Zoom Meetings Aren’t End-to-End Encrypted, Despite Misleading Marketing

Micah Lee & Yael Grauer:

ZOOM, THE video conferencing service whose use has spiked amid the Covid-19 pandemic, claims to implement end-to-end encryption, widely understood as the most private form of internet communication, protecting conversations from all outside parties. In fact, Zoom is using its own definition of the term, one that lets Zoom itself access unencrypted video and audio from meetings.

With millions of people around the world working from home in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, business is booming for Zoom, bringing more attention on the company and its privacy practices, including a policy, later updated, that seemed to give the company permission to mine messages and files shared during meetings for the purpose of ad targeting.

Still, Zoom offers reliability, ease of use, and at least one very important security assurance: As long as you make sure everyone in a Zoom meeting connects using “computer audio” instead of calling in on a phone, the meeting is secured with end-to-end encryption, at least according to Zoom’s website, its security white paper, and the user interface within the app. But despite this misleading marketing, the service actually does not support end-to-end encryption for video and audio content, at least as the term is commonly understood. Instead it offers what is usually called transport encryption, explained further below.

Sacramento City Schools Superintendent Aguilar Takes a Big Pay Increase While Schools Closed

Katy Grimes:

In March 2019, California Globe reported Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jorge Aguilar and seven other administrators spent more than $35,000 to attend a six-day conference at the Harvard Business School, while the district teetered on the verge of insolvency, and under the threat of state takeover as it struggled with a $35 million budget gap.

Flash forward one year and SCUSD is still faltering; the district threatened to pink slip teachers right before the March 3 Primary Election. This is likely how the school district managed to convince voters within the Sacramento school district to vote to authorize the district to sell $750 million of bonds to improve schools’ facilities.

While this infusion of funding may stave off the bleeding for now, the Sacramento City Teachers Association just reported, “Superintendent Aguilar has taken a significant pay increase after stating last year that he would not accept a salary increase while the District had significant financial issues.”

In a March 25 email sent to union members titled, “SCUSD to Present Its Draft Plan for Distance Learning Tomorrow (Thursday)District Refuses to Pay Day-to-Day Subs, as the Superintendent Takes His Pay Increase,” the union questions district priorities.

Notably, the district is refusing “to pay short-term, day-to-day substitutes as required by Governor Newsom’s March 13 Executive Order,” during the shutdown of schools over the coronavirus crisis, which SCTA says is “saving the District $44,000 per day or more than $800,000 per month. We asked the District what it intended to spend the money on and received no response.”

Former Madison School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham is the new director of Harvard’s “Public Education Leadership Project”.

The article referenced this $32,000 course [PDF]

Civics: A Litany of Useless Laws Have Been Exposed By the Coronavirus

Charles Blain:

From the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, state and local governments responded in various ways from issuing emergency orders⁠—citywide shutdowns⁠ to school closures and beyond⁠—but it’s the suspension of various laws and regulations that is exposing the unnecessary regulatory web that burdens businesses.

As often happens during emergencies, governors and mayors across the country have used executive power to waive laws and bypass regulations. This allows goods to get to the public quicker at lower cost, more service providers to enter struggling industries, and the market to respond to the crisis in countless other ways.

Lifting these regulations does not put public health or safety in jeopardy; if that were the case, they wouldn’t be lifted with such ease. But this should lead the public to question why the regulatory burdens exist at all.
Useless Regulations

Is the MPS Tax & Spending Increase Referendum Good for Milwaukee?

– via a kind reader.

Milwaukee annual per student $pending:

Public: just over $14K

Charter: just over $9k

Voucher: just under $9k

“The problems have less to do with funding and more about policies and practices”. Mission vs organization.

Madison’s taxpayer supported school district spends around $19 to 20K/student and is planning a substantial tax and spending increase referendum. This, despite tolerating long term, disastrous reading results.

Commentary on the current K-12 Climate: Long breaks are damaging. Virtual learning is erratic. The stakes are high. (2020 lack of digital prep…)

Kevin Huffman:

Schools and teachers are mobilizing to roll out instruction. Many are showing entrepreneurial spirit and creativity, and the ad hoc home-school universe is awash in ideas and resources. District leaders are working long hours, trying their best to serve kids. While larger districts have at times struggled with communication and rollout, some schools and districts are showing a more nimble and collaborative approach. Achievement First, a charter network with schools in multiple states including Rhode Island, has jumped in and offered to share all resources with the Providence Public School District, which is under a state takeover for low performance. And Chiefs for Change, an organization of state and local education leaders, is hosting a virtual forum for school districts to share how they are collaborating with charter schools during this crisis. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, those jurisdictions struggling to support online coursework will catch up and find workarounds for students without access to technology, learning from the more entrepreneurial players.

Related: Twitter notes. Commentary on Virtual Learning and the taxpayer supported Madison School District.

Title IX and high School SPortS Litigation


Title IX requires that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, . . . be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. §1681(a); accord 34 C.F.R. § 106.41(a). Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination extends to athletics operated or sponsored by recipients of federal money. 34 C.F.R. § 106.41. As a result, covered institutions must “provide equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexes.” Id. § 106.41(c). The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), however, has adopted a policy that requires biological males to compete against biological females—despite the real physiological differences between the sexes—if the male is a transgender individual who publicly identifies with the female gender. CIAC claims that “federal law” requires this state of affairs. CIAC 2019-2020 Handbook (CIAC Handbook), at 55, http://www.casciac.org/pdfs/ciachandbook_1920.pdf; see also Defs.’ Initial Summ. Issues at 7, ECF No. 63. So do the proposed student-intervenors. See Mot. to Intervene at 11, ECF No. 36

Civics: Contagion and the Right to Travel

Anthony Michael Kreis

Not since 1918 has the United States faced the kind of wide-scale public health crisis that Americans face today. The novel coronavirus pandemic of 2020 jeopardizes multiple millions of Americans’ lives, especially the elderly and immunocompromised. It also stands to cripple the American economy with the real prospect of the nation plunging into a depression. The virus itself is more easily transmitted than other seasonal diseases like the flu. Each non-isolated case of novel coronavirus will infect 2 to 2.5 additional people compared to the flu, where each additional case will infect 1.3 other people on average. Moreover, it is more deadly than the flu. As I write, nearly 85,000 Americans have been infected, and over 1,000 lives have been lost to the pandemic. These numbers will surely grow as the challenges to respond to the crisis mounts. Public health resources are strained, and the testing capacity of the United States lags behind other nations. 

Public health experts and government officials face a stark choice: swift crackdowns on private movement or the possibility of mass mortality. To “flatten the curve,”i.e., slow the exponential growth of new infections and avoid overwhelming the healthcare system, governors and mayors have mandated social distancing and instituted stay-at-home orders. And while the pandemic has touched every state in the nation, certain states like New York, New Jersey, and Washington have acute outbreaks. In response, some governors have instituted de facto travel bans for short-term visitors. The governors in Alaska and Hawaii issued mandatory self-quarantine periods for all persons entering either state for 14 days. Travelers whose final destinations are Florida or Texas coming from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut must quarantine for 14 days, as must persons traveling from New Orleans to Texas. Rhode Island has instituted a similar policy directed at New Yorkers, including police stops of non-commercial vehicles entering the state with New York license plates, that has come under fire from the state American Civil Liberties Union chapter.

‘An honor and privilege to step up’: Community, school staff aid MMSD food distribution efforts

Scott Girard:

In the first nine days since schools closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Madison Metropolitan School District has given out 15,500 meals to students.

The Monday through Friday distribution of breakfast and lunch at 12 sites has been “running without a hitch,” MMSD spokesperson Tim LeMonds wrote in an email Thursday.

And it’s being helped by community efforts that are delivering some of the meals to families and others offering additional food to cover snacks, dinner and weekends.

A partnership between Thoreau Elementary School and Cherokee Middle School has delivered meals to 275 families — all of them from food collected through the Second Harvest and River food pantries. It will soon expand to serve between 400 and 500 families, all in the elementary schools that feed Cherokee plus West High School.

Cherokee social worker Abby Ray said the effort has “come a long way” from the first day of the closures, March 16, when they were just delivering to families they knew were in need. Schools are closed until at least April 24 by order of Gov. Tony Evers.

“A lot of it shows the relationships that families have with schools already,” Ray said. “The school is so much more than a place for kids to get learning and so many other needs are met through education in schools.”

2025 Vision

Law School Transparency:

Law school tuition has exceeded inflation for decades.Private and public law school tuition is 2.8 and 5.9 times as expensive as it was in 1985—after accounting for inflation. In 2019, tuition topped out at $72,360. The average tuition at top-performing law schools is much higher than the rest. But prices do not scale with job outcomes. The average tuition at the lowest-performing schools is similar to the average for mid-range schools.While law schools typically discount the sticker tuition price for a portion of the class, 25% of J.D. students paid full price in 2018-19. Students who pay full price or close to it are more likely to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds or be underrepresented racial minorities. Their tuition dollars subsidize the scholarships that their more advantaged classmates receive.

These disparities enhance persistent inequity in law practice.1Students borrow to pay these high prices. Three in four graduates borrow for law school at high interest rates. Among borrowers, the average 2018 graduate borrowed $115,481. This person is likely to have roughly $130,000 in debt from law school alone when they start repayment six months after graduation because interest accrues immediately on law school loans. As with scholarships, underrepresented racial minorities—not to mention women—borrow more on average for law school.2When factoring in graduate salaries, students borrow excessively for law school.

One common-sense rule in student lending provides that students should not borrow more than they expect to earn after their first year. At 94% of law schools, the median amount borrowed exceeds the median earnings in the first full year after graduation. The median debt-to-income ratio is 1.86. One in six law schools have a ratio of 3.0 or higher, which means that the median amount borrowed exceeds the median earnings by 200%.

Madison School District requiring teachers to find child care while remote teaching

Scott Girard:

Madison Metropolitan School District teachers will have to find child care for their children while teaching remotely, according to an email sent to staff Thursday night.

Portions of the email from MMSD’s human resources department were sent to the Cap Times and shared on Facebook. Virtual learning is expected to begin April 6, with training and planning time the week of March 30 through April 3.

The email informed staff they “cannot watch (their) children and work at the same time,” but that employees working from home “can flex their hours within the workday.”

“The expectation is that you secure childcare,” the email states. “Whether the childcare is outside of your home or in your home is up to you.”

Related: Madison teachers balk at directive to secure child care when working from home

Civics: If we learn anything from the virus outbreak, it should be the importance of free speech

Kevin Carrico:

On March 18, Mingpao published an opinion piece entitled “This pandemic originated in Wuhan, the lessons of seventeen years ago have been completely forgotten.” The authors Dr. Kwok-Yung Yuen and Dr. David Lung are unrivalled experts in their field. Dr. Yuen is a microbiologist whose SARS study group discovered the role of the coronavirus in the SARS epidemic in early 2003. Dr. Lung is also a microbiologist who has recently published on the detection of COVID-19 via saliva samples.

In their article, the authors offer practical advice on understanding the virus for the general reader. First, they explain how the World Health Organization and the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses name viruses, while also acknowledging that the colloquial use of “Wuhan pneumonia” is understandably more straightforward than COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2 and thus does not need to be condemned.

Second, Yuen and Lung explain that genetic sequencing has shown the virus likely originated in horseshoe bats before spreading to an intermediate host in the Wuhan Seafood Market (most likely endangered pangolin), which then served as an amplification epicentre spreading from animals to humans, before mutating to enable human-to-human transmission.

What do young Chinese think about social credit? It’s complicated

Marc Oliver Rieger (University of Trier), Mei Wang (WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management), Mareike Ohlberg (MERICS)

  • China’s emerging social credit system should be understood not as a single unified system but as a package or policy framework combining many different policies.
  • Results of our student survey at three Chinese universities between December 2018 and April 2019 suggest that no easy conclusions about broad-based approval of such policies can be drawn. We also surveyed Taiwanese and German students for comparison.
  • Our survey sought their responses to four policies associated with the social credit system mega-project. Students from China rated the measures more positively, with approval rates between 41 and 57 percent, than their German counterparts, who gave a maximum of 19 percent approval. However, approval rates from students in China were lower than the 80 percent approval rates found in a previous study by researchers at Freie Universität Berlin.
  • Our results also show a complex picture of how Chinese respondents think about social credit and the associated risks: e.g. government surveillance was rated as a higher risk in China than abuse of data by private companies, although media discussions related to “privacy protection” in China’s official media has focused predominantly on the latter.

