Civics: ‘Shattered’: Inside the secret battle to save America’s undercover spies in the digital age

Jenna McLaughlin and Zach Dorfman

The Station of the Future was just one crack at tackling the challenges wrought by a world defined by pervasive digital footprints, biometric trackers and artificial intelligence — challenges that have bedeviled U.S. intelligence agencies and divided their senior leadership. So serious is the concern about biometric tracking that in late December the Defense Department’s chief intelligence official co-signed a memo, obtained by Yahoo News, advising all military personnel to avoid using consumer DNA kits, noting worries about surveillance, among other security concerns. 

These problems are now being recognized by Congress as well. 

“Very few people, maybe shepherds in rural Afghanistan, don’t leave some form of digital trace today,” Rep. Jim Himes, who leads the House Intelligence subcommittee on advancing technology, told Yahoo News. “And that poses real opportunities in terms of identifying bad guys … but it also poses real challenges [in] keeping our people from being identified.”

Though the FBI and CIA declined to comment, current and former national security officials who spoke with Yahoo News said efforts to address these issues are underway. CIA Director Gina Haspel, who served decades undercover herself, has doubled down in support of sending spies overseas to track “hard targets,” like Russia and Iran.

Civics: The StingRay Is Exactly Why the 4th Amendment Was Written

Olivia Donaldson:

How? They use a shoebox-sized device called a StingRay. This device (also called an IMSI catcher) mimics cell phone towers, prompting all the phones in the area to connect to it even if the phones aren’t in use.

The police use StingRays to track down and implicate perpetrators of mainly domestic crimes. The devices can be mounted in vehicles, drones, helicopters, and airplanes, allowing police to gain highly specific information on the location of any particular phone, down to a particular apartment complex or hotel room.

Has The Master’s Degree Bubble Burst?

Lindsay MacKenzie:

It’s no secret that the master’s degree market has become increasingly competitive. Dozens of colleges are starting degrees online and on campus in hot areas such as cybersecurity and data science. But the market is not as healthy as many college leaders believe it to be, said Adams.

The National Center for Education Statistics has lowered its expectations for master’s degree growth every year for the past five years. The projected 10-year annual growth rate in 2014 was 2.8 percent. The actual growth rate of master’s degree conferrals in the U.S. from 2013 to 2018 was 1.7 percent.

“In 2014, what were bullish projections of over a million master’s degree conferrals annually by 2024 steadily dropped to a projected 840,000 master’s degree conferrals by 2029. That’s almost 200,000 fewer master’s degrees conferred,” wrote Adams in a recent blog post in which she argues that the master’s degree market is a bubble that has “already burst.” The blog post is the first in a series that will discuss trends and changes in the master’s degree market.

What Is the Most Valuable Thing You Can Learn in One Hour?


This article will give you a list of the most valuable things you can learn in just an hour. There are many basic and valuable skills you can acquire in a very short amount of time, not only in technology but also in general life. Cooking, first aid & CPR, setting up a Raspberry Pi, cable management, or even learning to learn. These are all things that you can learn in under 60 minutes and will make a remarkable impact on your life. Obviously, learning is not mastering. Practice makes perfect, and you will have to practice over time to perfect your newly acquired skills.

Maia Pearson becomes first newcomer to announce 2020 Madison School Board campaign

Scott Girard:

The Madison School Board seat left open by incumbent Kate Toews choosing not to run for re-election has a candidate.

Maia Pearson, a Madison native who has three children in Madison schools, will run for Seat 6. She filed her declaration of candidacy and campaign registration statement with the city clerk Monday and announced her campaign with state Rep. Shelia Stubbs, who is also a Dane County Board supervisor.

Pearson said at her announcement that she “really, truly cares about our children,” according to a video shared on Facebook by School Board member Ananda Mirilli.

“Me running is not just a personal endeavor, but moreso because I really want to make sure the children of Madison have everything necessary to succeed,” Pearson said. “I am a firm believer that every child is special, every child can succeed, all they need is everyone to come with them to make sure that they grow.”

Pearson was one of 29 applicants for Seat 2 earlier this year when Mary Burke resigned.

The board appointed Savion Castro to that seat. He is running for re-election to the seat and is currently unopposed. Incumbent Nicki Vander Meulen is also running for re-election to Seat 7, and is also unopposed.

In her application to the board in July, Pearson wrote that the district “faces critical issues in safeguarding our children, especially children of color, the invalidation of parents of color, and the ineffective training of the adults working directly and indirectly with students”

“There must be improved teacher training to ensure that teachers meet the needs of a multicultural student body and work effectively with parents of diverse cultures and races,” she wrote. “These and other proactive approaches are crucial to ensuring that students of color and different backgrounds feel safe and secure at Madison schools and that parents of color are validated and their concerns for their children’s safety heard, respected, and acted upon. It goes without question, after all, that feeling safe at school is a prerequisite to performing well and that we want all of our students to achieve to the full extent of their abilities.”

Stubbs offered her endorsement during Monday’s announcement.

“Maia is a young lady who is going to be a change leader,” Stubbs said.

Madison taxpayers spend far more than most K-12 school districts. Yet, we have long tolerated disastrousreading results.

Madison K-12 administrators are planning a substantial tax & spending increase referendum for 2020.


Madison School District projects loss of 1,100 students over next five years, yet 2020 referendum planning continues.

Madison School Board approves purchase of $4 million building for special ed programs

2013: What will be different, this time? 2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison Experience

Madison Teachers, Inc. Director Reflects on 2019 and the taxpayer supported School District’s Governance

Scott Girard:

Anderson, who posted about the incident on social media and became a face for the push against the “zero tolerance” practice the district had instituted, had been called a “b**** a** n****” by a student and told the student not to call him the n-word, using the word itself in the process. Another staff member, who had been disciplined the previous school year, went public soon after with her own story.

“I’d say 2019 was a very challenging year for educators and people in the schools,” Keillor said. “It’s always been challenging work, but in 2019 we had some particular challenges that our folks have faced.”

Keillor said one of those challenges was the staff discipline came at the same time the district continues its shift away from “zero tolerance” practices with student discipline, adding that there is more work to be done in getting teachers ready to implement the Behavior Education Plans that went into effect in 2013.

“Last year was very challenging with this contradiction between restorative work for students and highly punitive, zero tolerance for staff,” Keillor said. “Our conversations since the Marlon Anderson (incident), our hope is the school district is moving past that.”

At the same time, MTI itself is offering an increasing number of development opportunities for its staff, especially devoted to racial equity. Holding monthly Saturday sessions along with helping to organize book groups at individual buildings has helped the work spread districtwide, Waity said.

Machine learning has revealed exactly how much of a Shakespeare play was written by someone else

Technology Review:

The evidence comes from studies of each author’s linguistic idiosyncrasies and how they crop up in Henry VIII. For example, Fletcher often writes ye instead of you, and ’em instead of them. He also tended to add the word sir or still or next to a standard pentameter line to create an extra sixth syllable.

These characteristics allowed Spedding and other analysts to suggest that Fletcher must have been involved. But exactly how the play was divided is highly disputed. And other critics have suggested that another English dramatist, Philip Massinger, was actually Shakespeare’s coauthor.

Which is why analysts and historians would dearly love to determine, once and for all, who wrote which parts of Henry VIII.

Enter Petr Plecháč at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, who says he has solved the problem using machine learning to identify the authorship of more or less every line of the play. “Our results highly support the canonical division of the play between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher proposed by James Spedding,” says Plecháč.

I Killed My Teenager’s Fancy College Dreams. You Should, Too.

Melody Warnick:

A couple months ago, my 17-year-old daughter’s guidance counselor called her into his office to ask pretty much the only question that adults ask high school seniors: “What colleges are you applying to?” When Ella tossed off a handful of universities, he said, “Have you thought about going to art school?”

By that afternoon, Ella was having a full-blown crisis of faith, because yes, she had thought pretty hard about art school. When her oil paintings started winning awards freshman year, her AP art teacher more or less told her that art school was her destiny, the only way not to squander her prodigious talents. Ella didn’t need convincing. She was so ready to bolt out of our small southwest Virginia town into a big city where she could paint all day that she had basically become a Lifetime movie cliché.

Facebook has turned data against us. Here’s how we fight back

Yin Yin Lu:

In 2020, we will finally open our eyes to the reality that personalisation does not actually serve our best interests. Rather, it serves the best interests of private companies, driven by advertising – the business model of the internet.

Personalisation drives profit because it reduces digital advertising waste. The richer and more comprehensive its data sources, the more targeted and dynamic it can be. The endgame of digital marketing is to build relationships through the real-time execution of campaigns tailored to the individual.

On the surface level, it is difficult to critique personalisation. This is due to the strong association the word has with relevance. Who can argue that relevance does not add value? But this is the wrong question to be asking: the more important question is who decides what is relevant. A much more fundamental, and alarming, issue with online personalisation is that it disempowers us: the algorithm has control over our choices. And the more data it has about us, the more disempowered we are.

We are now reaching a crunch point for personalisation, where we will need to rethink its costs and benefits. Predictive algorithms have become sophisticated and impossible to understand and they operate in intimate areas of our lives – even our facial expressions are being processed in real time, and deeply personal characteristics such as sexual orientation are being inferred without our knowledge. At the same time, data breaches, machine bias and fake-news scandals have escalated the importance of privacy and algorithmic transparency. In 2020, we will enter a new era of digital human rights and data ethics.

What Does California’s New Data Privacy Law Mean? Nobody Agrees

Natasha Singer:

Millions of people in California are now seeing notices on many of the apps and websites they use. “Do Not Sell My Personal Information,” the notices may say, or just “Do Not Sell My Info.”

But what those messages mean depends on which company you ask.

Stopping the sale of personal data is just one of the new rights that people in California may exercise under a state privacy law that takes effect on Wednesday. Yet many of the new requirements are so novel that some companies disagree about how to comply with them.

Even now, privacy and security experts from different companies are debating compliance issues over private messaging channels like Slack.

In-House Regulators: Documenting the Impact of Regulation on Internal Structure

Kirby Smith:

In a deregulatory environment, what do regulated firms do? The standard assumption is simple: firms revert to their pre-regulatory form. This Essay challenges that basic assumption. Increasingly, regulation is conducted through broad standards foisted on firms to implement internally. Congress articulates a policy goal; agencies enact specific standards for regulated entities; and firms are left to sort out how to comply with such standards. Recent mandates in financial, privacy, and medical regulation exemplify this approach. Despite these changes, scholars have not turned their attention to how this new form of regulation changes the structure of the regulated entity. Using case studies and theoretical insights, this Essay hypothesizes that the structures firms create in a regulated environment will not immediately disappear in a deregulatory world. Rather, they will persist. Modern regulation causes firms to make department-specific investments and centralize information gathering. Firms accomplish this, in part, by increasing the presence of regulatory-related staff. And, once these investments are completed, they will insulate regulatory-related staff from immediate removal in a deregulatory environment. That is, in-house regulators will be sticky. This Essay aims to provide an array of theories to support this phenomenon.


Deregulation is an integral part of President Trump’s agenda.1 Scholars have been quick to point out that there are multiple headwinds to his deregulatory agenda. The Senate stymied efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, for instance.2

Congressional repeal is not Trump’s only option—regulatory changes have focused on agency process. But scholars are also quick to point out that deregulation faces both legal and practical hurdles. In the legal realm, the repeal of rulemaking must go through the standard notice-and-comment process,3 and can be challenged as arbitrary and capricious.4 On the more practical side, deregulation requires the cooperation of a vast bureaucracy consisting of agency employees with their own incentives.5

Disrupting Schools For Racial Justice

Rod Dreher:

I’ve mentioned in this space before what a revelation it was to me to transfer to a new school for my 11th grade year. I went from a good public school to a better public school: a boarding school for gifted kids. The revelation was what a classroom environment could be like when teachers didn’t have to spend so much time trying to make kids be quiet so she could teach. I had never experienced that before.

