First space, then auto—now Elon Musk quietly tinkers with education

Mark Harris:

“I just didn’t see that the regular schools were doing the things that I thought should be done,” he told a Chinese TV station in 2015. “So I thought, well let’s see what we can do. Maybe creating a school will be better.”

In an atmosphere closer to a venture capital incubator than a traditional school, today’s Ad Astra students undertake challenging technical projects, trade using their own currency, and can opt out of subjects they don’t enjoy. Children from 7 to 14 years old work together in teams, with few formal assessments and no grades handed out.

Ad Astra’s principal hopes that the school will revolutionize education in the same way Tesla has disrupted transportation, and SpaceX the rocket industry. But as Musk’s sons near graduation age, the future of Ad Astra is unclear. Will Musk maintain interest in the school once his children move on? And even if he does, can a school of fewer than 40 students ever be anything more than a high-tech crèche for already-privileged children?

The Extinction of the Middle Child They’re becoming an American rarity, just when America could use them the most.

Adam Sternbergh:

I don’t need to ask you what you’re doing on August 12, 2018. You’re no doubt planning to attend your local Middle Child Day parade, or take in a lecture on Famous Middle Children Throughout History (Abraham Lincoln, Anne Hathaway, Jan Brady), or perhaps treat your own middle child (or middle children — after all, every child born after the first and before the last is technically a middle) to a special Middle Child’s dinner, then come home and cut your Happy Middle Child Day cake into several perfectly equal pieces, then crack open a bottle of Middle Sister wine to celebrate. (It’s a real product, created for “middle sisters everywhere.”)

Or, more likely, you’re doing none of these things, because you had no idea that August 12 is National Middle Child Day. I am a middle child, and until very recently, I had no idea. Of course, to middle children, this exact brand of ambient neglect is what defines being a middle: Not the lionized firstborn, adored and groomed to succeed, and not the coddled lastborn, the baby of the family, who benefits from inexhaustible attention and experienced parents. No, the middle child is just that — the middle. Excluded, forgotten, shoved into the role of de facto peacemaker among squabbling kinfolk, stripped rudely at an early age of the privileged status as the youngest and taught instead to accept benign indifference from siblings, parents, and the world.

So here’s a suggestion as to how you can spend the next National Middle Child Day: contemplating the extinction of the middle child. Because, like the mountain gorilla and the hawksbill turtle, the American Middle Child is now an endangered species. As the ideal number of children per family has shrunk to two — that’s not me speaking, it’s demographics — the middle child, in a very real sense, is disappearing. According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 1976, “the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children.” Read that again: In the ’70s, four kids (or more) was the most common family unit. Back then, 40 percent of mothers between 40 and 44 had four or more children. Twenty-five percent had three kids; 24 percent had two; and 11 percent had one.

Schools borrow retailers’ approach in analyzing consumer databases; triggering online ads

Melissa Korn:

Houston Baptist University found a new way to appeal to prospective graduate students: boats.

The university hired higher-education consulting firm EAB to analyze a vast consumer database aiming to identify potential applicants the same way retailers find shoppers. EAB created a demographic and psychographic profile of Houston Baptist’s enrolled students and found a high percentage had interests in recreational boating and fishing. They also liked to travel, and many had kids, so their schedules were packed tight.

Houston Baptist’s next Facebook advertisement used a picture of a woman fishing with her children, suggesting adults could go to school and still have time for family fun. Another featured a woman checking flight times at an airport, referencing the global opportunities available to business students—75% of whom indicated an interest in travel.

Consumer-driven marketing, as EAB calls it, is the latest step in universities’ efforts to enroll adult students and build up a new revenue stream as the number of new high-school graduates stagnates.

University of Iowa to close 7 centers, slash support to 5 others and cut jobs of 33 people

Kathy Bolten:

In 2008, 49 percent of the universities’ revenue came from state aid and 45 percent from tuition. Last year, tuition generated 63 percent of revenue, compared with 32 percent for state aid.

In addition, the universities have undergone mid-year budget cuts the past two years. In March, both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University were told to find $11 million to cut from their budgets with just three months left in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The centers that the University of Iowa will close include:

More Students Are Getting Special Help in Grades K-12

Douglas Belkin and Tawnell D. Hobbs:

More students are getting extra help for a range of issues including ADHD and anxiety, data show, with a disproportionate amount of those receiving support attending schools in wealthier districts.

From the 2009-10 school year to 2015-16, the number of public school students in kindergarten through 12th grade granted accommodations known as 504 plans more than doubled, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data.

504 plans are designed to level the academic playing field for K-12 students who face a variety of physical and emotional challenges by providing services such as extended time for tests, including college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT.

The data show high rates of students receiving accommodations in wealthier districts and lower rates in poorer ones. In some wealthy schools, as many as one in five students receive this type of accommodation.

Awareness and diagnoses of mental-health issues have been rising in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Factors in the lopsided growth include gaps in both resources at schools and information among parents about the plans, advocates say.

Mozart on how to unlock your inner creative genius

Mayo Oshin:

In 1787, one of history’s most prolific and influential music composers had just arrived in Prague for a second time.

Over the next few days, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would oversee the rehearsals of the first performance of his new opera — Don Giovanni.

As the final rehearsals were coming to a close, Mozart and the orchestral conductor —Johann Baptist Kucharz, exchanged words in a brief conversation.

During their conversation, Mozart made a distinct comment:

“I have spared neither care nor labor to produce something excellent for Prague. Moreover, It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.” (1)

The premiere of Don Giovanni – then titled “Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni” took place at the National Theatre — in Prague on October 29 1787.

Large randomized controlled trial finds state pre-k program has adverse effects on academic achievement

straight talk on evidence:

In this report we discuss newly-published findings from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of Tennessee’s voluntary prekindergarten (pre-k) program for low-income children (Lipsey, Farran, and Durkin 2018). We are highlighting this study for two reasons. First, the effectiveness of state and local pre-k programs is a topic of high policy importance. Approximately 28 percent of the nation’s four-year-olds are enrolled in pre-k programs funded by states, municipalities, or school districts—a number that has grown rapidly over time (Chaudry and Datta 2017)—and policy officials often tout pre-k as a powerful tool for closing school achievement gaps between minorities and whites and increasing earnings later in life (e.g., Executive Office of the President 2015).

Second, this study provides uniquely credible evidence on the topic. It is the first large RCT of a state-funded pre-k program, and one of only two such studies ever conducted of public preschool programs—the other being the national RCT of the federal Head Start program. Other studies of public or private preschool programs have had weaknesses that limit the reliability of their findings, such as lack of random assignment (e.g., Oklahoma universal pre-k, Chicago Child-Parent Centers) or small samples and imperfect randomization (e.g., Perry Preschool Project, Abecedarian Project).

What did the Tennessee study find? Like the Head Start RCT, it found positive effects on student achievement at the end of the pre-k year (e.g., their ability to identify letters and words), but these effects dissipated as children entered elementary school and—in the case of Tennessee—turned modestly negative by third grade, with the control group outperforming the pre-k group in math and science achievement. Here’s a brief overview of the newly-published third-grade findings in Tennessee:

Black men are succeeding in America

W. Bradford Wilcox, Wendy R. Wang, and Ronald B. Mincy:

In recent years, much of the racial news in America has been sobering, if not depressing. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Ferguson. Baltimore. And Charlottesville. While many public commentators, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, have underlined the enduring character of racism in America, and the ways in which America’s racial divide has exacted a particular kind of toll on black men and boys, there is today, unheralded, good news about African-American men.

What Effect Did the New Orleans School Reforms Have on Student Achievement, High School Graduation, and College Outcomes?

Douglas N. Harris and Matthew F. Larsen:

The New Orleans school reforms represent the first time in the last century that the traditional U.S. government-driven system of K-12 schooling has been completely replaced by a market-driven one. In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the state took over almost all of the city’s public schools from the local school district and then turned them over to non-profit organizations. These charter schools had autonomy over personnel decisions and almost all other matters and were held accountable to the state through performance-based contracts. Instead of assigning students to schools based on the neighborhoods they lived in, the new system allowed families to choose schools from across the city, and schools began receiving funding based almost entirely on the number of students they attracted.

This study builds on our earlier analysis where we estimated the effect of the entire package of market-based reforms on test scores through 2012. Our method entails essentially subtracting the improvements in New Orleans from those in a carefully matched comparison group of students, schools, and districts elsewhere in Louisiana, and adjusting the result for any remaining demographic differences between the groups. Here, we use this method to examine a wider range of outcomes through 2014. We find that for New Orleans:

Teachers Unions Scramble to Save Themselves After Supreme Court’s Blow

Erica Green:

The American Federation of Teachers and its state affiliates like the New York State United Teachers are hoping to counter Janus with aggressive “recommitment” campaigns. The union has focused on 18 states with the largest numbers of public employees. The day before the Janus decision came down, they reported that of the 800,000 members in those states, they had secured more than 500,000 membership cards over the past five months.

On a recent Saturday, 45 educators — bus drivers, adjunct faculty, teachers — attended a membership organizing institute in Albany’s union headquarters, preparing to fan out for door-knocking in the community. A smartphone app allowed them to access and share information about their potential recruits. But much of the training was focused on a skill that will be crucial for the union’s survival: listening.

Tech’s ‘Dirty Secret’: The App Developers Sifting Through Your Gmail

Douglas MacMillan:

But the internet giant continues to let hundreds of outside software developers scan the inboxes of millions of Gmail users who signed up for email-based services offering shopping price comparisons, automated travel-itinerary planners or other tools. Google does little to police those developers, who train their computers—and, in some cases, employees—to read their users’ emails, a Wall Street Journal examination has found.

One of those companies is Return Path Inc., which collects data for marketers by scanning the inboxes of more than two million people who have signed up for one of the free apps in Return Path’s partner network using a Gmail, Microsoft Corp. or Yahoo email address. Computers normally do the scanning, analyzing about 100 million emails a day. At one point about two years ago, Return Path employees read about 8,000 unredacted emails to help train the company’s software, people familiar with the episode say.

In another case, employees of Edison Software, another Gmail developer that makes a mobile app for reading and organizing email, personally reviewed the emails of hundreds of users to build a new feature, says Mikael Berner, the company’s CEO.

University of Michigan must give student live hearing in sex assault case, court rules

Darcie Moran:

A federal judge has ordered that the University of Michigan allow a live hearing for a student accused of sexual assault.

The student, identified only as “John Doe” in the filings, has alleged that the university is violating his due process rights during an ongoing investigation into whether he violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy.

The decision Friday comes in response to a request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction in the federal lawsuit filed in June. It points to a likelihood the case against the university may be decided in the student’s favor.

The sexual misconduct investigation stems from a complaint a female student raised with UM’s Office of Institutional Equity on March 12, 2018 alleging the male student assaulted her in his residence hall room four months prior. The male student claims in the lawsuit that the sex was consensual.

The lawsuit alleges the university has denied the male student any form of hearing or cross examination, but provides those to students facing all other forms of discipline.

University policy, the lawsuit claims, has “created an environment in which decision-makers at the University are explicitly and implicitly biased against males accused of sexual assault.”

“Every school, school district, and school network needs to clearly decide whether its fundamental role is to educate children, or to provide jobs for adults.”

Aln Borsuk:

“We need to put kids first. We must put the interests of children ahead of the interests of adults, every time. If we are to have any hope of meaningful change, this principle must be our organizing philosophy.

“Every school, school district, and school network needs to clearly decide whether its fundamental role is to educate children, or to provide jobs for adults.

“We must treat the adults — teachers, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, school leaders, etc. — with dignity and respect. Exploitative wages and working conditions are wrong in any setting, and when educators are exploited or demonized, students suffer. But too often, our decisions err on the side of advantaging adults at the expense of kids.”

“We need a comprehensive plan. When it comes to education, no one is leading our city. A few spheres of influence shape the dialogue, make policy and direct funding, but there is no unifying voice to set an agenda, highlight bright spots and call out bad actors across all types of schools.

“We need to build a comprehensive plan to support our schools and students, with the entire community working together toward a common vision.

China Studies Paying for Kids to Boost Population, Report Says

Bloomberg News:

Chinese health authorities are studying the possibility of financial incentives to encourage child birth, local media reported, after decades of population controls left the country with a shrinking workforce.

China’s National Health Commission has organized experts to explore using tax breaks and other benefits to reduce the cost of having children, the Paper, a Shanghai-based news portal, reported Wednesday. The study would assess the effects of rewarding families based on the number of children they have, the report said, without saying where it got the information.

The research is the latest sign that Chinese policy makers believe more dramatic action is needed to defuse a demographic time bomb almost three years after allowing all families to have two children instead of one. Bloomberg News reported in May that China was planning to scrap all limits on the number of children a family can have to reduce the pace of ageing in the country and remove a source of international criticism.