Civics: How Competitive Are City and County Legislative Seats?

Public Policy Forum:

The level of competition varies in these counties, but in none are even half the seats contested. Eleven of Brown County’s 26 seats (42.3%) are contested placing it at the top of the list, while none of Waukesha County’s 25 seats are competitive. In Wisconsin’s two largest counties, few seats are up for grabs: only three out of the 18 Milwaukee County seats (16.7%) are contested, while Dane County features six competitive races out of 37 (16.2%). Assuming each seat represents the same number of people in a county, more than 80% of the 10-county population – or 2.56 million residents – will not get a choice for their supervisor in April.

Using 2017 population estimates, Milwaukee County supervisors represent 52,894 people on average, while each of Marathon County’s supervisors represents just 3,572. While many smaller counties’ supervisors volunteer, some are paid. Milwaukee County pays its supervisors a salary of $25,924, the most on our list.

Due to a constitutional provision called home rule, cities have broader authority to govern themselves than counties, meaning municipal elections are not uniform. For this analysis, we look at Wisconsin’s 10 largest cities.

LA Schools Go Online, but Seattle and others Say No

Danny Westneat:

So Los Angeles announced an “unprecedented commitment” of $100 million in emergency funding to get all students who need them both devices and internet access for continuing their educations online this year.

Compare to what school leaders have been saying here.

Seattle Public Schools “won’t transition to online learning,” Superintendent Denise Juneau tweeted last week. “2 things — not all students have access to internet and technology AND educators can’t just switch to online teaching overnight — it’s a specialized approach.”

“There’s just no way a district this large can do that,” Juneau said in an interviewwith Time magazine.

This is not our finest moment, Seattle.

How is it that Los Angeles, a district with half a million students, is attempting to keep its schooling going online during this crisis? And we are the ones barely trying.

I suggested to several Madison Superintendents that teachers and staff receive a stipend to purchase and maintain an internet connected device (cellular iPad would be my choice) and begin to interact with everyone using this device. Further, Apple’s assistive efforts are substantial.

This occurred during Infinite Campus evaluation and implementation meetings. I wonder what the teacher/staff utilization data looks like today?

Infinite Campus – or similar – was for many years an expensive, missed opportunity.

Despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts, Madison has apparently made little progress online– in 2020.

An update won the 2020 Madison School Board Election

Scott Girard:

“People win elections by hitting pavement, just historically. That was one of my biggest things, before the pandemic,” she said. “I wanted to gain the knowledge, or get more insight and talk to more people regarding my platform so that if I win the election that I kind of have that knowledge already.”

Like Pearson, Strong said he was adding some personalized letters about his platform to his plans along with more mailers.

“We knew eventually, once we saw other states putting in the stay-at-home placements, that was going to definitely impact us at some point,” Strong said. “It’s going to be a very close race, I believe it’s going to be very hard-fought. So I’m just trying to garner as much support from the community as I can.”

Vander Meulen said as a “semi-tech person,” the transition to focusing there hasn’t been too hard. What she misses, though, is connecting with voters on the campaign trail.

“People need human connection,” she said.

Notes and links on the 2020 Madison School Board election, here.

Madison teacher’s accidental text to parent: ‘I want to slap them through the phone!’

Chris Rickert:

According to a police report released Wednesday to the State Journal under the state’s public records law, the parent, Tyeisha Ivy, considered the text a threat and reported it to police because she wanted it documented. Ringelstetter was not arrested, and no charges were filed in the case.

Ivy told police that with school canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak, she was exchanging texts with Ringelstetter in an attempt to get online access to homework for her daughter.

In screen shots of the texts sent to the parent and reported by Madison365, Ringelstetter appears to be asking a co-worker for help getting online access set up and wrote “I want to reach out and slap them through the phone!!

According to the police report, Ringelstetter told police she was frustrated with the school’s closing, that the text was meant for someone else and that she never meant to slap the parent or her daughter.

I suggested to several Madison Superintendents that teachers and staff receive a stipend to purchase and maintain an internet connected device (cellular iPad would be my choice) and begin to interact with everyone using this device. Further, Apple’s assistive efforts are substantial.

This occurred during Infinite Campus evaluation and implementation meetings. I wonder what the teacher/staff utilization data looks like today?

Infinite Campus – or similar – was for many years an expensive, missed opportunity.

Despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts, Madison has apparently made little progress online – in 2020.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Coming Age of Dispersion

Joel Kotkin:

Living in dispersion may not save you from contagion, but being away from people, driving around in your own car, and having neighbors you know, does have its advantages in times like these. Even the urban cognoscenti have figured this out—much as their Renaissance predecessors did during typhus and bubonic plague outbreaks, wealthy New Yorkers today are retreating to their country homes where they struggle with the locals over depleted supplies of essentials.

Back to the Dark Ages?

In classical times, plagues devastated Athens, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. Along with barbarian invasions, they reduced the population of the Eternal City from 1.2 million at its height to barely 30,000 by the sixth century. Outside Europe, pandemics devastated cities such as Cairo, Canton, and Harbin. Following the conquest of the New World, the indigenous population suffered massive casualties from exposure to European diseases like smallpox.

Civics: Toronto is gathering cellphone location data from telecoms to find out where people are still congregating amid coronavirus shutdown: Tory

Mural Hemmadi:

The City of Toronto is obtaining cellphone data from wireless carriers to help it identify where people have assembled in groups, part of its attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19, Mayor John Tory said on Monday. But city staff said Tuesday morning the city doesn’t plan to collect such data.

“We had … the cellphone companies give us all the data on the pinging off their network on the weekend so we could see, ‘Where were people still congregating?’” Tory said during an online video-conferencing event Monday evening hosted by TechTO, a local meetup organization. “Because the biggest enemy of fighting this thing is people congregating close together.”

Tory said the data will be used to generate a heat map. He did not name the companies that had provided the city with data.

Other governments are using or seeking location data to inform measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s deputy medical officer of health, said Monday the city was considering using “aggregated data, potentially from electronic sources” to see where residents were congregating, citing mobile devices as one option. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized internal intelligence agency Shin Bet to use geolocation data it already collects from cellphone companies to identify and contact people who have had close contact with infected individuals.

Keeping Government Out of Your Business

R Colin Johnson:

The U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) grants government agencies permission to surveil citizens who assume privacy in their electronic communications. Today such oversight, even by the U.S. Congress, is opaque (summarized and anonymized), and any notification of those being monitored nearly always takes place after the fact.

New Mexico State University (NMSU) researchers presented a paper at the ACM Conference on Computers, Communications and Security (CCS 2019, London) in which they claimed to be able to automate proactive oversight that prevents privacy violations before they occur, using algorithms and blockchain in the form of what they call the Enforcer software.

Said Stephanie Forest, director of the Biodesign Center for Biocomputation, Security, and Society at Arizona State University in Tempe, “Electronic surveillance is the single biggest security threat we face today. It comes in many forms, ranging from the surveillance we agree to when we purchase and activate network-enabled electronic devices, to stealthy monitoring of which we are unaware.” Forrest said the paper, Scalable Auditability of Monitoring Processes using Public Ledgers, tackled the problem “of how to audit electronic surveillance processes involving multiple actors, focusing on government surveillance, especially agencies and companies, that violate court-sanctioned authorities. Methods such as these represent an important check and balance in our democracy and provide a way to audit government-sanctioned surveillance.”

What kind of light is there at the end of the tunnel?

Mary Beard:

But I see some far less desirable outcomes. How many universities (I hope not mine) will discover that online lectures are much cheaper and more “convenient” than the traditional face-to-face versions? And how many will discover that those large lecture buildings have a different, commercial potential? I am all in favour of exploiting online resources in teaching, but no one is going to tell me that face-to-face teaching has no advantage over the remote version. Lecturing and teaching is made special by real-time interaction.

Much the same goes for conferences. I think there is a hell of a lot the matter with some of the big international academic congresses and would be very happy to see some of them go (indeed I doubt I will ever/hope I will never go to another, for various reasons). But the idea that we can really productively thrash out academic issues via Skype, rather than face-to-face, over the seminar table and over the dinner table is impoverishing. Others may be more adept at this technology than I am, but I never found that a crackly Skype connection gets anywhere close to the progress you can make when you actually meet, and get that breakthrough over dinner late at night … 

The crowning example for me was my experience as an assessor for (the very generous) European Research Council awards. I am not sure how these are awarded now (and especially now), but a few years back the international assessors all met in Brussels and went through the applications together. A waste of time and a worrying carbon footprint, you might say. But two or three days together, dawn till late, fostered a communal project and a sense of understanding between the adjudicators that I don’t think it will ever be possible to achieve remotely.

The Rise of Reassurance Lit

Charlie Tyson:

My life as an advertiser began at a firm that specialized in one of the oldest American industries: grift. Staffed almost entirely by interns earning minimum wage, the company sold ad space in phone directories that, once printed, were promptly dumped in desolate corners of campus student centers, next to stacks of greasy pizza boxes. Flailing business owners who bought ads were locked into contracts that forbade cancellation. By the time they sensed a scam, it was too late: We would dispatch a collection agency to press them into line.

My job — keep in mind that I was 17 and entirely unskilled — was to make the ads for which the tanning salons, auto-body shops, and pizza joints paid so dearly. I would drag and drop images with whimsical abandon, superimposing brand logos and stock photographs on top of one another in the manner of a Magritte painting.

That adolescent flirtation with advertising was inevitably short-lived. When I chose to go to graduate school in literature, I did so with the maximum possible moral smugness. I dropped meaningful hints among my consultant-friends about the “coarse imperatives of business” and the “disfiguring strictures of our capitalist order,” all of which, I suggested, I would sidestep by bowing into the university’s hallowed halls.

You know how the story ends, how the academy makes advertisers of us all. Exhortations to promote our work, to lure undergraduates into our courses, to specialize in a sexy brand or niche (“I’m an ecocritic focusing on the aquatic imaginary [translation: I read books about dolphins]”), turn nearly every young scholar into a walking PR firm.

Announcing a National Emergency Library to Provide Digitized Books to Students and the Public

Chris Freeland:

To address our unprecedented global and immediate need for access to reading and research materials, as of today, March 24, 2020, the Internet Archive will suspend waitlists for the 1.4 million (and growing) books in our lending library by creating a National Emergency Libraryto serve the nation’s displaced learners. This suspension will run through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later. 

During the waitlist suspension, users will be able to borrow books from the National Emergency Library without joining a waitlist, ensuring that students will have access to assigned readings and library materials that the Internet Archive has digitized for the remainder of the US academic calendar, and that people who cannot physically access their local libraries because of closure or self-quarantine can continue to read and thrive during this time of crisis, keeping themselves and others safe.  

This library brings together all the books from Phillips Academy Andover and Marygrove College, and much of Trent University’s collections, along with over a million other books donated from other libraries to readers worldwide that are locked out of their libraries.

This is a response to the scores of inquiries from educators about the capacity of our lending system and the scale needed to meet classroom demands because of the closures. Working with librarians in Boston area, led by Tom Blake of Boston Public Library, who gathered course reserves and reading lists from college and school libraries, we determined which of those books the Internet Archive had already digitized. Through that work we quickly realized that our lending library wasn’t going to scale to meet the needs of a global community of displaced learners. To make a real difference for the nation and the world, we would have to take a bigger step.

Civic: Privacy after Coronavirus

Yuval Noah Harari:

In order to stop the epidemic, entire populations need to comply with certain guidelines. There are two main ways of achieving this. One method is for the government to monitor people, and punish those who break the rules. Today, for the first time in human history, technology makes it possible to monitor everyone all the time. Fifty years ago, the KGB couldn’t follow 240m Soviet citizens 24 hours a day, nor could the KGB hope to effectively process all the information gathered. The KGB relied on human agents and analysts, and it just couldn’t place a human agent to follow every citizen. But now governments can rely on ubiquitous sensors and powerful algorithms instead of flesh-and-blood spooks.

Yes, It Really Is Harder to Get into Highly Selective Colleges Today

Michael J. Petrilli and Pedro Enamorado

It’s often noted by individuals of a certain age that “I could never get into my alma mater if I were applying today.” The conventional wisdom is that it’s now much harder to be accepted into highly selective colleges and universities than it was a generation ago. But is that true?

