PPE: the Oxford degree that runs Britain

Andy Beckett:

Monday, 13 April 2015 was a typical day in modern British politics. An Oxford University graduate in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE), Ed Miliband, launched the Labour party’s general election manifesto. It was examined by the BBC’s political editor, Oxford PPE graduate Nick Robinson, by the BBC’s economics editor, Oxford PPE graduate Robert Peston, and by the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Oxford PPE graduate Paul Johnson. It was criticised by the prime minister, Oxford PPE graduate David Cameron. It was defended by the Labour shadow chancellor, Oxford PPE graduate Ed Balls.

Elsewhere in the country, with the election three weeks away, the Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, Oxford PPE graduate Danny Alexander, was preparing to visit Kingston and Surbiton, a vulnerable London seat held by a fellow Lib Dem minister, Oxford PPE graduate Ed Davey. In Kent, one of Ukip’s two MPs, Oxford PPE graduate Mark Reckless, was campaigning in his constituency, Rochester and Strood. Comments on the day’s developments were being posted online by Michael Crick, Oxford PPE graduate and political correspondent of Channel 4 News.

Mathematician Eugenia Cheng: ‘Yes, I am an anarchist!’

Nicola Davis:

Eugenia Cheng is a British mathematician who is senior lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her main interest is higher-dimensional category theory but she has also written a book about the maths of baking entitled How To Bake Pi. Her latest book is Beyond Infinity: An Expedition into the Outer Limits of Mathematics.

What is higher-dimensional category theory? Can you describe it in a sentence?
It is the mathematics of mathematics. It does for mathematics the same thing that mathematics does for the world – it makes connections between things and it highlights patterns between things, so that we can be more efficient about how we use our brain power.

You’ve declared your vision is to ‘rid the world of mathematics phobia’. How do you erode it once it has taken hold?
Unfortunately, the kind of maths we teach in school is often not in any way useful for most people’s lives – people say “When am I ever going to need to solve a quadratic equation in my life?” The kind of maths I teach is about logical thinking, thinking your way through situations, understanding what is causing something to happen and working out how things fit together.

‘Mob’ of ‘entitled children’ at Highland Park assembly gets called out by visiting author

Corbett Smith:

Best-selling author Jamie Ford was in Highland Park on Thursday, the keynote speaker at the town’s literary festival.

Earlier that day, he stopped by Highland Park High School, in one of the wealthiest school districts in the state, where he spoke to an assembly of freshmen and sophomores.

It did not go well.

On his personal website, Ford — who broke onto the literary scene in 2009 with his debut, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet — chronicled how he was mocked by a group of students during his talk, “a thousand students, trolling me,” as teachers and a principal looked on.

“After visiting more than 100 schools, from inner-city schools in New York, the kind with clear backpacks and metal detectors, to elite international baccalaureate high schools, including one where the previous year’s guest speaker was Justin Bieber — I’ve finally had a school visit … go sideways,” Ford wrote. “I’m looking at you, Highland Park High School, and I’m confused.”

About halfway through the 50-minute talk, when Ford started a Q&A session, students began to interrupt with random cascades of clapping and cheering…..

Liberia’s bold experiment in school reform

The Economist:

AT A school in the township of West Point, Monrovia, a teacher should be halfway through her maths lesson. Instead she is eating lunch. A din echoes around the room of the government-run school as 70 pupils chat, fidget or sleep on their desks. Neither these pupils nor the rest of Liberia is learning much. Bad teaching, a lack of accountability and a meagre budget have led to awful schools. Fourteen years of civil war and, more recently, the Ebola virus have stymied reforms. Children’s prospects are shocking. More than one-third of second-grade pupils cannot read a word; since many are held back, teenagers often share classes with six year olds (see chart). In 2014 only 13 candidates out of 15,000 passed an entrance exam to the University of Liberia. In 2013 none did.

Madison, however, continues with its non diverse K-12 governance.

Education publisher Pearson reports biggest loss in its history

Mark Sweney:

Pearson has reported a pre-tax loss of £2.6bn for 2016, the biggest in its history, after a slump at its US education operation.

The world’s largest education publisher, which in January saw almost £2bn wiped from its stock market value after issuing its fifth profit warning in two years, reported the record loss after taking a £2.55bn non-cash charge for “impairment of goodwill reflecting trading pressures” in its North American businesses.

A spokesman said the charge related mainly to historic acquisitions of Simon & Schuster Education and National Computer Systems, purchased in 1998 and 2000 respectively, as a “necessary consequence” of the lower profit expectations announced last month.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Candidate Debate Summary

Meg Jones:

“Here’s my concern about the bully pulpit. If her position is ‘I’m going to Milwaukee and I’m going to go to taxpayer subsidized parochial or private schools that are part of the choice program,’ that’s great. But she also has to visit public schools. …

“She better talk about both in a positive way. She represents all kids, all 680,000 public school kids in the state of Wisconsin. We need her to be an advocate for those kids,” Evers said.

Holtz, the former Whitnall superintendent, said he talked to a friend who knows DeVos and said the new secretary of education has always been dedicated to children and wants students to be successful. He also said the Trump administration has promised not to meddle in decisions by local school districts.

“Assuming they are people of their word, as President Trump says ‘we’re not going to be involved in the states as they have in the past.’ I welcome that with open arms. I don’t want D.C. dictating what we’re doing in Wisconsin,” Holtz said. “I want Wisconsin to choose the path moving forward. I do think she’s going to help us with that.”

The candidates were asked when they last taught in a classroom. Evers said it was in 1980, but as the state superintendent he visits classrooms around the state at least once a week — last week he was in Durand and this week in Green Bay.

Molly Beck:

“I’m still not sure that I violated anything. But if I did, I really am the kind of person who is willing to name it, own it and fix it,” said Holtz. “And I obviously fixed it because I’m not working at the school district. I wanted to keep that separation so I could run 100 percent of the time and not worry about that. If the ethics commission says it was a problem, which I’m not sure they’re going to, then of course whatever the remedy is (I’ll accept).”

During his 2009 campaign, Evers was fined $250 after he sent an email from his personal email account to a Green Bay education administrator on his work account to assist in planning a fundraiser and increasing turnout.

Holtz suggested the race should focus on issues, not his email use, but Evers said the emails are relevant because integrity matters to voters.

“I paid a small fine and learned the lesson on pressing the right button,” Evers said. “Yeah, I think there should be an investigation. It’s clear that I never thought integrity would be an issue in this campaign but it’s clear it’s going to be. People in Wisconsin should be concerned that someone in a position that Lowell Holtz was would be using his email to kind of plan and plot strategy.”

Much more on Tony Evers, here.

10 things we should all do every day to keep our brains sharp

Katie Avis-Riordan:

As we get older, it’s easy for our brains to get rusty. That’s why we want to know how to keep them healthy and functioning at their best capacity.

So, in honour of World Thinking Day, we asked SharpBrains – an independent market research firm tracking applied brain science – to share some top tips for keeping our minds sharp and active.

1. Get clued up

Learn about your brain and how it functions. Just having a basic understanding will enable you to fully appreciate the ever-developing nature of the brain and its billions of neurons and synapses.

Some interesting facts include, the human brain is the largest brain of all vertebrates, relative to body size, Live Science states, and makes up about 2% of body weight. “The cerebrum makes up 85% of the brain’s weight. It contains about 86 billion nerve cells (neurons) — the ‘grey matter’. It contains billions of nerve fibers (axons and dendrites) — the ‘white matter’. These neurons are connected by trillions of connections, or synapses.”

LA Teacher Union Dues Now Around $1,000 a year

Howard Blume:

Paying for Plan A was accomplished in part by persuading members last year to raise their dues by about 50%, to around $1,000 a year.

Caputo-Pearl has added eight senior union positions, with a ninth paid for by a national parent union. In line with his organizing and political goals, these jobs include a campaign research director, a political director, four organizers and two staff members to represent teachers at charter schools.

For years, Caputo-Pearl said, “UTLA was operating in a way that lacked sufficient strategy, coherence, and direction. … We have addressed this, and UTLA is operating with unprecedented strength.”

An emphasis on “adult employment“.

The Bow-Tied Bard of Populism

McKay Coppins

“Look, it’s really simple,” Carlson says. “The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever.”

“But the problem with the meritocracy,” he continues, is that it “leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.”

A Republic in the Atlantic An innovative program combines reading the Great Books with character-building and community

Miguel Monjardino:

n a beautiful day in fall 2004, I walked up a mountain on Terceira Island in the Azores with six students. They were 15-year-olds, all enrolled in public high schools in the Azorean city of Angra do Heroísmo. I was 42. We talked about the Republic of Letters, a voluntary weekend program of readings and conversations that I was designing to prepare high school students for life in a university. At least, that was how I originally conceived of it. I was thinking conventionally: for most parents, academics, and politicians in Portugal, education is about skills, and jobs are the ultimate prize of a good education. As early as tenth grade, students must specialize in a particular field; grades and jobs are paramount.

But soon, I realized that I was wrong about what the Republic of Letters should be—especially as I reflected on a seminar that I had recently attended on Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon. The seminar, conducted by Anthony O’Hear at the Institute for Political Studies at the Catholic University of Portugal in Lisbon, had a huge impact on me, and I became convinced that my new program should not be about preparing students for university but preparing them for the challenges of living. Souls were more important than grades, skills, and academic degrees. Such a project, I felt, should intimately involve the ancient Greeks and classical notions of a liberal education.

Surgeons Should Not Look Like Surgeons

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

Now if I had to pick, I would overcome my suckerproneness and take the butcher any minute. Even more: I would seek the butcher as a third option if my choice was between two doctors who looked like doctors. Why? Simply the one who doesn’t look the part, conditional of having made a (sort of) successful career in his profession, had to have much to overcome in terms of perception. And if we are lucky enough to have people who do not look the part, it is thanks to the presence of some skin in the game, the contact with reality that filters out incompetence, as reality is blind to looks.

When the results come from dealing directly with reality rather than through the agency of commentators, image matters less, even if it correlates to skills. But image matters quite a bit when there is hierarchy and standardized “job evaluation”. Consider the chief executive officers of corporations: they not just look the part, but they even look the same. And, worse, when you listen to them talk, they will sound the same, down to the same vocabulary and metaphors. But that’s their jobs: as I keep reminding the reader, counter to the common belief, executives are different from entrepreneurs and are supposed to look like actors.

