University of Wisconsin uses Equifax Credit Bureau data to evaluate Graduate activity

Kelly Meyerhofer:

The System took a new approach for this study, contracting with Equifax, which identified employment records of UW graduates and sent the confidential, anonymized data to the System’s Office of Policy Analysis and Research for analysis.

Among the findings:

  • Graduates earned a median annual salary of nearly $50,000 a year out of college, almost $59,000 three years out of school and about $66,500 five years after graduation, though salaries varied depending on field.

  • Nearly 90% of in-state students remained in Wisconsin five years after finishing college.

  • About 15% of out-of-state students still lived in the Badger State five years after earning their degree.

Related: Equifax data breech.

Heads or Tails: The Impact of a Coin Toss on Major Life Decisions and Subsequent Happiness

Steven Levitt:

Little is known about whether people make good choices when facing important decisions. This article reports on a large-scale randomized field experiment in which research subjects having difficulty making a decision flipped a coin to help determine their choice. For important decisions (e.g. quitting a job or ending a relationship), individuals who are told by the coin toss to make a change are more likely to make a change, more satisfied with their decisions, and happier six months later than those whose coin toss instructed maintaining the status quo. This finding suggests that people may be excessively cautious when facing life-changing choices.

Microsoft is cutting dozens of MSN news production workers and replacing them with artificial intelligence

Geoff Baker:

The roughly 50 employees — contracted through staffing agencies Aquent, IFG and MAQ Consulting — were notified Wednesday that their services would no longer be needed beyond June 30.

“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis,” a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement. “This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others. These decisions are not the result of the current pandemic.”

Full-time news producers employed by Microsoft will be retained by the company; they perform functions similar to those being let go. But all contracted news producer jobs have been eliminated.

Some employees, speaking on condition of anonymity, said MSN will use AI to replace the production work they’d been doing. That work includes using algorithms to identify trending news stories from dozens of publishing partners and to help optimize the content by rewriting headlines or adding better accompanying photographs or slide shows.

“It’s been semi-automated for a few months but now it’s full speed ahead,’’ one of the terminated contractors said. “It’s demoralizing to think machines can replace us but there you go.’’

Colleges Face Student Lawsuits Seeking Refunds After Coronavirus Closures

Anya Kamenetz:

Columbia, Brown, Penn, Purdue — universities with hallowed traditions, proud alumni and another thing in common: Right now they’re being sued by disgruntled students.

The students claim that when campuses shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic, they should have been entitled to more of their money back. And the list of institutions facing such challenges is growing, including private institutions and entire public systems in California, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.

The cases — now dozens in all — are raising difficult questions about what truly makes a college education valuable.

Several law firms are handling these suits. One of the most prolific is Anastopoulo Law Firm in South Carolina, which specializes in personal injury. The firm has a colorful background: Its founder, Akim Anastopoulo, spent several years known as Judge Extreme Akim on a court television show called Eye for an Eye, where he meted out revenge, not just cash penalties, to losing parties.

His firm has set up a website,, to recruit plaintiffs for these suits and has filed more than 30 so far.

The genuine polymath is still one in a million

Philip Hensher:

We live at a time of universal polymathy. We don’t know everything, but there’s not much difficulty in being able to discover any given truth. But it’s worth remembering just how hard it used to be to find things out. Thirty years ago if you wanted to research off your own bat it meant a trip to the public library — and perhaps filling out a form for an inter-library loan. Or you could try your luck in a bookshop, new or secondhand. The whole process took a long time, and most people stayed within their professional competence or enthusiasm, frankly admitting to ignorance outside those limits. It was the age of the specialist, memorably captured by Michael Frayn in Donkeys’ Years and the character of Kenneth Snell:

US graduates in crisis: ‘Entry level jobs are not safe at all’

Courtney Weaver:

In Iowa, a law student who imagined a career in public advocacy is looking for jobs in the more lucrative private sector.

In upstate New York, a business student who dreamt of working in sports marketing is considering becoming a teacher. And in Pennsylvania, a new graduate who had planned to spend a year in Indonesia has dropped the idea to immediately start work at a Big Four accounting firm instead.

This is the time of year when America’s 3.9m graduates are finalising plans to enter the workforce and start repaying the $32,000 of debt they have on average accumulated over their four years of study.

We can ease the hardships of educating during COVID-19 with smart policy

Will Flanders:

The coronavirus, and the resulting responses from state government, have disrupted the lives of most Wisconsin families in some way. Of particular importance has been the disruption of K-12 education, as families, teachers and schools adjust to home-based learning. But how well is this unprecedented system functioning? To answer that question, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) conducted a statewide poll to paint a picture of the education environment in Wisconsin under the coronavirus. We found that, while overall satisfaction is high, a number of challenges remain, particularly for low-income families.

Homeschooling advocates say public schools block parents from withdrawing kids

Caleb Parke:

A RealClear Opinion Research survey shows that 40 percent of families are more likely to homeschool when lockdown restrictions lift, a significant increase from the 2.5 million children who were educating their kids at home before stay-at-home orders were put in place.

T.J. Schmidt, a lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which provides legal services to help parents meet requirements for transitioning children from public school to homeschool, said he’s noticed an uptick in the number of parents trying to pull their kids from public school.

And public schools, he said, are pushing back.

“We see this across the country,” Schmidt said. “I’ve had school officials attempt to prevent or dissuade parents from pulling their kids out.”

He said schools have been unable to process the paperwork to withdraw students from the public school system.

“There’s two main reasons … school officials are fearful of losing too many students to homeschooling, and the second reason is perhaps a staffing issue, just a lacking staffing issue to process these withdrawals. Not always an issue of trying to stop parents from homeschooling but there is a significant part of that involved.”

Nearly 200,000 Wisconsin voters did not have to show a photo ID in the April election

Patrick Marley:

Nearly 200,000 voters dubbed themselves indefinitely confined for the April election, allowing them to cast absentee ballots without providing a photo ID.

Those voters will automatically receive absentee ballots this fall.

The spring election for state Supreme Court saw an unprecedented level of absentee voting as people tried to keep away from others because of the coronavirus outbreak spreading across the globe.

Of the nearly 1 million people who voted by mail, about 195,000 labeled themselves indefinitely confined, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission. That’s more than 2½ times the nearly 72,000 who called themselves indefinitely confined in 2019.

In praise of homeschooling

Rita Koganzon:

In mid-March, Kansas became the first state to close its schools for the remainder of the academic year. The following week, my own state of Virginia became the second. Since then, 46 other states and Washington, D.C. have followed suit, and the rest, whatever their hopes, remain closed as of early May. Even if the public health situation improves in the next few weeks, as some optimists hope, school is out. Graduation requirements are waived, final exams are cancelled and our state department of education has encouraged schools to drop grading altogether. Virtual instruction has commenced, but participation in it is largely voluntary and sporadic.

Predictably, many parents quailed at the sudden prospect of becoming homeschoolers. For those still working full-time, it seemed like an impossible demand, and even for those whose work has been moved online, reduced or eliminated entirely, the idea of becoming their children’s teachers (even in concert with their schoolteachers) is overwhelming. Being cooped up at home with their kids without reprieve is trying enough; taking over their education is a bridge too far.

This sudden forced experiment in home education comes at a moment when long-held liberal prejudices against the very idea of homeschooling are resurfacing. Harvard Magazine recently reported on research purporting to show that homeschooling was depriving children of their right to a “meaningful education.” In addition to putting them under the “authoritarian control” of their parents and exposing them to abuse and injury, the article indicated that homeschooling may keep children “from contributing positively to a democratic society.”

Why American Students Haven’t Gotten Better at Reading in 20 Years

Natalie Wexler:

Every two years, education-policy wonks gear up for what has become a time-honored ritual: the release of the Nation’s Report Card. Officially known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the data reflect the results of reading and math tests administered to a sample of students across the country. Experts generally consider the tests rigorous and highly reliable—and the scores basically stagnant.

Math scores have been flat since 2009 and reading scores since 1998, with just a third or so of students performing at a level the NAEP defines as “proficient.” Performance gaps between lower-income students and their more affluent peers, among other demographic discrepancies, have remained stubbornly wide.

Among the likely culprits for the stalled progress in math scores: a misalignment between what the NAEP tests and what state standards require teachers to cover at specific grade levels. But what’s the reason for the utter lack of progress in reading scores?

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

Want to Reopen Schools? Better Be Ready to Bargain

Mike Antonucci:

Here in California, state officials have made it clear that they will issue guidelines for school reopenings, but the ultimate decision will be left to the individual districts. In the eyes of the California Teachers Association, that means collective bargaining.

Last week CTA issued its stance on school reopenings, listing those things the union wants to see in place before returning to work. These included precautions with consensus agreement, like face masks, deep cleaning, physical distancing and hand washing.

CTA went beyond those, however, stating, “Schools and colleges cannot reopen safely with the funding level proposed in the revised budget plan.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget revision foresees a $54 billion budget deficit and calls for substantial cuts in spending, including a 10 percent cut to the state’s aid to local school districts.

In the worst case labor scenario, California schools will see a virtual statewide strike, where teachers will refuse to return to work either for safety or budgetary reasons, or both. Recent practice suggests such disputes will be settled with imaginary money, so I suspect any work stoppage would be a relatively short one.

Civics: YouTube (Google) is deleting comments with two phrases that insult China’s Communist Party

James Vincent:

YouTube is automatically deleting comments that contain certain Chinese-language phrases related to criticism of the country’s ruling Communist Party (CCP). The company confirmed to The Verge this was happening in error and that it’s working to fix the issue.

“Upon review by our teams, we have confirmed this was an error in our enforcement systems and we are working to fix it as quickly as possible,” said a YouTube spokesperson. The company did not elaborate on how or why this error came to be, but said it was not the result of any change in its moderation policy.

But if the deletions are the result of a simple mistake, then it’s one that’s gone unnoticed for six months. The Verge found evidence that comments were being deleted as early as October 2019, when the issue was raised on YouTube’s official help pages and multiple users confirmed that they had experienced the same problem.

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

A Taxonomy of Privacy

Daniel Solove:

Privacy is a concept in disarray. Nobody can articulate what it means. As one commentator has observed, privacy suffers from an embarrassment of meanings. Privacy is far too vague a concept to guide adjudication and lawmaking, as abstract incantations of the importance of privacy do not fare well when pitted against more concretely-stated countervailing interests.