To find out, we identified the median SAT scores (math plus verbal) of most of the 100 top national universities and 50 top liberal arts colleges (as determined by the 2020 US News and World Report college rankings) for the incoming freshmen classes of 1985 and 2016. The 1985 data came from the 1986 edition of Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, tracked down at the Library of Congress. The 2016 data were found in the 2018 edition of Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges. Since the SAT was re-normed in 1995 (and again in 2016, but after the time period for our data), we used a concordance tablepublished by the College Board to adjust the 1985 scores accordingly. Of the 150 institutions examined, median SAT scores were available in both years for 95 of them.

We used SAT scores as our measure of selectivity rather than acceptance rates because those rates have plummeted for most institutions in recent years, due to changes in the application process itself. For example, the “common app” makes it relatively easy and affordable for students to apply to larger numbers of schools. More and more students, particularly those gunning for the big-name institutions, are doing so. Given that the college rankings lists give a lot of weight to rejection rates, colleges face strong incentives to push those rates as high as possible by doing things such as generating large numbers of applications from students unlikely to be accepted, much less attend. In contrast, median SAT scores—appropriately adjusted—give us a better measure of the academic quality of an institution’s freshman class.

Civics: Around the world, rulers are using the pandemic as an excuse to grab more power. And the public is going along with it.

Anne Applebaum:

On March 13—Friday the 13th, as it happened—my husband was driving down a Polish highway when he turned on the news and learned that the country’s borders would shut down in 24 hours. He pulled over and called me. I bought a ticket from London to Warsaw minutes later. I don’t live there all of the time, but my husband is Polish, the only house I own is in rural Poland, and I wanted to be in it. The next morning, Heathrow Airport was spookily empty except for the Warsaw flight, which was packed with people trying to get one of the last commercial trips back into their country. During check-in, agents were refusing to board passengers without a Polish passport (I have one) or residency documents. Then someone realized that the new rules went into effect only at midnight, and so I witnessed a conversation between one of the stewards and two non-Polish passengers: “You realize that you might not be able to fly out again. You realize that you may be in Warsaw for a very long time …”

That same day, we called our college-freshman son in the United States and told him to get to the airport. He had been planning to stay with friends and family after his university closed. Instead, we gave him 30 minutes’ notice to get on one of the last flights to London, connecting to one of the last flights to Berlin. By the time he landed in Europe on Sunday, Poland had shut its borders to all public transportation. He took a train from Berlin to Frankfurt an der Oder, a town at the Polish-German border. Then he got out and walked across, carrying his luggage, as if in a Cold War movie about a spy exchange. He saw roadblocks, soldiers with guns, men in hazmat suits taking temperatures. My husband picked him up on the other side.

Civics: How Civic Technology Can Help Stop a Pandemic; Madison’s K-12 System stuck in the mud

Jaron Lanier & E. Glen Weyl:

The spread of the novel coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 pandemic have provided a powerful test of social and governance systems. Neither of the world’s two leading powers, China and the United States, has been particularly distinguished in responding. In China, an initial bout of political denial allowed the virus to spread for weeks, first domestically and then globally, before a set of forceful measures proved reasonably effective. (The Chinese government also should have been better prepared, given that viruses have jumped from animal hosts to humans within its territory on multiple occasions in the past.) The United States underwent its own bout of political denial before adopting social-distancing policies; even now, its lack of investment in public health leaves it ill-equipped for this sort of emergency.

The response of the bureaucratic and often technophobic European Union may prove even worse: Italy, although far from the epicenter of the outbreak, has four times the per capita rate of cases as China does, and even famously orderly Germany is already at half China’s rate. Nations in other parts of the world, such as information-manipulating Iran, provide worse examples yet.

Taiwan’s success has rested on a fusion of technology, activism, and civic participation. A small but technologically cutting-edge democracy, living in the shadow of the superpower across the strait, Taiwan has in recent years developed one of the world’s most vibrant political cultures by making technology work to democracy’s advantage rather than detriment. This culture of civic technology has proved to be the country’s strongest immune response to the new coronavirus.


The value of Taiwan’s tech-enabled civic culture has become abundantly clear in the current crisis. Bottom-up information sharing, public-private partnerships, “hacktivism” (activism through the building of quick-and-dirty but effective proofs of concept for online public services), and participatory collective action have been central to the country’s success in coordinating a consensual and transparent set of responses to the coronavirus. A recent report from the Stanford University School of Medicine documents 124 distinct interventions that Taiwan implemented with remarkable speed. Many of these interventions bubbled into the public sector through community initiatives, hackathons, and digital deliberation on the vTaiwan digital democracy platform, on which almost half the country’s population participates. (The platform enables large-scale hacktivism, civic deliberation, and scaling up of initiatives in an orderly and largely consensual manner.) A decentralized community of participants used tools such as Slack and HackMD to refine successful projects. (Much of our analysis is based on open interviews through these tools with leaders in the g0v community of civic hackers.)

I thought about this in light of the taxpayer supported Madison School District’s long term online education challenges, from Infinite Campus to the recent imperatives – this, in 2020! This lack of progress has continued, despite spending far more than most K-12 school districts.

Successful technology transformations and implementations require constancy of purpose, that is mission, vs. perpetuating the organization.

Virus spurs unexpected test for US schools: Online learning

Jennifer Peltz:

The coronavirus shutdowns have launched an unplanned, unprecedented experiment with online education at schools across the U.S., and the nation’s largest school system plunged in Monday as New York City asked over 1.1 million students to log in and learn.

After a whirlwind week of planning, students — those who could — signed in to Google classrooms and Zoom video conferences for virtual versions of everything from high-school English discussions to kindergarten gym classes. City officials were still trying to get laptops to hundreds of thousands of students in need. Parents grappled with how much to expect of their schools, their kids and themselves.

Emily James was pleased to see the vast majority of her ninth-grade English students showed up for class by video Monday, some using smartphones or borrowed laptops.

2020 Referendum Climate: Madison Tax Base Edition

Dean Mosiman:

More than 70% of the city’s General Fund revenues come from the property tax, and nearly two-third of property taxes have already been paid for 2020, which brings some stability, Schmiedicke said. The city already imposed a $40 wheel tax for the current budget. But preliminary projections show an overall drop of 4%, or about $13 million, in general fund revenues that wipes out forecast growth from 2019 to 2020, he said. 

The city expects hotel room taxes to fall 30%, or about, $6 million, and anticipates general state aid cuts of 5%, or $1.6 million, due to state revenue shortfalls, Schmiedicke said. City investment earnings could fall 40%, or $1.5 million, he said.

Meanwhile, fines and forfeitures from moving and parking violations are expected to fall 25%, or 1.6 million, and licenses and permits may be down 15%, or 1.5 million, this year, Schmiedicke said. Many other revenues are expected to fall, including Metro Transit fares, street use vending; and Monona Terrace events. 

Other impacts include rising pension costs due to reduced earnings in the Wisconsin Retirement System portfolio, and reduced liability insurance dividends, he said.

Notes, links and some data on Madison’s planned 2020 referendum.

“Madison spends just 1% of its budget on maintenance while Milwaukee, with far more students, spends 2%” – Madison’s CFO at a recent 2020 referendum presentation.

Using Zoom? Here are the privacy issues you need to be aware of

Richie Koch:

Zoom has seen a flood of new users as the COVID-19 outbreak forces more and more employees to transition to working from home. Zoom’s big selling point is its near-frictionless video calls. 

However, new users should be aware of the company’s privacy practices. By looking through its privacy policy and some of its support documents, you quickly discover that Zoom allows your boss to track your attention during calls, shares the copious amounts of data it collects with third parties, and has already had a major security vulnerability.

We believe it’s important for our community who may be switching to Zoom in their workplace during the coronavirus outbreak to be aware of these issues, and this post looks at each of them in detail. At the end, we’ll offer some suggestions for what you can do to protect yourself while using Zoom.

Madison’s English language learners face a different set of challenges during COVID-19

Nicholas Garton:

Imagine navigating the constantly updating information landscape as someone who doesn’t speak much English. Tackling that challenge has been the focus of Madison’s Literacy Network for the past several weeks.

In light of calls for social distancing and deep cleaning of public spaces, the organization has had to revamp how it helps its students. Normally, Literacy Network staffers would meet face-to-face with students and provide individual educational help. But with much of the city shut down, staff at the nonprofit organization have had to pursue other means of not just continuing coursework, but helping students receive appropriate and accurate information about COVID-19.

MIT has made the decision to no longer consider the SAT Subject Tests


MIT has made the decision to no longer consider the SAT Subject Tests as part of the admissions process. You can read about our revised testing requirements here.

I’m happy to announce our decision to discontinue the use of subject tests starting with the 2020-21 admissions cycle for first-year and transfer admissions (for students entering MIT in 2021 and beyond). We made this decision after considerable study, in consultation with our faculty policy committee. We believe this decision will improve access for students applying to MIT.

Below are answers to some questions you may have about our change.

Madison School Board members want to keep staff with current health insurance provider, add deductible

Scott Girard:

At the same time, MMSD has increased base pay more than surrounding districts in recent years, according to the presentation.

Board members said maintaining that competitive advantage in recruitment is important.

“Our health care is one of the biggest elements of competitiveness for staff in the area,” Toews said. “It’s an area I would really like to keep differentiated.”

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Health insurance costs have long been an issue in the Madison School District.

Administrators warned that benefits were unsustainable in 2014.

Christina Gomez Schmidt and Wayne Strong for Madison School Board

Wisconsin State Journal:

With a pandemic closing schools, protesters disrupting board meetings and a new superintendent starting June 1, the Madison School District needs stability and experience.

That’s what Christina Gomez Schmidt, seeking Seat 6, and Wayne Strong, running for Seat 7, will provide on the Madison School Board.

The Wisconsin State Journal editorial board endorses Gomez Schmidt and Strong in the April 7 election.

Our editorial board last week interviewed by teleconference the four candidates in the two competitive School Board races.

Gomez Schmidt and Strong highlighted deep involvement in the district and community. They would focus intently on improving reading skills, particularly for struggling students, which is key to closing achievement gaps.

Much more on the 2020 taxpayer supported spring 2020 Madison School Board election, here.

When writer’s block strikes

Matthew Duffus:

It didn’t happen all at once. I didn’t wake up one morning to find myself unable to write creatively. For months, I could eke out a story or group of poems, but all attempts at another novel arrived stillborn, exhausting themselves after a few thousand words. My father suggested I had a form of postpartum depression, that seeing my first novel in print, and therefore out of my hands, was too much of a shock, temporarily. I didn’t have the heart to tell him this had been going on for years. 

I finished a decent draft of my novel in 2015, made revisions based on a publisher’s interest in 2017, and sold it to him later that year. The editorial process spanned 18 months, but I had plenty of downtime between rounds of edits to work on something new. A colleague inquired about just this at one point, mentioning, “I hear you’re supposed to have a draft of the next thing by the time the previous book comes out.” I smiled, nodded, and assured him I was on my way. 

That year, I even tried NaNoWriMo. 

Soon, the stories dried up, followed by the poems within a semester. I took an online “poetry salon,” recycling work I’d set aside for the lean months. For a flash-fiction workshop, I generated a few thousand words, most of them rescued from earlier failures. After spending 500 dollars on these two courses, I had yet to spur myself into action. By the time the first box of copies of my novel arrived, the climate in my mind had grown hostile to new growth. 

Madison schools use social media to keep students connected during COVID-19 break

Scott Girard::

Others are offering read-a-longs, bedtime stories and daily mindfulness practice videos. The district has offered enrichment materials online, but so far not mandated virtual learning. An email to families sent Wednesday night stated that virtual learning would begin in early- or mid-April if schools are still closed at that time.

“It is taking time to work through the many details, such as the large number of our families who do not have long-term access to the internet or devices, how to best meet students with special needs concerns, and ensuring our teachers are equipped to teach online and that we have the infrastructure to do it,” the email from interim superintendent Jane Belmore states. “We know from our discussions with other area superintendents of larger districts that they are wrestling with the same concerns.

In the meantime, Elvehjem Elementary School posted a Facebook Live video of principal Sarah Larson reading “Goodnight, Madison,” a book the students have read together before, she said in the video. It has more than 1,000 views.

Commentary on Virtual Learning and the taxpayer supported Madison School District.

Madison’s No-Bid $30,000 Contract to Burns/Van Fleet (?)