In my old school, I don’t recall that it was a racial thing. Kids just would not shut up. I remember going back to visit my favorite teacher in my old school, on the first break we had from my new one, and being gobsmacked by how much time she had to spend trying to discipline her class. And this was normal for every class! Like I said, my old school was considered to be one of the better ones in the state, too. The impression I had — and this was coming up on 40 years ago, so take it with a grain of salt — was that our poor teachers had to spend a shocking amount of time as disciplinarians. There was nothing bad, just the constant chit-chat of restless teenagers who refuse to keep their stupid mouths shut.

Our Hopes for Higher Ed Reform in 2020

Martin Center:

As priorities shift in the minds of higher education leaders and students, it’s important to take stock of recent changes on the local and national levels. At the Martin Center, we have our eyes on some reforms at the top of our list for 2020:

Jenna A. Robinson, President

More Colleges Experimenting with Income Share Agreements

Student debt poses a problem for many young people, especially those who are underemployed or unemployed after leaving college. A better alternative is Income Share Agreements (ISA). ISAs are contracts between students and their schools. The university pays for the student’s education and the student, after graduation, agrees to repay the university with a certain percentage of his or her income for a pre-determined number of years after graduation.

ISAs have several advantages over traditional debt. First, students know exactly how long it will take to “pay off” their debt since that’s part of the agreement from the beginning. Also, students who don’t earn very much money in their first jobs won’t be crushed by sky-high loan repayments. And there’s also no interest, which means that the balance won’t grow over time.

Most importantly, ISAs align the interests of students and schools because the school recoups more of its investment from students who graduate and find lucrative employment. Universities and students both have a financial stake in student success.

Facebook and Google’s pervasive surveillance poses an unprecedented danger to human rights


Facebook and Google’s omnipresent surveillance of billions of people poses a systemic threat to human rights, Amnesty International warned in a new report as it called for a radical transformation of the tech giants’ core business model.

Surveillance Giants lays out how the surveillance-based business model of Facebook and Google is inherently incompatible with the right to privacy and poses a systemic threat to a range of other rights including freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of thought, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.

“Google and Facebook dominate our modern lives – amassing unparalleled power over the digital world by harvesting and monetizing the personal data of billions of people. Their insidious control of our digital lives undermines the very essence of privacy and is one of the defining human rights challenges of our era,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Behind the One-Way Mirror: A Deep Dive Into the Technology of Corporate Surveillance

Bennett Cyphers:

Trackers are hiding in nearly every corner of today’s Internet, which is to say nearly every corner of modern life. The average web page shares data with dozens of third-parties. The average mobile app does the same, and many apps collect highly sensitive information like location and call records even when they’re not in use. Tracking also reaches into the physical world. Shopping centers use automatic license-plate readers to track traffic through their parking lots, then share that data with law enforcement. Businesses, concert organizers, and political campaigns use Bluetooth and WiFi beacons to perform passive monitoring of people in their area. Retail stores use face recognition to identify customers, screen for theft, and deliver targeted ads.

Global Wave of Debt Is Largest, Fastest in 50 Years

World Bank:

Debt in emerging and developing economies (EMDEs) climbed to a record US$55 trillion in 2018, marking an eight-year surge that has been the largest, fastest, and most broad-based in nearly five decades, according to a new World Bank Group study that urges policymakers to act promptly to strengthen their economic policies and make them less vulnerable to financial shocks.

The analysis is contained in Global Waves of Debt, a comprehensive study of the four major episodes of debt accumulation that have occurred in more than 100 countries since 1970. It found that the debt-to-GDP ratio of developing countries has climbed 54 percentage points to 168 percent since the debt buildup began in 2010. On average, that ratio has risen by about seven percentage points a year—nearly three times as fast it did during the Latin America debt crisis of the 1970s. The increase, moreover, has been exceptionally broad-based—involving government as well as private debt, and observable in virtually all regions across the world.

Illegal Madison School Board Meetings

Brenda Konkel:


At. least. try.

The school board is so messed up when it comes to transparency I don’t know where to begin.

I’d really like to see them receive some training in open meetings laws and openly discuss the challenges and solutions to have a small board where open meetings violations become more challenging.

I’m hoping the new superintendent has a greater sense of urgency towards and prioritizes transparency and following open meetings laws.

I’m hoping the new general council for the school board gives the school board better advice on open meetings laws.

I’m hoping the new media person is also on board for ensuring that the school board is not just managing the media, but open and transparent.

I’d like to see a commitment by board members to change practices and policies to increase transparency.

I’d like to see practices and unwritten policies put into writing.

But mostly, I just want them to be educated and supported by staff in being more transparent so the public can better understand where all our taxes are going and why and who we should vote for in future elections.

This, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts and tolerating long term, disastrous reading results.

An Unlimited Supply Of Borrowed Cash Is Destroying Higher Education

Rebecca Kathryn Jude and Chauncey M. DePree, Jr:

“You have to go to college” was an article of faith when we were growing up in poor families. Now we wonder if our ticket out of poverty still has the same value. Far too many of this generation are leaving college with substantial debt and few meaningful job opportunities.

Put a little differently, what is the value of a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies or sociology or any other fields that are not science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or business? Ask some of the young people working at your local coffee shop or favorite restaurant. They will probably tell you, “not much.”

The problem has become so overwhelming that politicians are talking about “free” college and “forgiving” college debt. It sounds good. The truth is that these proposals are a disaster in the making because they ignore the root cause of out-of-control costs of higher education.

Computer Science from the bottom up

Ian Weinand:

Table of Contents

• Introduction

◦ Welcome

▪ Philosophy

▪ Why from the bottom up?

▪ Enabling Technologies

• 1. General Unix and Advanced C

◦ Everything is a file!

◦ Implementing abstraction

▪ Implementing abstraction with C

▪ Libraries

◦ File Descriptors

▪ The Shell

• 2. Binary and Number Representation

◦ Binary — the basis of computing

▪ Binary Theory

▪ Hexadecimal

▪ Practical Implications

◦ Types and Number Representation

▪ C Standards

▪ Types

▪ Number Representation

Google – Competition is just one click and 27 billion US Dollars away

Tech @Cliqz:

If you work on a competitor to Google’s search, you will eventually hear that “you only need to build a better search engine and you would capture significant market share”. Wouldn’t users immediately switch? The former Google CEO Eric Schmidt famously phrased that Google’s dominance is not a problem since “competition is just one click away”. This is a dangerous statement: it justifies Google’s 93% monopoly[1]. It is also a discouraging statement: it implies competition is just not able to build a good search engine. And it is a very wrong statement: It implies that people choose Google only because of its quality. Yes, the quality of the product is a necessary condition for success. It is however not a sufficient condition. Almost all browsers and almost all phones today come with Google as the default search engine. It is not by chance. Google pays a heavy sum to be pre-installed at these positions. They are standing in front of yearly bribes (yes, you read it right, a bribe), of 27 billion US dollars[2] to make sure they monopolize all search entry points and ask you to look somewhere else.

Building a search engine is without doubt a hard and challenging task[3]. You need data, you need access to crawling, you need good algorithms, you need smart people and you will most certainly need more than tens of millions of dollars. There are many technical challenges, network effects working against you, and data barriers to entry. But it can be done. Microsoft did it. We, Cliqz, did it. Others did it. But still Google has a 93% market share in Europe and even 97% on mobile.

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school Districts use Google services, including Madison.

The $1.6tn US student debt nightmare

Alice Kantor:

Voorhies is one of 45m students who are paying off debts to the federal government after seeking its help to fund their university studies. Millennials aged between 25 and 34 years old account for one-third of this number. They have faced a particularly harsh economic environment in the past decade, including the recession that followed the financial crisis, stagnating wages and rising tuition costs.

For many of this generation, higher education has not only failed to deliver on its promise of prosperity but left them trapped in a student debt nightmare. As the issue emerges as a big theme of the 2020 US presidential election, experts are urging policymakers to tackle the spiralling US student loan crisis. What are the ramifications for those suffering its worst effects?

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The “Wealth Tax”

Knowledge @ Wharton:

An ultra-millionaire tax” — or wealth tax — proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is likely to raise between $2.3 trillion and $2.7 trillion in additional revenue in ten years from 2021 to 2030, according to a study by the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a nonpartisan research initiative that analyzes the fiscal impact of public policy programs. These revenue projections are significantly lower than Warren’s estimate that the plan can potentially generate $3.75 trillion. Moreover, the wealth tax may depress GDP in 2050 by 1% to 2%, depending on how the money is spent and the productivity boost it generates, the study adds.

Warren last month announced a revision of her earlier wealth tax proposal of January 2019, doubling the levy on households with more than a billion dollars in net worth. Under her plan, households would pay an annual 2% tax on every dollar of net worth exceeding $50 million and a 6% tax on net worth more than $1 billion. The tax would impact some 75,000 households who comprise the top 0.1% of U.S. households, according to analysis by economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman of the University of California-Berkeley.

“A small group of families has taken a massive amount of the wealth American workers have produced, while America’s middle class has been hollowed out,” Warren said in the introduction to her latest plan. “It’s time for the rich to pay their fair share.” She cited findings by Saez and Zucman that the 400 richest Americans now own more wealth than all Black households and a quarter of Latino households combined.

Conservatives Need Not Apply for Prestigious Scholarships

Christian Schneider:

When British businessman Cecil Rhodes passed away in 1902, he couldn’t possibly have imagined what the world would be like in 2019. Over 117 years ago, his brain couldn’t have conceived of commercial air travel or the Internet or how great Jennifer Aniston would still look.

Further, Rhodes also would not recognize what has become of the prestigious scholarship he founded in the year of his death. For one, he would be confused that the Rhodes Scholarship was being granted to women and minorities — he was an avowed white supremacist and specifically excluded women from winning the award. (Women didn’t become eligible until 1977.)

But Rhodes would also be perplexed about the academic paths chosen by Rhodes winners and by the criteria applied to the applicants.

Last week, the Rhodes Foundation announced its 32 American scholarship recipients. The third paragraph of the statement accompanying the selections reveals the foundation’s true goals:

For the third consecutive year, the class overall is majority-minority, and approximately half are first-generation Americans. One is the first transgender woman elected to a Rhodes Scholarship; two other Scholars-elect are non-binary.

If Rhodes were to rise from the grave in 2019, he might die all over again.

Madison School Board member Kate Toews not seeking reelection

Logan Wroge:

Madison School Board member Kate Toews is not seeking reelection this spring after serving one term.

Toews, who was chosen as board vice president in April, filed paperwork Friday with the city Clerk’s Office indicating she doesn’t plan to run for reelection April 7.

One person, Benjamin Williams, had filed initial paperwork to run for Toews’ seat, but he contacted the Clerk’s Office on Thursday saying he no longer planned to seek election.

Scott Girard:

Toews is traveling out of the country, but wrote in a Facebook message that it “was an incredibly difficult decision for me, but the right thing at this point in time for me and my family.”

Toews has expressed hesitance at the price tag of the operating referendum staff have presented so far. She voted in favor of renewing the school resource officer contract with the police department earlier this year in a 4 to 3 vote, but expressed support at the time for trying one high school without an officer eventually.

Notes and links on Kate Toews.

What has been accomplished during the past three years? Taxpayer spending continues to grow and our long term, disastrous reading results remain unaddressed.

Commentary on Growing Madison (and Dane County) K-12 Property Tax Bills

Dean Mosiman:

Driven by higher property values, slower growth in the lottery credit and rising school levies, many Dane County homeowners will see higher tax bills this year.

In the city of Madison, the total tax bill for the average assessed home in the Madison School District is rising about $374, or 5.8%, to $6,789. That compares to just a $64 increase in 2018, about 1%, which was the lowest percentage increase since 2014. The sums reflect tax bills after the school tax credit is applied but before the state lottery credit, which grew about half as much this year as it did last year, and another credit for building improvements on property are deducted. The city’s new $40 vehicle registration fee, also known as a wheel tax, does not appear on the tax bill.

Madison taxpayers have long spent far more than most K-12 school districts, despite tolerating long term, disastrous reading results.

