The Robots Are Coming

John Lanchester:

So what’s going to happen now? Your preferred answer depends on your view of history, though it also depends on whether you think the lessons of history are useful in economics. The authors of these books are interested in history, but plenty of economists aren’t; a hostility to history is, to an outsider, a peculiarly strong bias in the field. It’s connected, I suspect, to an ambition to be considered a science. If economics is a science, the lessons of history are ‘in the equations’ – they are already incorporated in the mathematical models. I don’t think it’s glib to say that a reluctance to learn from history is one of the reasons economics is so bad at predicting the future.

One historically informed view of the present moment says that the new industrial revolution has already happened. Computers are not a new invention, yet their impact on economic growth has been slow to manifest itself. Bob Solow, another Nobel laureate quoted by Brynjolfsson and McAfee, observed as long ago as 1987 that ‘we see the computer age everywhere, except in the productivity statistics.’ The most thorough and considered version of this argument is in the work of Robert Gordon, an American economist who in 2012 published a provocative and compelling paper called ‘Is US Economic Growth Over?’ in which he contrasted the impact of computing and information technology with the effect of the second industrial revolution, between 1875 and 1900, which brought electric lightbulbs and the electric power station, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, radio, recorded music and cinema.​3 As he points out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, it also introduced ‘running water and indoor plumbing, the greatest event in the history of female liberation, as women were freed from carrying literally tons of water each year’. (A non-economist might be tempted to ask why it was the women were carrying the water in the first place.) Gordon’s view is that we coasted on the aftermaths and sequelae of these inventions until about 1970, when

The Soviet Science System

Michael Gordon:

Gather a crowd of historians and philosophers of science into a room and ask them to define “science.” On second thought, don’t try this at home, because you’d likely meet with stony-faced refusal on the part of the first and raucous disagreement from the second. Yet isn’t the task rather straightforward? Isn’t this just another classic instance of academics creating mountains out of molehills? Actually, no. The problem is fiendishly frustrating (and likely intractable) simply because of the kind of activity science actually turns out to be in practice.

Consider, for example, what it clearly isn’t. Science cannot be simply a collection of true propositions about nature. Most of what has counted uncontroversially as “science” during the past few centuries—geocentric astronomy, phlogiston chemistry, ether physics, the inheritance of acquired characteristics— is now considered to be false. Even worse, much of what we now consider to be science is doubtless going to be proven false, since nature was unkind enough to deny us the answer key. Science is also not merely the proper execution of method, both because various disciplines display a whole hodgepodge of different methods, and also because one can apply all the accepted methodology and come up with doctrines (parapsychology, eugenics, phrenology) that we would with alacrity exclude. The problem gets worse when you go farther back in time or across cultures. Mayan astronomy, Classical Chinese alchemy, Hippocratic medicine—all these are rather distinct from what we now consider to be “science,” and yet it strikes most scholars as rather churlish to dismiss them. No one has been able to come up with a broadly consensual definition of science, and I am certainly not about to do so here.f

The Black Family in 1965 and Today

Steve Chapman:

The breakdown of the black family is a sensitive topic, though it’s not new and it’s not in dispute. President Barack Obama, who grew up with an absent father, often urges black men to be responsible parents.

Nor is there any doubt that African-American children would be better off living with their married parents. Kids who grow up in households headed by a single mother are far more likely than others to be poor, quit school, get pregnant as teens and end up in jail.

But these facts were once inflammatory. Fifty years ago next month, a Labor Department official named Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a paper titled, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” which argued that “a tangle of pathology” afflicting black communities had emerged because “the Negro family in the urban ghettos is crumbling.” His key fact: Nearly one-fourth of black babies were born to unwed mothers.

Dumping the Evidence: Remind Me Again Why Anti-Testing is “Progressive”?

Lynnell Mickelsen:

Indeed, the school reform movement does fall down without the data. So do the movements around climate change, civil rights, public health, banking reform, industrial safety, economic justice and more.

So it’s odd for a progressive outfit like Alternet (which is run by the former publisher of Mother Jones) and others to be cheering on the loss of data when it comes to the systematic failure of children of color in our traditional public schools.

Lawmaker wants to bill K-12 for college remediation

Alisha Kirby:

(Tenn.) As the cost and challenge of preparing college-ready students escalates and puts new burdens on higher education – one lawmaker is proposing that districts should pay for remedial courses high school graduates must take in college.

Community colleges in Tennessee spent an estimated $18.5 million last year on remedial courses such as reading, writing and math so students could catch up before taking college-level courses.

SB 526, authored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, would require districts to reimburse colleges for the catch-up courses for students who graduated within 16 months of taking a remedial course. It excludes those who returned to college after taking time off.

Some experts say it sounds reasonable but in the end it’s more a matter of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

“At face value it’s a logical argument: The high schools are not doing their jobs, so let’s hold them accountable to make sure they do a better job,” said Bruce Vandal, vice president of advocacy group Complete College America. “But it creates a dysfunctional dynamic between K-12 and higher education that I think we’re beginning to realize is really not helpful.

“At the end of the day it doesn’t serve anybody’s purpose,” he continued. “Colleges aren’t really that excited about taking money if it means that they are disinvesting in K-12.”

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

Keith Hoeller:

In 2009, Money Magazine published a survey titled “The 50 Best Jobs in America.” Their reporters analyzed job data and conducted an online survey of thirty-five thousand people, taking into account such factors as salaries, flexibility, benefit to society, satisfaction, stress, job security, and growth prospects. The proverbial college professor sat high on the list at No. 3, with a median salary of $70,400 for nine months’ work, top pay of $115,000, and a ten-year growth prospect of 23 percent. College teaching earned “A” grades for flexibility, benefit to society, and satisfaction, and a “B” for job stress, with 59 percent of surveyed professors reporting low stress.

While acknowledging that “competition for tenure-track positions at four-year institutions is intense,” Money claimed that graduate students with only a master’s degree could find a part-time teaching job: “You’ll find lots of available positions at community colleges and professional programs, where you can enter the professoriate as an adjunct faculty member or non-tenure-track instructor without a doctorate degree.”

Similarly, the 2000 “American Faculty Poll” conducted by the academic pension giant Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) seemed to corroborate the high job satisfaction rate for professors. “The poll found that 90 percent of the faculty members surveyed were satisfied with their career choices and would probably make the same decisions again,” reported Courtney Leatherman, in her Chronicle of Higher Education story about the survey.

Education ‘experts’ may lack expertise, study finds

The people most often cited as “education experts” in blogs and news stories may have the backing of influential organizations – but have little background in education and education policy, a new study suggests.

The findings are cause for concern because some prominent interest groups are promoting reform agendas and striving to influence policymakers and public opinion using individuals who have substantial media relations skills but little or no expertise in education research, say the authors of the study, Joel R. Malin and Christopher Lubienski, both at the University of Illinois.

To examine possible links between individuals’ media presence and their levels of expertise, Malin and Lubienski compiled a diverse list of nearly 300 people who appeared on the lists of experts prepared by several major education advocacy and policy organizations, including the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the liberal National Education Policy Center.

Malin and Lubienski also added to their sample a handful of scholars not on those lists but who are prominent and influential in the field of education.

Senate higher ed chair wants to make colleges earn tuition increases

Benjamin Wermund:

Seliger’s bill, filed Wednesday, would allow for tuition increases only if schools meet performance measures like four- and six-year graduation rates, first-to-second year persistence rates, first-generation college graduates, and percent of lower division semester credit hours taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty members.

Institutional targets for each of these metrics are recommended by the institutions, reviewed by the Legislative Budget Board, and approved by the Legislature, under Seliger’s bill.

Seliger’s approach marries the push to regulate tuition with calls from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to create performance hurdles for schools to earn funding.

“This bill ensures that tuition increases are justified by progress and production in rigorous standards and I expect universities to perform in exceptional fashion,” Seliger said in a statement. “Performance Based Tuition reflects the diversity in missions at our colleges and universities.”

Madison’s German School

German School of Madison

The German School of Madison — Deutsche Schule Madison is a parent-founded non-profit organization located in Madison, Wisconsin. We offer affordable, high-quality German language classes for children with and without prior knowledge of German, taught at Neighborhood House Community Center (29. S. Mills Street). Our teachers are native or near-native speakers, with advanced degrees and extensive teaching experience.We also organize preschool classes for small children (“Deutsche Dachse”), social activities for teens, and family-friendly cultural events for German-speaking families in the Madison area.

We are working with the Central Agency for Schools Abroad (Zentralstelle für das Auslandsschulwesen, ZfA) towards being recognized as a member of the PASCH-Network, an initiative of the German Federal Foreign Office, and as a school authorized to administer tests for the German Language Diploma (Deutsches Sprachdiplom, DSD) and comparison exams (Vergleichsarbeiten).

Nice to see.

However, unlike Minneapolis or Milwaukee, Madison students lack full time German language immersion (charter) school options.

Finding cheaters using multiple-choice comparisons

Jonathan Dishoff:

An interesting method by which I found out that people were cheating on my final exam.


I use different versions of midterm examinations to discourage cheating in my population biology class (~200 students). When the course started, I used to do the same thing for the final exam, but it was a little more complicated, because the final exam is administered by the registrar’s office, not by me and my teaching team.

At some point, somebody advised me not to bother with versions: the registrar’s office is supposed to be professional about administration, and they usually mix people who are taking different exams in the same room, so I stopped bothering with different versions for the final exam for a year or two. I do it again now, and you’ll see why.

The incident

In the year in question, my exam was given in two separate medium-sized rooms. My class was alone in these two rooms. I received a report from the invigilators in Room 1 about suspicious behaviour. They had warned a couple of students for acting strangely, and then warned them again. They weren’t prepared to say that they were sure that the students were cheating, but wanted me to compare their answer slates. In retrospect, they should have left the students alone until they were ready to sign a complaint against them (or until they had cheated enough to have it proved against them).

The College of Lost Arts

Amy Crawford:

Every student in the college majors in building arts, but can choose one of six specializations: architectural stone, carpentry, forged architectural iron, masonry, plasterwork, or timber framing. The college seeks to combine a traditional liberal arts curriculum with intensive crafts training, often teaching disciplines like history or math by way of the latter; for example, history is taught with an architectural history focus.

“The graduate here has learned both the art and the science of preservation and new construction,” says Colby M. Broadwater III, a retired Army lieutenant general brought in as president in 2008 to apply some military discipline to the school’s finances. “How to build a business, the drawing and drafting that underlies all of it … the language, the math that supports the building functions, the science of why materials fail—all of those things wrapped into a liberal arts and science education.”

Higher Academic Achievement May Require Higher Standards

Joe Yeado:

While at the gym last week, I overheard two fathers discussing the homework their elementary and middle school children were bringing home. The general feeling was that the homework was too hard and that students were being asked to do complex tasks in earlier grades than when the dads were kids. They lamented about how things are so different today – even teaching math differently!

But with parents, educators and employers saying that students are not academically prepared, there seems to be a disconnect between what people say they want in terms of educational attainment for our schoolchildren in general and what parents want in terms of educational demands on their kids.

Of the 65 developed countries that participate in the PISA international assessment of 15 year-olds, the United States ranked 36th in math, 28th in science and 24th in reading. Making things worse, the scores for U.S. students have actually fallen in each category since the last assessment in 2009. Without changes to our current education system, our students – and our country – will likely find it more challenging to compete.

An astonishingly small number of elite universities produce an overwhelming number of America’s professors.

Joel Warner and Aaron Clauset:

While elite universities, with their deep resources and demanding coursework, surely produce great professors, the data suggest that faculty hiring isn’t a simple meritocracy. The top schools generate far more professors than even just slightly less prestigious schools. For example, in history, the top 10 schools produce three times as many future professors as those ranked 11 through 20.

One explanation for this skewed hiring system is that lower-prestige institutions are trying to emulate their high-prestige brethren. For a university, the easiest way to burnish your reputation is to hire graduates from top schools, thereby importing a bit of what made these institutions elite in the first place, while signaling to prospective students and faculty that you attract top talent.

Another factor could be that it’s not easy for schools to evaluate job applicants on merit alone, because merit can be difficult to define or measure. In the tenure system, a professor might work at the same institution for 40 years. But when hiring for tenure-track positions, schools often have to guess about lifelong productivity based on just a few years of experience. Hiring faculty is therefore a high-stakes decision; while you can always deny someone tenure, doing so means you’ve wasted years nurturing talent that you don’t want to keep. With so much uncertainty involved in the process, it may be natural to go with what seems like a safe choice: an applicant trained at a high-prestige school, even at the expense of exciting candidates from slightly less elite institutions.