No bid contracting by our taxpayer supported Madison School District:

a $30,000 no-bid contract to “Burns/Van Fleet” for 25 days of services to help in the new superintendent transition. (The superintendent search contract to BWP Associates was $32,000 plus expenses.) The Mike Hertting memo on the item touts this outfit as having “over 50 years of collective experience,” but it lacks much of an internet footprint other than this skimpy website: https://burnsvanfleet.com and a Columbus, OH telephone number.

A few questions that the School Board might ask:

  1. is the work that’s being outsourced within the job description of someone already on payroll (in this case, Jane Belmore and Mike Hertting), and
  2. (2) who benefits internally from favor-trading and/or influence-building by steering business outside (especially on a no-bid basis).

– via a kind reader.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

‘Invoice Barr’ and the ‘Second Modification’: How Article Spinning Works

Sarah Thompson:

There is a large network of websites using political content to draw an audience to the sites where some dubious advertising techniques are being employed. All of the content published on these websites is lifted from other sources. Some is current news, some is old – but true – news, published without a byline or date. And many stories are fake-news classics.

But most of what is published is satire stolen from “America’s Last Line of Defense,” a group of websites run by a self-described liberal troll named Christopher Blair. Many people do not recognize the ALLOD-branded watermark left behind on the swiped satire stories. Published without context, these stories mislead many people into believing they are actually new news. Adding to the confusion is the legibility problem – many of the stories have been spun.

Law Schools Adopt Pass-Fail Grades as They Move Online Amid COVID-19

Karen Sloan:

Several top law schools this week have announced switching to pass/fail grading for the spring semester, now that courses and exams are being delivered online amid the coronavirus pandemic. And many law school administrators have told students they are weighing changes to grading procedures and plan to announce such decisions in the coming days.

Thus far, Stanford Law School; Harvard Law School; the University of Michigan Law School; the University of California, Berkeley School of Law; and Cornell Law School have said they have adopted what is effectively a pass/fail system—the names vary by campus—or are giving students the option to have their grades issued as a pass or fail for the current semester. All American Bar Association-accredited law schools are now holding classes online, or will soon begin online classes.

The move to pass/fail grading is a dramatic shift for law schools, where grades play a large role in employment opportunities and co-curricular activities such as eligibility for law review, especially for first-year students. Mandatory curves are staples of law school grading systems and many students pay close attention to their class rank—which is determined by grade-point averages.

How to Get a World-Class Education for Free on the Internet

Amy Wang:

As crucial as a university degree has become for working in the modern economy, it is not the only route forward into a wildly lucrative and satisfying career—just ask famous dropouts Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg.

In the future, a single bachelor’s degree in a particular subject will no longer suffice for many of us anyway. As robots and automation sweep the global workforce, hundreds of millions of people—the majority of whom do not have the time or money to go pick up a brand-new four-year degree—will have to “re-skill” in order to land new jobs. The question that employees and employers alike face is how to get that done quickly, efficiently, and, most importantly to many, cheaply.

The internet, luckily, is already a booming resource. Whether you find yourself seeking new employment mid-career, curious about alternatives to a college education, or simply are interested in learning for learning’s sake, Quartz At Work has compiled some of the most dependable, high-quality materials you can access to learn anything on the internet.

Build Stuff!

Tim Berners-Lee:

Extending on the about page, I want to emphasise even more the importance of creating personal projects, having independent work and going far beyond what a degree might teach you. Just so that we are on the same page, I will not take into consideration the reason for choosing a Computer Science degree, nor the money aspect of doing a degree, but rather I will assume only that you are doing a Computer Science degree and my focus will be on how to make the most out of it.

The computer world has evolved a lot in 50 years and computers, with everything they entail, are nowadays easy to use; take for example GUIs for art designing or forums for programming erros. That is why the Computer Science degrees also adapted and stopped teaching irrelevant topics, such as Fortran (an old programming language) or MS-DOS (an outdated operating system). The currently taught topics make use of the most significant advantacements in technology and free students from some of those old pains. Nevertheless, degrees seem to lack lectures on fundamental skills in programming and in dealing with machines.

Of course, there are important things the degrees do teach, and those are mainly related to basic concepts of algorithms and data structures, architecture, databases and networks. They also teach compilers and security, so one gets a good grasp of various relevant fields and can definitely do more with computers than simply plugging together a couple of cables. However, that is the apparent safety net we do not want to find ourselves in, at least for two reasons: first, this knowledge may not even be useful in an actual job, as all the trivia you know is general and possibly long disregarded in the industry, and second, graduates from Physics or Engineering are competing with you for all the tech jobs, because they require the same amount of job training, while potentially having a stronger analytical side.

How to Reduce Digital Distractions: Advice From Medieval Monks

Jamie Kreiner:

Medieval monks had a terrible time concentrating. And concentration was their lifelong work! Their tech was obviously different from ours. But their anxiety about distraction was not. They complained about being overloaded with information, and about how, even once you finally settled on something to read, it was easy to get bored and turn to something else. They were frustrated by their desire to stare out of the window, or to constantly check on the time (in their case, with the Sun as their clock), or to think about food or sex when they were supposed to be thinking about God. They even worried about getting distracted in their dreams.

Sometimes they accused demons of making their minds wander. Sometimes they blamed the body’s base instincts. But the mind was the root problem: it is an inherently jumpy thing. John Cassian, whose thoughts about thinking influenced centuries of monks, knew this problem all too well. He complained that the mind ‘seems driven by random incursions’. It ‘wanders around like it were drunk’. It would think about something else while it prayed and sang. It would meander into its future plans or past regrets in the middle of its reading. It couldn’t even stay focused on its own entertainment – let alone the difficult ideas that called for serious concentration.

Commentary on Virtual Learning & The Madison School District

Logan Wroge:

In an email Friday, district spokesman Tim LeMonds said the district is now aiming to roll out virtual learning the first week of April, but it “takes time and thoughtful planning to prepare an all inclusive virtual learning program.” 

“The complexities being addressed include there being a large number of our families who do not have internet access or devices,” he said in an email. “Additionally, how to best meet our students with special needs concerns.”

The district also needs to make sure its approximately 2,700 teachers are trained, LeMonds said, and a “reliable infrastructure” needs to be in place to deliver online instruction.

There’s also a large number of students in the district who don’t speak English as their first language, speaking more than 110 other languages as their primary language, LeMonds said.

I recall discussions many years ago about creating a fast, wireless network at every school for neighborhood internet connectivity.

In addition, we discussed changing the District’s technology policy from top down to BYOD, that is bring your own device. I suggested to several Superintendents that teachers and staff receive a stipend to purchase and maintain an internet connected device (cellular iPad would be my choice) and begin to interact with everyone using this device. Further, Apple’s assistive efforts are substantial.

This occurred during Infinite Campus evaluation and implementation meetings. I wonder what the teacher/staff utilization data looks like today?

Infinite Campus – or similar – was for many years an expensive, missed opportunity.

The Doctor Who Helped Defeat Smallpox Explains What’s Coming

Steven Levy:

LARRY BRILLIANT SAYS he doesn’t have a crystal ball. But 14 years ago, Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox,  spoke to a TED audience and described what the next pandemic would look like. At the time, it sounded almost too horrible to take seriously. “A billion people would get sick,” he said. “As many as 165 million people would die. There would be a global recession and depression, and the cost to our economy of $1 to $3 trillion would be far worse for everyone than merely 100 million people dying, because so many more people would lose their jobs and their health care benefits, that the consequences are almost unthinkable.”

Now the unthinkable is here, and Brilliant, the Chairman of the board of Ending Pandemics, is sharing expertise with those on the front lines. We are a long way from 100 million deaths due to the novel coronavirus, but it has turned our world upside down. Brilliant is trying not to say “I told you so” too often. But he did tell us so, not only in talks and writings, but as the senior technical advisor for the pandemic horror film Contagion, now a top streaming selection for the homebound. Besides working with the World Health Organization in the effort to end smallpox, Brilliant, who is now 75, has fought flu, polio, and blindness; once led Google’s nonprofit wing, Google.org; co-founded the conferencing system the Well; and has traveled with the Grateful Dead.

We talked by phone on Tuesday. At the time, President Donald Trump’s response to the crisis had started to change from “no worries at all” to finally taking more significant steps to stem the pandemic. Brilliant lives in one of the six Bay Area counties where residents were ordered to shelter in place. When we began the conversation, he’d just gotten off the phone with someone he described as high government official, who asked Brilliant “How the fuck did we get here?” I wanted to hear how we’ll get out of here. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

“data usage has surged double digits over four categories”

Tyler Clifford:

“In less than a week, we have transformed this company dramatically,” he said in the “Mad Money” interview.

In a week-over-week comparison, streaming demand increased 12%, Vestberg said. Web traffic climbed 20%, virtual private network, or VPN, jumped 30% and gaming skyrocketed 75%. Social media usage remained constant.

Verizon announced March 12 that it would step up its capital guidance range to $17.5 billion to $18.5 billion from $17 billion to $18 billion this year as the wireless provider prepares for the 5G transition and to support the economy through the coronavirus crisis. The company said at the time it had not seen a notable increase in data usage as the health epidemic reached pandemic levels.

Network connection is critical, especially for telecommuting and online learning.

2020 (!) Madison School District not moving to online instruction as Wisconsin schools ordered to close.

Open-Access JSTOR Materials Accessible to the Public

Orla Murnaghan:

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly implied that JSTOR had made its database accessible to the public for the first time. In fact, only certain materials from its database are available to the public, and this has been the case for some time. The headline, subheading and body of this article have been updated to reflect this information.

Online academic resource JSTOR has clarified that much of its database is accessible to the public, amid the widespread closure of universities across the world due to the coronavirus pandemic.

How the virus kills dreams for Chinese teens

the Economist:

AS A TEENAGE schoolgirl, Tang Sisi has mixed feelings about the snowstorm that hit her village in the poor western province of Gansu on March 16th. On the downside, the snow burned out the village’s electrical transformer, cutting her access to online classes that have replaced normal lessons since covid-19 closed schools across China weeks ago. On the upside, when the internet dropped just after Chinese class, Sisi’s first lesson of the day, she could abandon her usual place of study—a rough wooden chair and desk in an outdoor courtyard, placed to catch the signal from a neighbour’s Wi-Fi—and shelter from the storm.

Sisi, whose father is a village official and whose mother is a migrant worker, cannot afford to miss many classes. Like millions of Chinese teenagers she is preparing for an examination for entrance to senior secondary school. It is known as the zhongkao, and sends students down one of two tracks. A vocational track involves three years studying a trade at a technical school. An academic track starts at senior high school and, for the most studious, ends with a four-year degree course at university.

Put bluntly, those who do well at the zhongkao have a shot at becoming doctors, bank managers, government officials or teachers—Sisi’s own ambition is to teach English. Teenagers who do badly must either enter the labour market or study for vocational diplomas of varying quality. The zhongkao may not be as famous as the gaokao, the terrifying university entrance exam that has inspired books, documentaries and feature films. But the zhongkao shapes more lives. In one sign of the exam’s hold on parental imaginations, Chinese social media erupted in heated debate when Hubei province, seat of the virus outbreak, announced that the children of medical workers would be granted ten bonus points on their zhongkao scores.

Civics: Wisconsin Emergency Powers and Their Limits

Rick Esenberg:

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers’ response to the threat of COVID-19 has included cancelling school indefinitely throughout the state, closing bars and restaurants except for take-out service, and tight restrictions on social gatherings to fewer than 10. The state’s response, like the crisis itself, has moved with enormous speed. At the behest of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, gatherings and businesses that were permitted on Monday were barred by Tuesday. Is all this legal? Let’s walk through it.

What does the law say?

Can a governor effectively suspend economic activity in a state and impose strict restrictions on public life? The answer is not clear. In our federal system the power to order this type of emergency shutdown has traditionally been reserved to the states. Wisconsin law is not unique, and the governing principles here do not differ dramatically from those that exist elsewhere.

Wisconsin law grants the Department of Health Services (DHS) the authority to “close schools and forbid public gatherings in schools, churches, and other places to control outbreaks and epidemics” and “authorize and implement all emergency measures necessary to control communicable diseases.” Other statutes also provide authority including the Governor’s power to declare a public emergency and, in such circumstances, to “issue such orders as he or she deems necessary for the security of persons and property.” Other states have similar provisions.

Upon reading these statutes, you might conclude that the Governor can do whatever he wants. But you would be wrong. Any action the Governor takes must also comply with the state and federal constitutions. And there are at least four potential constitutional challenges. Each would have to overcome centuries of law supporting the right of governments to impose quarantines to prevent the spread of disease — recall the story of Typhoid Mary — and even the cordon sanitaire — the centuries old practice of preventing the movement of people to stem the spread of disease. But each would be buoyed by the unprecedented breadth and indeterminate length of the Governor’s order. In short, we have never seen anything like this.

