Madison School District Spending June 25, 2018 Update

Madison School District Administration (4.7MB PDF):

Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham:

In the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), we have a common vision. We want every school to be a thriving school that ensures every student graduates ready for college, career, and community.

Thanks to our community’s support, we are in a sound financial position to make our vision a reality. Despite uncertainly on state and national fronts, we are able to remain focused on our daily work to ensure every child is academically challenged in a safe and supportive environment.

Through the efforts outlined in our Strategic Framework, we have built positive momentum and made gap-narrowing
progress over the past five years. Our budget this year builds on this momentum and aligns with the vision, goals and core values of our next Strategic Framework which will launch in the fall of 2018.

In this budget, you’ll see several strategic investments that are specifically aimed at accelerating results for youth of color and youth whose families are low income. These strategies include the Early College STEM Academy at Madison College’s South Campus which focuses on getting more youth of color and women in STEM fields, better support and options for youth re-engagement with a specific focus on those high school students who are most at risk of not graduating, and an increased investment in Community Schools which aims to strengthen family partnership in high needs schools located in high needs neighborhoods.

We’re also making investments in our educators, through steady staffing levels, a stable employee benefits plan, increased overall compensation and additional targeted investments in compensation. You’ll see investments in favorable class sizes aligned with a newly adopted class size policy that help our teachers build strong relationships and meet students’ individual needs.

Finally, you’ll see investments in a new safety and security plan aimed at making sure our buildings are both welcoming and secure.

Ultimately, we know that our budget is a statement of our priorities. Together with our teachers, families, staff and community, we are working hard to eliminate gaps in opportunity and raise achievement for all. We thank the community for supporting us, making this work possible and believing in our staff and students.

Annual Madison School District Financial Audits:

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

Madison School District Budget details

Support modifications to the Wisconsin PI-34 educator licensing rule

Wisconsin Reading Coalition E-Alert:

We have sent the following message and attachment to the members of the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, urging modifications to the proposed PI-34 educator licensing rule that will maintain the integrity of the statutory requirement that all new elementary, special education, and reading teachers, along with reading specialists, pass the Foundations of Reading Test. To see where these modifications fit in, use the most recent version of PI-34, which can be found at https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/code/chr/all/cr_17_093

Please contact the committee to express your support of these modifications. Your message will have extra impact if you are a constituent of any of the following committee members. Thank you for your assistance! Your voice is important.

Representative Ballweg (Co-Chair)

Senator Nass (Co-Chair)

Senator LeMahieu

Senator Stroebel

Senator Larson

Senator Wirch

Representative Neylon

Representative Ott

Representative Hebl

Representative Anderson

Memo to the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules

Thank you for putting the PI-34 licensing rule on hold to consider whether modifications should be made. As you know, Wisconsin Reading Coalition is interested in upholding the intent and integrity of the Wisconsin Foundations of Reading Test (FORT) for elementary, special education, and reading teachers, as well as the administrative position of reading specialist. We suggest the attached PI-34 modifications, which we drafted as narrowly as possible to impact only the FORT requirement. You may want to hold final action on PI-34 until the recommendations of the legislative study committee on dyslexia have been received.

In cases where a school district cannot find a fully licensed teacher of reading, we do support a one-year exemption from the FORT via a tier I license. However, we must remember that granting 1400 tier I licenses to individuals who failed the FORT means that approximately 28,000 beginning and struggling readers will have an underqualified teacher for that year. The teachers have that year to get up to speed, but the students don’t get a do-over. Exemption from the FORT for district need is a major concession, as it undoes statutory protection for students. This exemption should be as restrictive as possible, with passage of the FORT required before any license renewal.

We see no reason for PI-34 to allow exemptions from the FORT beyond situations of school district need or where it is statutorily required (e.g., online preparation under 118.197 and certain out-of-state teachers under 118.193). Further exemptions undo statutory protection for students without a compelling, overriding public interest. In promulgating these additional exemptions, DPI is essentially usurping legislative authority.

Ironically, while providing numerous avenues to get around the FORT, PI-34 does nothing to ensure that more individuals will be able to clear the FORT hurdle in the future. Subchapter III of PI-34 provides an opportunity for DPI to exercise its responsibility to set standards for educator preparation program approval, and to implement improvement plans for programs where large numbers of potential teachers are failing the FORT. We hope that the 2018 legislative study committee on dyslexia will put forward draft legislation that addresses this problem, as DPI has not addressed it on its own.

Despite being called “stakeholder revisions,” PI-34 ignores the important stakeholder groups of students and their families. The current draft heavily represents the special interests of school district administrators. In fact, this is what the director of one administrators’ organization said about PI-34: “ . . . you should understand that the rules proposal is not a product of DPI. It resulted from nearly two years of work by critical stakeholders to address the significant workforce issues facing the learning environments for children in Wisconsin’s schools.” Our recent conversations with DPI indicate that they may be amendable to amending the draft document. Undoubtedly, they have been under considerable pressure from school district administrators, judging from the talking points below.

Sincerely,

Wisconsin Reading Coalition

Talking Points for School District Administrators with WRC comments:

1. Wisconsin school districts are facing growing school staffing issues including high turnover, fewer applicants for positions, and candidate shortages in a variety of disciplines. With fewer new teachers entering the profession, new approaches to educator recruitment and retention are critical to ensure all children have access to high-quality educators. We are not opposed to an exemption from the FORT in true emergency cases where a district shows it is unable to hire a fully-licensed teacher, but we should not call these individuals high-quality educators. We are opposed to allowing those licenses to be renewed year-after-year without the teacher passing the FORT. A one-year time limit for passing the FORT would be sufficient to help districts meet immediate candidate shortages while working toward having a highly-qualified educator in that classroom.

2. The licensure flexibility afforded under CR17-093 is universally supported by school leaders in their effort to address the growing workforce challenges faced by Wisconsin school districts. This is simply inaccurate. There are school leaders, both superintendents and school board members, who have spoken against exemptions from the FORT.

3. We must also point out that districts are currently operating under these proposed rule changes as part of the current Emergency Rule. These proposals are already making a positive difference in meeting these workforce challenges in districts throughout Wisconsin. This is also inaccurate. The current Emergency Rule is much narrower than the proposed PI-34. It allows 1-year, renewable licenses with a FORT exemption only if the district shows it cannot find a fully-licensed teacher. The PI-34 draft allows any in-state or out-of-state graduate of an educator preparation program to obtain a Tier I license and teach in districts that have not shown shortages.

4. School administrators support all aspects of the proposed rule but, of particular importance are the flexibilities and candidate expanding aspects in the Tier 1 license. This will allow for a much-needed district sponsored pathway to licensure, immediate licensure for out of state candidates, licensing for speech and language pathologists with a Department of Safety and Professional Services license and licensing for individuals coming into a district on an internship or residency status. These are effective, no-cost solutions to a significant workforce need in Wisconsin school districts. We are opposed to district-sponsored and out-of-state pathways to licensure where the candidates do not have to take and pass the same outcome exams required of other educators. There is no reason to hold these programs to a lower standard. District-sponsored pathways to licensure surely come at some cost to the district, which is obligated to provide “appropriate professional development and supervision to assist the applicant in becoming proficient in the license program content guidelines.” They can also come at great cost to beginning and struggling readers if they are taught by someone who has not passed the FORT.

5. Educator licensure is simply a minimum requirement. District leadership is responsible for hiring and developing successful educators, and ultimately determining educator quality based on actual teacher performance and student outcomes. Districts and families should be able to count on licensed applicants having the basic information about reading that they will need to successfully teach all students on day one. This is particularly important in districts that have fewer applicants from which to choose. Leaving educator quality standards to Wisconsin districts over the years produced stagnant reading scores and a declining national ranking. Section 118.19(14) of the statutes was enacted to protect students and provide better outcomes for our society, not to provide ultimate flexibility to local administrators.

6. Reducing the Tier 1 license flexibility in the rule has the potential to impact as many as 2,400 teaching licenses, many of which are FORT-related stipulations. Any portion of these licensees that lose their ability to teach will exacerbate an already troubling workforce challenge and reduce educational opportunities for children. This concern can be met by maintaining a one-year emergency Tier I exception for districts that can show a fully-licensed candidate is not available. Eliminating the continuous renewal option for these licenses and requiring the FORT for district-sponsored pathway and other licenses will help ensure quality educational opportunities for children. The quality of the teachers is just as important as the quantity. Meanwhile, DPI should set appropriate standards in reading for educator preparation programs, and institute improvement plans for institutions that have low passing rates on the FORT. What does it say about Wisconsin that DPI reports there are over 1400 teachers in the classroom under Emergency Rules specifically because they have not passed the FORT? At some point, we need to address the root of the problem if we are to have sufficient numbers of highly-qualified teachers for every beginning or struggling reader.

Suggested Modifications (PDF).

Foundations of Reading: Wisconsin’ only teacher content knowledge requirement…

Compare with MTEL

Mark Seidenberg on Reading:

“Too often, according to Mark Seidenberg’s important, alarming new book, “Language at the Speed of Sight,” Johnny can’t read because schools of education didn’t give Johnny’s teachers the proper tools to show him how”

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

Tony Evers, currently runnng for Governor, has lead the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction since 2009. I wonder if anyone has addressed Wisconsin achievement challenges vis a vis his DPI record?

An emphasis on adult employment, also Zimman.

Alan Borsuk:

“I didn’t have one phone call, I don’t have one email about this NAEP data. But my phone can ring all day if there’s a fight at a school or can ring all day because a video has gone out about a board meeting. That’s got to change, that’s just got to change. …

“My best day will be when we have an auditorium full of people who are upset because of our student performance and our student achievement and because of the achievement gaps that we have. My question is, where is our community around these issues?

Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities

Stanley Fish:

he humanities are taking it on the chin. If there were any doubts about this proposition, they have been dispelled by the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point’s proposal to eliminate 13 majors, including history, art, English, philosophy, sociology, political science, French, German, and Spanish. The administration cited large deficits, programs with a low enrollment, and a desire to play to its strengths — STEM subjects and training in technology. One professor of physics and astronomy (Ken Menningen) approved, declaring that the university was right to “pivot away from the liberal arts” and toward programs that students, concerned with career prospects, find attractive. That reasoning might make sense if Stevens Point were a trade school, but it is, at least by title and claim, a university, and there is an argument to be made that because the claim is now without support at Stevens Point, the title should be removed.

The philosopher and political theorist Michael Oakeshott would have thought so. Here is his account of the university: “It is a place where [the student] … is not encouraged to confuse education with training for a profession, with learning the tricks of a trade, with preparation for future particular service in society, or with the acquisition of a kind of moral and intellectual outfit to see him through life.” Note that Oakeshott lists in rapid succession the most often invoked defenses and justifications of liberal education, and note too that he immediately dismisses them as barely worth thinking about: “Whenever an ulterior purpose of this sort makes its appearance, education … steals out of the back door with noiseless steps.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: State Pensions

John Mauldin:

States don’t have those two advantages. They have tighter credit limits and their taxpayers can freely move to other states.

Many elected officials and civil servants seem not to grasp those differences. They want something that can’t be done, except in Washington, D.C. I think this has probably meant slower response by those who might be able to help. No one wants to admit they screwed up.

In theory, state pensions are stand-alone entities that collect contributions, invest them for growth, and then disburse benefits. Very simple. But in many places, all three of those components aren’t working.

The End of Agency Fees

Mike Antonucci:

Having read the entire Janus v. AFSCME ruling, along with the dissent, and withstood the torrent of press releases, tweets and commentary that people have been saving up for months in anticipation, I find there is little to add. Now we just have to watch what happens.

Today I posted NEA’s 2017 state-by-state membership numbers, which should give you some sense of the union’s baseline. Its 2018 numbers will be slightly higher, and by this time next year we will have a good sense of whether the membership decline will be slow and steady, or precipitous.

There was one facet of the Supreme Court decision I would like to highlight. AFSCME attempted to make a case that it was in the public interest for government unions have a “secure source of funding.” Justice Kagan referenced it several times in her dissent.

It is understandable that AFSCME and its allies would try any argument in an uphill battle. But it seems to be a very strange stance for a union to have – that government has a duty to financially prop up a private enterprise.

The victims of unearned diplomas

Adam Tyner, Ph.D. and Brandon L. Wright:

Upwards of 3.6 million high school seniors graduated this year, and most of them left twelfth grade with a reasonable complement of the knowledge and skills we expect of those taking their first steps into adulthood—be that college, career or technical training, military service, even a fruitful “gap year.” Most—but not all. Recent scandals in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and elsewhere have made clear that far too many young people are being shuttled through secondary school with little regard for whether they leave with the requisite skills.

Pressure to boost graduation rates plays a role—but so do complex motivations like empathy and fear for kids’ future well-being. It’s these latter impulses that lead folks to believe that easing expectations, at least for especially disadvantaged students, is a victimless act, maybe even a noble one. “These struggling students will be even worse off without diplomas!” such a person might declare. “So what if they missed some days of school? They made it this far, and we can’t mess with their futures. Let’s get them across the finish line.”

But step back a moment and you will see the harm. Awarding diplomas to students who miss weeks of school diminishes the credential’s meaning. And the excuses we have made for these near-passing students are built on slippery slopes: As we saw in D.C.’s Ballou High School and elsewhere, overlooking weeks of missed schools can easily turn into overlooking months. The Washington Post reported last week that the response of D.C. Public Schools to the scandal is to soften the official attendance policy so that more students can graduate, an example of “defining deviancy down.” In the end, the meaning of the diploma is lost.

Philosophy is dead

Jonathan Ree:

Back in the 1970s, Raymond Geuss was a young colleague of Richard Rorty in the mighty philosophy department at Princeton. In some ways they were very different: Rorty was a middle-class New Yorker with a talent for reckless generalization, whereas Geuss was a fastidious scholar-poet from working-class Pennsylvania. But they shared a commitment to left-wing politics, and both of them dissented from the mainstream view of philosophy as a unified discipline advancing majestically towards absolute knowledge. For a while, Rorty and Geuss could bond as the bad boys of Princeton.

The philosophical establishment denounced people like Rorty and Geuss as relativists, bent on destroying the sacred distinction between truth and falsehood. But they defended themselves by pointing out that even if there is such a thing as an almighty final truth, it looks different from diverse points of view, and gets expressed in different words in diverse times and places. They regarded themselves as “perspectivists” or “historicists” rather than relativists, and believed that – to borrow a phrase from Thomas Kuhn – philosophy needed to find a “role for history”.

IQ scores are falling and have been for decades

Rory Smith:

IQ scores have been steadily falling for the past few decades, and environmental factors are to blame, a new study says.

The research suggests that genes aren’t what’s driving the decline in IQ scores, according to the study, published Monday.
Norwegian researchers analyzed the IQ scores of Norwegian men born between 1962 and 1991 and found that scores increased by almost 3 percentage points each decade for those born between 1962 to 1975 — but then saw a steady decline among those born after 1975.

Similar studies in Denmark, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Finland and Estonia have demonstrated a similar downward trend in IQ scores, said Ole Rogeberg, a senior research fellow at the Ragnar Frisch Center for Economic Research in Norway and co-author of the new study.

Google and Facebook Are Quietly Fighting California’s Privacy Rights Initiative, Emails Reveal

Lee Fang:

Lobbyists for the largest technology and telecommunication firms have only three days to prevent the California Consumer Privacy Act, a ballot initiative that would usher in the strongest consumer privacy standards in the country, from going before state voters this November.

The initiative allows consumers to opt out of the sale and collection of their personal data, and vastly expands the definition of personal information to include geolocation, biometrics, and browsing history. The initiative also allows consumers to pursue legal action for violations of the law.

The idea that Californians might gain sweeping new privacy rights has spooked Silicon Valley, internet service providers, and other industries that increasingly rely on data collection, leading to a lobbying push to defeat the initiative before it gains traction. Their best hope may be to convince the sponsors of the initiative, including San Francisco real estate developer Alastair Mactaggart, to pull the proposal in exchange for compromise privacy legislation, AB 375, which would achieve some of the same goals of the initiative. Lawmakers behind the legislation, led by State Assembly member Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park, and State Senator Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, have promised to swiftly pass their bill this week if sponsors withdraw CCPA.