Parents: not happy about something at school? Here’s how to complain

Disappointed Idealist:

ne of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was from a friend in the restaurant business. If I were planning to complain about any part of my meal or service, he said, I should wait until I had eaten all I was going to eat that night. He illustrated this warning with examples of what can happen to food prepared for awkward customers, and so I’ve followed this advice ever since. It’s a good principle: don’t complain to people on whom you’re relying – unless there’s no way they can wipe your steak on their bum or drop a bogey in your soup.

As with restaurants, so with schools. The difference with schools is that you’re likely to be stuck with them for a lot longer than one meal. So think carefully before putting on your Mr Angry face and marching into the school for a spot of ranting.

The History of the Future of Education

Doug Holton:

It’s a refrain throughout my work: we are suffering from an amnesia of sorts, whereby we seem to have forgotten much of the history of technology. As such, we now tell these stories about the past, present, and future whereby all innovations emerge from Silicon Valley, all innovations are recent innovations, and there is no force for change other than entrepreneurial genius and/or the inevitability of “disruptive innovation.”

This amnesia seeps from technology into education and education technology. The rich and fascinating past of education is forgotten and erased in an attempt to tell a story about the future of education that emphasizes products not processes, the private not the public, “skills” not inquiry. The future of education technology therefore is the story of Silicon Valley and a handful of elite private universities because the history of education technology has always been the story of Silicon Valley and a handful of elite private universities. Or so the story goes.

I’ve been working on a book for a while now called Teaching Machines that explores the history of education technology in the twentieth century. And this year I’ve started a series on my blog, Hack Education, that also documents some of this lost or forgotten history. (I’ve looked at the origins of multiple choice tests and multiple choice testing machines, the parallels between the “Draw Me” ads and for-profit correspondence schools of the 1920s and today’s MOOCs, and the development of one of my personal favorite pieces of ed-tech, the Speak & Spell.) See, I’m exhausted by the claims by the latest batch of Silicon Valley ed-tech entrepreneurs and their investors that ed-tech is “new” and that education — I’m quoting from the New York Times here — “is one of the last industries to be touched by Internet technology.” Again, this is a powerful and purposeful re-telling and revising of history designed to shape the direction of the future.

The hidden story behind the code that runs our lives

Paul Voosen:

Magic has entered our world. In the pockets of many Americans today are thin black slabs that, somehow, understand and anticipate our desires. Linked to the digital cloud and satellites beyond, churning through personal data, these machines listen and assist, decoding our language, viewing and labeling reality with their cameras. This summer, as I walked to an appointment at the University of Toronto, stepping out of my downtown hotel into brisk hints of fall, my phone already had directions at hand. I asked where to find coffee on the way. It told me. What did the machine know? How did it learn? A gap broader than any we’ve known has opened between our use of technology and our understanding of it. How did the machine work? As I would discover, no one could say for certain. But as I walked with my coffee, I was on the way to meet the man most qualified to bridge the gap between what the machine knows and what you know.

Brand success in an era of Digital Darwinism

Jacques Bughin:

The challenges for brand-marketing executives will probably increase as consumers opt for more complete digital interactions. We found that the likelihood of brand conversion is lower for fully digital consumers than for experimenters. Specifically, when experimenters become aware of a brand, their conversion rate reaches about 40 percent. The conversion rate for fully digital consumers, by contrast, is only 25 percent.

More actively digital consumers are prone to abandon a brand midstream for a number of reasons. They are more likely to have joined Facebook, Twitter, or product-evaluation platforms for conversations about the qualities of products or services. The greater number of touchpoints before purchase increases the odds a consumer will encounter a deal breaker along the digital highway. What’s more, companies have less control over more digitally seasoned consumers, who initiate their prepurchase interactions independently. And since the level and influence of advertising in the social-media space have yet to reach the levels common in offline channels, brand messages are less likely to influence decisions.

Our research indicated, however, that some companies have managed to navigate this competitive turbulence successfully. To understand the differentiating factors for that success, we rated brands across four digital skills: the ability to create brand awareness among an unusually high share of digitally savvy consumers, to serve customers digitally during the purchase processes, to generate an online customer experience deemed at least as good as the offline one, and to track the digital comments of customers about their experience and to use those comments to improve it. We added the scores across these dimensions, compiling a digitization index that represents the weight of satisfactory touchpoints leading to a purchase across decision journeys.3

Many College Freshmen Plan for More than 4 Years of Higher Education

Sam Hayes:

of California, Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute, included 135,000 first-year students from 227 schools and various backgrounds. The survey was given during the fall 2014 semester.

Many students claim that they’ll need more than four years to complete their degree because they’re ambitious or need extra help getting ready for college.

The desire to pursue a double major, take remedial courses or to pursue non-classroom experiences were among the respondents’ reasons for taking more than four years, according to the press release.

One of the most telling factors for whether a student anticipates needing more than four years was the selectivity of the school they enrolled in.

About 30% of students at the most selective public four-year institutions predicted needing more time. However, 36% of freshmen at moderately selective schools and 42% of students at the least selective schools anticipated needing additional time to complete their degrees.

Universities that seek to maximize profits often minimize students’ education


Over the past decade, UMUC has slowly turned into a money-making venture in all but name. It is giving students with few higher education options a low-level college education, all for the sake of maximizing profit. By doing so, it is joining the likes of University of Phoenix and Kaplan University, who are also chasing the bottom-line over student satisfaction. There are other issues of profitability trumping quality education in higher education, including the intense focus on fundraising at institutions as varied as Stanford University and University of Texas-Austin. But with UMUC and perhaps other public institutions, though, this profitability focus has had an impact on the quality of teaching and learning available to students.

Last month, UMUC took its latest step towards redoing its public institution status. On 30 January, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents approved their request for semi-autonomy within the university system. This will allow UMUC to benefit from being part of a fully accredited state university system. Those benefits include continued access to federal higher education funds, less scrutiny from college accrediting organizations and remaining a school with a good reputation (as the public often mixes up UMUC with the University of Maryland at College Park, the state flagship campus). At the same time, this semi-autonomic status will allow UMUC administration to hire, fire and address faculty and staff grievances as they please, increase tuition without the need for state approval and exempt important records like retention and graduation rates from public disclosure.

Indiana School Choice Report

Indiana Department of Education (PDF):

This is the 2015 update to the Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report originally released on January 27, 2014. This version of the report includes updates for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years.
The report provides an overview of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, which was passed as part of House Enrolled Act 1003-2011(Public Law 92-2011) and provides Choice Scholarships to students in households that meet income and eligibility requirements. The program provides funds to assist with the payment of tuition and fees at a participating Choice School.

For the 2011-2012 school year, Choice Scholarships were limited to 7,500 students. For the 2012-2013 school year, Choice Scholarships were limited to 15,000 students. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, the student cap was removed and Choice Scholarships were available to any student that met eligibility and income requirements. During the 2013 Session of the Indiana General Assembly, the program was further expanded to include eligibility components related to special education, siblings, and failing schools.

Information on the School Choice Program may be found in I.C. 20-51, 512 IAC 3, and 512 IAC 4 or by accessing information on the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) website at the following link

Mexican Teachers Resist Their Own Brand of ‘Education Reform’

Jane Slaughter:

Disappointed tourists saw their flights canceled on January 10. “In previous actions, they’d taken the highways leading to the Oaxaca airport,” said teacher-trainer Maria Elena Ramírez Avendaño, “but this time they took the runways for the first time.”

The actions are part of a year-and-a-half-long fight against constitutional amendments that require teachers to take a national competitive exam every four years in order to keep their jobs—among other changes that teachers see as harmful both to their own labor rights and to students.

The Oaxaca teachers called a three-day paro, or work stoppage, of their 80,000 members February 9-11 and mobilized members to travel to Mexico City to demonstrate along with teachers from other states. When police prevented them from reaching the capital city’s main square, they took over a major street, causing big traffic tie-ups and causing two subway stations to close.
– See more at:

The Computer Ate My Homework

Jade Davis:

The family computer recently stopped working. This wouldn’t be the end of the world normally, however, my oldest son’s second-grade classroom implemented a new homework policy. Instead of having homework on paper, all homework is done on the computer across three sites.

This new policy was implemented because it makes the homework “smarter.” The difficulty of the work can automatically adjust as the student improves. A report is sent to the teacher right away, letting her know how long it is taking the student to do the work. She gets a readout that can compare the student’s progress to the rest of the class, as well as a general readout of how the class is doing overall. And, since my oldest son is in a bilingual program, he can do Spanish dictation, record it, and send it to his teacher so she can hear if he is having pronunciation problems. Finally, since the work is algorithmically graded and monitored, the teacher can spend more time planning what to do in class, based on common issues of the students, instead of spending a good portion of time grading homework.

When the computer stopped working, we were suddenly forced to acknowledge some access limits. The first was, when my son comes home, my computer is not there. So, where would he be able to do his homework? We thought of the library, but there isn’t one very close to us, and going to one would add commute time to homework. Additionally, once there, having a young child yelling at the computer in Spanish seemed counter to the culture of the library. Given the added time, and the limits on what he could do, we decided against the library.

Muslim Parents and ‘the Talk’ in the Wake of the Chapel Hill Murders

Banish Ahmed:

After the shootings, Mughal said her parents called her from Arizona to implore her to avoid public transportation, to get home early, and to refuse to open her front door for anyone.

Some Muslims I spoke to for this article described getting some form of that advice from their parents this week, but many more said discussions about avoiding conflict and concealing their religious beliefs were recurring ones in their families. Fourteen of 21 Muslims who responded to an informal survey I sent out to various Muslim listservs had been given a talk on personal safety by their parents and issued some version to their own children.

“I personally have been physically attacked while praying in public,” Mohammad Jehad Ahmad, a student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, told me.

Conversations on the Rifle Range 26: Moving On and the Sedimentation of Students

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

I am currently working at a middle school in a neighboring school district. I do not have my own classes; I assist the math teachers there by identifying and working with students who are struggling. Like most schools these days, it has fallen under the spell of Common Core, with a disturbing amount of instruction spent on writing about how they solved a problem, explaining their reasoning and why they think the answer is reasonable. I work there four days a week; I started in August and will continue until school lets out. While I miss having my own classes, I like it for the most part. One key advantage is that it allows me to focus on teaching students the basic skills they are missing rather than on having them explain their reasoning for problems they cannot solve because of procedures they cannot perform.

The district I’m in has recently contracted with SVMI (the Silicon Valley Math Initiative), just like the school district where I was working last year. These are the folks who developed the Problems of the Month to stimulate “algebraic thinking” outside of algebra courses and who also constructed the test that was now being given as an extra barrier to taking algebra 1 in seventh or eighth grade in my old district. There is no word yet on raising the barriers for qualifying for the traditional algebra 1 course in 8th grade. But one never knows.

I have not kept in touch with anyone from my previous school (Lawrence Middle School), though occasionally I look at the website for pictures of the students. I see pictures of some of my seventh graders, now eighth graders. All appear to be doing well. I don’t know how any of my former eighth graders are doing now in high school.

In case you’re curious, my algebra classes managed to do better on the chapter test on quadratics than they had on the quiz. We moved on to algebraic fractions and various word problems had one last test, and that was that.

My prealgebra classes also wrapped things up nicely. I recall with particular fondness my Period 2 class. They were my favorite of all my seventh grade classes; they were generally very sweet, though over the months since I took over they were much more talkative and rambunctious as they proceeded on their relentless path to becoming eighth graders. On the day before the last test, we were reviewing multiplication of binomials and a boy asked “the question”: “Am I ever going to be using polynomials in my life?”

Out In Left Field: Conversations on the Rifle Range 25: Undoing a Conspiracy, and Heading to the End of the School Year.

Meet the New, Self-Appointed MOOC Accreditors: Google and Instagram

Jeffrey Young:

Nineteen colleges now work with Coursera to offer what amount to microdegrees—it calls them Course Specializations—that require students to take a series of short MOOCs and then finish a hands-on capstone project. The serialization approach has proved an effective way to bring in revenue to support the free courses—to get a certificate proving they passed the courses, students each end up paying around $500 in fees.

By helping develop MOOC-certificate programs, companies are giving a seal of approval to those new credentials that may be more important to some students than whether an accredited university or a well-trained professor is involved.

Daphne Koller, a co-founder of Coursera, says that teaming up with companies can “really drive home the value proposition that these courses are giving you a skill that is valuable in the workplace.” She says it also lets Coursera play a role in “bridging the gap” between higher education and industry.

Change is well underway in the K-16 world.

Teachers Can’t Wait to Build a ‘More Perfect Union’

Tom Rademacher:

My local and state unions were often places where I met involved teachers, teachers who cared about the world outside of their room, who cared about how things were going in my room. They were where I debated and discussed things with teachers I disagreed with, and where I learned we were stronger if we set a place for everyone at the table and went and got those who didn’t show up. In many ways, again and again, union work was an expression of my affection for teachers.

