Civics: Losing The War

Lee Sandlin:

But that just shows how little anybody really understood what was happening to the world. Nobody outside of China remembered Nanking a couple years later when the German Reich began its stunning expansion through Europe. The Wehrmacht stampeded whole armies before it with its terrifyingly brutal new style of tank attack (the European press called it “blitzkrieg,” and the name stuck), and rumors immediately began circulating of appalling crimes committed in the occupied territories — wholesale deportations and systematic massacres, like a vast mechanized replay of the Mongol invasions. A story solemnly made the rounds of the world’s newspapers that storks migrating from Holland to South Africa had been found with messages taped to their legs that read, “Help us! The Nazis are killing us all!”

It was in September 1939, in the wake of the German invasion of Poland, that the phrase “the Second World War” began turning up in newspapers and government speeches. The name was a kind of despairing admission that nobody knew how long the war would go on or how far the fighting would spread. Over the next two years the news arrived almost daily that battles had broken out in places that only weeks before had seemed like safe havens. By the time of Pearl Harbor the war had erupted in Norway and Mongolia, on Crete and in the Dutch East Indies; the Italian Army had marched on Egypt, and the German army was pushing into the outskirts of Moscow; there had been savage fighting in Finland north of the Arctic Circle and sea battles off the coast of Argentina. The United States was one of the last secluded places left on earth.

How Machines Destroy (And Create!) Jobs, In 4 Graphs


For hundreds of years, people have been talking about machines taking jobs from people. Less often discussed: machines creating new jobs.

In the first part of the 20th century, agricultural technology — the tractor, chemical fertilizers — meant a single farmer could suddenly grow much more food. So we didn’t need as many farmers. Technology destroyed a huge number of farming jobs.

Congratulations, Class of 2020! Please Enroll.

Justin Fox:

economics, as the recession persuaded many young people to stay in or go back to school, while the subsequent recovery has pulled them into the job market. It is also simple demographics — the “echo boom” of births to baby-boomer parents in the U.S. peaked in 1990, and a lot of those kids entered college in 2008. Since then the number of Americans in their prime college-attending years has been going down.

College endowments under scrutiny

Naomi Pagoda:

The tax-exempt endowments of colleges and universities are coming under scrutiny in a presidential election year where the cost of higher education has become a top issue.

Leading Republican tax-writers in Congress have sent questions to 56 private institutions with endowments of over $1 billion, giving them until April 1 to respond. The answers they receive could lead to legislation.

The letters — which were sent in February and signed by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Ways and Means Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) — stated that many colleges are raising tuition at rates above inflation despite having large and growing endowments.

The five private colleges with the largest endowments in fiscal year 2015 were Harvard University ($36.4 billion), Yale University ($25.6 billion), Princeton University ($22.7 billion), Stanford University ($22.2 billion) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($13.5 billion), according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and the Commonfund Institute.

The College of Chinese Wisdom

Michael Puett & Christine Gross-Loh:

When students arrive at college these days, they hear a familiar mantra about the purpose of higher education: Find yourself. Use these four years to discover who you are. Learn flamenco dancing or ceramics, start a composting project, write for the student newspaper or delve into 19th-century English poetry. Self-discovery, they are told, is the road to adulthood.

So why is it that so many students feel such anxiety? On campus, we hear the same complaint again and again: “I’ve done lots of extracurriculars. I’ve taken a variety of courses. Why can’t I figure out who I am and what I want to do?”

Our answer: Read Confucius, Mencius, Zhuangzi and other Chinese thinkers who lived more than 2,000 years ago. Recognize that the contemporary Western emphasis on self-discovery and self-acceptance has led you astray.

How Americans Lost Trust in Our Greatest Institutions

Ron Fournier and Sophie Quinton:

Whitmire tells a familiar story of how public and private institutions derailed an American’s dream: In 2000, he bought the $40,000 house with no money down and a $620 monthly mortgage. He made every payment. Then, in the fall of 2010, his partially disabled wife lost her state job. “Governor [Mitch] Daniels slashed the budget, and they looked for any excuse to squeeze people out,” Whitmire says. “We got lost in that shuffle — cut adrift.” The Whitmires couldn’t make their payments anymore.