If community colleges want more funding, they have to graduate more students

David Kirp:

California’s community colleges have done a bang-up job of getting students in the door, but a terrible job of making sure they graduate.
Six years after enrolling, less than half of 2.2 million students had earned an associate’s degree or transferred to a university, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Graduation rates are considerably lower for black and Latino students, many of whom come to college ill-served by their high schools and unprepared to do college-level work. And a host of attempts to improve on graduation rates have gone nowhere. Over the last decade, the graduation rate has slipped 1%.
Now the state is taking a blunt approach: using funding levels to force reform. Instead of basing the state dollars that community colleges receive entirely on the number of students who come through the door, as has been the case, the schools will also be rewarded for the number of students who graduate or transfer. Forty percent of state community college money — that’s nearly $2.5 billion — has been tied to the schools’ effectiveness in improving student outcomes and in educating low-income students.

Massachusetts allows school to continue with electric shocks

Jeffrey Delfin:

In 2012, video of electric shock conditioning used inside the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center was released to the public for the first time. It showed 18-year-old Andre McCollins being restrained face down, shouting for help from the people around him. His calls go unanswered, and he is given repeated shocks which cause him to scream in pain.

The footage appears to show McCollins being tortured. The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) is not a rogue interrogation facility in a failed state, however, but a facility for children and adults with learning disabilities in Massachusetts.

Last week the facility won another legal challenge, which will allow it to continue to use shock treatment on its students.

709 Crackdown Three Years on: A Tribute to Wang Quanzhang

Yaxue Cao:

As of today, lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for 1,095 days. Over the 1,095 days, his toddler has grown into a boy who vows to fight the “Monster” that took his father; his wife has metamorphosed from a timid housewife to one of the most recognizable faces of the 709 resistance. With each day, we worry about Wang Quanzhang’s fate: Is he still alive? Has he been so severely debilitated by torture that they can’t even show him? These dreadful thoughts eat at our hearts when we think about Wang Quanzhang, and we don’t know how not to think about him.

Wang Quanzhang is 42 years old. Like most human rights lawyers in China, he was born and raised in the countryside, and came of age with a deep-rooted sense that Chinese society was unjust and unfair.

He graduated from Shandong University in 2000 with a law degree. While still in college in 1999, the brutal, nationwide suppression against Falun Gong began, and he provided legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners. That makes him one of the earliest defenders of Falun Gong. As a result, he was threatened and his home was raided by police.

After college, Wang Quanzhang took up volunteer work to teach villagers about Chinese law near Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong. He debated with villagers about whether it was power, or the law, that was supreme in China. The villagers believed that in China, power rules — not the law.

They were right then, and they’re right now.

UBC student uses satellite images to track suspected Chinese re-education centres where Uyghurs imprisoned

Nathan Vanderklippe:

Many nights in the past few months, Shawn Zhang has come home from work at a student legal-aid program and pulled up satellite imagery of a place 10,000 kilometres away.

He is looking for re-education camps in Xinjiang, the Chinese region where, scholars estimate, hundreds of thousands of mainly Muslim people have been forced to undergo political indoctrination. What Mr. Zhang has found has given the Chinese-born University of British Columbia law student, 28, an important role in documenting a system that Chinese authorities call “vocational skills training,” but critics liken to military prisons.

Some of the most revealing details lie in the shadows, which show features that would otherwise be invisible in overhead images. There, in silhouette, lie the barbed-wire-topped fences and guard towers that surround the re-education centres.

How Much Does Being a Legacy Help Your College Admissions Odds?

Melissa Korn:

Top colleges have pledged to become more socioeconomically diverse, but the admissions edge many give to children of alumni may make that goal harder to achieve.

At the University of Notre Dame, the University of Virginia and Georgetown University, the admission rate for legacies is about double the rate for the overall applicant pool, according to data from the schools. At Princeton University, legacies are admitted at four times the general rate, or roughly 30% compared with about 7% overall over the past five years, the school says.

Legacy applicants at Harvard University were five times as likely to be admitted as non-legacies, according to an analysis of admissions data from 2010 through 2015. The numbers—33.6% for legacies and 5.9% for those without parental ties—were submitted in a June court filing for a case claiming Asian students are being discriminated against in the name of greater diversity at the school.

All of those schools have signed on to or plan to join the American Talent Initiative, a Bloomberg Philanthropies-backed effort to enroll 50,000 more low- and moderate-income students by 2025.

A look at “Chicago’s Nation-Leading Educational Gains”

Joyce Foundation:

For the last 30 years, the city of Chicago—from grassroots activists to local foundations to City Hall—has undertaken nothing less than the gut rehab of its public education system. Billions of dollars and untold hours of sweat equity from teachers, parents, principals and community leaders have been invested in the improvement of the Chicago Public Schools.
In the daily rough-and-tumble of the political and fiscal challenges faced by the district, it can be difficult to see the return on this massive collective investment. But the rehab effort is working, and today’s students are reaping real benefits. Hard data show the progress: improved test scores, more graduates and more college-goers.

Recently, new research from Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University, shows that Chicago’s public elementary schools are helping students who start off behind in third grade nearly catch up to the national average by the end of eighth grade. This rate of learning outpaces what happens in 96 percent of all U.S. school districts: urban, rural and suburban. Such a remarkable achievement deserves careful attention, both to understand why it is happening and to discover what lessons could be applied elsewhere.

Reardon’s new findings are not the only evidence of Chicago’s progress. Chicago elementary-school students are the main driver of Illinois’ test score gains on both the state achievement exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a rigorous yet low-stakes test that shows how students compare across the United States. By 2017, Chicago’s high school graduation rate
Janice Jackson (Chicago Public Schools) at the CPS Forum
More of those graduates are starting college. According to an October 2017 report from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, a research-practice partnership that supports improvement in Chicago’s public schools, the share of Chicago Public Schools graduates enrolling in 4-year colleges and universities—44 percent—outpaces that of other urban districts, which range from 23 to 38 percent. Across the country, the 4-year college enrollment rate for students graduating from low-income high schools stands at 29 percent, far lower than college enrollment in CPS.

The Department of Education’s Obama-Era Initiative on Racial Disparities in School Discipline: Wrong For Students and Teachers, Wrong on the Law

Gail Heriot:

As the title suggests, the article makes two arguments: (1) The Obama Administration’s aggressive application of disparate impact theory to school discipline, is a bad policy; and (2) It goes beyond the scope of the federal government’s authority too.

I’ll discuss the second argument in another post. Right now, let me give you a taste of the first.

During the Obama Administration, one of the Department of Education’s primary missions was to stop schools from suspending or otherwise disciplining African American students at higher rates than white or Asian American students:

Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras

Paul Mozur:

In the Chinese city of Zhengzhou, a police officer wearing facial recognition glasses spotted a heroin smuggler at a train station.

In Qingdao, a city famous for its German colonial heritage, cameras powered by artificial intelligence helped the police snatch two dozen criminal suspects in the midst of a big annual beer festival.

In Wuhu, a fugitive murder suspect was identified by a camera as he bought food from a street vendor.

With millions of cameras and billions of lines of code, China is building a high-tech authoritarian future. Beijing is embracing technologies like facial recognition and artificial intelligence to identify and track 1.4 billion people. It wants to assemble a vast and unprecedented national surveillance system, with crucial help from its thriving technology industry.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: By limiting the power of public unions, Janus may help them (States) avert fiscal disaster.

Arthur Laffer and Steve Moore:

The Illinois crisis is so severe that paying the promised pensions would require a 30-year property-tax increase that would cost the median Chicago homeowner $2,000 a year, according to a study from three economists at the Chicago Fed. Not a penny of that added tax money would pay for better schools, police, roads, hospitals or libraries. Already, Illinois’s property taxes are among the country’s highest.

The pension problems have gotten so bad because state lawmakers don’t dare to stand up to powerful government unions. Consider the legendary California Teachers Association, which collects some $240 million a year from its 325,000 members and about 28,000 nonmembers who have been forced to pay fees. The CTA is the most influential political force in Sacramento. It spent twice as much on politics from 2000-10 as the next largest donor—also a government union, the California State Council of Service Employees.

Janus will allow teachers and other government employees to stop funding the union if they oppose its political goals. Under the old Supreme Court precedent, public workers could choose not to join unions, but in 22 states—including California, Illinois and New Jersey—they were required to pay “agency fees” to cover the cost of collective bargaining, including over the pensions now swamping state budgets. Janus has freed such workers from that obligation.

Related links:

Act 10.

Madison Teachers, Inc.

John Matthews

China tightens party control of foreign university ventures

Emily Feng:

The University of Nottingham Ningbo China, the first joint venture university in China, has removed a foreign academic from its management board for being critical of Communist party-backed initiatives.

The management shuffle marks a setback for joint venture universities — legally independent institutions 49 per cent held by a foreign university — which for years have operated in tenuous conditions as China’s Communist party seeks to exert more influence on educational institutions.

The academic, Stephen Morgan, had served as Nottingham Ningbo’s associate provost since 2016. The party objected to the renewal of his contract with the university after he wrote an online essay critical of the 19th party congress, a top meeting of Communist party officials held every five years, according to two people familiar with the situation.

Civics: An Arkansas man complained about police abuse. Then town officials ruined his life.

Radley Balko:

When body-camera footage of an aggressive or abusive police officer goes viral, the response from law enforcement groups is often to caution that we shouldn’t judge the entire system based on actions of a few bad apples. That’s fair enough. But what does it say about the system when the cops gets away with their bad behavior? What if, despite video footage clearly showing that the cops are in the wrong, sheriffs and police chiefs cover for them, anyway? What if local prosecutors do, too? What if even mayors and city attorneys get into the act?

Adam Finley had such an interaction with a bad cop. He was roughed up, sworn at and handcuffed. When he tried to file a complaint, he was hit with criminal charges. The local police chief turned Finley’s wife against him, which (according to both Finley and her) eventually ended their marriage. The fact that video of the incident should have vindicated him didn’t seem to matter.

Finley’s trouble — first reported by the Jonesboro Sun and Stan Morris at NEA Report — began in December 2016 in Walnut Ridge, Ark. It’s a small town of about 5,000 in the northeast part of the state — its charmingly humble claim to fame is that the Beatles once changed planes there. Officer Matthew Mercado of the Walnut Ridge Police Department pulled Finley over, near the railroad yard where Finley works. But Finley hadn’t committed any traffic infraction. Instead, Mercado apparently suspected that Finley didn’t really work for the railroad and therefore was trespassing, or perhaps engaged in some sort of criminal mischief.

The encounter quickly escalated. But as you can see in the video below, the escalation was entirely due to Mercado’s behavior, not Finley’s.

Nearly 1,000 Paintings & Drawings by Vincent van Gogh Now Digitized and Put Online

Open Culture:

The opportunity to see all of Van Gogh’s bedroom paintings in one place may have passed us by for now—an exhibit in Chicago brought them together in 2016. But we can see the original bedroom at the yellow house in Arles in a virtual space, along with almost 1,000 more Van Gogh paintings and drawings, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam’s site. The digitized collection showcases a vast amount of Van Gogh’s work—including not only landscapes, but also his many portraits, self-portraits, drawings, city scenes, and still-lifes.

How Property Taxes Shape Our Cities

Connor Nielsen:

“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.”
— Benjamin Franklin

One of the core messages that Strong Towns and Urban3 share is that professionals in urban planning and city finance should work in tandem. Specifically, planners should pay attention to property taxes and assessors should pay attention to planning, because a failure to do so can lead to a multitude of unintended consequences in our cities. Over the next few weeks, I will share a series of articles based on Josh McCarty’s work at Urban3, spotlighting the follies of property taxes wielded indiscriminately.

Property taxes elicit a behavioral impact on urban design, just as planning policy shapes tax revenue. If bricks are taxed higher than wood, wood becomes a more attractive building resource to developers. If larger lots are taxed lower per acre, local government incentivizes larger lots and auto-oriented development.

As a result, property taxes have shaped our cities in ways that are often hard to spot. Throughout history, these nearly invisible forces have encouraged distinctive architectural features that ended up characterizing whole cities. Many of these peculiarities are widespread and date back to the 17th century at least. Here are a few examples:

On populism and the middle class.

Victor Davis Hanson:

Populism is today seen both as a pejorative and positive noun. In fact, in the present age, there are two sorts of populism. Both strains originated in classical times and persisted in the West until today.

One in antiquity was known as the base populism. It involved the unfettered urban “mob,” or what the Athenians disapprovingly dubbed the ochlos and the Romans disparagingly called the turba. Such popular movements were spearheaded by the so-called demagogoi (“leaders of the people”) or in Roman times the more radical popular tribunes.

These were largely urban movements. Protesters focused on the redistribution of property, radical democratization, taxes on the wealthy, the cancellation of debts, vast increases in public entitlements, and civic employment. The French Revolution and European upheavals of 1848 reflect some of the same themes. Today, Occupy Wall Street, Antifa, Black Lives Matter, and the Bernie Sanders phenomenon all stand in the same current. Often, urban intellectuals, aristocrats, and elites—from the patrician Roman Republican street agitator Publius Clodius Pulcher and the Jacobin Maximilien Robespierre, to present-day billionaires like George Soros and Tom Steyer—have sought to assist the urban protesters. Perhaps these gentleman- agitators thought they could offer money, prestige, or greater wisdom, thereby channeling and elevating shared populist agendas.