Uniforms in schools may help but they aren’t the only answer

Alan Borsuk:

At one point during Thursday night’s Milwaukee School Board meeting, a representative of a large supplier of school uniforms attempted to give testimony that his company could assure that there would be an ample supply of polo shirts, khakis and such for all of the students in Milwaukee Public Schools if the board approved a citywide requirement for school uniforms.

School Board President Mark Sain cut him off — testimony on the merits of the idea were in order, sales pitches were out of order, he said.

But the guy and his company clearly are in line to be winners from the board’s 8 to 1 approval of the policy on uniforms. Bring on large sales of polo shirts!

What about the kids? The staff? Learning itself? Will they be winners?

What’s the price of meaningfulness?

Izabella Kaminska

I hate to be a nay-sayer about a well-intentioned post, and I expect some readers will disagree with my point of view vehemently. However, this article about the nature of work clearly implies that work is valuable only if it is perceived by the person doing it to be “creative”. But this is fallacious because “creative” is the new cool. It professes to be about finding meaningfulness in work in a quasi-Maslowean hierarchy of needs, that people should find some form of self actualization in work.

In fact, what has happened in America is that people have been trained to see manual work, unless it can somehow be seen as being “creative” like making artisanal pickles or restoring fancy furniture, as well as most service work, as demeaning drudgery. If you make something be perceived to be socially undesirable or not very worthy (as an excuse for giving lousy pay), you’ll breed unhappy workers merely by virtue of social contempt (see expectancy theory for more detail).

The fact is most people are not creative. And this is not just my personal opinion, this is Carl Jung. Even though Myers Briggs is over-used, it has its place (IMHO it’s more useful for looking at how certain types behave in organizational settings than in one-on-one or personal relationships). The Jung-derived Myer-Briggs framework differentiates between “intuitives” who are somewhat to very impatient with convention and rules and admire imaginative people, versus “sensing” types, who like following procedures and get very annoyed with what they perceive to be undisciplined “intuitives”. And even though this categorization needs to be taken with a fistful of salt, the population seems to skew heavily to sensing types (an estimated 70%) versus intuitives (30%).

10 Tips to Improve Your Mental Math Ability

George Dvorsky:

Calculators are awesome, but they’re not always handy. More to the point, no one wants to be seen reaching for the calculator on their mobile phone when it’s time to figure out a 15 percent gratuity. Here are ten tips to help you crunch numbers in your head.

Mental math isn’t as difficult as it might sound, and you may be surprised at how easy it is to make seemingly impossible calculations using nothing but your beautiful brain. You just need to remember a few simple rules.

Add and Subtract From Left to Right

Remember how you were taught in school to add and subtract numbers from right to left (don’t forget to carry the one!)? That’s all fine and well when doing math with pencil and paper, but when performing mental math it’s better to do it moving from left to right. Switching the order so that you start with the largest values makes it a bit more intuitive and easier to figure out. So when adding 58 to 26, start with the first column and calculate 50+20=70, then 8+6=14, which added together is 84. Easy, peasy.

Civics: The War Of The Bots

Carole Cadwalladr:

In the course of the US election, Cambridge Analytica amassed a database, as it claims on its website, of almost the entire US voting population – 220 million people – and the Washington Post reported last week that SCL was increasing staffing at its Washington office and competing for lucrative new contracts with Trump’s administration. “It seems significant that a company involved in engineering a political outcome profits from what follows. Particularly if it’s the manipulation, and then resolution, of fear,” says Briant.

He suspects that Mercer is bringing the brilliant computational skills he brought to finance to bear on another very different sphere. “We make mathematical models of the financial markets which are probability models, and from those we try and make predictions. What I suspect Cambridge Analytica do is that they build probability models of how people vote. And then they look at what they can do to influence that.”

Finding the edge is what quants do. They build quantitative models that automate the process of buying and selling shares and then they chase tiny gaps in knowledge to create huge wins. Renaissance Technologies was one of the first hedge funds to invest in AI. But what it does with it, how it’s been programmed to do it, is completely unknown. It is, Bloomberg reports, the “blackest box in finance”.

Johan Bollen, associate professor at Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing, tells me how he discovered one possible edge: he’s done research that shows you can predict stock market moves from Twitter. You can measure public sentiment and then model it. “Society is driven by emotions, which it’s always been difficult to measure, collectively. But there are now programmes that can read text and measure it and give us a window into those collective emotions.”

THE war of the bots is one of the wilder and weirder aspects of the elections of 2016. At the Oxford Internet Institute’s Unit for Computational Propaganda, its director, Phil Howard, and director of research, Sam Woolley, show me all the ways public opinion can be massaged and manipulated. But is there a smoking gun, I ask them, evidence of who is doing this? “There’s not a smoking gun,” says Howard. “There are smoking machine guns. There are multiple pieces of evidence.”

“Look at this,” he says and shows me how, before the US election, hundreds upon hundreds of websites were set up to blast out just a few links, articles that were all pro-Trump. “This is being done by people who understand information structure, who are bulk buying domain names and then using automation to blast out a certain message. To make Trump look like he’s a consensus.”

On the Issues: Tom Nichols

Marquette Law School:

Tom Nichols, Author of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

In this new and provocative book, Naval War College Professor Tom Nichols argues that we live in dangerous times. “Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge, and yet been so resistant to learning anything,” he writes. Nichols points to a number of factors for why “expertise” is increasingly viewed with scorn, why experts are often seen as elitists. They include the ease with which information can be obtained on the internet, today’s brand of politics, trends in higher education, and media that confirm our biases. In short, Nichols sees us moving toward a nation where everyone knows everything. Or at least think they do. And he says that this has serious implications for our democracy. Tom Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College, an adjunct professor at the Harvard Extension School, and a former aide in the U.S. Senate. He is the author of several books on foreign policy and international security affairs, and has written for numerous national publications and websites.

N Korea maths whizz’s long Hong Kong ride to freedom

Kristin Huang:

For Jong Yol-ri, the International Mathematical Olympiad in Hong Kong last year was his last chance for freedom.
If the then 18-year-old, two-time silver medallist in the ­competition waited another year, he would be too old to take part, losing his chance to travel and ­escape North Korea.

But the stakes for anybody crossing the Pyongyang regime are extreme — as the assassination this month of Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of leader Kim Jong-un, clearly shows.

Defectors caught and sent back to North Korea face years of imprisonment, or even death in camps, according to a 2012 report by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

But when the moment came, Jong took it. On July 17 last year, a day after the competition, Jong sneaked out of the dormitory at the Hong Kong University of ­Science and Technology, where the event had been held, and took a taxi to the airport.

Telefonica Exposed for Selling Customer Data


According to a confidential presentation obtained by the German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche, Handelsblatt’s sister publication, Telefonica is offering to sell customer information to retail chains and shopping centers. Documents intended for retail managers showed the company had mined specific “insights” about age, gender, origin and movement from its 44 million mobile customers.
 Telefonica is the only German mobile operator selling customer data as a new branch of business. Deutsche Telekom canceled a pilot project on the analysis of customer data last year following privacy protests.
 In Germany, public opinion is the greatest challenge to telecommunications companies looking to profit from big data. Citizens have long-standing concerns about spying, a legacy of the Nazi era and Cold War times.

Wordbank: An open database of children’s vocabulary development


Wordbank is an open database of information about children’s vocabulary growth.
Wordbank archives data from the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (MB-CDI), a family of parent-report questionnaires. Wordbank enables researchers to analyze MB-CDI data in terms of aggregate vocabulary, individual items, demographic variables, and more. It provides interactive visualizations, exploratory reports, and data export tools.

Wordbank is open access! You can use the wordbankr package to access Wordbank data from R.

Gender Ideology Harms Children

American College of Pediatricians

The American College of Pediatricians urges healthcare professionals, educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex. Facts – not ideology – determine reality.

1. Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of male and female, respectively – not genetic markers of a disorder. The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species. This principle is self-evident. The exceedingly rare disorders of sex development (DSDs), including but not limited to testicular feminization and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, are all medically identifiable deviations from the sexual binary norm, and are rightly recognized as disorders of human design. Individuals with DSDs (also referred to as “intersex”) do not constitute a third sex.1

2. No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one. No one is born with an awareness of themselves as male or female; this awareness develops over time and, like all developmental processes, may be derailed by a child’s subjective perceptions, relationships, and adverse experiences from infancy forward. People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” or “somewhere in between” do not comprise a third sex. They remain biological men or biological women.2,3,4


Mimi Swartz:

Cerebral palsy is a neurological disorder that affects muscle control and, therefore, balance, posture, and coordination. Claire, then as now, was inordinately bright and outgoing, but she couldn’t walk; she used a wheelchair, and while the rest of the kids played during recess, her school thought it best to leave Claire on the sidewalk outside the playground—with the kids who were being punished for misbehaving. She was bullied and often came home in tears. In addition, the bathrooms lacked grab bars, so she sometimes fell onto the floor. She still fared better than some of the other disabled kids in the district, who would be left inside the classrooms during fire drills because the school lacked proper handicapped access. What the Frieses ­wanted was to make Claire’s school safer and more enjoyable for the disabled kids. But despite promises to help, Eanes ISD, one of the state’s wealthiest districts, always found a reason to refuse.

That is how Claire Fries, then twelve, ended up in an imposing law firm conference room, awaiting her deposition at the hands of the school district’s attorney, who was with the firm Rogers, Morris and Grover. Seated directly across from the superintendent, Claire was terrified that testifying would get her thrown out of school. The Frieses reached a settlement with Eanes in 2011, sometime after the Office for Civil Rights intervened. “Everything my kid needed cost about one hundred thousand dollars, and they ended up having to spend ten to twelve million dollars because I backed them into a corner, and they had to fix every school in the district,” Fries told me.

Hey, ProPublica, No Child Left Behind and Charter Schools Aren’t the Root Cause of Gaming the System

Maureen Kelleher:


Ways to make hard-to-serve young people disappear from high school rolls have existed since well before Michelle Fine’s groundbreaking study on this problem, Framing Dropouts, was published in 1991. In the early 1980s, Fine discovered that only 20 percent of the freshmen who entered one of New York City’s comprehensive high schools actually graduated. Policies around attendance and discipline pushed the rest out.