They applied for a trial loan-modification through an Obama administration program, and when it was granted, their monthly bill fell to $473.87. But, like nearly a million others, the modification was canceled. After charging the lower rate for three months, their mortgage lender reinstated the higher fee and billed the family $1,878.88 in back payments. Whitmire didn’t have that kind of cash and couldn’t get it, so he and his wife filed for bankruptcy. His attorney advised him to live in the house until the bank foreclosed, but “I don’t believe in a free lunch,” Whitmire says. He moved out, leaving the keys on the kitchen table. “I thought the bank should have them.”

Helsinki prepares to give every citizen €800 per month and shut down its welfare bureaucracy.

Guy Sorman:

Career politicians have become incredibly boring. This helps to explain the appearance of rebel parties in every Western democracy. These new splinter groups include the Ciudadanos in Spain, the National Front in France, the Tea Party in the United States, and the Independentists in Catalonia and Scotland. Voters have grown tired of accepting the same old tunes, whistled from both Left and Right. Constantly recycled policies and programs offer no solutions to difficult, long-term, and often intergenerational problems, such as unemployment among the unqualified youth, or the excessive dependence of certain groups on the welfare state. The same goes for the debate over immigration. One side demonizes globalization; the other decries nationalism.

New ideas are far from lacking, however. Economists and sociologists in universities, laboratories, and foundations provide a steady stream of fresh approaches to these problems. But politicians don’t seem to read much these days, preferring the advice of a closed circle of marketing consultants and dried-up slogan manufacturers. This makes Finland’s move toward instituting a universal basic income (UBI)—often referred to by economists as a negative income tax—all the more refreshing. The negative income tax is often associated with the free-market economist Milton Friedman, who defended it with passion and flair in the 1970s.

Calculus Is So Last Century


Can you remember the last time you did calculus? Unless you are a researcher or engineer, chances are good it was in a high-school or college class you’d rather forget. For most Americans, solving a calculus problem is not a skill they need to perform well at work.

A spiritual successor to Aaron Swartz is angering publishers all over again

David Kravets:

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: a young academic with coding savvy has become frustrated with the incarceration of information. Some of the world’s best research continues to be trapped behind subscriptions and paywalls. This academic turns activist, and this activist then plots and executes the plan. It’s time to free information from its chains—to give it to the masses free of charge. Along the way, this research Robin Hood is accused of being an illicit, criminal hacker.

This, of course, describes the tale of the late Aaron Swartz. His situation captured the Internet’s collective attention as the data crusader attacked research paywalls. Swartz was notoriously charged as a hacker for trying to free millions of articles from popular academic hub JSTOR. At age 26, he tragically committed suicide just ahead of his federal trial in 2013.

How physics and maths helped create modernist painting

Lynn Gamwell:

One of the most profound insights of modern science is that nature has a symmetrical structure. Since antiquity, naturalists have observed bilateral symmetry in plants and animals, as well as symmetrical hexagons in ice and snow. In the 19th century, scientists looked through microscopes and saw that nature’s building blocks (cells, crystals) are arranged in symmetrical patterns and come in left-right pairs. In 1905, Albert Einstein discovered the symmetry of mass and energy – mass can be converted into energy and vice versa (E = mc2). He soon developed the general theory of relativity to give an accurate description of the cosmos from any frame of reference.

The Absurdity of College Admissions

Alia Wong:

Right about now, anxious high-school seniors around the globe are obsessively checking their mailboxes, awaiting decision letters from the U.S.’s elite colleges. For all but a tiny handful of the hundreds of thousands of teenagers who applied—pouring countless hours into agonizing over forms, editing personal essays, sitting through standardized tests, and nervously monitoring their GPA—those letters won’t bear good news.

Acceptance rates at highly selective colleges have plummeted in recent years. Exclusivity has always been baked into their brand: Only about 3 percent of 18-year-olds in the U.S. go to schools that admit fewer than half their applicants, making the “college-admissions mania,” as The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson once put it, “a crisis for the 3 percent.” Still, it’s a mania to which more and more teens are subjecting themselves, pressuring applicants to pad their resumés and tout superficial experiences and hobbies, convincing them that attending a prestigious school is paramount. And critics say that mania has even spread into and shaped American culture, often distorting kids’ (and parents’) values, perpetuating economic inequality, and perverting the role of higher education in society as a whole.