How Xinjiang’s Reeducation Camps Could Influence China’s Social Credit System

Adrian Zenz:

The roots of China’s denial of the unfolding human rights disaster in Xinjiang might be deeper still. The reeducation campaign has been a profound shock even to seasoned observers of Beijing’s policies in its restive western regions. From a broader perspective, however, it merely represents the logical culmination of Beijing’s wider strategy to reassert control over the spiritual-moral realm of society. The regime’s willingness to subject an entire ethnic group to inhumane indoctrination procedures simply reflects a consistent application of communist praxis to a people who stubbornly insist on maintaining their own ethnoreligious identity. But reeducation is not a specialized tool reserved for assimilating restive minorities. Any citizen is liable to some form of reeducation if he or she fails to align with a prescribed set of values and behaviors. In the nation in general, different reeducation practices could potentially be administered in tandem with the upcoming national social credit system, because the latter is ideally suited to evaluate and enforce state-sanctioned definitions of morality…

Powerful, cheap and Cambodian: Computer dreams being born in the kingdom

Jack Board:

When Thul Rithy first moved to Phnom Penh as a young man he lived in a simple pagoda with monks and exercised his keen thirst for knowledge.
“I read a lot of books. I went to a university and in a year I read nearly every book in the library,” he said.

This was back in 2004, a time before smartphones and easy internet access in Cambodia. But Rithy was already starting to understand the depths and possibilities of learning on the Internet.

“I would download books and print them. But I could never read all of Wikipedia.”

His eager adoption of technology opened up a career revolving around start-up ecosystems, tinkering with software coding and, more recently, experiments with blockchain technology.
He started SmallWorld, a co-working space and tech incubator for young entrepreneurs in the Cambodian capital in 2011. And now SmallWorld is taking big steps towards a new technological frontier – building its own computers to encourage the next wave of learners, coders and engineers.

Read more at https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/cambodian-computer-koompi-cheap-10364288

Grim look at Civil War surgery unearthed by new pit of limbs, bodies

Beth Mole:

Eleven amputated limbs, two nearly complete skeletons, and scattered artifacts uncovered from a shallow pit at Virginia’s Manassas National Battlefield Park are unearthing rare and grim glimpses of Civil War surgery.

The surgeon’s burial pit is the first of its kind to be discovered at a Civil War battlefield, the National Park Service announced this week.

Experts from the NPS and the Smithsonian Institution have determined that remains date back to August 1862, the time of the Second Battle of Manassas (also referred to as the Second Battle of Bull Run by Union Forces). The pit was likely at the site of a field hospital, set up to tend to the thousands of wounded following the multi-day battle.

Most Americans Think Facebook and Twitter Censor Their Political Views

Riley Griffin:

Big Brother is watching you—or at least Americans seem to think so when it comes to the technology giants behind social media.
 
 A whopping 72 percent of those polled think it’s likely companies such as Facebook and Twitter actively censor political views that they consider objectionable, according to a Pew Research Center study released Thursday.
 
 Americans simply don’t trust those companies to be impartial when it comes to partisan politics, the study found. The survey assessing the public’s attitude toward the technology industry was conducted between May 29 and June 11 using a national sample of 4,594 adults.

Personalized Learning at a Crossroads

Betheny Gross and Michael DeArmond, via a kind Deb Britt email:

Personalized learning in K–12 education is at a crossroads. Its big ideas—giving students more freedom and control over their learning, allowing students to move at their own pace, and letting students’ interests and talents drive what they learn—resonate with many parents, students, and educators. Its emphasis on self-direction, agency, and complex reasoning aligns with a society and economy that increasingly rewards creativity, problem solving, and adaptability.

Although the big ideas of personalized learning draw from long-standing themes associated with progressive education, personalized learning in its current form is still a relatively new phenomenon. As Kevin Bushweller explained in a recent Education Week special report, “Opinions about what it [personalization] should, or should not, look like vary widely” in the field. RAND Corporation researcher John Pane said in the same report that the ideas behind personalization seem intuitive, but “the evidence base is very weak at this point.” Meanwhile, advocates of personalization believe in its promise but are also unsure how to best move beyond a few isolated exemplars to spread personalization to more students and schools.

Leave those kids alone: ‘helicopter parenting’ linked to behavioural problems

Nicola Davis:

Children whose parents are over-controlling “helicopter parents” when they are toddlers, are less able to control their emotions and impulses as they get older apparently leading to more problems with school, new research suggests.

The study looked at to what degree mothers of toddlers dominated playtime and showed their child what to do, and then studied how their children behaved over the following eight years, revealing that controlling parenting is linked to a number of problems as a child grows up.

“Parents who are over-controlling are most often very well-intentioned and are trying to support and be there for their children,” said Dr Nicole Perry of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, who co-authored the research.

“However, to foster emotional and behavioural skills parents should allow children to experience a range of emotions and give them space to practice and try managing these emotions independently and then guide and assist children when [or] if the task becomes too great.”

Poll Shows Nearly Two-Thirds of Americans Would Support Supreme Court Striking Down Mandatory Union Dues in Janus Case; Majority of Union Households Agree

Kate Stringer:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans — even a majority of those in labor households — believe workers should be able to choose whether or not they pay union dues, according to a new poll released just days before the Supreme Court is expected to make a major ruling on the issue in the case Janus v. AFSCME.

The poll, which found 62 percent of respondents saying workers should be allowed to stop paying dues if they choose and 33 percent saying fees should still be mandatory, was conducted for the nonprofit Conservative Leaders for Education by Public Opinion Strategies, a polling firm used by many Republican organizations.

Across race, gender, and age, the majority of respondents favored choice in union fees. But this differed notably when it came to political party. While 76 percent of Republicans said workers should be able to opt out of fees, Democratic respondents were split evenly, with 48 percent against mandatory dues and 47 percent in favor.

Pollsters also asked whether respondents or members of their households were part of a union. Among those who said yes, a majority, 52 percent, supported giving workers a choice in paying union dues.

Turkey’s ‘Mathematics Village’: Changing education one equation at a time

Jeremie Berlioux:

Morning sun rays filter through colourful stained glass windows, shining on a group of teenagers and students in their 20s sitting on wooden benches having breakfast.

Near the small Turkish village of Sirince, which sits above the Aegean Sea about 10 kilometres away from the ruins of Turkey’s ancient Greek city Ephesus, this scene could resemble any other summer camp if it weren’t for the students mulling over intricate polygons and matrices.

The Secrets of Resilience

Meg Jay:

Does early hardship in life keep children from becoming successful adults? It’s an urgent question for parents and educators, who worry that children growing up in difficult circumstances will fail to reach their full potential, or worse, sink into despair and dysfunction.

Civics: “ICE is everywhere”

Emily Dreyfus:

Gil and Ahmed, a historian at Columbia, assembled a team of what Gil calls “digital ninjas” for a “crisis researchathon.” These volunteers were professors, graduate students, researchers, and fellows from across the country with varied academic focus, but they all had two things in common: an interest in the history of colonialism, empire, and borders; and the belief that classical research methods can be used not just to understand the past but to reveal the present.

They set up a Telegram chat and a master Google spreadsheet, and then they began looking for any publicly available data—government immigration records, tax forms, job listings, Facebook pages—they could use to isolate and locate the detention centers that could be holding these children.

The result of their week of frantic research is Torn Apart / Separados, an interactive web site that visualizes the vast apparatus of immigration enforcement in the US, and broadly maps the shelters where children can be housed. The name is meant to evoke not only the families who have been separated, but the way in which this sundering rips the social fabric of our country.

“It shows that ICE is everywhere,” Gil says. “We ourselves were shocked even though we study this. A lot of America thinks this phenomenon is happening in this limited geographical space along the border. This map is telling a different story: The border is everywhere.”

A Closer Look at Wait Lists in Urban Public Charter Schools

Susan Pendergrass & Nora Kern:

Improving the quality of public education in our nation’s cities is a top priority for civic leaders. Beyond its impact on property values, the availability of safe, high-quality schools can have a substantial effect on the quality of life in urban neighborhoods, much like grocery stores, parks, and jobs that offer a living wage. But urban school districts often struggle. Some assert that the struggle is due to their more disadvantaged student population.
In fact, in more than one-third of public schools in U.S. cities, 75 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.1 Academic performance is also a challenge. On the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered by the U.S. Department of Education and also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” only 28 percent of 8th graders in urban public schools were proficient in reading, and 29 percent were proficient in mathematics.2 Given this performance, parents who can move out of a failing urban district often do. And those who cannot are forced to wait and hope that the traditional public schools will get better.

With the advent of public charter schools, however, parents finally have a viable public alternative in some
of our lowest-performing urban school systems. Each school year thousands of families faced with schools unable to meet their children’s needs seek better options by applying to public charter schools. Unfortunately, in communities with few high-quality public school options, the demand for public charter schools is substantially higher than the number of seats available. When this happens, public charter schools hold lotteries to determine which students will be able to attend. And every year far too many students end up on wait lists, rather than in the schools of their choice. No student’s fate should be decided by a lottery ball.

How Transparent Is School Data When Parents Can’t Find or Understand It?

Jenny Abamu:

Zuberi, like many parents across the country, felt he could have been a better advocate for his child had data about the school been more explicit and easier to find.

Data has become particularly relevant for parents whose children attend low-performing schools. It can answer questions about school safety, disciplinary actions taken against certain student groups, graduation rates, attendance and academic performance. Several parents with children in low-performing schools view a child’s academic struggles as an individual responsibility — their child’s fault, or their own — but access to and understanding of school data can help them identify broader problems. For example, is only their child reading below grade-level or are a majority of the students? With better understanding, they can take action — invest in a tutor if the problem is isolated, for example, or demand that their district spend more on reading programs if the issue is widespread.

Many parents, however, experience educational, technological and language barriers to accessing and understanding data, limiting their ability to make informed decisions about their children.

Notes From an Academic Paper Mill

Tammy Sheeran:

One evening last fall, my de facto supervisor e-mailed me an audio file consisting of a three-minute conversation between a college sophomore from Saudi Arabia and his English professor in New York. The student had just surreptitiously recorded this chat using his cell phone; he had approached the professor hoping for specifics on how to improve the first draft of an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s work he’d submitted the previous week. His side of the conversation was notable for how painfully little English he knew despite having ostensibly completed a three-page assignment in that language.

From 1,500 miles away, I set to work on a second draft using this new information. I was careful to stick to the grading rubric and minimize grammar errors while still writing in a sufficiently unrefined manner to convincingly imitate a Riyadh native who’d come to the U.S. a year earlier to get a university degree. Within an hour or two, I had e-mailed the new draft—stripped of Microsoft Word metadata to conceal the identity of the document’s real creator—to my supervisor, who reviewed and approved it before dispatching it back to the student in New York.

Supreme Court gives win to Tony Evers over Gov. Scott Walker in case challenging authority

Molly Beck:

“The constitution creates the role of a state superintendent and gives the superintendent authority to supervise public instruction. That is all the constitution confers upon the superintendent,” Bradley wrote. “The majority creates a dangerous precedent. It brandishes its superintending authority like a veto over laws it does not wish to apply. In doing so, it thwarts the will of the people.”

She said if Evers does not like state laws on how state agencies are represented, “he should take it up with the Legislature to amend them.”

Evers is the only Democrat to oversee a major state agency and he and previous Democratic DPI chiefs have been at odds with Republican governors going back to the 1990s and prevailed in each challenge to their authority.

Evers called the court’s decision a win for common sense and said he expects more challenges to the office’s authority.

“Yipee!” Evers said. “The idea of having no say so in your defense in court makes no sense to anybody — it was good to have common sense prevail.”

Johnny Koremenos, spokesman for DOJ, said though DOJ would not be representing a party in the case, the department would file briefs with the court to argue Evers should be subject to the new law.

Koremenos also said the ruling was narrow and did not give Evers the authority to choose his own lawyer in future cases.

Much more on long time Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Tony Evers, here.

Yet Another Billionaire Philanthropist To The Rescue!

Shane Vander Hart, via a kind Will Fitzhugh email:

Last week, Long Island Business News reported that yet another billionaire philanthropist will be throwing more money at what ails K-12 education, this time focusing on social-emotional learning.

Adina Genn reporting for the publication wrote:

Billionaire T. Denny Sanford visited a Rockville Centre elementary school Wednesday to announce that he is donating $100 million to promote social emotional learning in schools across the country.

The South Dakota entrepreneur and philanthropist is giving the money to the National University System, a nonprofit that focuses on education and philanthropy initiatives. Through this funding, Sanford is expanding the Sanford Harmony social emotional learning program, which enables children nationwide to embrace diversity, inclusion, empathy and critical thinking, communication, problem-solving and peer relationships.

The program is already in its fourth year at William S. Covert Elementary School, where Sanford was a special guest in Meryl Goodman’s second-grade class. There, students shared ideas about collaboration, respect and acceptance through storytelling, song and discussion.

Thanking the students, Sanford told them that they were “wonderful, wonderful kids.”

Sanford told LIBN that the morning was a “culmination of all of everyone’s efforts—not just me, but all the teachers and school district to make this work.”

Sanford based the program on a need he saw to develop strong social and emotional skills in children that they can incorporate in and outside of school as well as into adulthood.

Oh goody. Please stop. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise as we recently learned that it will be impossible to educate our kids without social-emotional learning.

As a reminder here’s a running list of concerns that we have with SEL that J.R. Wilson provided back in February. This trend is not worth throwing money it and it is just another dataless reform.

Social emotional learning (SEL) standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments address subjective non-cognitive factors.

Subjective non-cognitive factors addressed in SEL programs may include attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, beliefs, feelings, emotions, mindsets, metacognitive learning skills, motivation, grit, self-regulation, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, and intrapersonal resources even though programs may use different terminology.

The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to promote or develop social emotional standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs or assessments.

Promoting and implementing formal SEL program standards, benchmarks, learning indicators and assessments will depersonalize the informal education good teachers have always provided.

Teachers implementing SEL standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments may end up taking on the role of mental health therapists for which they are not professionally trained. SEL programs should require the onsite supervision of adequately trained professional psychologists/psychotherapists.

Social and emotional learning programs take time away from academic knowledge and fundamental skills instruction.

SEL programs may promote and establish thoughts, values, beliefs, and attitudes not reflective of those held by parents and infringe upon parental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.

Informed active written parental consent should be required prior to any student participating in any social-emotional learning program or assessment through the school system.

Sensitive personally identifiable non-cognitive data will be collected on individuals through SEL programs.

The collection and use of subjective non-cognitive individual student SEL data may result in improper labeling of students. This data will follow individuals throughout their lifetime with the potential for unintended use resulting in negative consequences.

Concerns have been expressed that SEL programs and collected data may potentially be misused with a captive and vulnerable audience for indoctrination, social and emotional engineering, to influence compliance, and to predict future behavior.

Mr. Sanford would be better off investing his money in education methods that work instead of foisting his version of education reform onto the rest of us.

20 years ago…. Mutually Destructive Tendencies in K-12 and College Education

Chester E. Finn, Jr. President, Fordham Foundation Academic Questions, Spring 1998e:

What’s going on in the college curriculum cannot be laid entirely at the doorstep of the K-12 system. Indeed, as Allan Bloom figured out a decade or more ago, it has as much to do with our educational culture, indeed with our culture per se, as with our schools. Cultural meltdown afflicts both sets of institutions. But each also inflames the other.

What is the crisis in K-12 education? There is, of course, a faction within the profession that insists there is no crisis, that the schools are getting a bum rap, that they’re doing a good enough job, or as good a job as they ever did, or as good a job as our nasty, Philistine society deserves, or as good a job as they can, given the decay of parents and families, or as good a job as the money we are giving them will buy, and so on. There is a popular book in educator-land called The Manufactured Crisis which trots out all these arguments and adds that the unwarranted criticism of U.S. schools is the result of a Machiavellian rightwing plot to discredit public education in order to replace it with vouchers, for-profit schools, home schooling, and other variations.

Most Americans, though, agree that we have a crisis in K-12 education. Employers say so. College admissions officers and professors say so. Elected officials at every level say so. A number of honest educators say so. And lots and lots of surveys make plain that most of the public believes this to be the case and, incidentally, is out there busily seeking alternatives to mediocre schools for their own kids.