The antithesis to such radical populism was likely thought by ancient conservative historians to be the “good” populism of the past—and what the contemporary media might call the “bad” populism of the present: the push-back of small property owners and the middle classes against the power of oppressive government, steep taxation, and internationalism, coupled with unhappiness over imperialism and foreign wars and a preference for liberty rather than mandated equality. Think of the second century B.C. Gracchi brothers rather than Juvenal’s “bread-and-circuses” imperial Roman underclass, the American rather than the French Revolution, or the Tea Party versus Occupy Wall Street.

The mesoi, or “middle guys,” both predated and remained somewhat at odds with contemporary radical Athenian democracy. Yet these agrarian property-owning classes were also originally responsible for the Greek city-state and thus for Western civilization itself. The Jeffersonian idea of preserving ownership of a family plot, and passing on farms through codified inheritance laws and property rights, were the themes of the constitutions of the early polis. The citizen—neither a peasant nor a subject—remained rooted to a particular plot of ground, and thereby enjoyed the tripartite rights of citizenship: military service, voting rights in the assembly, and the ability to be self-supporting and autonomous. The mesoi, then, lent stability to otherwise often volatile consensual politics.

This Professor Made Up a Job Offer From Another University. Now He Faces a Criminal Charge.

Megan Zahneis:

In January 2015, Brian R. McNaughton, an associate professor at Colorado State University, sent his administration an offer letter he’d received from another university.

To entice McNaughton to stay, Colorado State raised his base pay by $5,000, a university spokeswoman said. Using offer letters from other institutions as leverage in salary negotiations is common practice at colleges and universities.

There was just one problem with McNaughton’s case: The offer letter was fake.

McNaughton now faces a criminal charge of attempting to influence a public official for allegedly falsifying an offer letter from the University of Minnesota. He has since resigned from his position at Colorado State.

A record number of folks age 85 and older are working. Here’s what they’re doing.

Andrew Van Dam:

Seventy may be the new 60, and 80 may be the new 70, but 85 is still pretty old to work in America. Yet in some ways, it is the era of the very old worker in America.

Overall, 255,000 Americans 85 years old or older were working over the past 12 months. That’s 4.4 percent of Americans that age, up from 2.6 percent in 2006, before the recession. It’s the highest number on record.

They’re doing all sorts of jobs — crossing guards, farmers and ranchers, even truckers, as my colleague Heather Long revealed in a front-page story last week. Indeed, there are between 1,000 and 3,000 U.S. truckers age 85 or older, based on 2016 Census Bureau figures. Their ranks have roughly doubled since the Great Recession.

CHINA INSIGHTChina’s “University Counseling” Business: High School Graduates Pay over $7,500 to Pick the Right University

Chauncey Jung:

Many Chinese high school graduates are willing to pay a high price for the right selection of their higher education institutions. Paying over US$7,550 for so-called ‘university counselors,’ Chinese students pay a higher price for the process preceding their uni years than the total cost of their entire college education.

A recent news item reported by China News Agency on the growing popularity of university counseling services has generated discussions on Chinese social media.

University counseling services have become an especially hot business now that the gaokao, China’s national university entrance exams, are over.

These kinds of counseling services help students to choose the best available institution based on their exam results, but they also include personality tests and the exploration of the potential future majors students could take on.

Civics: California Shopping Centers Are Spying for an ICE Contractor

Dave Maass:

Update 7:30 p.m. July 10, 2018: The Irvine Company provided The Verge with the following response.

“Irvine Company is a customer of Vigilant Solutions. Vigilant employs ALPR technology at our three Orange County regional shopping centers. Vigilant is required by contract, and have assured us, that ALPR data collected at these locations is only shared with local police departments as part of their efforts to keep the local community safe.”

EFF urges the Irvine Company to release the names of the three regional shopping centers that are under surveillance and to provide a copy of the contract indicating the data is only shared with local police. The company should also release the names of which local agencies are accessing its data. We remain concerned and skeptical. EFF would appreciate any information that would clear up this matter. The public deserves greater transparency from The Irvine Company and Vigilant Solutions.

A company that operates 46 shopping centers up and down California has been providing sensitive information collected by automated license plate readers (ALPRs) to Vigilant Solutions, a surveillance technology vendor that in turn sells location data to Immigrations & Customs Enforcement.

The Irvine Company—a real estate company that operates malls and mini-malls in Irvine, La Jolla, Newport Beach, Redwood City, San Jose, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale—has been conducting the ALPR surveillance since just before Christmas 2016, according to an ALPR Usage and Privacy Policy published on its website (archived version). The policy does not say which of its shopping centers use the technology, only disclosing that the company and its contractors operates ALPRs at “one or more” of its locations.

A psychology of the film

Ed Tan:

The cinema as a cultural institution has been studied by academic researchers in the arts and humanities. At present, cultural media studies are the home to the aesthetics and critical analysis of film, film history and other branches of film scholarship. Probably less known to most is that research psychologists working in social and life science labs have also contributed to the study of the medium. They have examined the particular experience that motion pictures provide to the film audience and the mechanisms that explain the perception and comprehension of film, and how movies move viewers and to what effects. This article reviews achievements in psychological research of the film since its earliest beginnings in the 1910s. A leading issue in the research has been whether understanding films is a bottom-up process, or a top-down one. A bottom-up explanation likens film-viewing to highly automated detection of stimulus features physically given in the supply of images; a top-down one to the construction of scenes from very incomplete information using mental schemata. Early film psychologists tried to pinpoint critical features of simple visual stimuli responsible for the perception of smooth movement. The riddle of apparent motion has not yet been solved up to now. Gestalt psychologists were the first to point at the role of mental structures in seeing smooth movement, using simple visual forms and displays. Bottom-up and top-down approaches to the comprehension of film fought for priority from the 60s onwards and became integrated at the end of the century. Gibson’s concept of direct perception led to the identification of low-level film-stylistic cues that are used in mainstream film production, and support film viewers in highly automated seamless perception of film scenes. Hochberg’s argument for the indispensability of mental schemata, too, accounted for the smooth cognitive construction of portrayed action and scenes. Since the 90s, cognitive analyses of narration in film by film scholars from the humanities have revolutionised accounts of the comprehension of movies. They informed computational content analyses that link low-level film features with meaningful units of film-story-telling. After a century of research, some perceptual and cognitive mechanisms that support our interaction with events in the real world have been uncovered.

A tutorial on the free-energy framework for modelling perception and learning


Why is this important/exciting?

R. Bogacz delivers a detailed and beautifully made tutorial on a subject that can be very difficult to understand, Variational Bayes, as seen from Karl Fristons perspective; Namely invoking the Free-Energy principle to motivate Active Inference. In the last decade, Active Inference has gained traction with the wider neuroscientific community, and recently Karl was measured to be the most influential neuroscientist in the modern era.

Back-and-forth exchanges boost children’s brain response to language

Anne Trafton:

A landmark 1995 study found that children from higher-income families hear about 30 million more words during their first three years of life than children from lower-income families. This “30-million-word gap” correlates with significant differences in tests of vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension.

MIT cognitive scientists have now found that conversation between an adult and a child appears to change the child’s brain, and that this back-and-forth conversation is actually more critical to language development than the word gap. In a study of children between the ages of 4 and 6, they found that differences in the number of “conversational turns” accounted for a large portion of the differences in brain physiology and language skills that they found among the children. This finding applied to children regardless of parental income or education.

Why, for example, were board members approving staff contracts they’d never seen? Why was the district administrator’s salary higher than his contract stipulated?

Annysa Johnson:

One way to make enemies in a small-town school district, it turns out, is to start sniffing around its finances.

Christa Reinert was hardly welcomed when she joined the Mercer School Board in 2016. She’d run, at least partly, in protest after two girls basketball coaches — one a sitting School Board member at the time — allowed players to watch the sexploitation flick “Fifty Shades of Grey” on a road trip.

But things got worse, she says, when she started asking questions:

Why, for example, were board members approving staff contracts they’d never seen?

Why was the district administrator’s salary higher than his contract stipulated?

And why had the community recreation fund in this tiny Northwoods district — with 151 students in a single K-12 school — ballooned in the years after the administrator’s arrival from about $3,000 a year to more than $200,000 on average over the last seven years.

District Administrator Erik Torkelson and School Board members — one of them his mother-in-law — were openly hostile, she said. Torkelson directed his staff to stop providing her documents without an open records request and payment upfront.

$175,000 claw back

So Reinert took her concerns to the state Department of Public Instruction.

DPI issued a finding late last month that the Mercer School District inappropriately spent about $175,000 from its community programs and services account — otherwise known as “Fund 80” — over the 2015-’16 and 2016-’17 school years. Most of that was used to boost wages and benefits for a small group of employees, including Torkelson, without adequate documentation, according to the letter.

DPI also admonished board members for voting on bonuses for administrators, including $11,000 for Torkelson, in closed session.

Large, high spending districts merit attention as well.

Civics: TSA screeners win immunity from flier abuse claims: U.S. appeals court

Jonathan Stempel:

In a 2-1 vote, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners are shielded by government sovereign immunity from liability under the Federal Tort Claims Act because they do not function as “investigative or law enforcement officers.”

The majority said it was “sympathetic” to concerns that its decision would leave fliers with “very limited legal redress” for alleged mistreatment by aggressive or overzealous screeners, which add to the ordinary stresses of air travel.

Comparing City Street Orientations

Geoff Boeing:

We say the cows laid out Boston. Well, there are worse surveyors. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1860
 In 1960, one hundred years after Emerson’s quote, Kevin Lynch published The Image of the City, his treatise on the legibility of urban patterns. How coherent is a city’s spatial organization? How do these patterns help or hinder urban navigation? I recently wrote about visualizing street orientations with Python and OSMnx. That is, how is a city’s street network oriented in terms of the streets’ compass bearings? How well does it adhere to a straightforward north-south-east-west layout? I wanted to revisit this by comparing 25 major US cities’ orientations (EDIT: by popular request, see also this follow-up comparing world cities):

Facebook’s Push for Facial Recognition Prompts Privacy Alarms

Natasha Singer:

But Facebook may only be getting started with its facial recognition services. The social network has applied for various patents, many of them still under consideration, which show how it could use the technology to track its online users in the real world.
 One patent application, published last November, described a system that could detect consumers within stores and match those shoppers’ faces with their social networking profiles. Then it could analyze the characteristics of their friends, and other details, using the information to determine a “trust level” for each shopper. Consumers deemed “trustworthy” could be eligible for special treatment, like automatic access to merchandise in locked display cases, the document said.
 Another Facebook patent filing described how cameras near checkout counters could capture shoppers’ faces, match them with their social networking profiles and then send purchase confirmation messages to their phones.
 In their F.T.C. complaint, privacy groups — led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a nonprofit research institution — said the patent filings showed how Facebook could make money from users’ faces. A previous EPIC complaint about Facebook helped precipitate a consent decree requiring the company to give users more control over their personal details.

US and China must find ways to control their elites

Rana Foroohar:

Tension between the US and China is driving much of what is happening in the markets today. The analysis has focused on tariffs, currency manipulation, strategic technologies and which country has the most to win or lose in a trade war.

But there is a more important question to be asked when thinking about the future success and stability of each nation: which country will be better able to control its moneyed elites?

In his 1982 work The Rise and Decline of Nations, the economist Mancur Olson argues that civilisations tend to decline when the moneyed interests take over politics. That has clearly happened in both countries, where the levels of wealth inequality are not dissimilar; the top 1 per cent in China own about 30 per cent of the economy; in the US, the figure is 42 per cent. 

Civics: Party Ideology and Chinese Law

Rogier Creemers:

This chapter elaborates on the claim that ideology provides a useful lens to understand the development of the Chinese legal system. In spite of expectations both inside and outside of China, this system does not seem to be evolving towards a “rule of law” in the Western sense of the term. This chapter claims such expectations were based on an approach paying short shrift to the role of the Party in developing the legal system, and its ideology in particular. It further analyses CCP ideology in the light of three political questions: what is the purpose of politics, who should be in charge and what methods should they use. Lastly, it explores the impact of the answers to these questions on the trajectory of law in China. It suggests there many of the perceived flaws in the legal systems are logical consequences of its ideological structuring, or even fundamental features. Specifically, it finds that legal rationality in China remains tightly circumscribed in its scope of application, ideology is a potent tool to provide meaning to political terminology, and discipline the CCP’s organisation.

School District Reform Prompts Parent Protests in Beijing (Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools)

Ding Jie, Li Rongde, Su Xin and Zhou Simin:

A group of 30 parents staged a protest at the education department of Beijing’s Dongcheng district earlier in May to voice their opposition to a sweeping change to the “school district” policy now being tested by the local government.

