Rural America Is the New ‘Inner City’ -2-

Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg:

At the corner where East North Street meets North Cherry Street in the small Ohio town of Kenton, the Immaculate Conception Church keeps a handwritten record of major ceremonies. Over the last decade, according to these sacramental registries, the church has held twice as many funerals as baptisms.

In tiny communities like Kenton, an unprecedented shift is under way. Federal and other data show that in 2013, in the majority of sparsely populated U.S. counties, more people died than were born — the first time that’s happened since the dawn of universal birth registration in the 1930s.

For more than a century, rural towns sustained themselves, and often thrived, through a mix of agriculture and light manufacturing. Until recently, programs funded by counties and townships, combined with the charitable efforts of churches and community groups, provided a viable social safety net in lean times.

Business license required for teens to cut grass

Teens in Gardendale are in for a rude awakening this summer when it comes to cutting grass. According to the city’s ordinance, you must have a business license.

Teenagers have been threatened by officials and other lawn services to show their city issued license before cutting a person’s lawn for extra summer cash.

Cutting grass is often one of the first jobs many have in the summer. But a business license in Gardendale costs $110. And for a job, just for a couple of months, that can be a bit extreme.

“I have never heard of a child cutting grass had to have a business license,” said Elton Campbell.

Kids In Rural Areas Need School Choice, Too

Collin Roth and Will Flanders:

When someone mentions the phrase “failing school,” what image comes to mind? For most, it will be an urban school with a significant population of disadvantaged, minority kids. While this image is no doubt reasonable—many of the worst school districts in the country are urban—the problems of poor schools in other areas are too often forgotten. Particularly in America’s rural areas and small towns, performance doesn’t look all that different from central cities.

For instance, the lowest-performing school district in the state of Wisconsin is not Milwaukee. It’s tiny Cambria-Friesland, population 767. Nevertheless, the story of education reform in the state of Wisconsin, like most areas around the country, has overwhelmingly focused on the challenges of urban education.

Massive Data Breaches, Billions in Wasted Funds: Who Is Holding Edtech Vendors Accountable?

Jenny Abamu:

Since then a slew of security breaches and malicious data hacks have hit educational institutions, including K-12 districts and their technology providers. Most recently, one of the most widely-used education technology companies, Edmodo, had records for over 77 million users compromised.

In the absence of legal recourse and protection, lawyers and researchers are encouraging educators to defend themselves—starting at the negotiating table. They point to vendor contracts as the frontline of these efforts, noting that schools can and should demand better transparency around privacy protection, cybersecurity practices and even pricing terms. By doing so, schools can save themselves headache—and possibly billions of taxpayer dollars.

When Will AI Exceed Human Performance? Evidence from AI Experts

Katja Grace, John Salvatier, Allan Dafoe, Baobao Zhang, and Owain Evans:

dvances in artificial intelligence (AI) will transform modern life by reshaping transportation, health, science, finance, and the military [1, 2, 3]. To adapt public policy, we need to better anticipate these advances [4, 5]. Here we report the results from a large survey of machine learning researchers on their beliefs about progress in AI. Researchers predict AI will outperform humans in many activities in the next ten years, such as translating languages (by 2024), writing high-school essays (by 2026), driving a truck (by 2027), working in retail (by 2031), writing a bestselling book (by 2049), and working as a surgeon (by 2053). Researchers believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years, with Asian respondents expecting these dates much sooner than North Americans. These results will inform discussion amongst researchers and policymakers about anticipating and managing trends in AI.

The Education System Isn’t Designed for Smart Kids

Daniel Lattier:

Over the past five years I’ve looked at countless student performance numbers, and almost always, my attention goes to the large percentages of students who are performing below grade level in reading, math, history, etc. I see these numbers as evidence of the failure of the current education system.

But a recent policy brief (titled “How Can So Many Students Be Invisible?) has brought something else to my attention—something equally, if not more, damning of the education system. It’s the fact that large percentages of American students are performing ABOVE grade level.

With state budget in crisis, many Oklahoma schools hold classes four days a week

Emma Brown:

But in other states, the Great Recession sparked a spike in the growth of four-day weeks that has since slowed, according to data collected by The Washington Post. Oklahoma stands out for the velocity with which districts have turned to a shorter school week in the past several years, one of the most visible signs of a budget crisis that has also shuttered rural hospitals, led to overcrowded prisons and forced state troopers to abide by a 100-mile daily driving limit.

Democrats helped pass bipartisan income tax cuts from 2004 to 2008. Republicans — who have controlled the legislature since 2009 and governorship since 2011 — have cut income taxes further and also significantly lowered taxes on oil and gas production.

“The problems facing Oklahoma are our own doing. There’s not some outside force that is causing our schools not to be able to stay open,” said state Sen. John Sparks, the chamber’s top Democrat. “These are all the result of a bad public policy and a lack of public-sector investment.”

But Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said a downturn in the energy sector and a decreasing sales tax revenue have led to several “very difficult budget years.”

Madison is rather different, spending far more than most, around $18k per student.

CRISPR Gene-Editing Might Cause Thousands of Unintended Mutations

Avery Thompson:

Perhaps the largest medical breakthrough this side of the Human Genome Project has been the invention of CRISPR, a technique for rewriting entire sections of DNA. CRISPR lets scientists target specific sections of DNA and edit them however they want, essentially giving scientists a potentially unlimited ability to fix genetic illnesses.

But there’s a catch: CRISPR might cause random side effects.