People highlight various aspects of the crisis. For some, discipline, violence, and drug issues are paramount. For some, it is the collapse of big city school systems. This critique is usually brought by people who (wrongly, in my view) suppose that rural and suburban schools are doing a good enough job. For some, it is character issues like cheating. For some it is dropouts and other forms of non-completion. All of these are genuine problems and they all affect the colleges. But the core of the K-12 crisis is the weak academic skills and knowledge of a huge fraction of high school graduates, the tiny fraction who are truly well educated, and the sizable fraction who are more or less illiterate at the end of twelve or thirteen years of schooling.

That is the first of ten elements of the K-12 crisis with special salience for the college curriculum. What does it mean to enroll a freshman who does not know when or why the [U.S.] Civil War was fought, who has never written a paper longer than a couple of pages, whose math goes only to algebra, whose acquaintance with literature is more apt to involve Maya Angelou and maybe Hemingway than Dickens, Faulkner, or Milton, who cannot distinguish Dred Scott from F. Scott Fitzgerald, and who could not accurately locate more than six countries if handed a blank map of the world?

What does it mean for the college curriculum? Not to put too fine a point on it, I think it means that the college curriculum is forced—like it or not—to become more like what the high school curriculum ought to be. College becomes the place to get a secondary education just as, for many young people, high school is the place for a primary education. Is it any surprise that many employers, wanting to hire people with a bona fide tertiary education, are insisting on postgraduate degrees?

Second, young people entering our colleges are unaccustomed, by virtue of their K-12 education, to serious intellectual standards. They are well accustomed to praise, deserved or not. Middle school classrooms dripping with self-esteem, something called “emotional intelligence,” and other forms of affective learning turn into grade inflation in college. Try giving these students a C or D—or even a B—and see what reaction you get. Not only have they been allowed to get by with slovenly academic work, they have also been told they’re fantastic. Which is, of course, why, in all those international comparisons our kids do so much better on the self-regard measures than on actual performance.

Third, they are not used to working hard. They got through school without rewriting papers, without doing long division by hand (they had calculators), without wrestling with difficult texts, or without burning the midnight oil at the library. Lots of them had jobs, they had boyfriends, they were on athletic teams, they partied a lot. They may have been busy as can be, but many of them minored in academics while in high school. They are used to coasting—and getting by.

Fourth, school has not nurtured their character, their virtues, their values, or their moral fiber. Lots of schooling is still self-consciously value-neutral and lots of teachers are still self-conscious about “imposing values” on their students. The curriculum encourages relativism, too. So concepts of right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, good and bad, noble and villainous—these distinctions may be a little murky to arriving college students, unless they picked them up in church or at home.

Fifth, they do not have good study habits. They did not need them to make a go of high school. Often they could avoid homework, cram at the last minute for tests, avoid participating in class discussions, borrow term papers from the Internet, and use plot summaries and other short cuts rather than wrestling with the textbook, much less an original text. If, like many schools, theirs emphasized group work and cooperative learning, and minimized competition and individual attainment, then they are accustomed to sharing the work, not doing it themselves and being held accountable.

Sixth, they have received an ample dose, if not an overdose, of political correctness, multiculturalism, and other ideologies before they’ve even reached the ivy-covered walls. They learned to be nice, to be sensitive, to be inclusive, and not to say anything offensive or provocative. They did not learn it only from high school, of course. As Mark Edmundson of the University of Virginia made painfully clear in a brilliant Harper’s essay, much of this worldview comes from television. But today’s schooling contributes its fair share and more.

Seventh, if they went to a typical U.S. high school, they are used to a curricular smorgasbord and are probably unacquainted, or minimally acquainted, with some core subjects. They may have taken bachelor living instead of civics, consumer math instead of geometry, black history instead of ancient history, and psychology instead of physics. They very likely took some technical or vocational or “school to work” classes instead of a comprehensive program in the liberal arts. Yes, they had to satisfy certain graduation requirements, but if psychology counts as science and journalism counts as English, why take the real stuff?

Eighth, they’re accustomed to mediocre teaching. They may have had a favorite teacher, perhaps a great, inspiring, deeply knowledgeable teacher. Jaime Escalante is not the only such, after all, among 2.7 million teachers in U.S. schools. But the odds are that a number of their teachers were time-servers, not terribly sophisticated about their own fields, and perhaps more interested in whether kids are properly entertained, enjoyed the class, and were feeling good about themselves, than in how much they learned from it.

Ninth, college-bound students are not accustomed to many consequences. They are not used to feeling that it really matters in their lives whether they study hard, learn a lot, and get top marks in hard subjects, or coast along with so-so grades in fluffy courses. They know that results count in some domains—like sports—but not in class.

I have turned into something of a behaviorist. I do not believe that anything has really been taught unless it was learned, nor do I think that educational reform is real until and unless it actually boosts student achievement. And I do not expect that to happen until young people actually alter their behavior: take different courses, study harder, and rise to higher standards. But what is going to alter their behavior if their real world continues to signal that it does not make any difference, that there are few tangible rewards for learning more, and practically no unpleasant consequences for learning very little? What does that say to a sixteen-year-old faced with a choice between rewriting his lab report and studying for his history test, or going out with his friends. Sixteen-year-olds, in their own peculiar way, are rational beings. They are forever going through a crude calculus that boils down to “does it really matter?” The answer we keep giving them is no, it doesn’t, not unless they’re part of that small sub-set of the sixteen-year-old population that is gunning for admission to our handful of truly competitive colleges and universities.

This may not be well understood by intellectuals, so many of whom have kids in that little pool of aspirants to Princeton and Stanford and Amherst. For those young people, yes, it makes a difference how they spend their Tuesday evenings, and most of them know it. But what about everyone else?

Third grade teachers can fake it with eight-year-olds by handing out gold stars and threatening them with summer school. To some extent, school systems can even fake it with teenagers by telling them that they are not going to graduate unless they pass certain tests or take certain courses. More and more of that is happening around the K-12 system. But it is all a bit unreal—a bit fake—because the sprawling U.S. higher education complex keeps whispering in kids’ ears, “Never mind, we’ll be glad to have you anyway.”

Tenth, finally, our young people are thoroughly accustomed, long before they reach the university classroom, to the educational regimen that E.D. Hirsch calls romantic naturalism—a product of Rousseau and Dewey and the rest of the Teachers College faculty of eighty years ago, but still the regnant intellectual theology of the education profession. Let us abjure a long excursion into this “thoughtworld,” as Hirsch terms it, and not rehash its lack of any serious scientific moorings. Its immediate relevance is that kids are coming out of school having been told that all they need to learn is what they feel like learning, that their teachers are escorts or facilitators, not instructors, that knowledge is pretty much whatever they’d like it to be, and that their feelings and sentiments are as valid as anything that might be termed successive approximations of objective truth, if indeed there is any such thing as truth.

What are the implications of all this for the college curriculum? To reduce it to a sentence, our universities are having to build a house atop a cracked and incomplete foundation.

How much repouring of the foundation does the university undertake? At whose expense? Instead of what? Does the remedial work count for credit? If so, does it subtract from the amount of so-called college level work that is expected, or does it add to the total, thus taking more time and demanding additional resources? Or does the college give up? Or try to do something altogether different, not repairing the foundation but, let’s say, pouring a slab and proceeding to build?

I have my own view of all this, but I know it is naive, my own form of romantic utopianism. My view is that the colleges should leverage the K-12 system to make the kinds of changes that both systems (not to mention the larger society) urgently need.

Shoulder-to-shoulder the nation’s universities should stand, proclaiming as with a single voice that, starting some reasonable number of years in the future, none will admit any student (under the age of, say, thirty) who cannot demonstrate mastery of certain specified skills and knowledge. If that demand were honestly enforced, it would have a dramatic, catalytic effect on the nation’s high schools, one that would reverberate back through the elementary schools. And if major employers were to make common cause with the institutions of higher education, the effect would be more dramatic still. The second-order effects on our colleges and universities would be striking as well.

But it is not going to happen. Employers would cite legal reasons, civil rights reasons, business reasons. Interest groups and editorialists will talk about equal opportunity. As for the colleges—well, their need for students is greater than their need for standards. So the higher education system is apt instead to persist in its peculiar love-hate relationship with the K-12 system, complaining about the system’s products while contributing to and exacerbating in myriad ways the bad habits and fallacies that produced them.

The worst of higher education’s crimes against the K-12 system is the abandonment of entry standards, which of course is a corollary of the universalization of access to higher education within the United States.

Let me be clear. I am not opposed to everyone’s having a shot at a college education. I do not begrudge financial aid measures that make it possible for many people to enroll. What I oppose is the devastation that is wrought on high school standards—and thereby, on primary school standards—by the widespread understanding that all can go to college even if they do not learn a doggone thing in school. The greatest tragedy of open admissions is not what it does to the colleges but what it does to the schools and to efforts to reform them. By holding the schools harmless from their own shortcomings, and signaling that young people are welcome in our colleges—well, some colleges—regardless of what they took or how much they learned or how hard they worked in high school, the endless expansion of higher education fatally undermines the prospects of doing anything about our schools. Moreover, it contributes to what we might term the “highschoolization” of colleges themselves. (Of course, it we come to count on our colleges to provide secondary education, then it is not unreasonable to expect access to them to be universal. I think President Clinton, among others, has figured that out, though of course he never says it that way.)

Admissions standards, or their absence, have a profound effect on the schools, and are the first of five ways in which the crisis of the college curriculum adversely affects the K-12 system.

Second, the university’s intellectual and curricular fashions have a trickle down effect. Every idea that seeps down through the academic limestone eventually creates stalactites within the K-12 curriculum. The whole postmodern intellectual enterprise has infected what is taught in grade schools. Deconstructionism in the university become constructivism in fourth grade—both progeny of the same ancestors. Where do “fuzzy” math, cooperative learning, whole language reading, and “history from the victim’s standpoint” come from? Where did those wretched national history standards come from? Whence cometh the emphasis on so-called higher order thinking skills and the scorn for specific knowledge and facts? They are all gifts that higher education has bestowed on the schools.

Third, there is the disaster area of teacher training. Upwards of a hundred thousand education degrees are awarded by U.S. colleges and universities. People in the arts and sciences sometimes delude themselves into believing that the dreadful, wrong-headed content and low standards built into most of these degrees are the problem of some other wing of the university. Perhaps so. But I do not see how any serious discussion of the college curriculum can proceed to cloture without at least pondering the intellectual carnage of our education schools. Somebody in higher education has got to be responsible for that!

Consider that a new first grade teacher with twenty-five kids in her class, if she remains in the profession for thirty years, will profoundly affect the lives and educational futures of 750 youngsters. If she is a high school teacher with, say, 100 students a year, the number whose lives she will touch over the course of a classroom career rises to 3,000. Where did she get her own education? Who decided what she needs to know before being turned loose on children? Who decided when she had learned enough of it? Who trained the principals and department heads who will supervise her? Who supplies the “in service” training and “professional development” that will salt her career? Who writes the textbooks that she will use and the professional journals that she will read? These are all the responsibility of the university and its faculty. The K-12 virus that has sickened and will infect generations of future students in the university can be traced right back to the university campus itself.

Fourth, permissiveness with respect to behavior and morality also trickles down. If it is taken for granted on the college campus that it is fine for eighteen-year-olds to indulge in drugs, sex, binge drinking, class-cutting, over-sleeping, and all the rest, it is naive to think that seventeen-year-olds on the high school campus will not adopt the same practices. Which means that fifteen-year-olds, and thirteen-year-olds, and eleven-year-olds, and so on down through the grades, will do their version of the same things. If the college winks at state drinking laws, why shouldn’t the high school? If the college sophomore in the family boasts about his exploits, what do you suppose will be the effect on the high school sophomore who is his younger sister or brother? What are the effects on parents trying to bring their kids up properly?

Fifth, and finally, the university is the wellspring of such social and political values of the K-12 curriculum as multiculturalism, feminism, environmentalism, scorn for patriotism, affection for governmental solutions to all problems, and so forth. These creep into fourth-grade textbooks, into the videos and television programs that teachers show, into the magazines and newspapers and workbooks that they assign, and into the belief structure of the teachers themselves. Indeed, the activist groups that seek to propagate those values throughout the society are especially eager to target the young and vulnerable. Thus “peace education” has evolved into conflict-resolution courses and science and geography classes are awash in radical environmentalism. I do not say that this is entirely the fault of our colleges and universities, but if these beliefs were not firmly grounded there, their position in our schools would be a lot shakier.

Entropy describes a closed system in which everything deteriorates. Webster’s refers to “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity.” That is how I have come to see the all-but-sealed world in which the schools and the colleges deteriorate together, each worsening the condition of the other.

Is anything to be done? I see small signs of hope on the K-12 front: the movement toward standards, tests, and accountability; the spread of “charter” schools and other new institutional forms; the growth of school choice and the concomitant transfer of some authority from producers to consumers. But it is a slow process and so far not one that has yielded palpable results in terms of student achievement.

One can also point to new islands of excellence in the postsecondary seas and to other modest indicators of progress.

Perhaps it will all come together. Certainly there is evidence of mounting discontent on the part of governors and legislators and of greater willingness to take such obvious policy steps as yoking college admission standards to high school exit requirements.

But what we need most is a renaissance of the will and the spirit, a rebirth of the concept of educational quality. As Roger Shattuck put it in a grand essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “[W]e need to reexamine our fundamental beliefs about educational excellence. If we do not confront these assumptions, we shall never be able to change the ways in which our two levels conspire to lower standards.”

Teachers are not Substitutes for Families—or Accountable for Low Achievement

Sandra Stotsky, via Will Fitzhugh:

This book is about this country’s efforts to educate and raise the achievement level of large numbers of low-achieving students—students who perform academically below average for their age or grade level. It suggests alternatives to what educators over the past century and a half have done (especially in reading or English classes) to keep large groups of low-achieving students in school until high school graduation. This book is not just about the education of students with low-income parents. All low-achieving students do not have low-income or poorly-educated parents. (Nor do all low-income parents have low-achieving children.) This book is about students who are not eligible to become members of their high school’s Honor Society when in high school and who usually need developmental coursework (below-college-level coursework) in mathematics and reading if they are admitted to college. But they or their parents are not necessarily poor.

This country has always had low-achieving students (relatively-speaking) and always will. Every country has and will continue to have low-achieving students. Because low achievement anywhere is relative to high achievement, there will always be low-achieving students. However, efforts to educate low-achievers in this country today are more difficult than they should be because low achievers are not considered responsible for their low achievement. Their schools, teachers, even parents are. And because low achievers are not held accountable in any way for their academic efforts, they have no reason to change their academic behavior or academic status. They get the rewards higher-achievers once did without having to exert the academic effort higher-achievers once did.

There are several reasons why low-achieving students are at the center of educational attention today.

Many of them in this country are African Americans or have dark complexions and poor parents. Americans in general have been taught that they are responsible for these low-achieving students chiefly because of the attitudes and behaviors of their ancestors towards people or immigrants who didn’t look, talk, or act like them.

Whatever their background, there’s little evidence that low achievers on average read or write better than they did decades ago despite all the money and programs devoted to their education in the past fifty years.

Large differences in academic achievement across politically defined groups are considered unacceptable by education policy makers and many others today. These differences are considered today a reflection of an unequal allocation of resources such as school facilities, teachers, and curriculum materials across public schools.

The basic purpose of this book is to raise several questions in readers’ minds:

First, what can help education policy makers to understand that widespread adolescent under-achievement is a social problem and not susceptible to solution by educational interventions no matter how much money is allocated to public schools and colleges?

Second, what kinds of evidence do education policy makers need to understand that it damages all students’ education to expect the wrong institutions (public schools and colleges) to keep on trying to solve a growing social problem?

Finally, what are the varied civic costs of this country’s institutionally misplaced focus on low achievement? These questions become urgent when a U.S. Department of Education-funded study of a community college issued in April 2017 finds that most full-time first-time freshmen seeking an associate degree were initially placed in developmental [below college-level] courses in English and in math. In other words, most students were unprepared for college coursework, raising questions about the best uses of post-secondary resources and the effectiveness of K-12 education resources.

Sandra Stotsky, Changing the Course of Failure: How Schools and Parents Can Help Low-Achieving Students.
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. [2018] Kindle Edition.