As my own 1999 reporting in Chicago showed, high schools frequently hide dropouts by transferring them to alternative schools where graduation rates and other outcomes weren’t tracked, so they didn’t count toward overall data. Despite promises from the district to address the problems, the issue resurfaced in 2015, forcing the city to recalculate graduation rates.

Notably, in Chicago, charter schools weren’t the source of the problem. Instead, the district rapidly expanded seats in alternative schools by contracting directly with for-profit alternative school providers. Just as ProPublica did nationally, Chicago journalists raised important questions about the quality of education they offer.

In an interesting Chicago twist, in the mid-1990s former CEO Paul Vallas encouraged a number of deeply-rooted, community-based alternative schools to unite under the umbrella of Youth Connection Charter School. In these schools, students attend full school days, earn credits in engaging classes and have close contact with teachers. By contrast with the schools featured in ProPublica’s reporting, data show the majority of Youth Connection Charter students earn high school diplomas and continue their education in community colleges.

It is unfortunate that school districts and operators have too often turned to alternative schools as a gaming mechanism rather than a true support for struggling students. And it is important to understand that chartering itself is not the root cause of the problem. We just put the old wine of gaming the system into a new kind of cask.


Skills and bills: What state governors have to say about vocational education

Jen Hatfield:

On February 3, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and University of the District of Columbia (UDC) president Ron Mason announced a new program aimed at helping adults earn their GED or high school diploma. The UDC Workforce Edge program (UDC-WE), set to be piloted this spring and fully operational in the fall, is a community college program that provides workforce training to adult charter school students while they complete their high school degree.

Bowser and Mason both spoke about the program’s ability to help these adults achieve economic stability and move into the middle class. Mason summarized its goals and impact:

Q&A: Richard Feynman on The True Meaning of Physics

Monte Davis:

“I think the theory is simply a way to sweep the difficulties under the rug,” Richard Feynman said. “I am, of course, not sure of that.” It sounds like the kind of criticism, ritually tempered, that comes from the audience after a controversial paper is presented at a scientific conference. But Feynman was at the podium, delivering a Nobel Prize-winner’s address. The theory he was questioning, quantum electrodynamics, has recently been called “the most precise ever devised”; its predictions are routinely verified to within one part in a million. When Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sinitiro Tomonaga independently developed it in the 1940s, their colleagues hailed it as “the great cleanup”: a resolution of long-standing problems and a rigorous fusion of the century’s two great ideas in physics, relativity and quantum mechanics.

Feynman has combined theoretical brilliance and irreverent skepticism throughout his career. In 1942, after taking his doctorate at Princeton with John Wheeler, he was tapped for the Manhattan Project. At Los Alamos, he was a twenty-five-year-old whiz kid, awed neither by the titans of physics around him (Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe) nor by the top-secret urgency of the project. The security staff was unnerved by his facility at opening safes — sometimes by listening to the tiny movements of the lock mechanism, sometimes by guessing which physical constant the safe’s user had chosen as the combination. (Feynman hasn’t changed since then; many of his students at Caltech have acquired safe-cracking skills along with their physics.)

The Strategy Of No Strategy

Adam Elkus:

Like many people of my generation and my socio-economic bracket, my teenage years were eventually consumed by the looming issue of where to go to college. I tried to get the best grades, study hard for the SAT, and make whatever connections I could with alumni to get into colleges I wanted. I applied to many of them, recycling and modifying personal statement letters like the individual payloads and sub-payloads of a MIRV’d nuclear missile. Once I got to college, the clarity and structure that routine provided evaporated. I had to make my own. It was certainly very difficult.

Why should elite universities get more taxpayer support than regional public colleges?

Mark Schneider and Jorge Klor de Alva:

But colleges vary widely in their contribution to this dream because taxpayers support colleges in different ways—and at vastly different levels. Public institutions frequently go begging because they are supported by a combination of steadily rising tuition and declining tax revenue. And state legislatures must publicly balance the share of tax revenue allocated to these colleges against competing budget demands, such as highways, health care and public K-12 education.

In contrast, taxpayers, for the most part, unknowingly support private institutions primarily through tax deductions and exemptions. For example, gifts to university endowments are tax deductible and the earnings on these endowments are exempt from taxation, as are the endowments themselves. For elite private institutions, those with endowments in the billions of dollars, the size of these tax breaks can dwarf the direct subsidies that taxpayers send to public institutions.

These tax breaks are rarely debated because they are hidden in the tax code. Meanwhile affluent private universities, claiming their importance to the realization of the American dream, do everything in their power to silence any questioning of their right to enrich themselves through favorable tax treatment. However, it is important to remember that these tax breaks are not divinely ordained. Rather, they flow from congressional acts aimed at improving the public welfare. Without doubt, America’s richest universities use their wealth to provide important benefits to society, such as support for research and student financial aid. But their inherent exclusivity leads them to fail at fostering the most critical dimension of the American dream: social mobility. And that should lead Congress to ask whether the extent of the tax subsidies granted to the nation’s wealthiest universities is justified.

Madison School District Board Retreat Presentation Slides

Madison School District Administration (PDF):

8:00 Opening Remarks
8:15 Dialogue: Decision-making for Equity
9:15 BREAK
9:30 Dialogue: Five Year Outlook, school year 17/18 focus
Re-entry Planning
17/18 focus areas
17/18 District & SIP Goals
10:15 Strategic Framework Priority Project Update & Discussion
11:15 Closing Remarks
11:30 Lunch

February 18, 2017 agenda (PDF).

Social media have become the new custodians of knowledge. This matters.

Chad Wellmon:

In her first post-election public appearance, Hillary Clinton decried an “epidemic of fake news.” Salacious stories and fraudulent claims about politicians and their supporters had spread unfiltered and unconstrained through social media. With some concocted content from Macedonian teenagers and young American college graduates, Facebook, suggested some, threw the election to Trump. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chairman and co-founder, denied that his company had any responsibility. “More than 99 percent of what people see” on Facebook, he said shortly after the election, “is authentic.” It was a “pretty crazy idea” to suggest that Facebook could affect an election. Trust us, counselled Zuckerberg, we only give you facts and friends.

Zuckerberg’s refusal to acknowledge Facebook’s possible role in the US election is both disingenuous—Facebook has conducted experiments on the effects particular kinds of posts have on people’s voting decision—and irresponsible. The social media behemoth is now the primary news medium in the United States. Zuckerberg casts his company as a neutral medium that simply connects friends, shares information, and facilitates democracy. But Facebook is now a social institution that people rely on and, however implicitly, trust.

Implicit in the entire project is a basic dissatisfaction with the current digital environment that Google helped create.

Compare Zuckerberg’s initial response to Google’s recent attempts to reinvent its search engine as an arbiter of facts and trustworthiness. Acknowledging that most search engines evaluate web sources based on their popularity, a team of Google engineers described their attempts to evaluate the “trustworthiness” of 119 million web pages in an article titled “Knowledge-Based Trust: Estimating the Trustworthiness of Web Sources.” Google, so it seems, wants to automate trust.

Google’s method for extracting facts from the web, evaluating them, and then determining a score for individual web pages represents a significant shift from its earlier assumptions about how information is organized and transmitted in our digital age, and I will return to these important details later in this essay. But what I find most significant about Google’s “Knowledge-Based Trust” project is Google’s interest in trust in the first place.

The authors provide technical details for algorithms and machine-learning processes, but implicit in the entire project is a basic dissatisfaction with the current digital environment that Google helped create. And now Google wants to reform that media environment by redefining what it means to trust and what counts as authoritative knowledge in our digital age. In little more than a decade since its founding, Google is moving from helping us access the web pages we want to determining what web pages we should trust.

But what kind of custodian of knowledge and trust is Google? For centuries, universities and academies have served this cultural function. They were bulwarks against falsehood and institutions for truth. They did not always live up to the epistemic and ethical ideals they propounded, but one of their primary tasks was to make facts and beliefs correspond. In important ways, then, universities are the cultural forebears of Facebook and Google.

Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’

Tom Feilden:

Science is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon.
From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.
“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins

Kevin Carey:

But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of new research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.

While many policy ideas have murky origins, vouchers emerged fully formed from a single, brilliant essay published in 1955 by Milton Friedman, the free-market godfather later to be awarded a Nobel Prize in Economics. Because “a stable and democratic society is impossible without widespread acceptance of some common set of values and without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens,” Mr. Friedman wrote, the government should pay for all children to go to school.

But, he argued, that doesn’t mean the government should run all the schools. Instead, it could give parents vouchers to pay for “approved educational services” provided by private schools, with the government’s role limited to “ensuring that the schools met certain minimum standards.”

Poet Claudia Rankine on studying whiteness, and the age of protest

Neil Munshi:

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She was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but moved to New York aged seven and grew up in the Bronx, where her mother worked as a nurse’s aide and her father was a hospital orderly. After receiving her masters in fine arts from Columbia University she taught for seven years at its sister school, Barnard College, so the city has always been home, even as her career took her from Cleveland to Atlanta to a nine-year stint at Pomona College in California.

Her writing style crystallised with “Lonely”. She says she wanted to be able to report facts — about Amadou Diallo being shot 41 times by the NYPD in 1999 while brandishing his wallet, for instance — but also wax lyrical, and the prose poem allowed her to do that.

The visuals were introduced because she wanted to write about the 1998 death of James Byrd Jr, a black man who three white men dragged behind a truck in Texas until his extremities separated from his body. It was, she says, an act of erasure, and “I thought, I’m not going to write a piece where James Byrd is referenced but not seen”. So she contacted his family and gained access to a picture of him and those from the crime scene. From there, the images have become more abstract. “The image should allow the reader to go someplace else; do something else.”

Professors tell students “what to say, and more ominously, what to think,” new education secretary says in her first sustained criticism of higher education.

Scott Jaschik:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos offered few details of her views on higher education during her confirmation hearings.

But on Thursday, in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, she sharply criticized faculty members and accused them trying to indoctrinate students. She devoted only a paragraph to higher education in a relatively short speech, but she captured lots of attention. Here’s what she said, after asking how many in the audience were college students:

“The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.”

DeVos opened her speech by saying that she wasn’t worried about what “the mainstream media has called me lately.”

Past education secretaries have offered plenty of criticism of higher education. Both Margaret Spellings (under a Republican administration) and Arne Duncan (under a Democratic administration) have raised questions about college costs, accountability and measures of student learning. But secretaries after William J. Bennett (in President Reagan’s second term) have not generally been culture warriors.