When scientists want to edit a gene with CRISPR, they use techniques to select a specific gene sequence to edit. But selecting a single region in an entire genome is not easy, and often CRISPR will target other regions in the genome as well. Researchers believed they could predict most of these “off-target effects,” but a new study in Nature Methods suggests they probably can’t.


Jia Tolentino:

The Columbus Circle location is Amazon’s seventh bookstore, so far. It is reminiscent of an airport bookshop: big enough to be enticing from the outside but extremely limited once you’re inside. The volumes on display are spaced at a courteous distance from one another, positioned with their front covers facing out. Greeting customers, front and center, is a “Highly Rated” table, featuring books that have received 4.8 stars or above on, among them Trevor Noah’s memoir, Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook, a book by the couple on the TV show “Fixer Upper,” and a book about kombucha. Other offerings are determined by digital metrics such as Goodreads reviews, Amazon sales, and pre-orders, and by input from the curators at Amazon Books. The store, in other words, is designed to further popularize, on Amazon, that which is already popular on Amazon. (The company’s new Amazon Charts feature, public online as of last week, is intended to challenge the best-seller list at the Times.)

At the right of the shop is a large, Best Buy-esque electronics area that’s mainly dedicated to the Amazon Echo. The Echo section occupies more space in the store than the section dedicated to fiction, which you’ll find on the left. Under the “G”s in the fiction section you’ll find: Roxane Gay, Hazel Gaynor, Paolo Giordano, William Golding, Bryn Greenwood, and Yaa Gyasi. That’s it. Only a handful of authors have two titles featured on the shelves: Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Paulo Coelho, Emma Donoghue, Ernest Hemingway, Jojo Moyes, Liane Moriarty, Haruki Murakami, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Marilynne Robinson, and J. D. Salinger. Only John Steinbeck and W. Bruce Cameron have three titles displayed: Cameron’s are “A Dog’s Purpose,” “A Dog’s Journey,” and “A Dog’s Way Home.” Over all, there are fewer than two hundred titles on offer in the fiction section, and three thousand titles in the store as a whole. For comparison, McNally Jackson, in SoHo, stocks about sixty thousand titles; my favorite indie bookstore—Literati, in Ann Arbor, where I went to grad school—stocks twenty-five thousand, with five thousand titles in fiction.


KC Johnson:

Middlebury’s response to the disruption of Charles Murray’s invited campus address—followed by the protesters assaulting and injuring Professor Alison Stanger, moderator for the talk—offered little ground for optimism. A statement from the college implied that evidence (albeit ambiguous evidence) existed suggesting that some professors violated the Faculty Handbook in the pre-disruption period. The disruptors themselves received token punishments, as several sympathetic professors supported them in the disciplinary process. The chief of the Middlebury Police Department even denied that the disruptors assaulted Stanger. (“It was more of a scrum. There wasn’t any assault per se.”)

The Middlebury student government, moreover, has seemed intent on confirming the critics’ case about a campus out of control. After repeatedly expressing support, in words and deeds, for the disruptors, the student government concluded its term by rejecting an academic freedom/viewpoint diversity bill, which sponsors Rae Aaron and Jack Goldfield hoped would reaffirm the college’s stated commitment—clearly not upheld in the Murray case—that “officially recognized student organizations may invite to the campus and hear any person of their choosing,” and that “free intellectual inquiry, debate, and constructive dialogue are vital to Middlebury’s academic mission and must be protected even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial.”

Everything You Thought You Knew About Learning Is Wrong

Garth Sendem:

“People tend to try to learn in blocks,” Bjork said. “Mastering one thing before moving on to the next.”

Instead of doing that Bjork recommends interleaving. The strategy suggest that instead of spending an hour working on your tennis serve, you mix in a range of skills like backhands, volleys, overhead smashes, and footwork.

“This creates a sense of difficulty,” Bjork said. “And people tend not to notice the immediate effects of learning.”

Instead of making an appreciable leap forward with your serving ability after a session of focused practice, interleaving forces you to make nearly imperceptible steps forward with many skills. But over time, the sum of these small steps is much greater than the sum of the leaps you would have taken if you’d spent the same amount of time mastering each skill in its turn.

Everyone wants to know why 4 West Bend teachers abruptly resigned. There’s more to the story.

Erin Richards:

Seven days before summer break, West Bend East and West High School saw an unusual staffing change: Four of the six English teachers resigned Friday, throwing students into a lurch before finals and prompting vast speculation about the cause of the departures.

While students protested, the district released a statement that declined to name the teachers and only said that the resignations were “in no way related to any opinions expressed about curriculum.”

Whatever the specifics, the departures top an unusually turbulent year in West Bend. The Washington County district has long had fractious relations between some of its teachers, school board members and administrators, but a number of recent developments in short succession have raised new concerns.

Consider that in the past year:

An Annual Snapshot of the Federal Regulatory State (and Costs)

Clyde Wayne Crews:

Ten Thousand Commandments is the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual survey of the size, scope, and cost of federal regulations, and how the U.S. regulatory burden affects American consumers, businesses, and the economy. Authored by CEI Vice President for Policy Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr., it shines a light on the large and growing “hidden tax” of America’s regulatory state.

Federal government spending, deficits, and the national debt are staggering, but so is the impact of federal regulations. Unfortunately, regulations get little attention in policy debates because, unlike taxes, they are unbudgeted, difficult to quantify, and their effects are often indirect. By making Washington’s rules and mandates more comprehensible, Crews underscores the need for more review, transparency, and accountability for new and existing federal regulations.