I’m an NJEA member: With Supreme Court ruling, now I can use money from union dues on what I want

Cody Miller, via a kind reader:

I’ve been a member of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) — one of the nation’s most powerful state teachers unions — since I started working in education a year and a half ago. I’ve been an advocate for education my entire life, served on a board of trustees at a county college, and am proud to come from a family of teachers.

My grandmother was an elementary school teacher, my uncle is an assistant principal and my aunt is a principal. And even though I believe in the vital role that unions have to play in protecting workers’ rights, especially when it comes to educators, I’m confident that Janus vs. AFSCME is a victory for rank and file teachers.

Here’s why: big unions like the NJEA have become increasingly concerned with accumulating political power and rewarding their leadership, even while they have neglected their obligations to working class teachers and put our union in financial peril.

While this is a problem plaguing teachers unions nationwide, you would be hard-pressed to find a stronger example than here in New Jersey.

In 2016 — the most recent year for which this data is available — the NJEA gave their top leadership a 42 percent pay raise. On average, the fourteen officers identified as NJEA leaders earned more than $530,000 — up from $379,000 the year before.

Related:

Act 10

An emphasis on adult employment

American political rhetoric is sliding towards the sewer

The Economist:

But in America the combination of vulgarity with the country’s extreme polarisation is producing a toxic mix. Politicians and public figures are literally dehumanising their adversaries. Mr Trump has called some illegal immigrants “animals” and said they are “infesting” America. Roseanne Barr, an actress, called Valerie Jarrett, a black adviser to Mr Obama, an offspring of the film “Planet of the Apes”. Michael Avenatti, a lawyer who is suing the president, called one of Mr Trump’s lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, a “pig”; New York magazine depicted Mr Trump as a pig on its cover. It is not altogether panicky to note that genocides are preceded by dehumanisation: the Nazis and the Rwandan genocidaires called their victims vermin. If your opponents are pigs or apes, it is worth doing almost anything to keep them from power.

America has entered a rhetorical vicious circle that may be impossible to escape. During the election of 2016 Michelle Obama, then the First Lady, said that “when they go low, we go high.” Those grand words have withered in the heat of the new era. Neither side is willing to stand down unilaterally in an escalating war of words. In this climate, Democrats will have little cause for complaint when the vilest of language is flung at their nominee in 2020.

Check out the New Cookbook Bar & Café at Austin’s Central Library

Jason Cohen:

When Drew Curren first signed up to operate a restaurant at downtown Austin’s new, state-of-the-art central library, which opened in October, near Lady Bird Lake, to much acclaim, one of his then-partners in the ELM Restaurant Group came to him with an inspired thought. “He said, ‘Man, I got a goofy idea. What if we named the cafe Cookbook?’ ” Curren remembers. “And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s kinda cute. We can just source all the recipes from my cookbook collection.’ ”

Two years later, Cookbook Bar & Café, which opens today at the library’s entrance on West Second Street, does just that: everything on the breakfast and lunch/dinner menus is based on recipes from some of Curren’s favorite chef and restaurant cookbooks, from the whole-wheat raisin scones (Zoe Nathan’s Huckleberry) to chicken pot pie (Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller) to a watermelon agua fresca (Alice Waters, Chez Panisse Fruit).

Princeton Takes a Stand for Free Speech on Campus

Russel Nieli:

Much of the news regarding free speech on campus is enough to make anyone despair. Year after year more people and ideas are muzzled.

But some very heartening news of late comes from Princeton. Due largely to a new book promoting free speech by Princeton University political scientist Keith Whittington and the unusual support and campus-wide promotion of the book by Princeton’s president Chris Eisgruber, Princeton is now in the forefront of those American colleges and universities that have said “stop” to the onslaught of thuggish campus militants intent on shutting down free speech. This latest development comes on the heels of several other very positive developments on the free-speech front at Princeton.

Three years ago, in April of 2015, the governing board of the faculty at Princeton adopted the main body of what has come to be known as the Chicago Principles of free speech and free expression. Originally drawn up by a committee of the University of Chicago chaired by law professor Geoffrey R. Stone, these principles condemned the suppression of views no matter how “offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed [they may appear] by some or even by most members of the University community.”

How transparent is school data when parents can’t find it or understand it?

Jenny Abamu:

When Mosi Zuberi learned that his 18-year-old son, Kaja, might not graduate from McClymonds High School in Oakland, he anguished over his parenting missteps, wondering where he had gone wrong. Yet, after seeing school data from the California School Dashboard and learning that close to one-fifth of McClymonds’ students were not graduating, he mentally shifted some accountability to the school, seeing a systemic failure to meet the needs of all students.

Zuberi, like many parents across the country, felt he could have been a better advocate for his child had data about the school been more explicit and easier to find.

Data has become particularly relevant for parents whose children attend low-performing schools. It can answer questions about school safety, disciplinary actions taken against certain student groups, graduation rates, attendance and academic performance. Several parents with children in low-performing schools view a child’s academic struggles as an individual responsibility — their child’s fault, or their own — but access to and understanding of school data can help them identify broader problems. For example, is only their child reading below grade-level or are a majority of the students? With better understanding, they can take action — invest in a tutor if the problem is isolated, for example, or demand that their district spend more on reading programs if the issue is widespread.

Many parents, however, experience educational, technological and language barriers to accessing and understanding data, limiting their ability to make informed decisions about their children.

Oxford English Dictionary extends hunt for regional words around the world

Alison Flood:

The Oxford English Dictionary is asking the public to help it mine the regional differences of English around the world to expand its record of the language, with early submissions ranging from New Zealand’s “munted” to Hawaii’s “hammajang”.

Last year, a collaboration between the OED, the BBC and the Forward Arts Foundation to find and define local English words resulted in more than 100 new regional words and phrases being added to the dictionary, from Yorkshire’s “ee bah gum” to the north east’s “cuddy wifter”, a left-handed person. Now, the OED is widening its search to English speakers around the world, with associate editor Eleanor Maier calling the early response “phenomenal”, as editors begin to draft a range of suggestions for inclusion in the dictionary.

These range from Hawaii’s “hammajang”, meaning “in a disorderly or shambolic state”, to the Scottish word for a swimming costume, “dookers” or “duckers”, and New Zealand’s “munted”, meaning “broken or wrecked”. The OED is also looking to include the word “chopsy”, a Welsh term for an overly talkative person; “frog-drowner”, which Americans might use to describe a torrential downpour of rain; “brick”, which means “very cold” to residents of New Jersey and New York City; and “round the Wrekin”, meaning “in a lengthy or roundabout manner” in the Midlands.

The dictionary has already found that, depending on location, a picture hanging askew might be described as “agley”, “catawampous”, “antigodlin” or “ahoo” by an English speaker, while a loved one could be called a “doy”, “pet”, “dou-dou”, “bubele”, “alanna” or“babber”.

Congress wants DeVos to investigate Chinese research partnerships on American campuses

Josh Rogin:

The White House and Congress are at odds over whether to save Chinese telecom giant ZTE, which has been accused of threatening U.S. national security. But that’s not the only Chinese company in lawmakers’ sights. Huawei, another Chinese “national champion” technology firm, is attracting scrutiny for its partnerships with American colleges and universities in areas of technology that the Chinese government is trying to dominate.

A bipartisan group of 26 lawmakers wrote Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday to highlight the national security implications of Huawei’s research partnerships and other relationships with several dozen American colleges and universities. They want Devos to investigate the Huawei Innovation Research Program and other programs through which Huawei partners with institutes of higher education across the country.

“We believe these partnerships may pose a significant threat to national security and this threat demands your attention and oversight,” states the letter, which was organized by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.). “Huawei is not a normal private sector company the way we have grown accustomed to thinking of the commercial economy in the West.”

Huawei’s program, according to its website, funds universities and institutes conducting research in communication technology, computer science, engineering and related fields. The lawmakers told DeVos that she should convene a task force to investigate these partnerships and be briefed on Huawei by top intelligence and law enforcement officials.

What 7 Creepy Patents Reveal About Facebook

From rust belt to robot belt: Turning AI into jobs in the US heartland

David Rotman:

The vast vacant lot along the Monongahela River has been a scar from Pittsburgh’s industrial past for decades. It was once the site of the Jones and Laughlin steelworks, one of the largest such facilities in the city back when steel was the dominant industry there. Most of the massive structures are long gone, leaving behind empty fields pocked with occasional remnants of steelmaking and a few odd buildings. It all stares down the river at downtown Pittsburgh.

Next to the sprawling site is one of Pittsburgh’s poorer neighborhoods, Hazelwood, where a house can go for less than $50,000. As with many of the towns that stretch south along the river toward West Virginia, like McKeesport and Duquesne, the economic reasons for its existence—steel and coal—are a fading memory.

These days the old steel site, called Hazelwood Green by its developers, is coming back to life. At one edge, fenced off from prying eyes, is a test area for Uber’s self-driving cars. A new road, still closed to the public, traverses the 178 acres of the site, complete with parking signs, fire hydrants, a paved bike path, and a sidewalk. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture it bustling with visitors to the planned park along the riverfront.

Civics: California Has 48 Hours to Pass this Privacy Bill or Else

Kashmir Hill:

What’s really happening is that California lawmakers have 48 hours to pass such a bill or the policy shit is going to hit the direct democracy fan. Because if lawmakers in the California Senate and House don’t pass this bill Thursday morning, and if California governor Jerry Brown doesn’t sign this bill into law Thursday afternoon, a stronger version of it will be on the state ballot in November. Then the 17 million or so people who actually vote in California would decide for themselves whether they should have the right to force companies to stop selling their data out the back door. Polls predict they would vote yes, despite the claims of tech companies that passage of the law would lead to businesses fleeing California. And laws passed via the ballot initiative process, rather than the legislative process, are almost impossible to change, so California would likely have this one on its books for a very long time.

This, more than, say, an urgent need to address the data scandals that have dominated the tech industry so far this year, is why lawmakers are scrambling to get a bill passed. (A press secretary for Senator Bob Hertzberg, a sponsor of the bill, says that it’s happening at the last minute because it was a “long and tortured negotiating process” to come up with “an agreement that everybody 70% agrees with.”) It’s an absurd scenario out of Armando Iannucci, motivated more by arbitrary deadlines and the arcane mechanics of the legislative process than by a sudden passionate response to the kind of careless data practices that facilitated a foreign power’s interference in a presidential election.

How did we get here? It mostly has to do with one guy with a lot of money deciding he was willing to drop a few million dollars to make life harder for data brokers.

“I want to be able to go to Amazon and find out who they sold my information to,” Alastair MacTaggart told me earlier this year.

MacTaggart, a real estate developer in the San Francisco Bay Area, has spent $3 million to create and fund a campaign for the California Consumer Privacy Act, a law that would force companies to tell people what personal data they’re selling and stop if asked. The work of creating the ballot initiative started over two years ago. Over the last year, more than 600,000 Californians signed a petition in support of it—thanks to $1 million spent with signature-collection firms—and so MacTaggart now has the ability to put it on the ballot in November.

Ohio State closes sexual-assault center, fires 4 after complaints

Jennifer Smola:

In one document, the OhioHealth Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio, or SARNCO, outlined a list of concerns with SCE and its treatment of survivors. That document indicated that some survivors were subjected to victim-blaming, unethical and re-traumatizing treatment by SCE advocates. Some victims were told they were lying or delusional, suffered from mental illness, had an active imagination, didn’t understand their own experience or fabricated their story, according to SARNCO’s concerns.

SARNCO also wrote that it had received reports that SCE advocates have written student conduct and other legal documents, and have told survivors they needed to embellish their stories because “their real experience wasn’t serious enough” to receive justice or legal protection.

Some survivors reportedly were told they wouldn’t receive support from SCE because they weren’t credible, were not “ready to heal,” or because they would not disclose the identity of a perpetrator, the network said.
Listen to The Other Side podcast:

“At OhioHealth SARNCO, our mission is ‘To Empower All Survivors: To End Sexual Violence,‘” SARNCO manager Heather Herron Murphy said in a statement to The Dispatch on Tuesday. “If we receive information about survivors’ needs not being met, or survivors’ concerns not being heard, we work to amplify those voices.”

13-Year-Old Charged with Felony for Recording Conversation with School Principal

Lenore Skenazy:

A 13-year-old hauled into the principal’s office for not serving his detention may end up with the biggest detention of all: a felony conviction. That’s because the kid recorded the conversation on his phone.

The incident took place last February at Manteno Middle School, which is about an hour outside of Chicago. Young Paul Boron was arguing with Principal David Conrad and Assistant Principal Nathan Short.

About ten minutes into the meeting, which was held with the door open, Boron told the men he was recording it. At that point, the principal told Boron he was committing a felony and ended the conversation.

America’s Millennials Are Waking Up to a Grim Financial Future

Ben Steverman:

Lately I’ve been losing track of how old everyone is. Friends, co-workers and family members are resisting middle age with vigorous exercise, careful diets and regular doctor visits. Even when 50-year-olds look like they’re 50, they often dress or party as if they’re still in their twenties.

Our capacity to fetishize youth never ceases to amaze. But while older Americans definitely want to look like younger folks, they certainly don’t want their finances. That’s because the wealth gap between generations keeps widening, and their children’s future is beginning to look ugly.

A New Accent Is Developing in Southwest Kansas

Cara Giaimo:

Say you’re a young person living in Liberal, Kansas—a small town in the southwestern part of the state, home to about 20,000 people—and someone you know does something fun without you. “I told my friends from Liberal that I had gone to Vancouver to present some research,” says Trevin Garcia, who just graduated from Kansas State University. “As soon as I said that, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, TFTI.’”

“TFTI”—pronounced “tifty”—stands for “Thanks for the invite,” Garcia explains. It’s used in a sarcastic way: “Someone does something that the other person would have liked to get in on, but didn’t find out until afterwards.” Ironically, he adds, it’s a bit of an exclusive phrase itself: “It’s very rarely that I find someone from outside of Liberal using TFTI.”

The kids from Liberal are doing something else unique, too. According to new research from KSU, they’re beginning to develop a distinctive new accent. Garcia and his advisor, linguist Mary Kohn, studied the speech of people from Liberal, and compared it with the speech of Kansans from other parts of the state. They found that, likely because of the increasing number of Hispanic residents, people in Liberal are now speaking English with certain Spanish inflections. This is true even of residents who don’t speak Spanish.

Civics: “The Obama administration in particular was literally and cognitively captured by Big Tech”

Rana Foroohar:

Google practically set up cots in the White House, with a revolving door that makes the Goldman Sachs/Treasury shuffle look relatively minor by comparison. I think that’s one reason that the Obama administration missed the rise of data markets and how they’d reshape the economy, and allowed Silicon Valley to dictate policy on everything from antitrust to privacy to trade in ways that are now ensuring that the big get bigger.

Chang, Boston Public Schools sued over secrecy surrounding student information sharing with ICE

James Vaznis:

Several civil rights and student advocacy organizations, alarmed that a school incident report helped lead to a student’s deportation, filed a lawsuit Thursday against Superintendent Tommy Chang after Boston school officials repeatedly refused to disclose how often they give student information to federal immigration authorities.

The groups, which include the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, have tried unsuccessfully for several months to find out how frequently the school system shares student information with federal authorities, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“As federal deportation efforts intensify, the question of how and under what circumstances public schools are providing information to the US Department of Homeland Security [and] Immigration and Customs Enforcement has become even more crucial,” the suit said. “The threats to students and their families are real.”

Japanese questions of the soul

Roland Kelts:

At public readings, either in Japanese or English, the novelist Hideo Furukawa performs like a banshee. He voices his characters’ personae, tenor shifting from stentorian to hushed, growling, trilling, book held aloft in his quivering left hand. His compact frame rocks to and fro, slowly enlarging before your eyes as he rises on his toes and raises his arm into a broad arc, snug hipster beanie barely holding his cranium in place.

I have watched Furukawa read several times, in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Tokyo, and each time I have been unable to look away. At first I worried that his histrionics might be overkill. But then I re-read his prose. He writes like a banshee, too, forcing words into action, squeezing them for meaning, studding his lines with coinages such as “scootscootscoot” and “creekeek” when the words just can’t take it anymore.

I exposed $100 million that could have saved lives at Stoneman. Now, I’m fighting for my education.