Under the change, a school district, usually comprised of several neighborhoods, is no longer tied to one specific school. Instead, students in one school district can choose from a list of schools close to their homes depending on the availability of spaces at each of the schools.

Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools: Hamilton Middle and Van Hise Elementary.

Specialized program for Marquette undergraduates with autism disorders gifted $450,000, set to launch fall 2019

Jennifer Walter:

The program is one of only a few throughout the country, Van Hecke said. In-school resources for students with autism are required by law for K-12 schooling, but colleges often lack resources for those students looking to pursue higher education.

Van Hecke said many of these incoming students often have a lifetime of support in place “and then it just stops. Colleges really aren’t set up to handle that.”

Kelli Castillo said DJ was comfortable in high school, doing well in school and enjoying time in the theater group. On the side, he took social skills classes.

“We don’t ever think of him as this kid with Asperger’s. But there are many times when it just comes and hits us in the face,” Kelli Castillo said. “I was blind to think that the comfort level he had in high school would continue in college.”

The selection process for On Your Marq is something that still needs to be sorted out, and Van Hecke doesn’t want to generalize what the first group of participants will be like. A director for the program will be hired between now and next fall, and they will organize interviews for students who have already been accepted to Marquette.

Dozens of Uyghur Children of Xinjiang Village Camp Detainees Sent to Live in Orphanages

Radio Free Asia:

Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” views have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the XUAR, where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule.

An officer at the Chinibagh village police station, in the seat of Hotan (in Chinese, Hetian) prefecture’s Qaraqash (Moyu) county, recently told RFA’s Uyghur Service that local government officials were deciding the fates of children who had been left behind after their guardians had been sent for re-education.

“Children left without parents have been sent to orphanages temporarily until their parents are released,” said the officer, who is a resident of nearby Yengisheher village, where sources recently told RFA that around 40 percent of the more than 1,700 residents had been detained in re-education camps.

“The children are being placed in the Qaraqash township orphanage because they have no one to look after them. Their grandparents are too old [to take care of them] and are struggling to look after themselves.”

Watch Out! Here Come the ‘Woke’ Tech Oligarchs.

Joel Kotkin:

Indeed, as researcher Greg Ferenstein suggests, the new oligarchs favor an active state that will subsidize worker housing or even a guaranteed minimum income, and keep their businesses off the hook for providing decent benefits to their ever expanding cadre of gig-economy serfs. He points out that the former head of Uber, Travis Kalanick, was a strong supporter of Obamacare and that many top tech executives—including Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk—favor a government-provided guaranteed annual wage to help, in part, allay fears about what happens to most of the workforce as their industries and jobs are “disrupted.”

Geography plays a role here as well. With the biggest concentrations of wealth now in the most “progressive” regions—the Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Seattle—moguls must operate in an environment dominated by fervent anti-Trump social-justice and green advocacy. Many big tech employees—nearly 40 percent in the Bay Area, by some estimates—are noncitizens, with little reason to be concerned about how the wealth in these corners is, or is not, spread across the nation.

So it’s no surprise that woke employees at Microsoft, horrified by the brutalism of Trump’s immigration policies, have decided not to cooperate with ICE. Not to be outdone, Amazon workers compare their company’s cooperation with immigration authorities to IBM’s collaboration with Nazi Germany. Similarly Google workers are refusing to help with drones used to combat terrorists, while Apple is actively working to make it difficult for police to break into phones used in committing crimes, including in the aftermath of the San Bernardino terrorist massacre.

So powerful, and self-referential, are these companies—and their highly compensated workers—that they are increasingly willing to deny even the idea of national interest when that does not suit their political notions. Unlike businesses that worry about competition or mass opinion, these oligarchic companies can demonize half of the country with impunity. At the end of the day, even Trumpians depend on these systems unless they want to look at Chinese alternatives.

CS50, Harvard’s Largest Class Expands Its Line Up of Courses

Dhawal Shah:

The course is taught every fall by David Malan, and sometimes features guest lectures from tech luminaries like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and the previous CEO of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer. In previous years, this class also has been taught in parallel at Yale.

Every time the course is taught at Harvard, the lectures are recorded and put online. In previous years they were streamed live directly from Harvard’s Sanders Theatre and at one point were even recorded in a Virtual Reality format.

Most recently, the staff behind CS50 added three new courses, each of which could be considered as a sequel to CS50x. They all pick up from where CS50 leaves off. The new courses are as follows:

The discovery of the roundtrip and the beginning of globalisation

Adolfo Arranz & Marco Hernandez:

Marco Hernandez Globalisation is thought to have its beginnings in the 16th century when the Spanish silver dollar went transcontinental. Its acceptance as common currency arose when Spanish navigators in the Philippines established a circular shipping route, known as the tornaviaje, between Asia and the Americas. More than 250 years of uninterrupted trade ensued between Asia and the rest of the world. And the ships playing this route were known as China Ships

Magellan-Elcano circumnavigation

In 1519 a Spanish fleet of five vessels, under the command of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, set sail from Seville in search of a route across the Pacific Ocean to East Asia. Magellan was killed in a battle during the voyage, leaving Spanish navigator Juan Sebastian Elcano and 18 surviving crew to become the first to circumnavigate the globe in a single expedition. Their expedition finally returned home to Spain in 1522

Teacher revocations spike under Tony Evers after GOP accuses him of being tardy on issue

Daniel Bice:

“Tony Evers refused to take action when it was time to protect children, but he moved pretty quickly when his political career was in danger,” said Alec Zimmerman, spokesman for the state GOP.

Maggie Gau, spokeswoman for Evers, was dismissive of the criticism: “The Republicans are now attacking Tony for doing his job and disciplining bad actors who could hurt kids? Give me a break.”

Tom McCarthy, a spokesman for DPI, said there are two concrete things that effect the ability to revoke licenses: the facts of the cases and DPI staffing. He said the education agency had experienced some turnover in the past that limited the number of cases the agency could review.

“Nothing about this process has changed in the wake of Andrew Harris or due to any criticism we received,” McCarthy said.

Records show Evers and his agency has revoked or negotiated the surrender of teaching licenses with 86 professional educators between July 2009 to the end of 2017.

During 2010, for instance, DPI revoked the licenses of only two teachers.

Madison’s Spring Harbor Team Wins National African American History Academic Challenge

100 Black Men of Madison, via a kind reader:

For the second consecutive year, a team representing the Madison Chapter of the 100 Black Men of Madison was crowned National Champion of the African American History Academic Challenge at the recently conducted 32nd Annual Conference of the 100 Black Men of America.

The Spring Harbor Middle School team composed of Genesis Woodards, Paul Eichoff and Simon Kellum defeated the team representing the 100 Black Men of Omaha in the Championship round.

The winning team was coached by Sara Leuthold, 8th Grade U.S. History Teacher at Spring Harbor Middle School and mentored by Emmanuel Scarborough.
In the 24 year history of the National 100 Black Men of America African American Academic Challenge, a team representing the 100 Black Men of Madison has been crowned National Champions, seven times and three times since 2012.

This National Recognition is truly a remarkable accomplishment.

It is an outcome of the hard work and dedication by truly gifted students, amazing instruction and preparation by a master educator and the tireless energy and direction provided by a dedicated mentor.

Belt and Router: China Aims for Tighter Internet Controls with Digital Silk Road

Stewart Patrick::

Given the hype surrounding China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one feature of the massive global infrastructure project has garnered less attention. Beijing aims to create a “digital Silk Road” that will allow it to shape the future of the global internet—and reinforce the Chinese Communist Party leadership at home for decades to come. Under the guise of BRI, China is seeking to export its policy of authoritarian cyber controls, giving countries the right to regulate and censor their own internet. China has already tightened control over its domestic internet, including through the Great Firewall and its Cybersecurity Law. It is now seeking to globalize that approach, while also inserting backdoor mechanisms that could increase its intelligence and propaganda operations in BRI partner countries. China’s plans—running directly counter to U.S. aspirations for a free and open global internet—should be deeply alarming to the United States.

In March 2015, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce jointly released the Belt and Road white paper, calling not only for improving infrastructure construction and technical standard systems, but also for “jointly improving the transparency of technical trade measures” and creating an “Information Silk Road,” or a digital Silk Road.

Online program offers easy, cheap way to ‘earn college credit for what you already know’

Kitty Porterfield:

As the cost of a college education continues to skyrocket, one online program offers a way for smart and savvy students to avoid amassing a mountain of debt.

The College Level Examination Program, a credit-by-exam program administered by the College Board, helps students avoid the time commitment and financial burden of taking required general education subjects that they mastered in high school, like algebra, calculus, biology, world language, U.S. history, government and others.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt:

Overprotecting children hinders them from confronting physical, emotional, and intellectual challenges.

Noting a rise of anxiety and depression among teenagers and threats to free speech on many college campuses, Lukianoff (Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, 2012), an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and social psychologist Haidt (Ethical Leadership/New York Univ.; The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012, etc.) offer an incisive analysis of the causes of these problems and a measured prescription for change. The authors assert that many parents, teachers, professors, and university administrators have been teaching young people to see themselves as fragile and in need of protection: “to exaggerate danger” (even from words), “amplify their first emotional responses,” and see the world as a battle between good and evil. Particularly regrettable is “the creep of the word ‘unsafe’ to encompass ‘uncomfortable,’ ” as students seek to institute trigger warnings on course curricula and to lobby for “safe spaces” where they feel sheltered from ideas they deem emotionally or intellectually difficult to confront. “We teach children to monitor themselves for the degree to which they feel ‘unsafe’ and then talk about how unsafe they feel,” the authors write, and to interpret unpleasant emotions as dangerous. The authors present detailed accounts of the “meltdown into anarchy” on college campuses when “political diversity is reduced to very low levels, when the school’s leadership is weak and easily intimidated,” and when professors and administrators fail to uphold free speech and academic freedom. “Many professors,” write the authors, “say they now teach and speak more cautiously, because one slip or one simple misunderstanding could lead to vilification and even threats from any number of sources.” Social media outlets have inflamed these attacks. The authors offer practical suggestions for parents (allow children independence and nurture self-reliance) and teachers (cultivate intellectual virtues and teach debate skills) to guide children into adulthood.

Wisconsin Education Funding – Part I of Series

Wheeler Report:

State aid, gross school levy, and total costs have seen upward trends almost every year, with the exceptions of Gov. Walker’s first year, when all three went down, and over two years under Doyle, when school levy went down half a percent in 2005 and state aid went down 2.7% in 2009. (In 2009, Doyle removed state funding for schools and replaced it with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds provided by the Obama Administration.) Looking at the overall change over 20 years, state school aid changed by +36.48%, levy changed by +77.58%, and total costs by +51.32%.

This graph represents the change of school aids in percentages from the beginning of an administration to the end of an administration, or to the most recent data available, in the case of Gov. Walker. There are also calculations for the difference between the change over from the last year of the previous administration to the first year of the next administration. Change over previous administration has a downward trend for Walker and Doyle in most categories, or a small positive percentage. Having only one fiscal year for McCallum, his percentage change for his administration was 0.0% in most categories but had an upward trend coming from the change over the end of Thompson’s term. Overall, categorical aids have clearly gone up much more than general school aids (96.53% change for categorical aids vs. 29.23% for general school aids). School revenue limits are not affected by categorical aids.

District’s At-Large School Board Elections Violate Voting Rights Act, Court Rules

Mark Walsh:

A federal appeals court has ruled that the at-large voting system for the school board covering Ferguson, Mo., where the police shooting of an African-American man sparked weeks of racial unrest in 2014, violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The seven-member board of the Ferguson-Florissant school district, which serves all or part of 11 municipalities in suburban St. Louis, is elected at large. The district’s student population of 11,200 students is about 80 percent black and 20 percent white.

The school board was all white until 2014, the same year that Michael Brown was shot and killed in an altercation with a white police officer in Ferguson, sparking widespread street protests that focused on police and city policies. (A state grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Brown and the U.S. Department of Justice concluded that the officer had acted in self-defense.)

Education Week’s Denisa R. Superville visited Ferguson one year after the Brown incident and last year examined efforts to bring greater racial diversity to school boards.

There was one African-American member of the Ferguson-Florissant board in 2014 before the state chapter of the NAACP, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the district alleging that black voters’ votes were being diluted by the at-large voting system in violation of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. There are now three black members on the board.

Madison features at large seats (not the case years ago). Changing this would be very useful for competitive and less costly elections.

In favor of deep (and complex) reporting

Amanda Ripley:

The lesson for journalists (or anyone) working amidst intractable conflict: complicate the narrative. First, complexity leads to a fuller, more accurate story. Secondly, it boosts the odds that your work will matter — particularly if it is about a polarizing issue. When people encounter complexity, they become more curious and less closed off to new information. They listen, in other words.