The CPAC crowd loved the speech and cheered DeVos on.

Texas graduate student discovers a Walt Whitman novel lost for more than 150 years

Travis Andrews:

For a month, Zachary Turpin “would sit there night after night, buzzing.”

The graduate student at the University of Houston had spent the past few years digging through the digitized papers of American writer Walt Whitman, which contain 40 to 50 years’ worth of his personal notes. “He was more or less a hoarder,” Turpin told The Washington Post during a phone interview.

For the unfamiliar, Whitman (1819-1892) was one the most influential poets included in the American canon. In the 1850s he popularized free verse with his magnum opus “Leaves of Grass,” which includes the famous line “I contain multitudes.” Many call him the “father of free verse.” Before his life as a poet, the New Yorker worked as a schoolteacher, journalist and novelist.

Intolerance And The Threat From Within

John Etchememdy:

But I’m actually more worried about the threat from within. Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.

This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument. But when we do, we abandon what is great about this institution we serve.

Feds: New $1.3M tutoring scam uncovered at Detroit schools

Tresa Baldas:

Carolyn Starkey-Darden, 69, the former director of grant development at DPS, is charged by federal prosecutors with billing DPS $1.275 million over seven years for never-delivered tutoring services through companies she created. She did this, court records show, by submitting phony documents to the district that included doctored test scores, forged attendance records and parental signatures and fake individual learning plans — all of which went on forms that were required by DPS before payment could be made.

To bolster this claim, federal investigators cited some of Starkey-Darden’s emails, which are included in court documents. “I put in some fake scores for a few kids at Denby, just to get their plans approved. When and if we get real ones … just replace what I put in,” Starkey-Darden wrote in a 2008 email to an employee at a tutoring firm owned by her husband.

Sterilization Quotas Endure in Two-Child Policy Era

Zhao Meng:

Sterilization quotas are still a common population control technique in the area where, earlier this month, a father of four said he was forced to undergo a vasectomy.

On Feb. 14, the Health and Family Planning Commission of Yunnan Province directed local authorities to investigate the case, which took place in Zhenxiong County, in China’s southwest. But one current and one former village leader in the area have told Sixth Tone that such operations — though not necessarily carried out under coercion — are commonplace.

According to the local leaders, the county government gives villages annual sterilization quotas for residents, based on the number of women of childbearing age in each village. In the past, any woman who had given birth was eligible to have herself or her husband chosen to undergo sterilization to meet the village’s target. Since the two-child policy came into effect in January 2016, it now takes two births to get your name on the list.

Who Would You Have Been in 1917 Revolutionary Russia? (Quiz)

Moscow Times:

Russia celebrates Defender of the Fatherland Day on Feb. 23, known previously as Red Army Day and Soviet Army and Navy Day. Originally, the holiday honored the Bolsheviks’ first mass draft in Petrograd and Moscow in 1918, in the early days of the Russian Civil War.

Today, the Bolshevik Revolution represents a tricky piece of history, as Russian patriots have an interest both in rejecting Communism and celebrating the Soviet armed forces.

With the revolution’s centennial coming this October, interest in 1917 is particularly high this year. In that spirit, the Arzamas Academy, a nonprofit online educational project, published a quiz this week designed to show readers where their sympathies would have lied in September 1917, after the failed Kornilov putsch against the Petrograd Soviet, but before the Bolshevik Revolution.

Making Computers Reason and Learn by Analogy

Amanda Morris:

Northwestern Engineering’s Ken Forbus is closing the gap between humans and machines.

Using cognitive science theories, Forbus and his collaborators have developed a model that could give computers the ability to reason more like humans and even make moral decisions. Called the structure-mapping engine (SME), the new model is capable of analogical problem solving, including capturing the way humans spontaneously use analogies between situations to solve moral dilemmas.

This Man Is About to Blow Up Mathematics

Jordana Cepelewicz:

t is 7 o’clock in the morning and Harvey Friedman has just sent an email to an unspecified number of recipients with the subject line “stop what you are doing.” It features a YouTube link to a live 1951 broadcast of a concert by the famous Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz. “There is a pattern on YouTube of priceless gems getting taken down by copyright claims,” Friedman writes, “so I demand (smile) that you stop everything you are doing, including breathing, eating, thinking, sleeping, and so forth, to listen to this before it disappears.”

His comment takes its place at the top of a chain of emails stretching back months, with roughly as many messages sent at 3 a.m. as at noon or 9 p.m. The haphazard correspondence covers a wide range of topics, from electronic music editing to an interdisciplinary field Friedman calls “ChessMath.” At one point, he proposes to record at home, by himself, a three-part “Emotion Concert.” Anonymous piano players on the email thread discuss their own thoughts on the lineup.

L.A. Voter Guide: In Board of Education Races, Follow the Money

Jason McGahan:

A reported 81 cents of every dollar contributed to the L.A. city election has been spent on supporting or opposing one candidate or another for school board, according to the L.A. City Ethics Commission. Most of it is coming from backers of public charter schools. So far this year, charter backers are outspending labor unions there by a ratio of 2-to-1.

Former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan upped the ante by donating $1 million in January to a group called L.A. Students for Change, which opposes the re-election of school board president Steve Zimmer in District 4, covering the Westside and west San Fernando Valley. The group is one of a few connected to the California Charter Schools Association.

The CCSA and its financial backers have spared no expense in targeting Zimmer, who has shown increasing support for more stringent fiscal and operational oversight of charters. As of Feb. 20, more than $1.2 million from charter-backed groups has gone to opposing Zimmer.

More than 1,400 Boston teachers are raking in $100,000 or more a year in pay

Kathleen McKiernan:

In 2011, 153 city teachers were paid $100,000 or more, representing nearly 4 percent of the 4,264 teachers on the payroll, according to Sullivan.

Six-figure earners jumped to 1,419 last year, representing 32 percent of the 4,367 teachers on the books — with city payroll data showing 265 more topped $100,000 due to arbitration settlements, stipends and extended learning time pay.

The rise in teacher salaries comes as the city and the Boston Teachers Union continue to negotiate a new deal that expired last summer. The proposed $1.06 billion school budget for next year includes $20 million extra to cover union negotiations.

The district also carries a costly — up to $15 million a year — “excess pool” of tenured teachers with no classroom to report to. An extra $4,500 per teacher was paid out to 600 educators last year to extend the school day at some locations.

“I think the city and the union have to be mindful of the fact that the budget for the school department has to be affordable to the city,” Sullivan said. “It is a public policy consideration to find ways not to have excessive growth. We’re paying so much more than 10 years ago for the school department and that is not attributable to more teachers.”

University bans dorm room whiteboards to stop hurtful words

Dominic Mancini:

Students at Michigan State University soon will not be permitted to hang whiteboards on the outside of their dorm room doors.

The new policy, effective Fall 2017, was created in an attempt to eliminate opportunities for students to write mean words and racial slurs, according to a campus official.

“Their utility as a communication tool no longer outweighed the attractive nuisance that they are,” Kat Cooper, director of university residential services communications, told The College Fix via email.

In a statement to The Detroit News, Cooper added: “In any given month, there are several incidents like this [hurtful words]. There was no one incident that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Sometimes these things are racial, sometimes they’re sexual in nature. There are all sorts of things that happen.”

Notes on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Election

Annysa Johnson:

Evers, 65, said his large margin Tuesday reflected Wisconsin voters’ commitment to public education. But he could face a tough fight ahead, he said, if Holtz attracts funding from school reform proponents across the country.

“They both vowed to go after national voucher money, and I assume that will be Mr. Holtz’s M.O.,” Evers said of his challengers. “If that happens…we will work as hard as we can to raise money and get people out to vote the next time around.”

Holtz, 59, was not available for comment, according to his spokesman, because he was celebrating with friends and family. The candidate issued a statement saying he would present “an alternative vision for the future of Wisconsin’s students to that of Dr. Tony Evers.”

Humphries congratulated both candidates in a statement and urged voters to learn more about Holtz’s proposals and to ask Evers what he plans to do differently.

“I remain convinced that Wisconsin students can achieve so much more with the right leadership at DPI.”

So far, Evers has a significant edge financially. As of Feb. 14, he had raised more than $245,000 over the past 13 months, compared to Holtz’s $54,280. But Holtz is expected to pick up many of Humphries’ conservative supporters and could attract outside funding from education reform advocates who see a chance to bring Wisconsin in line with the views of new U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who has been critical of Common Core and supports the expansion of taxpayer funded vouchers.

Higher-than-expected turnouts in Madison and Dane County at large — as much as 18% to 22%, according to early estimates — likely helped Evers. Madison and Dane County clerks could not say whether the DPI race brought voters to the polls.

Molly Beck:

The state superintendent race pits two former school district superintendents and longtime educators against each other — a proponent of expanding school choices and an opponent of the state expansion of taxpayer-funded school vouchers.

On the April 4 ballot will be two-term incumbent Tony Evers, a public school advocate backed mostly by liberals and teachers unions who has been at odds with Republicans for years over his adoption of the Common Core State Standards and his opposition to the expansion of private school vouchers in the state.

He took about seven of every 10 votes in the primary.

His challenger, Lowell Holtz, is backed mostly by conservatives and school voucher supporters. He is making his second run for the position and opposes the Common Core State Standards and favors expansion of educational options — including taxpayer-funded vouchers — other than public schools.

Holtz got 23 percent of the vote Tuesday, and was dogged by allegations that he sought to get out of the race in exchange for a guaranteed, taxpayer-funded $150,000 job that would let him oversee the state’s largest school districts, including Madison.

Evers is seeking a third term in the wake of massive membership losses for the state’s largest teachers union, a strong campaign contributor for Evers in the past, setting the stage for the potential of third-party groups spending on behalf of Holtz to ensure the election of a voucher supporter.

Dane County results.

The First Amendment And Fakebook

Heat Street:

Last Sunday, I posted something about the ban, explaining to my followers where I had been the last three days and reposted the screenshot and wrote #FacebookCensorship,” she said. “That ticked them off and they didn’t like that at all. It was going viral. Just within a few hours, they had banned me again and they were going to make it more painful.”

Facebook has been continually criticized over its handling of conservative and Christian viewpoints on its platform. Last year, the tech giant was accused of suppressing conservative news sites in its “trending news” section. Mark Zuckerberg denied the claims.

