Losing Students, Private Schools Try to Change

Tawnell Hobbs:

Private schools are lowering tuition, ramping up marketing and targeting traditionally underrepresented communities to reverse a national enrollment decline.

Enrollment in private schools for grades pre-K to 12, including parochial schools, dropped by 14%—to 6.3 million in 2016 from 7.3 million in 2006, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Overall school enrollment was nearly flat during that time, with public schools educating 2% more students to reach almost 52 million in 2016, the data shows.

Researchers and private-school associations attribute the decline to a host of factors: more affordable Catholic schools have closed; traditional public schools provide better options; families cut their budgets after the 2007 recession; and charter schools and other alternatives have expanded. School voucher programs and tax-credit scholarship programs have spread to just over a dozen states and are believed to have helped private-school enrollment some, but not enough to make up losses dating back years.

Fewer than half of Wisconsin school districts have certified teachers unions

Molly Beck:

Six years after Gov. Scott Walker and state Republicans made labor unions’ ability to retain members much more difficult, fewer than half of the state’s 422 school districts have certified unions.

In the latest certification election — held in November and required by Walker’s signature 2011 legislation known as Act 10 — staff and teachers in 199 school districts voted to remain in a bargaining unit, or 47 percent, according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

Notes and links: Madison Teachers, Inc. and WEAC.

Why I Left Iran to Play Chess in America

Dorsa Derakhshani:

Right now in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the World Chess Championships are underway. But some world champions are noticeably absent: The Israeli players were blocked from participating when Saudi Arabia denied them visas.

Chess — a game that I have loved since I first sat down at a board — is pure. It doesn’t care about gender, ethnicity, nationality, status or politics. But too often the countries, organizations and people who enforce the rules in the world of chess are anything but.

This is a subject I know something about.

I was the second-highest-ranked player for girls under 18 in the world in 2016. I am the second-highest-ranked female chess player in Iranian history. And yet my passion for the game has taken me thousands of miles away from my home in Tehran to seek citizenship here in the United States.

A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America

Ed Pilkington:

“You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.”

We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.


Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

Alston turns right.

Best of 2017: Science, Technology, and Business Writing


Deborah Blum
Director of the Knight Science Journalism program at MIT and author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

The Touch of Madness (David Dobbs, Pacific Standard)

A beautifully rendered exploration of the slow, relentless creep of schizophrenia into the life of a brilliant graduate student, her slow recognition of the fact, and the failure of her academic community to recognize the issue or to support her. Dobb’s piece functions both as an inquiry into our faltering understanding of mental illness and our cultural failure to respond to it with integrity. It’s the kind of compassionate and morally-centered journalism we should all aspire to.

To succeed Carmen Fariña, her adversary Eva Moskowitz nominates 14 education leaders from across America

Philissa Cramer:

Who should succeed Carmen Fariña as New York City schools chief? Eva Moskowitz, the charter school CEO who runs a small-district-sized network within the city, has some ideas.

Less than a day after news broke that Fariña would step down in early 2018, Moskowitz distributed a list of 14 people she sees as a strong fit to run the nation’s largest school system. They include Malika Anderson, the former leader of Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District; Denver schools chief Tom Boasberg; and Indianapolis superintendent Lewis Ferebee.

She also gives a nod to Andres Alonso, who worked with Fariña in New York City more than a decade ago before running Baltimore’s schools and was rumored to be on de Blasio’s shortlist four years ago.

“I should note that not all all of the leaders highlighted below are charter school supporters,” Moskowitz wrote in a note accompanying the list, underlining those words. “Mayor de Blasio and I have had profound disagreements about how best to educate our children since I was the City Council’s Education Chair and he was a fellow City Councilman, but we share the deep belief that we need the best possible person leading our schools.”

The list underscores how present Moskowitz aims to be in the city’s education politics, even as she has said she is not currently considering a run for mayor. It also puts Mayor Bill de Blasio in potentially a difficult position: Some of the people on the list have New York City connections or good relationships with people on all sides of education debates, but Moskowitz’s imprimatur could work against them.

U.S. public opinion on the future use of gene editing

Cary Funk, Brian Kennedy and Elizabeth Podrebarac Sciupac:

The potential genetic modification of humans and its ramifications have long been debated, but a recent scientific breakthrough in gene editing – a technique known as CRISPR – has raised the urgency of this conversation. In March and April of 2015, two separate groups of scientists published essays urging the scientific community to impose limits on genomic engineering, and the National Academies of Sciences, working in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, convened an international summit to discuss the science and policy of human gene editing. (For more details on these developments, see “Human Enhancement: The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Striving for Perfection.”)

2017 AI Index

AI Index:

A project within the Stanford 100 Year Study on AI, The AI Index is an initiative to track, collate, distill and visualize data relating to artificial intelligence.

It aspires to be a comprehensive resource of data and analysis for policymakers, researchers, executives, journalists and others to rapidly develop intuitions about the complex field of AI

Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments

Glenn Greenwald:

In September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country.

The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials. Indeed, Israeli officials have been publicly boasting about how obedient Facebook is when it comes to Israeli censorship orders:

Facebook Wants Your Face and You’ll Probably Let Them Have It

Sidney Fussell:

Facebook just got one step closer to becoming the literal embodiment of its name. On Tuesday, the company announced it’s rolling out several new facial recognition features on its platforms. Once you agree to let Facebook use your face data, you gain access to new tools the company says will help protect your privacy and block catfishing attempts.

In a blog post, the company described the new features that will soon be available to users who turn face recognition on with “a simple on/off switch”:

Never Under-Estimate the (Governance) Immune System

John Hagel:

Every large and successful institution has an immune system – a collection of individuals who are prepared to mobilize at the slightest sign of any “outside” ideas or people in order to ensure that these foreign bodies are neutralized and that the existing institution survives intact and can continue on course. Just like the immune system all organisms have, this institutional immune system is adept at recognizing foreign bodies as soon as they appear and very effective at protecting the institution from infection. It is in fact what has helped large institutions to survive – they are in fact “built to last.”

But here’s the paradox: the immune system that has given large institutions extraordinary resilience in the past may be the very thing that makes these institutions so vulnerable today. In more stable times, institutional immune systems are very effective at keeping institutions focused and on course, resistant to the distractions that might lead to their downfall. In more rapidly changing and volatile signs, this same immune system can become deadly by resisting the very changes that are required for the survival of the institution.

I’ve been writing about the Big Shift for quite a while now. Long-term forces that have been playing out for decades on a global scale are leading to a profound shift in how institutions will need to operate in order to survive, much less thrive, in the decades ahead.

China’s scholastic success could begin with storybooks, research suggests

JD Warren:

The lessons from childhood storybooks are decidedly different in China and the United States, and align with the lessons the respective countries impart in the classroom, UC Riverside research finds.

There is a widely held perception – and some research to affirm it – that East Asian schools outperform schools in North America. A recent study published by UC Riverside psychologist Cecilia Cheung skirts the link between storybooks and school performance, but asserts that the lessons taught in Chinese schools could start early.

“The values that are commonly conveyed in Chinese (vs. U.S.) storybooks include an orientation toward achievement, respect for others – particularly the elderly – humility, and the importance of enduring hardship,” Cheung said. “In the U.S. storybooks, protagonists are often portrayed as having unique interest and strength in a certain domain, and the themes tend to be uplifting.”

For her study, published in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, Cheung compared storybooks in the U.S. and Mexico with those in China.

She chose 380 storybooks recommended by education ministries in the respective countries, for children aged 3 to 11. The study considered three core aspects of learning-related qualities: beliefs (views about the nature of intelligence), motivated cognitions (achievement, determination), and behaviors (effort, overcoming obstacles).

College Presidents Say: “Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech”

Eugene Volokh:

But of course there is no hate speech exception to the Free Speech Clause, as the Supreme Court unanimously reaffirmed this year in the Slants case. Private universities aren’t legally bound by this (except in California, where a state law applies Free Speech Clause rules to them); but public universities, such as Texas A&M and UT, certainly are. And while universities aren’t barred from condemning speech they disapprove of, this statement — especially if read by students who aren’t up on First Amendment law — strikes me as suggesting that the universities will actually punish such speech (since it’s not “free speech,” and since it’s not “accepted”). Yet such punishment of “[un]welcome” viewpoints would be unconstitutional.

Of course, in common with most such statements, this one doesn’t even try to define “hate speech,” and the words it uses to describe the concept help show how perilously broad and vague it can be. “Inappropriate messages” are apparently not “accepted if they “are meant to provoke.” Creating hostility is also forbidden; presumably they don’t include all hostility (hostility to President Trump? hostility to alleged racists?), but mean hostility based on race, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and so on — but that would still cover, say, harsh condemnations of various religious views (Muslim, evangelical Christian, Scientologist, etc.), expression of traditional religious views about homosexuality, and much more (perhaps opposition to “multicutural[ism]”?). “Diversity of thought” they seem to value, but diversity of thought on these subjects appears to be too much (at leaast if it’s “[i]nappropriate” and “meant to provoke”).

And what exactly does “disingenuous misrepresentation of free speech” mean here?

‘I hope I can quit working in a few years’: A preview of the U.S. without pensions

Peter Whoriskey:

Tom Coomer, 79, outside of the Walmart where he works five days a week in Wagoner, Okla, on Nov. 16. Coomer used to work at the McDonnell Douglas plant in Tulsa before it closed in 1994. He and many of his co-workers could never replace their lost pension benefits and face financial struggles in their old age. (Nick Oxford for The Washington Post)
Tom Coomer has retired twice: once when he was 65, and then several years ago. Each time he realized that with just a Social Security check, “You can hardly make it these days.”

So here he is at 79, working full-time at Walmart. During each eight-hour shift, he stands at the store entrance greeting customers, telling a joke and fetching a “buggy.” Or he is stationed at the exit, checking receipts and the shoppers that trip the theft alarm.

“As long as I sit down for about 10 minutes every hour or two, I’m fine,” he said during a break. Diagnosed with spinal stenosis in his back, he recently forwarded a doctor’s note to managers. “They got me a stool.”

How clever is it to dismiss IQ tests?

Stuart Richie:

‘IQ tests just measure how good you are at doing IQ tests.’ This is the argument that is almost always made when intelligence-testing is mentioned. It’s often promoted by people who are, otherwise, highly scientifically literate. You wouldn’t catch them arguing that climate change is a myth or that vaccines might cause autism. But saying that IQ tests are useless is just as wrong as these notions: in fact, decades of well-replicated research point to IQ tests as some of the most reliable and valid instruments in all of psychological science.

So what does an IQ test – which might consist of, for example, shape-based puzzles, timings of how quickly you can check through lists of meaningless symbols, memory tests, and vocabulary measures – actually tell you? The strongest correlation is perhaps unsurprising: an IQ score is highly predictive of how people will do in school. One large study found that IQ scores at age 11 correlated 0.8 (on a scale of -1 to 1) with school grades at age 16. Surely this gives us some basis for calling these measures ‘intelligence tests’. But that’s just the beginning: higher IQ scores are predictive of more occupational success, higher income, and better physical and mental health. Perhaps the most arresting finding is that IQ scores taken in childhood are predictive of mortality. Smarter people live longer, and this association is still there after controlling for social class.

Can Mitchonomics Fix the Broken Business of Higher Ed?