But there is another side to the story.

During one of my very first local meetings, a new teacher spoke up, asking for help from his union. He felt like he had to take on everything, say yes to everything, or he would be fired. He asked if more veteran teachers could help lighten the load of those still developing as teachers. He was told, by an executive council member, “That’s what tenure is for. Get through three years, then you never have to do that stuff again.” I don’t think that guy ever came back to a meeting. I don’t know why he would.

When I was secretary, I got a long, angry letter from another member of our executive council. He was upset that I was spending so much time making sure every member of our union voted in elections. It was his opinion that if they didn’t come to meetings, didn’t read union emails, and didn’t know where to vote, then we shouldn’t work to have their voices heard. He was a fan of a small group of people making large decisions on behalf of an unengaged many. He wasn’t alone.

Mr. Rademacher was the 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

Hacking Oklahoma State University’s Student ID

Sam Snelling:

In 2013 I took an Information Security class at Oklahoma State University. As a final project, we were broken into teams to find a security hole, and have a plan to theoretically exploit it.

I led this project, and in early 2014, gave a presentation to key faculty and IT security on campus. As I understand it, the final solution was to take down the website (, and not worry about the rest. Fair enough.

Here are the contents of my final report.

Is the University of California Spinning out of Control?

In looking at the final product, one can only be shocked and amused. Much of the report is a simple narrative discussion of all that UC does and how it is hard to determine the cost of its many activities. When the UC finally gets to the discussion of the cost differences, the entire new methodology is explained in a single paragraph: “First, graduate students are considered full-time when taking 12 units a term whereas undergraduates are full-time at 15 units per term. This is a standard practice in other institutions and is the basis for the ratio of 1.25 (15/12) used in the NACUBO report. Second, the University collects data on the proportion of student credit hours (SCH) offered by level and that data includes the type of instructor delivering the student credit hours. There is a substantial differential between undergraduate and graduate students in the proportion of SCH taught by ladder faculty. For graduate students, 79% of SCH are taught by ladder faculty compared to 49% for undergraduates. Since expenditures for ladder faculty are higher than for other types of faculty, expenditures by level of faculty can be used to estimate an overall differential between undergraduate and graduate expenditures. The estimate of the differential for 2012-13 is 1.33. Combining these two factors – 1.25 for the FTE calculation times 1.33 for faculty type – results in an estimate that graduate expenditures per FTE for instruction are on average at least 1.7 times greater than undergraduates.” Really?!! How in the world did they come up with such a reductive methodology and why did it take them over a year to produce it?

Can UC Answer These 5 Big Questions About Its Spending?

John Myers:

If there’s one place to watch the really hard choices about what government can afford to spend on higher education and what a college degree should cost, it’s the meat grinder that now faces the University of California in Sacramento.

The stakes are high. The university, led by UC President Janet Napolitano, has insisted it will increase tuition for as long as the next five years if lawmakers don’t pony up enough taxpayer dollars. Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders, on the other hand, have demanded that the university system cut costs and keep tuition levels constant if it wants any additional dollars. You couldn’t ask for a more tense showdown than this one.

(There was a tiny easing of that tension on Wednesday, when Napolitano extended an olive branch by canceling a tuition hike for summer session students.)

College Faculties Have a Serious Diversity Problem

Marcus Woo:

To be a professor is to belong to a select few—an insider’s club of vanishing tenured faculty positions. It’s no secret that a fancy diploma can help grads vying for those coveted spots. But while working on his PhD and contemplating his career prospects, computer scientist Aaron Clauset wanted to know just how much weight a prestigious alma mater—an MIT, a Stanford, a Harvard—carried. So he decided to dive into the data himself.

Clauset and a couple of grad school friends started gathering information about who’s hiring whom. After a break in the project, during which he graduated and landed a faculty position at the University of Colorado at Boulder (yup, he joined the club), Clauset started up again—recruiting his new students for help. They spent three years grabbing and analyzing hiring data from computer science, business, and history departments, collecting info on 19,000 faculty positions across North America.

Will Teachers’ Unions Exit Stage Left?

Mike Antonucci:

Will Teachers’ Unions Exit Stage Left? We established last week that cognitive linguistic analysis would not be the salvation of teachers’ unions. Recent events dictate we revisit the possibility that teachers’ unions will revitalize themselves by moving to the left.

Yes, yes, I know many of you think there cannot possibly be any room remaining to them on that side, but it isn’t true. The officers and executive staff of NEA and AFT are committed liberals, but they are also very wealthy individuals overseeing a billion-dollar private enterprise. No matter what you hear coming out of their mouths, they won’t be leading the revolution, believe me.

But times are bad, and that is leading to upheaval in the ranks. Union activists further to the left than their superiors have been elected to lead large locals and one state affiliate. They believe they are approaching a critical mass to push the teacher union movement as a whole to the left.

Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, is a long-time class warrior and recently had a manifesto reprinted in the pages of In These Times. It contains all the rhetoric you would expect, and a few targets you would not. Peterson decries teachers’ unions utilizing “a business model that is so dependent on staff providing services that it disempowers members and concentrates power in the hands of a small group of elected leaders and/or paid staff.”

Teacher prep programs need to be accountable, too

Robert Pianta:

As if on cue, teacher preparation organizations, college and university education schools, and teachers unions are protesting proposed federal regulations for assessing the quality and impact of teacher preparation programs.

Over the past month, my e-mail inbox has been filled with a stream of increasingly dire pleas to join the chorus. Delayed for more than a year by a firestorm of protest, the latest round of proposed regulations is subject to the same criticisms as the previous one. The primary complaints: The regulations are burdensome and would be expensive to implement; they devalue the work of graduates who teach in non-tested grades and subjects such as special education, music or art; and they rely on state test scores that lack validity as measures of a teacher’s impact. The newest critiques also go further, claiming that the regulations would cause teacher education programs to push graduates away from teaching in more challenging schools.

Related: When A stands for average.

To test or not to test, public education’s epic drama

Alan Borsuk:

Not long ago, some people on the left and some on the right hated tests, but they weren’t much of a force. Now, everyone hates tests — there are too many, they waste time, they don’t prove anything, they stress everyone out, they’re of low quality, they distort education, they’re being used for the wrong purposes and so on.

Which brings us to the present. Let us touch on two scenes.

One is in Wisconsin, where a new test for grade school kids, the product of one of the two consortia, will launch in March. The test has problems, by far the biggest being that Gov. Scott Walker wants to kibosh it after this year. Many school people have gone to great lengths to prepare for this test and are wondering why bother to give it if it’s going to be killed. (Good question, I must say.)

The other and actually more important scene is in Washington, where there is new interest in revamping No Child Left Behind. There are a lot of obstacles, the largest of which is intense differences over testing. How much testing, if any, should be federally required? What kinds of tests and what should be done with the results? How do you hold states accountable without (or even with) test results?

The atmosphere is filled with anger and frustration as the mountain grows of test scores that have little prospect of yielding constructive impact.

However and unfortunately, Wisconsin’s DPI has spent many, many millions on the useless WKCE.

Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks

Aaron Clauset, Samuel Arbesman, Daniel B. Larremore:

The faculty job market plays a fundamental role in shaping research priorities, educational outcomes, and career trajectories among scientists and institutions. However, a quantitative understanding of faculty hiring as a system is lacking. Using a simple technique to extract the institutional prestige ranking that best explains an observed faculty hiring network—who hires whose graduates as faculty—we present and analyze comprehensive placement data on nearly 19,000 regular faculty in three disparate disciplines. Across disciplines, we find that faculty hiring follows a common and steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality. Furthermore, doctoral prestige alone better predicts ultimate placement than a U.S. News & World Report rank, women generally place worse than men, and increased institutional prestige leads to increased faculty production, better faculty placement, and a more influential position within the discipline. These results advance our ability to quantify the influence of prestige in academia and shed new light on the academic system.

Teacher Union Lobbying: “We’re saying, ‘OK. We used to have sway top down and the only way we get back there again is to educate people at the local level.’”

Molly Beck:

Either way, membership is down more than 50 percent from the union’s 98,000-member levels before Gov. Scott Walker signed his signature legislation in 2011 that significantly diminished collective bargaining rights for most public employees.

WEAC’s lobbying dollars have dropped dramatically, too.

A decade ago, WEAC spent $1.5 million on lobbying during the 2005-2006 legislative session, state records show. The next session: $1.1 million. During the two sessions leading up to the passage of Act 10, WEAC spent $2.5 million and $2.3 million, respectively.

But during the 2013-14 session, after Walker signed the bill into law, the union spent just $175,540. It was the first time in at least 10 years that the union was not among the state’s top 12 lobbying spenders, according to the Government Accountability Board.

“That has a big effect on the political landscape,” said Mike McCabe, former executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks political spending. “They often were the No. 1 lobbying spender among interest groups and they obviously don’t have the capacity to do that anymore.”

But Brey said it’s part of a strategy that WEAC was working on before Act 10. She said instead of relying on a lobbyist, the local focus is more effective because legislators have to explain their votes in their communities.
“At some point you have to look someone in the eye and explain just what you’re doing to their neighborhood public school and why,” she said.

Related: $1,570,000 for four Wisconsin Senators.

I’m glad that Ms. Beck included spending data.

ACA challenge for schools: Jefferson, WI School District

Pam Chickering Wilson:

In addition, the ACA requires that the insurance employers offer must be “affordable.” If the cost of insurance rises above 9 1/2 percent of a family’s income, the employer can face a fine of $3,000.

One more measure coming down the pike — to take effect in 2018 — is the so-called “Cadillac tax” for excessively expensive plans. The thresholds for this tax are $10,200 per individual and $27,500 per family.

Kuelz remarked that Jefferson is nowhere near these amounts yet, but these totals bear watching, as health insurance costs for school districts have been rising at around 8 percent a year, far ahead of inflation.

He said that some planning will be required to keep Jefferson insurance costs down so they do not rise over this threshold by 2018. After that year, the Cadillac tax threshold will rise in accordance with the rate of inflation.

“One calculation we have been making for school districts is, they are asking, what if you gave the money directly to the employees and let them go on the exchange?” Kuelz said.

Using current figures, districts would incur more costs by giving the money to the employees directly, he explained. For starters, these districts would lose a tax break. Then they would be subject to penalties. In addition, any money given to employees to cover these costs would then be counted as taxable income, which opens a whole new can of worms for both the employer and the employees.
Right now, such a move would drive a district’s costs up significantly, Kuelz said. But this might change as costs go down on the exchange.

Madison is contemplating changes to their employee benefits approach.

Public Charter School Enrollment Nears 3 Million

National Alliance for Public Charters

Nearly 2.9 million students now attend charter schools, according to a report released today by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools that estimates growth in charter schools and their student enrollment. U.S. charter schools are serving almost 348,000 new students in 2014-15, up from 288,000 the previous school year.

“This has been our highest enrollment figure so far, and we are not surprised parents are choosing charter schools for their child’s education,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “The growth in charter school enrollment shows parents’ demand for high-quality educational options. We are optimistic that the number of public charter schools will continue to grow to serve even more students and families.”

Apart from providing student enrollment estimates, the report also shines a light on estimates of the number of charter schools that opened for the 2014-15 school year and those that have closed during the past year. This year, 500 new public charter schools opened, while more than 200 schools that were open last year are no longer operating. These schools closed for a variety of reasons, including low enrollment, inadequate financial resources, or low academic performance.

“We want to see more high-quality charter schools serve students throughout the country. At the same time we advocate for strong accountability measures to ensure that only the highest-quality charter schools are serving our nation’s students,” said Rees.

Scott Walker, and the problem with valuing credentials over competence

Edward Morrissey:

My father hadn’t followed his own advice. He dropped out of the University of Arizona much like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did later at Marquette, closer to a degree than I ever got, for personal reasons unrelated to academic achievement. He went into the aerospace industry and spent 29 years working on the space program, from Gemini to Apollo to the space shuttle. Dad was and still is an auto-didact, a man whose curiosity drove his intellectual growth, and he became a specialist in quality engineering, especially in non-destructive testing.

But the world had changed a bit since he started out in aerospace, and both of us knew it. More people went to college and got degrees, and my father saw how a lack of credentials put people in his industry at a competitive disadvantage. “All that matters is getting that piece of paper,” he’d tell me when my distinct lack of interest in studies manifested itself in academic problems at college. “That’s the ticket that opens doors. Once you’re in you can do whatever you like.”

I never got that ticket — and I paid a price for it, too. After working for a few years in the aerospace industry myself as a technical writer, I found myself out of work when that sector began its shift away from defense to commercial application. Without a degree, work in my field eluded me, and I took a couple of odd jobs — driving a cab for a couple of months in the Los Angeles area, which was interesting in a cold-sweats-and-nightmares kind of way, and picking up a shift as an overnight operator in an alarm call center. That job turned into an interesting and fulfilling career that would put me in middle management for a number of years, before the blogging revolution eliminated the credentialism of the writing and commentary fields and turned them into achievement-oriented environments.