Optimists For The Win: Finding The Bright Side Might Help You Live Longer

Patti Neighmond:

Good news for the cheery: A Boston study published this month suggests people who tend to be optimistic are likelier than others to live to be 85 years old or more.

That finding was independent of other factors thought to influence life’s length — such as “socioeconomic status, health conditions, depression, social integration, and health behaviors,” the researchers from Boston University School of Medicine and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health say. Their work appears in a recent issue of the science journal PNAS.

5 Reasons Why People Love Cancel Culture

Rob Henderson:

1. Cancel culture increases social status. The most powerful motive underpinning cancel culture is social status. Research reveals that sociometric status (respect and admiration from our peers) is more important to our sense of well-being than socioeconomic status. Furthermore, a recent study found that a high social class predicts a greater desire for wealth and status than a low social class. Put differently, it is those who already have status and money who have a stronger craving for status and money relative to other people. For many affluent people, that drive is how they got to their lofty positions in the first place. Aggravating this drive is that they are typically surrounded by people just like them—their peers and competitors are also affluent status-maximizers. They are constantly seeking new ways to either move upward or avoid slipping downward. For social strivers, cancel culture has created new opportunities to move up by taking others down.

2. Cancel culture reduces the social status of enemies. Plainly, if there is an activity that will elevate the status of oneself or one’s group, people will do it. One approach to elevation is to do something good. But doing something good requires effort and the possibility of failure. Fortunately, another option exists: Broadcasting the bad behavior of others. This method works because social status is relative. One person losing social rank is the same as another gaining it. If you’re a 6 on the social-status ladder, working up to a 9 is hard. But scheming to bring a 9 down to a 3 is easier and more thrilling. It is much easier to unite people around bringing a 9 down to a 3 than to lift themselves up from a 6 to a 9. Additionally, people are slow to give moral praise for a good act and quick to assign moral blame for a bad one. The relative difficulty of doing something good and the prolonged waiting period to receive credit for it is why cancel culture has flourished. It offers quicker social rewards. Indeed, research shows that people engage in moral grandstanding to enhance their social rank.

My Semester With the Snowflakes

James Hatch:

My first class of the semester was absolutely terrifying. I don’t know if it was for the kids in my class, but it damn sure was for me. It was a literature seminar with the amazing Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor David Quint. He is an amazing human in that he has dedicated his life to literature, and he knows what he is talking about. The discussion was centered around the Iliad. I had read a bit of the Iliad in the middle part of my military career and decidedly didn’t get it. Listening to Professor Quint demonstrated exactly how much I didn’t “get it.” The other students looked like children to me. Hell, they are children, but when they speak, and some of them speak English as their second language, they sound like very well-spoken adults. My Navy issued graduate degree in cussing wasn’t going to help me out here. These young students had a good grasp of the literature and although they lacked much experience to bounce it off of, they were certainly “all in” on trying to figure out its underlying meaning.

At one point I said, “Hey, I’m just an old guy sitting here with a bunch of smart people, but I think….” And they all smiled, some of them nervously because I was essentially an alien. I was an old dude with tattoos all over his arms and a Dutch Shepherd service dog, brandishing a subdued American flag patch on her harness, sitting next to me. Professor Quint later approached me and said, “Hey, don’t downplay your intelligence. You are smart as well.”

I thought, I’ve got him fooled! Turns out I didn’t fool him at all when I turned in my first paper, but that is another story for another time.

After a few classes, I started to get to know some of my classmates. Each of them is a compelling human who, in spite of their youth, are quite serious about getting things done.

One young woman made a very big impact on me. She approached me after class one day and said, “I am really glad I can be here at Yale and be in class with you. My grandfather came to Yale and when WWII started, he left for the Navy and flew planes in the Pacific theater. After he came home, he came back to Yale, but he couldn’t finish. He locked himself in his room and drank and eventually had to leave, so I feel like I am helping him finish here at Yale and I’m doing it with a veteran, you.”

The university doesn’t referee free speech

George Korda:

Conservative students and faculty at the University of Tennessee who fear that speaking their minds will spark backlash and retribution from politically and socially-liberal students and faculty should consider Randy Boyd, UT System president, their 9-1-1 call.

“We encourage people to speak their minds regardless of position, in all cases, all the time,” Boyd said Dec. 22 in an interview with me on “State Your Case,” the radio show I host from noon–2 p.m. Sundays on WOKI-FM, Newstalk 98.7.

“We just hope that they can do it civilly and professionally,” he said. “As long as that’s done, we encourage the free speech of conservative, liberal, any view whatsoever. I’m hopeful no one feels afraid to share their views. If they ever do, my e-mail is

Colleges are turning students’ phones into surveillance machines, tracking the locations of hundreds of thousands

Drew Harrell:

When Syracuse University freshmen walk into professor Jeff Rubin’s Introduction to Information Technologies class, seven small Bluetooth beacons hidden around the Grant Auditorium lecture hall connect with an app on their smartphones and boost their ‘‘attendance points.’’

And when they skip class? The SpotterEDU app sees that, too, logging their absence into a campus database that tracks them over time and can sink their grade. It also alerts Rubin, who later contacts students to ask where they’ve been. His 340-person lecture has never been so full.

‘‘They want those points,’’ he said. ‘‘They know I’m watching and acting on it. So, behaviorally, they change.’’

10 heroes of Wisconsin education from 2019

Alan Borsuk:

The Wisconsin Reading Coalition: A controversial choice, some might say. Dismal reading scores overall for Wisconsin students raise a lot of alarms. Yet little is done to change how schools statewide teach reading. The coalition is a small group of dedicated, even adamant, supporters of increased use of practices such as structured phonics. They’re not satisfied with the state of things and they push to do something about it. That earns them appreciation in my book.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Commentary on the Madison School Board’s Superintendent Search Finalists

Scott Girard:

The finalists are:

Matthew Gutierrez, the superintendent of the Seguin Independent School District in Seguin, Texas. He is a former interim and deputy superintendent in the Little Elm Independent School District and received his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Texas Tech, according to the district’s announcement.

Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard, an assistant professor of educational leadership at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. She previously was the superintendent in the City School District of Albany and earned a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Kent State University.

George Eric Thomas, deputy superintendent and chief turnaround officer for the Georgia State Board of Education. He previously was an administrator with the University of Virginia and in Cincinnati Public Schools, earning his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Concordia University.

“During this process, the Board was very fortunate to have an incredibly diverse and impressive pool of candidates participate, making this a very difficult decision,” School Board president Gloria Reyes said in a news release. “With a focus on how candidates aligned with the Leadership Profile, the Board was able to select three phenomenal finalists, all with deep roots in education and instruction, and today we are excited to introduce them to our community.”

The candidates will each visit Madison next month for a tour of the district and finish their day here with a public meeting from 6-7:30 p.m. The board is expected to make a hire in February, with the new leader starting on or before July 1.

A survey designed by consultant BWP and Associates this fall helped develop a “leadership profile” desired in the next superintendent based on community responses.

Top qualities reflected in the survey included someone who has experience with diverse populations, understands MMSD’s commitment to high levels of academic achievement for all students and is a visionary team builder. Respondents also indicated personal qualities like confidence, dedication, sincerity, honesty, organization and a background as an educator were important.

The district had hoped to announce the finalists on Monday of this week, but delayed the announcement at the last minute. MMSD spokesman Tim LeMonds wrote in an email Monday it was to give more time for reviewing candidates, though he clarified there would not be a board meeting.

“Due to MMSD being fortunate enough to have an extremely strong pool of highly qualified candidates, the MMSD board faces a very difficult decision on what candidates to move forward to the next stage in the process,” LeMonds wrote. “As a result, the board decided it was in their best interest to add additional time for candidate review, and has set a new decision deadline for this Thursday, after the holiday break.”

Logan Wroge:

To help in the search process, the School Board hired an Illinois-based consultant. BWP and Associates conducted a community engagement and feedback process this fall, advertised the position, screened candidates and recommended semifinalists for the job.

The semifinalists were interviewed by the School Board last week during closed session meetings.

In the fall, BWP held 35 meetings with different groups and organizations, politicians, and community leaders to solicit feedback on the search. An online survey also received more than 1,400 responses.

Among the attributes sought in the next superintendent were being an excellent communicator, having a strong commitment to racial equity, and having experience as a classroom teacher, according to a report from BWP based on the feedback.

In all, 31 people applied for the superintendent position. During the last hiring process, 65 candidates were screened before the board chose Cheatham in 2013.

Notes and links on previous Madison Superintendent search experiences.

The taxpayer supported Madison School Board’s practices appear to conflict with Wisconsin open meeting notice requirements.

Madison taxpayers spend far more than most K-12 school districts. Yet, we have long tolerated disastrousreading results.

Madison K-12 administrators are planning a substantial tax & spending increase referendum for 2020.


Madison School District projects loss of 1,100 students over next five years, yet 2020 referendum planning continues.

Madison School Board approves purchase of $4 million building for special ed programs

2013: What will be different, this time? 2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison Experience

Reimagining the PhD

Nadia Eghbal:

I recently decided to wrap up my time at Protocol Labs, and along with it, my time in open source research.

I’ve spent the past 4+ years looking at how open source software is produced, from an economic and anthropological lens. The last thing I’ve been working on is a book, and now that the manuscript is nearly done, I’ve decided it’s time for something new.

A few friends have commented that writing a book seemed, for me, like the equivalent of writing a dissertation. Reflecting on the past few years, I realized that I’d (somewhat unintentionally) made my own version of a PhD program. [1] As I’m seeing more independent researchers crop up around town, I thought it might be helpful to share details on how I made this work. If you’re interested in exploring your own research inquiry through non-traditional means, here’s how I did mine.

Why so many Japanese children refuse to go to school

Alessia Cerantola:

Yuta is one of Japan’s many futoko, defined by Japan’s education ministry as children who don’t go to school for more than 30 days, for reasons unrelated to health or finances.

The term has been variously translated as absenteeism, truancy, school phobia or school refusal.

Attitudes to futoko have changed over the decades. Until 1992 school refusal – then called tokokyoshi, meaning resistance – was considered a type of mental illness. But in 1997 the terminology changed to the more neutral futoko, meaning non-attendance.

On 17 October, the government announced that absenteeism among elementary and junior high school students had hit a record high, with 164,528 children absent for 30 days or more during 2018, up from 144,031 in 2017.

Crack down on genomic surveillance

Yves Moreau:

Across the world, DNA databases that could be used for state-level surveillance are steadily growing.

The most striking case is in China. Here police are using a national DNA database along with other kinds of surveillance data, such as from video cameras and facial scanners, to monitor the minority Muslim Uyghur population in the western province of Xinjiang.

Concerns about the potential downsides of governments being able to interrogate people’s DNA have been voiced since the early 2000s1 by activist groups, such as the non-profit organization GeneWatch UK, and some geneticists (myself included). Partly thanks to such debate, legislation and best practices have emerged in many countries around the use of DNA profiling in law enforcement2. (In profiling, several regions across the genome, each consisting of tens of nucleotides, are sequenced to identify a person or their relatives.)

Now the stakes are higher for two reasons. First, as technology gets cheaper, many countries might want to build massive DNA databases. Second, DNA-profiling technology can be used in conjunction with other tools for biometric identification — and alongside the analysis of many other types of personal data, including an individual’s posting behaviour on social networks. Last year, the Chinese firm Forensic Genomics International (FGI) announced that it was storing the DNA profiles of more than 100,000 people from across China (FGI, known as Shenzhen Huada Forensic Technology in China, is a subsidiary of the BGI, the world’s largest genome-research organization). It made the information available to the individuals through WeChat, China’s equivalent of WhatsApp, using an app accessed by facial recognition.

Commentary on taxpayer supported Madison K-12 Curriculum

Scott Girard:

West High School senior Miles Mullens, who is enrolled in the school’s Wisconsin First Nations class this semester, said the class has felt like the first time his history classes have been “honest about” what colonizers did to Native Americans.