In 1960, the famous torts scholar William Prosser attempted to make sense of the landscape of privacy law by identifying four different interests. But Prosser focused only on tort law, and the law of information privacy is significantly more vast and complex, extending to Fourth Amendment law, the constitutional right to information privacy, evidentiary privileges, dozens of federal privacy statutes, and hundreds of state statutes. Moreover, Prosser wrote over 40 years ago, and new technologies have given rise to a panoply of new privacy harms.

California State University: ‘no plans to reduce’ fall tuition despite keeping classes online

Ben Walls:

The nearly 500,000 students enrolled in the California State University system’s 23 campuses should expect to pay full price for tuition this fall.

A spokeswoman for the system told The College Fix via email that tuition is expected to remain at the regular price despite the system’s decision to remain virtual for the fall 2020 semester.

“There are no plans to reduce tuition and campus-based mandatory fees at this time,” said CSU spokeswoman Toni Molle. “One of the benefits of announcing our planning now is to allow for additional professional development opportunities for faculty and staff over the summer which lead to the best possible learning experience that we can provide for students.”

Madison’s 37% Property Tax Growth (2012 – 2021). Outcomes?

Briana Reilly:

Estimates flagged in the report show property taxes would be nearly 38% higher next year under the proposed operating budget compared with 2012, a jump the brief notes is “more than twice the rate of inflation” and doesn’t include potential changes in state aid levels going forward. 

Crafting Madison Metropolitan School District’s budget is a challenge for education officers, as they await a potential state budget repair bill to fix an anticipated revenue shortfall that could include cuts for K-12. In the meantime, officials are already bracing for a decline in state aid before extra action may come from lawmakers and Gov. Tony Evers.  

Research director Jason Stein said a loss of state K-12 funding next fiscal year, assuming the district would have the ability to backfill it with higher property taxes, would heighten the reliance on local revenue further to support schools.  

“It certainly has the potential to make it worse, right, or further accentuate the trend,” he said. 

And if district leaders opt to pursue two referenda questions this fall, taxpayers could find themselves footing even more of the bill to help educate kids in a district that only sees a quarter of its operating budget covered by state and federal support, per the report. 

The current and looming budgetary challenges are just part of the reality outlined in Thursday’s report, which notes the district has come to “an inflection point” given the novel coronavirus crisis and the lack of a permanent superintendent after initial hire Matthew Gutierrez withdrew his acceptance of the position.

Wisconsin Public Policy Forum Madison School District Report [PDF]

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

China Plans to Send Teachers to Hong Kong to Give Guidance, Instruction in Schools

Radio Free Asia:

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is planning to send primary, secondary, and kindergarten teachers from schools in Hunan, Anhui and other provinces to Hong Kong to conduct “teaching instruction,” RFA has learned.

The ministry of education in Beijing plans to send some 60 “teaching instructors” from Hunan, Hainan, Anhui,and Liaoning provinces to schools in Hong Kong and the former Portuguese enclave of Macau, mainly in the subject areas of history and language.

The plan is detailed in directives posted to official websites by provincial education bureaus in Hunan, Hainan, and Shanxi.

The teachers are being sent to teach patriotic education to schoolchildren in the two cities, according to online recruitment notices.

The program has been under way for some time, but is attracting renewed concerns as Beijing gears up to impose draconian national security legislation on Hong Kong following months of mass anti-government and pro-democracy protests, according to the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper.

Academic Climate: MSU claims using family photos as virtual backgrounds constitutes ‘bias’

Caroline Brooks & Amy Bonomi:

While employees use videoconferencing now more than ever, there’s an issue happening beneath the surface with platforms like Zoom, Teams and Skype beyond stress and mental health that’s affecting its users.

Amy Bonomi, a social science researcher from Michigan State University, and Nelia Viveiros from University of Colorado, said that these platforms are a ripe setting for unconscious bias — or, attitudes towards people or associated stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. These can be related to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etcetera.


Spending more (referendum $) for the same in Milwaukee

Emily Files:

But there is still the question of how MPS will be able to sustain new positions when it faces severe financial challenges. Those challenges include $170 million in deferred maintenance, a future loss of $24 million in state integration aid due to the ending of Chapter 220 program, and a possible cut in state support because of the pandemic.

In recent weeks, MPS board members added new expenses to the budget proposal, including funding for more ethnic studies teachers and increasing minimum pay to $15 per hour. At a meeting Thursday, the school board will decide whether to approve the spending plan.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K-12 school district continues to plan for a substantial tax & spending increase referendum this fall.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

Booked, but can’t read (Madison): functional literacy, National citizenship and the new face of Dred Scott in the age of mass incarceration

Mckenna Kohlenberg:

For in cities like Madison, reputationally progressive jewel of the state that denied Dred Scott his citizenship and citizen rights nearly two centuries ago, so too does the racialized illiteracy crisis lawfully disparage young Black men to non-citizen subjects and deny their access to democratic society to- day. If this academic year mirrors the past 12 in Madison, at least 85% of Black fourth graders currently attending the city’s public schools are four times more likely than their peers to drop out, and 2/3 will end up in prison or on welfare. If this academic year mirrors the past 12 in Madison, the vast majority of the 166 Black boys who began fourth grade in the city this past fall are now members of a discrete class that is more likely to spend time incarcerated than to become func- tionally literate in school. Coining this the age of the mass and disparate illiter- acy-to-incarceration pipeline, this Article reinforces the reality that we have not ended the subjugation of Black men in America, we have merely found yet another away to disguise it.

The appearance in print of Mckenna’s paper is perfectly timed with the recent settlement of the “Gary B.” case in Michigan.

And the Michigan settlement may have an impact on a similar case in Rhode Island.

Finally, here’s what it looks like in California, where a similar suit has already been settled.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

K-12 Governance Climate: Judge: Names of suing parents must be given to Madison school district lawyers

Ed Treleven:

The names of a group of parents suing the Madison School District over the district’s administrative guidance on transgender and nonbinary students can remain out of the public eye, but a Dane County judge said they must be identified to lawyers representing the district and other groups defending the guidance in court.

Circuit Judge Frank Remington said during a hearing held Tuesday by video conference that while the parents’ names can be protected, they cannot pursue the case against the district anonymously.

Remington also allowed three groups of Madison high school students, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, to become parties in the case to support the district’s guidance in court.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

The Future of College Is Online, and It’s Cheaper

Hans Taparia:

Forty years ago, going to college in America was a reliable pathway for upward mobility. Today, it has become yet another 21st-century symbol of privilege for the wealthy. Through this period, tuition rates soared 260 percent,double the rate of inflation. In 2019, the average cost of attending a four-year private college was over $200,000. For a four-year public college, it was over $100,000. To sustain these prices, more students are now admittedfrom the top 1 percent of the income scale than the entire bottom 40 percent at the top 80 colleges. Universities have also opened the floodgates to wealthy international students, willing to pay full tuition for the American brand.

Covid-19 is about to ravage that business model. Mass unemployment is looming large and is likely to put college out of reach for many. With America now the epicenter of the pandemic and bungling its response, many students are looking to defer enrollment. Foreign students are questioning whether to register at all, with greater uncertainty around visas and work prospects. The “Trump Effect” had already begun to cause declining foreign student enrollment over the past three years.

The mightiest of institutions are bracing for the worst. Harvard, home to the country’s largest endowment, recently announceddrastic steps to manage the fallout, including salary cuts for its leadership, hiring freezes and cuts in discretionary spending. Most other universities have been forced to make similar decisions, and are nervous that if they continue with online teaching this fall, students will demand at least a partial remission of tuition.

Up until now, online education has been relegated to the equivalent of a hobby at most universities. With the pandemic, it has become a backup plan. But if universities embrace this moment strategically, online education could expand access exponentially and drop its cost by magnitudes — all while shoring up revenues for universities in a way that is more recession-proof, policy-proof and pandemic-proof.

Homeschoolers and Ideologues

Samuel James:

Harvard professor Elizabeth Bartholet’s attackon homeschooling is the kind of argument that would, if a few nouns were changed, be right at home in the very fundamentalist subcultures she detests. What her ideas lack in empirical evidence they compensate for in ferocity. 

To Bartholet’s credit, she says what she thinks. Where other critics of homeschooling twist themselves into knots to avoid “othering” those loathsome evangelicals, Bartholet lets the cat out of the bag: “Many homeschooling parents are extreme ideologues,” she said in a recent interview with The Harvard Gazette, titled “A Warning on Homeschooling.” She made it clear that by “many” she means “most” and that by “ideologues” she means evangelical Christians. The problem, Bartholet, says, is that evangelical families are “committed to raising their children within their belief systems isolated from any societal influence.”

The danger is both to these children and to society. The children may not have the chance to choose for themselves whether to exit these ideological communities; society may not have the chance to teach them values important to the larger community, such as tolerance of other people’s views and values.

Bartholet’s interview is just the latest example of her anti-homeschooling activism. Late last year she published an article in the Arizona Law Review that accused a large percentage of homeschooling families of secretly abusing their children and called for a blanket criminalization of most forms of homeschooling. This year, that article became the topic of a feature for Harvard Magazine. The piece’s accompanying illustration was striking: A group of happy and playful children, but in their midst a sad, solitary girl looking at them from behind the prison bars of a chimneyed house made from huge books labeled “Reading,” “Writing,” “Arithmetic” . . . and “Bible.” 

Faculty Cuts Begin, With Warnings of More to Come

Emma Petit:

The top brass’s message was clear: When talking about the instructors who won’t be reappointed, at least for now, department chairs at the University of Massachusetts at Boston should stick to the script.

“Never slip and call this a layoff,” reads a Monday talking-points memo from the provost’s office, obtained by The Chronicle. Similarly, “do not speak of this notice as a kind of ‘pink slip.’”

This week, letters were sent to an unknown number of instructors, telling them that they won’t be reappointed for the fall, with the caveat that things could change over the summer. “I am very sorry for the consternation I know this will cause you,” Emily A. McDermott, the interim provost, says in the form letter.