Like any son who locks horns with his old man, I’d like to be able to argue that Dad turned out to be wrong. He wasn’t. Life turned out well for me — I am very blessed to make a living from my passion, writing — but the lack of a degree made it that more difficult to achieve that end. Credentialism became a hurdle to overcome at the start of my professional life, one that took me a decade to overcome in one career and two decades in another.

Remarks on Expository Writing in Mathematics

Robert Ash:

Successful graduate students in mathematics are able to reach an advanced level in one or more areas. Textbooks are an important part of this process. A skilled lecturer is able to illuminate and clarify many ideas, but if the pace of a course is fast enough to allow decent coverage, gaps will inevitably result. Students will depend on the text to fill these gaps, but the experience of most students is that the usual text is difficult for the novice to read. At one extreme, the text is a thousand page, twenty pound encyclopedia which cannot be read linearly in a finite amount of time. At the other extreme, the presentation in the book is essentially a seminar lecture with huge gaps.

So it seems that improvements in readability of textbooks would be highly desirable, and the natural question is “What makes a text readable?” Is it possible to answer such a question concretely? I am going to try.
First, we need to be clear on exactly who is trying to read these books. Textbooks that are opaque for students may turn out to be quite useful to the research specialist. I will assume that the reader of the text is not already an expert in the area.

The path to readability is certainly not unique, but here is some advice that may be useful.

How To Save Our Public Schools

Richard C. Morais:

Democrats and Republicans alike, he says, must first recognize that public education is a “broken, government-run monopoly serving the needs of adults at the expense of the needs of children.” The only way forward, Klein says, is to offer underprivileged families real educational choices, breaking the states’ monopoly on education and the perverse union rules strangling public education all across the nation.

Start by leaving your comfort zone and funneling capital away from your wealthy alma mater and toward the poor neighborhoods, where your generosity is truly needed. “A lot of people say to me, ‘I won’t give to public schools because I don’t think it will do anything,’ ” Klein says. He sends such skeptics to tough neighborhoods where charter schools run by the likes of KIPP, Success Academy, and Achievement First are making a real difference.

Consider a 2006 Robin Hood Foundation fund-raiser evening, where $45 million in donor support for new schools was matched by the charity’s board, raising $90 million in minutes. Klein, as the city’s chancellor, quickly agreed to kick in another $90 million from his $12 billion capital budget, and two architecturally stunning charter schools delivering quality education have since been built in blighted neighborhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

“Imagine what these kids feel like, when they walk into their school and it’s the Taj Mahal? Go talk to those kids if you are looking for impact,” says Klein. That made me press him for practical help, and he promptly offered to try to organize for interested Barron’s Penta subscribers who emailed us they wanted to see such impact up close—a tour of a new charter school making a difference somewhere in the U.S. Subscribers who want a tour need only shoot us an e-mail.

Which gets us to his final point: Spend political capital, as well. Charter schools are great, Klein says, but voucher programs are the only way to quickly scale up high-quality alternatives to the busted and dangerous public schools currently entrapping our kids. Such programs allow a disadvantaged family to apply the tax-dollar equivalent of a public education—almost $20,000 a year in New York City—toward a private education of their choice.

Why schools are failing our boys

Jennifer Fink:

He hasn’t been allowed outside at school all week; it’s too cold. Yet this son has spent happy hours outside at home this week, all bundled up, moving snow with the toy snowplow, creating “snowmobile trails” in our yard with his sled and shoveling both our walk and our neighbors. Because he wants to.

This morning, as always, my son was up and dressed before the rest of the household; he likes time to play Minecraft before school starts. But he also cleaned the dirty glass on the woodstove, started the fire and brought wood into the house. Because he wants to.

And it hit me this morning: He would have done great in Little House on the Prairie time.

We’re reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, one of the books in the Little House series, aloud right now. Back then, boys (and girls) primarily learned by doing. Kids between the ages of 5 and 18 weren’t corralled into schools and kept apart from real life; out of necessity, boys worked on the farms and girls helped in the house. Entire families worked together to survive, and along the way, boys and girls learned how to function in the real world.

The progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on campus

Wendy Kaminer:

Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”

No one on this panel, in which I participated, trafficked in slurs. So what prompted the warning?

Smith President Kathleen McCartney had joked, “We’re just wild and crazy, aren’t we?” In the transcript, “crazy” was replaced by the notation: “[ableist slur].”

One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”

I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.

Young researchers should take the time to educate themselves on STEM career-related statistics.

Julie Gould:

Like many PhD students in their fourth year, there are two things constantly on my mind: one is my research, and the other is my post-graduation plan. I am currently a graduate student in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) PhD programme, which is designed to be 4-5 years long. The course puts a strong emphasis on developing post-graduation plans early on, so I started researching career options in my 2nd year.

I came across some statistics from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that painted a dire picture of career prospects in academia. Coincidentally, I joined CSHL’s Bioscience Enterprise Club around the same time to learn about alternative careers, and was taken aback by the abundance of career options available for PhDs: research in industry, publishing, science writing, teaching, public policy, finance, consulting, patent law, biotech startups, and more.

Researching career options early on has given me ample time to identify rewarding career paths, and to get involved in extra-curricular activities. Having done the research, I plan on applying the data science skills that I have developed over the course of my PhD to a career in industry.

As I get closer to graduation, I find myself much more prepared for what’s to come and strongly believe that considering career options early on is crucial for any PhD student. Therefore, I would urge all graduate schools to insist that their students do the same, especially in the current academic climate. For those who haven’t been introduced to the stats, I’ve put together a short summary for you.

Let’s Kill Innovation

Steven Hodas, via a kind Deb Britt email:

In the past couple of years I’ve probably used the word “innovation” thousands of times and read or heard it thousands of times more. Naturally. I worked in an Office of Innovation (inside the Division of Talent, Labor and Innovation) running “Innovate NYC Schools” (Twitter handle @innovatenycedu), which was funded by a grant from the Investing in Innovation program (from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement). I’ve written here about “Innovation 1.0,” “Innovation 2.0,” and “failure[s] of innovation.” But it’s a lazy term for a hazy concept and I vote for a moratorium.

First, “innovation” manages to be both too vague (it can be applied to anything, and is) and too narrow (it’s usually just a trendier, TED-ier version of “technology”). Because it’s used so often without referring to anything in particular, it begins to feel like an incantation from the realm of magical thinking. Second, surveys show that outside of Silicon Valley, “innovation” has a terrible brand with most parents and educators. It worries the former and induces eye-rolls from the latter, so invoking it as a goal or a policy is not a great way to make new friends.

Educating school teachers (2006)

Arthur Levine (PDF):

This report, the second in a series of policy reports on the results of a four-year study of America’s education schools, focuses on the education of classroom teachers, the people who have the greatest impact on our children’s learning in school.

Teacher education has taken on a special urgency because the United States needs to raise both the quantity and quality of our teacher force. The country is experiencing an acute shortage of teachers. At the same time, we are asking teachers to increase student achievement to the highest levels in history in a new standards-based, accountability-driven system of education. To address both demands simultaneously is an enormous challenge, made even more difficult because the nation is deeply divided about how to prepare large numbers of high-quality teachers.

We don’t agree about what skills and knowledge teachers need or how and when teachers should learn them. This is the context for the second report. The first report focused on the education of school administrators.

The third report will examine the quality of education research and the preparation of the scholars and researchers who conduct it. The final report will be an overview of America’s schools of educa- tion, where the overwhelming majority of our school leaders, teachers, and scholars are educated.

“We know best”: All over America, people have put small “give one, take one” book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down.

Conor Friedersdorf:

Last summer in Kansas, a 9-year-old was loving his Little Free Library until at least two residents proved that some people will complain about anything no matter how harmless and city officials pushed the boundaries of literal-mindedness:

The Leawood City Council said it had received a couple of complaints about Spencer Collins’ Little Free Library. They dubbed it an “illegal detached structure” and told the Collins’ they would face a fine if they did not remove the Little Free Library from their yard by June 19.
Scattered stories like these have appeared in various local news outlets. The L.A. Times followed up last week with a trend story that got things just about right. “Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities have recently cracked down on one of the country’s biggest problems: small-community libraries where residents can share books,” Michael Schaub wrote. “Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana, have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they’re in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections.”

Here in Los Angeles, the weather is so lovely that it’s hard to muster the energy to be upset about anything, and a lot of people don’t even know what municipality they live in, so the defense of Little Free Libraries is mostly being undertaken by people who have them. Steve Lopez, a local columnist, wrote about one such man, an actor who is refusing to move his little library from a parkway. His column captures the absurdity of using city resources to get rid of it:

Economists say millennials should consider careers in trades

Chris Arnold:

As the economy continues to recover, economists are seeing stark differences between people with high school and college degrees. The unemployment rate is nearly twice as high for Americans with a high school diploma as for those with a four-year college degree or more.

But economists say that doesn’t mean everybody needs a four-year degree. In fact, millions of good-paying jobs are opening up in the trades. And some pay better than what the average college graduate makes.

Learning A Trade

When 18-year-old Haley Hughes graduated from high school this past summer, she had good grades; she was on the honor roll every year. So she applied to a bunch of four-year colleges and got accepted to every one of them. But she says, “I wasn’t excited about it really, I guess.”

A quick look at Dane County, WI K-12 Budgets and Redistributed State Tax Dollars


Mahoney, director of business and technology services at the McFarland School District, said in an email to district staff that a budget deficit of between $500,000 and $1 million is likely for the next school year, which includes keeping a 3 percent wage increase and expecting a 7 percent health insurance cost increase.

I appreciate the “total spending” data included with the article, along with McFarland’s healthcare spending increase. Changes over time would be quite useful as well.

Degrees don’t matter anymore, skills do

Miles Kimball:

Too much of our educational system, both at the K-12 level and in higher education, is built around the idea that some students are smart and others are dumb. One shining exception are the “Knowledge is Power Program” or KIPP schools. In my blog post “Magic Ingredient 1: More K-12 School” I gave this simple description of the main strategy behind KIPP schools, which do a brilliant job, even for kids from very poor backgrounds:

They motivate students by convincing them they can succeed and have a better life through working hard in school.

They keep order, so the students are not distracted from learning.

They have the students study hard for many long hours, with a long school day, a long school week (some school on Saturdays), and a long school year (school during the summer).

Meanwhile, one size fits all largely reigns in Madison.

Athletes & Rigor

Jake New:

In an endless cycle of perpetuating stereotypes, college athletes care a great deal about academics, a recent paper suggests, but some purposefully underperform academically in a misguided attempt to fit in with their teammates.

College athletes, especially those involved in big-time college sports like Division I football and basketball, tend to take easier courses and earn lower grades than nonathletes. Previous research has suggested several explanations for their underperformance, including the demanding time requirements of playing a sport, special admissions practices that enroll underprepared students and an apparent lack of motivation from athletes.

The new paper by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles and Princeton University asserts that there may be an additional explanation: athletes study less and gravitate toward easier courses because they want to better align with what they assume are the views of their peers.

What Does Your MTI Contract Do for You? SENIORITY

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

Rights granted to an employee by the Union’s Contract are among the most important conditions of one’s employment. Those represented by MTI, in each of MTI’s five bargaining units, have numerous SENIORITY protections. Whether it is protection from involuntary transfer, being declared “surplus” (above staff requirements) or layoff, SENIORITY is the factor that limits and controls management’s action. Because of SENIORITY rights guaranteed by the Union’s Contract, for example, the employer cannot pick the junior employee simply because he/she is paid less. Making such judgments based on one’s SENIORITY may seem like common sense and basic human decency, but it is MTI’s Contract that assures it.

One of N.J.’s Top Superintendents Explains What’s Wrong with the Opt-Out Movement

Laura Waters:

Remember, we’re arguing about standards that have been in place for five years and assessments that haven’t even been given yet. Can we wait two weeks before passing judgement?

Also in the comments section, Anne Clark, who never takes fools lightly, has her own responses to anti-testers. She notes that there was plenty of opportunity for public comment during the adoption of Common Core and PARCC, that instructional time devoted to PARCC tests is de minimus compared to traditional testing schedules, and that the movement towards uniform standards and assessments has always been bipartisan. She’s also not afraid to call out Save Our Schools-NJ, one of the primary instigators of N.J.’s hysteria:

Yet, we have no useful method to track academic progress despite the DPI’s decades long WKCE adventure.