Romesh Ratnesar

Under Daniels, things have been generally cheery at Purdue. With return on investment increasingly important to students, given the price of attending and the corresponding debt, Purdue has something to sell: static costs and a good job if you graduate, especially in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Since Daniels started in 2013, undergrad applications and enrollment have hit record levels, as have alumni donations, graduation rates, and the number of startups launched by researchers. Purdue has added 75 tenure-track positions in engineering and increased the number of students earning STEM degrees by 24 percent, with big gains among women (40 percent) and underrepresented minorities (65 percent). Daniels has rolled out initiatives that range from the audacious, such as interest-free financial aid in exchange for a percentage of future earnings, to the alcoholic: Boiler Gold, a craft beer that went on sale in West Lafayette this fall, is a collaboration among a local brewer, the university, and its food science department.
Daniels’s moves are driven by necessity. Founded in 1869, Purdue was part of a wave of public universities established after the Civil War that helped expand the middle class and propel the research advances that fueled the manufacturing boom in the 20th century. Today, tighter public spending means more schools are getting less state funding. Some, including the University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, have replaced that loss with a combination of jacked-up tuition, even-more-jacked-up out-of-state tuition, successful sports programs, and donations from exuberant—and wealthy—alumni. Other large public universities, especially in the Midwest, have struggled to replace state funding cuts, making it tough to keep faculty from seeking higher salaries and bigger research budgets elsewhere. Professors at Midwestern public universities make about 30 percent less than their Northeastern counterparts.

Decoding Russian Meteor-M2 satellite images in real time


The Meteor-M N2 is a polar orbiting Russian weather satellite that was launched on July 8, 2014. Its main missions are weather forecasting, climate change monitoring, sea water monitoring/forecasting and space weather analysis/prediction. Meteor-M N2 transmits images using the digital LRPT protocol at around 137.1 MHz with can be received with an RTL-SDR. The chipset of RTL dongles was created with the intention of doing DVB-T (digital TV) and DAB (digital radio) demodulation , however a curious linux developer named Antti Palosaari, discovered that these cheap TV adapters are actually Sofware Defined Radios (SDR)!

The Soviet Era’s Deadliest Scientist Is Regaining Popularity in Russia

Sam Kean:

Although it’s impossible to say for sure, Trofim Lysenko probably killed more human beings than any individual scientist in history. Other dubious scientific achievements have cut thousands upon thousands of lives short: dynamite, poison gas, atomic bombs. But Lysenko, a Soviet biologist, condemned perhaps millions of people to starvation through bogus agricultural research—and did so without hesitation. Only guns and gunpowder, the collective product of many researchers over several centuries, can match such carnage.

Having grown up desperately poor at the turn of the 20th century, Lysenko believed wholeheartedly in the promise of the communist revolution. So when the doctrines of science and the doctrines of communism clashed, he always chose the latter—confident that biology would conform to ideology in the end. It never did. But in a twisted way, that commitment to ideology has helped salvage Lysenko’s reputation today. Because of his hostility toward the West, and his mistrust of Western science, he’s currently enjoying a revival in his homeland, where anti-American sentiment runs strong.

How Hospitals Are Failing Black Mothers

Annie Waldman:

When Dacheca Fleurimond decided to give birth at SUNY Downstate Medical Center earlier this year, her sister tried to talk her out of it.

Her sister had recently delivered at a better-rated hospital in Brooklyn’s gentrified Park Slope neighborhood and urged Fleurimond, a 33-year-old home health aide, to do the same.

But Fleurimond had given birth to all five of her other children at the state-run SUNY Downstate and never had a bad experience. She and her family had lived steps away from the hospital in East Flatbush when they emigrated from Haiti years ago. She knew the nurses at SUNY Downstate, she told her sister. She felt comfortable there.

Is AlphaZero really a scientific breakthrough in AI?

Jose Camacho Collados :

As you may probably know, DeepMind has recently published a paper on AlphaZero [1], a system that learns by itself and is able to master games like chess or Shogi.

Before getting into details, let me introduce myself. I am a researcher in the broad field of Artificial Intelligence (AI), specialized in Natural Language Processing. I am also a chess International Master, currently the top player in South Korea although practically inactive for the last few years due to my full-time research position. Given my background I have tried to build a reasoned opinion on the subject as constructive as I could. For obvious reasons, I have focused on chess, although some arguments are general and may be extrapolated to Shogi or Go as well. This post represents solely my view and I may have misinterpreted some particular details on which I am not an expert, for which I apologize in advance if it is the case.

Chess has arguably been the most widely studied game in the context “human vs machine” and AI in general. One of the first breakthroughs in this area was the victory of IBM Deep Blue in 1997 over the world champion at the time Garry Kasparov [2]. At that time machines were considered inferior to humans in the game of chess, but from that point onwards, the “battle” has been clearly won by machines.

New York’s Dwight School Plans New Campus—in Dubai

Leslie Brody:

As the private Dwight School in Manhattan gears up to open a new campus, it is recruiting dozens of American teachers with perks such as free housing and tuition for their children.

The rub is that the new site is almost 7,000 miles away in Dubai, a city on the Persian Gulf where summer days often top 105 degrees, public kissing by couples is frowned upon and women are expected to dress conservatively.

Jaya Bhavnani, a 65-year-old science teacher at Dwight’s Upper West Side campus who has lived in Dubai before, says she is thrilled to be joining the school’s newest branch. “It’s the most Westernized city in the Middle East, as long as you can respect some basic social norms” while there, Ms. Bhavnani said.

Dwight is among the latest schools to venture into Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a federation of monarchies where Islam is the official religion. A fast-growing business hub, Dubai has 299 English-language international options for preschool through high school, more than any other city in the world. They cater largely to transient expats and local families seeking educations they believe will prepare their children to get into top universities in the U.S. and elsewhere—as well as careers in a global economy.

Dubai’s embrace of English-language international schools is part of a proliferation, especially in the Middle East and Eastern Asia. Now 9,319 operate world-wide, up from 2,584 in 2000, according to ISC Research, which tracks such data. They serve more than 5 million students in preschool through high school and earn more than $47 billion in fees. The group predicts these numbers will nearly double in a decade.

Growing up in Japanese-occupied Shanghai: Hongkonger’s memoir of soirees, school days, a shooting and some Black Swans

Fionnuala McHugh:

There was once a girl in Shanghai whose name was Sun Shuying but who was referred to within her family as either Third Daughter or Third Sister. Although she was born in the Year of the Sheep – 1931 – she looked like a plump little monkey; at least that’s what one of Eldest Sister’s suitors thought when he came courting under a balcony and saw Third Sister leaping about. “She’s totally annoying and you should ignore her,” was Eldest Sister’s yelled advice to her Romeo below.

Big sisters everywhere are like that and on the whole – so Third Sister always told herself when she looked back (which she didn’t tend to do, preferring to face forward) – there were plenty of happy moments in her childhood. She loved the symmetry of the rosewood baxianzhou or “eight fairies table” where the whole family – parents, grandmother and five children – could sit together, waited on by the servants.

New Tax Law Takes Aim at Higher Education’s Millionaires Club:

Adam Harris and Dan Bauman:

[The new tax law imposes] a 21-percent tax on annual compensation in excess of $1 million paid to the five highest-paid employees of a nonprofit group — including college presidents, chancellors, and coaches. For medical professionals, however, compensation that is directly related to medical or veterinary services would not be taken into account. …

According to an analysis by The Chronicle, America’s private, nonprofit colleges had 158 million-dollar employees in the 2015 calendar year, excluding medical staff members. The highest earners primarily included chief executives, athletics staff members, and investment officers. Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the men’s basketball team at Duke University, topped the list, earning $7.4 million in 2015.

Judge grants Project Veritas a victory over Michigan teachers union

Nolan McCaskill:

A federal judge in Detroit on Wednesday lifted the temporary restraining order a major teachers union won against the conservative group Project Veritas and denied a request for a preliminary injunction.

A Wayne County circuit judge in September blocked Project Veritas, a group run by provocateur James O’Keefe, from disclosing videos of other information it obtained in an undercover operation carried out against the American Federation of Teachers chapter in Detroit.

AFT Michigan alleged that Project Veritas operative Marisa Jorge used the name Marissa Perez and posed as a University of Michigan student to gain access to the chapter as an intern. The group claimed Jorge “unlawfully accessed and transmitted proprietary and confidential information and engaged in unlawful and unauthorized surveillance of” employees.

AFT Michigan had sought an injunction citing a strong likelihood of success with respect to violations of the Michigan Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the Michigan Eavesdropping Act and Jorge’s breach of fiduciary duty, all of which failed to hold up in court.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Augment Human Intelligence

Shan Carter and Michael Nielsen:

Historically, different answers to this question – that is, different visions of computing – have helped inspire and determine the computing systems humanity has ultimately built. Consider the early electronic computers. ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose electronic computer, was commissioned to compute artillery firing tables for the United States Army. Other early computers were also used to solve numerical problems, such as simulating nuclear explosions, predicting the weather, and planning the motion of rockets. The machines operated in a batch mode, using crude input and output devices, and without any real-time interaction. It was a vision of computers as number-crunching machines, used to speed up calculations that would formerly have taken weeks, months, or more for a team of humans.

In the 1950s a different vision of what computers are for began to develop. That vision was crystallized in 1962, when Douglas Engelbart proposed that computers could be used as a way of augmenting human intellect. In this view, computers weren’t primarily tools for solving number-crunching problems. Rather, they were real-time interactive systems, with rich inputs and outputs, that humans could work with to support and expand their own problem-solving process. This vision of intelligence augmentation (IA) deeply influenced many others, including researchers such as Alan Kay at Xerox PARC, entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs at Apple, and led to many of the key ideas of modern computing systems. Its ideas have also deeply influenced digital art and music, and fields such as interaction design, data visualization, computational creativity, and human-computer interaction.

The Dying Art of Disagreement

Bret Stephen s:

Let me begin with thanks to the Lowy Institute for bringing me all the way to Sydney and doing me the honor of hosting me here this evening.

I’m aware of the controversy that has gone with my selection as your speaker. I respect the wishes of the Colvin family and join in honoring Mark Colvin’s memory as a courageous foreign correspondent and an extraordinary writer and broadcaster. And I’d particularly like to thank Michael Fullilove for not rescinding the invitation.

This has become the depressing trend on American university campuses, where the roster of disinvited speakers and forced cancellations includes former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, former Harvard University President Larry Summers, actor Alec Baldwin, human-rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, DNA co-discoverer James Watson, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, filmmaker Michael Moore, conservative Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will and liberal Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen, to name just a few.

A simple theory of Moore’s Law and social media

Tyler Cowen:

1. Moore’s Law plus the internet makes smart people smarter, and stupid people less smart.

2. Manipulable people can be reached with a greater flood of information, so over time as data on them accumulate, they become more manipulable.

3. It is often easier to manipulate smart people than stupid people, because the latter may be oblivious to a greater set of cues and clues.

4. Social media bring smarter people together with the less smart more than used to be the case, Twitter more so than Facebook. Members of each group are appalled by what they experience. The smarter people see the lesser smarts of many others. The less smart people — who often are not entirely so stupid after all — can see how manipulated the smarter people are. They also see that the smarter people look down on them and attack their motives and intellects. Both groups go away thinking less of each other.

4b. The smarter people, in reacting this way, in fact are being manipulated by the (stupider) powers that be.

5. “There is a performative dimension that renders both sides more rigid and dishonest.” From a correspondent.

Gene editing has gone from supervillain scheme to national security concern

Mark Pomerleau   :

Gene editing is often thought of as a technique from a futuristic villain, best used to create killer mosquitoes or vaccine-resistant diseases.

But there, tucked within the nearly 70-page National Security Strategy unveiled Dec. 18 by the Trump administration, was a short paragraph devoted to research and innovation. The document included the areas where the United States should prioritize investment to “maintain our competitive advantage.” And while the White House listed more conventional national security technologies, such as encryption and autonomy, the strategy also specifically mentioned gene editing.

Already, the main research arms of the U.S. national security sector have devoted resources and teams toward gene editing in the past few years.

A Big Tech Backlash?

David Dayen:

The Beginning of a Backlash

“I think you do enormous good … but your power sometimes scares me,” said Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana in October to the general counsels of Facebook, Google, and Twitter at the first major congressional hearing on Big Tech in years. The topic was Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, but the testimony illuminated the platforms’ domination of large parts of American life, without any interest in managing that control. Malign actors could so easily penetrate platform defenses because there weren’t any. Facebook has five million advertisers at any one time; it couldn’t possibly vet them if it tried.