When the Covid-19 pandemic threatened to deplete projected budgets, college leaders, like those at UMass-Boston, looked to minimize expenses and make difficult choices about priorities. While decisions were still up in the air, faculty members, especially those off the tenure track, feared that their ranks would be thinned. Now, those cuts are starting to be made across academe. (The Chronicle is tracking them here.)

Before COVID-19, Tuition Discount Rate Hit All-Time High Of 52.6%; Pandemic May Force 340 Colleges Out Of Business


Private, nonprofit colleges and universities sharply discounted tuition and fees for most students this year, according to data reported to the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

In the 2019 NACUBO Tuition Discounting Study, 366 private, nonprofit colleges and universities reported an estimated 52.6 percent average institutional tuition discount rate for first-time, full-time, first-year students in 2019-20 and 47.6 percent for all undergraduates – both record highs. By providing grants, fellowships, and scholarships, these institutions forgo about half the revenue they otherwise would collect if they charged all students the tuition and fee sticker price

Science without Validation in a World without Meaning

Edward R. Dougherty:

Physicist Richard Feynman had the following advice for those interested in science: “So I hope you can accept Nature as She is—absurd.”1 Here Feynman captures in stark terms the most basic insight of modern science: nature is not understandable in terms of ordinary physical concepts and is, therefore, absurd.

The unintelligibility of nature has huge consequences when it comes to determining the validity of a scientific theory. On this question, Feynman also had a concise answer: “It is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense.”2 So put reasonableness and common sense aside when judging a scientific theory. Put your conceptual models and visualizations away. They might help you formulate a theory, or they might not. They might help to explain a theory, or they might obfuscate it. But they cannot validate it, nor can they give it meaning.

Erwin Schrödinger made a similar critique of the simplified models widely used to explain scientific concepts in terms of everyday experience, such as those used to illustrate atomic theory:

New Jefferson Middle School (Madison) principal Sue Abplanalp ‘not afraid of change’

Pamela Cotant:

When Sue Abplanalp took over as principal at Schenk Elementary School three years ago, she figured it wasn’t her last stop.

“I said I’m probably good for one more school after Schenk,” said Abplanalp, recalling her conversation with then-Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham.

Abplanalp will become principal at Jefferson Middle School on July 1. She will take over from interim principal Mary Kelley, who became the school’s fifth leader in six school years when Tequila Kurth left mid-year. Concerns at the school have included school safety as well as timely communication with parents, staffing and the overall culture.

In December, two 13-year-old boys from Jefferson were arrested, one for shooting a BB gun out of a bus window and the other for bringing the BB gun inside the school the next day. Two girls, ages 13 and 14, were struck by BBs as they were getting off the bus. And in January, a Jefferson student suffered a concussion and was taken to a hospital after being punched by a classmate he said had been bullying him.

Abplanalp, who turned 62 on May 16, is up for the challenge. She said she loves being building principal and starts to get restless after some time in the same place.

“I am not afraid of change,” she said. “I guess that sums me up.”

Experience is a big reason she was hired at Jefferson.

Much more on Madison’s Jefferson Middle School, here.

Madison schools shut down athletic facilities, player-coach contact ‘through July at a minimum’

Art Kabelowsky:

Madison Metropolitan School District athletic director Jeremy Schlitz has shut the door to summer coach-athlete contact and facility availability for athletic teams at the four MMSD high schools “through July at a minimum,” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That decision shuts down facilities through the weekend before the Aug. 3 scheduled start of high school football practice activities, with other fall sports scheduled to begin practices soon afterward.

Commentary on politics and racial preferences

John Fund:

In 1996, Californians voted to end racial preferences at state universities. The Left has been fighting to restore them ever since.

Rather than focus on COVID-19 or the economic recovery, California liberals insist on pushing their pet issues. The “stimulus” bill rammed through the House this month by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco was a liberal wish list of subsidies and spending. Now other California Democrats are ramming through an effort to repeal the state’s ban on racial preferences.

Two things often happen when a single political party dominates a state the way Democrats dominate California. First, an echo chamber of the dominant party convinces its leaders they can steamroll over any opposition. Second, that conviction leads to political overreach.

Caucasian Americans are now only 19 percent of UC students, down from 38 percent a quarter century ago — this change reflects the increasing ethnic diversity of Californians .

Next month, Golden State Democrats plan to use the two-thirds control they have in the legislature to push through a November ballot measure asking voters to end the ban on racial preferences.

They should remember what happened when this was attempted before. Last year, liberals in Washington State used a similar route to repeal that state’s version of Proposition 209, which had passed with 58 percent in 1998. Liberals vastly outspent opponents and won endorsements from leading establishment figures. But they still lost, as voters rejected preferential treatment 51 to 49 percent. Retrying that strategy in a highly visible California referendum would be dicey.

That’s also what California Democrats themselves concluded back in 2014.

The epidemiology of misinformation

Philip Ball:

After Covid-19 was first identified in early January, the tools and techniques of science and medicine were engaged with unprecedented urgency to tackle the biology of the pathogenic coronavirus, the epidemiology of its spread, and possibilities for potential treatments and eventual cure. But in parallel with this energetic search for reliable yet elusive facts and remedies, we’ve also seen the lightning spread of Covid-19-related falsehoods—a phenomenon the WHO has called the coronavirus “infodemic.”

There has been a boom in conspiracy theories—the idea, for example, that the illness is in fact caused by the 5G network weakening the immune system with “radiation.” In defiance of the evidence, the US President and his circle have implied that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, and the Chinese in turn have encouraged rumours that the Americans brought it to Wuhan. Prominent commentators pursuing political agendas (or merely attention) have rounded on scientific results as if these were just one more opinion they didn’t like. The media and politicians have shown themselves pitifully vulnerable to falsehoods that pander to their agendas—or even actively willing to create them. Even after several years in which “fake news” has set the rhythm of insurgencies, elections and referendums, it is remarkable to witness just how contagious the Covid-19 infodemic is proving.

The pandemic underlines—again—the growing problems in our information ecosystem, this time in a field where falsehood can be (literally) lethal. It is acting as a lens that brings into focus one of the most urgent challenges of our times. We (most of us) will survive the virus, but it is far from clear that democracies can survive the longer-term destabilisation of objective truth. If we want a world where major events can be discussed and debated on a basis of agreed and reliable facts, then we have no choice but to grapple with the epidemiology of misinformation.

How Internet communities function


This is a collection of essays that explain why online communities end up the way they do, how they succeed and fail, and how to create and manage one. I think they are all interesting, though I don’t agree with everything they say.

Peer Review

Rodney Brooks:

This blog is not peer reviewed at all. I write it, I put it out there, and people read it or not. It is my little megaphone that I alone control.

But I don’t think anyone, or at least I hope that no-one, thinks that I am publishing scientific papers here. They are my opinion pieces, and only worthwhile if there are people who have found my previous opinions to have turned out to be right in some way.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about peer review. This post is to share some of my experiences with peer review, both as an author and as an editor, from three decades ago.

In my opinion peer review is far from perfect. But with determination new and revolutionary ideas can get through the peer review process, though it may take some years. The problem is, of course, that most revolutionary ideas are wrong, so peer review tends to stomp hard on all of them. The alternative is to have everyone self publish and that is what is happening with the arXiv distribution service. Papers are getting posted there with no intent of ever undergoing peer review, and so they are effectively getting published with no review. This can be seen as part of the problem of populism where all self proclaimed experts are listened to with equal authority, and so there is no longer any expertise.

U.S. Colleges Have Accepted $6 Billion in Undisclosed Donations from Foreign Governments, DOE Probe Finds

Zachary Evans:

“Some [Institutions of Higher Education] leaders are starting to acknowledge the threat of foreign academic espionage and have been working with federal law enforcement to address gaps in reporting and transparency,” the letter from the DoE’s Office of the General Counsel reads. “However, the evidence suggests massive investments of foreign money have bred dependency and distorted the decision-making, mission, and values of too many institutions.”

The letter also states, “Certain institutions have yet to produce requested emails, metadata, and other information regarding business relationships with, and faculty funding from, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Russian foreign sources.”

The DoE had already announced its own investigation into foreign funding of U.S. universities in February. Besides China, officials are looking into funding from Qatar, Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.

In one recent incident, the FBI arrested a professor at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville for failing to disclose research funding from the Chinese government. The professor, Simon Saw-Teong Ang, had also engaged in research for NASA and had been on the university’s faculty since 1988.

Civics: Inside the NSA’s Secret Tool for Mapping Your Social Network

Barton Gellman:

The first accounts revealed only bare bones. If you placed a call, whether local or international, the NSA stored the number you dialed, as well as the date, time and duration of the call. It was domestic surveillance, plain and simple. When the story broke, the NSA discounted the intrusion on privacy. The agency collected “only metadata,” it said, not the content of telephone calls. Only on rare occasions, it said, did it search the records for links among terrorists.

I decided to delve more deeply. The public debate was missing important information. It occurred to me that I did not even know what the records looked like. At first I imagined them in the form of a simple, if gargantuan, list. I assumed that the NSA cleaned up the list—date goes here, call duration there—and converted it to the agency’s preferred “atomic sigint data format.” Otherwise I thought of the records as inert. During a conversation at the Aspen Security Forum that July, six weeks after Snowden’s first disclosure and three months after the Boston Marathon bombing, Admiral Dennis Blair, the former director of national intelligence, assured me that the records were “stored,” untouched, until the next Boston bomber came along.

Even by that account, the scale of collection brought to mind an evocative phrase from legal scholar Paul Ohm. Any information in sufficient volume, he wrote, amounted to a “database of ruin.” It held personal secrets that “if revealed, would cause more than embarrassment or shame; it would lead to serious, concrete, devastating harm.” Nearly anyone in the developed world, he wrote, “can be linked to at least one fact in a computer database that an adversary could use for blackmail, discrimination, harassment, or financial or identity theft.” Revelations of “past conduct, health, or family shame,” for example, could cost a person their marriage, career, legal residence, or physical safety.