There are many ways to complicate the narrative, as described in detail under the six strategies below. But the main idea is to feature nuance, contradiction and ambiguity wherever you can find it. This does not mean calling advocates for both sides and quoting both; that is simplicity, and it usually backfires in the midst of conflict. “Just providing the other side will only move people further away,” Coleman says. Nor does it mean creating a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and their opponents. That is just simplicity in a cheap suit. Complicating the narrative means finding and including the details that don’t fit the narrative — on purpose.

The idea is to revive complexity in a time of false simplicity. “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete,” novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her mesmerizing TED Talk “A Single Story.” “[I]t’s impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person.”

Usually, reporters do the opposite. We cut the quotes that don’t fit our narrative. Or our editor cuts them for us. We look for coherence, which is tidy — and natural. The problem is that, in a time of high conflict, coherence is bad journalism, bordering on malpractice.

In the midst of conflict, our audiences are profoundly uncomfortable, and they want to feel better. “The natural human tendency is to reduce that tension,” Coleman writes, “by seeking coherence through simplification.” Tidy narratives succumb to this urge to simplify, gently warping reality until one side looks good and the other looks evil. We soothe ourselves with the knowledge that all Republicans are racist rednecks — or all Democrats are precious snowflakes who hate America.
Complexity counters this craving, restoring the cracks and inconsistencies that had been air-brushed out of the picture. It’s less comforting, yes. But it’s also more interesting — and true.

Reporting depth is critical, but rarely found.

A few SIS examples:

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

An emphasis on adult employment.

Expanding Madison’s least diverse schools.

They’re all rich white kids and they’ll do just fine, NOT!

Police calls, Madison area schools 1996-2006.

How the 100 largest marketplaces solved the chicken and egg problem

Eli Chait:

This is the first in a series of essays on the findings from a six month marketplace research project. My co-founders and I sold our last company to OpenTable and spent three years working on products to grow the supply side of OpenTable’s marketplace. There has been a lot written about online marketplaces and our goal was to test these theories by exploring data from a broader set of companies. We started by making a list of every marketplace founded, identifying 4,500 companies in total, then collected public data to classify and compare these companies (read more about the approach).
 Company success can be measured in many ways, but in the context of this project, we focused on two key metrics: revenue and capital efficiency (measured as the ratio of revenue to capital raised).1
 This post focuses on how the top 100 most successful marketplaces created value for their first users and which of the top three most popular “seeding” strategies has been the most effective. We discovered that one specific marketplace seeding strategy helped companies achieve higher revenue with less capital than other marketplaces.
 The chicken and egg problem
 A marketplace connects many suppliers to many buyers, typically enabling them to transact with one another and taking a fee for enabling the connection. But since marketplaces create value by aggregating supply and demand this creates the “chicken and egg” problem. What is the value to supply and demand when the marketplace is just getting started and doesn’t yet have many buyers or suppliers? The marketplace’s seeding strategy is how it solves the chicken and egg problem.
 OpenTable’s seeding strategy is what Sangeet Paul Choudary calls Standalone Mode and Chris Dixon calls “Single Player Mode.” OpenTable sold software to restaurants that created value for them without requiring any diners on the “buyer” side of the marketplace. They built a unique table management and CRM product (the “Electronic Reservation Book”) and charged a subscription fee for the service. The initial benefit to restaurant customers was the software. Once OpenTable acquired hundreds of restaurants in a city, they started to have a compelling diner value proposition.
 From studying the top 100 largest marketplaces (see here for methodology and list of marketplaces) we found that OpenTable’s strategy was actually the most common. This is also the most capital efficient strategy. Marketplaces that use this approach to seed the marketplace were 10x as capital efficient as marketplaces that used the second most popular strategy.

Why nearly 1,000 families are clamoring to get into Spokane’s charter schools

Wilson Criscione:

“I wasn’t challenged at all,” Thompson, 15, tells the Inlander.

After hearing his friends rave about Innovation High School, a Spokane charter school connected to PRIDE Prep Middle School, he asked his mom, Crystal Benvenuti, if he could try to get in. After spending months on the waitlist, Thompson recently found out he’ll be attending Innovation in the fall.

Benvenuti says Innovation, which favors project-based and hands-on learning, is exactly what her son needs.

“This is so something he needs to be in, to be a part of this school,” says Benvenuti.

The Grads Caught in the Battle for China’s Best and Brightest

Wu Huiyuan:

In an otherwise sleepy suburb of Wuhan, hundreds of twentysomethings are rushing in and out of a real estate office, stooped over to protect piles of documents from the heavy rain. In a bid to attract university graduates, these young people can now buy discounted houses in newly built community Linkonggang Youth City — and they’ve pounced on the opportunity.

Dai Huihui tells Sixth Tone that she just snagged a home at 6,800 yuan ($1,060) per square meter, or about four-fifths of market value. Dai graduated almost five years ago, meaning she was nearly ineligible for the program. “I caught the good fortune by its tail,” Dai says.

Like many Chinese cities that lack the allure of Beijing or Shanghai, Wuhan — a metropolis of 12 million — struggles to stand out. To realize its dream of building a knowledge-based economy, the Wuhan government last year launched a set of initiatives to entice a million young university graduates to live and work in the city over the next five years. According to recent figures, some 140,000 university graduates have become official Wuhan residents, suggesting incentive programs like Linkonggang Youth City are drawing crowds. But few seem set on staying.

Yes, Amazon Is Tracking People

Matthew Feeney:

When most people think of the tech giant Amazon, they think of an innovative, consumer-friendly company responsible for affordable deliveries. Recent news is shattering that image.

According to documents obtained by American Civil Liberties Union affiliates in three states, Amazon is providing police departments in Orlando, Fla., and Washington County, Ore., with powerful facial recognition technology.

The documents show that the company’s interests go beyond efficient shopping, and should serve as a reminder not only that police departments ought to be prohibited from using real-time facial recognition technology, but also that most lawmakers have been asleep at the wheel when it comes to the proliferation of surveillance technology

Amazon’s facial recognition service, Rekognition, is designed to identify and track people going about their daily business. This isn’t hyperbole – a Rekognition spokesperson explicitly mentioned real-time tracking and identification at an Amazon Web Services summit earlier this year. The same spokesperson went on to call Orlando a “smart city,” with cameras everywhere that allow authorities to track persons of interest in real time.

Harvard University is fighting to keep its secretive admissions process under wraps

Jillian Berman:

Harvard is embroiled in a lawsuit over its admissions practices.
What exactly does it take to be admitted to a top college? It’s a secret, according to Harvard.

The past couple of weeks have offered an unprecedented look into the way Harvard University evaluates applicants. The details came to light during a lawsuit alleging that the school has discriminated against Asian-Americans hoping for a spot at the school — a claim Harvard vehemently denies. Though the suit has certainly pulled back the curtain on the Harvard admissions process, many details still remain under wraps. Harvard is hoping to keep it that way.

As part of the suit, the school filed a brief late last week arguing that certain documents produced as part of the case — including internal training materials and preliminary snapshots of the school’s admitted class during specific periods of the application cycle — should remain under seal.

On Wisconsin’s (and Madison’s) Long Term, Disastrous Reading Results

Alan Borsuk:

But consider a couple other things that happened in Massachusetts: Despite opposition, state officials stuck to the requirement. Teacher training programs adjusted curriculum and the percentage of students passing the test rose.
A test for teachers

In short, in Wisconsin, regulators and leaders of higher education teacher-prep programs are not so enthused about FoRT, and I don’t know of evidence that the way students are prepared to become teachers has made the adjustments FoRT advocates want. (FoRT support comes generally from the “phonics” side of the reading debate and the higher ed folks are generally “balanced literary” folks.)

According to DPI records, two-thirds of people who took the FoRT test between 2013 and 2016 passed on the first try. Including those who took it two or more times, 85% passed. Pass rates were better for white test-takers than for minority test-takers, which led to concerns that the test keeps a disproportionate number of minority potential-teachers out of classrooms.

Department of Public Instruction officials say many who have not passed FoRT would be good teachers and passing FoRT isn’t the only sign someone will be a good teacher.

DPI proposed steps such as making it easier for more people to get emergency licenses that, at least in the short term, allow them to teach without passing FoRT. FoRT advocates say this will water down the impact the test could have in improving the quality of reading instruction. Proceedings over whether the DPI’s proposed rules will go into effect are underway and have become contentious.

Reid Riggle, an education professor at St. Norbert College and past president of Wisconsin Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, said steps such as FoRT aren’t enough to drive improvement in literacy. The big barriers lie in kids’ lives outside of school. “We have to take a comprehensive look at what the children’s lives are like,” Riggle said. “There has to be a community-based solution. You can’t ask the school district to solve the problem.”

Steve Dykstra, one of the leaders of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition, which supports FoRT, said many Wisconsin education leaders show “deep commitment to incremental change.” He added, “The problem with that is that it doesn’t work.” He said teacher preparation programs haven’t done the introspection needed to see why bigger change is needed.

Dykstra acknowledged that there is an issue with the percent of minority students not passing FoRT. His answer? “So fix it. Teach them what they need to know.”

Evers said “the sheen” has come off of FoRT and there doesn’t seem to be a correlation between high FoRT scores and higher effectiveness in the classroom. (There is no public data on this yet.)

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

A Capitol Conversation.

University of Wisconsin Madison Professor Mark Seidenberg.

The Wisconsin DPI (lead by Tony Evers) has created a number of ways around the Foundations of Reading teacher content knowledge requirement (MTEL). Recent legislative activity on this important issue.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

Alan Borsuk wrote a column, The ‘Read to Lead’ plan – six years later, for the July 1 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in which he points out the less-than-hoped-for results of that legislation. What he didn’t address was who or what is behind the disappointing outcomes, and what we should do about it. Should we just abandon the recommendations of Read to Lead, or should we double down to make sure they are implemented as intended? Here are some of his points along with our comments:

The Foundations of Reading Test has not led to rise in statewide reading performance or changed how reading is taught in the classroom. This is not a surprise. There are several factors that make it unlikely that we would see statewide improvement in a short period of time:

  • Practicing teachers were grandfathered, and only new teachers of reading have to take the exam.
  • The exam did not kick in until 2015, so it has really been a factor for less than three years.
    DPI under Tony Evers has been granting emergency licenses to teach for individuals who have failed the FORT: up to 1400 per year according to recent DPI testimony before the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules They now seek legislative approval of rule PI-34, which further expands exemptions from the FORT. This dilutes the impact that the FORT was intended to have.

  • The legislature has also granted exemptions from the FORT for individuals who use an online-only path to teaching, as well as some out-of-state teachers moving into Wisconsin.
  • Even teachers who have passed the FORT are limited in what they can do for student achievement if they are employed by balanced literacy districts that require them to teach guessing strategies and whole word memorization. There has been no guidance by DPI to encourage districts to move toward more scientifically-based instruction.
  • There is no data collection system in place that would let us see whether students in classrooms led by “FORT-certified” teachers outperform those in other classrooms.
  • Educator preparation programs have not sufficiently aligned their reading curricula with reading science, as evidenced by only 66-68% of their graduates passing the FORT on the first try. All indications are that new teachers of reading continue to have a weak grasp of reading fundamentals. The expansion of exemptions from the FORT requirement gives these programs even less incentive to improve their coursework. DPI has not set standards or strengthened oversight of educator preparation programs to ensure they are teaching the science of reading.

After several years, the statutory requirement to universally screen kindergartners for reading risk factors was dropped.

Actually, schools are still required to screen all student in grades K4 through 2.

  • The legislature dropped the requirement that the assessment tool be universal. Districts may now use the assessment tool of their choice, as long as it measures phonemic awareness and letter sound knowledge.
  • Screening methods used by some districts are most likely not objective enough or sensitive enough to pick up children at risk for reading failure.
  • Most districts do not appear to screen for rapid naming, which is an important early indicator, or oral vocabulary, which becomes a more important indicator as children age.
  • Children identified as at-risk often do not receive appropriate intervention.
  • There is no data collection system in place that would allow DPI to determine whether the type of screener and form of intervention a district uses has any impact on student achievement.

The Read to Lead Development Fund has dwindled, and the Read to Lead Council is largely inactive.

  • From the beginning, this fund was administered politically rather than scientifically. Grants for scientifically-based initiatives were offset by other grants that carried little potential for significant student growth. This became a disincentive for people to serve on the council.
  • The focus on scientifically-based initiatives seemed to fade further once this program was shifted from the Governor’s office to the Department of Children and Families.
  • Funders interested in effecting change in student reading achievement are more likely to choose the recipients of their grants directly rather than turn their money over to a council that lacks clear grant-making guidelines.

​The Wisconsin replication of the Minnesota Reading Corps has gained some traction and had some success.

  • Some Milwaukee schools have seen positive results from Reading Corps tutors, and expansion to other communities is likely.
  • Fidelity to the program is important, and is ensured by continued oversight from Minnesota.
  • The Reading Corps interventions are solid and effective, but there is only so much the Corps can do to remedy the failures of a school or district’s core reading program. The core reading program needs to successfully serve a much higher percentage of the students, leaving a more manageable number for Reading Corps intervention.