Furthermore, tech firms have no incentive to interfere with the source of so much revenue. That’s why ProPublica could list discriminatory rental housing ads excluding races and ethnicities in 2016, and then again in 2017, after Facebook claimed to fix the problem. That’s why Google is purging videos and disabling comments on YouTube’s predatory, sexualized user content aimed at children, but not always removing the predators’ accounts. Allowing the narrowest possible targeting and the maximum possible targets has built the most lucrative ad mechanism in history, and it generates big bucks, even if the bill is paid in rubles.

The hearings were important more for their explanatory power than for the technicalities of election integrity. “The end of the story is not Russia hacking the election, but that gross harm exists,” says Marshall Steinbaum, research director at the Roosevelt Institute. It filled out the picture on these platforms, whose operations we understand as much as the proverbial blind man feeling around an elephant. “We need to make sure that the public fully understands the scope of the problem we face, and how it could be dramatically worse, given the speed at which these companies are growing,” says Lina Khan, legal policy director at the Open Markets Institute.

We don’t know how our data is handled. We don’t know how algorithms nudge us into certain apps or products. We don’t even have a confirmed figure of Amazon Prime memberships (recent estimates range between 52 million and 85 million households). There are nearly 270 million fake and duplicate accounts on Facebook, a number they quietly updated only in November.

Platforms like Google have invested heavily in the academic research establishment. The search giant has funded around 100 public research papers since 2009, with up to $400,000 in seed money for each, according to data from The Wall Street Journal. Most of the research papers failed to disclose Google’s funding; Google even gives notes on the studies before they get published. This academic payola tilts the debate about how these businesses work, and in whose interest.

Introducing The Crypto University

Rohith Salim:

I am excited to announce the launch of The Crypto University [www.thecryptouniversity.io] — an online school to learn about all things crypto & blockchain.

My buddy Ryan (Ryan Chadha) and I have been looking closely at the crypto space (and no —not just Bitcoin) for quite some time now and we are fascinated by the potential some of these cryptos have to solving the inefficiencies that exist in industries such as accounting, real estate and finance.

What is equally fascinating (and slightly frightening) is the sheer number of people putting money into the crypto space without completely understanding what exactly they are putting money into.

Q&A: Getting Millennials Off That Treadmill

Rachel Cohen:

Let’s talk a little about “human capital.” What does that mean?

Malcolm Harris: Generally speaking, human capital is the skills, abilities, talents, accomplishments, and resumes that go with you when you work. It refers to the relationship between workers and owners. What some people get wrong is thinking that we own our human capital, and that we can sell it. That’s not true. We don’t own ours, and nobody is legally allowed to own human capital—[i.e. slaves]—anymore.

You say that kids today take fewer risks, and it’s partly a result of parents adopting a “risk elimination” approach to childrearing.

Through various means, we’re forcing or compelling kids to take fewer risks. Children are living increasingly conservative lives, especially compared to the immediately preceding generations. And some people talk about it like millennials are wusses, scaredy-cats, we need our mommies—stuff like that—but that’s all irrelevant because children do not raise themselves or define the world in which they come to be. In other words, we have to look for the sources of that risk-averse behavior with practices elsewhere.

Vietnam Deploys 10,000 Cyber Warriors to Fight ‘Wrongful Views’

Mai Ngoc Chau:

Vietnam is deploying a 10,000-member military cyber warfare unit to combat what the government sees as a growing threat of “wrongful views” proliferating on the internet, according to local media.

Force 47 has worked pro-actively against distorted information, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, citing Nguyen Trong Nghia, deputy head of the general politics department under the Vietnam People’s Military. The disclosure of the unit comes as the Communist government pressures YouTube Inc. and Facebook Inc. to remove videos and accounts seen damaging the reputations of leaders or promoting anti-party views.

UW-Superior faculty votes ‘no confidence’


“In light of a history of declined enrollment is some classes, (Wachter) put forth a very reasonable and appropriate plan to focus the University’s resources on better aligning to the needs of northern Wisconsin,” UW System President Ray Cross said. “She has maintained a robust program array that closely resembles those of her peer institutions and remains dedicated to the success of her students.”

UW System Board of Regents President John Robert Behling said that the board “has full confidence in Chancellor Wachter and she deserves credit for her leadership. Eliminating or suspending programs with low enrollment can be difficult and controversial, but Chancellor Wachter has made the right decision for the University.”

The Faculty Senate vote came at the end of a week in which the Superior City Council narrowly rejected a resolution calling on university administration and the UW System to rescind the program suspensions, and in which the Douglas County Board passed a resolution to “encourage the UWS administration to put a hold on all suspended major and minor programs until such time that the administration, the faculty and students can meet in accordance with the governance policy in a public forum as it has been done with prior issues.”

17 striking findings from 2017

Abigail Geiger:

Pew Research Center studies a wide array of topics both in the U.S. and around the world, and every year we are struck by particular findings. Sometimes they mark a new milestone in public opinion; other times a sudden about-face. From an increase in Americans living without a spouse or partner to the impact of Donald Trump’s presidency, here are 17 findings that stood out to us in 2017:

1Partisan divides dwarf demographic differences on key political values. The average gap between the views of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents across 10 political values has increased from 15 percentage points in 1994 to 36 points today. Two decades ago, the average partisan differences on these items were only slightly wider than differences by religious attendance or educational attainment, and about as wide as differences across racial lines. Today, the partisan gaps far exceed differences across other key demographics.

The Massive Higher-Ed Scam You’ve Never Heard About: Podcast

Nick Gillespie:

Historian and entrepreneur Thaddeus Russell has a bone to pick with American higher education. It’s not simply that maverick opinions that stray from a liberal-progressive orthodoxy get squashed in classroom discussions and tenure decisions. Russell says the federal Department of Education effectively manages an accreditation system that controls the number and character of elite institutions by insisting that “serious” colleges and universities have dorms, dining halls, and a whole host of things completely unrelated to higher learning.

As the founder and proprietor of the online Renegade University, the fight is both personal and practical for Russell, whose 2010 book, A Renegade History of the United States, offers up one of the most original and provocative readings of the American experience. “People who operate on the fringes of society,” says Russell, “who have operated against social norms…have opened spaces that were later occupied by the mainstream and established things that we now take for granted.” In his telling, it’s not august statesmen and high-minded citizens but the pushers, prostitutes, and outliers who have enabled the radical lifestyle, cultural, and political freedoms we take for granted.

Murder in America: What Makes Cities More Dangerous

Max Rust, Scott Calvert and Shibani Mahtani:

Murder in America is deeply local.

Homicides in the U.S. rose about 9% last year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and more than one-third of the increase was concentrated in neighborhoods where just one-third of Chicago residents live. Meanwhile, improvements in areas where 30% of Los Angeles residents live accounted for one quarter of the 13% drop in U.S. murders between 2002 and 2014.

The Wall Street Journal analyzed the locations of thousands of homicides in four cities: Chicago and Baltimore, where violence has risen to or near 1990s levels in the past two years; and Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., where meaningful declines in violence have been sustained since the 1990s.

The Art of Conducting

Terry Teachout:

So what’s the scoop on this conductor guy?” a friend once asked after I took her to an orchestral concert, the first one she had ever seen. “Do they really need him, or is he just there for show?” Her question was a good one. Anyone who has witnessed a performance by the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra knows that a couple of dozen classical musicians can give a shapely, polished performance of a symphony by Haydn or Mozart without a conductor. Any well-drilled symphony orchestra can do the same thing.

Stopping a Student-Loan Scam

Wall Street Journal:

After nationalizing student lending, the Obama Administration sought to reduce the government’s $1.3 trillion loan portfolio by allowing disgruntled borrowers to discharge their debt. Last week Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ended this fraud against taxpayers.

After driving Corinthian Colleges out of business in 2014, the Education Department implemented a haphazard process to forgive loans of students who claimed to have been ripped off by the defunct for-profit. Tens of thousands of claims poured in, overwhelming department staff.

The backlog of claims ballooned after predatory regulators forced the closure of ITT Technical Institute in 2016. Liberal groups urged the Obama Administration to forgive loans of borrowers who had attended other for-profits, spurring the department to initiate a “borrower defense” rule-making to allow students who purported misrepresentations by their colleges to discharge their loans. The midnight rule, finalized last November, authorized the Education Department to discharge debts on a class-wide basis—for instance, all borrowers who had attended a certain college within the last five years.

The Obama Administration approved roughly 15,000 claims between June 25, 2015 and January 1, 2017. During President Obama’s final three weeks in office, the department hurried out 16,000 approvals. No claims were denied. The total taxpayer tab for discharges: $450 million.

Obama officials left a backlog of 48,000 claims, many of which were flagged for rejection. But the Education Department had not developed a process for denying claims or a system to prevent fraud—to wit, borrowers who alleged misrepresentations by colleges despite suffering no apparent injury.

How wars were once fought over spices – cookbook looks at history and modern uses of all things aromatic

Susan Jung:

“They have played an important role in health, adding healing properties to medicines, and they have been used to give scent to perfumes. A study of Ayurvedic practices in India gives an understanding of how spices can work for the well-being of the body. Such beliefs and practices are becom­ing widely accepted in Western society’s search for a healthy diet and sense of wellness.”

But, she admits, the use of spices was slow to catch on in Australia.

“Until recent times, Australian cooking in general has had very little to do with spice. In the formative years of white settlement in this country, diet and eating habits were entirely inappropri­ate to resources, climate and lifestyle.”

LinkedIn’s 2017 U.S. Emerging Jobs Report


The job market in the U.S. is brimming right now with fresh and exciting opportunities for professionals in a range of emerging roles.

New types of jobs means new potential for workers at all levels, especially for those looking to change careers. Overall, job growth in the next decade is expected to outstrip growth during the previous decade, creating 11.5 million jobs by 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even further, it’s estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately hold jobs that don’t yet exist.

To help find those up-and-coming roles and to better understand what skills are needed to succeed, we analyzed LinkedIn data from the last five years, as well as some survey data, to identify which jobs and skills are on the rise, what they’re replacing, and what these trends indicate about the jobs market in the years to come.

Here’s what we found:

History isn’t a ‘useless’ major. It teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of

James Grossman:

Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2007, the history major has lost significant market share in academia, declining from 2.2% of all undergraduate degrees to 1.7%. The graduating class of 2014, the most recent for which there are national data, included 9% fewer history majors than the previous year’s cohort, compounding a 2.8% decrease the year before that. The drop is most pronounced at large research universities and prestigious liberal arts colleges.

This is unfortunate — not just for those colleges, but for our economy and polity.

Of course it’s not just history. Students also are slighting other humanities disciplines including philosophy, literature, linguistics and languages. Overall, the core humanities disciplines constituted only 6.1% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2014, the lowest proportion since systematic data collection on college majors began in 1948.

Conventional wisdom offers its usual facile answers for these trends: Students (sometimes pressured by parents paying the tuition) choose fields more likely to yield high-paying employment right after graduation—something “useful,” like business (19% of diplomas), or technology-oriented. History looks like a bad bet.

Politicians both draw on those simplicities and perpetuate them—from President Barack Obama’s dig against the value of an art history degree to Sen. Marco Rubio’s comment that welders earn more than philosophers. Governors oppose public spending on “useless” college majors. History, like its humanistic brethren, might prepare our young people to be citizens, but it supposedly does not prepare workers—at least not well paid ones.

The diminished prospects for attorneys in recent years extends this logic, as the history major has long been considered among the best preparation for law school. The other conventional career path for history majors is teaching, but that too is suffering weak demand due to pressure on public school budgets.