Mere creation of such a database, especially in secret, profoundly changed the balance of power between government and governed. This was the Dark Mirror embodied, one side of the glass transparent and the other blacked out. If the power implications do not seem convincing, try inverting the relationship in your mind: What if a small group of citizens had secret access to the telephone logs and social networks of government officials? How might that privileged knowledge affect their power to shape events? How might their interactions change if they possessed the means to humiliate and destroy the careers of the persons in power? Capability matters, always, regardless of whether it is used. An unfired gun is no less lethal before it is drawn. And in fact, in history, capabilities do not go unused in the long term. Chekhov’s famous admonition to playwrights is apt not only in drama, but in the lived experience of humankind. The gun on display in the first act—nuclear warheads, weaponized disease, Orwellian cameras tracking faces on every street—must be fired in the last. The latent power of new inventions, no matter how repellent at first, does not lie forever dormant in government armories.

These could be cast as abstract concerns, but I thought them quite real. By September of that year, it dawned on me that there were also concrete questions that I had not sufficiently explored. Where in the innards of the NSA did the phone records live? What happened to them there? The Snowden archive did not answer those questions directly, but there were clues.

In rural areas, teachers adjust to COVID-19 as students drive 30 miles to access the internet

Jack Kelly:

Though Seppa can gather his students together on a video conference, they can’t all play together because audio transmission over the internet is difficult to sync up via services like Zoom.

What’s more, one in six of his students don’t have access to reliable internet at home, he said. He added that infrastructure, not cost, is the barrier to high-speed internet for most of his students — something that is commonplace in rural Wisconsin.

In 2019, roughly 486,000 Wisconsinites did not have broadband access, according to a Federal Communications Commission report. The FCC defines broadband as an internet connection with 25 megabit per second download speeds and three megabit per second upload speeds.

Taxpayers have spent billions subsidizing the legacy telecommunication companies, yet…

Q&A: Irene Pawlisch goes from MMSD cook to handing out meals at food sites

Scott Girard:

When Irene Pawlisch began work as a lead cook in the Madison Metropolitan School District food services department in August, she didn’t anticipate dressing up in costumes every day.

Since schools closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, though, that’s been part of her Monday through Friday routine as she hands out free family meals at various sites around the district. MMSD is distributing pre-packaged breakfast and lunch at 15 sites.

The costumes — on a recent Monday, she was a giraffe — are a way to bring joy to families dealing with the stress of a pandemic and no school or activities, Pawlisch said.

“Someone told me today, they’re like, ‘Seeing you dress up just makes me smile,’” Pawlisch said last week. “I go, ‘We gotta do something that doesn’t suck when all of everything else sucks.’”

Wisconsin advocacy group sues on behalf of family seeking school choice scholarship

Patrick Gibbons:

When Katrina Olguin applied for private school scholarships for her sons, she probably never imagined she would be disqualified for being over the income threshold – by less than $50.

Unfortunately for Olguin, of West Allis, Wisconsin, her state’s Department of Public Instruction rules prohibit parents from reapplying in the same year, even if they amend their application.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty believes that rule is illegal and has filed suit on behalf of Olguin and her sons. 

According to the institute, Olquin reapplied for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program after making legal contributions to her IRA so her family was again income eligible. The state denied the application, citing the rule prohibiting same-year reapplication.

Wisconsin’s scholarship program provides scholarships to low-income and working-class students. Household income must be at or below 220 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $66,000 for a family of five. 

“We were just $47 over and I did everything to adjust it legally,” Olguin wrote in a blog post that was published on Medium. “And then they were just like, no, sorry.”

Solving the “The Miracle Sudoku”

Jason Kottke:

Every once in a while during my internet travels, I run across something like this video: something impossibly mundane and niche (a ~26-minute video of someone solving a sudoku puzzle) that turns out to be ludicrously entertaining. I cannot improve upon Ben Orlin’s description:

You’re about to spend the next 25 minutes watching a guy solve a Sudoku. Not only that, but it’s going to be the highlight of your day.

The solver himself calls it “a work of sublime genius” and “one of the most extraordinary puzzles we’ve ever seen”. It’s fascinating listening to him slowly uncover different aspects of the puzzle — watching him methodically figure out the 3s was genuinely thrilling. And the symmetry thing at the end…

If We Want Western Civ Revitalized, We Can’t Leave It To Universities

Nathanael Blake:

An extensive National Review cover article by Andrew Roberts asserts that “we must teach Western Civilization.” He is correct that Western Civ should be taught, and not just as an exercise in the self-flagellation of critical theory. But studying our cultural heritage without living it is only intellectual embalming, and some champions of Western civilization may prefer it that way. Preserving Western Civilization requires living it.

This distinction between information about a tradition and living it is obvious in religion, in which study does not in itself instill belief. Unlike instruction at the local parish school, a secular college’s religious studies course is not meant to inculcate Catholic belief and behavior, even if it is accurate about Catholic doctrines.

Intellectual knowledge is severable from practice, and this applies to the rest of the Western tradition, from art and architecture to literature and philosophy. In all of these, knowledge without works is dead, and universities teaching about them may be no more than museum tours of the intellectual and artistic artifacts of the past. Wisdom becomes knowledge, and knowledge declines into information.

The story of Worldometer, the quick project that became one of the most popular sites on the internet

Henry Dyer:

In 2004, before he reached the age of 20, Andrey Alimetov created what has become one of the most viewed websites of the coronavirus pandemic, Worldometer. The site has shot into the top 100 Alexa rankings. Coronavirus data collated by Worldometer has gone on to be cited by the Government, politicians, media outlets, and commentators – Peter Hitchens has taken to tweeting out a “Daily Worldometer check” comparing the UK and Sweden’s statistics. Wikipedia editors have debated whether or not it should be used as a source. Conspiracy theorists and a right-wing American think tank have speculated that a Chinese company is behind Worldometer. So, can the site be trusted, and who’s behind it? 

Even from its foundation, Worldometer has been about people dying. Its original page, archived online, contained estimates for figures on Earth’s population, deaths this year, death today, deaths by communicable diseases this year, and a raft of other categories such as numbers of newspapers circulated in that year, cars produced, and coal consumption. The site used Javascript and your computer’s clock to calculate the live count, meaning the archived version still works for 2020, albeit using data that even then was only “somewhat correct for 2003-2004 years”. As Alimetov explains, “I just started playing with JavaScript at the time and after reading one of those ‘there are currently X amount of people dying every second’ so I figured it might be a cool idea to put that into a more easily-readable format. Whole thing took only about two to three days to make.”

The site then blew up after being featured on Digg (“Yes, I’m that old”, Alimetov says). So a few months later, he sold it on eBay through an auction for $2000. “At the time, it was a lot of money, and I wasn’t even 20 back then so it was a no-brainer. The immediate cash-out was worth a lot more in my opinion at the time than long-term returns. Also at the time there was no easy way to ‘cash out’ a high-traffic website. The money at the time really helped with my living situation.” 

Testing Affirmative Action

Hal Arkes:

Even though Harvard won the first round in its battle with Students for Fair Admissions, a case challenging the university’s affirmative action policy, the judge did not address the deep and difficult issues that racial preferences involve. For lawyers and judges who will grapple with this issue in the future, we would like to advance some new ideas based on empirical research on the evaluation process.

The Supreme Court has said repeatedly that racial discrimination by the government is permissible only to meet a “compelling state interest.” Beginning with the Bakke case in 1978, the Court said that the educational benefits of a racially diverse student body could be a compelling interest.

In 2013, in its first encounter with Fisher v. University of Texas, the Court reiterated the educational value of diversity because it may produce “enhanced classroom dialogue and the lessening of racial isolation and stereotypes.”

However, the Court found that the lower courts hadn’t analyzed the university’s claims closely enough. It sent the case back for the lower courts “to determine whether the university had proved “that its plan is narrowly tailored to achieve the educational benefits that flow from diversity.”

The lower courts decided that UT had made such a showing, and in Fisher II (2016), the Supreme Court accepted that finding by a 4-3 vote. It repeated that the standard of review in racial preference cases is strict scrutiny, which “requires the university to demonstrate with clarity that…its use of [a racial] classification is necessary…to the accomplishment of its purpose.’”

The Problem Isn’t the ‘Merit,’ It’s the ‘Ocracy’

Scholars Stage:

Two weeks or so ago Liam Bright posted the following tweet:

Liberal technocrats give us literally no reason at all to think their interests are aligned with the great majority of people, yet when they are attacked as a governing class they stress their credentials and competency. But it’d be worse if they’re doing bad stuff efficiently! [1]

In very few words Bright has summarized my problem with arguments in favor of meritocracy. Take, for example, a recent post by Nathaniel Givens in favor of “real meritocracy:

When people talk about meritocracy today, they’re almost always referring to the Ivy League and then–working forward and backward–to the kinds of feeder schools and programs that prepare kids to make it into the Ivy League and the types of high-powered jobs (and the culture surrounding them) that Ivy League students go onto after they graduate.

My basic point is a pretty simple one: there’s nothing meritocratic about the Ivy League. The old WASP-y elite did not, as Douthat put it, “dissolve.” It just went into hiding. Americans like to pretend that we’re a classless society, but it’s a fiction. We do have class. And the nexus for class in the United States is the Ivy League.

If Ivy League admission were really meritocratic, it would be based as much as possible on objective admission criteria. This is hard to do, because even when you pick something that is in a sense objective–like SAT scores–you can’t overcome the fact that wealthy parents can and will hire tutors to train their kids to artificially inflate their scores relative to the scores an equally bright, hard-working lower-class student can attain without all expensive tutoring and practice tests.

The public do not understand logarithmic graphs used to portray COVID-19

Alessandro Romano, Chiara Sotis, Goran Dominioni, and Sebastián Guidi:

The fact that the framing of information can dramatically alter how we react to it will hardly surprise any reader of this blog. Incidentally, the canonical example of framing effects involves an epidemic: a disease that kills 200 out of 600 people is considered worse than one in which 400 people survive. Whereas this imaginary epidemic was just a thought experiment, an actual global pandemic turns out to be an unfortunate laboratory for framing effects. In a recent experiment, we show how framing crucially affects people’s responses to one of the most important building blocks of the COVID-19 informational puzzle: the number of deaths. We show that the logarithmic scale graphs that the media routinely use to display this information are poorly understood by the public and affect people’s attitudes and policy preferences towards the pandemic. This finding has important implications because during a pandemic, even more than usually, the public depends on the media to convey understandable information in order to make informed decisions regarding health-protective behaviours.