Although the real reason for Johnston’s post removal remains unknown, according to Facebook’s community standards the platform actively removes various forms of “hate speech”.

PSA: Fakebook is not the internet.

The First Amendment.

Hillsdale Prof to NY Times: ‘I Am Proud’ We Don’t Promote ‘Social Justice’

Tyler O’Neil:

At the beginning of February, The New York Times published a story about Hillsdale College, calling it “a ‘Shining City on a Hill’ for Conservatives.” The Times report proved to be a very fair and revealing article about this prominent conservative college promoted by Rush Limbaugh (which also happens to be my alma mater). But America’s newspaper of record did find a way to work in some subtle jabs at the school, which required answering.

The Times’ Erick Eckholm argued that the issue of race “captures the juxtaposition of Hillsdale’s pathbreaking origins with its present-day conservatism.” Hillsdale College claims to have been the first college to admit students regardless of race or sex — in 1844. The college boasts of sending more students (and professors) to fight for the Union than any other school, due to in part to its opposition to slavery. But Eckholm quoted the current president, Dr. Larry Arnn, suggesting that the school’s opposition to “social justice” betrays a racist conservative philosophy.

“My answer to the charge that we do not promote ‘social justice’ is that we don’t and that I am proud that we don’t,” Dr. Paul Rahe, professor of history and Charles O. Lee and Louise K. Lee Chair in the Western Heritage at Hillsdale, told PJ Media in an email statement. “Justice is owed individuals, not groups. There is no such thing as ‘social justice.’ The phrase is a slogan used by those intent on looting.”

A Hidden Hellscape “I questioned whether I was still in the U.S.”

Stephanie Farr and Sam Wood:

But pressure is mounting from a confluence of political, societal, and economic forces to finally clean up this gulch of horrors for good.

From a task force convened by the mayor to address the city’s opioid epidemic, to growing development around the site, and an increase in rail traffic, a flash point seems to have been reached.

“This neighborhood has been struggling for decades, and when my administration came into office last year, we said this has to stop,” said Mayor Kenney. “It’s not an easy issue, it’s going to take many years and a ton of money, so that may have been why it hasn’t been addressed in the past – but that’s not an excuse.”

‘Alternative’ Education: Using Charter Schools to Hide Dropouts and Game the System

Heather Vogell and Hannah Fresques:

Sunshine’s 455 students — more than 85 percent of whom are black or Hispanic — sit for four hours a day in front of computers with little or no live teaching. One former student said he was left to himself to goof off or cheat on tests by looking up answers on the internet. A current student said he was robbed near the strip mall’s parking lot, twice.
Sunshine takes in cast-offs from Olympia and other Orlando high schools in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Olympia keeps its graduation rate above 90 percent — and its rating an “A” under Florida’s all-important grading system for schools — partly by shipping its worst achievers to Sunshine.

Sunshine collects enough school district money to cover costs and pay its management firm, Accelerated Learning Solutions (ALS), a more than $1.5 million-a-year “management fee,” 2015 financial records show — more than what the school spends on instruction.
But students lose out, a ProPublica investigation found. Once enrolled at Sunshine, hundreds of them exit quickly with no degree and limited prospects. The departures expose a practice in which officials in the nation’s tenth-largest school district have for years quietly funneled thousands of disadvantaged students — some say against their wishes — into alternative charter schools that allow them to disappear without counting as dropouts.

“I would show up, I would sit down and listen to music the whole time. I didn’t really make any progress the whole time I was there,” said Thiago Mello, 20, who spent a year at Sunshine and left without graduating. He had transferred there from another alternative charter school, where he enrolled after his grades slipped at Olympia.

The Orlando schools illustrate a national pattern. Alternative schools have long served as placements for students who violated disciplinary codes. But since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 refashioned the yardstick for judging schools, alternative education has taken on another role: A silent release valve for high schools like Olympia that are straining under the pressure of accountability reform.
As a result, alternative schools at times become warehouses where regular schools stow poor performers to avoid being held accountable. Traditional high schools in many states are free to use alternative programs to rid themselves of weak students whose test scores, truancy and risk of dropping out threaten their standing, a ProPublica survey of state policies found.

Civics: Palantir, Privacy And Spying

Sam Biddle:

“Palantir” is generally used interchangeably to refer to both Thiel and Karp’s company and the software that company creates. Its two main products are Palantir Gotham and Palantir Metropolis, more geeky winks from a company whose Tolkien namesake is a type of magical sphere used by the evil lord Sauron to surveil, trick, and threaten his enemies across Middle Earth. While Palantir Metropolis is pegged to quantitative analysis for Wall Street banks and hedge funds, Gotham (formerly Palantir Government) is designed for the needs of intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security customers. Gotham works by importing large reams of “structured” data (like spreadsheets) and “unstructured” data (like images) into one centralized database, where all of the information can be visualized and analyzed in one workspace. For example, a 2010 demo showed how Palantir Government could be used to chart the flow of weapons throughout the Middle East by importing disparate data sources like equipment lot numbers, manufacturer data, and the locations of Hezbollah training camps. Palantir’s chief appeal is that it’s not designed to do any single thing in particular, but is flexible and powerful enough to accommodate the requirements of any organization that needs to process large amounts of both personal and abstract data.

Civics:  Draft law to require warrants for border device searches

Steven Vaughan:

If you, an American citizen who can trace his or her ancestry to the Mayflower, return home from a trip abroad, US border agents can take your phone, tablet, or tablet — and demand you open its data to them.

The government says this is completely legal. And yet others say it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees your right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Age of Rudeness As the social contract frays, what does it mean to be polite?

Rachel Cusk:

In a world as unmannerly as this one, how is it best to speak?

There’s no need to be rude, I say to the man in the packed hall at passport control. There are people everywhere, and his job is to send them into the right queues. I have been watching him shout at them. I have watched the obsessive way he notices them, to pick on them. There’s no need to be rude, I say.

His head jerks around.

You’re rude, he counters. You’re the one who’s rude.

This is an airport, a place of transit. There are all sorts of people here, people of different ages, races and nationalities, people in myriad sets of circumstances. In this customs hall, there are so many different versions of living that it seems possible that no one version could ever be agreed on. Does it follow, then, that nothing that happens here really matters?

Civics: L.A. sheriff wanted to give prosecutors a secret list of 300 problem deputies. Now a court is stopping him.

Maya Lau

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has collected the names of about 300 deputies who have a history of past misconduct — such as domestic violence, theft, bribery and brutality — that could damage their credibility if they testify in court.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to send the names to prosecutors, who can decide whether to add them to an internal database that tracks problem officers in case the information needs to be disclosed to defendants in criminal trials.

Early childhood education deserves focus

Alan Borsuk:

Tracey Sparrow says she often tells people involved in early childhood programs that they are doing the most important work anyone can do.

Many others can make claims about the importance of their work, so let’s not get hung up on a competition about importance. Instead, take Sparrow’s thought as a challenge to our priorities, both in terms of public policy and our personal lives. She’s making a valuable point — it’s hugely important to give infants, toddlers, and kids up through kindergarten age a good start in life.

Sparrow is president of Next Door, a nonprofit whose services include two large centers with early childhood programs on the north side. Hundreds of children who take part in Next Door programs daily are from low-income homes. Almost all are non-white. Overall data shows that among children such as these, it is common to enter kindergarten already well-behind better-off kid

Commentary On Federalism And Teacher Climate

Emma Brown:

Newly minted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had a hard time getting inside the District’s Jefferson Middle School Academy last week when protesters briefly blocked her from entering. But at the end of her visit — her first to a public school since taking office — she stood on Jefferson’s front steps and pronounced it “awesome.”

A few days later, she seemed less enamored. The teachers at Jefferson were sincere, genuine and dedicated, she said, they seemed to be in “receive mode.”

Yes, Students Still Need Econ 101

Donald J. Boudreaux

In an article published recently in the Atlantic, “The Curse of Econ 101,” University of Connecticut law professor James Kwak argues against what he assumes to be the content, thrust, and effect of the basic principles course, Economics 101.

He thinks it’s too simplistic. And he’s sure that in its simplicity, it masks the complexities that must be accounted for when passing judgment on economic reality and especially on government policies.

According to Kwak, over the past few decades Econ 101 has devolved into “economism,” which he describes as “the belief that basic economics lessons can explain all social phenomena—that people, companies, and markets behave according to the abstract, two-dimensional illustrations of an Economics 101 textbook.” The two-dimensional illustrations to which Kwak refers are supply-and-demand graphs.

ACT/SAT Test Preparation and Coaching Programs


Test preparation programs—sometimes referred to as test coaching programs—have been implemented with the goal of increasing student scores on college entrance tests. They generally (a) familiarize students with the format of the test; (b) introduce general test-taking strategies (e.g., get a good night’s sleep); (c) introduce specific testtaking strategies (e.g., whether the test penalizes incorrect answers, and what this means for whether or not one should guess an answer if it is not known); and (d) specific drills (e.g., practice factoring polynomial expressions). The programs can be delivered in person or online, and in whole class settings, in small groups, and individually.

Closing underperforming traditional public schools…

Eric Westervelt:

But there are still big gaps in access to quality schools; choice has done little to narrow achievement gaps by income and race; poorer families point to on-going transportation challenges; and choice in Denver includes some painful choices about re-booting and closing under-performing schools, mostly in neighborhoods with some of the most vulnerable students.

It all raises important questions about the promise and limitations of choice to bridge stubborn access and equity gaps in education.

Our Miserable 21st Century From work to income to health to social mobility, the year 2000 marked the beginning of what has become a distressing era for the United States

Nicholas Eberstadt:

It turns out that the year 2000 marks a grim historical milestone of sorts for our nation. For whatever reasons, the Great American Escalator, which had lifted successive generations of Americans to ever higher standards of living and levels of social well-being, broke down around then—and broke down very badly.

The warning lights have been flashing, and the klaxons sounding, for more than a decade and a half. But our pundits and prognosticators and professors and policymakers, ensconced as they generally are deep within the bubble, were for the most part too distant from the distress of the general population to see or hear it. (So much for the vaunted “information era” and “big-data revolution.”) Now that those signals are no longer possible to ignore, it is high time for experts and intellectuals to reacquaint themselves with the country in which they live and to begin the task of describing what has befallen the country in which we have lived since the dawn of the new century.