A historian, however, would know that it is essential to look beyond such simplistic logic. Yes, in the first few years after graduation, STEM and business majors have more obvious job prospects—especially in engineering and computer science. And in our recession-scarred economic context, of course students are concerned with landing that first job.

Over the long run, however, graduates in history and other humanities disciplines do well financially. Rubio would be surprised to learn that after 15 years, those philosophy majors have more lucrative careers than college graduates with business degrees. History majors’ mid-career salaries are on par with those holding business bachelor’s degrees. Notably these salary findings exclude those who went on to attain a law or other graduate degree.

The utility of disciplines that prepare critical thinkers escapes personnel offices, pundits and politicians (some of whom perhaps would prefer that colleges graduate more followers and fewer leaders). But it shouldn’t. Labor markets in the United States and other countries are unstable and unpredictable. In this environment—especially given the expectation of career changes—the most useful degrees are those that can open multiple doors, and those that prepare one to learn rather than do some specific thing.

All liberal arts degrees demand that kind of learning, as well as the oft-invoked virtues of critical thinking and clear communication skills. History students, in particular, sift through substantial amounts of information, organize it, and make sense of it. In the process they learn how to infer what drives and motivates human behavior from elections to social movements to board rooms.

Employers interested in recruiting future managers should understand (and many do) that historical thinking prepares one for leadership because history is about change— envisioning it, planning for it, making it last. In an election season we are reminded regularly that success often goes to whoever can articulate the most compelling narrative. History majors learn to do that.

Everything has a history. To think historically is to recognize that all problems, all situations, all institutions exist in contexts that must be understood before informed decisions can be made. No entity—corporate, government, nonprofit—can afford not to have a historian at the table. We need more history majors, not fewer.

James Grossman is the executive director of the American Historical Assn. @JimGrossmanAHA

Via Will Fitzhugh (The Concord Review).

Historians Want to Put Events in Context. Common Core Doesn’t. That’s a Problem.

“The dialogue now taking place was not about the literature curriculum but about English teachers being required to teach historical documents—and without context, if they followed guidelines from the standards writers on ‘close reading.’…. As high school history teacher Craig Thurtell states: “This approach [close reading] also permits the allocation of historical texts to English teachers, most of whom are untrained in the study of history, and leads to history standards [Common Core’s literacy standards for history] that neglect the distinctiveness of the discipline.”

Historians Want to Put Events in Context. Common Core Doesn’t.

That’s a Problem.

Sandra Stotsky:

For an October 2017 conference sponsored by an affiliate of the California Association of Teachers of English, I was invited to give an informal talk on a chapter in my book, The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum. Chapter 8 centered on how English teachers could create coherent sequences of informational and literary texts to address civic literacy.

I presented initial remarks on Chapter 8 and then asked for questions. But instead of questions about Chapter 8, the concerns were mostly about the requirement in Common Core’s English language arts (ELA) standards for English teachers to teach Founding documents. In particular, one teacher expressed at length the problems she was facing in teaching “The Declaration of Independence.” She wanted to know why English teachers were compelled to teach historical documents. Her academic background was not in history, and she was not the only one in the audience upset about this requirement. But something had happened.

The dialogue now taking place was not about the literature curriculum but about English teachers being required to teach historical documents—and without context, if they followed guidelines from the standards writers on “close reading.” The dialogue also touched on the “literacy” standards that content teachers were to address in order to teach reading and writing in their classes.

Why were “literacy” standards for other subjects in Common Core’s ELA document and what had researchers found on English teachers teaching “informational” texts (required by Common Core’s ELA standards) and on content teachers teaching reading and writing (required by Common Core’s “literacy” standards)? I sympathized with both English teachers who didn’t feel comfortable teaching foundational historical documents and history teachers who had presumably studied the context for documents now being taught by their English colleagues. Common Core’s ELA document makes clear that the motivation for these standards and requirements was the standards writers’ concern about the low reading skills of many American students graduating from high school.

As a response to teachers’ concerns at this conference, this essay first clarifies how the K-12 study of history ever got tangled up in Common Core’s ELA standards. It then explains why reading in a history class is not like reading in a literature class.

The story begins with the rationale for the contents of a document titled, “Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.” The bulk of the 66-page document is on English language arts standards. But the last seven pages provide “literacy” standards for the other subjects in grades 6-12. The introduction to the whole document justifies Common Core’s literacy standards on the grounds that college readiness means being able to read, write, and speak in all subject areas. That is the basis for entangling the study of history in the final version of Common Core’s ELA document.

The attempt to make English teachers responsible for teaching high school students how to read history, science, and mathematics textbooks relaxed after critics made it clear that English teachers could not possibly teach students how to read textbooks in other disciplines. Their criticism was supported by the common sense argument that teachers can’t teach students to read texts on a subject they don’t understand themselves, as well as by the total lack of evidence that English teachers can effectively teach reading strategies appropriate to other disciplines and thereby improve students’ knowledge in that discipline.

Via Will Fitzhugh (The Concord Review).

Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates From the National Health Interview Survey, January–June 2017

Stephen J. Blumberg, Ph.D., and Julian V. Luke :

Preliminary results from the January–June 2017 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicate that the number of American homes with only wireless telephones continues to grow. More than one-half of American homes (52.5%) had only wireless telephones (also known as cellular telephones, cell phones, or mobile phones) during the first half of 2017—an increase of 3.2 percentage points since the first half of 2016. Nearly three-quarters of all adults aged 25-34 were living in wireless-only households; more than two-thirds (70.7%) of adults renting their homes were living in wireless-only households. This report presents the most up-to-date estimates available from the federal government concerning the size and characteristics of this population.

The Neuroscience of Intelligence: An Interview with Richard Haier

Claire Lehmann:

Thank you for taking the time to talk to Quillette Professor Haier. You’ve spent forty years studying intelligence and have compiled your knowledge into a new book accessible to the general reader called The Neuroscience of Intelligence, which looks fascinating from its précis.

Firstly, can you tell us how you became interested in intelligence research, and how you came about studying intelligence through neuroimaging?

When I started graduate school at Johns Hopkins in 1971, I was interested in social psychology and personality theories. That year Professor Julian Stanley was starting the Study of Mathematically and Scientifically Precocious Youth. I worked on his first talent search passing out pencils for 12 and 13 year old kids taking the SAT-Math exam [a standardized test used for college admission in the US]. The kids had been nominated by their math teachers as the best students in their class. Many of these kids scored as high on this test as college freshman at Hopkins. How they got this special math talent was a fundamental question and it certainly looked like something that came “naturally” since they had not yet had many math courses in school. This started my interest in individual differences in mental abilities, and intelligence was the most interesting and controversial mental ability.

Emeritus Professor Richard Haier

It was after grad school during my first job at the National Institute of Mental Health that I learned more about genetics and how to study the brain with EEG. All these threads came together when I moved to Brown University and started my own lab to study intelligence. In the 1980s, the first neuroimaging with positron emission tomography (PET) became available and I joined my former NIMH colleagues who had moved to UC Irvine and acquired a PET scanner. I used my access to the scanner to study intelligence and brain function, including a study of math reasoning in college men and women, bringing me full circle back to the Hopkins study. Over the next 30 years, neuroimaging developed further with MRI and other technologies that I used to follow the intelligence data even deeper into the brain.

What’s Wrong With Students: A Guest Post by Dennis Fried

Bryan Caplan:

I just read your article in Atlantic magazine and was blown away by the brutal honesty displayed there, especially coming from someone whose career depends on the very system being criticized. I taught philosophy at several public and private colleges and universities in the 70s, and I chose to leave the field in 1980 because of the degradation in education that was taking place even then. I often said that, in my experience, out of a class of thirty students only about five would normally possess the minimum requirements for a college student: the ability to read and write with competence, and a modicum of intellectual curiosity.

I clearly remember two moments that crystallized for me my decision to leave teaching.

Appalled and shocked by the illiteracy displayed in my students’ papers, I once began a class (comprised of freshmen through seniors) by writing on the board three words: cats, cat’s, cats’. I then asked if anyone could explain the difference. About ten seconds elapsed before one (very brave) student raised her hand, began “I think …” and then proceeded to explain the difference correctly. I said, “This is third grade stuff. Why do most of you not know it?”

Several said they were never taught it. I then asked, “Didn’t your high school teachers correct this sort of thing on your papers?” to which several responded, “We never had to write any papers in high school.”

“What did you do in English class?” I asked. Answers: Listened to records, watched videos, talked about movies and current events.

Second crystallizing event. I had a young man in my Intro to Philosophy class who got so little right on his mid-term exam that it was hard to believe, even more so because he attended class, stayed awake, and seemed to take notes. So I asked him to come in to see me. I asked to see his notes, and they seemed to be hitting the main points. I was stumped.

Look inside Alabaster’s new $68 million Thompson High School


In May of 2014 the school board authorized the purchase of 300+acres for the new Thompson High School complex.

Planned for a 2000-2200 student capacity the new school is conveniently located within a mile of the existing high school which was built in 1986 for a maximum of 800 students but now serves nearly 1900.

The new complex located between Thompson Road and Kent Dairy Road feels set apart in a field of dreams.

A Map Showing How Much Time It Takes to Learn Foreign Languages: From Easiest to Hardest

open culture:

The map above visualizes the languages of Europe (at least those deemed diplomatically important enough to be taught at the FSI), coloring them according the average time commitment they require of an English speaker. In pink, we have the English-speaking countries. The red countries speak Category I languages, those most closely related to English and thus learnable in 575 to 600 hours of study: the traditional high-school foreign languages of Spanish and French, for instance, or the less commonly taught but just about as easily learnable Portuguese and Italian. If you’d like a little more challenge, why not try your hand at German, whose 750 hours of study puts it in Category II — quite literally, a category of its own?

When Picking Apples on a Farm With 5,000 Rules, Watch Out for the Ladders

Steve Eder:

For eight weeks every fall, Indian Ladder Farms, a fifth-generation family operation near Albany, kicks into peak season.

The farm sells homemade apples pies, fresh cider and warm doughnuts. Schoolchildren arrive by the bus load to learn about growing apples. And as customers pick fruit from trees, workers fill bins with apples, destined for the farm’s shop and grocery stores.

This fall, amid the rush of commerce — the apple harvest season accounts for about half of Indian Ladder’s annual revenue — federal investigators showed up. They wanted to check the farm’s compliance with migrant labor rules and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets pay and other requirements for workers.

Civics: American (Citizen) ISIS Suspect Held in Iraq Has Right to Lawyer, Judge Rules

Charlie Savage:

alling the Trump administration’s position “disingenuous” and “troubling,” a federal judge on Saturday ordered the Pentagon to permit a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union to meet with a United States citizen who has been imprisoned in military custody for three months after being deemed an enemy combatant.

In a novel case pitting the individual rights of citizens against government wartime powers, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia also ordered the Pentagon not to monitor that conversation — and told it not to transfer the man, who is being held in Iraq, until the A.C.L.U. conveys his wishes to her.

A Syrian militia captured the American citizen in mid-September and turned him over to American forces as someone suspected of fighting for the Islamic State. The government has refused to identify the man, but officials familiar with the matter have said he is a dual citizen of the United States and Saudi Arabia who was born on American soil to visiting Saudi parents and raised in Saudi Arabia.

Related: Droning American citizens.

China Snares Innocent and Guilty Alike to Build World’s Biggest DNA Database

Wenxin Fan and Natasha Khan:

Schoolchildren in a bucolic region in western China famed for steam trains and jasmine flowers thought little of it when police interrupted classes and asked all the boys to spit into small plastic boxes.

They weren’t told why, according to the accounts of several children involved. From kindergartens through high schools, hundreds of male students were ordered to give enough saliva so that a filter paper inside each box turned from pink to white. The change indicated that the sample was sufficient for forensic scientists to extract the boys’ DNA, or unique genetic fingerprint. It would also identify biological traits common to blood relatives of each child.