“I thought I was a quote-unquote woke person, someone who had already learned things and looked at things from a (variety of) points of view and someone who could go into a situation and take other people’s perspective seriously,” Miles, who is white, said. “I went into the class and I was just completely wrong.”

Ask many of the students in these classes, from fourth grade up through high school, what they’re learning and you’ll hear a consistent phrase: “the truth.”

That was repeated multiple times by students learning about history — specifically, the history of non-white people and how white people had harmed them in various ways, from colonization to slavery to Jim Crow.

“Most stories don’t tell the truth,” said Sandburg fourth-grader Oliver. “We’re actually telling the truth about the real things that happened in history.”

Teaching beyond the textbooks already on their shelves means doing work outside of the classroom to identify the best resources.

Moe said finding resources teachers can “trust” is among the bigger challenges for those looking to diversify a curriculum.

“Textbooks have a lot wrong with them. There’s faulty facts in there, there’s one-sided perspectives in there, but someone has done some type of research and put that together,” he said. “To go out and find documents and resources you can use that you can also trust is hard.”

To prepare for the changing environment, education schools are focusing on social justice and equity lenses for their teachers. Tim Slekar, dean of Edgewood’s school of education, called it the “heart and soul of teacher and education curriculum” at his school.

“If we’re creating a place that’s culturally sensitive to more children, then those children are more likely to be willing to participate and learn and be engaged,” Slekar said.

Warnecke, who has been at various Madison schools for 12 years in a variety of positions, said it took her experience teaching in Chicago schools to open her eyes to the importance of teaching diverse perspectives and reaching students facing major challenges outside of school. The practice has “so many layers” to it, she said, and doing it successfully everywhere will take time — but she’s sure it can be done.

How might these initiatives address students moving through (and graduating from) the Madison schools who cannot read?

Smartphone ‘addiction’: Young people ‘panicky’ when denied mobiles

Sean Coughlan:

Almost a quarter of young people are so dependent on their smartphones that it becomes like an addiction, suggests research by psychiatrists.

The study, from King’s College London, says such addictive behaviour means that people become “panicky” or “upset” if they are denied constant access.

The youngsters also cannot control the amount of time they spend on the phone.

The study warns that such addictions have “serious consequences” for mental health.

The research, published in BMC Psychiatry, analysed 41 studies involving 42,000 young people in an investigation into “problematic smartphone usage”.

The study found 23% had behaviour that was consistent with an addiction – such as anxiety over not being able to use their phone, not being able to moderate the time spent and using mobiles so much that it was detrimental to other activities.

Thieves of experience: On the rise of surveillance capitalism

Nicholas Carr:

We sometimes forget that, at the turn of the century, Silicon Valley was in a funk, economic and psychic. The great dot-com bubble of the 1990s had imploded, destroying vast amounts of investment capital along with the savings of many Americans. Trophy startups like, Webvan, and Excite@Home, avatars of the so-called New Economy, were punch lines. Disillusioned programmers and entrepreneurs were abandoning their Bay Area bedsits and decamping. Venture funding had dried up. As a business proposition, the information superhighway was looking like a cul-de-sac.

Today, less than 20 years on, everything has changed. The top American internet companies are among the most profitable and highly capitalized businesses in history. Not only do they dominate the technology industry but they have much of the world economy in their grip. Their founders and early backers sit atop Rockefeller-sized fortunes. Cities and states court them with billions of dollars in tax breaks and other subsidies. Bright young graduates covet their jobs. Along with their financial clout, the internet giants hold immense social and cultural sway, influencing how all of us think, act, and converse.

The modern web is becoming an unusable, user-hostile wasteland

Abid Omar:

In one of Gerald Weinberg’s books, probably The Secrets of Consulting, there’s the apocryphal story of the giant multinational hamburger chain where some bright MBA figured out that eliminating just three sesame seeds from a sesame-seed bun would be completely unnoticeable by anyone yet would save the company $126,000 per year. So they do it, and time passes, and another bushy-tailed MBA comes along, and does another study, and concludes that removing another five sesame seeds wouldn’t hurt either, and would save even more money, and so on and so forth, every year or two, the new management trainee looking for ways to save money proposes removing a sesame seed or two, until eventually, they’re shipping hamburger buns with exactly three sesame seeds artfully arranged in a triangle, and nobody buys their hamburgers any more.

Can monoculture survive the algorithm?

Kyle Chayka:

Within the monoculture obsession, there are two concerns. The first is that in the digital streaming era we have lost a perceived ability to connect over media products as reference points that everyone knows, the way that we used to discuss the weather or politics, at least in a bygone time before our realities were split by climate change and Fox News. The fear is that we exist in a fragmented realm of impenetrable niches and subcultures enabled by streaming media.

The second concern is that, because of the pressures of social media and the self-reinforcing biases of recommendation algorithms that drive streaming, culture is becoming more similar than different. We are worried that our digital niches cause a degree of homogenization, which the word monoculture is also used to describe.

How Big Tech Manipulates Academia to Avoid Regulation

Rodrigo Ochigame:

Many spectators are puzzled by Ito’s influential role as an ethicist of artificial intelligence. Indeed, his initiatives were crucial in establishing the discourse of “ethical AI” that is now ubiquitous in academia and in the mainstream press. In 2016, then-President Barack Obama described him as an “expert” on AI and ethics. Since 2017, Ito financed many projects through the $27 million Ethics and Governance of AI Fund, an initiative anchored by the MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. What was all the talk of “ethics” really about?

For 14 months, I worked as a graduate student researcher in Ito’s group on AI ethics at the Media Lab. I stopped on August 15, immediately after Ito published his initial “apology” regarding his ties to Epstein, in which he acknowledged accepting money from the financier both for the Media Lab and for Ito’s outside venture funds. Ito did not disclose that Epstein had, at the time this money changed hands, already pleaded guilty to a child prostitution charge in Florida, or that Ito took numerous steps to hide Epstein’s name from official records, as The New Yorker later revealed.

K-12 tax & spending climate: For several years, revenues grew at 32% while expenses grew at 38%.

Tim Pagliara:

“Nashville/Franklin” has been my home for 35 years. These challenges will take a while to sort out. But I am confident in the leadership and the collective wisdom of the people that have made this such a great place to live and raise a family. Lots of people are going to leave New York and other high-tax states to create a life in cities like Nashville. My two cents: They don’t need any more help from the Tennessee Department of Economic Development.

And yes, what you have heard about Nashville harboring an aspiring song writer on every corner is true. In fact, I offer you a verse of the new song I’m working on, and if you remember the tune from Green Acres, I hope you’ll sing along!

The Logic of Information: A Theory of Philosophy as Conceptual Design

Luciano Floridi:

Luciano Floridi elucidated and popularized the ideas of Infosphere, Philosophy of information, The Ethics of Information and Fourth Revolution. The present book has a more ambitious program then the previous ones: a proposed new foundation for philosophy. With Descartes and Kant, epistemology became central replacing the old Aristotelian metaphysics. With Frege’s and Wittgenstein’s linguistic turn, logic, in the form of a theory of meaning, became central as Dummett and Davidson suggested. With Williamson, metaphysics was again central. Floridi suggests abandoning any representationalist view in order to develop a philosophy of information as conceptual design. Is this a real revolution or just proposing old ideas in a new form? Actually, Rorty had already attacked the centrality of the “representational view” of philosophy in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. The new terminology, “conceptual design”, seems simply a development of Dummett’s view that: “the philosopher’s own resource is the analysis of concepts we already possess” (p. 18). Therefore, besides the analogy with the principle of design in architecture (analysed in chapter 10 and applied to system engineering on  pp. 298 ff.), Floridi’s view of philosophy as conceptual design seems to place philosophy on traditional grounds as the “art of identifying and clarifying open questions and of devising, refining, proposing and evaluating explanatory answers”. Philosophy is a set of open questions: questions open to informed and rational disagreement, in contrast with questions that — like empirical and logico-mathematical questions — may have definite answers based on observations and calculations. At first sight, then, we haven’t a great revolution, but ideas framed in an original way, with subtle remarks on Plato’s negative influence on philosophy on the one hand and big data analysis on the other.

We’ve just had the best decade in human history. Seriously

Matt Ridley:

Let nobody tell you that the second decade of the 21st century has been a bad time. We are living through the greatest improvement in human living standards in history. Extreme poverty has fallen below 10 per cent of the world’s population for the first time. It was 60 per cent when I was born. Global inequality has been plunging as Africa and Asia experience faster economic growth than Europe and North America; child mortality has fallen to record low levels; famine virtually went extinct; malaria, polio and heart disease are all in decline.

Little of this made the news, because good news is no news. But I’ve been watching it all closely. Ever since I wrote The Rational Optimist in 2010, I’ve been faced with ‘what about…’ questions: what about the great recession, the euro crisis, Syria, Ukraine, Donald Trump? How can I possibly say that things are getting better, given all that? The answer is: because bad things happen while the world still gets better. Yet get better it does, and it has done so over the course of this decade at a rate that has astonished even starry-eyed me.

Merry Christmas: How China made the piano its own

The Economist:

One love story began in the 1930s, on a road of magnificent Western-style villas on the tiny Chinese island of Gulangyu. Cai Pijie, a lad in his 20s, walked daily past the open window of a young lady he had admired from afar. She regularly practised the piano, an instrument then unheard of in much of China, and the notes floated out in the warm southern air. Entranced, Cai wrote her a letter. “Please play Ignace Leybach’s ‘Fifth Nocturne’ if you love me.” Weeks passed before one day her piano answered, and their courtship began. They married. As Cai grew old in the 1980s, his son, Cai Wanghuai, played the nocturne to comfort him. It was the last piece of music he heard before he died.

The younger Cai had by then become deputy mayor of Xiamen, the city of which the island is a part, and helped found Gulangyu’s music school, which opened in 1990. Political grandees have visited, including Xi Jinping, the current Communist Party leader. Jiang Zemin, a classical-music fan who was one of his predecessors, asked students to strike up “O Sole Mio” when he visited, singing it in the original Neapolitan.

A Grand Yuletide Theory: The Muppet Christmas Carol is the Best Adaptation of A Christmas Carol

Ethan Warren:

Stave One
An Argument with a Straw Man

You mean it’s your favorite adaptation, right?

No, I mean it’s the best adaptation.

Sure. So you mean it’s the most fun, right?

No, I mean it’s the best.

OK, fine. You really think The Muppet Christmas Carol is the best movie based on A Christmas Carol?

Now that’s a little less cut and dry. It’s hard to begrudge those who give that title to the 1951 adaptation directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, which has a delightful performance from Alastair Sim that has justifiably become the standard against which all Scrooges are judged, gothic atmosphere you could drown in, and spine-chilling effects by 1951 standards. That is an unquestionably great movie based on A Christmas Carol.

A Genetic Test Led Seven Women in One Family to Have Major Surgery. Then the Odds Changed.

Amy Dockser Marcus:

When she was in her early 30s, Katy Mathes decided to check her cancer risk. A genetic test showed a mutation on a BRCA gene, which significantly raises a person’s lifetime risk of developing hereditary breast or ovarian cancer.

Thirteen people in the family got tested—her mother, her sister, cousins and aunts. Eleven had the mutation. Almost all did their testing with Myriad Genetics Inc., which introduced the first BRCA tests in 1996.

60 Years Later: Longest Serving Professor at Cornell Reflects on Journey Through Academia

Mia Glass:

Nerode also witnessed the founding of a diverse range of majors, such as Asian American, Near Eastern and American Indian and Indigenous Studies, among others, all of which were instrumental in improving Cornell’s diversity, he told The Sun. Nerode also saw the founding of the Women’s Resource Center and Student Disability Services in addition to various additional cultural housing options

Free and Open-Source Math Textbooks

Dana Ernst:

Here is a (partial) list of free and/or open-source textbooks. If you find one of these more helpful than another, please let me know. Also, take a peek at Rob Beezer’s selection on this page. Moreover, the American Institute of Mathematics maintains a list of approved open-source textbooks.