On the Technical Advancements and Instrumentalization of Rumor


The quality of information matters immensely in situations like this. I want to briefly direct your attention to an opinion piece on the Scientific American written by Dr. Bill Hanage and Dr. Marc Lipsitch, both great epidemiologists at the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. They did a great job dissecting and categorizing different types of information.

In short, there are three categories of information about an outbreak of a communicable disease:

(A) what we know is true; (B) what we think is true—fact-based assessments that also depend on inference, extrapolation or educated interpretation of facts that reflect an individual’s view of what is most likely to be going on; and (C) opinions and speculation.

And of course, if I may add, there’s another category of information: rumor.

Wikipedia explains rumor as “a tall tale of explanations of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern.” However, in the context of Chinese language and the age of internet-driven public opinion, rumor possesses more of a derogatory meaning here in China. It is generally used to categorize information that is not fact-based, but rather invented out of thin air or manufactured for numerous purposes—be them simply trolling around, or more conscious ones.

Rumor in the Chinese context is often baseless speculations that are lacking in trustworthy source and hard for average readership to do their own fact-checking. That’s a big difference compared to what I perceived as the western people’s understanding towards rumor, which is mostly neutral. Keep in mind that I’m only going to talk about rumor in the Chinese context in this essay.

What I was pleased to see is that Chinese people are finally showing signs that they are fed up with these baseless rumor, and are more cautious than ever about their information intake. However, I’ve began to see two advanced versions of rumor beginning to circulate and people are still falling for them.

The first is forged statements claimed to have come from prestigious sources containing baseless claims that, upon first hear, sound kind of legit.

One example is the rumor of “holding your breath for 10 sec to check if you are infected with Covid-19”, believed to be originated from an Indian entertainment website, citing that it proves that if you can, then you don’t have pulmonary fibrosis. This one, or more specifically, the Chinese translated version, had been circulating quite well among my Chinese friends in the U.S.

Civics & Privacy: Federal government in talks with tech groups to use phone location data to track coronavirus: report

Maggie Miller:

The federal government is in talks with Facebook, Google and other tech companies about ways to use smartphone location data to tackle the coronavirus, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Washington is reportedly interested in using the data to better understand how the virus spreads and to see whether people are practicing social distancing.

A new task force made up of tech and other industry executives presented ideas for the use of the location data at a White House meeting Sunday, the Post reported. Presenters included officials from Harvard University and representatives from top tech groups and Silicon Valley firms.

The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

An unnamed OSTP official told The Washington Post that they were “encouraged by American technology companies looking to leverage, aggregate, anonymized data to glean key insights for COVID-19 modeling efforts.”

The Philosophy of Computer Science

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The philosophy of computer science is concerned with those ontological, methodological, and ethical issues that arise from within the academic discipline of computer science as well as from the practice of software development. Thus, the philosophy of computer science shares the same philosophical goals as the philosophy of mathematics and the many subfields of the philosophy of science, such as the philosophy of biology or the philosophy of the social sciences. The philosophy of computer science also considers the analysis of computational artifacts, that is, human-made computing systems, and it focuses on methods involved in the design, specification, programming, verification, implementation, and testing of those systems. The abstract nature of computer programs and the resulting complexity of implemented artifacts, coupled with the technological ambitions of computer science, ensures that many of the conceptual questions of the philosophy of computer science have analogues in the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of empirical sciences, and the philosophy of technology. Other issues characterize the philosophy of computer science only. We shall concentrate on three tightly related groups of topics that form the spine of the subject. First we discuss topics related to the ontological analysis of computational artifacts, in Sections 1–5 below. Second, we discuss topics involved in the methodology and epistemology of software development, in Sections 6–9 below. Third, we discuss ethical issues arising from computer science practice, in Section 10 below. Applications of computer science are briefly considered in section 11.

Mary Dash’s Writing Tips


Readers prefer active voice sentences, and we should try to use the active voice in most of our business writing to communicate our message most effectively. Active voice clearly identifies the action and who is performing that action. Unfortunately, much of government writing is in the passive voice, giving documents a wordy, bureaucratic tone. Over time, writing in the passive voice simply becomes a habit, one we should all work to change.

Will Wisconsin School Performance Ratings 2018-2019

Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty:

WILL’s performance data represents the most comprehensive look at Wisconsin’s test scores. WILL takes DPI’s report card data and adjusts the scores to place all schools on a level playing field. Schools with a negative performance score have lower performance than would be expected based on the composition of their students. Schools with a positive performance score are doing more than would be expected.

Several Dane County districts move to online, remote education

Logan Wroge:

As of now, the Madison School District isn’t moving to online schooling, but spokesman Tim LeMonds said the district is preparing for “distance learning alternatives as a requirement, if schools remain closed longer than what was initially expected.”

In the meantime, Madison is providing “enrichment” activities for students and directing parents to online resources to keep children academically engaged.

LeMonds said district staff are in daily communication with DPI and other large districts to address the “unique complexities” for a bigger school system to move online.

I recall discussions many years ago about creating a fast, wireless network at every school for neighborhood internet connectivity.

In addition, we discussed changing the District’s technology policy from top down to BYOD, that is bring your own device. I suggested to several Superintendents that teachers and staff receive a stipend to purchase and maintain an internet connected device (cellular iPad would be my choice) and begin to interact with everyone using this device. Further, Apple’s assistive efforts are substantial.

This occurred during Infinite Campus evaluation and implementation meetings. I wonder what the teacher/staff utilization data looks like today?

Infinite Campus – or similar – was for many years an expensive, missed opportunity.

Free Cambridge textbooks


Cambridge University Press is making higher education textbooks in HTML format free to access online during the coronavirus outbreak.

Over 700 textbooks, published and currently available, on Cambridge Core are available regardless of whether textbooks were previously purchased. 

Free access is available until the end of May 2020.

Civics: Why Democracy Is on the Decline in the United States

Evan Osnos:

The latest edition was published last week, and, as you might expect, it recorded the fourteenth straight year of deteriorating freedom around the world; sixty-four countries have lost liberties in the past year, while only thirty-seven registered improvements. (India, the world’s largest democracy, has seen some of the most alarming declines.) Its assessment of the United States is also disturbing. In 2009, the U.S. had a score of ninety-four, out of a hundred, which ranked it near the top, just behind Germany, Switzerland, and Estonia. In the decade since, it has slipped eight points; it now ranks behind Greece, Slovakia, and Mauritius. Looking at the United States, Freedom House analysts note the types of trends that they more customarily assign to fragile corners of the globe: “pressure on electoral integrity, judicial independence, and safeguards against corruption. Fierce rhetorical attacks on the press, the rule of law, and other pillars of democracy coming from American leaders, including the president himself.”

Explaining what, exactly, accounts for this decline is the work of a growing body of literature. Much of it focusses, of course, on the tenure of Donald Trump, but, interestingly, some scholars and advocates tend to identify a point of origin well before the election of 2016. According to Protect Democracy, a legal-watchdog group dedicated to combatting the rise of authoritarianism in America, “the growth and spread of democracies that defined the 20th Century peaked in the early days of the 21st; since 2005, the state of democracies around the world has receded.”

One of the most frequently cited theories for this change is depicted in what’s known as the “elephant graph.” The graph, which the economist Branko Milanović popularized, in 2013, is, in fact, a chart that shows income growth by stratum (or, in technical terms, by “percentiles of the global income distribution”) in the twenty years leading up to the 2008 global financial crisis. The graph got its name because it looks like an elephant: on the left, there is a plump body of rising incomes—China, India, and other beneficiaries of globalization—and, on the right, a rapidly rising trunk, which reflects the spectacular fortunes of the world’s top one per cent. The most politically significant part of the elephant is in between: the bottom of the trunk, which shows the stagnant incomes of American and European working and middle classes. Those groups have proved to be fertile bases of support for populist rebellions against democratic traditions that, from their vantage point, now appear false or obsolete.

Commentary on Cuba’s Education Outcomes

Paul Peterson:

Mr. Sanders is not alone in his ad­mi­ra­tion for Cuban ed­u­ca­tion. In 2016 Pres­i­dent Obama quoted him­self as telling Raúl Cas­tro, Fi­del’s younger brother and suc­ces­sor: “You’ve made great progress in ed­u­cat­ing young peo­ple. Every child in Cuba gets a ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion.” Dan Domenech, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of School Ad­min­is­tra­tors, vis­ited Ha­vana in 2017 and ex­ulted: “Cuba’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem might as well be con­sid­ered the ul­ti­mate wrap-around in­sti­tu­tion for chil­dren.” In 2007 Stan­ford’s Mar­tin Carnoy pub­lished a book called “Cuba’s Aca­d­e­mic Ad­van­tage.”

It’s all bunk—though it’s hard to prove, be­cause Cuba re­fuses to par­tic­i­pate in in­ternational tests such as the re­spected Pro­gram for In­ternational Stu­dent As­sess­ment. The only ex­ter­nal tests in which Cuba did par­tic­i­pate were the 1997 and 2006 waves of the Latin Amer­i­can Lab­o­ra­tory for As­sess­ment of the Qual­ity of Ed­u­ca­tion, spon­sored by the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion and nick­named Lab­o­ra­to­rio. This was the main ev­i­den­tiary ba­sis for Mr. Carnoy’s book.

Legacy Preference Gets Fresh Look Following College-Admissions Scandal

Douglas Belkin:

Some elite universities are walking back the practice of giving the children of alumni preferential treatment in admissions, in some cases reacting to the public distrust of college admissions that was laid bare last year in the nationwide cheating scandal.

The practice, called legacy preference, is out-of-step with many schools’ stated goal of attracting a more diverse student body, admissions officers say.

The custom, which dates back to the 1920s and disproportionately benefits wealthy, white families, has drawn increasing criticism in recent years. Some schools have done away with the practice.

“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”

How I teach classes remotely


I’ve been teaching classes remotely for over a decade now — mostly to adult learners — and so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. With a lot of schools and universities having to switch to remote classes, here’s what I can suggest:

  • One of the most useful tools is Krisp.AI. (Affiliate link to get one month free: krisp.ai ; link for the free version for students and educators https://krisp.ai/blog/covid19-response/ ) — this automatically removes background noise, so you can be delivering a class in a noisy coffee shop and it sounds to your listeners like you are in a quiet recording studio. It is free to students and educators at this time.

By donating food to Chick-fil-A, you’ll be helping children and families in need while schools are closed

Evan Frank:

Chick-fil-A in Pewaukee is helping those in need while school districts are closed due to coronavirus concerns.

Owner Kyle Bartz said the restaurant has the opportunity to provide for some children and families affected by the loss of food while school is out.

“We’ve been asked if we could provide some basic groceries for some families in need,” Bartz said. “We are going to do a food collection at Chick-fil-A Pewaukee, 1454 Capitol Dr., between 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 18.”

Bartz said the goal is to collect 100 boxes packed with the following items:

• 1 loaf of bread

• 1 gallon of milk

• 1 box of easy to open yogurt

• 1 bag or apples/oranges/bananas/etc

• 1 jar of peanut butter

• 1 jar of jelly

• 1 box of health cereal

Civics: 1619 Project Fact-Checker Says The New York Times Ignored Her Objections

Robby Soave:

Leslie Harris is a Northwestern University historian who helped fact-check the 1619 Project, The New York Times’s recent package of articles that recast chattel slavery as a foundational aspect of America. The project has been praised for drawing attention to underscrutinized racial inequities throughout American history. But has also attracted criticism from historians who say that some of the project’s claims are false. Harris is one of those critics—but when she raised her objections with Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Times reporter who spearheaded the 1619 Project, she received no response.

“On August 19 of last year I listened in stunned silence as Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for the New York Times, repeated an idea that I had vigorously argued against,” writes Harris in Politico.

When a fact-checker asked Harris to verify some of the project’s statements, Harris “vigorously disputed” the claim that protecting the institution of slavery was a major reason the American colonies rebelled against British rule:

Time to Go Back to School on the ‘Kiddie Tax’

Laura Saunders:

Congress made a big change to the so-called Kiddie Tax when it overhauled the tax code in 2017. But when lawmakers learned its terrible consequences, they switched back.