The police in Qianwei County say their plan worked. They hoped the operation would offer clues to the unsolved murder of two shopkeepers nine years before, and soon they celebrated the murderer’s capture in state media.

An added bonus: The police collected a lot more names they could add to the world’s biggest DNA database, an essential part of China’s high-tech security blanket being unfurled across the country as Beijing seeks to better monitor its 1.4 billion citizens.

Nationwide, police have a goal of almost doubling China’s current DNA trove to 100 million records by 2020, according to a Wall Street Journal examination of documents from police departments across China. To get there, they need to gather almost as many records each year as are in the entire national database the U.S. has built over two decades.

Why Do Intellectuals Support Government Solutions?

Julian Sanchez:

Back in the 1980s, the late philosopher Robert Nozick wrote an essay asking: “Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” Happily, the question as Nozick framed it is somewhat less relevant today, as Western intellectuals have increasingly accepted the superiority of someform of market economy to full-blown socialist planning. But a variant form remains: Why do intellectuals seem so disproportionately attracted to “progressive” political views and government-centric means of remedying social ills?

For those of us who tend to favor a relatively small and limited government, and prefer that social problems be addressed by private and voluntary mechanisms, it should be a source of some discomfort that these views find so little favor among some of the most highly educated and intelligent sectors of the population—the “elites” of popular conservative demonology. One simple explanation for this pattern, after all, would be that left wing political views are disproportionately attractive to the highly educated and intelligent because they’re best supported by logic and evidence. Following Aumann’s agreement theorem, this would imply that libertarians should regard the disagreement of large numbers of well-informed people who are at least as intelligent as we are as prima facie evidence that our views are in error, and revise them accordingly.

4 predictions for the future of work

Stephane Kasriel:

I contemplate the future of work on a daily basis in both my professional and personal life. As a father of four children from four to 14 years old, and as a citizen of the world, I care about our future.

As CEO of freelancing website Upwork, I am witnessing firsthand not only the immense changes within our industry, but also the speed at which they are occurring. At the World Economic Forum, where I co-chair the Council on the Future of Work, Gender and Education, we have heated discussions on the future impact of artificial intelligence on work and our responsibilities to help manage the change. We see that as the workforce evolves, we must finally break free from the industrial-era habits of the past to ensure a more productive and equitable future.

Drawing on both on my experiences during 2017, and insightful books I’ve read, here are my four predictions for the future of work:

1. AI and robotics will create more jobs, not mass unemployment — as long as we responsibly guide innovation

What STEM Students Need to Know

Eric Freeman and David Gelernter:

The U.S. is about to spend a small fortune on teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. The White House has promised $200 million a year to expand K-12 computer-science education. Several large tech firms have pledged another $300 million to the effort. That’s a good investment in theory, but the American education system is in no position to make the most of it.

The last time the U.S. made a serious change to science and math teaching was the 1960s. The Soviets had shocked the world in 1957 by launching…

Jo Johnson to tell universities to stop ‘no-platforming’ speakers

Rajeev Syal and Rowena Mason:

Universities could face fines for failing to uphold free speech if their student unions do not give a platform to speakers such as Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell, the higher education minister has said.

Jo Johnson said some student campaigners were trying to stifle debate as he confirmed plans to allow the newly created Office for Students (OfS) to fine or suspend institutions that fail to protect freedom of speech on campuses.

The government’s Boxing Day announcement does not name universities or student campaigners that have suppressed free speech and follows a similar one in October.

But speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Johnson suggested fines could be one of the punishments used to deal with “no platforming” of campaigners with controversial views.

Asked about cases where students had tried to deny speaking slots to Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, and Greer, a feminist writer, over their views on transgender issues, he said: “The Office for Students will have a range of remedies at its disposal which do include fines at the more extreme end of the spectrum. I think it is important that we look at the cases mentioned.

“These are speakers who have been potentially banned or harried under no-platforming or safe spaces decisions. On all reasonable definitions, they are advocates of openness and liberal values and should be welcomed on our campuses.”

Tax on university endowments passes

Alvin Powell:

Graduate students across the nation dodged a financial bullet Wednesday, even as dozens of prominent universities took a hit in the form of a new tax on university endowments and other investment income. The tax will weaken financial aid, faculty and research initiatives, and other institutional programs that support students, professors, and medical and scientific studies.

Harvard President Drew Faust, who worked against the graduate and endowment taxes, warned that the new endowment tax represents an unprecedented attack on the tax-exempt status of nonprofits and charities because it taxes, for the first time, income for such an institution’s core mission — in this case, education.

The endowment tax is included in the $1.5 trillion tax package passed by the U.S. House and Senate, which was billed as a massive tax cut for the country, but whose earlier versions included increased taxes on higher education to help pay for cuts to corporate and income taxes. Among the most controversial aspects were provisions that would have taxed as income free tuition provided to graduate students and removed the ability to deduct student loan interest from income taxes.

In response to an outpouring of protest from university presidents, graduate students, and some lawmakers, the final version dropped those measures but nonetheless retained the 1.4 percent tax on net investment income for institutions whose investment assets are greater than $500,000 per student.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Goodbye, George Bailey: Decline of Rural Lending Crimps Small-Town Business

Ruth Simon and Coulter Jones:

Danielle Baker wanted a $324,000 loan last year to expand the peanut-processing business she ran from the family farm. She had a longstanding relationship with the Roxobel branch of Southern Bank, and she thought Southern would help fund the peanut operation she had spun off, too.

But that branch—the town’s only bank—closed in 2014. A Southern banker based in Ahoskie, 19 miles away, said Bakers’ Southern Traditions Peanuts Inc. was too small and specialized, she says. A PNC bank branch also turned her down.

“If you are not a big company with tons of assets and a big bank account,” Ms. Baker says, “they just overlook you.”

The High School Student Who’s Building His Own Integrated Circuits

Stephen Cass:

Electronics enthusiasts like being able to make things themselves. In IEEE Spectrum’s Hands On column, we’ve detailed how readers can make their own solder reflow ovens, conductive ink, and synthetic aperture radars. But making DIY integrated circuits seemed impossibly out of reach. After all, building a modern fab is astronomically expensive: For example, in 2017 Intel announced it was investing US $7 billion to complete a facility for making chips with 7-nanometer-scale features. But Sam Zeloof was not deterred. This 17-year-old high school student has started making chips in his garage, albeit with technology that’s a few steps back along the curve of Moore’s Law.

Zeloof says he has been working on his garage fab, located in his home near Flemington, N.J., for about a year. He began thinking about how to make chips as his “way of trying to learn what’s going on inside semiconductors and transistors. I started reading old books and old patents because the newer books explain processes that require very expensive equipment.”

A key moment came when Zeloof found Jeri Ellsworth’s YouTube channel, where she demonstrated how she had made some home-brew silicon transistors a few years ago. “After I saw [Ellsworth’s] videos I started to make a plan of how I could actually start to do this.”

Educationism: The hidden bias we often ignore


The first time Lance Fusarelli set foot on a university campus, he felt surrounded by people who seemed to know more than him – about society, social graces and “everything that was different”.

He attributes these differences to his upbringing. While he didn’t grow up poor, it was in a working-class town in a small rural area in Avella, Pennsylvania. He was the first in his family to go to university – his mother got pregnant and had to drop out of school, while his father went to work in a coal mine in his mid-teens. He lived in an environment where few stayed in education beyond high school.

It worked out well for him. Fusarelli is now highly educated and a professor and director of graduate programmes at North Carolina State University. Occasionally he’s reminded of how he felt in those early days, when a colleague innocently corrected his imperfect grammar. “He wasn’t being mean, we were good friends, he just grew up in a different environment,” he says. “Sometimes I will not always talk like an academic. I tend to use more colourful language.”

While Fusarelli has risen through the ranks of academia despite his background, his experiences have highlighted the social divide that can exist in education. For those who are less educated due to their disadvantaged background, they face a subtle but pervasive bias. A new report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology named the term “educationism” and for the first time found clear evidence for what Fusarelli and many others have long suspected: educated people are implicitly biased against the less educated. And this has unfortunate, unintended consequences that often stem from the gap between the rich and poor.

Gene Editing Shows Promise for Alleviating Hearing Loss

Lydia Denworth:

When David Liu first heard about a strain of mouse from his colleague Zheng-Yi Chen, he got excited. The mice carry a gene, TMC1, with a mutation that leads to deafness over time, giving them the name Beethoven mice. Their mutation matches one in humans that produces the same effect. The mutation is dominant; if it is present, hearing loss is certain.

Liu, a chemical biologist at the Broad Institute, works with the noted CRISPR-Cas9 technology, which targets and changes precise stretches of DNA. In the Beethoven mouse, he saw an ideal testing ground for the new gene editing technology, bringing hope that it might accomplish something new: improve hearing by disrupting a single genetic mutation. Other forms of gene modification add copies of genes, but are ineffectual if a dominant mutation remains.

In a paper published Dec. 20 in Nature, Liu, who is also a professor at Harvard University and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Chen, a hearing biologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and professor of otolaryngology at Harvard, along with colleagues, report that the idea worked. The mice treated showed improved hair cell survival and hearing thresholds, and were startled by loud noises while untreated mice weren’t. “To our knowledge, this is the first time that genome editing has been used to correct hearing loss in an animal model of human genetic deafness,” Liu says. “There is a lot of work to do to translate these results into patients, but there is some proof of principle here.”

Christmas Lessons From California

Victor Davis Davis:

Rarely has such a naturally rich and scenic region become so mismanaged by so many creative and well-intentioned people.

In California, Yuletide rush hours are apparently the perfect time for state workers to shut down major freeways to make long-overdue repairs to the ancient pavement. Last week, I saw thousands of cars stuck in a road construction zone that was juxtaposed with a huge concrete (but only quarter-built) high-speed-rail overpass nearby.

Civics: The Government Has Screwed Up the Bundy Case Even Worse Than We Realized

Stephanie Mencimer:

Update 12/20/17: US District Court Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial on Wednesday in the prosecution of Cliven Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne, saying that the government had willfully withheld evidence from defense lawyers that was potentially helpful to their case, in violation of legal rules. Navarro set a new trial date of February 26, but that could change at a hearing scheduled for January if she decides the government’s conduct is so egregious that the charges should be dismissed entirely.

On the November day when the trial of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was supposed to start in Las Vegas, I met a man outside the courtroom named Doug Knowles. A Bundy supporter who had been covering the proceedings for a conservative website, Knowles confidently assured me, “This case is never going to get to a jury.”

I thought he was overly optimistic. After all, on its face, the government’s case seems like a slam dunk. Much of what the Bundys and the other defendants did was captured on video. The photos of protesters pointing semi-automatic weapons in the direction of federal officers are damning. The government has thousands of emails and Facebook messages from the Bundys and others implicating them in the effort to recruit armed gunmen to face down federal officers. At least one of the original defendants in the case has taken a plea deal in which he agreed to help the prosecution.

Barely a month later, though, Knowles’ prediction seems prescient. The government’s case against Bundy, his sons Ammon and Ryan, and Montana militiaman Ryan Payne over their participation in the armed standoff near Bundy’s ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, is in shambles. A federal judge, Gloria Navarro, could declare a mistrial as early as Wednesday based on allegations that the prosecution has failed to turn over critical evidence to the defense in a timely fashion. If that happens, it would mark the fourth time in the past year and a half that the Justice Department has put the Bundys and their supporters on trial

Christmas quiz: have you got what it takes?

Royal Statistical Society::

The Royal Statistical Society has published a wickedly difficult Christmas quiz to entertain puzzle fans over the festive break for the past 24 years, and this year’s challenge, set by Dr Tim Paulden, may well be one of the toughest yet. Cracking the 13 problems below will require a blend of general knowledge, logic, and lateral thinking, but as usual no specialist mathematical knowledge is needed.