Google Has Been Letting App Developers Gain Access To Users’ Gmails, Unsurprisingly

Janet Burns:

Google has reportedly allowed third-party developers of Android apps to review millions of Gmail messages, which seems about right.

On Monday, a report by The Wall Street Journal drew attention to the fact that access settings for Gmail, Google’s popular email platform, allow users to opt-in to sharing data with developers, which can include users’ personal content and details.

According to the WSJ, third parties have gotten human and AI access to whole Gmail messages, time stamps, and recipients’ addresses, among other things. The report also suggested that Gmail’s associated consent form isn’t explicit enough about that fact that human eyes will be studying users’ content, not just AI.

Facebook Algorithm Flags, Removes Declaration of Independence Text as Hate Speech

Christian Britschgi:

Thomas Cizauskas/John Trumbull/FlickrAmerica’s founding document might be too politically incorrect for Facebook, which flagged and removed a post consisting almost entirely of text from the Declaration of Independence. The excerpt, posted by a small community newspaper in Texas, apparently violated the social media site’s policies against hate speech.

Since June 24, the Liberty County Vindicator of Liberty County, Texas, has been sharing daily excerpts from the declaration in the run up to July Fourth. The idea was to encourage historical literacy among the Vindicator’s readers.

The first nine such posts of the project went up without incident.

“But part 10,” writes Vindicator managing editor Casey Stinnett, “did not appear. Instead, The Vindicator received a notice from Facebook saying that the post ‘goes against our standards on hate speech.'”

The post in question contained paragraphs 27 through 31 of the Declaration of Independence, the grievance section of the document wherein the put-upon colonists detail all the irreconcilable differences they have with King George III.

K-12 Tax & Spending climate: Americans are having fewer babies

Claire Cain Miller:

Americans are having fewer babies. At first, researchers thought the declining fertility rate was because of the recession, but it kept falling even as the economy recovered. Now it has reached a record low for the second consecutive year.
Because the fertility rate subtly shapes many major issues of the day — including immigration, education, housing, the labor supply, the social safety net and support for working families — there’s a lot of concern about why today’s young adults aren’t having as many children. So we asked them.

Wanting more leisure time and personal freedom; not having a partner yet; not being able to afford child-care costs — these were the top reasons young adults gave for not wanting or not being sure they wanted children, according to a new survey conducted by Morning Consult for The New York Times.

About a quarter of the respondents who had children or planned to said they had fewer or expected to have fewer than they wanted. The largest shares said they delayed or stopped having children because of concerns about having enough time or money.

Make no mistake, we are living under a diversity dictatorship

Zoe Strimpel:

When a Cambridge don of Indian heritage announced last week that she would no longer teach for a certain college in protest at “racist profiling and aggression” by the college porters, some onlookers – including yours truly – recoiled.

Among other things, the don was enraged and felt racially insulted that the porters had insisted on calling her “Madam”, as they do all women, rather than “Doctor”, as she’d demanded.

To certain friends and I, however, it seemed highly likely that the porters’ surliness was less racism and more a natural response to an obnoxious, arrogant and imperious member of the intellectual elite telling them what to do.

But these days, that sort of argument counts for nothing…

Days After Exiting Harvard Presidency, Faust Joins Goldman Sachs Board of Directors

Kristine E. Guillaume:

Goldman Sachs Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein ’75 praised Faust for leading Harvard through “a decade of growth and transformation” during her presidency in an emailed statement Thursday.

“Her perspective and experience running one of the most complex and preeminent institutions in the world will benefit our board, our firm and our shareholders,” Blankfein wrote.

Faust will become a member of the firm’s governance, public responsibilities, and risk committees.

Her new position likely comes with significant financial perks. Goldman Sachs spokeswoman Ida Hoghooghi wrote in an emailed statement Thursday that Faust will receive an annual grant of restricted stock units valued at $500,000, though the shares underlying the units are not given to directors until after retirement from the board. Directors also earn an annual retainer of $75,000, which they can choose to receive either in cash or in stock units, according to Hoghooghi.

“I mean, is that really what you’re going to focus on?” Blankfein asked in a phone call Thursday, referring to Faust’s salary.

He then mentioned he thinks it is more important to consider why Faust chose to join the firm. He said Harvard and Goldman Sachs have long had a symbiotic relationship in which “a lot” of students from the school “spend years” at the firm after graduating.

To What Extent Does Your State Rely on Property Taxes?

Katherine Loughead:

Property taxes represent a major source of revenue for states and localities. In fiscal year 2015, the latest year of data available, 31.1 percent of total U.S. state and local tax collections came from property taxes, more than any other source of tax revenue. In the same year, 25 states and the District of Columbia raised the greatest share of their tax revenue from property taxes (see Facts and Figures Table 8).

A variety of local political subdivisions have authority to set property tax rates, including counties, cities, school boards, fire departments, and utility commissions. While most tax jurisdictions levy property taxes based on the fair market value of a property, some base the property tax rate on income potential or other factors. In addition, some states place limits on the extent to which property tax rates may increase per year or impose rate adjustments to achieve uniformity throughout the state.

Language Log » The ethnopolitics of National Language in China

Victor Mair:

Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), the official language of the People’s Republic of China, is designated in four different ways, depending upon the country in which these terms are used:

Guóyǔ 国语 / 國語 (“National Language”) — Taiwan / ROC

Huáyǔ 华语 / 華語 (“Florescent / ‘Chinese’ Language”) — Singapore

Hànyǔ 汉语 / 漢語 (“Sinitic Language”) — linguists

Pǔtōnghuà 普通话 / 普通話 (“Common Language”) — China / PRC

Although these four designations convey distinct, yet subtle, nuances, linguistically they basically refer to the same language with only minor variations.

In recent years here on Language Log, we have had numerous vigorous debates over the relationship between topolects and “minority” languages on the one hand and MSM on the other hand. These debates have to do with ethnic identity, language preservation, and national unity. By chance, I received from Max Oidtmann an extraordinarily detailed report setting forth his observations made on a recent (late May-early June) study trip to Xinjiang. These included his incisive remarks on the terminology pertaining to MSM in Xinjiang

Economics: Tariffs are the Wrong Approach

US Chamber of Commerce:

New tariffs on steel, aluminum, and Chinese imports, as well as the potential for additional tariffs on autos and auto parts, have pushed us to the brink of a global trade war. Canada, Mexico, the EU, and China have already retaliated—or announced plans to retaliate—with billions of dollars in tariffs on American-made products.

Millions of U.S. jobs depend on America’s ability to trade with other countries. Half of all U.S. manufacturing jobs depend on exports, and one in three acres of American farmland is planted for international sales. But recent and proposed trade actions by the Trump administration threaten as many as 2.6 million American jobs and will stymie our economic resurgence.

Imposing tariffs on imported goods will hit American consumers and businesses—including manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, and technology companies—with higher costs on commonly used products and materials.

The United States and China: The Current Global Innovation Landscape

Samuel Klein:

The Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, in partnership with Qualcomm, embarked on a global tour of technology hubsto determine which ones are at the cutting edges of tech-based innovation—and which are at risk of falling behind. Our researchers visited nearly a dozen countries and spoke with almost two hundred experts. Below is a look at how the United States and China compare.

Man Was Fired By His Company’s AI System Due To Human Error, As Managers ‘Stood Powerless’

Mizuki Hisaka:

In what many are considering a grave warning of the potential consequences of AI in the workplace, a man was fired by his company’s AI system. Worst of all, his human managers “stood helpless” throughout the firing process. Nobody had any real answers at first, and no human was able to keep the man from being escorted out of the building by security.

Ibrahim Diallo, a programmer for a company in Los Angeles, described his “automated” firing in a viral blog post, described the New Zealand Herald. On the day that Diallo was technically fired, he got to work as usual and attempted to use his key card to gain entry to his work. The key card would not work, however, and Diallo also found out that he was locked out of his computer and applications. Later in the day, his recruiter said that they’d received an email notifying them that Diallo’s contract had been terminated. Nobody had any answers for Diallo about why this was happening. Finally, the building security guards appeared, and escorted Diallo out of the building.

Why Asian-Americans Feel Powerless in the Battle over New York’s Élite High Schools

Jiayang Fan:

Two years after my mother and I arrived in this country from China, she was newly divorced, jobless, unable to speak English, and on the verge of eviction. Her focus, however, was firmly fixed on my education. I had just turned ten, and as September rolled around, the prospect of our homelessness did not worry my mother as much as that of my schoollessness or, rather, my élite schoollessness. I had completed the third and fourth grades at a public school, in New Haven, with which she had been distinctly dissatisfied. My mother had been a doctor in China and she felt that the academics at the school were not rigorous enough—a complaint that she couldn’t express to the school administrators due to her lack of English. So she pushed me to fly through the school’s English as a Second Language workbooks so fast and so far ahead of schedule that I was sent home with a stern handwritten admonishment to “follow the assignment guidelines.” My teacher, an affable red-haired woman in her mid-thirties, told me to explain to my mother that skipping ahead of the class did no one any good. “Besides, you should not be spending all your time on these workbooks,” she counselled me gently. “Go outside. Give yourself a break.” My mother snorted with derision when I delivered that message. “If we wanted to while away our time taking breaks,” she said, “we couldn’t have come to this country.” So we searched Connecticut for a place to live in the richest Zip Codes, which in this new world, my mother had learned, were directly correlated with the best public schools. We eventually found one in Fairfield County, the wealthiest county in the state, and I entered fifth grade as one of two Asians in the class (there were no other students of color) and the only student in the school who wasn’t born in America.

Mathematician-M.D. solves one of the greatest open problems in the history of mathematics

Daniel Druhora:

Athanassios Fokas, a mathematician from the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics of the University of Cambridge and visiting professor in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering has announced the solution of one of the long-standing problems in the history of mathematics, the Lindelöf Hypothesis.

The solution, first published in arXiv, has far reaching implications for fields like quantum computing, number theory, and encryption which forms the basis for cybersecurity.

Put forth in 1908 by Finnish topologist Ernst Leonard Lindelöf, the Lindelöf hypothesis is a conjecture about the rate of growth of the Riemann zeta function on the critical line implied by one of the most famous unsolved problems related to prime numbers, the Riemann Hypothesis, popularly referred to as the Holy Grail of math.

Lindelöf implies most of the claims of Riemann and Riemann fully implies Lindelöf, therefore a proof of Lindelöf equals a major breakthrough in the field of mathematics.

The industrial revolution, the class conflict and its solutions

Stefano Quintarelli:

The industrial revolution led to a profound social reorganization with respect to the previous predominantly agricultural economy. Economic power, very concentrated, conditioned the political power. In the USA the so called robber barons, thanks to their control over steel and oil, strengthened their economic power by controlling the economy and society to a great extent. The working class of salaried workers was born, and, with it, the conflict with the capitalists who owned the means of production. The market pressure was discharged on the workers who often lived at the limits of subsistence, and the social conflicts, that sometimes resulted in violent movements, were intensified. The rich oligarchs conditioned information, political power and the judiciary.
Thanks to the power they had, not mitigated by institutions and protecting regulation, added value was accumulated by capital, to the detriment of workers.
From the mid-nineteenth century and for most of the twentieth century the world divided on the basis of alternative solutions to the conflict in the distribution of the value between capital and labor.
The paradigm of this conflict was summarized in the final words of the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels which ended with the famous phrase “Workers of the world, unite!”.
An answer from the socialist states were state companies, disconnected from the market in order to isolate the pressure on wages, together with a strict regulation of labor relations mediated by the Party. In the West there prevailed a more articulated model of regulation that saw the emergence of institutions such as the unions with their right to strike; legislative interventions that defined minimum and incompressible rights for workers in matters of work, retirement and health; the progressive possibility of worker participation in the widespread ownership of companies; the birth of the Antitrust Authority to mitigate economic power and with it the influence of economic powers on politics. The Western model that emerged victorious after the end of the Soviet utopia is however put on the ropes by the Digital Revolution and needs a rethinking or, at least, some significant interventions.

Washington, D.C.: the Psychopath Capital of America

Derek Robertson:

When Murphy matched up the “constellation of disinhibition, boldness and meanness” that marks psychopathy with a previously existing map of the states’ predominant personality traits, he found that dense, coastal areas scored highest by far—with Washington dominant among them. “The District of Columbia is measured to be far more psychopathic than any individual state in the country,” Murphy writes in the paper. The runner-up, Connecticut, registered only 1.89 on Murphy’s scale, compared with the overwhelming 3.48 clocked by the District.

What’s going on? There’s one big structural reason: There tend to be more psychopathic personalities in denser areas, and the District of Columbia is denser than even the densest state, so it makes sense that it would top the list. But even when you correct the rankings for density, Murphy says, Washington still ranks first.

This, Murphy hypothesizes, is because psychopaths are attracted to the kinds of jobs Washington offers—jobs that reward raw ambition, a relentless single-mindedness and, let’s admit it, the willingness to step over a few bodies along the way.