Student Debt Total Hits $1.31 Trillion

New York Fed:

Student Loans, Credit Cards, and Auto Loans

Outstanding student loan balances increased by $31 billion, and stood at $1.31 trillion as of December 31, 2016.

11.2% of aggregate student loan debt was 90+ days delinquent or in default in 2016Q42.

Auto loan balances increased by $22 billion, continuing their steady rise. Auto loan delinquency rates deteriorated again, with 3.8% of auto loan balances 90 or more days delinquent on December 31, 0.2% above last quarter.

Credit card balances increased by $32 billion, to $779 billion, while 90+ credit card delinquency rates were unchanged at 7.1%.

Gary’s Disappearing Public Schools

Michael Puente:

The school system is struggling make payroll each month. It delayed checks to 700 employees, mostly teachers, in November. March is also likely to be a problem, school district staff said last week at a Gary School Board meeting.

It wasn’t always this way

Gary’s public school system was once one of the largest in Indiana and a model nationwide.

It educated a Nobel prize winning economist, an Oscar-winning actor, successful business leaders, entertainers and athletes.

“The Gary Community School Corporation is experiencing an unprecedented financial crisis unlike any school corporation has experienced in the state of Indiana,” Indiana State Sen. Eddie Melton told an education committee at the Indiana Statehouse this month. His district includes Gary.

“The district is struggling on a day-to-day basis to ensure payroll is met and that critical vendors, such as health insurance and bus services, are paid,” the Democrat said.

He and other Hoosier lawmakers are searching for solutions for Gary, including greater funding, forgiving outstanding state loans or appointing a fiscal monitor.

Further thoughts on Cost Disease

Matthew Skala:

The lovely and talented Scott Alexander has a posting on Cost Disease: the costs of some things, notably education and medical care especially in the USA, have increased in the last few generations to a really unfathomable extent. He gives detailed statistics, but it’s typically about a factor of 10 after accounting for general inflation. Why has this happened? He gives some hypotheses, and in a followup posting shares some ideas contributed by readers, but it’s not at all clear what’s going on. And it seems like knowing might be valuable, because the fact of this phenomenon’s occurrence (whatever the cause) is causing a great deal of misery for a whole lot of people, bearing on many other important issues.

I don’t know either, but it made me think of some things.

The Horror of the Mall
I don’t like shopping malls. When I go to one, I can feel my mental protective filters kicking in. It’s like I don’t even really see a majority of the stores – because the mall is mostly clothing stores. The fraction of storefronts devoted to clothing alone feels grossly disproportionate. If I go to a mall’s Web site and visit the alphabetical list of tenants, maybe there’ll be a name on it I don’t recognize. So I click on it, thinking it might be something interesting – but no, it’s just another damn clothing store. What is with all these clothing stores? How many do we need?

Clothing is a basic necessity. Everybody needs to buy it on an ongoing basis. I don’t keep exact records of this, but I figure I myself spend a few hundred dollars per year on clothing, out of my income which is a few tens of thousands of dollars per year. So, maybe I spend 1% to 3% of my income (probably nearer the low end of that range) on clothing. On that basis at first glance it would seem we need somewhere around one clothing store per mall complex. Maybe not every mall really needs to have a clothing store. So when I go to the mall I mentally do that calculation and then am horrified at how it differs from reality.

Much more on cost disease, here.

Despite spending more than most, now $18k/student and rising, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

On The Teacher Climate

David Denby

necessary commonplace: Almost everyone we know has been turned around, or at least seriously shaken, by a teacher—in college, maybe, but often in high school, often by a man or a woman who drove home a point or two about physics, literature, or ethics, and looked at us sternly and said, in effect, You could be more than what you are. At their best, teachers are everyday gods, standing at the entryway to the world. If they are fair and good, they are possibly the most morally impressive adults that their students will ever know. For a while, they are the law, they are knowledge, they are justice.

Everyone celebrates his or her personal memory of individual teachers, yet, as a culture, we snap at the run-down heels of the profession. The education reporter Dana Goldstein, in her book “The Teacher Wars,” published in 2014, looks at American history and describes a recurring situation of what she calls “moral panic”—the tendency, when there’s an economic or social crisis, to lay blame on public-school teachers. They must have created the crisis, the logic goes, by failing to educate the young.

We have been in such a panic for more than a decade, during which time the attacks on public-school teachers have been particularly virulent. They are lazy, mediocre, tenaciously clinging to tenure in order to receive their lavish pay of thirty-six thousand dollars a year (that’s the national-average starting salary, according to the National Education Association). As Goldstein put it, “Today the ineffective tenured teacher has emerged as a feared character, a vampiric type who sucks tax dollars into her bloated pension and health care plans, without much regard for the children under her care.” Because of this person, we are failing to produce an effective workforce; just look at how badly we’re lagging behind other nations in international standardized tests. Our teachers are mediocre as a mass; we have to make a serious effort to toss out the bad ones before they do any more damage. And so on. It’s not just Republicans who talk this way. Democrats, too, are obsessed with ridding the system of bad teachers. From the President on down, leaders have been demanding “accountability.”

Civics: On the Right To Record The Police

5th Circuit (PDF):

Before WIENER, CLEMENT, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges. WIENER, Circuit Judge:
Plaintiff-Appellant Phillip Turner was video recording a Fort Worth police station from a public sidewalk across the street when Defendants- Appellees Officers Grinalds and Dyess approached him and asked him for identification. Turner refused to identify himself, and the officers ultimately handcuffed him and placed him in the back of a patrol car. The officers’ supervisor, Defendant-Appellee Lieutenant Driver, arrived on scene and, after Driver checked with Grinalds and Dyess and talked with Turner, the officers released Turner. He filed suit against all three officers and the City of Fort Worth under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his First and Fourth Amendment rights. Each officer filed a motion to dismiss, insisting that he was entitled to qualified immunity on Turner’s claims. The district court granted the officers’ motions, concluding that they were entitled to qualified immunity on all of Turner’s claims against them. Turner timely appealed. We affirm in part and reverse and remand in part.

What the Feds Can Do for Higher Education: Appoint Richard Vedder

Jane Shaw:

Assuming that Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education, has sufficient commitment and stamina, she will change how her department addresses K-12 education. Her support of school choice through charter schools and voucher programs is well known.

DeVos’s department is also deeply involved in higher education, but the issues are different. What roils higher education are problems such as excessive costs, lack of intellectual diversity, faltering academic quality, federal overregulation, and threats to free speech and due process. DeVos must appoint a deputy undersecretary for higher education who will address those issues capably and with respect for individual freedom.

I recommend Richard Vedder for that job. Vedder is an emeritus economics professor at Ohio University, an accomplished and prolific writer on higher education issues, and a genial provocateur who will stand up against political correctness.

Don’t Blame State Disinvestment Alone

Rick Seltzer:

Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, makes that argument in a new study seeking to explain increases in college and university tuition levels. It’s in some ways a middle-of-the-road finding for a libertarian think tank weighing into a debate whose different sides have long been dug in behind their favorite narratives. But it is also a distinct attempt to shift the focus at a time when some believe state funding has received too much attention in the debate over college costs and tuition levels.

Many campus leaders and higher ed analysts argue that public colleges and universities have had to raise tuition to keep their budgets balanced amid a long-term trend of decreasing state funding per student. Others reject that narrative, instead arguing that tuition hikes go to pay for increasing and often unnecessary spending — say, for posh new benefits for students, administrative bloat or inflated faculty salaries.

Related: “Financial Aid Leveraging“.

Jack Ma Takes Shot at Boosting China’s Education System

Wu Di, Chen Shaoyan and Pan Che

After revolutionizing e-commerce, Jack Ma says he has now set his sights on improving China’s problem-riddled education system.

The Chinese billionaire and founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. has set up an experimental private bilingual school named Yungu, or Cloud Valley, in Hangzhou’s upscale Xi Hu (West Lake) district. The school offers classes from kindergarten (preschool) through senior high.

Ma’s investment of an undisclosed sum comes at a time when Chinese authorities have stepped up scrutiny of private money flowing into primary and middle schools. In November, Chinese lawmakers banned schools that offer the first nine years of compulsory schooling from operating as for-profit enterprises. This has forced many schools to reregister their primary and middle school units as nonprofits. It is unclear whether Yungu would follow the same approach. Responding to a Caixin query, Alibaba said “the school will comply with national law,” without elaborating.

In Support Of Cris Carusi for Seat #6 and Matt Andrzejewski for Seat #7

via a kind email:

Dear Wisconsin State Journal:

We are social scientists with more than twenty years of experience as local public education activists. We have volunteered in classrooms; been on PTO boards; mentored and tutored disadvantaged students; and served on District-wide committees.

We are voting for Cris Carusi for Seat #6 and Matt Andrzejewski for Seat #7 on the Madison School Board. Here’s why.

1) We need people on the School Board who are current MMSD parents and who have spent time volunteering in our schools. To those without these basic qualifications we say, “you have skills and expertise to offer, but you lack school-based experience and a proven track record of commitment; so get more involved … and come back again later to ask us for our vote.”

2) We need people on the School Board who know data analysis and statistics. The District has a longstanding practice of presenting data with the overarching intention of making itself look good. Too often this comes at the expense of honestly answering the question of whether or not our students are learning. We need someone on the Board who will not be duped by that tactic

3) We need people on the School Board with multiple areas of expertise and broad-based skills. We have seen it many times: single-issue Board members are easily overwhelmed by the range and complexity of the information and challenges they are asked to deal with and never recover. To those with single-issue passion and experience we say, “target your volunteerism by getting involved in our schools only around your area of expertise.”

4) We need people on the School Board with a fresh perspective. A near-decade of service and influence is enough privilege for any one Board member. After that many years, the person is probably more loyal to the District Administration than is healthy for the system … or the community.

The Madison School Board needs smart, hard-working, committed parents like Cris Carusi and Matt Andrzejewski. And so do our students!

Laurie Frost and Jeff Henriques


From Netflix to rented homes, why are we less interested in ownership?

Ian Leslie:

In 2008 the anthropologist Daniel Miller published a book based on an intimate study of 30 households on a single street in south London. The Comfort of Things ­explored the different kinds of relationships people have with what they own.
 Miller described a retired couple’s house, cluttered with furniture, framed photographs and knick-knacks accumulated over decades. Down the road, a self-employed man called Malcolm had rented a flat. Malcolm preferred a spartan existence: he kept his belongings in storage, the better to travel at short notice, and conducted as much as possible of his life online. His home was his email address. His central material possession was his laptop.