Two helpful tips for budding solvers:

· You may make use of any tools or resources you wish to help solve the problems, including books, internet search engines, computer programs and so on.

· You may find some of the question titles helpful. For full credit, these titles should be briefly explained within your answers.

The entrant, or team of entrants, with the most marks wins a one-year subscription to the society’s magazine, Significance. Explanations of answers are required for full marks.

Answers should be sent by email with Christmas Quiz 2017 in the subject line to RSSQuiz@rss.org.uk by 1800 GMT on 7 January 2018.


How America moves its homeless

Outside America:

Cities have been offering homeless people free bus tickets to relocate elsewhere for at least three decades. In recent years, homeless relocation programs have become more common, sprouting up in new cities across the country and costing the public millions of dollars.

But until now there has never been a systematic, nationwide assessment of the consequences. Where are these people being moved to? What impact are these programs having on the cities that send and the cities that receive them? And what happens to these homeless people after they reach their destination?

In an 18-month investigation, the Guardian has conducted the first detailed analysis of America’s homeless relocation programs, compiling a database of around 34,240 journeys and analyzing their effect on cities and people.

The Google-Facebook Duopoly Threatens Diversity of Thought

Mark Epstein:

‘A monopoly on the means of communication,” Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson wrote in “Leviathan,” their 1975 novel, “may define a ruling elite more precisely than the celebrated Marxian formula of ‘monopoly in the means of production.’ ” Bear that in mind when you hear this next statistic: In 2017 Google and Facebook have accounted for 84% of all digital advertising outside China, including 96% of its growth, according to an industry forecast this month from Zenith, Magna and GroupM.

Those figures should create more than the typical economic concerns about market concentration. Specifically, the tech duopoly’s dominance threatens the marketplace of ideas. Beyond advertising, Google and Facebook control how millions of people find their news. Americans are far likelier, collectively, to encounter articles via search engines and social media than on a news site’s home page.

Google is used for nearly 90% of online searches in the U.S. A Pew survey this summer found that the four most popular social-media sites for getting news are Facebook, YouTube (owned by Google), Twitter (which has a Google partnership), and Instagram (owned by Facebook). No more than 5% of Americans use another social-media platform to get news.

Civics: Bundy mistrial highlights why right distrusts the feds

Debra Saunders:

Navarro’s decision apparently was a reflection on federal officials. It follows release of a memo by BLM investigator Larry Wooten that described “a widespread pattern of bad judgment, lack of discipline, incredible bias, unprofessionalism and misconduct, as well as likely policy, ethical and legal violations among senior and supervisory staff” in the BLM’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security.

Wooten wrote that he had seen “excessive force,” described officers grinding Bundy’s son Dave’s face in gravel and opined that federal officials were intent on commanding “the most intrusive, oppressive, large scale and militaristic cattle impound possible.”

In an apparently partisan reference that used a term Hillary Clinton designated for Trump supporters, Wooten wrote that a federal prosecutor said, “Let’s get these ‘shall we say Deplorables.’”
(Likewise FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who worked on Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, shared texts in which they called Trump a “loathsome human.” Mueller removed Strzok after he learned of the texts.)
Wooten also wrote that the Bundy case “closely mirrors” the circumstances behind the trial of former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
In 2008, federal prosecutors indicted Stevens, a Republican senator, for failing to report that an oil contractor had paid for renovations on his Alaska cabin. A jury convicted Stevens, who then lost a re-election bid.
Only later did the case fall apart after a Department of Justice probe found prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence. Attorney General Eric Holder, who inherited the case after President Barack Obama won the White House, asked the courts to throw out the conviction.

Wooten is no fan of Cliven Bundy who, he wrote, instead of “properly using the court system or other avenues to properly address his grievances, he chose an illegal, uncivilized and dangerous strategy in which a tragedy was narrowly and thankfully avoided.”

Thousands of black students leave Chicago for other segregated districts

Kalyn Belsha:

About 15,000 students from the city’s predominantly poor and African-American schools transferred out of CPS over the past eight academic years, yet remained in Illinois, according to an examination of tens of thousands of state transfer records. About one-third enrolled in school districts that are both majority poor and majority black.

The Reporter observed this trend continue in northwest Indiana. A public records request to East Chicago public schools, for example, revealed nearly 400 African-American CPS students had transferred into the district since 2010. The overall number of Chicago transfers to northwest Indiana schools is likely much higher, but record-keeping inconsistencies make it difficult to determine precise numbers.

Often, the receiving school districts in Illinois and northwest Indiana were chronically underfunded. Research shows poor black students in Illinois perform worse academically in such districts compared with Chicago.

Janice Jackson, the district’s interim CEO, recalls talking to a West Side principal who was “baffled” when students transferred to lesser-quality schools outside the city. The issue needs to be studied more, she said.

“It’s not one thing that drives any of this,” says Jackson.

What to watch with your kids this winter break

Michael J. Petrilli :

Regular readers know that I’m somewhat obsessed with the topic of screen time. Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing, or the years our kids spent in a Waldorf pre-school, but I can’t help feeling a little guilty about letting my boys watch stupid Disney TV shows or play mindless video games when I could be engaging them in healthier pursuits. I stand in awe at my friends who have gone years—years—without allowing their children to watch a drop of television. It’s nothing but board games and arts-and-crafts at their homes. Incredible!

I don’t have that kind of discipline. And, as I’ve argued before, I’m not even sure a mass-media ban is what’s best for children. Everything in moderation, right?

So let me admit that the Petrilli family will be enjoying some screen time this winter vacation. Here are some great things you can watch with your kids that allow everyone to relax and will keep everybody learning to boot.

My first Christmas as a teacher

Lucy Kellaway:

My favourite party of the season — almost my only party — was with my fellow middle-aged teaching novices, who have spent the past four months in assorted London secondary schools. Everyone looked a bit different. Thinner. Tougher. But also, I fancied, a bit younger. Given how tired we all were, this might seem surprising. Possibly, being surrounded by the young (the teachers) and the even younger (the pupils) rubs off on one. More likely, this is proof of what all the studies say: that learning new things later in life is not only the best way of fending off Alzheimer’s, but it also keeps us young.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” one of them said, as he drank his warm prosecco from a plastic cup. Then he gave me a defiant look: he knows how I feel about the “J” word. Starting again as a trainee teacher is lots of things. It is tiring. Exciting. Humiliating. Exhilarating. Rejuvenating. Relentless. It is fabulous to have made it through to the Christmas holiday. But it isn’t a journey.

Alas, no one in my new world appears to agree with me. There seem to be even more spurious journeys in schools than in business — education itself is now supposed to be one. I listened to a maths professor give an otherwise impressive lecture last week which she spoiled by saying it was the job of every maths teacher to take children “on a mathematical journey”.

Report finds MMSD 4K enrollment leads to higher literacy scores, trails Milwaukee

Amber Walker:

To measure literacy, MEP compared students’ performance on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening, or PALS, an assessment of students’ familiarity with literacy fundamentals like letter recognition, spelling and sound awareness.

On average, 4K students scored higher on PALS than 53 percent of their peers who did not enroll in 4K. Students of color, students from low-income families and students of non-college educated parents also benefited from 4K enrollment when compared to their peers of similar backgrounds. On average, the PALS scores of African-American and Latino students enrolled in 4K were higher than 58 percent of their peers of the same background who did not enroll in 4K.

Low-income 4K students also scored better on PALS than 58 percent of their peers from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

The study found no appreciable difference in PALS performance for students enrolled in an MMSD school-based 4K program versus an MMSD early childhood center.

MEP’s study also compared MMSD’s 4K student performance to children enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools’ 4K program. MPS was chosen as a peer district because of its urban setting, large size and diverse student body.

On average, Milwaukee 4K students outscored their non-4K peers on the PALS assessment 76 percent of the time, far ahead of Madison’s 52 percent average. The report did not conclude why the gap between MMSD and MPS student performance is so large but mentioned that MPS only offers full-day 4K, while MMSD students attend half-day programs.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Much more on 4K, here.

Prof: Trigger warnings ‘serious threats’ to teaching English

Toni Airaksinen :

In a list of six possible consequences of trigger warnings, he argues that they “foster a culture where student fragility is promoted over the development of resilience,” and can “encourage students to avoid intense literary moments that they may perceive as too powerful.”

Trigger warnings could also “handicap English teachers by censoring or casting certain literary moments as taboo,” and cripple “artistic freedom by arbitrarily sanctioning what is and what is not appropriate for class discussion and student experience,” he notes.

Reflections on functioning in a Trigger Happy America.

China’s big brother: how artificial intelligence is catching criminals and advancing health care

Zigor Aldama:

The lifts rising to Yitu Technology’s headquarters have no buttons. The pass cards of the staff and visitors stepping into the elevators that service floors 23 and 25 of a newly built sky­scraper in Shanghai’s Hongqiao business district are read automatically – no swipe required – and each passenger is deposited at their specified floor.

The only way to beat the system and alight at a different floor is to wait for someone who does have access and jump out alongside them. Or, if this were a sci-fi thriller, you’d set off the fire alarms and take the stairs while everyone else was evacuating. But even in that scenario you’d be caught: Yitu’s cameras record everyone coming into the building and tracks them inside. An artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm recognises faces and plots the movement of their owners on maps of each floor.

From Made in China to Created in China: how nation turned itself from world’s sweatshop to global innovator in just one decade

Zigor Aldama:

The email came barely two months before Christmas, in 2007. My editor wanted an article about manufacturing in China. Products being sold around the world were made in the country and he wanted to prick the conscience of consumers before the festive season shopping orgy began – so the focus was to be on labour conditions and the quality of products. Especially toys.

There was no better place to start than in Yiwu, the Zhejiang province manufacturing powerhouse and a favourite low-cost market for retailers. Christmas goods were already halfway to tinsel-dressed shelves across the globe, but Valentine’s Day would be next, so the factories were still hard at it. Stuffed hearts bearing the words “I love you” in all imaginable languages – albeit with spelling mistakes here and there – filled the first factory I managed to sneak into.

How Facebook’s Political Unit Enables the Dark Art of Digital Propaganda

Lauren Etter , Vernon Silver , and Sarah Frier :

By all accounts, Facebook has been an indispensable tool of civic engagement, with candidates and elected officials from mayor to prime minister using the platform to communicate directly with their constituents, and with grassroots groups like Black Lives Matter relying on it to organize. The company says it offers the same tools and services to all candidates and governments regardless of political affiliation, and even to civil society groups that may have a lesser voice. Facebook says it provides advice on how best to use its tools, not strategic advice about what to say.

“We’re proud to work with the thousands of elected officials around the world who use Facebook as a way to communicate directly with their constituents, interact with voters, and hear about the issues important in their community,” Harbath said in an emailed statement.

She said the company is investing in artificial intelligence and other ways to better police hate speech and threats. “We take our responsibility to prevent abuse of our platform extremely seriously,” Harbath said. “We know there are ways we can do better, and are constantly working to improve.”

Power and social media converge by design at Facebook. The company has long worked to crush its smaller rival, Twitter, in a race to be the platform of choice for the world’s so-called influencers, whether politicians, cricket stars or Kardashians. Their posts will, in theory, draw followers to Facebook more frequently, resulting in higher traffic for advertisers and better data about what attracts users.

Politicians running for office can be lucrative ad buyers. For those who spend enough, Facebook offers customized services to help them build effective campaigns, the same way it would Unilever NV or Coca-Cola Co. ahead of a product launch.

While Facebook declined to give the size of its politics unit, one executive said it can expand to include hundreds during the peak of an election, drawing in people from the company’s legal, information security and policy teams.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Illinois Lost 1 Resident Every 4.3 Minutes In 2017, Dropped To 6th Most Populous State

Tyler Durden:

Illinois is drowning under a mountain of debt, unpaid bills and underfunded pension liabilities and it’s largest city, Chicago, is suffering from a staggering outbreak of violent crime not seen since gang wars engulfed major cities from LA to New York in the mid-90’s.