“Psychopaths have an awfully grandiose way of thinking about themselves, and D.C. has numerous means of seeking and attaining power,” he wrote in an email. The television critics who dismissed Netflix’s “House of Cards” as cartoonish and unrealistic—surely nobody could be that villainous—may have a few apologies to make. “The presence of psychopaths in the District of Columbia is consistent with the conjecture … that psychopaths are likely to be effective in the political sphere,” Murphy writes in the paper.

Big Data in China and the Battle for Privacy

Lotus Ruan:

This paper examines Chinese state policy on big data industries and analyses the laws and regulations on data collection that companies in China are required to comply with. It also looks at how those rules may affect foreign companies eyeing the China market. Case studies are included to demonstrate the ongoing tensions between big data applications and privacy. The paper concludes by outlining the implications and lessons for other countries…

This paper highlights the conflict between the fast-developing big data technologies and citizens’ diminishing rights to privacy and data security in China. A review of major Chinese big-data-related policy initiatives shows that many of those policies reflect special interest from Chinese authorities, its public security forces in particular, in potentially using data-driven analytic technologies for more effective and extensive surveillance and social control.

Commentary on Wisconsin’s Reading Challenges

Alan Borsuk:

Overall, the Read to Lead effort seems like the high water mark in efforts to improve how kids are taught reading in Wisconsin — and the water is much lower now.

What do the chair and the vice-chair think?

Efforts to talk to Walker were not successful.

Evers said, “Clearly, I’m disappointed. . . . We’re certainly not where we want to be.” He said FoRT had turned out not to be “a lynchpin” to improving teaching the way some envisioned, and he agreed that other efforts pushed by the task force had faded.

Overall, Evers said, it has become clearer that “this is a whole society issue, especially in Milwaukee.” He said dealing with traumas that shape so many children’s lives is necessary. ”If there were a magic bullet, we’d all do it,” Evers said.

Yet some cities and states have succeeded in seeing reading scores go up, slowly but surely, over the last couple of decades. And that sixth sentence of the letter from Walker and Evers, about Wisconsin returning to times when it was a leader, remains a wish and not a reality.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

A Capitol Conversation.

University of Wisconsin Madison Professor Mark Seidenberg.

The Wisconsin DPI (lead by Tony Evers) has created a number of ways around the Foundations of Reading teacher content knowledge requirement (MTEL). Recent legislative activity on this important issue.

Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

Alan Borsuk wrote a column, The ‘Read to Lead’ plan – six years later, for the July 1 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in which he points out the less-than-hoped-for results of that legislation. What he didn’t address was who or what is behind the disappointing outcomes, and what we should do about it. Should we just abandon the recommendations of Read to Lead, or should we double down to make sure they are implemented as intended? Here are some of his points along with our comments:

The Foundations of Reading Test has not led to rise in statewide reading performance or changed how reading is taught in the classroom. This is not a surprise. There are several factors that make it unlikely that we would see statewide improvement in a short period of time:

  • Practicing teachers were grandfathered, and only new teachers of reading have to take the exam.
  • The exam did not kick in until 2015, so it has really been a factor for less than three years.
    DPI under Tony Evers has been granting emergency licenses to teach for individuals who have failed the FORT: up to 1400 per year according to recent DPI testimony before the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules They now seek legislative approval of rule PI-34, which further expands exemptions from the FORT. This dilutes the impact that the FORT was intended to have.

  • The legislature has also granted exemptions from the FORT for individuals who use an online-only path to teaching, as well as some out-of-state teachers moving into Wisconsin.
  • Even teachers who have passed the FORT are limited in what they can do for student achievement if they are employed by balanced literacy districts that require them to teach guessing strategies and whole word memorization. There has been no guidance by DPI to encourage districts to move toward more scientifically-based instruction.
  • There is no data collection system in place that would let us see whether students in classrooms led by “FORT-certified” teachers outperform those in other classrooms.
  • Educator preparation programs have not sufficiently aligned their reading curricula with reading science, as evidenced by only 66-68% of their graduates passing the FORT on the first try. All indications are that new teachers of reading continue to have a weak grasp of reading fundamentals. The expansion of exemptions from the FORT requirement gives these programs even less incentive to improve their coursework. DPI has not set standards or strengthened oversight of educator preparation programs to ensure they are teaching the science of reading.

After several years, the statutory requirement to universally screen kindergartners for reading risk factors was dropped.

Actually, schools are still required to screen all student in grades K4 through 2.

  • The legislature dropped the requirement that the assessment tool be universal. Districts may now use the assessment tool of their choice, as long as it measures phonemic awareness and letter sound knowledge.
  • Screening methods used by some districts are most likely not objective enough or sensitive enough to pick up children at risk for reading failure.
  • Most districts do not appear to screen for rapid naming, which is an important early indicator, or oral vocabulary, which becomes a more important indicator as children age.
  • Children identified as at-risk often do not receive appropriate intervention.
  • There is no data collection system in place that would allow DPI to determine whether the type of screener and form of intervention a district uses has any impact on student achievement.

The Read to Lead Development Fund has dwindled, and the Read to Lead Council is largely inactive.

  • From the beginning, this fund was administered politically rather than scientifically. Grants for scientifically-based initiatives were offset by other grants that carried little potential for significant student growth. This became a disincentive for people to serve on the council.
  • The focus on scientifically-based initiatives seemed to fade further once this program was shifted from the Governor’s office to the Department of Children and Families.
  • Funders interested in effecting change in student reading achievement are more likely to choose the recipients of their grants directly rather than turn their money over to a council that lacks clear grant-making guidelines.

​The Wisconsin replication of the Minnesota Reading Corps has gained some traction and had some success.

  • Some Milwaukee schools have seen positive results from Reading Corps tutors, and expansion to other communities is likely.
  • Fidelity to the program is important, and is ensured by continued oversight from Minnesota.
  • The Reading Corps interventions are solid and effective, but there is only so much the Corps can do to remedy the failures of a school or district’s core reading program. The core reading program needs to successfully serve a much higher percentage of the students, leaving a more manageable number for Reading Corps intervention.

Commentary on Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Growth

Jennifer Berkshire :

It would be easy for labor supporterse to write the story of Wisconsin’s current union landscape as a tragedy. In this version of events, the bomb that Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his allies dropped on the state’s public sector unions has worked just as intended: The ranks of the unions have thinned; their coffers are depleted; their influence over the state and its legislative priorities has been reduced to where, in 2017, the state teachers’ union no longer employed a lobbyist at the statehouse.

All of this is true.

But there is another, more hopeful story to be told about Wisconsin, seven years after Walker officially kicked off his war on labor. It involves parents and teachers and local grassroots activists coming together to fight for the public schools in their communities. While Walker and the Republicans who control Wisconsin’s legislature got their way in 2011, there is a robust ongoing debate, throughout the state, about the role of public education and who should pay for it.

Another perspective.Locally, Madison spends far more than most districts, yet we have long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Wisconsin Act 10 Commentary: Madison schools are near the low end of what districts now require for teacher health insurance premium contributions, at 3 percent,

Mark Sommerhauser:

Wisconsin school districts ratcheted up health care costs on teachers and other employees after the state’s Act 10 collective bargaining changes, with the average district now requiring teachers to pay about 12 percent of their health insurance premiums, newly released data show.

Madison schools are near the low end of what districts now require for premium contributions, at 3 percent, according to the data, released by Gov. Scott Walker’s Department of Administration.

It’s the first time the state has released a comprehensive look at teacher health care costs in all 422 of the state’s public school districts after the 2011 enactment of Act 10.

And it’s one more example of the far-reaching scope of the law — in this case, how it paved the way for state and local workers to pay much more for benefits. The 2017-19 state budget required the Department of Administration to collect the data, which is from the 2017-18 school year.

Barry Forbes, associate executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said the figures show health care costs for school district employees generally matching “what greater society is experiencing now.”

U.S. health care spending grew 4.3 percent in 2016, reaching $3.3 trillion or $10,348 per person. As a share of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, health spending accounted for. More. Families in high-deductible plans must pay more than $2,600 out of pocket, $4,332 on average, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Once workers have surpassed their deductibles, they pay an average $24 copay for a primary care office visit, $37 for a specialty care office visit, and $308 for a hospital admission. Sep 22, 2015

“Unsustainable” benefit costs.

Commentary on Act 10

Patrick Marley and MRy Spicuzzi:

“People think that unions are useless today, that we’re dinosaurs,” Bryce said in 2015, according to the book. “Well, how did that happen? We let it happen. The labor movement has become lazy, because it’s something that’s been handed to us.”

Bryce, a Democrat running for GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan’s congressional seat, said unions need to take bolder measures and raised the prospect of engaging in a general strike, according to “The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics,” a forthcoming book by Dan Kaufman.

The book focuses on Act 10, the 2011 law that all but ended collective bargaining for most public workers in Wisconsin. It also details what supporters call the state’s right-to-work law, which was passed in 2015 and ended the ability of unions and private employers to reach labor deals that require workers to pay union fees even if they didn’t belong to unions.

Much more on Act 10, here.

The Department of Education’s Obama-Era Initiative on Racial Disparities in School Discipline: Wrong For Students and Teachers, Wrong on the Law

Gail L. Heriot and Alison Somin:

On March 8, 2010, one year into the Obama Administration, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave a passionate speech in which he asserted (correctly) that African-American students are the subjects of school discipline at higher rates than white students. Although he did not mention it, it is also true that white students are the subjects of school discipline at higher rates than Asian American students and that male students are disciplined at higher rates than female students.

In response to the racial disparity he identified, Duncan promised that the Department of Education would be stepping up its enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the years that followed, the Department of Education made good on that promise by opening numerous investigations based on statistical disparities. On January 18, 2014, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice jointly issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” on school discipline in which they asserted that the law prohibits not only actual discrimination in discipline on the basis of race, but also what they called “unjustified” disparate impact.

Federal debt is headed for the highest levels since World War II, CBO says

Jeff Stein:

Government debt is on track to hit historically high levels and, at at its current growth rate, will by 2028 be nearly equal in size to the US economy, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday.

The debt is projected to grow to 96 percent of GDP by 2028 before eventually surpassing the historical high of 106 percent it reached in 1946.

Currently, the federal government’s debt burden is about $15 trillion, according to Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

What my ‘liberal’ constituents had to say about our district’s plan to increase integration in 2009

Rock the schools:

This below is one of the nicer email I received from constituents when my board was attempting to make boundary changes so we could improve school integration.

“Because of your changes, there is a very good possibility that he will have to move from a top 5% school to a bottom 5% school based on test scores.”

I understand that due to budget constraints something has to be changed but I feel through this process that the neighborhoods in the open area have been disregarded. We are facing the brunt of the changes yet a petition to use Lindale and Barton [a magnet school] as the community schools was wholly ignored. I can only assume that Barton was left untouched because of the high percentage of district staff children in attendance there, better to help your own than to worry about the outsiders.

[as I remember, the reason Barton survived is because it was a magnet and the most diverse of the few school white folks would see as acceptable]

But what really bothers me is the changes made under the guise of budget constraints are really an attempt to reintroduce desegregation. In your stated goals, desegregation is number 3 on the list and in many cases this is considered before budget issues. I realize that the intention of desegregation is compelling, I agree with giving equal opportunities to all students, but I don’t recall busing has been highly successful where it has been used, including [Minneapolis Public Schools, integration failed spectacularly].

Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

California, Poverty Capital Why are so many people poor in the Golden State?

Kerry Jackson:

California—not Mississippi, New Mexico, or West Virginia—has the highest poverty rate in the United States. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure—which accounts for the cost of housing, food, utilities, and clothing, and which includes noncash government assistance as a form of income—nearly one out of four Californians is poor. Given robust job growth in the state and the prosperity generated by several industries, especially the supercharged tech sector, the question arises as to why California has so many poor people, especially when the state’s per-capita GDP increased roughly twice as much as the U.S. average over the five years ending in 2016 (12.5 percent, compared with 6.27 percent).

It’s not as if California policymakers have neglected to wage war on poverty. Sacramento and local governments have spent massive amounts in the cause, for decades now. Myriad state and municipal benefit programs overlap with one another; in some cases, individuals with incomes 200 percent above the poverty line receive benefits, according to the California Policy Center. California state and local governments spent nearly $958 billion from 1992 through 2015 on public welfare programs, including cash-assistance payments, vendor payments, and “other public welfare,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Unfortunately, California, with 12 percent of the American population, is home today to roughly one in three of the nation’s welfare recipients. The generous spending, then, has not only failed to decrease poverty; it actually seems to have made it worse.