Top Chinese university criticised for lowering admission standards for foreign students

Zhuang Pinghui:

The prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing has for the first time allowed international students to apply without taking a written test, causing concerns that it would create a loophole for abuse, Caixin.com reports.

Chinese university students queue for hours for library study space

The University, named the 57th best worldwide and 4th best in Asia by the US News and World Report Best Global University Rankings in 2017, recently changed its admission rules to allow international students to apply as long as they obtained level 5 in the HSK Putonghua proficiency test.

How CS50 at Harvard uses GitHub to teach computer science


How does Harvard’s largest course, an Introduction to Computer Science, use GitHub to achieve its learning goals?

Professor David J. Malan, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science at Harvard University, is dedicated to offering his students a robust learning experience. This post outlines how he uses GitHub and his own custom tools to build hands-on assignments for CS50 students.

Goodbye, maths and English. Hello, teamwork and communication?

Alex Gray:

It’s no longer enough to fill your CV with impressive grades. Employers are looking beyond qualifications to figure out what other skills their candidates have.

Cognitive skills in topics like maths and English have long been used as to measure the calibre of a job candidate. But a report by The Hamilton Project, an economic think-tank, says that non-cognitive skills are also integral to educational performance and success at work – and are becoming increasingly so.

Non-cognitive skills are your “soft skills”: things like how well you can communicate, how well you work with others, how well you lead a team and how self-motivated you are.

Why is Freedom of Speech Important?

The View from Hell

Why is free speech important? When free speech comes into conflict with other values, why should free speech win?

I think a lot of us have only a vague answer to these questions. Free speech is just a good thing. We don’t think much about why free speech is good, just that it’s a semi-sacred value.

And so when free speech is threatened, we don’t have many arguments for why it should prevail, especially in conflict with other legitimate, emotionally resonant values.

What It’s Like to Be a Teen Living in an Immigration Detention Center

Adrienne Gaffney:

Adriana had long looked forward to her 16th birthday — but when the date finally arrived, she celebrated not at home with her family and friends, but in a Texas center for immigrants that felt more like a prison.

“That day I didn’t do anything. I just sat there and I cried and cried all day,” Adriana recalls to Teen Vogue. Weeks earlier, she had fled El Salvador with her mother and sister, Allison, then 13, crossing the Rio Grande in order to escape violence. When they entered the United States, they didn’t have any authorization, and when they were picked up by border patrol officials, they said they were seeking asylum.

Recent US deportation statistics. 2016 ICE.

A School Librarian Caught In The Middle of Student Privacy Extremes


As a school librarian at a small K-12 district in Illinois, Angela K. is at the center of a battle of extremes in educational technology and student privacy.

On one side, her district is careful and privacy-conscious when it comes to technology, with key administrators who take extreme caution with ID numbers, logins, and any other potentially identifying information required to use online services. On the other side, the district has enough technology “cheerleaders” driving adoption forward that now students as young as second grade are using Google’s G Suite for Education.

In search of a middle ground that serves students, Angela is asking hard, fundamental questions. “We can use technology to do this, but should we? Is it giving us the same results as something non-technological?” Angela asked. “We need to see the big picture. How do we take advantage of these tools while keeping information private and being aware of what we might be giving away?”

In an age of robots, schools are teaching our children to be redundant (reading?)

George Monbiot:

In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?

We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?

Governments claim to want to reduce the number of children being excluded from school. So why are their curriculums and tests so narrow that they alienate any child whose mind does not work in a particular way?

The best teachers use their character, creativity and inspiration to trigger children’s instinct to learn. So why are character, creativity and inspiration suppressed by a stifling regime of micromanagement?

Another version of Monbiot’s column. Frederick Taylor and the schools is worth contemplation.

But…. reading. Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Race Update

Molly Beck:

“I think our track record is pretty good,” Evers said, citing decreased suspensions and expulsions, increased number of students taking college-level courses while still in high school and modest increases in reading proficiency.

“Is it where we want? Absolutely not,” he said.

Reading a key issuefor Humphries
The state’s reading proficiency levels have been a key issue for Humphries, who has said the DPI must have new leadership in order to improve those levels and students’ skills in other subjects.

Since the early 2000s, Wisconsin’s ranking for reading skills has dropped, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

He said DPI is not aggressive enough in translating their priorities to school officials in an effort to combat some persistent academic problems.

“Unless DPI is held accountable in making sure schools understand the importance … we’re not likely to have an impact, Humphries said. “We’ve seen that with academic achievement gaps.”

Humphries and Holtz have proposed writing new state academic standards, and Humphries said he would introduce a process that would allow persistently low-performing schools to be converted into new ones under new administration, including private voucher schools and charter schools, as long school boards agree.

Notes and links on Tony Evers and John Humphries.

WisPolitics: Lowell Holtz John Humphries Tony Evers

German parents told to destroy Cayla dolls over hacking fears

BBC News

An official watchdog in Germany has told parents to destroy a talking doll called Cayla because its smart technology can reveal personal data.

The warning was issued by the Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur), which oversees telecommunications.

Researchers say hackers can use an insecure bluetooth device embedded in the toy to listen and talk to the child playing with it.

Manufacturer Genesis Toys has not yet commented on the German warning.

Pixar offers free online lessons in storytelling via Khan Academy

Darrell Etherington:

There are few organizations in the world that can claim more expertise when it comes to storytelling than Pixar. The Disney-owned animation studio is known for its ability to consistently create world-class movies with gripping narrative alongside stunning visuals. Now, Pixar is helping others learn the secrets of great storytelling – for free, in partnership with online education provider Khan Academy.

The two have teamed up to create “Pixar In A Box,” and in this third instalment of the series, lessons are sourced from Pixar directors and story artists including Inside Out and Up director Pete Docter, Brave director Mark Andrews, Inside Out story artist Domee Shi, and Ratatouille animator Sanjay Patel.

Do Chinese Students Threaten Free Speech at Universities Abroad?

Taiwan Sentinel:

Nationalistic PRC student groups abroad are becoming increasingly vocal when it comes to academic institutions inviting critics of the CCP. Whether they succeed in eroding the West’s traditions of freedom of expression will be contingent on how universities respond.

Imagine a group of foreign students at, say, Fudan University in Shanghai or Peking University in Beijing organizing a campaign to prevent a former Chinese official or academic known for his pro-regime views on Tibet or Xinjiang or Taiwan from giving a lecture at the university. Worse, a foreign embassy in Beijing or consulate in Shanghai were in contact with the group of students and compelled them to threaten the university because foreign officials had “serious concerns” about the event and the ideology of the invited speaker.

Scholars Behind Bars

Jonathan Zimmerman:

American higher education has to deal much with bad news, as any quick scan of the country’s front pages will confirm: skyrocketing costs, runaway debt, sexual violence, and sluggish students more interested in partying than learning. But consider the following description of Bard College students, by one of their professors:

Students report that classes are “totally absorbing,” which is clearly evident in the classrooms. The intensity of student engagement is seen in the consistently lively class discussions. The study rooms are always full. In one-on-one conversations with faculty, students often report having read several more books than the ones assigned in order to investigate the topics at hand more deeply. They regularly ask for comments on essays they have written not for class, but just to express their views about someone running for office or an event in the news. On occasion, they buttonhole professors to talk about some particularly challenging philosophical puzzle they have been contemplating, such as how one knows what is and is not fair. Others have wanted to discuss an idea they have for a book they want to write or an organization they hope to establish once they are home.

That’s not the kind of intellectual atmosphere you will find on most American campuses. But these students aren’t on Bard’s campus; they’re in jail. The tribute to them comes from Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, distinguished fellow at the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), which provides college education to inmates at several high-security penitentiaries in upstate New York. The project was founded in 1999 by Max Kenner, an undergraduate at the time, with the backing of Bard’s president, Leon Botstein. Lagemann’s evocative book makes a convincing “case for college in prison,” to quote its title, carefully documenting the great many benefits that its graduates receive from BPI.

So does a second account by Daniel Karpowitz, the academic director of BPI and cofounder of a national network to promote liberal arts education in prisons. At the same time, both books also remind us how far our higher-education system has strayed from the humanistic ideal at the heart of the Bard prison project. By any conceivable measure, the education that these inmates receive is vastly superior to the standard academic experience of the roughly 20 million undergraduates in the United States. So these books also serve as an indirect criticism of mass higher education, not just mass incarceration.

Scientists make huge dataset of nearby stars available to public

Jennifer Chu

lThe search for planets beyond our solar system is about to gain some new recruits.
Today, a team that includes MIT and is led by the Carnegie Institution for Science has released the largest collection of observations made with a technique called radial velocity, to be used for hunting exoplanets. The huge dataset, taken over two decades by the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, is now available to the public, along with an open-source software package to process the data and an online tutorial.
By making the data public and user-friendly, the scientists hope to draw fresh eyes to the observations, which encompass almost 61,000 measurements of more than 1,600 nearby stars.

US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos being guarded by U.S. Marshals Service

By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel and Emma Brown

The U.S. Marshals Service says it is providing security for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos after a handful of protesters prevented her from entering a D.C. middle school.

[Protesters briefly block Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s visit to a D.C. school]

The move is unusual for the Education Department, which typically has a team of civil servants guarding the secretary, and for the marshals, law enforcement officers who are generally responsible for protecting federal judges, transporting prisoners, apprehending fugitives and protecting witnesses.

The last Cabinet member protected by marshals was a director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Lynzey Donahue, a spokeswoman for the Marshals Service. That office ceased to be a Cabinet-level position in 2009.

Fakebook algorithms ‘will identify terrorists’


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has outlined a plan to let artificial intelligence (AI) software review content posted on the social network.
In a letter describing the plan, he said algorithms would eventually be able to spot terrorism, violence, bullying and even prevent suicide.

He admitted Facebook had previously made mistakes in the content it had removed from the website.

But he said it would take years for the necessary algorithms to be developed.
The announcement has been welcomed by an internet safety charity, which had previously been critical of the way the social network had handled posts depicting extreme violence.

In his 5,500-word letter discussing the future of Facebook, Mr Zuckerberg said it was impossible to review the billions of posts and messages that appeared on the platform every day.