Here is just a small taste of some of our posts on Illinois’ challenges:

Illinois Pension Funding Ratio Sinks To 37.6% As Unfunded Liabilities Surge To $130 Billion
Illinois Unpaid Vendor Backlog Hits A New Record At Over $16 Billion

The State Of Illinois Is “Past The Point Of No Return”

“What The Hell Is Going On In Chicago” And Other Highlights From Trump’s Speech To FBI Grads

Given that, it’s hardly surprising that the Prairie State lost a net 33,700 residents in fiscal year 2017, according to the Census Bureau. Also not surprising is the fact that the mass exodus from Illinois was the largest of any state in the country with lower taxed, lower cost of living states like Texas and Florida posting the biggest gains.

A University Education by David Willetts

Miranda Green:

Britain’s universities are enduring a moment of intense scrutiny even as they enjoy something of a boom. Brexit looms, threatening their long run of global success; middle-class rage at tuition fees for domestic undergraduates has become a potent electoral force; and lack of social mobility, partly caused by an education system that replicates rather than disrupts privilege, is an acknowledged national disaster.

Into this complicated picture strides David Willetts, higher education minister during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition and now chairman of the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank specialising in inequality. “I love universities,” he declares in the first line of A University Education, a book that (mostly) eschews political memoir in favour of history, analysis and argument. And he goes on to prove it, lavishing the sector with his attention to every detail and exploring almost every angle, from the birth of Oxford and Cambridge in the late Middle Ages through to the current challenges of globalisation and new technology.

Readers with a taste for the erudite anecdote will be delighted — if you are looking for a justification for the current market in higher education, how about the example set by the first students in 11th-century Bologna choosing which tutors’ wisdom to buy with their fees?

Gloria Reyes enters the Madison School Board race

Amber Walker:

Gloria Reyes, deputy mayor for the city of Madison, announced Wednesday that she will challenge Madison School Board vice president Anna Moffit for Seat 1 on the board.

Since 2014, Reyes has served as the mayor’s liaison to several city agencies including the Department of Civil Rights, the Madison Police and Fire departments and the city attorney’s office. Reyes also represents the mayor on the city of Madison’s education committee.

Reyes said her work in city government and law enforcement makes her a strong candidate for Madison School Board.

It is great to see competitive races for our $20k/student taxpayer supported school district.

DC Public Schools Needs An Independent

Peter Cook:

I couldn’t agree with him more and that’s why it’s been disappointing to see how Wilson and other DCPS officials have responded to revelations that administrators at Ballou High School handed out diplomas to scores of students who hadn’t met the district’s graduation requirements.

As noted in a previous post, when WAMU reporter Kate McGee first confronted Wilson with evidence that Ballou teachers and administrators had ignored excessive absences and changed students’ grades to make them eligible to graduate, he abruptly ended the interview. Subsequent DCPS statements on the unfolding scandal sought to minimize the issue, as if the unethical conduct at Ballou was no big deal.

But after McGee’s investigation ended up on NPR’s All Things Considered, DCPS could no longer ignore the problem. Over the past two weeks, Supt. Wilson has launched an internal investigation into the allegations and reassigned Ballou’s principal, Yetunde Reeves.

Can Facebook and Google Be Disrupted?

Ethan Chiel:

It’s very appealing, for the drama alone, to imagine some as-yet-unknown company driving Facebook into Myspace-like obscurity, or Alphabet being broken up, or whatever scenario for the demise of one of Silicon Valley’s five dominant companies you prefer to imagine. Not just appealing but natural to do so: We have in living memory at least a dozen examples of large and successful tech companies just failing, or becoming shadows of their former selves: Myspace is a ghost town owned by Time Inc. AltaVista and Friendster are long dead. Even Yahoo! and AOL, while still technically around, have become part of whatever Verizon-owned, centaurlike creation Oath can claim to be.

This recent history of “creative destruction” is important to Silicon Valley not just for its narrative neatness — Davids that become Goliaths, only to get toppled by new Davids — but for the protective shield it provides. Why be worried about Google’s power (or Facebook’s, or Amazon’s), when they’re each a bad decision against a more nimble competitor away from irrelevance? Surely Facebook can be Facebook’d, just as Myspace was? Surely Google will someday be disrupted?

Socialism, Capitalism Seen in New Light by Younger Americans

Eli Stokols:

In his 2016 survey for Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, 42% of younger Americans said they support capitalism, and only 19% identified themselves as capitalists. While this was a new question in his survey, the low percentage of young people embracing capitalism surprised him. He had come here, in part, to better understand why.

“Maybe it had to do with the ‘American Dream,’ and how capitalism was correlated with it, but a lot of young people don’t believe in it anymore,” said Ana Garcia, a junior at the Elon event. “We don’t trust capitalism because we don’t see ourselves getting ahead.”

Largely because of such millennials, generally those born in the 1980s and 1990s, socialism has moved from being a taboo because of its associations with the Cold War to something that has found rising appeal among those polled by Harvard and in other surveys that compared different generations.

Black, poor, and gifted? Hopefully you’re not in Wisconsin.

Chris Stewart:

Here comes a shocker, not everyone is on board.

The Wisconsin Education Association Council have slammed the program because they say it doesn’t “meet the needs of all students,” and “elected officials should provide stable funding for public schools and include educators in developing solutions instead of fragmented approaches that siphon more from public schools to fund private [programs]”

AllLivesMatter (except black gifted lives, of course) and public education funding is not for individual children, but for the people who make a living on the backs of children.

There is such a dishonest foundation to that argument. No program address the “needs of all students,” and families are wise to seek programs that work for the specific needs of their children. And, yes, the government has a compelling reason to fund the development of each child to their potential.

Having traveled to Wisconsin last week and having talked to people on the ground, I can tell you there is zero shame in the white “progressives” there. They would allow black and brown kids to perish before shifting their ideology a single notch to the right. I’ll write more on that soon.

2006 (!) Madison: “They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT! :

Two of the most popular — and most insidious — myths about academically gifted kids is that “they’re all rich, white kids” and that, no matter what they experience in school, “they’ll do just fine.” Even in our own district, however, the hard data do not support those assertions.

When the District analyzed dropout data for the five-year period between 1995 and 1999, they identified four student profiles. Of interest for the present purpose is the group identified as high achieving. Here are the data from the MMSD Research and Evaluation Report from May, 2000:

Miracle on Simpson street

Amber Walker:

Before she started teaching at Madison’s Black Hawk Middle School this year, Deidre Green developed an attribute all teachers need: eyes in the back of her head. She got them working as managing editor of the Simpson Street Free Press.

“From my desk in the back of the room, I could watch the entire newsroom and pay attention to everything,” she said. “I could notice if a kid was up and walking around, not on task. Now, as a classroom teacher …having that keen sense of what is happening with all of my kids is something that I’m used to.”

For 25 years, staff at the Simpson Street Free Press have refined what works to help kids become successful students, maintaining an innovative spirit in both education and journalism. They ground their work in academic outcomes, cultivating a pipeline where students write, learn to edit and sometimes return to work or volunteer as adults. In addition, they have adapted to changing demographics in Dane County and shrinking resources for print journalists.

Much more on the Simpson Street Free Press here.

College can be brutal for students with serious mental health conditions. Here, they find support their schools can’t provide

Megan Thielking:

Evan Jones was excited when he signed up for a contemporary art class at community college. Then the professor announced the course would focus heavily on class participation.

“That was the first class that I dropped,” he said.

Jones’s persistent, severe anxiety has shadowed him for years. He’s struggled to pipe up in class and to make friends. His anxiety was so acute, he left high school; after getting his GED, he has bounced around, taking classes at three colleges over the past five years. He blamed himself every time he dropped a class.

“I’ve never really found the right place for me,” he said.

Then he found a program that promised to do what every other school had failed at: support him as a whole person, not just try to push him through credit after credit.

For the past three years, Boston University has offered one of the few programs in the nation dedicated to teaching students who have had to leave college the coping skills that will give them a shot at getting back into school or work while managing severe anxiety, depression, and other serious mental health conditions.

SF school leaders, advocates wary of Silicon Valley group aiming to tackle achievement gap

Laura Waxmann:

A Silicon Valley-based education reform nonprofit promising to tackle the achievement gap in San Francisco’s public schools by empowering parents has drawn the ire of district leaders and advocates, who criticize the group for its track record of advocating for charter schools.

Citing student achievement data obtained from the California Department of Education, a report published in October by the San Jose-based Innovate Public Schools called out the San Francisco Unified School District for being “one of the worst districts in the state for low-income African American and Latino students.”

Twelve Days in Xinjiang: How China’s Surveillance State Overwhelms Daily Life

Josh Chin and Clément Bürge :

This city on China’s Central Asia frontier may be one of the most closely surveilled places on earth.

Security checkpoints with identification scanners guard the train station and roads in and out of town. Facial scanners track comings and goings at hotels, shopping malls and banks. Police use hand-held devices to search smartphones for encrypted chat apps, politically charged videos and other suspect content. To fill up with gas, drivers must first swipe their ID cards and stare into a camera.

China’s efforts to snuff out a violent separatist movement by some members of the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic group have turned the autonomous region of Xinjiang, of which Urumqi is the capital, into a laboratory for high-tech social controls that civil-liberties activists say the government wants to roll out across the country.

Law Schools Say: Please Come, No LSAT Required

Sara Randazzo:

This year, you can get into a top law school without taking the LSAT.

Some of the nation’s law schools—including at Harvard University and Georgetown University—are letting applicants take the Graduate Record Examination instead of the Law School Admission Test. The schools say they are changing in part to attract students from a wider variety of backgrounds, particularly with science, engineering and math experience.

Both tests, of course, are tough, but the LSAT holds a particular place as a grueling rite of passage. The GRE relies more on knowledge that can be memorized, as college-entrance tests do, than the skills-based LSAT that test-prep instructors say is like learning how to play a sport or instrument.

The legal industry is notoriously slow to change. Some lawyers predict the broadening acceptance of the GRE, which is used for admission to a range of programs—from masters’ in engineering and Ph.D.s in philosophy to M.B.A.s—will lead to law students who aren’t committed. Others say schools are accepting the test to game closely followed law-school rankings that take average LSAT scores into consideration, or to keep tuition income flowing.

Modes, Medians and Means: A Unifying Perspective

John Myles White:

Any traditional introductory statistics course will teach students the definitions of modes, medians and means. But, because introductory courses can’t assume that students have much mathematical maturity, the close relationship between these three summary statistics can’t be made clear. This post tries to remedy that situation by making it clear that all three concepts arise as specific parameterizations of a more general problem.

To do so, I’ll need to introduce one non-standard definition that may trouble some readers. In order to simplify my exposition, let’s all agree to assume that 00=0. In particular, we’ll want to assume that |0|0=0, even though |ϵ|0=1 for all ϵ>0. This definition is non-standard, but it greatly simplifies what follows and emphasizes the conceptual unity of modes, medians and means.

Madison School Board Spends time and possibly money on land acquisition; Reading?

Karen Rivedal:

“One thing I would never do is look at just one site (and then make a purchase offer),” Burke said. “It feels very strange to me, especially if this is $2 million out of the general fund, that we have not looked at other options.”

According to board documents, the site was selected by staff because it “best meets the criteria for an optimal school site, including road access from three sides. … Architects at PRA, a leader in K-12 projects, found the parcel very satisfactory as a future school site.”

Madison has a long spent more than most, now nearly $20,000 per student despite tolerating long-term, disastrous reading results

Colorized Math Equations

Better Explained:

Most ideas aren’t inherently confusing, but their technical description can be (e.g., reading sheet music vs. hearing the song.)