The skills Americans say kids need to succeed in life

Sara Goo:

But we also found some interesting differences:

While all Americans were most likely to cite communication and reading skills as most important for today’s kids, women were more likely than men to say this. More women said reading skills (88%) matter compared with men (83%), and there was a similar divide on communication skills (92% vs. 88%). On the other hand, men were more likely than women to say that science and math skills were most important. Among men, 63% said science skills were important – a figure 9 percentage points higher than women who said the same. Men were also more likely than women to say that math skills were important (81% vs. 76%).

College-educated Americans were more likely to point to communication, writing, logic and science skills as important when compared with those with a high school education or less. For example, 63% of those with a college degree said science skills were most important, compared with 51% of those with a high school education or less. Some 81% of college grads said that writing skills were most important, compared with 70% among those with a high school degree or less.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Confusing Politics of Pensions and Hedge Funds

Chad Alderman:

Morgan Housel has a fantastic piece in The Motley Fool imagining a conversation between two hedge fund managers. It tells a pretty accurate, and damning, story of hedge funds’ under-performance, high fees, and general lack of transparency.

Most people, and especially most teachers, don’t personally invest in hedge funds. To them, hedge funds may be some sort of a distant and poorly understood creature of Wall Street. But one of Housel’s hedge fund managers says that, “We’re basically a conduit between public pension funds and Greenwich real estate agents.” The other fellow says “Cheers to that.”

Wait, what? Teacher pension plans are heavily invested in hedge funds? Yes, yes they are. Teacher pension plans and other public-sector pension funds have dramatically ramped up their investments in hedge funds and other forms of private equity over the last 30 years. In fact, pension funds in both the public and private sector are becoming some of the hedge fund industry’s most dependable clients!

Court rules against measure letting Scott Walker halt school administrative rules

Patrick Marley:

Parents of students and members of teachers unions sued Walker over the law as it applied to rules put together by the Department of Public Instruction, which is headed by Evers. Walker is a Republican and Evers is aligned with Democrats, though his post is officially nonpartisan.

The state constitution says that “the supervision of public instruction shall be vested in a state superintendent and such other officers as the Legislature shall direct.” In a 1996 case that the appeals court repeatedly cited, the state Supreme Court held that lawmakers and the governor cannot give “equal or superior authority” over public education to any other official.

The Supreme Court’s ruling found that the state constitution prevented then-Gov. Tommy Thompson from transferring powers from the Department of Public Instruction to a new Department of Education overseen by the governor’s administration.

“In sum, the Legislature has the authority to give, to not give, or to take away (the school superintendent’s) supervisory powers, including rule-making power. What the Legislature may not do is give the (superintendent) a supervisory power relating to education and then fail to maintain the (superintendent’s) supremacy with respect to that power,” Appeals Judge Gary Sherman wrote for the court in Thursday’s decision.

Yet, we have no useful method to track academic progress despite the DPI’s decades long WKCE adventure.

Unanswered questions on student debt and emotional well-being

Beth Akers:

Late last year, researchers at the University of South Carolina and the University of California, Los Angeles, published a report[1] on the relationship between student loan debt and psychological well-being. This study comes in the midst of a plethora of new research attempting to quantify causal relationships between student loan debt and personal outcomes (including home ownership,[2] entrepreneurship and the macro economy). Despite the intense interest in this issue among researchers, this is the first paper that attempts to understand the emotional cost of carrying student loan debt. This question is, in fact, more fundamental than the others being posed in this genre of research, since it could help to explain the mechanism through which debt may be affecting other outcomes. Using a strict classical lens to examine this issue might lead one to conclude that the true cost of carrying debt could be measured in strictly financial terms. However, the widespread and growing discontent among households with student debt paired with the evidence that the financial circumstances of borrowers haven’t radically worsened[3] suggests that an alternate lens may be necessary. In particular, a lens that considers the possibility that student loans take an emotional toll on borrowers, even when wealth is held constant.[4

Ending the Sweetheart Deal between Big-Time College Sports and the Tax System

Richard Schmalbeck:

This paper was prepared for the annual conference of the National Center for Philanthropy and Law, held at the NYU Law School, held October 24-25, 2013. The overall topic was “Tax Issues Affecting Colleges and Universities,” and I was asked to address specifically those issues relating to athletics. This paper considers two specific issues that have in common only that they involve college sports, and are plagued by egregiously bad, (in this case, egregiously generous), tax treatment: the failure of the IRS to regard any part of the revenue from college sports as unrelated business income, and the choice by Congress to allow taxpayers to deduct 80% of contributions that they make to colleges or their “booster clubs,” even when those contributions entitle the donors to special privileges in purchasing tickets to college athletic events.

Most readers are probably familiar with the general rules regarding charitable contributions deductions, but a word about the unrelated business income tax may be helpful. An organization may qualify (or continue to qualify) as a tax-exempt organization, eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions, if its activities are primarily charitable. However, if the organization regularly carries on trade or business activities that are unrelated to its exempt purpose, the income from those activities is subject to federal income taxation at the same rates applicable to for-profit corporations. Although those rates are low for small businesses (those earning less than $75,000 per year), corporate earnings in excess of that amount are taxed at a rate of 34% on up to ten million dollars of income, and 35% beyond that amount. The unrelated business income tax raises very little revenue, but is thought to have an in terrorem effect, discouraging nonprofit organizations from engaging in unrelated business activities. While the unrelated business tax exists primarily because of Congressional concerns about unfair competition with for-profit businesses, a better description of its actual effect is that it discourages nonprofit organizations from pursuit of business activities that do not further any exempt purpose.

2,500 teachers punished in 5 years for sexual misconduct

Associated Press:

Those are the findings of an AP investigation in which reporters sought disciplinary records in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The result is an unprecedented national look at the scope of sex offenses by educators – the very definition of breach of trust.

The seven-month investigation found 2,570 educators whose teaching credentials were revoked, denied, surrendered or sanctioned from 2001 through 2005 following allegations of sexual misconduct.

Young people were the victims in at least 1,801 of the cases, and more than 80 percent of those were students. At least half the educators who were punished by their states also were convicted of crimes related to their misconduct.

The findings draw obvious comparisons to sex abuse scandals in other institutions, among them the Roman Catholic Church. A review by America’s Catholic bishops found that about 4,400 of 110,000 priests were accused of molesting minors from 1950 through 2002.

Clergy abuse is part of the national consciousness after a string of highly publicized cases. But until now, there’s been little sense of the extent of educator abuse.

Beyond the horror of individual crimes, the larger shame is that the institutions that govern education have only sporadically addressed a problem that’s been apparent for years.

“From my own experience – this could get me in trouble – I think every single school district in the nation has at least one perpetrator. At least one,” says Mary Jo McGrath, a California lawyer who has spent 30 years investigating abuse and misconduct in schools. “It doesn’t matter if it’s urban or rural or suburban.”

K-16 Governance: An Oxymoron? Wallace Hall Was Right About UT All Along

Jim Schutze:

When Hall was early on the board, the university revealed to regents there were problems with a large private endowment used to provide off-the-books six-figure “forgivable loans” to certain faculty members, out of sight of the university’s formal compensation system.

Hall wanted to know how big the forgivable loans were and who decided who got them. He wanted to know whose money it was. He was concerned there had to be legal issues with payments to public employees that were not visible to the public.

University of Texas President William Powers painted the law school slush fund as a problem only because it had caused “discord” within the faculty. He vowed to have a certain in-house lawyer get it straightened up. Hall, who thought the matter was more serious and called for a more arms-length investigation and analysis, thought Powers’ approach was too defensive. In particular, Hall didn’t want it left to the investigator Powers had assigned.

“I had issues with that,” Hall says. “I felt that was a bad, bad deal. The man’s a lawyer. He lives in Austin. The people in the foundation are his mentors, some of the best lawyers in the state. They’re wealthy. He’s not going to be in the [university] system forever. He’s going to be looking for a job one day.”
But Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and other members of the board of regents did not share Hall’s concerns. “I was overruled,” Hall says. “That’s when I first felt like, one, there’s a problem at UT, and, two, the system has set up a scheme that gives the opportunity for a less than robust investigation.”

Since then, the university’s own in-house investigation, which cleared the law school of any real wrongdoing, has been discredited and deep-sixed. The in-house lawyer who did it is no longer on the payroll. The matter has been turned over to the Texas attorney general for a fresh investigation.

The head of the law school has resigned. The president of the university has resigned. Cigarroa has resigned.

Next, Hall questioned claims the university was making about how much money it raised every year. He thought the university was puffing its numbers by counting gifts of software for much more than the software really was worth, making it look as if Powers was doing a better job of fundraising than he really was.

When Hall traveled to Washington, D.C., to consult with the national body that sets rules for this sort of thing, he was accused of ratting out the university — a charge that became part of the basis for subsequent impeachment proceedings. But Hall was right. The university had to mark down its endowment by $215 million.

The really big trouble began in 2013 when Hall said he discovered a back-door black market trade in law school admissions, by which people in positions to do favors for the university, especially key legislators, were able to get their own notably unqualified kids and the notably unqualified kids of friends into UT Law School.

Local education issues that merit attention include:

A. The Wisconsin DPI’s decades long WKCE adventure: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”… It is astonishing that we, after decades of DPI spending, have nothing useful to evaluate academic progress. A comparison with other states, including Minnesota and Massachusetts would be rather useful.

B. Susan Troller’s 2010 article: Madison school board member may seek an audit of how 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent. A look at local K-12 spending (and disclosure) practices may be useful in light of the planned April, 2015 referendum.

C. Madison’s long term disastrous reading results, despite spending double the national average per student.

D. Teacher preparation standards.

Student loan debt piles up to $1.16 trillion: NY Fed

John Schoen:

Even with an improved job market, those student loans are getting harder to keep up with.

While households are generally doing a better job making payments on their mortgages and credit cards, the delinquency rates on student loans worsened in the last three months of 2014, according a new report from the New York Federal Reserve.

“Although we’ve seen an overall improvement in delinquency rates since the Great Recession, the increasing trend in student loan balances and delinquencies is concerning,” said New York Fed researcher Donghoon Lee in a statement. “Student loan delinquencies and repayment problems appear to be reducing borrowers’ ability to form their own households.”

Delinquencies climbed in auto and student lending. Overall debt rose $117 billion in 4th quarter.

How bad is age discrimination in academia?

Tyler Cowen:

I believe it is very bad, although I do not have data. I believe that if a 46-year-old, with an excellent vita and newly minted Ph.D in hand, applied for academic economics jobs at the top fifty research universities, the individual would receive very few “bites.” Unless of course he or she managed to cover up his or her age. (I am very pleased with the openness of my own university, I will add in passing.)

Perhaps there are not many examples of this kind of age discrimination (do you know of any?). In part that is because older individuals are so discouraged from going down that path in the first place. Furthermore it is likely harder for older individuals to go down that path. In addition to life-cycle considerations, there may be age discrimination at the stage of graduate admissions.

I rarely hear complaints about age discrimination in academia, though I often hear complaints about gender and race discrimination. I believe all of these phenomena are real (and unfortunate), and I wonder what exactly this discrepancy indicates. If anything, I suspect age discrimination is far more extreme, at least when it comes to the final stage of the process, namely the actual interview and hiring decisions.

Former admissions director: Parents, calm down. Let Harvard go.

Susan Svrluga:

Like many who have worked in college admissions, she has heard it: All the worries from parents about “what they can do” to get their kids into Ivies.

And she has read about a cluster of suicides that some attribute to stress, pressure on achievement.

As a former admissions officer for some top schools, she has some cutting advice for parents:

Forget the top schools. Forget formulas to ace admissions. Forget achievement at all costs.

The Reading Level of the State of Union Address is in Decline


“The act of the last session of Congress concerning the commercial intercourse between the United States and Great Britain and France and their dependencies having invited in a new form a termination of their edicts against our neutral commerce, copies of the act were immediately forwarded to our ministers at London and Paris, with a view that its object might be within the early attention of the French and British Governments.”

This whopper of a sentence — 71 words, 9 of which are 10 characters or longer — is indicative of Madison’s speeches in general: complex, wordy, and Thesaurus-worthy.

By all historic accounts, Madison was lauded both for his writing skills, and eloquence. Despite being “painfully shy [and] physically frail,” his words commanded the attention of Congress and major political influencers. “If the art of persuasion includes persuasion by convincing,” once wrote Chief Justice John Marshall, “Mr. Madison was the most eloquent man I ever heard.” Before crafting his own speeches, Madison advised and heavily edited the speeches of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams — all three of whom are ranked in the top 10 here.

President Obama’s speeches, which rank lowest on the list at a grade level of 9.8, are of an entirely different nature. Take, for example, this excerpt from his recent 2015 Address:

“But tonight, we turn the page. Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. More of our kids are graduating than ever before. More of our people are insured than ever before. And we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost thirty years.”