College Admissions Debates Miss the Mark

The American Interest:

It’s elite college admissions season, which means that it’s also the season for elite media handwringing about how stressful it for high school students to compete for the vanishingly small number of spots available in the Ivy League. These concerns are understandable, of course—any young person who has recently gone through this process, or any parent who has watched—knows that it can be agonizing and arbitrary. But most elite commentary on the subject—which imagines that the best way to slow down the rat race is for admissions offices to de-emphasize academic achievement and instead emphasize character traits like kindness and generosity—misses the mark by a rather wide margin. Take the Atlantic‘s recent contribution to this genre, which approvingly cites a college admissions overhaul agenda championed by the admissions deans of the nation’s most selective colleges and administrators at the most elite feeder schools:

Obama’s economists are worried about automation — and think the poor have the most to lose

Dylan Matthews

The results are striking: Low-paying jobs (those paying less than $20 an hour, or under $40,000 a year for full-time workers) have an 83 percent chance of being automated. Medium-paying jobs ($20 to $40 an hour, or $40,000 to $80,000 a year) have a 31 percent chance, and high-paying ones (more than $40 an hour, or more than $80,000 a year) have only a 4 percent chance.

This may seem obvious. There are a whole lot of low-paying service jobs you can imagine being automated out of existence. Better Roombas could reduce the need for janitors, self-checkout machines are already replacing cashiers, etc.

But there are also high-paying professions that intuitively appear at risk. Just see this vintage 1998 Atul Gawande article about how artificial intelligence was already better than experienced cardiologists at interpreting EKGs. Radiologists, who spend much of their time visually interpreting test results, are also at risk. So are lawyers who formerly could spend hours scouring paper documents during discovery, charging the client throughout, and now are threatened by “e-discovery” software that makes those files easily searchable.

Getting the most out of one’s self


world has quietly been undergoing a performance revolution. In nearly all areas, people are continuously getting better at what they do. This is obvious when measured on running tracks and tennis courts. But it is happening in myriad other areas as well, from surgery to management—and even violin-playing. Better training is largely responsible, by breaking down activities into discrete parts, and measuring how people perform best.

Two new books promise to help people improve their abilities with a generous mix of fascinating anecdotes and a romp through the academic literature. In “Smarter, Faster, Better”, Charles Duhigg of the New York Times looks at the numerous ways that people can become more effective, whether in improving motivation, setting goals, making decisions or thinking creatively. Basically, Mr Duhigg’s is a self-help book for white-collar professionals.

The Teacher Hazing Ritual

Robert Pondisco:

are all familiar with the bracing “hero teacher” book or movie. A plucky, young (inevitably white) teacher ends up in a tough inner-city classroom filled with “those kids” – the ones that both school and society have written off as unteachable – and succeeds against all odds, through grit and compassion, embarrassing in the process those who run “the system.” Ed Boland’s “The Battle for Room 314” is the dark opposite. It’s a clear-eyed chronicle of first-year teaching failure at a difficult New York City high school, vividly written and wincingly frank.

Reading the book brought back a flood of memories of my own not dissimilar struggles as a new teacher at a low-performing public school in the South Bronx. Like Boland, I had my share of defiant and difficult students. If I’d been teaching high school, not elementary school, I likely would have made the same decision he did: to abandon ship and return to my previous career after one year, shell-shocked and defeated.

Via Joanne Jacobs.

Civics: The Rebellion Will Not Go Away

Gaius Publius:

Why is this rebellion permanent, at least until conditions improve? Because life in the U.S. is getting worse in a way that can be felt by a critical mass of people, by enough people to disrupt the Establishment machine with their anger. And because that worsening is seen to be permanent.

Bottom line, people are reaching the breaking point, and we’re watching that play out in the 2016 electoral race.