Kenneth Preston:

On May 25th, I received a letter from the Broward School Board stating that I had been unenrolled from my home school program. The letter states I failed to respond to a notice that I was “out of compliance.” It states that I was sent a letter in March that I failed to respond to. The letter wasn’t certified, and I never received an email or phone call (both of which the district has the ability to do). I was on track to graduate one year late, after rebounding from a crippling case of Lyme Disease that set my life back more than two years. I missed nearly two years of school and then entered a home school program as the cognitive effects of the disease began to take affect on my school work. Just this March I was diagnosed with ADD that stems from the disease.

At first, I imagined that this should take no more than a quick phone call to set straight. Unfortunately, my efforts over the course of the last month to appeal the decision have been fruitless. I called, provided the documents they requested, and filed an appeal. It was denied, citing a lack of credits and a prior termination (due to paperwork) as a reason. This is after I made them aware that any lack of credits was due to my illness and the cognitive condition that followed. As for the prior termination, having been my first full year of home school, my parents and I were unaware of procedures and paperwork that were expected. In no way did they affect my academic performance or my eligibility for disability protections.

U.S. Cost of Living and Wage Stagnation, 1979-2015

Marian Tupy:

The question of the cost of living in the United States is intimately connected to the issue of the so-called “wage stagnation,” which is typically blamed on economic liberalization that started under President Carter, gathered steam under President Reagan, and peaked under President Clinton.

According to a 2015 report issued by the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank based in Washington, D.C., “ever since 1979, the vast majority of American workers have seen their hourly wages stagnate or decline. This is despite real GDP growth of 149 percent and net productivity growth of 64 percent over this period. In short, the potential has existed for ample, broad-based wage growth over the last three-and-a-half decades, but these economic gains have largely bypassed the vast majority.”

True, adjusted for inflation, average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees in the private sector (closest approximation for the quintessential blue-collar worker that I could find) have barely changed between 1979 and 2015. In October 1979, average hourly earnings stood at $6.51 or $21.20 in 2015 dollars. In October 2015, average hourly earnings stood at $21.18 – slightly below the inflation adjusted 1979 level.

The Last of the Tiger Parents

Ryan Park:

In first grade, I arrived at my suburban elementary school as a sort of academic vaudeville trickster. My classmates stood speechless as I absorbed thick tomes on medieval history, wrote and presented research reports, and breezed through fifth-grade math problems like a bored teenager.

My teachers anointed me a genius, but I knew the truth. My non-Asian friends hadn’t spent hours marching through the snow, reciting multiplication tables. They hadn’t stood at attention at the crack of dawn reading the newspaper aloud, with each stumble earning a stinging rebuke. Like a Navy SEAL thrown into a pool of raw conscripts, at 6, I had spent much of my conscious life training for this moment.

To my authoritarian father, all has gone according to plan. I excelled in school, attending Amherst College and Harvard Law School. I’ve embraced his conventional vision of success: I’m a lawyer. But like many second-generation immigrant overachievers, I’ve spent decades struggling with the paradox of my upbringing. Were the same childhood experiences that long evoked my resentment also responsible for my academic and professional achievements? And if so, was the trade-off between happiness and success worth it?

Commentary on the Fourth Estate

Paul Fanlund:

One is the challenge that relates to the well-understood, decade-old “disruption” of the business models of mainstream print and electronic journalism. The internet has changed reading and viewing habits and made it harder for news organizations to afford the number of reporters, editors and other news professionals ideally required to produce the episodic and investigative coverage necessary for an informed citizenry.

The second challenge relates to the loss of public trust in the mainstream media and other American institutions — be that the New York Times, the FBI, or even, here in Wisconsin, our system of public education. The tradition of accepting the essential integrity of our institutions is waning. As a result, those who hold diametrically different views cannot talk through issues because they disagree on basic facts.

Ideally, our local media would spend substantial time on the taxpayer supported school district’s long term, disastrous reading results.

Jeremy W. Peters:

It bothers me that he doesn’t tell the truth, but I guess I kind of expect that, and I expect that from the media, too — not to always tell the truth or to slant it one way,” said Julie Knight, 63, a retired personal injury case manager from Algona, Wash.

It has been more than eight years since the Capital Times mentioned the (unrealized) possibility of an audit on the Madison School District’s maintenance spending.

Madison spends far more than most taxpayer supported school districts, now nearly $20,000 per student.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Can You Think of Any Other Ways to Spend $716 Billion?

Matt Taibbi:

The bill, which passed 85-10 in a massive show of bipartisan support, represents a considerable boost in defense spending across the board – roughly $82 billion just for next year.

The annual increase by itself is bigger than the annual defense budget of Russia ($61 billion) and the two-year jump of over $165 billion eclipses the entire defense budget of China ($150 billion).

The bill is a major win for Trump, who has made no secret about his desire to push through giant increases in military spending. The legislation even sends the U.S. down the road to meeting the Trump administration’s lunatic goal of developing smaller, more “flexible” (read: usable) nuclear weapons, as it includes $65 million for the development of a new, lower-yield, submarine-launched nuke.

But the problem with the defense bill, at least in terms of attracting coverage, is that it’s also a big win for almost every other major political constituency in Washington.

Spending on defense lobbying has actually been dropping slightly in recent years, but that may only be because the opposition to defense spending has become so anemic that lobbyists don’t really need to bother anymore. Historically, both parties reflexively vote to increase the defense budget, and there was not much #resistance in Congress on this issue. Opposition even to the bill’s quirks was limited, and overall opposition to the huge increase in spending was virtually nonexistent outside a few voices.

Facial Recognition Cameras Do Not Belong in Schools

Stefanie Coyle John A. Curr III:

Next year, students as young as 4 or 5 years old who attend public school in Western New York’s Lockport School District could be subject to surveillance from facial recognition technology.

News reports indicate the district plans to have the invasive and error-prone technology installed by next school year. Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the New York State Education Department urging it to consider students’ and teachers’ privacy in reviewing the use of surveillance technology by school districts. We also sent a freedom of information request to the district seeking details of how and where the technology will be used as well as who will have access to the sensitive data that gets collected.

Lockport spent almost $4 million to acquire the facial recognition system, using state money allocated for schools meant to upgrade or improve their infrastructure and technology. Most schools spent the money on things like Wi-Fi, new computers, or 3D printers.

Lockport, however, made the multimillion dollar purchase despite the fact that the district could face a budget shortfall of nearly $1 million. The district has said if it doesn’t receive additional state aid, it plans to cut transportation and sports programs, reduce kindergarten to half days, and close elementary school libraries.

An Idea For Decreasing Income Segregation And Increasing Economic Mobility

Adam Ozimek:

One of the big and under-appreciated problems in this country is income segregation. One way this happens is that higher income neighborhoods use restrictive zoning to keep low-income housing out of their neighborhoods. This is bad for low-income households because it often means effectively keeping them out of better schools, and even keeps them away from areas with better job market access. In their massive study on economic mobility, Chetty et al (2014) found that income segregation and economic mobility at the commuting zone level were related with a correlation of -0.393. The graph below shows that this relationship is pretty clear in the data.

This suggests that decreasing income segregation is one way to improve economic mobility. Another obvious way to do this is to improve college attendance, and the quality of colleges attended, for low-income people. However, simply pursuing an aggressive income-based affirmative action strategy where colleges directly tie acceptance to household income has the perverse effect of disincentivizing higher earnings. That is, if you reward people for lower incomes, you’re effectively increasing the marginal tax rate.

I remark it must have been difficult for his four children (all graduates of Stanford University) to grow up with such a high-achieving father.

Roula Khalaf:

“I don’t think so but you can check with them.” The only area where he was demanding was academic results. “I couldn’t understand it when they were coming with low scores. I said, ‘You’re not stupid. I don’t understand.’ On all other areas, I was very open, very liberal.”

I’ve been told that at the heart of Ghosn’s ruthless leadership style is an obsession with “commitments and targets”. Is it true you fire people who don’t deliver on their commitments, I ask. He sits up and nods.

“When I arrived at Nissan in 1999, people didn’t feel committed to anything; they were saying, ‘I’m doing a great job and this guy next to me is not.’ The company was going bankrupt and everyone was sleeping well at night. I wanted people to make a commitment, which doesn’t have to reflect everything they could do but ensured that they did it. I also wanted them to express via a target what else they could do. If they don’t reach their commitments, I have a problem.” It was seen as ruthless, he goes on, but “the company went like a rocket, up in the first two years”.

Another of his traits is to pit people and companies against each other. He likes to call this the “systematic system” of benchmarking. “The only way I can push Mitsubishi is to say, ‘Go take a look at what Nissan is doing in this area.’ I am telling them, ‘You are engineers, you respect facts and data and I’m going to give you facts and data.’ ” Like it or not, Ghosn’s formula has been successful, although he admits that none of his techniques work unless the company feels the person leading it is engaged, believes in the mission, and sets his own commitments and targets. That, he says, is his definition of leadership.

“Parfait” is Ghosn’s verdict on the beef, much to the satisfaction of our waiter. The famed cake-sized millefeuille is placed between us. Ghosn teases that a second serving is on the way. I confess it is the best millefeuille I’ve tasted. Ghosn’s drive makes me wonder whether he can live with imperfections. I remark it must have been difficult for his four children (all graduates of Stanford University) to grow up with such a high-achieving father.

Ben Weingarten interviews writer and scholar Victor Davis Hanson on the decline of the American academy, the Democratic Party, and President Trump.

The Federalist:

Ben Weingarten: As a classicist, you’ve lamented both the corruption of the academy within your own discipline and on the modern campus more broadly — in particular on its repudiation of the Western canon, its lack of adherence to principles of free inquiry and the overall triumph of progressivism. Is there any way to take back this institution, in the sense of restoring classical liberal arts education and the conditions it needs to flourish?

Victor Davis Hanson: Well, my criticism in the last 30 years of the institution, obviously a lot of us who voiced those concerns, it fell on deaf ears. So progressive thinkers and institutional administrators within the university got their way. And now we’re sort of at the end of that experiment, and the question we have to ask is what did they give us? Well, they gave us $1 trillion in student debt. They created a very bizarre system in which the federal government — subsidized through student loans, constantly increasing tuition beyond the rate of inflation — the result of which is that we’ve had about a 200 percent growth in administrative costs, and administrators and non-teaching staff within the university. We’ve politicized the education.

So when I started there were … I think I looked in the catalog in 1984. There were things, maybe like the Recreation Department’s “Leisure Studies” course. Maybe one environmental class, “Environmental Studies.” But you take the word “studies” with a hyphen, and now that can represent about 25 percent of the curriculum. And that’s usually a rough, not always a reliable guide, to show that that class is not — it’s not disinterested. Its aim is to be deductive. We start with this premise that men are sexist, or capitalism destroys the environment, or America’s racist. Then you find the examples to fit that preconceived idea.

And the result of it is that we’ve turned out students that are highly partisan and highly mobilized, and even sort of arrogant, but they’re also ignorant … that came at a cost. They did not learn to write well. If you ask them who’s General Sherman, or what’s a Corinthian column, or who was Dante, all of the building blocks that they could refer to later in life to enrich their experience, they have no reference. And then they don’t know how to think inductively. So if you point out the contradictions in free speech the way they shout down some speakers and not others, or the way that they hate capitalism, but they love Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, they’re not able … they haven’t been trained philosophically to account for that, because they’re indoctrinated. And it’s quite sad to see the combination of ignorance and arrogance in young people, but that’s what we’ve turned out. A lot of people who are indebted and they’re arrogant, and they’re ignorant and they’re not up to the task of moving the United States forward as a leading country in the world.

Obama Era School Discipline Reform Decreases Public School Scores, Increases Bad Behavior

Sheriff David Clarke:

Obama’s Justice and Education Departments fused social justice policies by attempting to undermine public school disciplinary policies in their 2014 initiative called the Positive Behavioral Supports and Intervention System (PBIS). Instead of objectively conducting a comparative analysis between disciplinary policies and outcomes in public schools along racial lines, PBIS spun reality to fit the former administration’s political agenda.

In medical school, bioethics students are taught the danger of making something worse than its present condition. The Latin phrase Primum non nocere means “first, to do no harm.” Similarly, the medical community preaches “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.” It reminds physicians to consider the possible harm that any intervention might have before proceeding. Obama’s DOE had no such ethical creed, as they should have done, when crafting PIBS.

Liberal politicians and academics rarely consider the effects of their short-sighted experiments on human subjects — students, inmates, and the like — as they analyze disparate impact. It’s commonly referred to as the law of unintended consequences. It has always been more important for liberals to feel as if they’ve done something for a perceived injustice than to worry that the outcome might be worse than what they were trying to remedy.

Related: Police presence in Madison’s taxpayer funded K-12 schools.

Leaked Internal Memo Reveals the ACLU Is Wavering on Free Speech

Robby Soave:

The American Civil Liberties Union will weigh its interest in protecting the First Amendment against its other commitments to social justice, racial equality, and women’s rights, given the possibility that offensive speech might undermine ACLU goals.

“Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed,” wrote ACLU staffers in a confidential memo obtained by former board member Wendy Kaminer.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than a cowardly retreat from a full-throated defense of the First Amendment. Moving forward, when deciding whether to take a free speech case, the organization will consider “factors such as the (present and historical) context of the proposed speech; the potential effect on marginalized communities; the extent to which the speech may assist in advancing the goals of white supremacists or others whose views are contrary to our values; and the structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.”

The memo also makes clear that the ACLU has zero interest in defending First Amendment rights in conjunction with Second Amendment rights. If controversial speakers intend to carry weapons, the ACLU “will generally not represent t

The myth of revealed preference for suburbs

Joe Cortright:

One of the chief arguments in favor of the suburbs is simply that that is where millions and millions of people actually live. If so many Americans live in suburbs, this must be proof that they actually prefer suburban locations to urban ones. The counterargument, of course, is that people can only choose from among the options presented to them. And the options for most people are not evenly split between cities and suburbs, for a variety of reasons, including the subsidization of highways and parking, school policies, and the continuing legacies of racism, redlining, and segregation. One of the biggest reasons, of course, is restrictive zoning, which prohibits the construction of new urban neighborhoods all over the country.
 
 But does zoning really act as a constraint on more compact, urban housing? Sure, some skeptics might say, it appears that local zoning laws prohibit denser housing and walkable retail districts. But in fact, city governments pass such strict laws because that’s what their constituents want. Especially within a metropolitan region with many different suburban municipalities, these governments are essentially competing for residents and businesses. If there were real demand for denser, walkable neighborhoods, wouldn’t some municipalities figure out that they could attract those people by allowing that type of development?

Harvard Office of Institutional Research on Discrimination Against Asian-American Applicants

Stephen Hsu:

Harvard’s Office of Institutional Research (OIR) produced a series of internal reports on discrimination against Asian-American applicants, beginning in 2013. I believe this was in response to Ron Unz’s late 2012 article The Myth of American Meritocracy. These reports were shared with, among others, William Fitzsimmons (Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid) and Rakesh Khurana (Dean of Harvard College). Faced with an internal investigation showing systemic discrimination against Asian-American applicants, Harvard killed the study and quietly buried the reports. The Students For Fair Admissions (SFFA) supporting memo for Summary Judgment contains excerpts from depositions of these and other Harvard leaders concerning the internal reports. (Starting p.15 — SAD!)

The second report included the figure below. Differences are in SDs, Asian = Asian-American (International applicants are distinct category), and Legacy and Recruited Athlete candidates have been excluded for this calculation.

Has Your School Been Investigated for Civil Rights Violations? 16 Cases have been brought against the Madison School District

Lena Groeger and Annie Waldman:

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education investigates thousands of school districts and colleges around the country for civil rights violations ranging from racial discrimination in school discipline to sexual violence. Related: DeVos Has Scuttled More Than 1,200 Civil Rights Probes Inherited from Obama →

For the first time ever, ProPublica is making available the status of all of the civil rights cases that have been resolved during the past three years, as well as pending investigations. See if your school district or college is being investigated for civil rights violations and why.

https://projects.propublica.org/graphics/civil-rights-violations#160

One citizen speaks for keeping cops in schools, gets race-baited by school board member; Part #1

David Blaska:

Bad Language + Bad Manners = Bad Policyat the Madison school board’s ad hoc committee on educational resource officers Monday afternoon

Who, exactly, is demanding cops out of schools? I noted that the crowd seated in Room 103 were pretty much the same mob who shouted down the Dane County Board of Supervisors when that ultra-liberal body discussed building a smaller and more humane county jail, one that would treat mental illness and address substance abuse.