“Since 2004, student loan balances have more than tripled, at an average annualized growth rate of about 13 percent per year, to nearly $1.2 trillion, in 2014.”

Meta Brown, Andrew Haughwout, Donghoon Lee, Joelle Scally, and Wilbert van der Klaauw:

Our data indicate that both increased numbers of borrowers and larger balances per borrower are contributing to the rapid expansion in student loans. Between 2004 and 2014, we saw a 74 percent increase in average balances and a 92 percent increase in the number of borrowers. Now there are 43 million borrowers, up from 42 million borrowers at the end of 2013, with an average balance per borrower of about $27,000.

The heterogeneity of borrower indebtedness is very pronounced. As shown in the chart below, nearly 39 percent of borrowers owe less than $10,000, and the median balance is about $14,000. At the high end, more than 4 percent of borrowers, about 1.8 million people, owe more than $100,000.

QOD: A Public School Mom on the Anti-Test Movement’s Hostility Towards Data

Lynnell Mickelson:

Can we be clear? When the sole responsibility for test outcomes was on the children, there was little to no organized test resistance. But as soon as some of the responsibility shifted to the adults, oh my God! Let the weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth begin. Oh, the inhumanity! Oh, the stress of “high-stakes”! Oh, the loss of childhood! Oh, the corporate conspiracy of Pearson! And so forth.

I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the anti-test movement. Some districts test too much. Endless rote test prep is dumb. Art, music and gym are all crucial and belong in the curriculum.

But the organized movement to dump standardized testing and replace it with projects or individual teacher’s tests, also strikes me as blatant attempt to dump the evidence.

Via Laura Waters.

Pro Choice: Vouchers, per student spending and achievement

The Economist:

This is not the end of the story for vouchers, however. In both Milwaukee and Washington, voucher schemes get similar results to the public schools but with much less money. Under the DC scheme, each voucher is worth $8,500 a year, compared with $17,500 to educate a child in the public school system. In Milwaukee the difference is smaller but still amounts to several thousand dollars. Another consistent finding from voucher schemes is that parents like being given a choice, which explains why vouchers, once granted, are hard to take away.

Though Milwaukee’s experience overall has been mixed it still has lessons for elsewhere. If one includes private schools, charter schools and open enrolment at public schools (which means parents may enroll their children in a school that is not in the neighbourhood where they live), around 40% of parents in Milwaukee exercise some kind of choice over their children’s education, an unusually high share. With so much competition, it is hard for any school to grow complacent. There are good public, private and charter schools and bad ones, too. Some private schools do very well with poor black and Hispanic children, others fail them and yet manage to stay in business, which suggests that even with lots of parents choosing there is a need for an authority than can close the bad schools down.

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

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

An interview with Henry Tyson.

A focus on adult employment.

Already a friend to charter schools, Wisconsin could see more growth under budget proposal; one size fits all continues in Madison

Molly Beck:

“That charter authorizer is without accountability, if you will, to the voter in any way,” she said. “And so why would we want to do that? That’s what I would like explained to me. Why would that be a good thing for the state of Wisconsin? Honestly, I can’t fathom what the justification would be other than if I’m one of the big chains (of charter schools) that wants leverage into Wisconsin.”

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes wrote against the proposal on his education blog last week, saying the proposal allows new authorizers to “operate with a free hand in the state’s largest urban areas.”

Walker included a similar proposal in his 2013-15 budget but it was pulled out. Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, also has proposed similar legislation in the past. She said in an interview Tuesday that more communities than Milwaukee and Racine should have the option of an independent charter school.

She pointed to Madison Preparatory Academy, an independent charter school proposed by the Urban League of Greater Madison geared toward low-income, minority students that was voted down by the School Board in 2011.

“In some cases there will be opportunities where school boards say, ‘No, we don’t want that,’ as Madison did, and it seems there should be another option for those families,” she said.


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

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

An interview with Henry Tyson.

A focus on adult employment.

U. Mass. Will Not Admit Iranian Students to Schools of Engineering and Natural Sciences (Updated)

Cory Robin:

This announcement was recently posted on the website of the graduate school of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst:

The University has determined that recent governmental sanctions pose a significant challenge to its ability to provide a full program of education and research for Iranian students in certain disciplines and programs. Because we must ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations, the University has determined that it will no longer admit Iranian national students to specific programs in the College of Engineering (i.e., Chemical Engineering, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mechanical & Industrial Engineering) and in the College of Natural Sciences (i.e., Physics, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Polymer Science & Engineering) effective February 1, 2015.

The full announcement and reasoning (US sanctions on Iran) behind this new policy can be found here.

During the fight over the American Studies Association’s vote for an academic boycott of Israel, putative defenders of academic freedom made a lot of noise about the threat that the boycott posed to academic exchange and international conversation.

But as many of us pointed out the time, nothing in the ASA vote precluded the exchange of individual scholars or students between the United States and Israel.

Now we have a public university, claiming to act in accordance with US policy, officially banning Iranian national students from entire graduate schools.

Was Moynihan Right: What happens to children of unmarried mothers

Sara McLanahan & Christopher Jencks:

200119436-002In his 1965 report on the black family, Daniel Patrick Moynihan highlighted the rising fraction of black children growing up in households headed by unmarried mothers. He attributed the increase largely to the precarious economic position of black men, many of whom were no longer able to play their traditional role as their family’s primary breadwinner. Moynihan argued that growing up in homes without a male breadwinner reduced black children’s chances of climbing out of poverty, and that the spread of such families would make it hard for blacks to take advantage of the legal and institutional changes flowing from the civil rights revolution.

Moynihan’s claim that growing up in a fatherless family reduced a child’s chances of educational and economic success was furiously denounced when the report appeared in 1965, with many critics calling Moynihan a racist. For the next two decades few scholars chose to investigate the effects of father absence, lest they too be demonized if their findings supported Moynihan’s argument. Fortunately, America’s best-known black sociologist, William Julius Wilson, broke this taboo in 1987, providing a candid assessment of the black family and its problems in The Truly Disadvantaged. Since then, social scientists have accumulated a lot more evidence on the effects of family structure. This article will offer some educated guesses about what that evidence means.

Why do MOOCS have low completion rates?

Hacker News:

Two reasons similar/in addition to the ones already mentioned:

The obvious one: MOOCs usually involve small or no payment and are not typically part of a degree program. Everyone who has attended a traditional college has taken one or several classes where they disliked the material, the format, or the faculty but kept taking it anyway because it was a required course, they needed the credit hours to stay in good standing, or they had already paid nontrivial tuition and/or fees for it. For most MOOCs, if you are even mildly disappointed, you can just drop out with little remorse.

The second, less obvious one: on Coursera, I bookmark courses (including ones I have only tenuous interest in) months ahead by enrolling in them. Then when the course starts, I judge whether I still have the time or interest (I usually don’t), and if not, drop out. I don’t know if this is common, but if it is, then it would have an impact.

I’d also be curious to know how pacing impacts completion rates. Personally, while some platforms treat it as a selling point, I find it very difficult to complete self-paced courses.

On the other hand, some people may miss one or two deadlines in a non-self-paced MOOC and simply give up.

Education at heart of Chicago mayor’s race

Stephanie Simon:

Democratic mayors and governors across the nation are increasingly standing up to their traditional allies in the teachers unions to demand huge changes in urban school districts — and labor is frantically, furiously fighting back. Local and national unions have made Emanuel a top target, pouring resources into the effort to oust him. If they succeed, they’ll gain momentum, not to mention a huge PR victory.

But if Emanuel wins despite the unions’ best efforts, analysts say it would embolden other Democratic reformers to forge ahead with a controversial agenda that includes closing struggling neighborhood schools, expanding privately run charter schools and overhauling the teaching profession by repealing tenure, trimming benefits and paying teachers in part based on how well their students score on standardized tests.

Statistics Style Guide


This style guide covers the elements of writing about statistics. It aims to make statistical content more open and understandable, based on editorial research and best practice. The standards also replace any previous standards on the intranet or in print. Originally created for the Office for National Statistics, we have worked with Government Digital Service (GDS) to produce these for all members of the Government Statistical Service (GSS). These will be reviewed regularly, and updated when new research and user feedback indicates changes need to be made.

Style.ONS contains:

Insular Faculty Hiring

Colleen Flaherty:

By now, the secret is out in some disciplines: if you want to land a tenure-line faculty job, you’d better attend a highly ranked graduate program — not necessarily because they’re better but because the market favors prestige. But a new study suggests that “social inequality” might be worse than previously thought, across a range of different disciplines.

The study, published this week in Science Advances, is based on hand-curated data about placements of 19,000 tenure-line faculty members in history, business and computer science at 461 North American institutions with doctoral programs. Using a computer-aided, network-style analysis, the authors determined that just 25 percent of those institutions produced 71 to 86 percent of tenure-line professors, depending on discipline.

Using the Gini coefficient, a standard measure of social inequality, the authors found there’s extreme elitism even at the top of that quartile. The top 10 programs in each discipline produce 1.6 to 3 times more faculty than even the next 10 programs in the ranking. And the top 11 to 20 programs produce 2.3 to 5.6 times more professors than the next 10 programs.

What’s Wrong With Public Intellectuals?

Mark Greif

For years, the undigitized gem of American journals had been Partisan Review. Last year its guardians finally brought it online. Some of its mystery has been preserved, insofar as its format remains hard to use, awkward, and hopeless for searches. Even in its new digital form it retains a slightly superior pose.

The great importance of Partisan Review did not arise recently from its inaccessibility. The legendary items that first ran in its pages can be found in any good library, in collections by contributors who met as promising unknowns: Mary McCarthy, Clement Greenberg, Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Elizabeth Hardwick, Leslie Fiedler, or Susan Sontag. Alongside those novices, PR had the cream of Europe, in translation or English original: Sartre, Camus, Jean Genet, Beauvoir; Ernst Jünger, Karl Jaspers, Gottfried Benn; plus T.S. Eliot, Orwell, Auden, Stephen Spender.

Partisan Review obtained the first work of the up-and-coming and often the best work of the famous, though it was notoriously underfunded and skeletally staffed. It gave readers the first glimpse of much of what would form the subsequent syllabus of midcentury American literature.

But Partisan Review has indeed mattered in more recent decades for its position in a debate to which its absence from view has been altogether relevant. More than any other publication of the mid-20th century, the journal has been a venerable stalking horse recruited into a minor culture war. The strife concerned what’s awkwardly called “public intellect”—that is, the sphere in which “public intellectuals” used to thrive. “Public intellectuals,” as Russell Jacoby defined them near the start of this culture war, in 1987, are simply “writers and thinkers who address a general and educated audience.” The customary sally was that PR exemplified a bygone world of politically strenuous, culturally sophisticated, and intellectually exacting argument standing in opposition to the university, because it was addressed to a broad, unacademic readership. It was said to be both more usefully influential and more rigorous than any forum we have now, reflecting poorly upon today’s publications and editors. Partisan Review stood as the phantom flagship of “what we have lost” since the late 1960s (the period in which the magazine began, not incidentally, its long-lasting decline).

Teach or Perish

Jacques Berlinerblau:

My undergraduates’ career plans are a peculiar mix of naked ambition and hair-shirt altruism. If they pursue investment banking, they do so not merely to make money. Rather, they wish to use their eventual wealth to distribute solar light bulbs to every resident of a developing nation. They’ll apply to the finest law schools in hopes of some day judging war criminals at The Hague. Countless want to code. They dream of engineering an app that will make tequila flow out of thin air into your outstretched shot glass. My students, I suspect, are receiving their professional advice from a council of emojis.

There is one occupation, however, that rarely figures in their reveries. Few of these kids hanker to become professors. Maybe that’s because undergraduates no longer believe that the university is where the life of the mind is lived. Or perhaps they are endowed with acute emotional intelligence; they intuit that their instructors are sort of sad and broken on the inside. It’s also possible that the specter of entombing oneself in a study carrel does not appeal to them.

I guess they must also read those headlines, the ones suggesting that the liberal arts as we know them, and the scholars who toil within, are about to get rolled. I rehearse, with light annotation, some of these headlines here. Tenure-track positions in the humanities are—poof!—continually evaporating. Contingent faculty make up around 75 percent of educators in postsecondary institutions. To read an account of a part-timer’s daily grind is like reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

Going Rogue on Monolithic Education Administrative Costs

Chris Rickert:

Talk about putting your best foot forward only to get it stomped on.

Last week, in response to an open records request from this newspaper, the UW System released internal emails that showed System President Ray Cross throwing UW-Eau Claire chancellor James Schmidt under the bus for sending him “candid” ideas for how to cope with Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut $300 million from the System’s state aid in exchange for giving the System more autonomy.

“Incredible logic!!” Cross writes in an email forwarding Schmidt’s ideas to two other System administrators. “I find this most troubling!!! I thought Jim was a bit more thoughtful than this.”

