, and many of us suffer from hyper-parenting. We’re spoiling them,” explained the producer, a father of three. The French “demand more of their kids, and this could be an inspiration to us.”

I used to think that only Americans and Brits did helicopter parenting. In fact, it’s now a global trend. Middle-class Brazilians, Chileans, Germans, Poles, Israelis, Russians and others have adopted versions of it too. The guilt-ridden, sacrificial mother — fretting that she’s overdoing it, or not doing enough — has become a global icon. In “Parenting With Style,” a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the economists Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti say intensive parenting springs from rising inequality, because parents know there’s a bigger payoff for people with lots of education and skills. (France is a rare rich country where helicoptering isn’t the norm.)

The Surprising Problem of Too Much Talent

Cindi May:

Whether you’re the owner of the Dallas Cowboys or captain of the playground dodge ball team, the goal in picking players is the same: Get the top talent. Hearts have been broken, allegiances tested, and budgets busted as teams contend for the best athletes. The motivation for recruiting peak performers is obvious — exceptional players are the key to team success — and this belief is shared not only by coaches and sports fans, but also by corporations, investors, and even whole industries. Everyone wants a team of stars.

While there is no denying that exceptional players like Emmitt Smith can put points on the board and enhance team success, new research by Roderick Swaab and colleagues suggests there is a limit to the benefit top talents bring to a team. Swaab and colleagues compared the amount of individual talent on teams with the teams’ success, and they find striking examples of more talent hurting the team.

Study Finds Many Colleges Don’t Require Core Subjects Like History, Government

Douglas Belkin:

A majority of U.S. college graduates don’t know the length of a congressional term, what the Emancipation Proclamation was, or which Revolutionary War general led the American troops at Yorktown.

The reason for such failures, according to a recent study: Few schools mandate courses in core subjects like U.S. government, history or economics. The sixth annual analysis of core curricula at 1,098 four-year colleges and universities by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that just 18% of schools require American history to graduate, 13% require a foreign language and 3% economics.

Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?

Douglas Quenqua, via a kind reader:

Clifford the Big Red Dog looks fabulous on an iPad. He sounds good, too — tap the screen and hear him pant as a blue truck roars into the frame. “Go, truck, go!” cheers the narrator.

But does this count as story time? Or is it just screen time for babies?

It is a question that parents, pediatricians and researchers are struggling to answer as children’s books, just like all the other ones, migrate to digital media.

For years, child development experts have advised parents to read to their children early and often, citing studies showing its linguistic, verbal and social benefits. In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors to remind parents at every visit that they should read to their children from birth, prescribing books as enthusiastically as vaccines and vegetables.

The 5 Least-Flattering Details in Report on San Jose State’s Tech Spending

Steve Kolowich:

San Jose State University’s spending on technology over the past year has made the campus ground zero for heated discussions about how university leaders should try to innovate—and the role faculty members should play in those decisions. And it hasn’t been pretty: Just five months ago Mohammad H. Qayoumi, the president, had to apologize for bypassing “longstanding SJSU consultation practices” in his attempt to move quickly toward his goal of “engaging SJSU with Silicon Valley.”

That was in May. Now the San Jose Mercury News has published an article that lends more context to how Mr. Qayomi’s administration lost the faith of the rank and file.

According to the article, Mr. Qayoumi struck a sweetheart deal worth $28-million with Cisco Systems, the locally based technology giant, to overhaul the campus’s communications infrastructure. San Jose State did not take other bids for the contract, which draws on the university’s operating budget (among other sources) to fund tech upgrades that critics say are either unnecessary or available at much lower prices from other providers.