Fakebook algorithms ‘will identify terrorists’


Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has outlined a plan to let artificial intelligence (AI) software review content posted on the social network.
In a letter describing the plan, he said algorithms would eventually be able to spot terrorism, violence, bullying and even prevent suicide.

He admitted Facebook had previously made mistakes in the content it had removed from the website.

But he said it would take years for the necessary algorithms to be developed.
The announcement has been welcomed by an internet safety charity, which had previously been critical of the way the social network had handled posts depicting extreme violence.

In his 5,500-word letter discussing the future of Facebook, Mr Zuckerberg said it was impossible to review the billions of posts and messages that appeared on the platform every day.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Industrial Revolution Comparisons Aren’t Comforting 

Tyler Cowen:

“Why should it be different this time?” That’s the most common response I hear when I raise concerns about automation and the future of jobs, and it’s a pretty simple rejoinder. The Western world managed the shift out of agricultural jobs into industry, and continued to see economic growth. So will not the jobs being displaced now by automation and artificial intelligence lead to new jobs elsewhere in a broadly similar and beneficial manner? Will not the former truck drivers, displaced by self-driving vehicles, find work caring for the elderly or maybe fixing or programming the new modes of transport?

As economics, that may well be correct, but as history it’s missing some central problems. The shift out of agricultural jobs, while eventually a boon for virtually all of humanity, brought significant problems along the way. This time probably won’t be different, and that’s exactly why we should be concerned.

Linguist’s ‘big data’ research supports waves of migration into the Americas

University of Virginia:

linguistic anthropologist Mark A. Sicoli and colleagues are applying the latest technology to an ancient mystery: how and when early humans inhabited the New World. Their new research analyzing more than 100 linguistic features suggest more complex patterns of contact and migration among the early peoples who first settled the Americas.

The diversity of languages in the Americas is like no other continent of the world, with eight times more “isolates” than any other continent. Isolates are “languages that have no demonstrable connection to any other language with which it can be classified into a family,” Sicoli said. There are 26 isolates in North America and 55 in South America, mostly strung across the western edge of the continents, compared to just one in Europe and nine in Asia.

“Scientists in the past decade have rethought the settlement of the Americas,” Sicoli said, “replacing the idea that the land which connected Asia and North America during the last ice age was merely a ‘bridge’ with the hypothesis that during the last ice age humans lived in this refuge known as ‘Beringia’ for up to 15,000 years and then seeded migrations not only into North America, but also back into Asia.”

In a Feb. 17 presentation to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston, Sicoli will join other scientists discussing “Beringia and the Dispersal of Modern Humans to the Americas.” Since much of Beringia, theorized to have been located generally between northwest North America and northeastern Asia, has been under water for more than 10,000 years, it has been challenging to find archaeological and ecological evidence for this “deep history,” as Sicoli calls it.

Recent ecological, genetic and archaeological data support the notion of human habitation in Beringia during the latest ice age. The new linguistic research methods, which use “big data” to compare similarities and differences between languages, suggest that such a population would have been linguistically diverse, Sicoli said.

In “Linguistic Perspectives on Early Population Migrations and Language Contact in the Americas,” Sicoli shows how big data analyses point to the existence of at least three now-extinct languages of earlier migrations that influenced existing Dene and Aleut languages as they moved to the Alaska coast. The data comparing dozens of indigenous languages support phases of migration for the Dene languages and multilingual language contact systems along the Alaska coast, which potentially involved languages related to current linguistic isolates. Traces of such language contacts support that the mixing populations also mixed their languages as part of human adaptation strategies for this region and its precarious environment.

“The computational methods give us traction on questions that have been unanswered,” said Sicoli, who has been working in collaboration with Anna Berge of the University of Alaska and Gary Holton of the University of Hawaii. “They help us understand how people migrated and languages diversified not simply through isolation, but through multilingual contact.”

Analyzing languages of the Dene-Yeniseian macro-family, Sicoli and Holton previously found support for Dene migrations from Beringia into North America and Yeniseian migration into Siberia. The linguists’ continuing research is following up on this earlier study that posited a back-migration for the Yeniseian language family.

Chinese Father of Four Forced to Undergo Vasectomy: Case sheds light on forced sterilization, abortion quotas, and other dubious family planning practices.

Wang Lianzhang:

After spending more than 10 years away from his hometown of Luokan, in the southwestern province of Yunnan, a 42-year-old man was forced by local authorities to undergo a vasectomy upon returning for the lunar new year holiday. He was taken away by family planning officials on Feb. 8, and the operation was concluded the next day.

The fecund fugitive, surnamed Hu, was reprimanded for having four children: Already the father of two sons and one daughter, he divorced his first wife, married another woman, and had a fourth child. Zhenxiong County authorities determined that Hu had violated the two-child policy and would undergo a vasectomy as punishment.

Lesson in survival? Some say training teachers and kids to confront a gunman is going too far

Steven Elbow::

There was nervous laughter as the teachers waited, but it evaporated when the commotion broke out in the hallway. People were yelling, and someone blasted a deafening air horn in staccato bursts, meant to represent gunfire.

Five teachers in the barricaded classroom rushed to find cover while one brave soul held a strap affixed to the door handle to keep a would-be attacker out.

It was all for naught. The handle turned, the flimsy tables piled in front of the door gave way and the doorway was breached.

“Don’t just stand there. If I’m in the door, slam that door,” yelled the assailant, in reality a Sauk County emergency management official. “Slam my arm in it. Don’t let me stand here. I’m in the fatal funnel. Attack me.”

Percent of UW-Madison graduates who take on student debt decreases

Logan Wroge::

Fewer UW-Madison graduates left the university with debt in 2016 compared to the previous year.

Of students who earned a bachelor’s degree in the 2015-16 academic year, 53.4 percent graduated with no debt, a 3 percent increase from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday from the university’s Office of Student Financial Aid, though some graduate and professional students saw their average debt increase.

For undergraduates who took out student loans, the average amount of debt declined from $28,768 in 2015 to $28,255 in 2016, according to the report.

Achievement Discussion Gone Missing in Wisconsin Superintendent Election

Molly Beck:

Two state superintendent candidates publicly called each other liars on Friday — days before the two are set to face each other in a three-way primary with incumbent Tony Evers.

It was the latest twist — punctuated by a Democratic lawmaker crashing a news conference — in an increasingly turbulent race.

At the news conference, candidate John Humphries called opponent Lowell Holtz “a liar” who is falsely blaming unnamed business leaders for Holtz’s proposal for one of them to get out of the race in exchange for a six-figure, taxpayer-funded job should the other win.

Holtz later fired back, calling the Friday event a “three-ring circus” orchestrated by Humphries.

Notes and links on Tony Evers and John Humphries.

Cornell University Students Vote Against Intellectual Diversity, on Grounds It Would Harm Diversity

Robby Soave:

First, let me draw your attention to some recent news out of Cornell University, where the Student Assembly considered a resolution that would call for a committee to look into the matter of whether the campus lacks ideological diversity. The resolution cites the fact that 96 percent of Cornell faculty political donations are given to left-of-center candidates and causes as evidence of a problem.

Note that the resolution did not actually call for some kind of intellectual-diversity-affirmative-action, which would likely be ill-conceived and harm the university’s ability to make good hiring decisions. Nor would the resolution have created an actual committee. It merely calls on the faculty to consider creating a committee, in order to study the issue of ideological diversity at Cornell.

“Common sense and research indicate that it is students on the left who have the most to gain from [exposure to different ideas],” New York University psychologist Jonathan Haidt told The College Fix, in support of the resolution, “and the most to lose from spending four formative years in a politically homogeneous institution.”

Evers, liberal group rip Humphries and Holtz over meeting about mutual support

Dave Umhoefer:

Humphries alleged Wednesday that another candidate, Lowell Holtz, offered to drop out in exchange for a promise of a $150,000-a-year job in a potential Humphries administration, plus a driver and vast power to break up or take over urban school districts.

“This is a massive power grab,” Evers’ campaign said.

Humphries also charged that Holtz offered some of the same things to him in hopes of persuading Humphries to get out.

Humphries said he declined. Holtz disputed some aspects of Humphries’ claims.

To try to back up his claim, Humphries made public a document he says Holtz gave him at a meeting convened in December at the behest of business people who wanted to see the pair cooperate as they vied to take on Evers.

Commentary on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Superintendent Election

Molly Beck

State superintendent candidate John Humphries offered to consider negotiating a consulting contract with opponent Lowell Holtz at the Department of Public Instruction if Humphries defeated incumbent Tony Evers, according to a copy of an email from Humphries.

The Dec. 23 email, which Humphries provided to the Wisconsin State Journal, suggests it was a response to a suggestion from Holtz a day earlier that one of the two candidates drop out of the race on condition the other give him a taxpayer-funded $150,000 job upon winning the state superintendent race.

“My offer includes an opportunity for Lowell to participate in crafting my campaign message,” Humphries wrote. “Lowell would be working alongside me in the campaign, and then in Milwaukee and other urban areas after I am elected. I think the most effective way to do that would be to consider a consulting agreement that would be negotiated once I am elected. Negotiating a contract prior to election would at the very least have an appearance of impropriety. For that reason, I need to be careful with what I agree to but I am interested in continuing our discussions.”

Holtz said that offer amounted to a “bribe” to get out of the race. Humphries campaign spokesman Brian Schupper said that characterization was “ludicrous” since Holtz proposed a day before Humphries leave the race, and that Humphries was offering to discuss ways to possibly work together in the future.

The Humphries campaign released the email Thursday after state Superintendent Tony Evers called on his opponents to release more details about an alleged plan — crafted at the request of unnamed business leaders — to take over the state’s urban school districts.

Notes and links on Tony Evers and John Humphries.

Universities admit students who are ‘almost illiterate’, lecturers warn 

Camilla Turner:

Universities are admitting students who are “almost illiterate”, lecturers warn as they complain that dropping entry requirements has led to a generation of undergraduates who cannot read, write or speak proper English.

Almost half of academics (48 per cent) do not think that students are adequately prepared for university study, according to a Times Higher Education (THE) survey of over 1,000 academic staff.

Many academics believe that slipping standards are to blame, with one lecturer from a red brick university telling the survey: “Each year, the entry requirements for undergraduate programmes are reduced, meaning we get a high number of students who are almost illiterate.”

Related: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results and attempts to weaken teacher standards.