As a mere civilian, I thought Schmidt’s ideas had merit. And after spending 25 minutes talking to him on the phone, I think the System would do well to hire more people like him.

Schmidt laid out 10 suggestions in all, with five more concerning initiatives specific to his campus.

They range from seeking different employee health care insurers, to creating links between four-year campuses and their nearby two-year campuses, to cutting down on administrative overhead, to shrinking and decentralizing System administration.

Cross, who declined my interview request, was particularly irked by what he called Schmidt’s proposed “elimination of the System” and his call for even greater autonomy for System campuses.

Schmidt didn’t back down from the value of his ideas or from the importance of coming up with them, although he acknowledged that on second look, some, like combining administrative functions at four-year campuses and their nearby two-year feeder schools, might not provide as much savings as he initially thought.

A focus on “adult employment“.

Ranking the top open admission New Jersey high schools by SAT scores

Colleen O’Dea:

Today’s vo-techs now operate some of the most elite public schools in New Jersey and the nation. U.S. News and World Report ranked Biotechnology High School in Freehold, part of the Monmouth County Vocational School District, 11th best in the nation and best in New Jersey among public schools. High Technology High School in Lincroft, another MCVSD school, ranked 20th nationally. Bergen County Academies, part of the Bergen County Technical Schools district, boasts thirty-six 2015 National Merit Semifinalists in a school with about 250 students in each grade level. These schools are smaller than the typical public school and more selective, requiring entrance exams as part of a competitive application process.

So it’s not surprising that these academies had the highest total-mean-scores during the past school year on the Scholastic Aptitude Test that students take as part of the college application process. High Technology High topped the list with a mean of 2195 out of a possible 2400. (Scores are for seniors and members of the class of 2014.) Its total enrollment was just 286 students, with an enviable 11-to-1 student-teacher ratio in 2013-2014. Six other schools had mean scores higher than 2000: Academy for Mathematics, Science and Engineering in Morris County Vocational; Bergen County Academies; Biotechnology High in Monmouth; Middlesex County Vocational Academy of Math, Science and Engineering Technology; Union County Magnet High School; and Academy of Allied Health and Science in Monmouth.

Is teaching about instruction or selection?

Gary Davis:

Teaching is commonly associated with instruction, yet in evolution, immunology, and neuroscience, instructional theories are largely defunct.

We propose a co-immunity theory of teaching, where attempts by a teacher to alter student neuronal structure to accommodate cultural ideas and practices is sort of a reverse to the function of the immune system, which exists to preserve the physical self, while teaching episodes are designed to alter the mental self.

This is a theory of teaching that is based on the inter-subjective relationship between teacher and learner. This theory posits that teaching does not, as is commonly assumed, take place via instruction from teacher to students, but rather through a process of selection in the learner’s brain, stimulated by materials and activities utilized by the teacher. In this theory, the mechanism that drives the selection process in learners’ brains is co-regulated emotional signaling between teacher and learner. From this perspective, the power of formative assessment is that it intrinsically carries with it emotional aspects for both learner and teacher, in that it provides a feedback relationship between them both, and so, according to the Greenspan & Shanker theory of cognitive symbolic development, promotes cognitive development.

– See more at:

What choice schools don’t like about Scott Walker’s voucher plan

Alan Borsuk:

An important thing to understand about Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal for making an unlimited number of private school tuition vouchers available across Wisconsin is how unattractive, as a practical matter, his plan is to the schools that it could serve.

An upcoming gusher of private school vouchers? More likely, as it stands, it would mean a modest increase at most, and it might even be a setback.

Statewide uncapped vouchers would be something Walker could promote as an accomplishment —perhaps in Iowa or New Hampshire or to potential donors to a presidential campaign.

But as a practical matter? Look at the specifics.

Consider the predicament of HOPE Via, a Christian school that has been on track to open in Racine this fall. Part of the HOPE network that has five schools in Milwaukee, HOPE Via has obtained a building on Racine’s north side and hired a principal and managing director. School leaders were working on hiring teachers, enrolling students and launching a remodeling of the building.

Then came Walker’s budget message on Feb. 3.

This gets technical quickly, but, in short, the proposal envisions a new way of paying for vouchers, other than in Milwaukee, where things would stay basically as is.

Until now, voucher money has come from a separate state appropriation. Walker proposed taking it from the state aid that would have been sent to each school district if the child involved were attending a public school there.

Research results from Madison schools suggest compassion, kindness can be taught

Doug Erickson:

To do the study, the researchers secured permission from the parents of 68 Madison students during the 2012-13 school year. All were in the district’s 4K program.

Thirty children were randomly assigned to classrooms where they received twice-weekly kindness lessons for three months. Children in the control group did not receive the lessons.

The curriculum is rooted in adult mindfulness-based practices adapted to a child’s developmental ability, said Laura Pinger, the curriculum’s lead designer.

She and the other researchers are affiliated with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, the UW-Madison effort founded by Richard Davidson, an international leader in mindfulness training.

Digitizing The Humanities

Armand Marie Leroi:

In the Republic of Learning humanities scholars often see themselves as second-class citizens. Their plaintive cries are not without cause. When universities trim budgets it is often their departments that take the hit. In the last 10 years, however, there has been one bright spot: the “digital humanities,” a vast enterprise that aims to digitize our cultural heritage, put it online for all to see, and do so with a scholarly punctilio that Google does not.

The digital humanities have captured the imaginations of funders and university administrators. They are being built by a new breed of scholar able to both investigate Cicero’s use of the word “lascivium” and code in Python. If you want to read Cicero’s letter in which lascivium appears, or the lyrics of 140,000 Dutch folk songs, now you can. Texts are living things: Digitization transforms them from caterpillars into butterflies. But the true promise of digitization is not just better websites. Rather, it is the transformation of the humanities into science.

Behind the curtain in Montgomery County Schools

Melinda Anderson and Frances Frost:

Montgomery County seems like a fairyland of affluence on the outskirts of the nation’s capital with progressive politics and world-class public schools. But pull back the curtain and the Oz-like illusion disappears. In its place, you find a suburb confronting rapidly increasing poverty with excellent public schools for some students amid the complexities of a “majority-minority” region.

As Montgomery County Public Schools navigates its way through profound change, it needs stability and perseverance. That’s why the abrupt departure of Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is a major blow and a loss for the district’s 154,000 students and for parents and teachers.

Bubbling beneath the surface are issues that rarely receive top billing in school-district politics.

350 years of publishing from the world’s oldest science journal– in pictures

Rebecca Ratcliffe:

Henry Oldenburg, secretary of the Royal Society and founder of the Philosophical Transactions, first published in 1665

Drawing on information gathered from the Royal Society’s meetings, his own correspondence with natural philosophers and the latest books and pamphlets, Oldenburg produced a monthly overview of all that was new in natural philosophy. He sold it for one shilling.

Transactions was initially Oldenburg’s own private venture, but it became an official Society publication in the 18th century.

From Grad School to ‘The Atlantic’ How a history Ph.D. who was on the tenure-track market ended up in journalism – See more at:

David Perry:

nyone who writes articles on the web knows the maxim: “Don’t read the comments.” Fortunately for Yoni Appelbaum, a recent Ph.D. in history from Brandeis University, the well-known writer Ta-Nehisi Coates routinely ignores that rule.

A few years ago, while Appelbaum was supposed to be writing his dissertation, he spent far too much time participating in the lively comment section moderated by Coates at The Atlantic. Coates featured some of Appelbaum’s comments, then invited him to write essays. Appelbaum soon became a correspondent for the magazine. In January, he was announced as the new senior editor for politics.

There’s something perfect about Appelbaum becoming the political editor for a magazine with its origins in mid-19th-century political culture. His academic work examines associative republicanism from 1865 to 1900, which he puns as the “guilded age,” arguing for the centrality of groups like the Knights of Pythias, Chicago Lumber Exchange, Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and more. He brought that expertise in U.S. history, race, voluntary association, and related topics to the highly informed, and well-moderated, community of Coates’s readers.

– See more at:

When letting your kids out of your sight becomes a crime

Danielle Meitiv:

We all want what is best for our children. We want them to be happy and successful, and we want to protect them from harm. But what if we are protecting them from extremely remote threats while ignoring the things that most endanger their well-being? What if police and child welfare officials, the experts whom we empower to protect our children, are pursuing phantom problems while neglecting those who are truly at risk?

One recent Saturday afternoon, six police officers and five patrol cars came to my home in Silver Spring. They demanded identification from my husband and entered our home despite not having a warrant to do so. The reason for this show of force? We had allowed our children to walk home from a neighborhood park by themselves.

A few hours later, a Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS) social worker coerced my husband into signing a “temporary safety plan” for our children by threatening to take the children “right now” — a threat she backed up with a call to the police. In the weeks that followed, another worker from the agency appeared at our door with the police and insisted that he did not need a warrant to enter our home. He also interviewed our children at school without our knowledge or permission.

Madison Schools Should Apply Act 10

Mitch Henck:

This is Madison. I learned that phrase when I moved here from Green Bay in 1992.
It means that the elites who drive the politics and the predominate culture are more liberal or “progressive” than backward places out state.

I knew I was in Madison as a reporter when parents and activists were fighting over whether to have “Sarah Has Two Mommies” posters in a grade school library. Concerned parents weakly stated at a public hearing that first-graders were too young to understand sexuality of any kind.

Activists at the public meeting said the children needed to understand tolerance. One conservative parent said: “Why don’t we vote by secret ballot?” An activist said, “No, we want a consensus.”

The Madison School District official who was presiding agreed, and the controversial posters stayed on the library walls. This is Madison.

Now we have the Madison School Board. It has been historically run by the teacher’s union. The same was true after Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 was passed, strictly limiting collective bargaining for public employees.

Three weeks before the state Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the law, the union-owned School Board rushed through a teacher’s contract that largely ignored Act 10. Unlike any other school district in the state, the contract made sure Madison teachers were not required to share the cost of their health insurance premiums. Unlike any other school district, Madison collects union dues from teacher paychecks for its leader, John Matthews.

By the way, I would not want him in a dark alley with me.

The problem is the Madison School District has a projected budget shortfall for 2015-2016 of $12 million to $20 million, according to last week’s State Journal. About $6 million could be saved by making aggressive health care costs, including requiring staff to contribute toward insurance premiums, renegotiating contracts with health care providers, and making plan changes. That’s according to Michael Barry, assistant superintendent of business services.

In fact, the district spends about $62 million on employee health care costs, which are expected to grow by 8.5 percent next school year. Shockingly, Madison School Board member Ed Hughes said: “If we’re talking about taking not a scalpel, but a machete to our programs given the cuts we’ll make because we’re the only school district in the state that’s unwilling to ask employees to contribute to their health insurance, I think that would be an impression that we would deservedly receive ridicule for.”

Even board member Mary Burke said: “We would be irresponsible to the community where basically 99 percent of the people pay contributions to health care” if the board made up the savings with cuts to staff and heath care.

So now what? The contract expires in June 2016. Conservative blogger David Blaska sued to force Madison to live under Act 10. A local judge ruled last week Blaska did have standing as a taxpayer to carry out his lawsuit as he is joined by The Wisconsin Institute of Law and Liberty.

Madison teacher’s union leader John Matthews said by making employees contribute to health care premiums, the district is effectively asking them to pay for iPads and administrators. Huh?

Todd Berry of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance told me 90 percent of state cuts to education were covered by savings offered to school districts under Act 10 by changing work rules, by employee contributions to retirement and health insurance premiums, and by altering health plans.

That might fly for the rest of the state, but then again, this is Madison.

Much more on benefits and the Madison School District and Act 10.

A focus on “adult employment“.

High-fliers in the classroom Programmes that place bright and ambitious graduates in poor schools are spreading around the world—and show what it takes to make a difference

The Economist:

“IT’S not enough to have a dream”, reads a banner over the whiteboard in Nancy Sarmiento’s Baltimore classroom. Most of her 12-year-old pupils qualify for a free or cheap lunch. About 70% of the school’s new arrivals last September had reading and mathematical skills below the minimum expected for their grade. Americans call such schools “disadvantaged”. Whatever the label, most countries have schools where most children are from poor families, expectations are low, and teachers are hard to recruit. And in most, the falling prestige of the teaching profession makes matters worse.

But Ms Sarmiento, who graduated from a four-year biology degree course a year early, had to see off fierce competition to win her teaching spot. Teach for America (TfA), the scheme that placed her, accepts just one in six applicants. It looks for a stellar academic record and evidence of traits that distinguish the best teachers in tough schools, including leadership, resilience and motivation to help the poor. Recruits get five weeks’ training and pledge to work for two years in a disadvantaged school.