Apologizing to the disrupters

It was at this point that the hullaballoo reached a deafening crescendo. One board member, T.J. Mertz, bugged out entirely. Committee chairman Dean Loumos (whom I was seated behind) shouted into my ear (to be heard above the cacophony) if I would be willing to stop right there. Given the pandemonium, I did so. Still had 17 seconds left of the allotted three minutes, but Blaska is public spirited.

Then Dean Loumos did the unforgivable. He apologized to the disrupters! Dean Loumos said he did not know Blaska would use “coded language.”

What coded language? The protestors were black, white, hispanic, and east Asian. Very few are parents. All but a handful are very young, very loud, and very obnoxious. I intend for Dean Loumos to explain or apologize. (We have video at Part #2.)

Related: Gangs and School Violence Forum (2005).

Police calls, Madison Schools 1996-2006.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: For the biggest group of American workers, wages aren’t just flat. They’re falling.

Jeff Stein and Andrew Van Dam:

This pool of workers includes those in manufacturing and construction jobs, as well as all “nonsupervisory” workers in service industries such health care or fast food. The group accounts for about four-fifths of the privately employed workers in America, according to BLS.

Without adjusting for inflation, these “nonsupervisory” workers saw their average hourly earnings jump 2.8 percent from last year. But that was not enough to keep pace with the 2.9 percent increase in inflation, which economists attributed to rising gas prices.

“This is very likely because of the spike in oil prices eating into inflation-adjusted earnings,” said Allen Sinai, chief global economist and strategist at Decision Economics. “We pay for energy-related costs out of our wages, out of our compensation. And it’s making a real impact.”

The fall in those wages has alarmed some economists, who say paychecks should be getting fatter at a time when unemployment is low and businesses are hiring.

The $1.5 Trillion Student Loan Debacle Hits a Tipping Point

Peter Wood:

What’s to be done about the large and growing number of Americans who cannot repay their student loans? There are two new developments. The New York Times reports, “Senators Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill on Thursday that would prevent states from suspending residents’ driver’s licenses and professional licenses over unpaid federal student loans.”

And The Wall Street Journal explains, “For decades, bankruptcy judges refused to consider reducing student loans. That is now changing, and some judges are throwing lifelines to people struggling to repay their debt.”

The Rubio/Warren bill, though it comes from the oddest of political bedfellows, makes a fair amount of sense. Depriving debtors of the means to repay their debts never seemed the smartest way to collect what they owed. The NYT reported last November that it had found 8,700 cases of student loan defaulters being stripped of their professional licenses, a figure that “most likely understated the true tally.” Tennessee appears to be the worse state in which not to repay student loans. Between 2012 and 2017, it went after the licenses of 5,400 student loan debtors.

Before giving too loud a hurrah for Rubio and Warren, however, it is worth considering why states passed such laws in the first place. Some student loan debtors, for example, do have the means to keep up with their repayments and simply choose not to. I’ve encountered several such individuals in the last few years—encountered because they boasted about it. What leverage does a state have to make such deadbeats pay up?

The wit and wisdom of Dr Johnson is still of benefit to us all

Frances Wilson:

The most irritating of recent publishing trends must be the literary self-help guide, and Henry Hitchings’s contribution to the genre will join a shelf now groaning with accounts of how Proust can change your life, how Adam Smith can change your life, what W.H. Auden can do for you, what Montaigne can tell us about how to live, what Tolstoy can teach us in troubled times, and a whole heap of nonsense about what Jane Austen has to say on the subjects of friendships, dating and getting married. The formula is simple: the workings of a vast and complex mind (the mind of Dr Johnson, said Boswell, resembled ‘the Coliseum at Rome’) are boiled down and served up, in bite-sized chunks, for a public assumed to no longer understand the purpose of literature, or how to read.

That said, Dr Johnson lends himself well to the business of moral instruction because moral instruction was his business. He was, as Samuel Beckett put it, a ‘wit and wisdom machine’, whose ‘death’, wrote Thomas Hobhouse in his elegy on the Great Cham, ‘shall teach the world to live’. Johnson’s teachings were once collected in books of aphorisms and Table Talk, and can now be found on fridge magnets: my own Hotpoint reminds me that ‘The man who is tired of London is tired of life’; ‘A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table, than when his wife talks Greek’; and wine ‘makes a man mistake thoughts for words’. Johnsonian erudition even extends to cucumbers, which ‘should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out’.

LAUSD’s Fiscal Crisis Can’t be Blamed on Charter Schools or Declining Enrollment

Lisa Snell:

Los Angeles Unified School District has lost 245,000 students over the last 15 years. Officials frequently claim charter schools are taking students and causing LAUSD’s budget crisis in the process. But a new report shows the district’s spending, including its hiring of more administrators as enrollment drops, is to blame.

A new Reason Foundation study finds only 35 percent of LAUSD’s enrollment decline over the past 15 years is due to students going to charter schools. In fact, as the district continues to lose students—losing 55,000 since 2013—a smaller percentage of the loss can be attributed to charter school students. Only 13 percent of the district’s enrollment loss for 2017-18 stemmed from students choosing charters.

In the last five years, LAUSD’s K-12 student enrollment dropped by nearly 10 percent and the number of teachers decreased by more than 5 percent. According to the California Department of Education, LAUSD’s per-student revenue went up 33 percent between FY 2012 and FY 2016 so LAUSD should have had more revenue to spend on fewer students.

But, even as it was losing students, the number of total LAUSD employees grew by 5 percent over the last five years, primarily thanks to a nearly 16 percent increase in administrators.

Locally, Madison spends far more than most, nearly $20,000 per student, yet we have long tolerated disastrous reading results.

A Movement Arises to Take Back Higher Education

Emily Esfhani Smith:

They started insisting on “trigger warnings” and demanding that controversial speakers be disinvited from campus. In fall 2015 a wave of highly publicized protests over racial issues hit Yale and the University of Missouri. In 2016 the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education recorded 43 attempts to disinvite speakers from campus. Then in 2017, mobs at Berkeley and Middlebury rioted against provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and social scientist Charles Murray.

Data back up these anecdotes. A 2017 survey by FIRE and YouGov found that 58% of students said it was “important to be part of a campus community where they are not exposed to intolerant or offensive ideas.” In a Brookings Institution survey from the same year, 1 in 5 students said using violence to stop a speaker was sometimes acceptable.

Judges sentence youth offenders to chess, with promising results

Monique Sedgwick:

Since January 2018, every Friday afternoon, one campus classroom in Canada is transformed. Tables are set up with two chairs facing one another; a chess set invites players to begin. An interactive white board shows a game in progress. Off to the side, another board is set up with a “chess problem.”

At half past one, the players begin to show up. The room fills with noisy young voices, sharing how their week has gone and clamouring for cookies and juice.

The scene is like any youth gathering, with one difference: Group home workers and probation officers are in attendance.

All of these youth are involved in the criminal justice system and are attending what’s known as the Chess for Life Program at Alberta’s University of Lethbridge as part of their sentence.

Sentencing practices for youth who engage in non-violent crimes have traditionally adopted a punitive approach — for example, ordering time in a juvenile detention centre. However, research suggests that punitive models have little impact on reducing the chances of reoffending.

Requesting action one more time on Wisconsin PI-34 teacher licensing

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, via a kind email:

Thanks to everyone who contacted the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) with concerns about the new teacher licensing rules drafted by DPI. As you know, PI-34 provides broad exemptions from the Wisconsin Foundations of Reading Test (FORT) that go way beyond providing flexibility for districts to deal with emergency teacher shortage situations.

As a result of written and oral testimony on PI-34, the JCRAR put a hold on PI-34 and will meet again on July 13th. We hope at that time they will seek modifications to the rule to more closely align with the statutory requirement that new elementary teachers, special education teachers, reading teachers, and reading specialists pass the FORT. This statute was passed for the protection of our beginning and struggling readers, and to encourage educator preparation programs to do a better job of covering this basic content information about reading acquisition. It is particularly critical in a state like Wisconsin where student reading scores are low for all sub-groups and have not improved for over two decades.

Of course, there is pushback from the people who recommended these licensing changes to DPI. Various associations of school administrators have urged their members to lobby the JCRAR members in favor of allowing individuals to become teachers of record without passing the FORT. The talking points they have provided to their members are enumerated below, along with our comments.

Please contact the JCRAR once more in advance of July 13th, asking them to maintain the integrity of the statutory FORT requirement. Following are the members of the committee:

Representative Ballweg (Co-Chair)

Senator Nass (Co-Chair)

Senator LeMahieu

Senator Stroebel

Senator Larson

Senator Wirch

Representative Neylon

Representative Ott

Representative Hebl

Representative Anderson

Talking Points for School District Administrators with WRC comments:

Wisconsin school districts are facing growing school staffing issues including high turnover, fewer applicants for positions, and candidate shortages in a variety of disciplines. With fewer new teachers entering the profession, new approaches to educator recruitment and retention are critical to ensure all children have access to high-quality educators. We are not opposed to an exemption from the FORT in true emergency cases where a district shows it is unable to hire a fully-licensed teacher, but we should not call these individuals high-qualified educators. We are opposed to allowing those licenses to be renewed year-after-year without the teacher passing the FORT. A one-year time limit for passing the FORT would be sufficient to help districts meet immediate candidate shortages while working toward having a highly-qualified educator in that classroom.

The licensure flexibility afforded under CR17-093 is universally supported by school leaders in their effort to address the growing workforce challenges faced by Wisconsin school districts. This is simply inaccurate. There are school leaders, both superintendents and school board members, who have spoken against exemptions from the FORT.

We must also point out that districts are currently operating under these proposed rule changes as part of the current Emergency Rule. These proposals are already making a positive difference in meeting these workforce challenges in districts throughout Wisconsin. This is also inaccurate. The current Emergency Rule is much narrower than the proposed PI-34. It allows 1-year, renewable licenses with a FORT exemption only if the district shows it cannot find a fully-licensed teacher. PI-34 allows any in-state or out-of-state college graduate to obtain a Tier I license and teach in districts that have not shown shortages.

School administrators support all aspects of the proposed rule but, of particular importance are the flexibilities and candidate expanding aspects in the Tier 1 license. This will allow for a much-needed district sponsored pathway to licensure, immediate licensure for out of state candidates, licensing for speech and language pathologists with a Department of Safety and Professional Services license and licensing for individuals coming into a district on an internship or residency status. These are effective, no-cost solutions to a significant workforce need in Wisconsin school districts. We are opposed to district-sponsored and out-of-state pathways to licensure where the candidates do not have to take and pass the same outcome exams required of other educators. There is no reason to hold these programs to a lower standard.

Educator licensure is simply a minimum requirement. District leadership is responsible for hiring and developing successful educators, and ultimately determining educator quality based on actual teacher performance and student outcomes. District administrators and families should be able to count on licensed applicants having the basic information about reading that they will need to successfully teach all students on day one. This is particularly important in districts that have fewer applicants from which to choose.

Reducing the Tier 1 license flexibility in the rule has the potential to impact as many as 2,400 teaching licenses, many of which are FORT-related stipulations. Any portion of these licensees that lose their ability to teach will exacerbate an already troubling workforce challenge and reduce educational opportunities for children. This concern can be met by maintaining an one-year emergency exception for districts that can show a fully-licensed candidate is not available. Eliminating the continuous renewal option for these licenses and requiring the FORT for district-sponsored and out-of-state pathway licenses will help ensure quality educational opportunities for children. The quality of the teachers is just as important as the quantity. Meanwhile, DPI should set appropriate standards in reading for educator preparation programs, and institute improvement plans for institutions that have low passing rates on the FORT. What does it say about Wisconsin that we have over 1400 teachers in the classroom under Emergency Rules specifically because they have not passed the FORT? At some point, we need to address the root of the problem if we are to have sufficient numbers of highly-qualified teachers for every beginning or struggling reader.

Foundations of Reading: Wisconsin’ only teacher content knowledge requirement…

Compare with MTEL

Mark Seidenberg on Reading:

“Too often, according to Mark Seidenberg’s important, alarming new book, “Language at the Speed of Sight,” Johnny can’t read because schools of education didn’t give Johnny’s teachers the proper tools to show him how”

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

Tony Evers, currently runnng for Governor, has lead the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction since 2009. I wonder if anyone has addressed Wisconsin achievement challenges vis a vis his DPI record?

An emphasis on adult employment, also Zimman.

Alan Borsuk:

“I didn’t have one phone call, I don’t have one email about this NAEP data. But my phone can ring all day if there’s a fight at a school or can ring all day because a video has gone out about a board meeting. That’s got to change, that’s just got to change. …

“My best day will be when we have an auditorium full of people who are upset because of our student performance and our student achievement and because of the achievement gaps that we have. My question is, where is our community around these issues?

Homeland Security’s Massive New Database Will Include Face Recognition, DNA, and Peoples’ “Non-Obvious Relationships”

Jennifer Lynch:

The records DHS plans to include in HART will chill and deter people from exercising their First Amendment protected rights to speak, assemble, and associate. Data like face recognition makes it possible to identify and track people in real time, including at lawful political protests and other gatherings. Other data DHS is planning to collect—including information about people’s “relationship patterns” and from officer “encounters” with the public—can be used to identify political affiliations, religious activities, and familial and friendly relationships. These data points are also frequently colored by conjecture and bias.

In late May, EFF filed comments criticizing DHS’s plans to collect, store, and share biometric and biographic records it receives from external agencies and to exempt this information from the federal Privacy Act. These newly-designated “External Biometric Records” (EBRs) will be integral to DHS’s bigger plans to build out HART. As we told the agency in our comments, DHS must do more to minimize the threats to privacy and civil liberties posed by this vast new trove of highly sensitive personal data.

Harvard University ‘discriminates against Asian-Americans’

BBC:

Harvard University is discriminating against Asian-American applicants, a non-profit group suing the flagship US academic institution has claimed.
Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) said Harvard preferred white, black and Hispanic applicants, some less qualified than Asian-American ones.
It said Harvard consistently ranked Asian-American applicants lowest on personal traits such as likeability.

Harvard denied this, saying admission rates for Asian-Americans had grown.

Asian-Americans currently make up 22.2% of students admitted to Harvard, according to the university website.

How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis

Stuart J. Ritchie, Elliot M. Tucker-Drob:

Intelligence test scores and educational duration are positively correlated. This correlation could be interpreted in two ways: Students with greater propensity for intelligence go on to complete more education, or a longer education increases intelligence. We meta-analyzed three categories of quasiexperimental studies of educational effects on intelligence: those estimating education-intelligence associations after controlling for earlier intelligence, those using compulsory schooling policy changes as instrumental variables, and those using regression-discontinuity designs on school-entry age cutoffs. Across 142 effect sizes from 42 data sets involving over 600,000 participants, we found consistent evidence for beneficial effects of education on cognitive abilities of approximately 1 to 5 IQ points for an additional year of education. Moderator analyses indicated that the effects persisted across the life span and were present on all broad categories of cognitive ability studied. Education appears to be the most consistent, robust, and durable method yet to be identified for raising intelligence.

The Wounds of the Drone Warrior

Eyal Press:

n the spring of 2006, Christopher Aaron started working 12-hour shifts in a windowless room at the Counterterrorism Airborne Analysis Center in Langley, Va. He sat before a wall of flat-screen monitors that beamed live, classified video feeds from drones hovering in distant war zones. On some days, Aaron discovered, little of interest appeared on the screens, either because a blanket of clouds obscured visibility or because what was visible — goats grazing on an Afghan hillside, for instance — was mundane, even serene. Other times, what unspooled before Aaron’s eyes was jarringly intimate: coffins being carried through the streets after drone strikes; a man squatting in a field to defecate after a meal (the excrement generated a heat signature that glowed on infrared); an imam speaking to a group of 15 young boys in the courtyard of his madrasa. If a Hellfire missile killed the target, it occurred to Aaron as he stared at the screen, everything the imam might have told his pupils about America’s war with their faith would be confirmed.