My learning strategy is to find what actually helps when learning a concept, and do more of it. Not the stodgy description in the textbook — what made it click for you?

The checklist of what I need is ADEPT: Analogy, Diagram, Example, Plain-English Definition, and Technical Definition.

Here’s a few reasons I like the colorized equations so much:

What the current political climate is doing to our country and our universities

Jonathan Haidt :

What is happening to our country, and our universities? It sometimes seems that everything is coming apart. To understand why, I have found it helpful to think about an idea from cosmology called “the fine-tuned universe.” There are around 20 fundamental constants in physics—things like the speed of light, Newton’s gravitational constant, and the charge of an electron. In the weird world of cosmology, these are constants throughout our universe, but it is thought that some of them could be set to different values in other universes. As physicists have begun to understand our universe, they have noticed that many of these physical constants seem to be set just right to allow matter to condense and life to get started.

For a few of these constants, if they were just one or two percent higher or lower, matter would have never condensed after the big bang. There would have been no stars, no planets, no life. As Stephen Hawking put it, “the remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”


Will Fitzhugh, via a kind email, The Concord Review:

The work of Massachusetts high school athletes and coaches is all around us in The Boston Globe on a regular basis, but the work of our high school scholars and teachers is nowhere to be seen in that public record.

The Boston Globe has been publishing for 145 years and the hints that it may have to fold have distressed its many readers. Each Fall, Winter and Spring the paper publishes a special section, of 15 pages or so, called “All-Scholastics,” on notable public high school athletes and their coaches. There is a mention of athletes and coaches at local prep schools as well.

Today the latest Winter “All-Scholastics” section arrived, with the latest “Ten Moments to Remember” in HS sports and with reports on the best athletes and coaches in Boys’ Basketball, Girls’ Basketball, Volleyball, Golf, Football (3 pages), Field Hockey, Boys’ Cross County, Girls’ Cross Country. The Preps and Swimming parts consolidate celebration of boys’ and girls’ accomplishments, perhaps to save space (and cost).

Each section also features photographs of 9-16 athletes, with perhaps a twitter-sized paragraph on their achievements. In addition, there are 31 photos and tweets about some coaches, spread among the various sports. There are 26 “Prep” athletes mentioned, from various sports, but I didn’t see any “Prep” coaches profiled. For each high school sport there are two “Athletes of the Year” identified, and all the coaches are “Coaches of the Year” in their sport.

There may be, at the same time, some high school “Students of the Year” in English, math, Mandarin, physics, Latin, chemistry, European history, U.S. history, AP biology, and the like. There may also be high school “Teachers of the Year” in these and other academic subjects, but their names and descriptions are not to be found in The Boston Globe, the most well-known paper in the “Athens of America” (Boston).

It may be the case, indeed it probably is the case, that some of the athletes featured in the Winter “All-Scholastics” section today are also first-rate high school students of math, English, science, history, literature, and languages, but you would not know that from the coverage of The Boston Globe. The coaches of the year may in many, if not all cases, also be excellent teachers of academic subjects in the Massachusetts public and private schools, but that remains only a guess as well.

When the British architect Christopher Wren was buried in 1723, part of his epitaph read, written by his eldest son, Christopher Wren, Jr.: Lector, si monumentum requiris, Circumspice. If you wanted to judge his interest, efforts and accomplishments, all you had to do was look around you. His work was there for all to see.

The work of Massachusetts high school athletes and coaches is all around us in The Boston Globe on a regular basis, but the work of our high school scholars and teachers is nowhere to be seen in that public record.

If one seeks a monument to anti-academic and anti-intellectual views and practices in Boston today, one need look no further than The Boston Globe. I read it every day, but I never see any attention and recognition for the academic efforts and accomplishments of Massachusetts secondary students and their teachers, because there is none now, and never has been any, no many how many reports on education reform and academic standards it may have published over the years. If you ask how much The Boston Globe (and I am sure it is not alone in this) cares about the good academic work now actually being done by high school teachers and their students in Massachusetts, the answer is, by the evidence, that they do not.

The Concord Review

How Wisconsin Struggles to Educate Gifted & Talented Students – And How ESAs Can Help

Will Flanders (PDF)::

When considering the shortcomings of Wisconsin’s K-12 education system, policymakers tend to focus on its failure to meet the needs of poor and minority students. This focus is important—Wisconsin is held back by struggling rural and urban public schools and has the largest African American to white achievement gap in the country. But, gifted and talented students, especially low-income ones, are underserved in many parts of the state and at risk of being left behind the rest of the country and world.

Locally, Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer financed school districts.

Related: TAG Complaint and English 10.

The complex implementation of China’s Social Credit System


The Social Credit System“ is designed to monitor and rate citizens and companies in China and to guide their behavior. „It is a wide-reaching project that touches on almost all aspects of everyday life,“ the authors Mareike Ohlberg, Bertram Lang and Shazeda Ahmed write in the new MERICS China Monitor „Central Planning, local experiments: the complex implementation of China’s Social Credit System“.

The authors analyze the current stage of the system’s implementation and they describe how it will likely function in practice. Their analysis is based on government publiations, discussions in media and social networks, as well as pilot projects.

Lawmakers propose program to give money to ‘gifted’ children in low-income households

Molly Beck:

Children living in low-income households who are considered to be advanced learners will be eligible to receive a taxpayer-funded scholarship to use to pay for education expenses under a new program proposed by three lawmakers this week.

The scholarship program would provide $1,000 to families with “gifted and talented” students who are already eligible to receive free or reduced-price school lunches, which means the household’s annual income is at or below $45,510 annually for a family of four.

The program is proposed by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, and Rep. Jason Fields, D-Milwaukee — lawmakers who have historically been strong supporters of private school voucher and charter schools — and will be open to 2,000 families beginning in the 2018-19 school year, if the bill passes and is signed by Gov. Scott Walker.

“These scholarships will provide students in families with low incomes the ability to access a wide range of educational opportunities that they may currently not have the resources to participate in,” the lawmakers wrote in a memo seeking support from other lawmakers.

“Who knows how many scientists, engineers, musicians, artists, and community leaders we are missing out on because their family can’t afford additional educational opportunities,” Darling said in a statement.

Your Boss Is Probably Going to Be Replaced by an Algorithm Too

Jack Moore:

In the future you’ll get fired by a computer! How fun!

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and really the entire way technology has taken over every aspect of our lives, algorithms are now all around us. This has led to one of the biggest fears for our future: automation. It’s the question that has plagued politicians who are constantly wanting to show voters that they will bring or give more jobs to people. How do you bring back jobs if computer algorithms are making it so entire sectors of the work force will be replaced with robots? Self-driving cars, will replace Uber, Lyft, taxi, and truck drivers. Fast food restaurants will become more self-serve. Delivery people will begin being replaced by drones. If you are a person in pretty much any workforce this should scare you. But, one thing you can take comfort in? The algorithms aren’t just coming for your jobs, they’re also coming for your boss’s job.

The Wall Street Journal has the story today about the growing responsibilities that are being given to the automated workforce. Put simply, the robots are getting promotions.

Success Academy’s Radical Educational Experiment

Rebecca Mead:

One of the most celebrated educational experiments in history was performed by James Mill, the British historian, on his eldest son, John Stuart Mill, who was born outside London in 1806. John began learning Greek when he was three, and read Herodotus and other historians and philosophers before commencing Latin, at the age of seven. By the time he was twelve, he was widely read in history and had studied experimental science, mathematics, philosophy, and economics. James Mill’s pedagogical approach reflected the influence of Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarian philosophy, and was intended to discover whether a child of unexceptional intellectual capacities could, through rigorous exposure, learn material that was typically acquired in adulthood, if at all. The answer, according to the research subject, was yes. “I started, I may fairly say, with a quarter of a century over my contemporaries,” J. S. Mill wrote in his 1873 “Autobiography.”

Mill’s remarkable upbringing is cited by Eva Moskowitz, the founder of the Success Academy Charter School network, in her own autobiography, “The Education of Eva Moskowitz,” which was published in September. The book recounts Moskowitz’s learning curve, from her youth in the Morningside Heights area of Manhattan—where she was brought up by leftist intellectuals and attended public school—to her time on the New York City Council, where she developed a reputation for courting controversy while chairing the Education Committee, to her founding of the Success Academy, the city’s largest charter-school network. She is now the reliable scourge of the public-education establishment in New York City and, outside its borders, a favorite of the national education-reform movement.
Success Academy began in 2006, with a single elementary school in Harlem, and now has forty-six schools, in every borough except Staten Island. The overwhelming majority of the students are black or Latino, and in most of the schools at least two-thirds of them come from poor families. More than fifteen thousand children are enrolled, from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Students hardly follow Mill’s curriculum—there is no Greek or Latin in kindergarten, or even in later grades. But the schools do well by the favored metric of twenty-first-century public education: they get consistently high scores on standardized tests administered by the State of New York. In the most recent available results, ninety-five per cent of Success Academy students achieved proficiency in math, and eighty-four per cent in English Language Arts; citywide, the respective rates were thirty-six and thirty-eight per cent. This spring, Success Academy was awarded the Broad Prize, a quarter-million-dollar grant given to charter-school organizations, particularly those serving low-income student populations, that have delivered consistently high performances on standardized tests. Moskowitz has said that, within a decade, she hopes to be running a hundred schools. This year, a Success high school, on Thirty-third Street, will produce the network’s first graduating class: seventeen students. This pioneering class originated with a cohort of seventy-three first graders.
As a charter school, Success Academy is required to admit children by lottery. But prominent critics, such as Diane Ravitch, the historian and public-education advocate, have alleged that Success Academy essentially weeds out students, by maintaining unreasonably high expectations of behavior and academic achievement. Similarly, critics claim that the program reduces class size by not accepting new students beyond fourth grade, whereas zoned public schools must accept all comers. To Moskowitz’s detractors, Success’s celebration of standardized test-taking—students attend “Slam the Exam” rallies—is a cynical capitulation to a bureaucratic mode of learning. Success Academy has attracted large donations—in the past two years, the hedge-fund manager Julian Robertson has given forty-five million dollars to the group—and Moskowitz’s opponents say that such gifts erode the principle that a quality education should be provided by the government. Last fall, Donald Trump summoned Moskowitz, who is a Democrat, shortly after he was elected President. Although she declined to be considered as his Education Secretary, she was widely criticized for agreeing to the meeting, including by members of her own staff, who noted that Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the campaign trail had stoked fear in the kind of families served by Success Academy schools.

Madison has long supported non diverse K-12 governance, despite spending nearly $20,000 per student and tolerating disastrous reading results.

France to Ban Students From Using Their Phone at School

Blake Harper:

According to The Telegraph, the harsher rule means students will not be allowed to look at their phones at all during school hours, including during lunch, and between classes. Blanquer pointed to the many, many studies that have indicated that screentime is dangerous for young kids and that schools must do their part to help kids not become addicted to their phone.

Given the number of young kids who now own phones, it may be difficult to completely ban kids from ever having their phones at school. This becomes especially tricky when parents are concerned about their child’s safety and feel a phone is the best way to contact them in an emergency. However, Blanquer says that he is open to making changes if a phone proves to be necessary for educational or safety purposes.

Students, the website you’ve visited at high school will now be seen by your parents and the highest bidder

Annysa Johnson:

Students and parents at Arrowhead High School are pushing back against a new web-filtering service the school is putting in place, calling it an invasion of privacy and an attempt to micromanage students’ lives online.

One of the chief gripes, for the kids at least, is that the parents now can opt to get a weekly accounting of all the websites they visit during the school day. The filters will run not only on all school-owned devices but also student-owned devices if they are connected to the school’s Wi-Fi.

But that, experts suggest, might be the least of their worries.

Security and privacy advocates have raised concerns about the capacity of such providers to collect vast amounts of information about students that may be stored for years and could be hacked or co-opted for unintended purposes if not adequately protected.