This zigzag is giving some taxpayers important choices on 2018 and 2019 tax returns. Others, such as generous parents or grandparents, need to relearn how Kiddie Tax rules will apply for 2020 and beyond.

Let’s recap. Congress passed the Kiddie Tax in 1986 to prevent wealthy people from giving income-producing assets to their children to take advantage of their lower rates.

The levy imposed income tax on children’s “unearned” income at the parents’ tax rate, above a small exemption. For 2019 and 2020, the exemption is $2,200. The tax doesn’t apply to a young person’s earned income, say from being a camp counselor.

Fair Use & Emergency Remote Teaching & Research

Public Statement of Library Copyright Specialists:

This Statement is meant to provide clarity for U.S. colleges and universities about how copyright law applies to the many facets of remote teaching and research in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. We write this as copyright specialists at colleges, universities, and other organizations supporting higher education in the U.S. and Canada who work every day with faculty, staff, and librarians to enable them to make ethical and legal choices about copyright issues in online teaching.   

The United States is in a time of crisis. As of this writing, more than 200 universities and colleges have moved to remote teaching. These moves aim to promote public health by slowing the spread of the disease, while maintaining at least some of the important functions higher education plays in teaching, learning, and research. We have heard concerns that copyright may pose impediments to a rapid shift to remote instruction, or conversely, that copyright is not relevant. While legal obligations do not automatically dissolve in the face of a public health crisis, U.S. copyright law is, thankfully, well equipped to provide the flexibility necessary for the vast majority of remote learning needed at this time.

Everybody Ready for the Big Migration to Online College? Actually, No

Kevin Carey:

Nobody planned for an abrupt mass migration of traditional college courses to the internet.

But because of coronavirus, that’s where we are.

Hundreds of thousands of students have been told to clear out their belongings and head home, many through the end of the semester. In nearly every case, colleges have said that instruction will continue online.

Making it work will require much more than giving every professor a Zoom account and letting instruction take its course. That’s partly because not all students will be able to access or benefit from suddenly online courses equally.

Undergraduates at places like Harvard, Stanford and M.I.T. will largely have no problem getting online to complete their work. But one recent study found that roughly 20 percent of students have trouble with basic technology needs. Their data plans are capped, their computers break, or their connections fail. Those with technology challenges are disproportionately low-income and students of color, who are also more vulnerable to dropping out.

Those students need courses that are not just accessible, but also well designed.

In some ways, colleges have been building toward this moment for more than a decade. One-third of all undergraduates are enrolled in online classes now. Thirteen percent are learning exclusively online. Online course-taking has increased for 14 consecutive years, even as overall enrollment has declined.

Civics: What the Bible Taught Lincoln About America

Meir Soloveichik:

When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, he was certainly not thought of as a man given to religious fervor. But over the next 4½ years, as hundreds of thousands of Americans died in the Civil War, the 16th president evolved into a theologian of the American idea, using the language and concepts of the Bible to reflect on the war’s larger meaning. This year on Presidents Day, Americans will observe the 211th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. But in an age of declining biblical literacy, we are in danger of losing touch with a key source of his greatness.

Why, for instance, did Lincoln begin the Gettysburg Address with the words “fourscore and seven years ago?” It isn’t because he usually spoke that way, as many readers of the speech might now assume. Rather, he knew that his audience was deeply familiar with the King James Bible and would recognize the language of the Psalms: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years.” As Adam Gopnik has written, Lincoln “had mastered the sound of the King James Bible so completely that he could recast abstract issues of constitutional law in biblical terms.”

The Bible’s influence on Lincoln’s language can be seen even before he took office. In February 1861, with the South seceding and the future of the Union hanging in the balance, the president-elect received an unusual gift from Abraham Kohn of Chicago. A Bavarian immigrant who was fiercely committed to both Judaism and Republican politics, Kohn was convinced, as his daughter later wrote, that Lincoln “was the destined Moses of the slaves and the savior of his country.” The gift that he sent reflected those convictions—a framed painting of an American flag, on whose stripes Kohn had inscribed Hebrew verses from the book of Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee; I will not fail thee nor forsake thee. Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”

Students demand fee reduction after university goes online over coronavirus

Jennifer Kannaby:

Some 12,000 people have signed a petition demanding that UC San Diego officials reduce their fees in the wake of the decision to move spring quarter classes online over the coronavirus.

The petition comes as more students and parents across the nation are asking what the shift from on campus to online classes amid the coronavirus contaminant means for their wallets.

Questions regarding partial housing and meal plan refunds, as well as assistance with spur-of-the-moment travel plans as college students are asked to leave their dorms, have also increased.

As for the petition at UC San Diego, it was started by student Jessica Liang and “argues that the university should lower certain student fees that amount to $4,817.22 for in-state students and $14,735.22 for out of state students. The fees include tuition, transportation, student activities, and events,” the UCSD Guardian reports.

Liang explained to the student newspaper that since spring 2020 classes have moved online “I found a lot of UCSD students complained about that … they think it is not worth [it] to pay such high tuition for online classes.”

The issue has struck a nerve. Another UCSD student tweeted out her story as well:

Hey, Teacher, Teach Those Kids at Home

Paul Vallas:

Ensuring that all schools have the capacity to provide high-quality remote instruction need not be financially prohibitive. Even financially strapped school systems have options. Schools can secure needed curriculum and instructional materials through subscriptions and by using online materials. By leasing the technology, a district can create and maintain a comprehensive, technologically supported instructional system at a fraction of what it would cost to buy laptops and tablets outright. A byproduct of such arrangements is that vendors will often donate used laptops and tablets to the district when the time comes to replace them with newer models, usually about every thee years. With proper maintenance, schools can expand their technology assets at little to no additional cost.

Other benefits to remote learning include reducing the cost of transportation and minimizing wear and tear on facilities. By helping maintain and improve student enrollment and average daily attendance, remote learning will help preserve and even increase state and federal education funding, which is often determined by these measures.

Although it’s possible now to teach students remotely, and it may even be desirable in moments like this one, it’s far from optimal. There’s still no substitute for in-person, high-quality teachers. I also don’t mean to minimize the socialization that schools provide. Learning alongside other students is critical to ensuring that young people eventually mature into healthy, engaged and socially adept adults.

Much more on Paul Vallas, here.

Coronavirus Tech Handbook

Coronavirus Handbook:

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Why Conventional Wisdom on Education Reform is Wrong (a primer)

Corey Keysor:

Spending is the guiding principle for how most people make sense of education policy. We have very high expectations for what our public schools need to offer and, on top of that, we frequently assume that reform means more spending.

This spiral has led to the United States spending more than almost any other developed country despite having poor relative rankings on international measures of education quality. This misconception drives a lot of the dysfunction and gluttony in the system. We can’t just spend our way out of education problems. We’ve tried and it’s led to education being one of the largest parts of the US federal budget despite the fact that most of us are dissatisfied with the results.

A common misconception about US education is that the property-tax based funding of local school districts makes it so that poor students are underfunded relative to non-poor students. There’s some truth to this statement. A lot of districts do fund schools based on property taxes and there are large differences in school funding between states. This spending disparity closely matches the actual educational ranking of the states. This, again, makes it look like poorer students are being left out to dry, and although that is the case in some cases, on average US school funding is somewhat progressive.

The combination of state, local, and federal school funding makes it so that the districts attended by poor students are funded 2.5% more than non-poor students. And even within districts, “schools with less advantaged students spend at least as much (and often significantly more).”

The future of work requires a return to apprenticeships

Matthew Lauer:

One of the major concerns of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is that artificial intelligence and automation – robots – will eliminate jobs, both blue-collar and white-collar roles across a variety of sectors.

While C-3PO and WALL-E might be good at processing algorithms, they can never replace living, breathing, thinking humans entirely in the workplace. From the auto factory producing a fine-tuned machine where safety and functionality are of utmost importance, to the commodities trading floor where high-value transactions must take into account complex, rapidly changing geopolitical movements, businesses of all kinds still require human intelligence.

And these humans must have bespoke skills and sharp problem-solving and decision-making abilities to fulfill these jobs – jobs that will remain lucrative and dependable, regardless of what robots come along.

Open Records Response: “Community Leader & Stakeholder” meeting with Madison Superintendent Candidates

On January 21, 2020, I sent this email to board@madison.k12.wi.us


I hope that you are well.

I write to make an open records request for a list of invitees and participants in last week’s “community leader and stakeholder” meetings with the (Superintendent) candidates.

Thank you and best wishes,


Hearing nothing, I wrote on February 13, 2020:

Has my open records request gone missing?

School Board member Cris Carusi emailed me, twice that day, kindly following up on this request.

I received an email on February 18, 2020 from Barbara Osborn that my “request has been shared with our legal department”.

I received this response from Sherrice M Perry on March 13, 2020:

Dear Mr. James Zellmer,

Please accept this email as the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (the “District”) response to your public records request for “a list of invitees and participants in last week’s ‘community leader and stakeholder’ meetings with the candidates.” Attached below are the records that are most responsive to your request.

With regard to the requested records, the District redacted portions of the attached records consistent with the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA; 34 CFR 99.3 et seq.) and Wis. Stat. § 118.125(1)(d). The requested records contain “personally identifiable information.” Pursuant to FERPA, “personally identifiable information” is defined as “information requested by a person who the educational agency or institution reasonably believes knows the identity of the student to whom the record relates” or “information that, alone or in combination, is linked or linkable to a specific student that would allow a reasonable person in the school community, who does not have personal knowledge of the relevant circumstances, to identify the student with reasonable certainty.” (34 CFR 99 3). According to these definitions, the District determined that the redacted documents contain information regarding very small populations (e.g. one or two students) from a distinct group or affiliation and thus, a “reasonable person in the school community” could identify the students who were referenced in the record. Nonetheless, by providing you the record with only limited redactions, the District is in full compliance with Wis. Stat. 19.36(6).

Please note: The denials, in the form of the redacted material referenced above, are subject to review in an action for mandamus under Wis. Stat. 19.37(1), or by application to the local district attorney or Attorney General. See Wis. Stat. 19.35(4)(b).

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the District’s Public Information Officer, Timothy LeMonds, at (608) 663-1903.

PDF Attachment.

Much more on the 2019 Madison School District Superintendent Search, here.

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:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”. 

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close. 

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”

2009: An emphasis on adult employment.

2013: What will be different, this time?

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, 2015:

Shortly after the office was proposed, Cheatham said non-district-authorized charter schools have “no consistent record of improving education for children, but they do drain resources from public schools, without any control in our local community or school board.”

Rather than invest in what we know works in education, this proposal puts resources in strategies with mixed results at the expense of our public school students,” she said in May 2015

2011: A majority of the taxpayer supported Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter school.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, lead by Governor Elect, Tony Evers, has waived Massachusetts’ style elementary teacher content knowledge requirements for thousands of teachers. 

Compare Madison, WI high school graduation rates and academic achievement data.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Madison School District not moving to online instruction as Wisconsin schools ordered to close

Logan Wroge:

During the unprecedented hiatus, the district is not requiring students shift to online instruction — a move colleges and universities, including UW-Madison, have announced in recent days.

“When school is closed, we will not have required academic instruction,” Belmore said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “We will however provide books, packets and enrichment opportunities for all students at every grade level.”

She said the district is not pursuing online instruction, which was an option it had been exploring, because there are technical difficulties in getting internet access to all 27,000 students, “student-related instructional need difficulties,” and staff and family issues to take into consideration.

Candidate Q&A: Milton School Board

Emily Hamer:

What is the best way to improve student literacy?

Crull-Hanke: Early childhood includes getting the parents involved in reading and giving them strategies to use with their children. Having a balanced literacy program which includes oral, guided, and independent reading, writing, and repetitive use of phonics and site words. Middle school age would be to get books in their hands instead of phones!

Hall: I think the best way to improve student literacy is to meet the individual student where they are at. At the same time, we need to challenge each student to do their best. While electronics have their place, I feel we need to get books and print media back into the hands of students.

Hoffman: In Milton we collect a great deal of data on students of all grade levels in the area of literacy. We have the ability to analyze the data and identify standards that are in need of improvement. Concentrating instruction in these areas for students of all learning abilities is the best way to improve literacy and academic achievement.

Holterman: We need parental involvement and one-on-one interaction with students. We start early in the pre-K/elementary setting and maintain both reasonable class sizes as well as a reasonable staff-to-student ratio. Additionally, we measure progress among students and assign additional resources if we identify kids that are struggling to keep up.

Candidate Q&A: River Valley School Board


Why should voters elect you instead of your opponent?