Kramnik And AlphaZero: How To Rethink Chess‎

Vladimir Kramnik:

The increasing strength of chess engines, the millions of computer games and the volumes of opening theory available to every player are making top-level chess less imaginative. Decisive games in super-tournaments have declined, while the number of games with what I’d call “creative” content is also on the slide.

The 2018 world championship match between Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana, for example, ended with zero decisive classical games. (Carlsen defended his world title by winning a rapid-game playoff.)

This is not the players’ fault, but the reality they face. It would be strange to expect them to deliberately decrease their chances of a positive outcome by taking unreasonable risks for the sake of playing more “entertaining” games. From my own experience, I know how difficult it has become to force a complex and interesting fight if your opponent wants to play it safe. As soon as one side chooses a relatively sterile line of play, the opponent is forced to follow suit, leading to an unoriginal game and an inevitably drawish outcome.

Okay, Maybe Proofs Aren’t Dying After All

John Horgan:

In my last column I recount how back in the 1990s two mathematicians named a geometric object after me, the “Horgan surface,” as revenge for “The Death of Proof.” The column gave me an excuse to revisit my controversial 1993 article, which argued that advances in computers, the growing complexity of mathematics and other trends were undermining the status of traditional proofs. As I wrote the column, it occurred to me that proofs generated by the Horgan surface contradict my death-of-proof thesis. I emailed a few experts to ask how they think my death-of-proof thesis has held up. Here are responses from computer scientist Scott Aaronson, mathematician-physicist Peter Woit and mathematics-software mogul Stephen Wolfram. (See Further Reading for links to my Q&As with them). I’ll add more comments if/when they come in.  –John Horgan

Scott Aaronson response (which he also just posted on his blog):

John, I like you so I hate to say it, but the last quarter century has not been kind to your thesis about “the death of proof”!  Those mathematicians sending you the irate letters had a point: there’s been no fundamental change to mathematics that deserves such a dramatic title.  Proof-based math remains quite healthy, with (e.g.) a solution to the Poincaré conjecture since your article came out, as well as to the Erdős discrepancy problem, the Kadison-Singer conjecture, Catalan’s conjecture, bounded gaps in primes, testing primality in deterministic polynomial time, etc. — just to pick a few examples from the tiny subset of areas that I know anything about.

Civics: New disclosures to our archive of state-backed information operations


Transparency is at the heart of everything we do at Twitter. That’s why we routinely disclose datasets of information operations we can reliably link to state actors. 

These datasets live in our public archive of state-backed information operations – the largest of its kind in the industry. First launched in October 2018, the archive has been accessed by thousands of researchers from around the world, who in turn have conducted independent, third-party investigations of their own.

State-backed information operations originating in Saudi Arabia

Today, we are sharing comprehensive data about 5,929 accounts which we have removed for violating our platform manipulation policies. Rigorous investigations by our Site Integrity team have allowed us to attribute these accounts to a significant state-backed information operation on Twitter originating in Saudi Arabia. 

These accounts represent the core portion of a larger network of more than 88,000 accounts engaged in spammy behaviour across a wide range of topics. We have permanently suspended all of these accounts from the service. In order to protect the privacy of potentially compromised accounts repurposed to engage in platform manipulation, and in response to researcher feedback requesting that we pre-filter unrelated spam, we have not disclosed data for all 88,000 accounts. In the interest of offering meaningful transparency, the dataset we are disclosing includes a representative, random sample of the fake and spammy accounts associated with this broader network. 

Milwaukee TV station sues Gov. Tony Evers for withholding copies of his emails

Briana Reilly:

A Milwaukee TV station has sued Gov. Tony Evers for withholding copies of his emails — records his office eventually released, in part, minutes after the lawsuit was filed earlier this week. 

The lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court on Tuesday, came after Fox 6 repeatedly filed requests dating back to September for a month’s worth of emails, a week’s worth of emails and finally a day’s worth of emails to and from Evers and his chief of staff, Maggie Gau. 

The governor’s staff later sent Fox 6 a copy of a single day’s worth of emails from June 14 only from Evers — records that were released some 10 minutes after the suit was filed Tuesday afternoon. 

The hardest aspect of learning English as a second language.

The Language Nerds:

You’ve never heard of a grizzly BEER?

You don’t understand why he’s looking so puzzled. Then he says, with a mixture of amusement and bemusement: “You’re not trying to say grizzly BAIR, are you?”

It rhymes with AIR???

You wonder if he’s pulling your leg.

Are you sure it’s not grizzly BEER? You say EE-UR, and DEE-UR, and FEE-UR, so why not grizzly BEE-UR?

Three unvaccinated children potentially exposed Denver and Los Angeles airport travelers to measles, health officials say

Scottie Andrew:

Three unvaccinated children with measles likely exposed travelers at Denver and Los Angeles airports to the virus, health officials have warned.

The children were visiting from New Zealand and traveled through the Denver International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport on the same day, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention press officer Scott Pauley told CNN

Civics: accuracy and the FISC

US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court:

This order responds to reports that personnel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provided false information to the National Security Division (NSD) of the Department of Justice, and withheld material information from NSD which was detrimental to the FBI’s case, in connection with four applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for authority to conduct electronic surveillance of a U.S. citizen named Carter W. Page. When FBI personnel mislead NSD in the ways described above, they equally mislead the FISC.

In order to appreciate the seriousness of that misconduct and its implications, it is useful to understand certain procedural and substantive requirements that apply to the government’s conduct of electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes. Title I of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), codified as amended at 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801-1813, governs such electronic surveillance. It requires the government to apply for and receive an order from the FISC approving a proposed electronic surveillance. When deciding whether to grant such an application, a FISC judge must determine, among other things, whether it provides probable cause to believe that the proposed surveillance target is a “foreign power” or an “agent of a foreign power.” See§ 1805(a)(2)(A). Those terms are defined by FISA. See § 1801(a)-(b). A finding of probable cause to believe that a U.S. citizen (or other “United States person” as defined at Section 1803(i)) is an agent of a foreign power cannot be solely based on activities protected by the First Amendment. See § 1805(a)(2)(A

Being a Citizen is a Public Office, too

Larry Lessig:

Why, you might wonder, is a famous Harvard Law professor and the founder of Creative Commons writing a book to wake us up to the fundamental problem facing our republic?

The simple answer:  Aaron Swartz.

Swartz, the free culture activist, and Lawrence Lessig were friends and collaborators. As Lessig recounted here in February, one day, Swartz came to visit him, challenging Lessig to combat the basic corruption of our political process. “But Aaron, it’s not my field, corruption. My field is internet, culture and copyright,” Lessig protested. Swartz countered, “As an academic? What about as a citizen?”

Commentary on certain University of Wisconsin system funds and reserves

Kelly Meyerhofer:

The System reported $867 million in total unrestricted program revenue balances as of June 30 — a figure that includes tuition balances, as well as other accounts, such as dining halls, parking fees and federal reimbursement for indirect costs related to research.

About 86% of the money was already designated for a specific purpose, according to the report. That leaves UW institutions with about $123 million in real reserves for an unexpected emergency — less than 2% of its roughly $6.7 billion dollar operating budget. The System reported $175 million in reserves five years ago.

I wonder if Ms Meyerhofer’s numbers exclude all sources of UW system funds, including foundations?

Notes and links on UW reserves, here.

New York Fed Plans to Throw $2.93 Trillion at Wall Street’s Trading Houses Over Next Month as New York Times Remains Silent

Pam Martens and Russ Martens:

According to data compiled by the Levy Economics Institute, the Fed’s bailout of Wall Street during the financial crisis amounted to a staggering $29 trillion (including the central bank liquidity swap lines, CBLS) – a sum that neither the American people nor Congress would learn about until years after the loans had been made and a multi-year court battle by the Fed to suppress the information had been won by media outlets.

The largest amounts of the $29 trillion did not go to commercial banks to shore up the U.S. economy through consumer loan relief or business loans. It went to three of the largest trading houses on Wall Street. Citigroup received $2.65 trillion; Merrill Lynch received $2.43 trillion; and Morgan Stanley received $2.27 trillion. (See page 33 at this link.) The fourth largest was not even a bank or Wall Street firm. It was AIG, a large insurance company that Wall Street’s trading houses had buried as the counterparty to their derivative bets. AIG got a cool $1 trillion in loans from the Fed.

Proposal for online early learning program could ‘supplement’ 4K in Wisconsin

Scott Girard:

A bill to commit $1.5 million over three years to an online early learning program for low-income children got a public hearing Thursday from the State Assembly’s Committee on Education.

The bill, AB662, and its Senate companion would pave the way for a nonprofit company to pilot its software in three urban and three rural school districts for three school years. Committee chair Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, is one of the authors of the bill, which he said was written after seeing a presentation from a nonprofit that provides such a service.

If approved, the bill would require the state Department of Public Instruction to contract with a nonprofit organization for the 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years to provide an online early learning program to low-income children in six school districts — three urban and three rural. DPI would pay $500,000 each year as part of the pilot program, while the vendor would pay $500,000 over the three years of operation.

Much more on 4K, here.

A Surveillance Net Blankets China’s Cities, Giving Police Vast Powers

Paul Mozur:

China is ramping up its ability to spy on its nearly 1.4 billion people to new and disturbing levels, giving the world a blueprint for how to build a digital totalitarian state.

Chinese authorities are knitting together old and state-of-the-art technologies — phone scanners, facial-recognition cameras, face and fingerprint databases and many others — into sweeping tools for authoritarian control, according to police and private databases examined by The New York Times.

Once combined and fully operational, the tools can help police grab the identities of people as they walk down the street, find out who they are meeting with and identify who does and doesn’t belong to the Communist Party.

The United States and other countries use some of the same techniques to track terrorists or drug lords. Chinese cities want to use them to track everybody.

Can science knock down barriers to reading proficiency and rescue Read to Achieve?

Ripen Fofaria:

The balanced literacy approach combines a little language instruction with whole-group, small-group and independent reading exploration. While there isn’t one balanced literacy method, a common example involves demonstrating three ways of cueing readers to guess words through meaning, syntactical and visual information. Calkins’ curriculum is widely used throughout the nation, and, as of last year, balanced literacy instruction was in a majority of North Carolina school districts. 

Rivera was overjoyed, and more than a little surprised, when the district asked her to go into other grade-level classrooms to model balanced literacy instruction for her peers. 

But the joy didn’t last long.

She noticed some students in her class every year that she couldn’t reach. The reading light bulb wasn’t turning on for them, and she couldn’t figure out why. Although puzzled, she pressed forward. A few years later, the problem took root in her own home when her son, Brendan, started coming home talking about his “bad brain.” 

Facebook fails to convince lawmakers it needs to track your location at all times

Lauren Feiner:

Facebook said that even when location tracking is turned off, it can deduce users’ general locations from context clues like locations they tag in photos as well as their devices’ IP addresses. While this data is not as precise as Facebook would collect with location tracking enabled, the company said it uses the information for several purposes, including alerting users when their accounts have been accessed in an unusual place and clamping down on the spread of false information.

Facebook acknowledged it also targets ads based on the limited location information it receives when users turn off or limit tracking. Facebook doesn’t allow users to turn off location-based ads, although it does allow users to block Facebook from collecting their precise location, the company wrote.

“By necessity, virtually all ads on Facebook are targeted based on location, though most commonly ads are targeted to people with a particular city or some larger region,” the company wrote. “Otherwise, people in Washington, D.C. would receive ads for services or events in London, and vice versa.”

Media K-12 School funding growth fact check

Washington Post:

“An earlier version of the piece stated that public funding for schools had decreased since the late 1980s.

That is not the case. In fact, funding at the federal, state, and local levels has increased between the 1980s and 2019.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s “Toxic City: Sick Schools”

Shorestein Center:

In “Toxic City: Sick Schools” The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed unsafe conditions in Philadelphia’s rundown public schools, with children forced to learn in buildings rife with mold, asbestos and flaking and peeling lead paint. By scouring maintenance logs and conducting scientific testing inside 19 elementary schools, and engaging teachers and parents in their reporting, the Inquirer built a comprehensive database of the shocking conditions putting children at risk on a daily basis.