In student testing, much has changed — and much has not

Alan Borsuk:

By the way, test scores can be a factor in evaluating teachers, but they have not emerged as a big factor. And the momentum behind connecting scores to ratings of teachers seems to have waned nationwide. (Why? Because it doesn’t really work.)

With the new scores, the “report card” for each school in the state will be relaunched, after a year off. This time, private schools with publicly-funded voucher students are slated to get report cards. Don’t expect the same level of data for voucher schools as public schools. Maybe that will take a few years to build up.

In the end, even as it is the third set of tests used in three years in Wisconsin, the Forward Test is pretty consistent with its predecessors. And, now on computers, the giant enterprise of testing our kids to get some broad handle on how they’re doing is on the move again.

Selective Diversity

Jonathan Adler:

Georgetown University professor John Hasnas writes in the Wall Street Journal of his experience with faculty candidate searches over the past twenty-plus years. Not only is there rarely any effort consider ideological or viewpoint diversity, but in some cases there have been efforts to squelch it.

in my experience, no search committee has ever been instructed to increase political or ideological diversity. On the contrary, I have been involved in searches in which the chairman of the selection committee stated that no libertarian candidates would be considered. Or the description of the position was changed when the best résumés appeared to be coming from applicants with right-of-center viewpoints. Or in which candidates were dismissed because of their association with conservative or libertarian institutions

How is/was the education system in your country?

Quora, via a kind Richard Askey email:

You are in Mordor now and way closer to Mount Doom.
There is suddenly so much less free time and everyone including the aunt of your neighbor kid’s cousin start to ask you how many years you have till “High School Entrance Exam”.

Now the main subjects are:
Science (Physics, Chemistry, Biology)

Secondary subjects are:
Information Technology
Moral training (Apologize for my inability to properly translate.. You are generally taught how to behave, to love the Party, etc)

At the same time as an excellent student (score high is usually sufficient to earn that title), you will be taking National Math/Science Olympics Competition and spend loads of time on high school maths problems.

If unfortunately you don’t have a decent grade ensuring a good high school, you will have to spend much time on home tutorials apart from school.

I was of the second category, and spent 8 hours per week on Chinese, Math and Science, later English too.

Employee Handbook Discussions to Be Scheduled

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

While Act 10 limits bargaining to base wages only, all other issues and conditions of employment are addressed as part of the Employee Handbook development process. Last year, MTI worked with MMSD administration and the Board of Education to establish a new collaborative process for continued employee voice in the development of the Employee Handbook. That collaborative process commenced last summer and, after months of difficult discussions and eventual BOE approval, produced an Employee Handbook that continues the pay, benefits, and working conditions most critical to employees, while forging acceptable compromises in other areas. This summer, the joint Oversight Group of employee and management representatives will meet again to discuss, and possibly recommend, potential modifications to the Employee Handbook. Later this spring, MTI will be surveying MTI members to identify what changes they would like to see in the Employee Handbook.

Pass, Fail An inside look at the retail scam known as the modern university

Ron Srigley:

Why not? A university degree, after all, is a credential crucial for economic success. At least, that’s what we’re told. But as with all such credentials—those sought for the ends they promise rather than the knowledge they represent—the trick is to get them cheaply, quickly, and with as little effort as possible. My students’ disaffection is the real face of this ambition.

Outsiders Welcome

Mikhail Zinshteyn:

That information void is a sore spot for Ozan Jaquette, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona who is emerging as a research leader on higher education enrollment policy. So far, Jaquette and a co-writer have published a journal article showing that a 10-percent drop in state appropriations is associated with a public research university increasing by five percent the number of non-resident freshmen it enrolls. He and his colleagues also found that at public research universities, spikes in the number of non-resident students who are admitted are associated with declines in the number of under-represented minorities and students who receive Pell grants (which are mostly issued to low-income students).

Jaquette talked with me about what effects non-resident students have on the racial and economic diversity of state universities. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows

A Rather Thin, Data Free Update on Madison’s Long Term, Disastrous Reading Results

Madison School District Administration Slides (PDF)

Learning is accelerated

Fewer students are at risk over time

Decisions about who needs Tier 2 or Tier 3 interventions are reliable and can be made rapidly

Rates of intervention success are high

Key decision makers look at the effects of implementation and troubleshoot regularly

Resources are allocated efficiently

Caroline Racine Gilles (PDF)

I. Purpose
The purpose of this memo is to provide an update on MMSD’s strategy for literacy tiers of support, to highlight a targeted acceleration strategy implemented with intensive elementary schools this year, and to re-cap the major findings from two secondary program reviews along with next steps.