Flint: My opponent has closed four schools and shipped our kids and resources to Spring Green with no plan to fix the problem. Division, bitterness, declining enrollment, open enrollment is what we are left with. We need a plan! We can’t keep asking the taxpayers to pay more for bad management.

Nelson: I have served on the board for 27 years. I have attended the State Education Convention and other valuable training many times. I know the history behind what has happened in our district over the years and I can help our district continue to be the great district it is.

What is the most pressing issue in your community and how would you address it?

Flint: Enrollment! Advertising and increasing our state and federal stats by increasing our reading scores so the other 60% can be proficient would go a long way. Good schools and good special education programs bring people to communities. Arena had a 23% increase in enrollment! Too bad they closed it.

Nelson: We need to continue to build on the great school district that we have. We are preparing our children for jobs that don’t even exist yet. We need to work with local businesses and post-high school educators to have our students career-ready.

Why Modern Feminism Wants To Get Rid Of The Family

SG Cheah:

Why the Nuclear Family Is the Feminist Public Enemy No. 1

Feminist theory states that the patriarchy is the reigning status quo of society. Therefore, to move towards a superior form of society, a revolution is necessary because women have to rise up and overthrow the patriarchy.

Keep that thought in mind, and you will understand why the lunatic fringe of the radical feminist movement truly believe that they’re victims of the patriarchal oppression of the cis-gendered, straight, white male.

This is why leading feminist thinker Jessica Valenti said, “Feminism is a structural analysis of a world that oppresses women, an ideology based on the notion that patriarchy exists and that it needs to end.” The only way to eliminate female oppression, feminists believe, is to change men and society, essentially disintegrating and reorganizing society in order to completely transform it.

Oberlin College planning to lay off 108 employees in its dining services and custodial departments

Dave O’Brien:

The effort will save the college an estimated $2 million per year, it announced Tuesday.

Oberlin College is not the only four-year liberal arts college to take measures to improve its finances. Across the country, the number of college-age youths is shrinking as the population ages. That also means undergraduate enrollment is down, which in turn shrinks the amount colleges receive in tuition payments.

Fewer students are expected to graduate high school in the coming years, with a story at EducationNext.com from fall 2018 saying the decline already has taken place in the Midwest and Northeast, where there are more small, private colleges than in other regions of the U.S.

The late Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen predicted last decade that up to 50 percent of American universities would either close or go bankrupt within 10 years.

He and higher education writer Michael Horn explained in a 2013 New York Times article that “a host of struggling colleges and universities — the bottom 25 percent of every tier, we predict — will disappear or merge in the next 10 to 15 years,” Horn wrote in an article for Forbes in December 2018.

Eagle School sixth-grader Maya Jadhav wins Badger State Spelling Bee for second year

Howard Hardee:

After competing against nearly 50 of the top young spellers in Wisconsin, 11-year-old Maya Jadhav won the Badger State Spelling Bee on Saturday for the second year running.

The Fitchburg phenom won the competition and a ticket to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Maryland by correctly spelling “panchax,” a common aquarium fish native to southern Asia. Maya, a sixth-grader at Eagle School, also took top honors last year as a fifth-grader and won third place in 2018.

Following her victory, Maya admitted that she had been “pretty nervous” ahead of Saturday’s Badger State Spelling Bee, sponsored by the Wisconsin State Journal.

“I really wanted to go to nationals, because I went last year,” she said, adding that anything less would have been a disappointment.

Adding to the perceived pressure, only the first-place winner is proceeding to the national competition. In previous years, a few of the top finishers in Wisconsin moved on.

Maya’s parents, Nitin Jadhav and Terra Theim, said they’ll make another family trip out of going to nationals in late May. Jadhav said his daughter takes the competition “very seriously.” Last year, Maya made it to the final round and tied for 41st place in the country.

As long as Montgomery County fails to teach children to read, it will have gaps

Karin Chenoweth:

In the words of the report, Montgomery County’s curriculum does “not include the necessary components to adequately address foundational skills.”

If you’re not immersed in these issues, you might not recognize just how scathing this language is. Montgomery County fails to do what just about all cognitive scientists and most reading researchers agree is critical to ensuring that children learn to read.

In addition, the report said that MCPS provided little to no support for students to build the vocabulary and background knowledge necessary for students to read well as they proceed through the grades. That doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t doing their best with what they have. But for decades the county has failed to provide a coherent, research-based curriculum that would mean that teachers don’t have to spend endless evening and weekend hours writing and finding materials. “Teachers should not be expected to be the composers of the music as well as the conductors of the orchestra,” the report said, quoting an educator.

In the wake of that report, Montgomery County adopted new curriculums for elementary and middle school that may help children to build vocabulary and background knowledge through the elementary and middle school years.

But if students don’t learn how to get words off the page efficiently and smoothly, huge numbers of children will continue to struggle academically. And there is little evidence that Montgomery County is providing teachers with either the knowledge or the materials to help them teach their students to read. Nor is the county ensuring that principals understand how to support teachers as they learn to improve reading instruction.

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:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”. 

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close. 

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”

2009: An emphasis on adult employment.

2013: What will be different, this time?

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, 2015:

Shortly after the office was proposed, Cheatham said non-district-authorized charter schools have “no consistent record of improving education for children, but they do drain resources from public schools, without any control in our local community or school board.”

Rather than invest in what we know works in education, this proposal puts resources in strategies with mixed results at the expense of our public school students,” she said in May 2015

2011: A majority of the taxpayer supported Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter school.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, lead by Governor Elect, Tony Evers, has waived Massachusetts’ style elementary teacher content knowledge requirements for thousands of teachers. 

Compare Madison, WI high school graduation rates and academic achievement data.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Options for giving math talks and lectures online

Terry Tao:

As part of social distancing efforts to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, several universities have now transitioned, or begun transitioning, to online teaching models.  (My home university of UCLA has not yet done so, but is certainly considering the option.  UPDATE: we are transitioning.)  As a consequence, I thought it might be an appropriate time to start a discussion on the pros and cons of various technologies for giving talks and lectures online, particularly in the context of mathematical talks where there may be special considerations coming for instance for the need to do mathematical computations on a blackboard or equivalent.  My own institution is for instance recommending the use of Zoom for lectures and Respondus for giving finals, and has a limited number of classrooms set up for high quality video and audio casting, as well as a platform for discussion forums and course materials for each class.  For smaller meetings, such as one-on-one meetings with graduate students, one can of course improvise using off-the-shelf tools such as Skype.  I would be interested in knowing what other options are available and what success lecturers have had with them.

The Peace Corps Breaks Ties with China

Peter Hessler:

On the morning of January 17th, shortly before I was scheduled to meet with a hundred and forty Peace Corps volunteers in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, there was an unexpected announcement that the China program was ending. The Peace Corps had first come to the country in 1993, and as a volunteer from the early years I had been asked to speak at an in-service training that the organization was holding in a hotel near where I live. But by the time I arrived nobody was in the mood for nostalgia. The American volunteers, most of whom were in their twenties, looked stunned; some were red-eyed from crying. At the back of the room, more than a dozen Chinese staff members stood with stoic expressions. They had given up some benefits of the Chinese system in order to work for the American agency. From the ceiling, somebody had hung a red propaganda-style banner, which proved that Americans could make their slogans every bit as tone-deaf as the ones in the People’s Republic. The banner said “Welcome to IST 2020: Be the Tree You Wish to See in the World.”

An American staff member greeted me with a pained look. She said something to the effect that the tree she wished to have seen was a tactful announcement, but Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, of Florida, had declared the closure of the China program on Twitter. “Rubio and Rick Scott wanted to take credit for it,” she said angrily.

The Peace Corps has sent more than thirteen hundred volunteers to China, and the agency, which is now active in sixty countries, has always been viewed as removed from political spats. The U.S. had never ended a Peace Corps program because of a diplomatic conflict, but the timing of the decision about China seemed suspicious. The coronavirus had yet to come to widespread attention, and the Senators, who had previously expressed doubts about a Chinese trade deal, tweeted the day after President Trump signed a Phase 1 economic agreement with China.

2020 Tax & Spending Referendum Climate: Had Enough? Californians Turn Down Higher Taxes, Debt

Associated Press:

The defeat Tuesday of the largest borrowing proposal in the history of California schools — $15 billion for repairs — has opened the question of whether Californian voters put a temporary halt to the growth of government debt because of the unsettled political scene, or because they are on the cusp of a tax revolt akin to one in the 1970s that brought landmark changes to property taxes.

By itself, the crash of the question on the March 3 primary ballot was striking — it’s been a generation since a state school bond failed and there was no telling moment prior to the election indicating voters had soured on it.

But it didn’t stop there. Voters rejected more than half of the 237 local tax and bond measures on that ballot, with several dozen contests still undecided as California authorities wade through hundreds of thousands of uncounted ballots, according to a tally by the California Taxpayers Association.

The taxpayer supported Madison school district is planning a substantial tax and spending increase referendum for this fall – 2020.

Video, slides and notes from a recent presentation.

Resources For Novel Coronavirus COVID-19

Vitaliy Kaurov:

This post is intended to be the hub for Wolfram resources related to novel coronavirus COVID-19 ( a.k.a. 2019-nCoV ) from Wuhan, China. The larger aim is to provide a forum for disseminating ways in which Wolfram technologies and coding can be utilized to shed light on the virus and epidemic. Possibilities include using the Wolfram Language for data-mining, modeling, analysis, visualizations, and so forth. Among other things, we encourage comments and feedback on these resources. Please note that this is intended for technical analysis and discussion supported by computation. Aspects outside this scope and better suited for different forums should be avoided. Thank you for your contribution!

Phonics. Whole language. Balanced literacy. The problem isn’t that we don’t know how to teach reading — it’s politics

Andrew Rotherham:

Policymakers are focusing on the craft of teaching reading. They must also focus on the politics.

Last year’s NAEP scores continued a lackluster streak and set off a predictable bout of handwringing. This time, it was reading instruction — or, more precisely, our national pandemic of ineffective reading instruction — catching the flak. In response, the Council of Chief State School Officers held a summit on reading last month, and the media is starting to pay attention. It’s certainly better than nothing. Yet when a National Council on Teacher Quality study found that about half of the nation’s teacher preparation programs are teaching reading instruction based on science, it was received as great news. Indeed, it was progress — only about a third did in 2013. Still, some analysts, at least the cranky ones, wondered how half was in any way really good news. Half? It’s a disaster for millions of kids.

Given the long, tortuous history on this issue, we might pause to ask whether some articles and meetings are really going to get at the core problem. And we might ask whether we even have the core problem correctly defined. Our reading problem and how we approach it is broadly illustrative of a confusion that often pervades education reform efforts: We conflate problems of education politics with problems of educational craft.

Reading isn’t just the latest obsession of education advocates; literacy is a real issue in people’s lives. Reading matters, from success and belonging in school and being able to navigate everyday situations to the ability to participate fully in the civic franchise of the United States. There is a reason slave owners actively sought to keep enslaved blacks from learning to read and people were killed for teaching them: Literacy is power. Deny people access to the written word, ideas, debate and dissent, and you deny them freedom, agency, liberty — even humanity.

Elon Musk: Graduating from a college ‘not needed,’ ‘they’re not for learning’

Nicholas Ballasy:

“You don’t need college to learn stuff,” Musk said at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington on Monday. “Everything is available basically for free. You can learn anything you want for free. It is not a question of learning.”

Colleges do have a value, Musk acknowledged, as proving grounds for intellectual grit and determination to test whether somebody can “work hard at something, including a bunch of annoying homework assignments … and kind of soldier through and get it done.”

At the same time, it’s probably worthwhile “to hang around with a bunch of people your own age for a while, instead of going right into the workforce,” Musk said. “So I think colleges are basically for fun and to prove you can do your chores, but they’re not for learning.”

Civics: Elections Commission refers 43 cases of suspected cross-state voting to DAs


The Elections Commission says it referred 43 cases of suspected cross-state voting to DAs in 19 Wisconsin counties stemming from the November 2018 election.

Details of the cases, including which counties received the referrals, weren’t immediately available. Voting more than once in the same election is a class I felony under state law.

The commission discovered the cases using the Electronic Registration Information Center to check those who voted in Wisconsin against voters who cast ballots in other states. The commission staff compared names, dates of birth and other information against voting records in other states. The commission then voted unanimously during its Feb. 27 meeting to refer the cases for prosecution.