Many media outlets portray information about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths using a logarithmic scale graph. At first sight, this seems sensible. In fact, many of them defend their decision by showing how much better these charts are in conveying information about the exponential nature of the contagion. For history lovers, the popular economist Irving Fisher also believed this, which led him to strongly advocate for their use in 1917 (right before the Spanish Flu rendered them tragically relevant). Fisher was ecstatic about this scale: “When one is once accustomed to it, it never misleads.” It turns out, however, that even specialized scientists don’t get used to it. Not surprisingly, neither does the general public.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

Students are failing AP tests because the College Board can’t handle iPhone photos

Monica Chin:

For the uninitiated: AP exams require longform answers. Students can either type their response or upload a photo of handwritten work. Students who choose the latter option can do so as a JPG, JPEG, or PNG format according to the College Board’s coronavirus FAQ.

But the testing portal doesn’t support the default format on iOS devices and some newer Android phones, HEIC files. HEIC files are smaller than JPEGs and other formats, thus allowing you to store a lot more photos on an iPhone. Basically, only Apple (and, more recently, Samsung) use the HEIC format — most other websites and platforms don’t support it. Even popular Silicon Valley-based services, such as Slack, don’t treat HEICs the same way as standard JPEGs.

Bryner says many of his classmates also tried to submit iPhone photos and experienced the same problem. The issue was so common that his school’s AP program forwarded an email from the College Board to students on Sunday including tidbits of advice to prevent submission errors.


Fischer Black:

The effects of noise on the world, and on our views of the world, are profound. Noise in the sense of a large number of small events is often a causal factor much more powerful than a small number of large events can be. Noise makes trading in financial markets possible, and thus allows us to observe prices for financial assets. Noise causes markets to be somewhat inefficient, but often prevents us from taking advantage of inefficiencies. Noise in the form of uncertainty about future tastes and technology by sector causes business cycles, and makes them highly resistant to improvement through government intervention. Noise in the form of expectations that need not follow rational rules causes inflation to be what it is, at least in the absence of a gold standard or fixed exchange rates. Noise in the form of uncertainty about what relative prices would be with other exchange rates makes us think incorrectly that changes in exchange rates or inflation rates cause changes in trade or investment flows or economic activity. Most generally, noise makes it very difficult to test either practical or academic theories about the way that financial or economic markets work. We are forced to act largely in the dark.

For parents wrangling with remote schooling: Understanding why Google Classroom is so bad.

Khoi Vinh:

You can tell a lot about how we value spaces—and the people who use them—by how well we design them. Google Classroom, which I’ve come to use with my kids on a daily basis since remote schooling began back in March, is as good an example of this as I’ve seen. It’s a virtual space, of course, but in a quarantined world it’s become a vital space, one that millions of children and parents are entering daily, usually for hours at a time. And it sends an unmistakable message about how it values the students who use it.

When I saw Google Classroom for the first time, my immediate thought was, “This is clearly an under-funded product that ranks fairly low on the list of Google’s priorities.” Our kids use the iPad version and, setting aside the inconvenient fact that it’s at least a few steps behind Google Classroom in the browser, the product as a whole is slow, inelegant and unappealing. It works but just barely, and it lacks nearly every modern user experience affordance commonly found in most contemporary productivity software.

Upon reflection, I came to realize that this is no accident. Google Classroom’s lackluster design is actually perfectly in line with the way we’ve always thought about the spaces we build for learning. Schools have by and large been conspicuously if not chronically underfunded, especially in comparison to spaces for work. Most school buildings are fashioned from cinder blocks, institutional steel doors and wire glass, and piped with pre-digital HVAC systems. Children sit at decades-old, fixed height tables and chairs, share access to donated and/or outdated computer hardware, relieve themselves in archaic bathrooms. Their exercise and play time are segregated to large multi-purpose rooms or outside on blacktops or poorly tended fields.

Teaching cursive and/or coding: Where should Wisconsin draw (or type) the line?

Jeremy Thiesfeldt:

How can cursive help? Studies show the value of cursive writing on student brains and learning: Cursive writing stimulates brain synapses and synchronicity between the right and left hemispheres in a way that printing does not. Cursive writing builds neural pathways and integrates multisensory learning, which is a key component for struggling readers. The College Board even found that students who wrote in cursive for the SAT scored higher than students who used print.

Dyslexia and dysgraphia, learning disabilities that can severely affect learning, have both shown to be aided with cursive writing.

The state Department of Public Instruction has exaggerated the cost of this bill, with its estimate of $1.7 million to $6 million annually. State agencies commonly inflate and deflate legislative fiscal estimates based on the department’s preferred policy positions. In the case of AB 459, the DPI’s estimate does not account for the fact that many schools currently teach cursive and many school districts already have the materials and training available.

Beyond the nostalgia of being able to read grandparents’ letters and the Declaration of Independence, cursive writing provides the mental gymnastics to develop student brains and increase learning outcomes. And it can be done in a low-cost way — not the millions the DPI suggests.

Why Success Academy is making remote learning work as regular schools flail

Robert Pondiscio:

In the summer of 2013, after New York adopted more rigorous standards, test scores plummeted around the state. Fewer than one in three students in New York City district schools scored proficient in math. Yet students enrolled in the Success Academy charter-school network stunned the education establishment with their performance: More than 80 percent achieved proficiency in math.

Now, amid the pandemic-driven national experiment in compulsory homeschooling and online learning, Success Academy and its chief, Eva Moskowitz, appear poised to shock the system again — offering both ­inspiration and rebuke.

Two months into the state lockdown, the network of 45 New York City schools serving 18,000 students is close to replicating itself remotely, with full days of instruction, professional development and planning meeti­ngs for staff. Principals are ­observing teachers giving online lessons.

In a matter of weeks, SA has converted itself into a functional digital school, eliminating none of its ambitious regimen of academics, internal assessments and progress monitoring — even as New York, like every state, has abandoned standardized testing for the year.

Foreign STEM Graduates Are Being Shut Out of the U.S. Job Market

Shelly Banjo and Olivia Carville:

It was shaping up to be a big spring for Rugved Kore. He was finishing up a master’s degree in engineering that had brought him from the suburbs of Mumbai to Pennsylvania, and two companies had just offered him postgraduation positions that would make him eligible for a visa program for graduates of U.S. universities in technical fields. “It was almost too good to be true,” Kore says. “Getting the job offers felt like a dream because we just don’t have these opportunities in India.”

Then the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. Both companies rescinded their offers, and Kore, who graduated from Pennsylvania State University in a virtual ceremony on May 9, could lose his legal status to stay in the U.S. if he can’t find a job by the end of the summer. If he returns home, Kore says, he worries he won’t be able to repay the $66,000 in student debt secured by his family’s house.

More than a million international students attended U.S. universities during the 2018-19 school year, making up 5.5% of students pursuing higher education, according to the U.S. Department of State. More than half of them pursued science, technology, engineering, or math—or STEM—fields. Those graduating this year are seeing their plans upended by shuttered campuses, closed borders, inflexible immigration policies, and an economy that seized up just as they were about to enter the workforce.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The growing financial burden of cities

Charles Marohn:

In each of these, the local unit of government benefits immediately from all the permit fees, utility charges, and increased tax collection. This is real money that provides revenue for the current budget. Cities also assume the long-term liability for servicing and maintaining all the new infrastructure, a promise that won’t come fully due for decades. This exchange—a near-term cash advantage for a long-term financial obligation—is one element of a Ponzi scheme.

Over a life cycle, a city frequently receives just a dime or two of revenue for each dollar of liability, a ridiculously low level of financial productivity.

The other is the realization that the revenue collected over time does not come near to covering the costs of meeting these long-term obligations. Development spread out over a broad area is very expensive to maintain. Over a life cycle, a city frequently receives just a dime or two of revenue for each dollar of liability, a ridiculously low level of financial productivity.

Decades into this experiment, American cities have a ticking time bomb of unfunded liability for infrastructure maintenance. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) estimates deferred maintenance at multiple trillions of dollars, but that’s just for major infrastructure, not the local streets, curbs, walks, and pipes that directly serve our homes. Every mature city has a backlog of deferred maintenance, a growing list of promises with no discernible path to make good on them.

We have responded to this challenge in two ways that compound the tragedy. First, like with any pyramid-shaped financial structure, cities tried to overcome insolvency by growing faster. This alleviates the immediate budget pain but only increases the future hardship. Sequential bubbles over the past four decades in residential and commercial real estate attest to the collateral damage of trying to grow our way out of this problem using the same experimental pattern of building.

The other response has been to increasingly rely on debt to close budget gaps and induce growth. Beginning in the 1970s, corresponding with the transition to the second generation of this experiment, Americans financed new growth by borrowing staggering sums of money, both in the public and private sectors. By the time we crossed into the third generation and flamed out in the foreclosure crisis, our financing mechanisms had, out of necessity, become exotic, even predatory.

We have misdiagnosed the problem. Our problem was not, and is not, a lack of economic growth. Our core problem is 70 years of unproductive growth, a pattern of building and assembling America that has buried our local communities in financial liabilities. We are now forced to grow faster and faster lest it all fall apart. That’s economic growth as desperation, not as a credible strategy for success.

WILL Sues DPI for Blocking Family from School Choice Program


The News: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) sued the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) on behalf of a West Allis family, Heritage Christian Schools, and School Choice Wisconsin Action (SCWA), after the department adopted an illegal policy to block a family from enrolling in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) – the statewide voucher program. The lawsuit was filed in Waukesha County Circuit Court.

Background: To apply for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP), families must submit financial information to determine whether they meet the income eligibility requirements in state statute – 220% of the poverty line. Further, the WPCP has specific grade entry points for students who are already in a private school – kindergarten, 1st, and 9th grade – meaning families with children in private schools who want to participate in the WPCP have specific windows when they are eligible to apply.