Why Little Vehicles will conquer the City

Benjamin Schneider:

Nearly all of them look silly, but if taken seriously, they could be a really big deal for urban transportation.
 The public reaction to the arrival of dockless bikes and electric scooters in U.S. cities can be tracked in stages. The first stage, for many, was annoyance. Who were these grown men and women on candy-colored bikes and teeny kick-scooters speeding down the streets and sidewalks, menacing walkers and leaving their rented toys all over the place? Especially in San Francisco, where this whimsical new mobility mode has taken off, scooters have come to represent yet another example of tech industry entitlement, another way for a startup to move fast and break stuff.
 In response, many a Twitter urbanist has used this backlash to point out the relative danger and disruption of larger dockless vehicles:

Crypto Commons

Mike Maples:

Cornelius Vanderbilt did not say, “I want to replace the stagecoach.” Thomas Edison didn’t say, “Death to kerosene and whale oil lamps.” Henry Ford didn’t say “No more horses and carriages.” The stock market was a new thing that helped entrepreneurs create new businesses that advanced the standard of living. Abundance happened because ambitious people were looking forward and trying to make new things that were exponentially better.
 150 years after the first railroad IPOs, the US stock market alone is worth more than $30 Trillion.

“I was Devastated”

Katrina Brooker:

The power of the Web wasn’t taken or stolen. We, collectively, by the billions, gave it away with every signed user agreement and intimate moment shared with technology. Facebook, Google, and Amazon now monopolize almost everything that happens online, from what we buy to the news we read to who we like. Along with a handful of powerful government agencies, they are able to monitor, manipulate, and spy in once unimaginable ways. Shortly after the 2016 election, Berners-Lee felt something had to change, and began methodically attempting to hack his creation. Last fall, the World Wide Web Foundation funded research to examine how Facebook’s algorithms control the news and information users receive. “Looking at the ways algorithms are feeding people news and looking at accountability for the algorithms—all of that is really important for the open Web,” he explained. By understanding these dangers, he hopes, we can collectively stop being deceived by the machine just as half the earth’s population is on board. “Crossing 50 percent is going to be a moment to pause and think,” says Berners-Lee, referring to the coming milestone. As billions more connect to the Web, he feels an increasing urgency to resolve its problems. For him this is about not just those already online but also the billions still unconnected. How much weaker and more marginalized will they become as the rest of the world leaves them behind

Universities don’t deliver anymore, and here’s why.

Jessica Wildfire:

A good department chair is hard to find. Mine makes more than twice the average professor’s salary here. He teaches one course a semester. Dumps his busy work on staff. Scrolls Instagram during meetings. He’s in Japan right now. Or Australia. Honestly, I can’t remember.

Our chair only aspires to be like our president, who owns three luxury vehicles and spends every weekend at some country club, or on the slopes, or at a wine tasting.

Lawmakers in our state have sowed distrust of universities into the public, but for all the wrong reasons. They assume we, the faculty, make too much money. That we don’t teach marketable skills. That we’re lazy. Or that we’re harboring illegal immigrants.

Politicians never complain about the money our campus spends on landscaping, though. Or the hundreds of thousands we’re pouring into a football team that draws anemic crowds and pretty much always loses. They say nothing about my provost’s Bentley.

For U.S. Business Schools, Leaders Are Hard to Find

Kelsey Gee:

There is something missing at dozens of business schools where high-profile corporate chiefs and prominent government officials have gone to polish their management credentials: a leader.

Elite M.B.A. programs at Northwestern University, Yale University and the University of California’s Berkeley and Los Angeles business schools, are all searching for new deans, as longtime administrators return to teaching or take positions outside academia.

Through the start of June, job listings for 28 business-school deans were advertised with the accrediting body Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business in 2018, up nearly 50% from this time last year.

More Private School Choice Means More Student Safety

Corey A. DeAngelis:

These positive effects are all large. For example, the most recent federal evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program found that vouchers increased the likelihood that parents and students reported that the students were in very safe schools by more than 35 percent. Data from the state-mandated evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program showed that vouchers increased the likelihood that parents strongly agreed that their children were safe in class by 48 percent. In addition, a study found that school vouchers in D.C., New York City, and Ohio largely reduced the likelihood that parents reported school problems such as fighting, destruction of property, and racial conflict.

But this evidence shouldn’t surprise us all that much. When given the opportunity to choose schools, parents frequently put their children’s safety at the top of the list. In fact, a 2013 studyshowed that 53 percent of families listed safety as a top reason for choosing certain private schools for their kids. After all, families care about their children’s safety more than anyone else.

How to Win Over School-Choice Skeptics

Will Flanders:

A message about traditional value and civic virtue worked to drive up support among Republicans. But perhaps more surprisingly, among Democrats and minorities, messages about how school choice can increase racial diversity in schools and effectively level the playing field for low-income students increased support substantially. A slim majority — 51 percent — of Democrats expressed support for vouchers when told about their implications for diversity, compared with only 29 percent in the baseline condition where they only received a simple definition. Among independents, a message that private schools can be safer than traditional public schools increased support by about 15 points. These messages moved support above the 50 percent threshold among groups for which support for private school choice is traditionally lower, suggesting that there is ample space for education reformers to convince a broader audience of the value of education reform.

Among the messages that didn’t work is one that is near and dear to the hearts of many education reformers: information about test scores. Perhaps dishearteningly to some, most people in our survey were unmoved in their support for private school choice by information that test scores tend to be higher in choice schools.

These findings make sense in light of social-psychology research showing that people from different ideological perspectives process information in different ways. Conservatives are more interested in patriotic messages, while liberals are more interested in concepts such as fairness. It is only natural that the way in which we process information changes the manner in which we speak about issues like school choice. And as conservatives have come to dominate the education-reform agenda, their language has come to dominate the public discussion.

Related: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

The Rise of College ‘Grade Forgiveness’

Jeffrey Selingo:

Over the course of the past three decades, the A has become the most common grade given out on American college campuses. In 2015, 42 percent of grades were top marks, compared to 31 percent in 1988.
This trend of grade inflation—the gradual increase in average GPAs over the past few decades—is often considered a product of a consumer era in higher education, in which students are treated like customers to be pleased. But another, related force—a policy often buried deep in course catalogs called “grade forgiveness”—is helping raise grade-point averages. Different schools’ policies can work in slightly different ways, but in general, grade forgiveness allows students to retake a course in which they received a low grade, and the most recent grade or the highest grade is the only one that counts in calculating a student’s overall GPA. (Both grades still appear on the student’s transcript.)
The use of this little-known practice has accelerated in recent years, as colleges continue to do their utmost to keep students in school (and paying tuition) and improve their graduation rates. According to a forthcoming survey by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, a trade group, some 91 percent of undergraduate colleges and 80 percent of graduate and professional schools permit students to repeat courses to improve a grade. When this practice first started decades ago, it was usually limited to freshmen, to give them a second chance to take a class in their first year if they struggled in their transition to college-level courses. But now most colleges, save for many selective campuses, allow all undergraduates, and even graduate students, to get their low grades forgiven

The surprising reason people change their minds


Wherever you look at the moment, we seem divided – Brexiteer or Remainer, pro-President Trump or against. And no matter how much we argue, none of us appear to change our minds. Whether at the dinner table or on social media, it can seem as though our opinions are more fixed than ever.

But new research suggests that, in fact, we can let go of our opinions – and that opposition can even turn into acceptance.

For decades, research on confirmation bias has shown that we are more likely to look out for, notice and remember anything that confirms opinions we already hold. If you like drinking wine, you’re more likely to remember the occasional studies which find a benefit from alcohol than the research on its risks.

WILL Messaging Experiment & Public Opinion Poll on K-12 Tax & Spending


on K-12 Education Reform
In almost every context, words matter. Public opinion on particular issues can shift greatly depending on the language used, and K-12 education reform is no exception. To help further understand this, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty commissioned Research Now Survey Sampling International to conduct a statewide survey experiment of 1,500 adults in Wisconsin. We tested a number of messages related to education reform, ranging from vouchers to Education Savings Accounts (ESA). We also surveyed public opinion on spending on K-12 schools and the impact of Act 10, the 2011 collective bargaining reform law, on teachers and students.
To conduct the school choice messaging study for vouchers, charter schools, and ESAs, respondents were randomized into one of several messaging conditions, exposing them to certain types of information. Following this randomization, respondents are asked about their level of support for school choice on a five point scale ranging from “strongly oppose” to “strongly support.” We learn which messages increase support by comparing the average responses of those in the control group to the average response of those in each treatment group.

We found that school choice is in fact popular, but the words that are used to describe it are of critical importance. For example, Republicans increase their support of vouchers when discussed in terms of civics and patriotism. Democrats and African Americans increase their support when discussed in terms of diversity. Surprisingly Education Savings Accounts have majority or plurality of support amongst all demographics, including Democrats, and suggest strong appetite for more school choice

Want to Find a Good School? Pay Attention to Where Teachers Send Their Kids.

Shawns Barnes:

I am a parent and I am a teacher. I have also lived in Indianapolis since I was two. I have attended school in two Indianapolis school districts and worked in a few districts. I am always surprised when a parent ignores my advice about a school, sends their children there, and then later tells me I was right about the school.

Here are a few reasons why you should talk to teachers and observe where their kids go to school:

A toe step toward diverse K-12 Governance in Madison

A majority of the Madison school board has long opposed K-12 governance diversity including the rejection of a proposed Madison preparatory academy IB charter school. Steven Elbow:

Two Madison charter schools will start the school year with additional funds awarded from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Isthmus Montessori Academy (rejected by the Madison School Board) and One City Senior Preschool were among 26 new or expanding charter schools to receive more than $17 million from the U.S. Department of Education. Both schools were approved by the University of Wisconsin System’s Office of Educational Opportunity, created in 2015 by Republican lawmakers to grant school charters without input from local school boards.

The local paper fails to mention the struggle, nor the Madison schools’ long term, disastrous reading results.

The Weird, Ever-Evolving Story of DNA

Nathanial Comfort:

In 1555, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V announced his plans to abdicate, and his 28-year-old son, Philip II, became the king of Spain the following year. The throne was Philip’s natural—hereditary—right. The Habsburg dynasty, to which Charles and Philip belonged, had raised strategic matrimony to an art form, using marriage bonds among relations distant and close to seize control over much of Europe. Power came with a price, however: severe, recurring mental and physical problems. Charles’s mother was Joan the Mad; his son Philip was said to be “of weakly frame and of a gloomy, severe, obstinate, and superstitious character.” Philip’s descendant Charles II was 4 before he could talk and 8 before he could walk. He died in 1700, not yet 40, childless and sterile. Geneticists have calculated that he was more inbred than he would have been had his parents been siblings. After his death, the Spanish Habsburg dynasty collapsed, crushed under the weight of a heredity that as yet had no name.

Though Renaissance nobles could not have missed the unfortunate traits that ran like fractures through the House of Habsburg, not until the 1830s did the term heredity acquire its modern connotation as a biological legacy. Because the term first specified material inheritance, often from eldest son to eldest son, we tend to think about heredity in terms of straight lines: bloodlines, patrilines, and eventually germ lines. Our word for a diagram of the lines of descent—pedigree—is probably derived from the French pé de grue, or “crane’s foot,” evoking an image of a pencil-like leg ending in straight, splayed toes.

The surprising thing the ‘marshmallow test’ reveals about kids in an instant-gratification world

Melissa Healy:

Here’s a psychological challenge for anyone over 30 who thinks “kids these days” can’t delay their personal gratification: Before you judge, wait a minute.

It turns out that a generation of Americans now working their way through middle school, high school and college are quite able to resist the prospect of an immediate reward in order to get a bigger one later. Not only that, they can wait a minute longer than their parents’ generation, and two minutes longer than their grandparents’ generation could.

It may not sound like much, but being able to hold out for an extra minute or two at a young age may serve them well in the long run. Research suggests that superior results on a delayed-gratification task during the toddler years is associated with better performance in school and in jobs, healthier relationships, and even fewer chronic diseases.

The modern education system was designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober”

Allison Schrager:

The education system as we know it is only about 200 years old. Before that, formal education was mostly reserved for the elite. But as industrialization changed the way we work, it created the need for universal schooling.
Factory owners required a docile, agreeable workers who would show up on time and do what their managers told them. Sitting in a classroom all day with a teacher was good training for that. Early industrialists were instrumental, then, in creating and promoting universal education. Now that we are moving into a new, post-industrial era, it is worth reflecting on how our education evolved to suit factory work, and if this model still makes sense.
“Factory schools,” as they are now called, originated in early 19th-century Prussia. For the first time, education was provided by the state and learning was regimented. Dozens of students at a time were placed in grades according to their age, and moved through successive grades as they mastered the curriculum. They took an industrialized approach to education: impersonal, efficient, and standardized

Related: Frederick Taylor.

A Landmark Study on the Origins of Alcoholism

Ed Yong :

For Markus Heilig, the years of dead ends were starting to grate.

A seasoned psychiatrist, Heilig joined the National Institutes of Health in 2004 with grand ambitions of finding new ways to treat addiction and alcoholism. “It was the age of the neuroscience revolution, and all this new tech gave us many ways of manipulating animal brains,” he recalls. By studying addictive behavior in laboratory rats and mice, he would pinpoint crucial genes, molecules, and brain regions that could be targeted to curtail the equivalent behaviors in people.