The cost of education: Search employee salaries for Wisconsin universities

Jason Dean:

The University of Wisconsin system pays employees nearly $2 billion annually in salary and expenses. Want to know what your favorite professor made? Search our database of over 35,000 UW employees to find out.

Search by name, year, campus, pay or any mixture of criteria. Click on the details link for more in-depth information, including overtime.

Let’s leave philosophers to puzzle over the reality of numbers

Michael Barany:

The reality (or lack thereof) of numbers is the kind of problem some philosophers consider overwhelmingly important, but it’s of no consequence to just about everyone else. It does not make a wink of difference to your life whether the figures in your bank account or the digits on your clock are, in a philosophical sense, really real, so long as they work as expected. The mathematician Paolo Zellini’s book, now translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre from the 2016 Italian original, does not exactly elevate the number-reality problem to a matter of concern to non-philosophers, and certainly does not explain the problem in a way that will make it tractable to them. But Zellini does offer a creative shift in perspective that challenges certain philosophers and philosophy-minded mathematicians to see the problem differently.

Where one might expect numbers to get their reality from the things they enumerate — canonically, two apples come before the number two — Zellini argues that this gets the story backward. Rather, the most philosophically significant examples of enumeration from ancient to modern times used numbers to give reality to the things they enumerated. He reaches this conclusion by setting to one side the bulk of historical enumeration and focusing on philosophical texts about divine and natural existence. Sure enough, in these texts numbers appear to be the source of reality, often by way of a divine agency or inspiration: hence the titular ‘mathematics of the Gods’.

The book’s second intervention, about the ‘algorithms of men’, connects 19th- and early 20th-century debates about how to define what numbers really are to subsequent developments in the theory of computing and computability. Zellini links the book’s two themes by identifying a trans-historical through-line of interest in how numbers scale and grow through sacred and secular calculations. Such transformations structure questions about what exactly remains stable or immutable, as a basis of understanding what is real.

The opt-out illusion

Katrina Gulliver:

The film The Life of Others (2006) is set in East Germany in the early 1980s and features a government agent who spends his days wearing a headset, listening to private conversations in the homes of suspected dissidents. He feels sympathy for his subjects – and guilt for his actions. He knows that if he reports any sign of subversion that person could be arrested.

Today we are all under similar surveillance, this time by Silicon Valley capitalists. They are not watching us for political dissent but for our “behavioral surplus”, the crumbs of data about what we do, where we go, what we look at, what we buy. This surplus is used for the purposes of targeted advertising. It has made them billions, and left many of us wondering how we got into this situation.

In The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff explains how. She is scathing about many of the main players. The executive Sheryl Sandberg is described as the “Typhoid Mary” of the practice, carrying it from Google to Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg, in Zuboff’s telling, seems temperamentally attuned to surveillance capitalism – either disinclined philosophically to believe in privacy as a value, or so bent on power he simply doesn’t care. (Zuckerberg suggested at the Crunchie Awards in 2013 that privacy was no longer a “social norm”.) In its lifetime, Facebook has faced a series of privacy scandals, starting with the Beacon project in 2007, which, to much outrage, shared the details of a given user’s purchases from stores that advertised on the platform with their entire list of contacts. Zuboff provides the account of one user whose purchase of an engagement ring was shared with his girlfriend (and everyone he knew) before he had the chance to propose. Zuckerberg apologized for the misstep, but the thinking behind Beacon remains central to Facebook’s business model.

Indiana virtual charter schools linked to a decline in student test scores, a new study shows

Stephanie Wang:
Faced with low academic results at online schools across the country, supporters often defend virtual education because it provides a haven for struggling students.

But a new study in Indiana found that students fell further behind after transferring to virtual charter schools. The findings suggest that online schools post low outcomes not simply because the students they serve face challenges, but because of problems with how online learning works — and the shortfalls of not having a physical classroom.

The new research, to be published in the journal Educational Researcher, is in line with other studies that have shown that students who transfer to virtual charter schools saw significant drops in their math and reading scores.

Madison Behavior Education Plan Meeting

The Madison School District’s much discussed “Behavior Education Plan” seems worth a deeper dive. A Tuesday evening District presentation [slides / survey: 1.1MB PDF] – mostly a discussion – offers a substantive lens into our increasingly challenged K-12 system.

Approximately 25 people attended this event, including some district employees. 2020 Madison School Board Candidates Chris Gomez-Schmidt, Maia Pearson and Wayne Strong attended the meeting.

My interest is seeing what, if any substantive efforts are underway to address our long term, disastrous reading results.

Reading Interventionist Teacher’s Remarks to the School Board on Madison’s Disastrous Reading Results [Video]:

I am currently the reading interventionist teacher at West High School.

I’ve been there for 4 years. Previous to that I’ve been in the school district as a regular ed teacher for about 20 years. I started in the early 90s.

I have (a) question I want to ask you guys. What district-wide systems are in place as we use our map data to monitor the reading student achievement?

Student by student, not school by school but also school by school and provide support for the school the teachers and the students that need it.

And especially to help students who score in the bottom percentiles who will need an intervention which is significantly different than differentiation.

I was (a) TAG coordinator (talent and gifted coordinator) for 4 years at Hamilton and I have extensive background with the talent and gifted and differentiation training.

( and teaching of teachers). Now I’m in interventionist and they are significantly different we need interventions to serve the lowest scoring kids that we have.

Here’s my data from this year and this is why I’m here:

Of the 65 students plus or minus it kind of changes this year 24 of them are regular ed students.

Another way to say they don’t have an IEP so there is no excuse for that reading intervention in (that group).

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.

Thank you very much.

Madison K-12 incoming Superintendent Gutiérrez Commentary

Scott Girard:

Tuesday afternoon, he spent 15 minutes taking questions from the press and another 15 minutes answering questions from seven students at Glendale Elementary School, where the press conference was held.

“There is some division in the community, so we’ve got to bridge that gap,” Gutiérrez said. “There is some division between the Doyle center and our campuses, we’ve got to bridge that gap. There is some division between departments in central administration, we’ve got to bridge that gap.

“My goal is to work to unify the community, the school district, so that we can all begin moving in the same direction and focusing on what matters; that is the 27,000 students within this organization.”

Logan Wroge:

On closing academic achievement gaps, Gutierrez said he wants to understand what the district has in place to support “rigorous, relevant, quality instruction.”

He added he wants to focus on early literacy and making sure students are reading at grade level.

“We’ve seen small gains but not what we have hoped to see with the investment of people and resources,” Gutierrez said about academic outcomes.

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:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”. 

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close. 

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”

2009: An emphasis on adult employment.

2013: What will be different, this time?

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham, 2015:

Shortly after the office was proposed, Cheatham said non-district-authorized charter schools have “no consistent record of improving education for children, but they do drain resources from public schools, without any control in our local community or school board.”

Rather than invest in what we know works in education, this proposal puts resources in strategies with mixed results at the expense of our public school students,” she said in May 2015

2011: A majority of the taxpayer supported Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter school.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, lead by Governor Elect, Tony Evers, has waived Massachusetts’ style elementary teacher content knowledge requirements for thousands of teachers. 

Compare Madison, WI high school graduation rates and academic achievement data.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Commentary on Taxpayer Supported School Accountability

Aaron Churchill:

This post examines the academic data of schools assigned an overall grade of F under the state’s accountability system. The numbers are small: Just 8 percent, or 275 schools (204 district and 71 charter) received such a rating in 2018–19.[1] But their results suggest a continuing need for a red flag—an alarm bell—that warns parents, communities, and governing authorities that students in these schools are far behind, with little chance of catching up. Let’s dig in.

Student proficiency

First, we look at proficiency rates, or the percentage of students reaching “proficient” or higher on state exams. Figure 1 displays the number of F-rated schools within ten equal intervals ranging from 0 to 100 percent proficiency. The bar at the far left of the chart, for instance, shows that twenty-two F-rated schools had proficiency rates between 0 and 10 percent last year. Overall, we see that a large majority of these schools post very low proficiency rates: 173 of 234 schools have proficiency rates below 30 percent. The average proficiency rate of F-rated schools is just 25 percent, less than half the statewide average and far behind the proficiency rates of A-rated schools. A small number of outliers register rates closer to the statewide average, but on the whole, the vast majority of students attending F-rated schools fall short of state academic standards in core subjects such as English, math, and science.

Fighting the coronavirus outbreak with genetic sequencing, CRISPR and synthetic biology

Kostas Vavitsas:

Situation is concerning, but humanity is not at risk

The Covid-19 outbreak has rightly gained the attention of health authorities and the media. If the virus were to reach countries with weaker healthcare systems than China’s, the number of deaths will rise significantly and containment will be even harder. Moreover, the long incubation time of the disease, combined with the asymptomatic spread, make quarantine and isolation measures less effective. The biggest risk is for the new coronavirus to become endemic in certain areas, where the disease is never truly extinct and displays seasonal outbreaks. We don’t want the Covid-19 to become a new flu.

The health authorities of 2020, the biotech industry, and the society in general are better prepared for a coronavirus outbreak than a few years ago. The situation is less risky than MERS and SARS, though the new virus is harder to contain. This outbreak offers a chance for everyone to become more aware of viral infections, the appropriate precautions and get vaccinated according to the official recommendations. And keep in mind that the best way to stay informed is through official sources, such as the WHO and the CDC.

As for the biotech industry, are they playing their part? The answer is a partial yes; there are several companies that immediately scrambled to help the situation. But the big players within the field could be doing more.

Who is funding School Board candidates?

Elizabeth Djinis:

Voters are less than two months from deciding who will serve on the Sarasota County School Board, with three seats up for re-election to four-year terms.

As the eight candidates gear up for the Aug. 28 primary, campaign contributions are streaming in, showing voters where candidates receive the bulk of their funds. By the numbers, School Board Chairwoman Bridget Ziegler has raised the most — almost $32,000, as of late June. Her challenger, Nick Guy, has collected more than $23,000 as of late June. In District 4, incumbent Shirley Brown has raised more than $24,000, with her opponent and former head of middle schools, Karen Rose, close behind at almost $23,000.

With four candidates in the running, the District 5 seat could have a runoff to the November general election if no one candidate receives a majority of the vote. Incumbent Jane Goodwin has raised significantly more than the other three candidates at almost $17,000, while former teacher Pamela Gavette has raised almost $9,000, former Sarasota County substitute Richard Linden has contributed a total of $1,800 of his own money to his campaign, and Justin Cody Willis has raised about $2,000.

Why Online Education Works

Alex Tabarrok:

Oxford University was founded in 1096, Cambridge in 1209. Harvard, a relative newcomer, was founded in 1636. Other than religions, few institutions appear to have maintained their existence or their relative status for as long as major universities. And few institutions, notably again other than religions, have seen so little change. Oxford in 2012 teaches students in ways remarkably similar to Oxford in 1096, seated students listening to professors in a classroom.

I suspect that these two facts are related; stasis in methods has led to stasis in status. And I suspect that both of these facts are about to change. Online education will change how universities teach; as a result, online education will change which universities teach.

Advantages of Online Education

I see three principle advantages to online education, 1) leverage, especially of the best teachers; 2) time savings; 3) individualized teaching and new technologies.

Madison School District “needs Assistance” for the Second Year

“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”.

Every Student Succeeds Act Reports [Wisconsin] are now “disembargoed”. 1.9MB PDF.

The Taxpayer Supported Madison School District offers info session on Behavior Education Plan Tuesday

Scott Girard:

Those with questions about the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Behavior Education Plan have a chance to get them answered Tuesday.

District staff will hold a session from 6-7:30 p.m. to discuss, “What is the BEP? How does it work? What should I know?” at the Goodman South Public Library, 2222 S. Park St.

Speakers at the event are MMSD coordinator of progressive discipline Bryn Martyna and parent and Padres e Hijos en Acción director Hector Portillo.

The BEP has been controversial in recent years, with an updated version in 2019 after being initially approved in 2014 under then-superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. The plan replaced the student code of conduct with a goal to cut the number of suspensions and reduce the disparities in suspensions by race.

The plan focuses on restorative practices and teaching good behaviors rather than punishing bad ones. It also outlines penalties for specific behaviors and has a version for each of the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Notes and links on Madison’s Behavior Education Plan.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district, despite spending far more than most, has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Much more on the planned 2020 tax and spending increase Madison referendum.

A presenter [org chart] further mentioned that Madison spends about $1 per square foot in annual budget maintenance while Milwaukee is about $2.

Watch the event, here.