The Lawsuit: When the Olguin family in West Allis applied to the WPCP for their kindergartner and 9th grader to attend Heritage Christian Schools, a high performing school, DPI determined the family was $47 over the income threshold. To meet the threshold, the Olguin family made a legal contribution to an IRA account, resubmitted their tax return and reapplied to the program. But DPI refused to consider the Olguin’s new application, citing a ‘one and done’ policy that families are allowed only one submission during an enrollment period – regardless of a change in circumstances. Without relief, their 9th grade son will never receive a voucher unless he were to switch schools from a private school to a public school and then back again.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

How DPI Invented a Rule to Keep Families Out of the School Choice Program

Cori Petersen:

Just $47: that’s the amount of money that is preventing Katrina Olguin from being able to enroll her kids in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP). “We were just $47 over and I did everything to adjust it legally. And then they were just like, no, sorry,” she said.

Olguin has three sons who will be in grades K-5, fourth and ninth in the fall, and she would like them all to attend Heritage Christian Schools, a high-performing school her two older sons attend. It’s also where Katrina is a teacher. The Olguin’s fourth grade son is already in the WPCP because parents can apply at three different windows, K-5, first and ninth grades and Olguin enrolled him when he was going into first grade. Their financial situation was very difficult then.

“Five years ago my husband almost cut his hand off at work, so for the past five years we’ve always been in a situation where we are below income,” Olguin said.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

Chinese parent in U.S. college admissions scandal fined $250,000

Nate Raymond:

A U.S. judge ordered a Chinese woman who lives in Canada to pay a $250,000 fine after she admitted to paying $400,000 to secure her son’s admission to the University of California, Los Angeles, through bribery as a purported soccer recruit.

Xiaoning Sui, 48, appeared before a federal judge in Boston via a Zoom videoconference, in the second sentencing to take place remotely in the U.S. college admissions scandal because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sui pleaded guilty in February to federal programs bribery under a plea agreement that would spare her from further time in prison after she spent five months in jail in Spain, where she was arrested in September while traveling in Europe.

An open letter to software engineers criticizing Neil Ferguson’s epidemics simulation code

Konrad Hinsen:

But the main message of this letter is something different: it’s about your role in this story. That’s of course a collective you, not you the individual reading this letter. It’s you, the software engineering community, that is responsible for tools like C++ that look as if they were designed for shooting yourself in the foot. It’s also you, the software engineering community, that has made no effort to warn the non-expert public of the dangers of these tools. Sure, you have been discussing these dangers internally, even a lot. But to outsiders, such as computational scientists looking for implementation tools for their models, these discussions are hard to find and hard to understand. There are lots of tutorials teaching C++ to novices, but I have yet to see a single one that starts with a clear warning about the dangers. You know, the kind of warning that every instruction manual for a microwave oven starts with: don’t use this to dry your dog after a bath. A clear message saying “Unless you are willing to train for many years to become a software engineer yourself, this tool is not for you.”

As a famous member of your community famously said, software is eating the world. That gives you, dear software engineers, a lot of power in modern society. But power comes with responsibility. If you want scientists to construct reliable implementations of models that matter for public health decisions, the best you can do is make good tools for that task, but the very least you must do is put clear warning signs on tools that you do not want scientists to use – always keeping in mind that scientists are not software engineers, and have neither the time nor the motivation to become software engineers.

Students Think the College Board Is Running a Reddit Sting to Catch AP Test Cheaters

Madison Malone Kircher:

On May 10, just a few days before Advanced Placement tests were scheduled to begin for high-schoolers around the world, a Reddit user, Dinosauce313, created a new subreddit, APTests2020. Its stated purpose? “A community of students taking the 2020 AP Exams and wanting to use online resources while doing so.” As a result of coronavirus, all AP testing has moved online this year. Students are taking modified, shorter versions of the traditional tests, and this year’s iterations are open-book. Using class notes, or even Googling during the test, is kosher. The College Board, the organization that administers the exams, says wasting time doing so will not ultimately be beneficial given the way the truncated tests are written. What is not kosher, however, is conferring with another person during the exam. So Dinosauce313’s proposed efforts would be grounds for consequences, should any students get caught participating in a collective testing scheme.

Some things about Dinosauce313 didn’t strike other Redditors, namely real high-schoolers preparing for their exams, quite right. The account was created at the beginning of April, just a few weeks before the subreddit’s debut, and spoke in a lexicon that read more how do you do, fellow kids than, well, “How do you do, fellow kids.” On several social platforms, a theory began brewing: Dinosauce313 was actually a College Board employee setting a honey trap to catch would-be cheaters and disqualify them. The College Board had previously announced it would be using “digital security tools to detect plagiarism,” a nebulous description that some interpreted to mean this alleged sting. “No teenager speaks like this,” one TikTok user said in a video, breaking down the College Board’s alleged actions. The same day the APTests2020 subreddit was created, Trevor Packer, the senior vice-president of Advanced Placement and instruction at the College Board, tweeted that the organization had “just cancelled the AP exam registrations of a ring of students who were developing plans to cheat, and we’re currently investigating others.”

What is the place for African Americans in the ‘new’ Madison?

Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County, Inc.:

In the midst of these challenges, the Madison Metropolitan School District heard its superintendent-designee, Matthew Gutiérrez, was rescinding his acceptance of the position to remain as superintendent of the Seguin, Texas school district. This lack of a permanent superintendent can have an incredibly negative impact on African American students. The initiative known as “Black Excellence” began under the leadership of former superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. Cheatham has been gone for almost a year. Nothing about the current leadership suggests that Black Excellence is a district priority. African American children in Wisconsin experience the widest achievement disparities in the nation in reading and mathematics. Our eighth graders are performing 47 points below their White counterparts in mathematics. Our fourth graders are performing 39 points below their White counterparts in reading. Where is the collective outrage over these disparities? Who on the current school board is demanding improvement?

The racial problems of MMSD run long and deep: Issues of achievement, disproportionate assignment to special education, lack of access to honors and advanced placement classes, disproportionate levels of suspensions and expulsions, and disproportionate graduation rates (59% Black vs. 88% White). In the midst of this there is an inverse relationship between the percentage of teachers of color and that of students. Eighty-eight percent of the teachers are White in a district with a student population that is 43% White. And, we have had repeated instances of White teachers using racial epithets and other disrespect toward Black students and their parents (e.g. a White teacher mistakenly sent a text to a Black parent about how the parent and her child were so dumb).

African Americans in Madison have been more than patient when it comes to improving their status — education, employment, housing, and every other measure of health and well-being. There have been over 40 years of reports, task forces and initiatives. Post-pandemic Madison will be a “new” Madison. We have learned a lot in the midst of crisis. We know that far too many of our community members are one paycheck away from poverty — loss of housing, food, health care, childcare, schooling, etc. What is the place for African Americans in this new Madison?

Related, Madison K-12 experiments:

English 10

Small Learning Communities

Reading Recovery

Connected Math

Discovery Math

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

“If you believe in charter schools, then it’s time to start asking why Wisconsin doesn’t have more.”

Libby Sobic:

So what’s a charter school and what kind of options do parents have access to?

Charter schools are public schools with significantly less red tape than their traditional public school peers. Wisconsin has several types with the most common type of charter school is a school authorized by the school district.

  • “Instrumentality” charter schools are part of the traditional school district, providing an alternative option for students or a unique perspective to the district. For example, according to DPI date, Tesla Engineering Charter School is a high performing instrumentality charter school authorized by the Appleton Area School District.

  • In Milwaukee, there are also several charter schools that are authorized by the district but have some separation between them and the district. These are called non-instrumentality” charters. For example, these charter schools have their own governing boards and hire their own teachers. Milwaukee Excellence, a “non-instrumentality charter” authorized by MPS, is the highest performing school in the City of Milwaukee.

  • Milwaukee also has a high percentage of “independent” charter schools, schools that are authorized by a governmental entity that is not a school district. For example, these schools are authorized by the UW-Milwaukee or by the City of Milwaukee’s Common Council. Schools like Rocketship, with two campuses in the north and south neighborhoods of Milwaukee, are schools serving vulnerable populations of students and helping students achieve academic success. Independent charter schools are beginning to expand outside of Milwaukee. The University of Wisconsin-System Office of Educational Opportunity started authorizing charter schools in the Madison area. UW-Parkside also authorized a charter within its community.

But does the charter school model work?

According to the data from most recent state report card, charter schools are some of the highest performing schools in the state. WILL research found that in Milwaukee, both independent and non-instrumentality charter schools exceeded MPS in student proficiency in math and English.

But these charter schools should be celebrated for more than just their academic performance. These schools embrace their students and families, creating a community of support for overall student success. For example, Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academycelebrated their 2019 high school senior’s college signing day with 100% college acceptance and over $2.5 million dollars earned in scholarship funds.

2005 [Madison]: 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.

2012: A majority of the taxpayer supported Madison School Board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School.

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

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

2020: Madison’s “illiteracy-to-incarceration pipeline”: Booked, but can’t read

Settlement in Detroit ‘right to read’ lawsuit could herald success for student’s case against Rhode Island Department of Education

Linda Borg:

A settlement in a Detroit “right-to-read” lawsuit could have significant ramifications for a similar case filed by students in Rhode Island who are seeking to affirm their constitutional right to a civics education.

In the Detroit case, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agreed on Thursday to pay $2.7 million to the Detroit schools for literacy programs. Whitmer also said she would submit legislation that would provide the Detroit public schools with an additional $94.4 million for more literacy programs. (The legislature would have to approve the additional spending).

Last month, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes the state of Michigan, dismissed the trial court’s decision and found that the plaintiffs, a group of Detroit students, had made a case for their suit to go forward.

In Rhode Island, the suit argues that Rhode Island students are being denied their constitutional right to a civics education.

During a hearing last year before U.S. District Court Judge William Smith, Michael Rebell, the students’ lawyer, argued that Rhode Island is failing its students by not instructing them in the values needed to participate in a democratic society.

Madison’s “illiteracy-to-incarceration pipeline”: Booked, but can’t read

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

Civics: politics, warrantless surveillance and civil liberties

Matt Taibbi:

Warrantless surveillance, multiple illegal leaks of classified information, a false statements charge constructed on the razor’s edge of Miranda, and the use of never-produced, secret counterintelligence evidence in a domestic criminal proceeding – this is the “rule of law” we’re being asked to cheer.

Russiagate cases were often two-level offenses: factually bogus or exaggerated, but also indicative of authoritarian practices. Democrats and Democrat-friendly pundits in the last four years have been consistently unable to register objections on either front.