Literacy Progress…

Madison increases property taxes by 7.2%, despite tolerating long term, disastrous reading results

Madison School District has largest property tax increase in dollars in state for 2019-20

Scott Girard:

“This level of increase, though absent in recent years, is not new to Wisconsin. School district levies increased by more than 4.5% in eight out of the 10 years from 2000 to 2009,” the report states.

Dane County districts are a major contributor to the increase in dollars, according to the report, with five of the largest in the state: Madison, DeForest, Verona, Sun Prairie and Middleton-Cross Plains.

WPF cautions that the issue “will bear watching in 2020 as well,” given the coming increase in revenue limits and potential referenda in major districts like Madison and Milwaukee.

Madison increases property taxes by 7.2%, despite tolerating long term, disastrous reading results

“So wrong in so many ways”

Elliot Kaufman:

So wrong in so many ways” is how Gordon Wood, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of the American Revolution, characterized the New York Times’s “1619 Project.” James McPherson, dean of Civil War historians and another Pulitzer winner, said the Times presented an “unbalanced, one-sided account” that “left most of the history out.” Even more surprising than the criticism from these generally liberal historians was where the interviews appeared: on the World Socialist Web Site, run by the Trotskyist Socialist Equality Party.

The “1619 Project” was launched in August with a 100-page spread in the Times’s Sunday magazine. It intends to “reframe the country’s history” by crossing out 1776 as America’s founding date and substituting 1619, the year 20 or so African slaves were brought to Jamestown, Va. The project has been celebrated up and down the liberal establishment, praised by Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

A September essay for the World Socialist Web Site called the project a “racialist falsification” of history. That didn’t get much attention, but in November the interviews with the historians went viral. “I wish my books would have this kind of reaction,” Mr. Wood says in an email. “It still strikes me as amazing why the NY Times would put its authority behind a project that has such weak scholarly support.” He adds that fellow historians have privately expressed their agreement. Mr. McPherson coolly describes the project’s “implicit position that there have never been any good white people, thereby ignoring white radicals and even liberals who have supported racial equality.”

Parents and the taxpayer supported Madison School District

Logan Wroge:

Berg said it’s critical parents are made aware if their child is questioning their gender identity because they could have gender dysphoria — deep discomfort and distress about a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity — which may require professional help.

WILL is also seeking the removal of a portion of the guide that states: “School staff shall not disclose any information that may reveal a student’s gender identity to others, including parents or guardians and other school staff, unless legally required to do so or unless the student has authorized such disclosure.”

2005: “When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before“.

2013: “The notion that parents inherently know what school is best for their kids is an example of conservative magical thinking.”; “For whatever reason, parents as a group tend to undervalue the benefits of diversity in the public schools….”

2018: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”.

Chicago’ teacher contract shows why Scott Walker got it right (with act 10)

David Blaska:

[The contract] will boost Chicago teacher compensation — already among the highest in the nation … to nearly $100,000. (By contrast, the median Chicago household earns $52,000.)

Teachers will now be permitted to bank an incredible 244 sick days (up from 40) and claim full pension credit for those days upon retirement, creating new demands on a teetering pension system.

The deal keeps teachers’ retirement contribution at just two percent of annual salary while slashing health care copays.

The contract will cost up to $1.5 billion over the next five years, in a city whose debt burden is already a staggering $119,110 per capita.

Act 10.

Teachers Pay High Fees for Retirement Funds. Unions Are Partly to Blame.

Anne Tergesen and Gretchen Morgenson:

The pitch from the president of the Indian River County teachers union couldn’t have been clearer.

Liz Cannon, who heads the Indian River chapter of the Florida Education Association, urged union members to buy retirement investments from Valic Financial Advisors Inc. through a firm owned by the union. That way “we also make money,” she said in a November 2017 newsletter, through regular dividends.

What Ms. Cannon didn’t mention was that investments from Valic, a unit of giant insurance company American International Group Inc., can carry high costs that may translate to a smaller nest egg when teachers retire.

The setup is one of an array of similar deals in which unions and other groups get income from endorsements of investment products and services—often at the expense of teachers and other municipal employees.

The ties help explain why many local-government workers continue to pay relatively high retirement-plan costs, while fees in corporate-based retirement plans are often lower and have been falling for years.

At issue are 403(b) retirement savings plans for teachers and 457 plans for government workers—variations on the 401(k) plans many companies offer. About $900 billion was held in 403(b) plans for public-school teachers and 457 plans at the end of June, according to the Investment Company Institute, a mutual-fund industry trade group.

In the crowded market, an endorsement from a union or municipal organization or affiliate can help an investment-product provider stand out. It also can give the provider’s sales agents access to union meetings, teachers’ lounges, benefit-enrollment fairs and professional conferences to pitch retirement and other products.

The now retired Madison Teachers, Inc. Executive Director served on the WPS Board of Directors for some time. WPS provided health insurance (one of several choices) to taxpayer supported Madison School District teachers.

Ruling Narrows Title IX Obligations

Greta Anderson:

An appellate court’s decision could minimize colleges and universities’ responsibility to provide remedies for victims of sexual misconduct on campus.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that Michigan State University and one of its senior administrators cannot be held liable for student victims’ emotional distress after seeing their alleged perpetrators on campus because the interactions did not lead to further sexual harassment or assault, according to an opinion issued Thursday.

Legal experts said the decision is a narrow interpretation of the protections for victims of sexual misconduct under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual assault, on college campuses.

The court’s opinion, written by Judge Alice Batchelder, could set a “very clear and straightforward standard” for how federal judges interpret whether universities showed “deliberate indifference” when addressing reports of sexual misconduct, said Jake Sapp, deputy Title IX coordinator and institutional compliance officer at Austin College, in Texas. Deliberate indifference in student-on-student sexual misconduct cases occurs when an institution causes further harassment or fails to act upon an accusation of sexual misconduct, leaving the complainant “subject to” harassment, Sapp said.

Madison increases property taxes by 7.2%, despite tolerating long term, disastrous reading results

Ron Vetterkind:

The Policy Forum report found just eight of the state’s 421 school districts account for more than a third of the $224 million increase in levies this year. Five of those districts with the largest dollar increases in taxes are the Madison, Sun Prairie, Middleton-Cross Plains, DeForest and Verona school districts.

Wisconsin policy Forum:

In raw dollars, Madison ($22.1 million) and Milwaukee ($11.6 million) had the biggest increases of any district, which translated into increases of 7.2% and 4.6% respectively. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports general state aid to Milwaukee Public Schools is going down by 1.9% and the district’s budget shows a little less than half of the overall property tax increase is going to recreation and community programs and facilities and not to core district operations. In Madison, general school aids are falling by 15% and voters cast ballots to exceed revenue limits in 2016.

Since 1993-94, the state has limited the per pupil revenue that school districts can receive from property taxes and state general aid. Districts cannot exceed the caps without a successful referendum, but if a district’s general aid falls, the school board can increase property taxes to offset the loss.

Madison taxpayers spend far more than most K-12 school districts. Yet, we have long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Madison K-12 administrators are planning a substantial tax & spending increase referendum for 2020.


Madison School District projects loss of 1,100 students over next five years, yet 2020 referendum planning continues.

Madison School Board approves purchase of $4 million building for special ed programs

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A Third of America’s Economy Is Concentrated in Just 31 Counties

Andre Tartar & Reade Pickert:

While America’s economy has grown for over a decade, that growth is increasingly concentrated in 1% of the nation’s counties.

Just 31 counties, or the top 1% by share, made up 32.3% of U.S. gross domestic product in 2018, according to data released last week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis that included nearly 20 years of county-level GDP data. That’s despite these counties only having 26.1% of employed Americans and 21.9% of the population last year. Their combined GDP share is also up from a recession low of 30.1% in 2009.

The nation’s economy is becoming increasingly concentrated in large cities and by the coasts—and less so in rural counties—spurring the question of whether rural areas will be increasingly left behind. The growing concentration of the country’s economic activity could impact a variety of things from infrastructure spending to labor mobility, but it’s unclear how rural areas will fare as their share of economic output continues to dwindle.

The lines that divide: School district boundaries often stymie integration

Laura Meckler and Kate Rabinowitz:

The move by Memphis to merge with the suburbs, he says, was a power play gone bad. He supported the separation to preserve local control and property values, and to avoid being controlled by a district he considered bureaucratic and dysfunctional.

“It wasn’t like the primary agenda was a racial agenda. It was about autonomy and local control,” he said. “Some people say, ‘Look at the white people in Germantown [who] don’t want to be around black poor kids.’ That’s an oversimplification of biblical proportions.”

Madison taxpayers recently funded the expansion of our least diverse schools, despite space in nearby facilities.

Madison has not changed school boundaries in decades.

Neenah school board will decide whether to pursue $115M referendum in April — just a year after voters narrowly rejected the last one

Samantha West:

The Neenah school board will decide Tuesday whether to hold an April 7 referendum to partially fund construction of a new $157 million high school.

The $115 million referendum is part of a $182 million plan for the new high school in the town of Neenah and other district facility improvements. The proposal marks a dramatic shift from a failed referendum earlier this year to replace Shattuck Middle School.

The new plan would be funded by borrowing authorized by the referendum and an additional $47 million in non-referendum borrowing that doesn’t require voter approval. The district also would allocate $20 million from its operating budget over the next four years.

Neenah officials estimate that if the referendum passes, the tax rate — property tax dollars levied per $1,000 of equalized property value — would increase to $7.86. This year’s tax rate was $6.85.

U.S. has world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households

Stephanie Kraemer:

For decades, the share of U.S. children living with a single parent has been rising, accompanied by a decline in marriage rates and a rise in births outside of marriage. A new Pew Research Center study of 130 countries and territories shows that the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households.

Almost a quarter of U.S. children under the age of 18 live with one parent and no other adults (23%), more than three times the share of children around the world who do so (7%). The study, which analyzed how people’s living arrangements differ by religion, also found that U.S. children from Christian and religiously unaffiliated families are about equally likely to live in this type of arrangement.

In comparison, 3% of children in China, 4% of children in Nigeria and 5% of children in India live in single-parent households. In neighboring Canada, the share is 15%.

Confessions of a not so balanced literacy teacher

Bethany Hill:

We have been doing it wrong. I have been doing it wrong. 

I was confused for months, even after attending the last three days of professional development. How have teachers not known what the research clearly states? How did my undergraduate program not prepare me? Why did I teach children to read by looking at the pictures and using strategies to “guess” words? 

I wanted to cry…I did cry. I wanted to go back in time. I wanted to contact the students I taught and apologize for any struggles they faced later in their education journey, because I taught them strategies to guess at words. I thought I was a great teacher…a master of literacy instruction…

At some point, every teacher will question their impact. The truth is just what Maya Angelou says…

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Why Universities Suck At Online Courses

Cat Lewis:

There are a lot of benefits to online courses. The flexibility of the digital world allows students to control their schedules, manage their own time, or pick up part-time work to support their education and living expenses. Online courses also improve the accessibility of education, allowing anyone to learn from the top teachers around the world — instantly. However, traditional universities aren’t taking full advantage of these benefits, because they are structured in a way that disincentivizes quality course design.

I’m a UX designer who has taken multiple online courses during my educational career. Clearly, designing an online course is hard. It’s hard in a completely different way than teaching a lecture is hard. To understand why, let’s take a look at Youtube.

Youtube is the glowing poster child of the online education movement. Youtube is a place for grassroots educational communities to take hold, transferring knowledge and passions that would never have seen the light of day if it were not for this platform. Take Wintergatan, for example. This content creator has over 1 million subscribers. These subscribers what Wintergatan design and build an enormous marble machine instrument from scratch. If 1 million university students were this passionate about a class so niche and obscure at a public university, it would be a revolution. Students just don’t get that excited about classes, especially at the undergraduate level. But it’s just another day on Youtube, where people voluntarily go to learn every single day.