Training partnership teaches welding — and life skills

Rick Barrett:

Growing up about 30 years ago, Super Steel Inc. President and CEO Dirk Smith says, he learned a work ethic and other essential skills that he believes are missing now in some job applicants.

“My parents instilled that in me,” said Smith, adding that he didn’t have to learn many of the “soft skills” in the workplace because he had already been taught them at home.

Now, Smith says, he sees young people lacking knowledge of basic things such as showing up to work on time. Sometimes they don’t have a bank account, which is a problem because Super Steel, a Milwaukee manufacturer and metal fabricator, has a direct-deposit payroll.

“We can teach kids the technical skills, on how to weld or operate a brake press. … But if they are missing the essential life skills, then all of that training is lost,” Smith said.

Addressing the issue, Super Steel has partnered with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin in a welder skills development program where the curriculum includes classes in areas such as communication, teamwork and conflict resolution.

Treating Parents Fairly

Robert Verbruggen::

The challenges involved in balancing work and family lead to some of the most difficult decisions any family faces. Decades of “women’s empowerment,” the rise of the working mother, and the economic pressures of modern family life have forced families to make difficult compromises. The implications of those compromises for children have led to highly controversial and emotionally charged debates that make all parents — regardless of their work and child-care choices — question whether they’ve done the right thing.

Most Americans have never really made their peace with the idea of full-time working motherhood. Pew recently found that 60% of Americans say children are better off with a parent at home, while 35% say that kids are just as well off either way. Another survey conducted last year gave respondents the option of a mother who works part-time, and, given this option, 42% said part-time work was best while another third opted for staying at home. Only 16% of respondents told Pew that it’s best for children if mothers work full-time.

Likely in part because of these beliefs (in addition to a multitude of other factors), more mothers have been choosing to stay at home in recent years. According to a recent Pew report, the percentage of mothers who stay at home with their children (a statistic that includes non-working single mothers) fell from 49% in the late 1960s to a low of 23% in 1999, but then rose to 29% by 2012. A more traditional measure of stay-at-home motherhood — the proportion of all mothers who are married, do not work, and have working husbands — has risen a bit, too, from about 17% in the mid-1990s to 20% in the early 2000s, with some minor fluctuations thereafter, indicating that the proportion of stay-at-home parents has roughly stabilized for now. (Stay-at-home fathers are becoming more common as well, though they remain a small fraction of all stay-at-home parents.)

School choice group seeks personal data on students

Erin Richards:

Bender said he thinks it’s unlikely that districts would be bristling at the request if it had come from any entity or individual other than his. School district leaders say that’s not true; they’re concerned about their families’ personal information going out to anyone.

Historically it’s been a nonissue because nobody ever asks for it.

State open records law mandates districts release student directory information upon request, unless parents have opted out of the directory or unless districts have passed policies to further restrict release of the data.

Directory information includes information such as students’ names, addresses, telephone numbers, date and place of birth, major field of study, height, weight, athletic team participation, awards achieved and schools attended.

The information is key to rounding out important school items such as yearbooks, playbills, sports rosters, announcements to the media about student accomplishments and contact lists that help families communicate with each other.

Oshkosh School District Superintendent Stan Mack said his district will comply with releasing all the directory data that state law and its own district policy allow.

Google boss warns of ‘forgotten century’ with email and photos at risk

Ian Sample:

Cerf called for the development of “digital vellum” to preserve old software and hardware so that out-of-date files could be recovered no matter how old they are.

“When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the world wide web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history,” he said.

“We don’t want our digital lives to fade away. If we want to preserve them, we need to make sure that the digital objects we create today can still be rendered far into the future,” he added.

The warning highlights an irony at the heart of modern technology, where music, photos, letters and other documents are digitised in the hope of ensuring their long-term survival. But while researchers are making progress in storing digital files for centuries, the programs and hardware needed to make sense of the files are continually falling out of use.

Google, Facebook and governments are storing, mining, selling and aggregating all of this…..

The Mismeasure of Teaching Time

Samuel Abrams:

Few matters of international education policy have achieved as much consensus as the claim that teachers in U.S. public schools spend nearly twice as much time leading classes as their counterparts in such high-performing nations as Finland, Japan, and many other nations belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Yet this claim is far from true.

Teachers in U.S. public schools work hard, for relatively low pay, and under increasingly stressful conditions because of federally mandated high-stakes tests tying assessment of teachers to student performance on these tests.1 But they do not, as reported in detailed tables published by the OECD every year since 2000, spend so much more time instructing students than teachers in other OECD nations.2 Through regular repetition by academics and journalists, this misinformation has become conventional wisdom.

In reality, U.S. primary teachers spend about 12 percent more time leading classes than their OECD counterparts, not 50 percent; U.S. lower-secondary teachers spend about 14 percent more time, not 65 percent; and U.S. upper-secondary teachers spend about 11 percent more time, not 73 percent. In the case of Finland and Japan, in particular, the alleged differences, as will be explained, reach 110 percent.

Disabilities and online education

Tamar Lewin:

Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T., saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.

“Much of Harvard’s online content is either not captioned or is inaccurately or unintelligibly captioned, making it inaccessible for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing,” the complaint said, echoing language used in the M.I.T. complaint. “Just as buildings without ramps bar people who use wheelchairs, online content without captions excludes individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

Jeff Neal, a spokesman for Harvard, said that while he could not comment on the litigation, Harvard expected the Justice Department to propose rules this year “to provide much-needed guidance in this area,” and that the university would follow whatever rules were adopted.

Commentary on Madison Schools Teacher Benefit Practices

David Blaska:

Like the Sun Prairie groundhog, the Madison school district’s teachers contract has come back to bite the taxpayer. The Madison Metropolitan School District is looking at a $20.8 million budget deficit next school year.

Good Madison liberals worried about the state balancing its budget can now look closer to home.

To balance the budget, the district will most certainly have to raise taxes again; last year’s increase was a hefty 5.4%. It will probably cut programs. It may even lay off teachers. To ease the blow, will it ask those teachers to contribute to their excellent health coverage like 99% of the rest of the world?

This is the school district that thumbed its nose at Wisconsin law, the school district that eschewed using the flexibility given it by Wisconsin Act 10, the 2011 collective bargaining reform. Madison is the only district that collects union boss John Matthews’ dues for him, the only district that requires fair share payments, the only district that does not require its employees to contribute toward their very excellent health care insurance. A district that gave teachers longevity raises of 2% and 3% on top of free health insurance.

Much more, here.

Contract teaching at a Canadian University

Andrew Robinson:

Today, I had a perfectly reasonable request from a student who wanted to review an exam from last term. I was unable to comply with this request because to do so would be to give my employer more of my time for free. As a dedicated teacher, I am extremely sad about this, because I would like to give my students the very best learning experience that I possibly can.

So what makes a mild-mannered Physics instructor turn into a seething rebel? The blunt answer is that I, along with many of my colleagues in Higher Education in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia are being shamelessly exploited by our employers. We do not have permanent jobs, we have to eke out an existence by patching together many temporary contracts to try and earn enough to survive on. We go by many different names — in Canada we are Contract Instructors or Sessional Lecturers. In the US, Adjunct Professors. We are highly qualified, I have a PhD, and often have experience outside academia. I have worked as a scientist or scientific programmer in the nuclear engineering industry and in the biosciences sector. This counts for little.

The social network for people who want to upload their DNA to the Internet

Daniela Hernandez:

More than three years after Clark first put her genes up on the web for all to see, roughly 1,500 others have joined her on openSNP. It isn’t the only social network out there for genetic exhibitionists. Just like someone might have profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, people are starting to upload their genetic information to multiple sites. Clark is active on Genomera, Snpedia, and Promethease — all grass-roots open-source platforms for genetic information and research. People have even uploaded their genes to the collaboration tool Github.

This all adds up to a citizen-genetics movement that is just getting started. People like Sharon Terry, an advocate for public participation in genetics research, and Melanie Swan — a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded DIYGenomics, an organization that organizes crowdsourced genetics research — are spurring this revolution.

“What we’re trying to do is imagine a system where the patient says, ‘I want my data. I want it open. I want researchers to work on it. I want them to share it.’ We’re trying to build this alternate universe,” said Stephen Friend, the director of Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit that champions open science.

Governance Diversity: Measure would allow tech colleges to run charter high schools

Erin Richards:

Wisconsin’s 16 technical colleges could establish independent charter high schools staffed by college instructors, under a proposal being circulated by two Republican lawmakers that aims to better prepare students for the workforce.

Rep. Tom Weatherston (R-Racine) says charter high schools focused on occupational education or technology could attract students who would not otherwise be college-bound and help them attain the skills Wisconsin employers need.

His vision, outlined in a draft bill he and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) are circulating for cosponsorship, is to allow students to attend a charter high school run by the tech college for four years, then continue in the college to earn an associate degree after just one more year.

“There are a lot of young people in my district lacking the knowledge that technical education is out there,” Weatherston said. “Especially with the current systems, they’re required to graduate high school before they can get into technical programs.”

Options already exist for Wisconsin high school students to take classes at technical colleges, though Weatherston counters that some districts don’t let students participate in them.

More broadly, the potential bill would be the latest proposal aimed at expanding public charter schools in Wisconsin that operate independently of traditional school districts — something public-school supporters have opposed.

Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-’17 budget proposal calls for creating a different avenue to spawn more independent charter schools: a new state board that would authorize nonprofit entities to oversee such schools around the state.

He made the same proposal in his previous biennial budget.

A failed Republican-backed bill last session would have allowed all the University of Wisconsin System campuses, plus technical colleges and regional state education agencies to approve operators to open charter schools.

Generally, teachers unions and many district administrators are not on board with these ideas. That’s because independent charter schools are public schools run like small businesses, with nonunion employees that don’t answer to local school boards.

Critics say that the schools divert students, and by extension, state revenue, away from traditional public schools they would have otherwise attended.

Advocates say without so much government bureaucracy, independent charters can be more innovative than a typical public school.

While lots of districts operate their own charter schools staffed by district employees, independent charters exist only around the Milwaukee area currently.

Most answer to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or the City of Milwaukee. State law also allows UW-Parkside to authorize charter schools.

One technical college, Milwaukee Area Technical College, can as well, but MATC has never exercised that authority.

One unusual aspect of the Weatherston-Wanggaard idea is that it would have the tech colleges run the charter high schools themselves, rather than overseeing a charter-school management company to run the potential high school.

The bill would allow instructors at the college to teach at the high school, ostensibly without a state teaching license typically required of K-12 educators.

Weatherston said tech-based charter high schools could offer programming relevant to careers such as dental hygienist or HVAC technician.

He said general education classes could have a technical career focus, such as math for bookkeeping.

“I think we should keep it broad-based and allow the market to drive what kind of curriculum they offer,” he said.

But some educators worry about autonomy.

“Communities deserve to have local control over their schools, and this proposal appears to allow high schools to be dropped into their towns without input,” Betsy Kippers, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, said in a statement Tuesday.

Options already exist for high school students to take occupational or technical education classes at local colleges.

The Legislature last session also approved a new program called Course Options that lets students at all grade levels take up to two classes at a time from approved educational institutions outside their home school, at no cost.

Approved institutions include the University of Wisconsin System institutions and state technical colleges.

Waukesha County Technical College started a special program two years ago that allows local high school seniors to apply to spend a portion of their day taking credit-bearing classes in areas such as welding, metal fabrication, and printing and publishing. Students admitted to the program don’t have to pay for the college classes. State Superintendent Tony Evers is scheduled to visit that program at WCTC Dual Enrollment Academy on Wednesday.

Some districts have even started their own specialty schools to meet that niche. LakeView Technology Academy is a specialty high school in the Kenosha Unified School District that allows students to earn up to the equivalent of one year of tech college credits and one semester of engineering credits upon graduation.

About Erin Richards
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Erin Richards covers K-12 education in urban and suburban Milwaukee, as well as state politics related to education issues.

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Sorry, Millennials, We’re Out of the Jobs You Want

Megan McArdle:

Millennials don’t want to work in sales, reports the Wall Street Journal. They think it’s exploitative. They also hate the idea of variable compensation; they want a nice, steady job where the company takes the risk, not the worker.

The feeling that sales is exploitative is not new; people have always been uncomfortable with the idea of selling something or being sold. And, of course, many people have always been uncomfortable with the idea of variable compensation. But if companies are having a harder time finding people to take sales jobs and reworking compensation packages to decrease the commission component, that is worth noting.

It’s not entirely surprising, of course. I’ve heard people who worked in New York City’s government during the 1970s noting that there was an unusually high number of very competent senior staff at the time — refugees from the Great Depression who ended up there because it was the only place where you could get a steady paycheck. That generation was risk-averse in ways that their children were not, with a high savings rate and a permanent aversion to equity investments. It would be natural for the millennial generation to have had a similar reaction to such a brutal formative experience.