The infrared sensors and high-resolution cameras affixed to drones made it possible to pick up such details from an office in Virginia. But as Aaron learned, identifying who was in the cross hairs of a potential drone strike wasn’t always straightforward. The feed on the monitors could be grainy and pixelated, making it easy to mistake a civilian trudging down a road with a walking stick for an insurgent carrying a weapon. The figures on-screen often looked less like people than like faceless gray blobs. How certain could Aaron be of who they were? “On good days, when a host of environmental, human and technological factors came together, we had a strong sense that who we were looking at was the person we were looking for,” Aaron said. “On bad days, we were literally guessing.”

Initially, the good days outnumbered the bad ones for Aaron. He wasn’t bothered by the long shifts, the high-pressure decisions or the strangeness of being able to stalk — and potentially kill — targets from thousands of miles away. Although Aaron and his peers spent more time doing surveillance and reconnaissance than coordinating strikes, sometimes they would relay information to a commander about what they saw on-screen, and “60 seconds later, depending on what we would report, you would either see a missile fired or not,” he said. Other times, they would trail targets for months. The first few times he saw a Predator drone unleash its lethal payload — the camera zooming in, the laser locking on, a plume of smoke rising above the scorched terrain where the missile struck — he found it surreal, he told me. But he also found it awe-inspiring. Often, he experienced a surge of adrenaline, as analysts in the room exchanged high-fives.

What the marsh Arabs can teach us about Noah’s flood.

Nicolas Pelham:

Few places would better qualify for hell on earth. In Basra, gas flares from oil wells shoot upward. They turn the sky orange at night and bake what is already one of the hottest places on earth by day. The ground is cooked to toast. The wreckage of past invasions and wars litters a landscape otherwise unremittingly barren and flat. Most of the palm trees that covered the surface have either wilted or been severed by shells. Slums spill out of Iraq’s decrepit second city, adding the black stench of sewage to the assault on the senses.

Out of the desolation flow the cleansing, balmy waters of the Ahwar, Iraq’s marshes. Barely an hour’s drive north on the highway from Basra, left at a derelict paper mill, and beyond an army checkpoint, herds of water buffalo slide into the cool shallows and bathe between the bulrushes. I went there in February, as spring was coming, and found Razaq Jabbar, a wizened boatman in a traditional black tunic crisply buttoned to the neck, waiting by his motorized mashoof, or gondola. He invited me and my traveling companions—Jassim al-Asadi, a director of Nature Iraq, which works to revive the wetlands, and my guide, Abbas al-Jabouri, and his teenage son—aboard, and steered his boat through a maze of reeds that bristled above marshlands stretching reassuringly beyond the horizon. As he sailed, he regaled us with the same songs he had sung a few months earlier to the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, in the same boat. He moaned for lovers lost forever in the harsh desert and delighted in new ones found among the wetlands. We clapped in accompaniment as he turned primordial fertility myths into song.

The return of the marshlands after a century of planned and unplanned desiccation is like Noah’s flood in reverse. Ever since the 1970s, Turkey and Syria had dammed the Euphrates River and its tributaries, curtailing the annual deluge that cooled and enriched Iraq’s flatlands with water and silt from Anatolia’s snowcapped mountains. Formerly fast-flowing waters slowed to a trickle, or on occasion stopped altogether. Fields lost their fecundity and turned to crust. The Middle East’s largest wetlands shrank and dried.

Google Is Training Machines to Predict When a Patient Will Die

Mark Bergen:

The harrowing account of the unidentified woman’s death was published by Google in May in research highlighting the health-care potential of neural networks, a form of artificial intelligence software that’s particularly good at using data to automatically learn and improve. Google had created a tool that could forecast a host of patient outcomes, including how long people may stay in hospitals, their odds of re-admission and chances they will soon die.

What impressed medical experts most was Google’s ability to sift through data previously out of reach: notes buried in PDFs or scribbled on old charts. The neural net gobbled up all this unruly information then spat out predictions. And it did it far faster and more accurately than existing techniques. Google’s system even showed which records led it to conclusions.

Hospitals, doctors and other health-care providers have been trying for years to better use stockpiles of electronic health records and other patient data. More information shared and highlighted at the right time could save lives — and at the very least help medical workers spend less time on paperwork and more time on patient care. But current methods of mining health data are costly, cumbersome and time consuming.

“There are half a million species of beetles, why did God make so many?”

Freeman Dyson:

Just to clarify here for our readers, obviously, you’re poking holes in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution but you’re saying it only tells the story up to a certain point. What do you mean by that?
Well that he believed that evolution was driven by selection. That’s essentially Darwin’s contribution. And it’s true for big populations, but it has limits.

The limits are you need big populations in order for selection to be dominant. If you have small populations, then random drift is actually more important than selection. That’s the Kimura theory. Kimura called it the neutral theory of evolution and he wrote a book about it which was widely ignored by all the orthodox biologists.

But I think he was right. And in fact, it happens that small populations are very important in evolution. In fact, you have to have a small population to start a new species, almost by definition. So small populations have a controlling effect on starting new species and also in the extension of old species.

So this neutral regime where the selection is not important may, in fact, be the real driving force of evolution when you come to a new species. And of course, if that’s true, it changes the picture in many ways.

Darwin understood the difficulty. He asked the question “why is nature so diverse?”, he asked, “why do we have millions of species?” Darwin asked the question, in a beautiful way, “why did God love beetles? There are half a million species of beetles, why did God make so many?”

And it’s hard to understand that on the basis of selection. If selection were dominant, then you’d expect that there would be a few species of beetle which would prevail. They would be the best adapted and the others would disappear.

But in the real world, you have this enormous richness of species, many kinds of beetle and there are birds of paradise and there are all sorts of weird peacocks with peacock feathers which seem to be peculiarly unfit. And all those weird creatures which have prevailed for reasons that Darwin couldn’t explain. He understood that there was a problem and I think that the neutral theory of Kimura really does help a lot to understand that.

I tend to believe the answer is yes. There are so many details in the universe that seem to favour life and intelligence. It looks as if there is some purpose there, but certainly, we cannot decide that. It’s a matter of religion, not of science.

The Onion Declares War on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook

Megh Wright:

Remember when news broke earlier this year that Elon Musk had poached several Onion staffers for a mysterious new comedy project, then the Onion and ClickHole retaliated by publishing a ton of articles like “I Did Everything I Could To Buy ClickHole, But Their Editorial Integrity Won Out Over My Billion-Dollar Offers, And I Respect Them Even More For That (By Elon Musk)” and “Elon Musk Embarrassed After Realizing He Proposing Idea For Thing That Already Exists”? Well, another powerful tech billionaire — Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg — is the target of the Onion’s ire this week, and the result is deliciously and scathingly entertaining.

Design Thinking Is a Boondoggle

Lee Vinsel:

Do you know what design thinking is?

Your answer to that question will depend largely on where you sit. Design thinking is often centrally associated with the fabled design and consulting firm IDEO, most famous for crafting Apple’s first mouse and the look of the Palm V personal digital assistant. But in recent years, it is Stanford University’s design school (or “d.school” — their asinine punctuation, not mine) that has become most associated with design thinking. IDEO will charge you $399 for a self-paced, video-based design-thinking course, “Insights for Innovation.” Stanford will charge you $12,600 for a four-day “Design Thinking Bootcamp” called, likewise, “From Insights to Innovation.” Clearly, there’s money to be made from design thinking.

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Confusion is a common reaction to a “movement” that’s little more than floating balloons of jargon. If design thinking (for short, let’s call it the DTs) merely involved bilking some deluded would-be entrepreneurs, well — no harm no foul. The problem is that faddists and cult-followers are pushing the DTs as a reform for all of higher education. In the last couple of years, The Chronicle has published articles with titles like “Can Design Thinking Redesign Higher Ed?” and “Is ‘Design Thinking’ the New Liberal Arts?” The only reasonable answer to these questions is “Oh hell no.”

Both articles feature DT enthusiasts taking pilgrimages to Stanford’s d.school. In “Is ‘Design Thinking’ the New Liberal Arts?” Peter N. Miller, a professor of history and dean at Bard Graduate Center, explains the d.school’s various origins. First, there is the product-design program in Stanford’s engineering school. Second, there is the Esalen Institute, a retreat center in Big Sur and home to the Human Potential Movement and other New Age nonsense. Stanford community members started hanging out there in the 1960s, where they picked up terms like “creativity” and “empathy.” Finally, there is the Stanford design alum David Kelly, who got deeply into the empathy thing and started IDEO in 1978.

After founding the company, Kelly was an occasional instructor at Stanford. In 2005, he approached the software billionaire and IDEO fan-client Hasso Plattner, with, as Miller writes, “the idea of creating a home for design thinking.” Plattner donated $35 million, inaugurating the d.school, or what you might call “IDEO.edu.”

How an ultra-exclusive public school has avoided a citywide diversity push

Melissa Klein:

The children of Cynthia Nixon, Samantha Bee and Louis C.K. got into this popular public middle school, while hundreds of others are shut out every year.

The Center School has operated like a fiefdom on the Upper West Side, enrolling just 234 students in grades 5 to 8 with a mysterious admissions process that pledges diversity in race and ability but has resulted in a school that is mostly white, affluent and high-performing.

As the Upper West Side’s District 3 struggles to bring “academic diversity” and desegregation to the area, The Center School stands out as an island of privilege.

It would be exempt from the Department of Education proposal to require middle schools in District 3 give 25 percent of admissions priority to students scoring at the lowest two levels on state English and math tests.

Benedict Arnold’s ‘Villainous Perfidy’

Gordon Wood:

His path from wartime hero to resentful traitor.

It was once common knowledge, the story of Benedict Arnold—that extraordinarily successful patriot general who abruptly turned against the American Revolution. Because he had been so trusted by George Washington, Arnold was regarded as the worst of traitors. Indeed, his very name became synonymous with treachery and treason. Not so anymore. Nowadays many young Americans have no idea who Arnold was, and even those who have vaguely heard of the name have little sense of what he did and why “Benedict Arnold” has been a byword for betrayal through much of our history.

This loss of memory comes in part from a changing view of the revolution. In the hands of present-day teachers and professors the revolution is no longer the glorious cause it once was. It is now mostly taught—when it is taught at all—as a tale of woe and oppression, redressing what many academics believe was an overemphasis on the patriotism of great white men. “Those marginalized by former histories,” writes the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor in a recent introduction to current scholarship, “now assume centrality as our stories increasingly include Native peoples, the enslaved, women, the poor, Hispanics, and the French as key actors.” In his own narrative of the revolution, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, Taylor has painted a bleak picture of the event. Most of the patriots were not quite as patriotic as we used to think. The Southern planters, for example, engaged in the revolution principally to protect their property in enslaved Africans, but “implausibly blamed the persistence of slavery on the British.” Ordinary white men were even worse. In the West, where the fighting was especially vicious and bloody, they tended to run wild and slaughter Indians in pursuit of their “genocidal goals.” In the end, writes Taylor, it was a white man’s revolution whose success came at the expense of everyone else—blacks, Indians, and women.

School’s Closed. Forever.

Julie Bosman:

Ten-year-old Lola Roske grabbed her backpack and headed to elementary school for the last day of class, the final check on her to-do list before the unstructured bliss of summer.

At drop-off, her mother, Kellie Roske, was determined not to linger. All around her, parents were hugging their children. Teachers were brushing away tears.

“I surprisingly held it together,” said Ms. Roske, who for weeks had steeled herself for an “ugly-cry day.”

If Trump wants to blow up the world order, who will stop him?

Yanis Varoufakis :

Donald Trump’s early departure, and his subsequent refusal to endorse the G7 communique, has thrown the mainstream press into an apoplexy reflecting a deeper incomprehension of our unfolding global reality.

In a bid to mix toughness with humour, Emmanuel Macron had quipped that the G7 might become the … G6. That’s absurd, not least because without the United States, capitalism as we know it (let alone the pitiful G7 gatherings) would disappear from the planet’s face.

There is, of course, little doubt that with Trump in the White House there is an awful lot we should be angst-ridden about. However, the establishment’s reaction to the president’s shenanigans, in the United States and in Europe, is perhaps an even greater worry for progressives, replete as it is with dangerous wishful thinking and copious miscalculation.

Some put their faith in the Mueller investigation, assuming that Mike Pence would be kinder to them as president. Others are holding their breath until 2020, refusing to consider the possibility of a second term. What they all fail to grasp is the very real tectonic shifts underpinning Trump’s uncouth antics.

Most Americans’ Wages Have Actually Declined Over the Past Year

Eric Levitz:

The second question is easier answer than the first. There is essentially no evidence that the president’s tax cuts (his sole piece of major economic legislation) did anything to significantly improve America’s macroeconomic performance. Since that legislation’s passage, economic growth in the U.S. has actually slowed; consumer spending and wage growth has been tepid; and business investment, unremarkable.

One can reasonably credit Trump for successfully avoiding any policy mistake disastrous enough to derail the expansion he inherited (a preemptive war with North Korea, for example). But his entrance into the Oval Office did not coincide with any significant, positive change in the economy’s preexisting trend line. If you do not own a pass-through business or a significant amount of corporate stock, chances are Trump has personally done nothing to significantly improve your economic circumstances.

This Man Is the Godfather the AI Community Wants to Forget

Ashlee Vance:

Many of the biggest names in the technology industry are consumed with developing an artificial general intelligence, or AGI. Unlike today’s leading artificial intelligence software, an AGI wouldn’t need flesh-and-blood trainers to figure out how to translate English to Mandarin or spot tumors in an X-ray. In theory, it would have some measure of independence from its creators, solve complex, novel problems on its own, and herald an era in which humankind is no longer superior to machines.
The consensus among our pitiful fleshbrains is that if humans ever manage to create an AGI, it’ll arise in Mountain View, Calif., Beijing, or Moscow. All three cities are near world-class AI research universities and are home to companies that have pumped billions into the AGI race. There exists, however, a chance that the breakthrough will come from the Swiss city of Lugano. Yes, Lugano.
The picturesque slice of Switzerland’s southern tip is home to about 60,000 people, including a computer scientist named Jürgen Schmidhuber. He’s a professor, a researcher, and the co-founder of a 25-employee AI startup called Nnaisense. (Pronounced like “nascence,” the name is proof that Silicon Valley holds no monopoly on ridiculous company names.) Schmidhuber is a pioneer who effectively figured out how to give AI systems memories. His ideas appear in one form or another in just about every smartphone, social network, and digital assistant. He’s not shy to mention these things, or to cite reams of documentation to back himself up, or to say things like, “My team plans to change the course of human history,” in between bites of salmon lasagna at a Lugano cafe.

In Harvard Affirmative Action Suit, Filings to Provide Rare Look at Admissions Process

Melissa Korn and Nicole Hong:

A closely watched lawsuit accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian-American applicants is approaching a critical juncture, as court filings later this week are expected to reveal new details about how the school’s undergraduate admissions process affects different ethnic and racial groups.

Both sides are due to submit lengthy documents Friday in Boston federal court that will serve as a preview for an October bench trial, in which a federal judge will decide whether the school’s affirmative-action practices are unconstitutional or illegal under federal civil-rights law.

The lawsuit against Harvard was filed in 2014 by Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit whose members include Asian-American students who were denied admission to Harvard.

The plaintiffs allege Harvard intentionally discriminates against Asian-Americans by limiting the number of Asian-American students who are admitted and holding them to a higher standard than students of other races.

Friday’s motions are likely to include thousands of pages of supporting documents both sides have gathered over the past two years, including dozens of depositions and statistical analyses of detailed admissions data covering six years, during which roughly 200,000 people applied to Harvard.

Has Consciousness Lost Its Mind?

Tom Bartlett:

Start with Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra, and a robot that loves you no matter what. Add a knighted British physicist, a renowned French neuroscientist, and a prominent Australian philosopher/occasional blues singer. Toss in a bunch of psychologists, mathematicians, anesthesiologists, artists, meditators, a computer programmer or two, and several busloads of amateur theorists waving self-published manuscripts and touting grand unified solutions. Send them all to a swanky resort in the desert for a week, supply them with lots of free coffee and beer, and ask them to unpack a riddle so confounding that it’s unclear how to make progress or where you’d even begin.