Parent questions Madison School District practice barring third party from working with child in class

Scott Girard:

The Madison Metropolitan School District’s practice of barring an outside therapy organization from providing classroom support for students with special needs is being questioned after a parent’s request to do so was at first allowed, and later prohibited.

The parent, who asked not to be named to protect the identity of her son, has a 4K student with autism. She has fought district officials since the end of October over the decision to forbid a third-party service provider, which her son had worked with throughout his early childhood and whom she was paying, to assist her son in his classroom twice a week.

According to the student’s initial Individualized Education Program — finalized at the end of September after being developed by special education staff and the student’s parents — the provider was to “come to school twice a week for an hour to support (the student) within the school setting.” An IEP outlines the needs of, and goals for, a student in special education, and can include things like prompts to help the student remain on task or ways to respond to misbehavior.

I recall the rejection of parents attempting to offer math tutoring some years ago, due to a union complaint.

An emphasis on adult employment.”

Ranking 4,500 Colleges

Anthony Carnevale, Ban Cheah and Martin Van Der Werf:

As college costs and student loan debt continue to rise precipitously, more people are wondering if college is worth it. Based on earnings alone, yes, it is. On average, workers with a bachelor’s degree make 80 percent more than workers with no more than a high school diploma.1 At the same time, the potential benefits, as well as the costs, vary notably by institution, program, and field of study, and students should be informed about the potential costs and benefits of their choices.2

It is difficult to talk about the return on investment (ROI) of college in

the same terms as other financial investments.3 Investing in a college education has greater immediate effects on a person’s life than investing in the stock market; however, a college degree provides no tangible asset, unlike investing in a home.4 It may take years for the investment to pay off, since the value of the degree lies in what a person does with it.5 Investing in college entails some risk: most students go into debt to pay for college.

However, while much has been written about student debt, not all debt

is bad. Some colleges with high average student debt also have high graduation rates leading to high earnings. Students who stay in school for four years (or longer) will logically accumulate more debt than students who stay a year and then drop out. College also has non-monetary

benefits. A college credential is often essential for starting or changing

a career. Once enrolled, college students might discover a new career field that changes their goals and opens their future, or they might make friends who later help their careers or increase their quality of life. The emotional and financial aspects of deciding whether and where to attend college makes it a hard decision to parse using the same factors as other investment choices.

College is expensive, and as with all expensive investments, the potential return is a key consideration when choosing where to enroll and what to study. Potential students should consider how much it will cost to obtain a credential, and how much they could potentially earn with it. They should also consider the time required to get the degree, the net price, the convenience and location of the program, the likelihood that they

will graduate, and the amount of time needed to get traction in a career and to reach prime earning age.6 In addition, they should consider the net present value (NPV)7 of their potential future earnings, weighing the costs of investing in college now against the potential gains over time.

This report provides information about some of these factors by ranking colleges according to return on investment, using new data from the expanded College Scorecard, an online database started in 2015 to give more information about colleges.8 This report focuses on net present value from college, which was calculated by assuming that earnings 10 years after first attending are a reasonable proxy for future earnings. We also assumed that the total investment is reflected in the total cost of college, which the College Scorecard provides as the average annual net price.9 Debt calculations and values are included in some of our tables because student debt has become a focus of public attention.10

Dear teachers, most of the popular lessons you found online aren’t worth using

Amber Northern & Michael Petrilli:

As we were putting the final touches on our new report, The Supplemental Curriculum Bazaar: Is What’s Online Any Good?, Amazon unveiled a “new storefront” called Amazon Ignite. The site will allow educators to earn money by publishing—online, of course—their original educational resources (lesson plans, worksheets, games, and more).

The e-commerce titan’s entry into the curricular marketplace is obviously motivated by a perceived market opportunity—and that’s not wrong. The vast majority of teachers are supplementing their core curriculum or don’t have a core curriculum to start with, so it’s no surprise that they often frequent the online arena to obtain the materials with which to meet their instructional needs.

In fact, recent studies by RAND found that nearly all teachers report using the Internet to source instructional materials, and many of them do so quite often. For example, 55 percent of English language arts (ELA) teachers said they used Teachers Pay Teachers for curriculum materials at least once a week. That site reports that one billion resources have been downloaded—a massive number, to be sure.

Yet we know almost nothing about the quality of such supplementary materials. Although several organizations have stepped up to offer impartial reviews of full curriculum products, to our knowledge there’s no equivalent when it comes to add-on resources. Therefore, we set out to answer a simple question: Are popular websites supplying teachers with high-quality supplemental materials?

2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

2013: Reading Recovery in Madison….. 28% to 58%; Lags National Effectiveness Average….

12 of those 24 have been enrolled in Madison School since Pre-K kindergarten or kindergarden. 12 students have been in Madison Schools.

They have High attendance. They have been in the same (you know) feeder school they have not had high mobility. There is no excuse for 12 of my students to be reading at the first second or third grade level and that’s where they’re at and I’m angry and I’m not the only one that’s angry.

The teachers are angry because we are being held accountable for things that we didn’t do at the high school level. Of those 24 students, 21 of them have been enrolled in Madison for four or more years.

Of those 24 students one is Caucasian the rest of them identify as some other ethnic group.

I am tired of the district playing what I called whack-a-mole, (in) another words a problem happens at Cherokee boom we bop it down and we we fix it temporarily and then something at Sherman or something at Toki or something at Faulk and we bop it down and its quiet for awhile but it has not been fixed on a system-wide level and that’s what has to change.

2017: Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

2018: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

The Cost of America’s Cultural Revolution

Heather Mac Donald:

Social-justice ideology is turning higher education into an engine of progressive political advocacy, according to a new report by the National Association of Scholars. Left-wing activists, masquerading as professors, are infiltrating traditional academic departments or creating new ones—departments such as “Solidarity and Social Justice”—to advance their cause. They are entering the highest rung of college administration, from which perch they require students to take social-justice courses, such as “Native Sexualities and Queer Discourse” or “Hip-hop Workshop,” and attend social-justice events—such as a Reparations, Repatriation, and Redress Symposium or a Power and Privilege Symposium—in order to graduate.

But social-justice education is merely a symptom of an even deeper perversion of academic values: the cult of race and gender victimology, otherwise known as “diversity.” The diversity cult is destroying the very foundations of our civilization. It is worth first exploring, however, why social-justice education is an oxymoron.

Why shouldn’t an academic aspire to correcting perceived social ills? The nineteenth-century American land-grant universities and the European research universities were founded, after all, on the premise that knowledge helps society progress. But social justice is a different beast entirely. When a university pursues social justice, it puts aside its traditional claim to authority: the disinterested search for knowledge. We accord universities enormous privileges. Their denizens are sheltered from the hurly-burly of the marketplace on the assumption that they will pursue truth wherever it will take them, unaffected by political or economic pressures. The definition of social justice, however, is deeply political, entailing a large number of contestable claims about the causes of socioeconomic inequality. Social-justice proponents believe that those claims are settled, and woe to anyone who challenges them on a college campus. There are, however, alternative explanations—besides oppression and illegitimate power—for ongoing inequalities, taboo though they may be in academia.

Meanwhile: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Google Culture War Escalates as Era of Transparency Wanes

Ryan Gallagher & Mark Bergen:

Each morning, workers at Google get an internal newsletter called the “Daily Insider.” Kent Walker, Google’s top lawyer, set off a firestorm when he argued in the Nov. 14 edition that the 21-year old company had outgrown its policy of allowing workers to access nearly any internal document. “When we were smaller, we all worked as one team, on one product, and everyone understood how business decisions were made,” Walker wrote. “It’s harder to give a company of over 100,000 people the full context on everything.”

Many large companies have policies restricting access to sensitive information to a “need-to-know” basis. But in some segments of Google’s workforce, the reaction to Walker’s argument was immediate and harsh. On an internal messaging forum, one employee described the data policy as “a total collapse of Google culture.” An engineering manager posted a lengthy attack on Walker’s note, which he called “arrogant and infantilizing.” The need-to-know policy “denies us a form of trust and respect that is again an important part of the intrinsic motivation to work here,” the manager wrote.

The complaining also spilled into direct action. A group of Google programmers created a tool that allowed employees to choose to alert Walker with an automated email every time they opened any document at all, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The deluge of notifications was meant as a protest to what they saw as Walker’s insistence on controlling the minutiae of their professional lives. 

Many taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts use Google services, including Madison.

To ‘Get Reading Right,’ We Need To Talk About What Teachers Actually Do

Natalie Wexler:

In recent months, thanks largely to journalist Emily Hanford, it’s become clear that the prevailing approach to teaching kids how to decipher words isn’t backed by evidence. An abundance of research shows that many children—perhaps most—won’t learn to “decode” written text unless they get systematic instruction in phonics. As Hanford has shown, teachers may think they’re teaching phonics, but many also encourage children to guess at words from pictures or context. The result is that many never learn to sound out words—and in later years, when they encounter more difficult text, they hit a wall.

Hanford’s work has drawn well-deserved attention. And recently Education Week, a prominent national publication, released a special issue called “Getting Reading Right” that reveals, among other disturbing findings, that 75% of teachers say they encourage students to guess when they come to a word they don’t know.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”.

Mission vs. Organization: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

While decades pass, with no substantive change in Madison’s reading results (despite substantial spending increases), perhaps we might learn from a successful inner city Milwaukee institution: Henry Tyson’s St. Marcus School.

More, here.

What Happens After Prisoners Learn to Code?

Simone Stolzoff:

Jesse Aguirre’s workday at Slack starts with a standard engineering meeting—programmers call them “standups”—where he and his co-workers plan the day’s agenda. Around the circle stand graduates from Silicon Valley’s top companies and the nation’s top universities. Aguirre, who is 26, did not finish high school and has so far spent most of his adulthood in prison; Slack is his first full-time employer. But in the few years he has been writing code, he has cultivated what is perhaps the most useful skill in any software engineer’s arsenal: the ability to figure things out on his own.

Trump Treasury staffer leaves after getting embroiled in college admissions scandal

Daniel Lippman:

Prosecutors from the Department of Justice said that she paid college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer $9,000 so that an employee of his would take four online classes for her son at Georgetown and Arizona State University in 2017 through April 2018.

The federal indictment says that her son used credits that were improperly obtained to graduate from Georgetown in May 2018. James Littlefair’s LinkedIn profile shows he attended Georgetown from 2012 to 2016.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts is recommending Karen Littlefair serve four months in prison, pay a fine of $9,500 and serve 12 months of supervised release.

James Littlefair worked as part of the national advance team on the Trump campaign before working as an event coordinator for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. He joined Treasury as an advance staffer in March 2017.

Reaching for the stars: Memorial High School group to present astronomy research in Hawaii in January

Scott Girard:

A group of Madison Memorial High School students will be among the stars of the astronomy world early next year.

After months of research on the debris surrounding distant stars, the group, which also includes Madison Metropolitan School District planetarium director Geoff Holt, will present its findings at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Hawaii.

The group is made up of sophomores Kyle Ma, Andres Perez and Isaac Levenstein and seniors Sophia Schmitz and Tessa Mehnert. Kyle will not be able to attend the Hawaii trip, but the others will visit the state for the conference Jan. 3-8. Holt said they’re going one day early to see some of the sights, but the rest of the trip will be inside a convention center among graduate students and Ph.D. candidates in astronomy.


‘Scratching the surface’: Education Department uncovers $1.3B in foreign university funding

Jerry Dunleavy:

An Education Department investigation revealed universities failed to report more than a billion dollars in foreign funding, which officials believe is only a sliver of the unreported overseas donations flowing onto campuses.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos told the Washington Examiner she had launched a preliminary investigation into six universities but already turned up an alarming $1.3 billion in foreign funding over the past seven years from nations such as China, Russia, and Qatar that the schools hadn’t told the federal government about, despite their legal requirement to do so.