II. Background Information
The Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) department is working strategically with many departments to help improve overall outcomes for students through a tiered approach to support. Critical to an effective MTSS system is high quality first teaching and a robust, guaranteed and viable curriculum. Efforts must be placed squarely in this arena as the effectiveness of our interventions and supports hinge on the effectiveness of our Tier 1. To this end, we have a multi- pronged approach to MTSS implementation. Increasing our capacity to implement and sustain literacy supports and intervention is one focus within the context of larger MTSS implementation. Given our student outcome data, we work in two main areas: prevention and intervention. Our ultimate goal is to prevent skill deficits from occurring in the first place (e.g., catching students before they fail), while simultaneously providing intervention for those students who already have skill deficits. Therefore, our efforts must rest in supplementing our core instruction in the early grades, while having a relentless focus on catching up our middle and high school students. This briefing sheet will detail our strategies and efforts in both areas.

An unfortunate data free update.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Suburban Poverty: Atlanta’s Hidden Epidemic

Kate Sweeney:

Poverty” just isn’t a word she identifies with. She points out that she and her niece live on a nice, suburban street, in a nice house … She pauses. “Without a lot of furnishings, or comforts that we’d like to have.”

Indeed, the walls are bare, and there’s little furniture in this house on an Austell cul-de-sac, where she’s lived for the past 13 months. Still, she insists that she doesn’t feel impoverished.

This is why it demoralized her when she recently had to make the 12-mile drive to Marietta to apply for food stamps.

“Because, um, it’s emotional,” she said. “It’s more than just paperwork. It’s the dramatization of, you know, ‘This is where you’re at.’ The whole tone of ‘I’m needy’ doesn’t sit well on your identity. Not me, anyway.”

“If you grew up poor, your college degree may be worth less

Denise Cummins:

College graduates from poor families were found to earn 91 percent more over their careers than high school graduates from the same income group. But college graduates from upper-middle-class families earned 162 percent more over their careers than those with just a high school diploma.

Graph courtesy the Brookings Institute. FPL is short for federal poverty level. You can read more about the smaller “bachelor’s bump” here.

Why the difference? Researchers point to disparities in family resources during childhood and the colleges that low-income students attend. Children born to highly educated women receive more of their parents’ time and money than those born to the less well-educated women. They also point out that poor students are more likely to attend lower ranked colleges than rich students. The researchers explicitly assume that this means poor students are receiving lower quality education than their richer peers.

Opinion: Here’s Why Tests Matter

James Piereson & Naomi Schafer Riley:

Earlier this month, students for the first time took a new, and allegedly improved, SAT. The test’s developer included more-contemporary vocabulary and removed penalties for guessing the wrong answer. The changes came with a predictable outcry—complaints, for instance, that too many word problems in the math sections disadvantage some students. There was also a familiar refrain from parents: Why do we have this exam at all? Why do colleges put so much stock in the results? And why-oh-why do our kids have to take so many tests?

It might seem unfair that admissions officers place almost as much weight on a one-morning test as they do on grades from four years of high school, as a 2011 survey from the National Association for College Admissions Counseling showed. But there’s a simple reason for this emphasis on testing: Policy makers and educators have effectively eliminated all the other ways of quantifying student performance

Bernie Sanders is making unrealistic promises about his free college plan

Matthew Yglesias:

What Sanders’s plan, as spelled out in his College for All Act, does is provide federal matching grants to help defray the costs of eliminating tuition for in-state students.

Specifically, he is offering a 2-to-1 federal match for states that do this along with meeting a few other criteria like reducing reliance on adjunct faculty. This is a sufficiently attractive offer that some states would probably go for it. But it’s going to cost a lot of money, and tax-averse Republican governors like Walker pretty clearly aren’t going to do it.