Flynn’s case fit the pattern. We were told his plea was just the “tip of the iceberg” that would “take the trail of Russian collusion” to the “center of the plot,” i.e. Trump. It turned out he had no deeper story to tell. In fact, none of the people prosecutors tossed in jail to get at the Russian “plot” – some little more than bystanders – had anything to share.

Remember George Papadopoulos, whose alleged conversation about “dirt” on Hillary Clinton with an Australian diplomat created the pretext for the FBI’s entire Trump-Russia investigation? We just found out in newly-released testimony by McCabe that the FBI felt as early as the summer of 2016 that the evidence “didn’t particularly indicate” that Papadopoulos was “interacting with the Russians.”

If you’re in the media and keeping score, that’s about six months before our industry lost its mind and scrambled to make Watergate comparisons over Jim Comey’s March, 2017 “bombshell” revelation of the existence of an FBI Trump-Russia investigation. Nobody bothered to wonder if they actually had any evidence. Similarly Chelsea Manning insisted she’d already answered all pertinent questions about Julian Assange, but prosecutors didn’t find that answer satisfactory, and threw her in jail for year anyway, only releasing her when she tried to kill herself. She owed $256,000 in fines upon release, not that her many supporters from the Bush days seemed to care much.

ACT online testing commentary

Scott Girard:

Ethan Yang had to recopy his essay into unfamiliar software as the clock ran down on the Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics exam Monday.

The Memorial High School senior hit submit with seconds left, but the “Congratulations” screen never popped up — instead, he saw a message about the test being over due to the time.

“What we don’t know is if it was actually submitted,” his teacher, David Olson, said the next day. “Ethan may have to end up taking the make-up exam in June because of an upload issue.”

Monday was the first of two weeks straight of AP tests for high school students around the country. The tests, which can earn students college credits at a fraction of the cost, are being done online for the first time amid school closures for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ethan’s story wasn’t unique, as others reported some technical issues as well. West High School math teacher Sigrid Murphy said she knows of three issues among the 140 or so West students who took the calculus exam Tuesday.

“It’s not great that it happens to anyone, and now you have to worry about whether you have to retake it in June, but that’s not terrible considering how many people worldwide were taking it at the same time,” Murphy said.

Madison’s “illiteracy-to-incarceration pipeline”: Booked, but can’t read

Mckenna Kohlenberg:

For Black men in the contemporary age of mass incarceration, the consequences of functional illiteracy are devastating. 70% of America’s adult incarcerated population and 85% of juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, which extends beyond the ability to read and includes the development of problem-solving and critical-thinking skills one needs to access knowledge, communicate, and participate effectively in political processes, the economy, higher education, and other 21st century exercises of democratic citizenship. Following decades of lawsuits seeking vindication of fundamental education rights through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, the nation’s racialized illiteracy crisis persists and spurs little policy action. Mourning the dead horse but seeing no point in continuing to beat it, this Article argues that a different provision of the Fourteenth Amendment—the Citizenship Clause— authorizes and mandates Congress to guarantee a meaningful floor of adequate functional literacy instruction nationwide.

Coupled with Section 5 of the Amendment, the Citizenship Clause obligates the federal government to ensure that all national citizens have equal, full membership and the ability to participate in the national society. Grounding this inquiry into accountability, the case study of Madison, Wisconsin, demonstrates how the racialized illiteracy crisis precludes those without access to adequate functional literacy instruction from their constitutionally guaranteed national citizenship, particularly because early illiteracy leads to cyclical and accumulating negative outcomes that skyrocket the risk of incarceration and subsequently of disenfranchisement from voting and political processes.

This Article marries California State Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu’s account of “the social citizenship tradition in our constitutional heritage” with the seminal contemporary case Gary B. v. Snyder, wherein plaintiffs file federally and pick up the Equal Protection mantel to advance a fundamental right of access to functional literacy, and ultimately suggests that the country’s historic understanding of national citizenship and its substantive rights triggers a Congressional duty to ensure adequate access to functional literacy as a part of equal, national citizenship.

For in cities like Madison, reputationally progressive jewel of the state that denied Dred Scott his citizenship and citizen rights nearly two centuries ago, so too does the racialized illiteracy crisis lawfully disparage young Black men to non-citizen subjects and deny their access to democratic society today. If this academic year mirrors the past 12 in Madison, at least 85% of Black fourth graders currently attending the city’s public schools are four times more likely than their peers to drop out, and 2/3 will end up in prison or on welfare. If this academic year mirrors the past 12 in Madison, the vast majority of the 166 Black boys who began fourth grade in the city this past fall are now members of a discrete class that is more likely to spend time incarcerated than to become functionally literate in school. Coining this the age of the mass and disparate illiteracy-to-incarceration pipeline, this Article reinforces the reality that we have not ended the subjugation of Black men in America, we have merely found yet another away to disguise it.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

The Unexamined Model Is Not Worth Trusting (We know best…)

Chris von Csefalvay:

In early March, British leaders planned to take a laissez-faire approach to the spread of the coronavirus. Officials would pursue “herd immunity,” allowing as many people in non-vulnerable categories to catch the virus in the hope that eventually it would stop spreading. But on March 16, a report from the Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team, led by noted epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, shocked the Cabinet of the United Kingdom into a complete reversal of its plans. Report 9, titled “Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID-19 mortality and healthcare demand,” used computational models to predict that, absent social distancing and other mitigation measures, Britain would suffer 500,000 deaths from the coronavirus. Even with mitigation measures in place, the report said, the epidemic “would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and health systems (most notably intensive care units) being overwhelmed many times over.” The conclusions so alarmed Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he imposed a national quarantine.

Subsequent publication of the details of the computer model that the Imperial College team used to reach its conclusions raised eyebrows among epidemiologists and specialists in computational biology and presented some uncomfortable questions about model-driven decision-making. The Imperial College model itself appeared solid. As a spatial model, it divides the area of the U.K. into small cells, then simulates various processes of transmission, incubation, and recovery over each cell. It factors in a good deal of randomness. The model is typically run tens of thousands of times, and results are averaged—a technique commonly referred to as an ensemble model.

In a tweet sent in late March, Ferguson—then still one of the leading voices within the U.K.’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), tasked with handling the coronavirus crisis—stated that the model was implemented in “thousands of lines of undocumented” code written in C, a widely used and high-performing computing language. He refused to publish the original source code, and Imperial College has refused a Freedom of Information Act request for the original source, alleging that the public interest is not sufficiently compelling.

As Ferguson himself admits, the code was written 13 years ago, to model an influenza pandemic. This raises multiple questions: other than Ferguson’s reputation, what did the British government have at its disposal to assess the model and its implementation? How was the model validated, and what safeguards were implemented to ensure that it was correctly applied? The recent release of an improved version of the source code does not paint a favorable picture. The code is a tangled mess of undocumented steps, with no discernible overall structure. Even experienced developers would have to make a serious effort to understand it.

I’m a virologist, and modelling complex processes is part of my day-to-day work. It’s not uncommon to see long and complex code for predicting the movement of an infection in a population, but tools exist to structure and document code properly. The Imperial College effort suggests an incumbency effect: with their outstanding reputations, the college and Ferguson possessed an authority based solely on their own authority. The code on which they based their predictions would not pass a cursory review by a Ph.D. committee in computational epidemiology.

Related, Madison K-12 experiments:

English 10

Small Learning Communities

Reading Recovery

Connected Math

Discovery Math

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

Sidewalk Labs (Google) document reveals company’s early vision for data collection, tax powers, criminal justice

Tom Cardozo & Josh O’Kane:

A confidential Sidewalk Labs document from 2016 lays out the founding vision of the Google-affiliated development company, which included having the power to levy its own property taxes, track and predict people’s movements and control some public services.

The document, which The Globe and Mail has seen, also describes how people living in a Sidewalk community would interact with and have access to the space around them – an experience based, in part, on how much data they’re willing to share, and which could ultimately be used to reward people for “good behaviour.”

Known internally as the “yellow book,” the document was designed as a pitch book for the company, and predates Sidewalk’s relationship and formal agreements with Toronto by more than a year. Peppered with references to Disney theme parks and noted futurist Buckminster Fuller, it says Sidewalk intended to “overcome cynicism about the future.”

But the 437-page book documents how much private control of city services and city life Google parent company Alphabet Inc.’s leadership envisioned when it created the company, which could soon be entitled to some of the most valuable underdeveloped real estate in North America, estimated by one firm to be worth more than half-a-billion dollars.

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

Harvard Law School professor says there is little legal oversight of educational standards or safeguards against abuse

Liz Mineo:

GAZETTE: Your article says that homeschooling in its current unregulated form represents a danger to both children and society. What evidence do you have to support that?

BARTHOLET: One is the danger of child maltreatment, and we have evidence that there is a strong connection between homeschooling and maltreatment, which I describe in my article. Other dangers are that children are simply not learning basic academic skills or learning about the most basic democratic values of our society or getting the kind of exposure to alternative views that enables them to exercise meaningful choice about their future lives. Many homeschooling parents are extreme ideologues, committed to raising their children within their belief systems isolated from any societal influence. Some believe that black people are inferior to white people and others that women should be subject to men and not educated for careers but instead raised to serve their fathers first and then their husbands. The danger is both to these children and to society. The children may not have the chance to choose for themselves whether to exit these ideological communities; society may not have the chance to teach them values important to the larger community, such as tolerance of other people’s views and values.

GAZETTE: Given the current circumstances, with schools canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, many parents are homeschooling their kids. Does this massive shift to homeschooling pose any risks for children?

“The homeschooling lobby may be even more powerful than the gun lobby today, because at least with the gun lobby we see a lot of pushback. When it comes to homeschooling, the victims are all children so it’s harder to mount a political movement.”

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

Any Ideas for Children Education at Home?


I will give some context: I’m the father of two 6 and 9 children in Madrid, Spain. The recent school lockdown, since March and until September, has made me notice even more that children education could be vastly improved, at least in the fields I know about: math and science. I’m talking about quality more than quantity, I want to show the beauty of it and motivate them to learn more. For example, we have been doing experiments with electromagnetism lately and they love them. I don’t want to just concentrate on science though so ideas for history, social sciences, etc… are welcome. If you have experience about long term plans for children education that would be great also.