“It is already a reporting requirement for schools to report all foreign contributions. From my perspective, it’s a simple requirement: Report all foreign money you get.” DeVos said. “We’re going to continue to raise the flag on this, and we think, just given what we’ve seen scratching the surface, there’s a lot there that has gone undetected.”

DeVos said foreign funding is an administration-wide national security concern.

The glaring errors in NPE’s new anti-charter school report

William Flanders & Jim Bender:

Recently, the Network for Public Education (NPE) released a report that attempts to put another arrow in the quiver of charter opponents. This study ostensibly investigates the extent to which federal funds have gone to charter schools that closed their doors, or never opened to begin with that had previously received CSP funds. It is a follow-up to an earlier analysis by NPE that came under sharp criticism for sloppy research methods. Christy Wolfe pointed out that a number of schools that the report claims have closed actually remained open, as well as for mischaracterizing the grant-approval process within the Department of Education. Unfortunately, it appears this new iteration suffers from the same flaws. Indeed, rumors of the closure of many charter schools in the study have been greatly exaggerated.

We took a look at the list of schools for Wisconsin only, the state with which we are the most familiar. Of the 132 schools identified as closed, at least ten remain open and serving students today. Indeed, schools like Hmong American Peace Academy and Milwaukee College Prep 36th St. and North are among the highest performing schools in Milwaukee according to report cards. Because media reports are including the aggregate number of schools closed along with the aggregate cost, errors of this nature serve to seriously undermine the findings.

What appears to have happened here is that the authors of the report did not realize that charter schools sometimes change authorizers. When that happens, the manner that the schools are reported on DPI reports—such as report cards—changes. This glaring error suggests that the authors did not take the time to dive into the charter laws in each state they claim to investigate, and it would be worth the time for proponents of charters in other states to look for similar errors. As noted by Nina Rees, President of the National Alliance for Charter Schools, the Department of Education itself has reported a far lower rate of failure than what is suggested here, with about 1.7 percent of CSP-funded charters closing before their second year of operation.

Mission vs. Organization: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results

New report grades state of education in Shanghai

Yang Meiping:

It costs a family about 800,000 yuan (US$113,665) to raise a child from birth to graduation from middle school in Shanghai, according to a new report by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

This conclusion is based on research conducted by the academy’s city and population development research team in downtown Jing’an District and suburban Minhang District in July and August.

They found that it costs a family nearly 840,000 yuan on average to raise a child in Jing’an, with over 510,000 yuan going to education. In Minhang, it costs an average of 763,100 yuan, including 520,000 yuan for education.

The research also finds that low-income families spend a higher percentage of  income on education, which means such families face a higher burden when it comes to supporting a child.

Sacramento schools should consider cuts to teacher salaries, state audit suggests

Sawsan Morrar:

The audit found the district’s budget deficit increased nearly three-fold between 2016 and 2019 because officials did not take sufficient actions to control costs. The audit also found the district has a lack of adequate budget policies, has had turnover in its leadership ranks and has done little to control special education costs.

The audit report listed a range of possible options the district could implement to save millions of dollars, including cutting salaries by 2 percent, increasing teacher’s contributions to retiree health benefits and capping the district’s payment toward employee health care benefits at 90 percent; the district currently pays 100 percent of that cost.

The suggestions would account for more than $20 million in savings.

The audit, however, stated that before the district imposes changes on its teachers union or seeks a possible state takeover, the district should publicly disclose what the likely effects of these actions are.

Student Loans A Lot Like The Subprime Mortgage Debacle, Watchdog Says

Chris Arnold

Calhoun’s the president of the nonprofit Center for Responsible Lending. For decades he’s been keeping watch to protect people from reckless lending. He says that with student loans, just like with the housing crisis, there’s no consideration about whether the person getting the loan will be able to repay it.

“Once again, it’s the mismatch between the debt and the borrower’s income, their ability to repay,” Calhoun says. This time around it’s the government making the vast majority of the loans. That’s effectively turned the Department of Education into the country’s largest consumer lender.

And, Calhoun says, more and more people can’t pay. “Already in the student loan world, we are seeing default levels that approach what there was in the subprime mortgage world,” he says.

Calhoun pulls up a slide on his computer monitor to show another parallel —minority groups were hit hardest by the subprime mortgage mess.

“And we’re seeing it again in student loans. As we sit here and talk today, over a fifth of black college graduates are in default on their student loans.” Calhoun cites “the amount of debt they took on and the fact that they typically still earn less in the job market.”

(Amazon) Ring’s Hidden Data Let Us Map Amazon’s Sprawling Home Surveillance Network

Dell Cameron & Dhruv Mehrotra:

As reporters raced this summer to bring new details of Ring’s law enforcement contracts to light, the home security company, acquired last year by Amazon for a whopping $1 billion, strove to underscore the privacy it had pledged to provide users.

Even as its creeping objective of ensuring an ever-expanding network of home security devices eventually becomes indispensable to daily police work, Ring promised its customers would always have a choice in “what information, if any, they share with law enforcement.” While it quietly toiled to minimize what police officials could reveal about Ring’s police partnerships to the public, it vigorously reinforced its obligation to the privacy of its customers—and to the users of its crime-alert app, Neighbors. 

However, a Gizmodo investigation, which began last month and ultimately revealed the potential locations of up to tens of thousands of Ring cameras, has cast new doubt on the effectiveness of the company’s privacy safeguards. It further offers one of the most “striking” and “disturbing” glimpses yet, privacy experts said, of Amazon’s privately run, omni-surveillance shroud that’s enveloping U.S. cities.

Hundreds of academics sign letter in support of prof who criticized ‘diversity statements’


We write with grave concerns about recent attempts to intimidate a voice within our mathematical community. Abigail Thompson published an opinion piece in the December issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. She explained her support for efforts within our community to further diversity, and then described her concerns with the rigid rubrics used to evaluate diversity statements in the hiring processes of the University of California system.

The reaction to the article has been swift and vehement. An article posted at the site QSIDE urges faculty to direct their students not to attend and not to apply for jobs at the University of California-Davis, where Prof.Thompson is chair of the math department. It recommends contacting the university to question whether Prof. Thompson is fit to be chair. And it recommends refusing to do work for the Notices of the American Mathematical Society for allowing this piece to be published.

Regardless of where anyone stands on the issue of whether diversity statements are a fair or effective means to further diversity aims, we should agree that this attempt to silence opinions is damaging to the profession. This is a direct attempt to destroy Prof. Thompson’s career and to punish her department. It is an attempt to intimidate the AMS into publishing only articles that hew to a very specific point of view. If we allow ourselves to be intimidated into avoiding discussion of how best to achieve diversity, we undermine our attempts to achieve it.

We the undersigned urge the American Mathematical Society to stand by the principle that important issues should be openly discussed in a respectful manner, and to make a clear statement that bullying and intimidation have no place in our community.

Civics: We Just Got a Rare Look at National Security Surveillance. It Was Ugly.

Charlie Savage:

Most of those targets never learn that their privacy has been invaded, but some are sent to prison on the basis of evidence derived from the surveillance. And unlike in ordinary criminal wiretap cases, defendants are not permitted to see what investigators told the court about them to obtain permission to eavesdrop on their calls and emails.

Civil libertarians for years have called the surveillance court a rubber stamp because it only rarely rejects wiretap applications. Out of 1,080 requests by the government in 2018, for example, government records showed that the court fully denied only one.

Defenders of the system have argued that the low rejection rate stems in part from how well the Justice Department self-polices and avoids presenting the court with requests that fall short of the legal standard. They have also stressed that officials obey a heightened duty to be candid and provide any mitigating evidence that might undercut their request.

The government has fought hard to keep outsiders from seeing what goes into its FISA applications. In 2014, a federal judge in Illinois ordered the government to show a defense lawyer classified materials about the national security surveillance of his client, which would have been the first time a defense lawyer had been given such materials since Congress enacted FISA in 1978.

But the Obama administration appealed, and an appeals court overturned the order, agreeing that letting the defense counsel see the application would create an intolerable risk of disclosing sensitive government secrets.

Schools Spy on Kids to Prevent Shootings, But There’s No Evidence It Works

Todd Feathers:

It was another sleepy board of education meeting in Woodbridge, N.J. The board gave out student commendations and presented budget requests. Parents complained about mold in classrooms. Then, a pair of high schoolers stepped up to the podium with a concern that took the district officials completely off guard.

“We have students so concerned about their privacy that they’re resorting to covering their [laptop] cameras and microphones with tape,” a junior saidat the October 18, 2018 meeting. 

Woodbridge had recently joined hundreds of other school districts across the country in subscribing to GoGuardian, one of a growing number of school-focused surveillance companies. Promising to promote school safety and stop mass shootings, these companies sell tools that give administrators, teachers, and in some cases parents, the ability to snoop on every action students take on school-issued devices.

The Woodbridge students were not pleased.

‘This is small talk purgatory’: what Tinder taught me about love

CJ Hauser:

I did not intend to be single in the rural village where I live. I’d moved there with my fiance after taking a good job at the local university. We’d bought a house with room enough for children. Then the wedding was off and I found myself single in a town where the non-student population is 1,236 people. I briefly considered flirting with the cute local bartender, the cute local mailman – then realised the foolishness of limiting my ability to do things such as get mail or get drunk in a town with only 1,235 other adults. For the first time in my life, I decided to date online.

The thing about talking to people on Tinder is that it is boring. I am an obnoxious kind of conversation snob and have a pathologically low threshold for small talk. I love people who fall into the category of Smart Sad People Flaunting Their Intelligence With Panache. I love Shakespeare’s fools and Elizabeth Bennet and Cyrano de Bergerac. I love Gilmore Girls and the West Wing and Rick And Morty. I want a conversation partner who travels through an abundance of interesting material at breakneck speed, shouting over their shoulder at me: Keep up. I want a conversation partner who assumes I am up for the challenge, who assumes the best of me.

Mission vs. Organization: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results

Jenny Peek:

The November meeting did draw some reading experts — including UW-Madison cognitive neuroscientist Mark Seidenberg and Madison reading advocate Laurie Frost – who have been publicly critical of the district’s teaching approach to reading. When they spoke, Morateck emphasized that the meeting was meant for parents, not the community at large, although she did not ask anyone to leave.

“The point of this was to bring in the community and to hear what the community wants to hear,” Morateck said. “And when I say community, I mean parents.”

But Klein complained about this distinction, saying she was glad to see people who simply care about how reading is being taught in the district attend the meeting.

Frost called it a “contrived restriction” on a community meeting. “It’s time to stop playing games, and to actually pay attention to the science and to actually impact the data, to look at the data and take [it] seriously, and to put aside our adult politics about whole language, phonics, whatever, and make sure the kids are learning.”

At the meeting, Seidenberg said that what the community wants is a forum to talk about their concerns.

“I’ve been here in Madison since 2001, and have never had a discussion with anyone from the Madison Metropolitan School District about any policies related to achievement gaps, dyslexia, language differences, bilingual background, speaking a different dialect,” he said. “And so there’s a certain amount of frustration when you say, ‘We’re really interested in these criteria, and we’re really going to look at them seriously.’”

2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

2013: Reading Recovery in Madison….. 28% to 58%; Lags National Effectiveness Average….

12 of those 24 have been enrolled in Madison School since Pre-K kindergarten or kindergarden. 12 students have been in Madison Schools.

They have High attendance. They have been in the same (you know) feeder school they have not had high mobility. There is no excuse for 12 of my students to be reading at the first second or third grade level and that’s where they’re at and I’m angry and I’m not the only one that’s angry.

The teachers are angry because we are being held accountable for things that we didn’t do at the high school level. Of those 24 students, 21 of them have been enrolled in Madison for four or more years.

Of those 24 students one is Caucasian the rest of them identify as some other ethnic group.

I am tired of the district playing what I called whack-a-mole, (in) another words a problem happens at Cherokee boom we bop it down and we we fix it temporarily and then something at Sherman or something at Toki or something at Faulk and we bop it down and its quiet for awhile but it has not been fixed on a system-wide level and that’s what has to change.

2017: Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results

2018: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”