Then just, like, see what happens.

The cover of the program for the Science of Consciousness conference, held recently in Tucson, shows a human brain getting sucked into (or perhaps rising from?) a black hole. That seems about right: After a week of listening to eye-crossingly detailed descriptions of teeny-tiny cell structures known as microtubules, along with a lecture about building a soundproof booth in order to chat with the whispery spirit world, you too would feel as if your neurons had been siphoned from your skull and launched deep into space.

Oh, by the way, attendees could also take a gong bath, during which you’re bathed in the musical vibrations of a gong being struck. Or lie down in a curiously unsupervised and unstable-looking sensory-deprivation chamber. Or take a black-light yoga class, which involves — as the name suggests — doing yoga in a room illuminated by black light accompanied by a DJ pumping out frenetic techno beats. Meanwhile, a company offered demos of a brain-stimulation device that had to be inserted way too far up one nostril. And an enthusiastic fellow demonstrated his Spontaneous Postural Alignment technique, in which a misaligned subject’s elbow is tapped with a gold medallion while the healer intones, “boy-yoi-yoing.”

‘Forget the Facebook leak’: China is mining data directly from workers’ brains on an industrial scale

Stephen Chen:

On the surface, the production lines at Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric look like any other.

Workers outfitted in uniforms staff lines producing sophisticated equipment for telecommunication and other industrial sectors.

But there’s one big difference – the workers wear caps to monitor their brainwaves, data that management then uses to adjust the pace of production and redesign workflows, according to the company.

The company said it could increase the overall efficiency of the workers by manipulating the frequency and length of break times to reduce mental stress.

Commentary on Madison’s Sherman Middle School’s Principal

Chris Rickert:

Foreman, who did not respond to requests for comment, says in a letter to Sherman staff earlier this week that she will be making “some key changes in my leadership approach” in the coming school year, which she coins the “year of renewal.” Among them are meeting with teachers union officials to discuss more regular communication, and being more accessible to staff and families and more visible in the building.

In her statement, Cheatham said district officials take feedback from Sherman staff and parents seriously and met with them last semester to “understand the concerns and to create a plan to address them.

“We also understand that, for some, this progress has not been fast enough,” she said.

Related: Madison teacher Karen Vieth.

Sherman Middle School.

Reasonableness Without Reasons: Yascha Mounk’s “The People vs. Democracy”

Jonny Thakkar:

“THE STAKES OF politics have become existential,” writes Yascha Mounk in The People vs. Democracy, pitched as a bracing call to arms for all those who fear that the foundations of liberal democracy are being rapidly eroded. “In the years to come, it may take more and more courage to stand up for what we hold dear.”

Apocalyptic visions are in vogue, it seems: Mounk’s book on contemporary threats to liberal democracy, subtitled “Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It,” might easily be sold as part of a millenarian package deal with Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die, Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, and Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West.

What distinguishes Mounk’s contribution to the genre, for good and ill, is what we might call its fundamental Voxiness — its currency in the cafe society of liberal Washington. At the level of form, Voxiness combines a seemingly insatiable desire to convey the latest social science with a correspondingly steadfast refusal of wide-ranging normative argument. This is what generates its astonishing capacity, at the level of content, to somehow both overturn conventional wisdom and affirm the preexisting beliefs of reasonable people.

Passe presomptif

Peter Thonemann:

The first date in English History, according to 1066 and All That, is 55 BC, the year of Julius Caesar’s memorable landing at Thanet. “The Ancient Britons”, Sellar and Yeatman remind us, “were by no means savages before the Conquest, and had already made great strides in civilisation, e.g. they buried each other in long round wheelbarrows (agriculture) and burnt each other alive (religion) under the guidance of even older Britons called Druids or Eisteddfods . . . . The Roman Conquest was, however, a Good Thing, since the Britons were only natives at that time.”

The Truth About America’s Graduation Rate

Anya Kamenetz:

To find out, NPR Ed enlisted the help of 14 reporters at member stations around the country. We identified three major ways that states and districts try to improve their graduation rates.

1 Stepping in early to keep kids on track.

2 Lowering the bar by offering alternate and easier routes when students falter.

3 Gaming the system by moving likely dropouts off the books, transferring or misclassifying them.

Commentary on Madison’s recent graduation rate rhetoric.

Madison School District Response To Open Records Requests Called “Ugly”

Simpson Street Free Press:

Open records watchdogs and clean government advocates call responses by Madison school officials to open records inquires “ugly.”

A recent report distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and published in the Wisconsin State Journal says the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) would not fulfill a request for information about public records without payment. Responding to a specific request, filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), the Madison district required a payment of more than $1,000 to provide the requested information.

WILL attorneys Tom Kamenick and Libby Sobic say large school districts like Madison and Milwaukee “need to devote more resources to complying with open records law.”

According to an attorney representing MMSD, the Madison district does not have a system in place for tracking open records requests, hence its extremely high price in this case.

Writing in the Wisconsin State Journal, Kamenick says that while records custodians are allowed to charge fees for locating records, schools districts that need so much time to locate records are apparently not doing a good job of tracking requests.

“It should not be so hard to find out how well any government entity complies with the law,” Kamenick said.

Testing the populace before they can vote

Dambisa Moyo:

I have been examining electoral systems across the world. In many democracies, including the US and UK, migrants are required to pass government-sanctioned civic tests in order to gain citizenship. So, in this vein, why not give all voters a test of their knowledge? This would ensure minimum standards that should lead to higher-quality decision-making by the electorate. The message this would send is that voting is not just a right, but one that has to be earned. Such testing would not only lead to a better-informed electorate, but also to voters who are more actively engaged.

Of course, such a system would be truly democratic only if everybody had a fair chance of casting their vote. It is vital that those with fewer life opportunities have their say, and we cannot have a system that is skewed against the worst educated, which would leave poorer people even more marginalised and unrepresented than they already are. To that end, the knowledge needed should be part of the core curriculum, with young people tested in their final year of secondary education. Governments could also organise tests for those over school age.

But if we raise the bar for voters, we must also do so for politicians. Improving the quality and credibility of political leaders is essential to enhancing democracy’s legitimacy. One approach is to move away from the career politician model by setting minimum experience requirements for politicians.

In the Snatches of Free Time: On Collecting Roland Barthes

Ayten Tartici:

IN AN 1885 letter to Paul Verlaine, Stéphane Mallarmé grumbled that all the thousands of bits, shreds, and fragments he had written over the years “make up an album, but not a book” [composent un album, mais pas un livre]. In 19th-century France, the album, echoing its Latin root albus (white), was an actual notebook of blank pages to which one’s friends and acquaintances contributed drawings, poems, and even musical scores (think of it as a yearbook on steroids, assembled just for your enjoyment). In the last course he ever offered at the Collège de France before his untimely death, Roland Barthes revived Mallarmé’s distinction, pitting the album and the book against one another as literary forms: if the album is circumstantial, discontinuous, and lacking in structure, the book is an ordered totality basking in its own architectural design. Mallarmé’s Divagations is an album, he readily agrees; Dante’s The Divine Comedy, a book.

The Defeat of Reason

Tim Maudlin:

People are gullible. Humans can be duped by liars and conned by frauds; manipulated by rhetoric and beguiled by self-regard; browbeaten, cajoled, seduced, intimidated, flattered, wheedled, inveigled, and ensnared. In this respect, humans are unique in the animal kingdom.

Aristotle emphasizes another characteristic. Humans alone, he tells us, have logos: reason. Man, according to the Stoics, is zoön logikon, the reasoning animal. But on reflection, the first set of characteristics arises from the second. It is only because we reason and think and use language that we can be hoodwinked.

Not only can people be led astray, most people are. If the devout Christian is right, then committed Hindus and Jews and Buddhists and atheists are wrong. When so many groups disagree, the majority must be mistaken. And if the majority is misguided on just this one topic, then almost everyone must be mistaken on some issues of great importance. This is a hard lesson to learn, because it is paradoxical to accept one’s own folly. You cannot at the same time believe something and recognize that you are a mug to believe it. If you sincerely judge that it is raining outside, you cannot at the same time be convinced that you are mistaken in your belief. A sucker may be born every minute, but somehow that sucker is never oneself.

A sucker may be born every minute, but somehow that sucker is never oneself.

The two books under consideration here bring the paradox home, each in its own way. Adam Becker’s What Is Real? chronicles the tragic side of a crowning achievement of reason, quantum physics. The documentarian Errol Morris gives us The Ashtray, a semi-autobiographical tale of the supremely influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) by Thomas S. Kuhn. Both are spellbinding intellectual adventures into the limits, fragility, and infirmity of human reason. Becker covers the sweep of history, from the 1925 birth of the “new” quantum physics up through the present day. Morris’s tale is more picaresque. Anecdotes, cameos, interviews, historical digressions, sly sidenotes, and striking illustrations hang off a central spine that recounts critical episodes in the history of analytic philosophy.

Chinese school installs facial recognition cameras to monitor students

Reuters:

The “Big Brother” strategy underscores how AI and facial recognition tools are increasingly being used in China for a host of tasks, from verifying payments and catching criminals to checking the audience at big entertainment events and customers at fast-food joints.

The ubiquitous cameras – part of daily life in most big Chinese cities – are part of an array of surveillance technologies that have raised worries about privacy.

“The system only collects students’ facial expressions and behavior information,” the school’s vice principal, Zhang Guanqun, told news outlet the Paper.

Biology Will Be the Next Great Computing Platform

Megan Molteni:

In some ways, Synthego looks like any other Silicon Valley startup. Inside its beige business park facilities, a five-minute drive from Facebook HQ, rows of nondescript black server racks whir and blink and vent. But inside the metal shelving, the company isn’t pushing around ones and zeros to keep the internet running. It’s making molecules to rewrite the code of life.

Crispr, the powerful gene-editing tool, is revolutionizing the speed and scope with which scientists can modify the DNA of organisms, including human cells. So many people want to use it—from academic researchers to agtech companies to biopharma firms—that new companies are popping up to staunch the demand. Companies like Synthego, which is using a combination of software engineering and hardware automation to become the Amazon of genome engineering. And Inscripta, which wants to be the Apple. And Twist Bioscience, which could be the Intel.

Civics: Canada’s ‘Random’ Immigration Lottery Uses Microsoft Excel, Which Isn’t Actually Random

AJ Dellinger:

Last year, Canada introduced a new lottery system used to extend permanent-resident status to the parents and grandparents of Canadian citizens. The process was designed to randomly select applicants in order to make the process fairer than the old first-come, first-served system. There’s just one problem: the software used to run the lottery isn’t actually random.

The Globe and Mail reported the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) uses Microsoft Excel to run the immigration lottery to select 10,000 people for permanent resident status from a field of about 100,000 applications received each year. Experts warned that the random number generating function in Excel isn’t actually random and may put some applicants at a disadvantage.

First, it’s best to understand just how the lottery system works. An Access to Information request filed by The Globe and Mail shows that IRCC inputs the application number for every person entering the lottery into Excel, then assigns them a random number to each using a variation of the program’s RAND command. They then sort the list from smallest to largest based on the random number assigned and take the first 10,000 applications with the lowest numbers.

The system puts a lot of faith in Excel’s random function, which it might not deserve. According to Université de Montréal computer science professor Pierre L’Ecuyer, Excel is “very bad” at generating random numbers because it relies on an old generator that is out of date. He also warned that Excel doesn’t pass statistical tests and is less random than it appears, which means some people in the lottery may actually have a lower chance of being selected than others.

The forgotten factor in student achievement: the student

Valerie Strauss & Will Fitzhugh:

Will Fitzhugh is the founder and editor of The Concord Review, believed to be the world’s only English-language quarterly review for history academic papers by high school students. The Review, founded in Massachusetts in March 1987, comes out four times a year and has published more than 1,000 history research papers—with an average of 6,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography—from secondary student authors in 44 states and 39 other countries. The latest edition, Winter 2013, includes research papers on Jackie Robinson, the Proclamation of 1763 and the German Navy in World War I.

It should come as no surprise that Fitzhugh has long called for a requirement that no high school student be permitted to graduate without having produced at least one serious research paper in history. As it is today, most students graduate from high school without having written one in any subject.

Fitzhugh is also a strong advocate for holding students responsible for their own work, noting in an e-mail, correctly, that if teachers are the only “moving part” in the classroom, then “there is no room, literally, for the agency of students.” In the current school reform era in which the focus has been on the effectiveness of teachers and to a lesser extent principals, his message has special resonance.

Here’s a piece that Fitzhugh wrote on the subject:

It is settled wisdom among Funderpundits and those to whom they give their grants that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality, but I have regularly pointed out that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work.

Now, however, a small number of other dissenting voices have begun to speak. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, in Academically Adrift have suggested that (p. 131) “Studying is crucial for strong academic performance…” and “Scholarship on teaching and learning has burgeoned over the past several decades and has emphasized the importance of shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning…”

This may seem unacceptably heterodox to those in government and the private sector who have committed billions of dollars to focusing on the selection, training, supervision, and control of K-12 teachers, while giving no thought to whether K-12 students are actually doing the academic work which they are assigned.

In 2004, Paul A. Zoch, a teacher from Texas, wrote in Doomed to Fail:

“Let there be no doubt about it: the United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.”

More recently, and less on the fringe of this new concern, Diane Ravitch wrote in Death and Life of the Great American School System:

“One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

There are necessarily problems in turning attention toward the work of students in judging the effectiveness of schools. First, all the present attention is on teachers, and it is not easy to turn that around. Second, teachers are employees and can be fired, while students can not. It could not be comfortable for the Funderpundits and their beneficiaries to realize that they may have been overlooking the most important variable in student academic achievement all this time.

In February, when the Associated Press reported that Natalie Monroe, a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, had called her students, on a blog, “disengaged, lazy whiners,” and “noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS,” the response of the school system was not to look more closely at the academic efforts of the students, but to suspend the teacher. As one of her students explained, “As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything…(but) It’s a teacher’s job…to give students the motivation to learn.” (sic)

It would seem that no matter who points out that “You can lead a student to learning, but you can’t make him drink,” our systems of schools and Funderpundits stick with their wisdom that teachers alone are responsible for student academic achievement.

While that is wrong, it is also stupid. Alfred North Whitehead (or someone else) once wrote:

“For an education, a man’s books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his.”

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be—namely the students.

Apart from scores on math and reading tests after all, student academic work is ignored by all those interested in paying to change the schools. What students do in literature, Latin, chemistry, math, and Asian history classes is of no interest to them. Liberal education is not only on the back burner for those focused on basic skills and job readiness as they define them, but that burner is also turned off at present.

This situation will persist as long as those funding programs and projects for reform in education pay no attention to the actual academic work of our students. And students, who see little or no pressure to be other than “disengaged lazy whiners” will continue to pay the price for their lack of education, both in college and at work, and we will continue to draw behind in comparison with those countries who realize that student academic achievement has always been, and will always be, mainly dependent on diligent student academic work.

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valerie11
7:50 AM EST

YES! YES! YES! YES!

My high school senior has done very little writing, short essays at best and absolutely no research paper. And this is with 6 humanities type AP classes. He did far more writing and research in the middle school humanities program.

Students at our high school aren’t asked to do any work of substance. From talking with parents, students in high school magnet or IB programs, and maybe a few others, are the only ones who learn how to do research and write.

MCPS does not hold high expectations and standards equally for all its high school students.

Heefner
7:31 AM EST

Thank you, Valerie. I had planned to rail against Common Core Curriculum at tonight’s school board meeting, but intend to read your column during public comment instead.

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TrinityPrez
7:23 AM EST

Fitzhugh is quite right. The consequences of the “blame the teacher” emphasis in K-12 become even clearer in college when students must become self-directed learners and produce a great deal of original research and writing. Many struggle with the basic academic work-products like short term papers and essays that have no plagiarism. Some students even say that plagiarism is not a problem because their job is simply to assemble other people’s knowledge. When students grow up taking zero ownership for their own learning, they learn almost nothing. Standardized tests measure only one narrow band of knowledge. For students to develop and manifest broad and deep talents in critical reasoning and synthesis, research, writing and quantitative analysis, they must learn to produce substantial amounts of their own work for critical assessment. For students to know how to do this kind of work, they must learn from first grade that their engagement is central to the learning contract.