Simpson Street Free Press talks journalism, law school with former Cap Times reporter Negassi Tesfamichael

Cris Cruz, 17 & Josepha Da Costa:

Negassi Tesfamichael is a former education reporter at The Capital Times. Simpson Street Free Press reporters recently had a chance to catch up with Negassi, who is finishing his first year at the Pritzker School of Law at Northwestern University. In his tenure at the Cap Times, Negassi covered important topics like the School Resource Officer debate, a changing school board, and the challenges of keeping teachers in the classroom. As Simpson Street Free Press students interested in media, Cris Cruz and Josepha Da Costa asked Negassi about his interest in the field of journalism. They were also eager to learn about his experiences in law school so far.

When did you become interested in the field of journalism? Did you major in journalism when you were in college?

I became interested in following the news a lot in middle school, partly because it was my way of getting to talk about current events. I think the 2008 election of Barack Obama got me interested in politics and current events more generally, and journalism felt like a way to participate in that. My high school had a student newspaper that I got involved in, which furthered my interest in the field as I got ready to go to college.

I majored in Political Science and English in college. Even though I did not major in journalism, I got a lot of journalism experience while working for one of UW-Madison’s college newspapers, The Daily Cardinal. I’ve met people in journalism who did major in journalism and those who didn’t — there really isn’t a right answer, as long as you find ways to get some sort of experience.

History is Made: Groundbreaking Settlement in Detroit Literacy Lawsuit

Public Counsel:

A historic agreement was reached today between the plaintiffs and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the Gary B. v. Whitmer literacy suit. The agreement will preserve a groundbreaking opinion by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals which held that a basic minimum education, including literacy, is a Constitutional right, and includes an immediate infusion of resources to improve literacy education for public school students in Detroit, with a long term commitment from Governor Whitmer to secure more funding.

Read the Settlement HERE. Second settlement link.

“This is what the force of history looks like. Almost 66 years to the day that Brown v. Board of Education was decided, the Detroit community and Governor Whitmer forged a historic settlement recognizing the constitutional right of access to literacy,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law. “By accepting the Court’s decision that a minimum basic education is a foundational requirement for full participation in our democracy, Governor Whitmer is acknowledging that no child should be denied his or her right to fully pursue the American Dream based on the color of their skin or their family’s income. While there is much work left to be done, today’s settlement paves the way for the State of Michigan to fulfill its moral obligation to provide equal educational opportunities to children that have been denied a fair shake for far too long. This victory is their victory, and in this moment the children and their families and the teachers of Detroit have taught a nation what it means to fight for justice and win.”

Todd Spangler and Meredith Spelbring:

The State of Michigan has reached a settlement with a group of Detroit Public School students who argued they were denied basic literary skills and won a landmark federal appeals court ruling last month that found a “basic minimum education to be a fundamental right.”

As part of the settlement details announced Thursday afternoon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she would:

  1. Propose legislation before her first term ends that would provide Detroit Public Schools with at least $94.4 million for literacy programs.
  2. Provide $280,000 to the seven students, some of whom are no longer in school, to participate in what the governor’s office called high-quality literacy programs with the funds held for that purpose by the Detroit Public Schools Foundation.
  3. Send an additional $2.7 million to Detroit schools to support literacy efforts.Have the state Department of Education advise school districts across the state on how best to access literacy programs to improve reading proficiency and reduce economic, racial and ethnic disparities.

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

My Question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our Disastrous Reading Results

How to think about uni-disciplinary advice

Tyler Cowen:

Let’s say its 1990, and you are proposing an ambitious privatization plan to an Eastern bloc county, and your plan assumes that the enacting government is able to stay on a non-corrupt path the entire time.

While your plan probably is better than communism, it probably is not a very good plan.  A better plan would take sustainability and political realities into account, and indeed many societies did come up with better plans, for instance the Poland plan was better than the Russia plan.

It would not do to announce “I am just an economist, I do not do politics.”  In fact that attitude is fine, but if you hold it you should not be presenting plans to the central government or discussing your plan on TV.  There are plenty of other useful things for you to do.  Or the uni-disciplinary approach still might be a useful academic contribution, but still displaced and to be kept away from the hands of decision-makers.

Nor would it do to claim “I am just an economist.  The politicians have to figure the rest out.”  They cannot figure the rest out in most cases.  Either stand by your proposed plan or don’t do it.  It is indeed a proposal of some sort, even if you package it with some phony distancing language.

Instead, you should try to blend together the needed disciplines as best you can, consulting others when necessary, an offer the best plan you can, namely the best plan all things considered.

In an extraordinary late-night statement, the Education Bureau has expressed regret and condemnation over a DSE history exam question

HKSAR Education Bureau:

Regarding a question of History Paper 1 of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Examination which has aroused grave public concerns today (May 14), a spokesman for the Education Bureau (EDB) gives the following response:

     “The EDB noted that one-sided information has been attached to the question of History Paper 1 of this year’s HKDSE Examination. The question is a leading one, which may lead candidates to reach a biased conclusion, seriously hurting the feelings and dignity of the Chinese people who suffered great pain during the Japanese invasion of China. The EDB deeply regrets and condemns the design of such a question in a public examination.     

     “The EDB demands the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority to seriously follow up the matter and provide reasonable explanations to the public.  It is also required to review the question-setting mechanism comprehensively to make prompt improvements with a view to maintaining the fairness, impartiality and credibility of the HKDSE Examination.”

In Defense of Elizabeth Bartholet: A Homeschool Graduate Speaks Out

Lindsey Powell:

By many standards, I would be considered a homeschooling success story. I graduated summa cum laude from an Ivy League institution, am gainfully employed by Harvard University, and will be applying to law school in the fall. In third grade, I begged my parents to homeschool me, a plea that I still regret.

Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet recently made waves with her article suggesting a presumptive ban (not a complete ban, as her remarks have been mischaracterized) on homeschooling in America, requiring parents to “prove they are capable of providing an adequate education in a safe environment.” Bartholet emphasizes the lack of regulation and accountability governing the practice. Among other objections, she discusses cases of undetected abuse, and uneducated parents’ failed attempts to teach their children. While these are valid concerns worthy of debate, many families make the decision to homeschool with the belief that doing so serves their child’s best interest. For that reason, I’d like to discuss the less sinister, but still very real consequences of homeschooling.

As Professor Bartholet notes, a sizable majority of homeschooling families are motivated by religious or ideological reasons. Despite participating in numerous homeschool groups and extracurricular activities, I never met a student with religious or political views differing from my own until I arrived at college. Of course, I knew these individuals existed, but they were always the hypothetical, easily vilified other. It took collegiate friendships to break down internalized stereotypes and see the good in people of different faiths and political persuasions.

Madison East students create ‘the most historic yearbook’

Scott Girard:

The theme for the Madison East High School yearbook seemed clever when it was decided in the fall: “Looking Ahead with 2020 Vision.”

It “ended up being a bit ironic,” East junior Ruby Marine said, given how unexpected the last three months of the school year have been.

Ruby is part of the class that is continuing to put together the school’s yearbook, the annual documentation of the year’s events.

Traditionally, sports teams, dances and a tribute to the graduating seniors fills pages that get covered with signatures from others at the school shortly after it’s distributed. This year, documenting the unusual end to the year amid the COVID-19 pandemic has taken precedence.

The Facebook Supreme Court

David Kaye:

Today, Facebook announced the first panelists – the judges of what Mark Zuckerberg once, perhaps to his regret, called the Facebook Supreme Court – of its newly created Oversight Board. An external body with the power, according to its draft charter, “to reverse Facebook’s decisions about whether to allow or remove certain posts on the platform,” the group is more impressive than a skeptic could have imagined. Its participants may lean toward the United States and Europe, but there is global participation.

I know some of the panelists as friends and colleagues, several who are major figures in the world of human rights law and advocacy. As examples:

▪ Catalina Botero, one of the four co-chairs, is the former Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression in the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and a leading jurist in Colombia.

▪ Maina Kiai is a former United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and a leading figure in Kenyan civil society.

▪ Evelyn Aswad, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma, was a key member of the State Department’s legal office dealing with human rights issues and has written trenchantly about the role of human rights in content moderation.

▪ Julie Owono leads the Paris-based Internet Sans Frontiers and knows as much as anyone about digital rights, especially in Africa.

▪ Nighat Dad has fought for digital rights as a lawyer in Pakistan for years and is deservedly well-known internationally for her brave advocacy for online freedom of expression.

Your Boss Is Watching You: Work-From-Home Boom Leads To More Surveillance

Bobby Allen:

After two weeks of working from her Brooklyn apartment, a 25-year-old e-commerce worker received a staffwide email from her company: Employees were to install software called Hubstaff immediately on their personal computers so it could track their mouse movements and keyboard strokes, and record the webpages they visited.

They also had to download an app called TSheets to their phones to keep tabs on their whereabouts during work hours.

“There are five of us. And we always came to work. We always came on time. There was no reason to start location-tracking us,” the woman told NPR. She spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing she could lose her job.

Company emails that she provided to NPR show her employer believed the tracking software would improve the team’s productivity and efficiency while everyone was working from home.

Arizona Charters vs. Whatever Comes Next

Matthew Ladner:

The Pacific War reached a point in which a battered USS Enterprisestood as America’s only operational aircraft carrier. Undaunted, the crew hung a banner in the flight deck stating, “Enterprise vs. Japan” and kept on fighting. Arizona’s charter leaders may feel a bit under assault by circumstances these days as well, but in most any “Arizona charter educators vs. _________” I’m going to take our educators over the fill-in-the-blank. Your track record gives me this confidence.

Earlier I sent you data from Stanford University’s Opportunity Project showing academic growth and proficiency by school for Arizona. The Stanford scholars linked state tests from across the country, giving us both proficiency and growth scores for most American public schools. You can look the numbers up by campus here.

Some of you wondered, understandably, how Arizona’s charter schools look in the data, so let us address that now. The Stanford linking study allows us to compare schools across states. The figure below shows what the Arizona charter school performance compares to public schools in Massachusetts.

The 7 Deadly Errors of Teaching Reading

Lindsay Kemeny:

There’s a wrong way to teach reading and, unfortunately, it’s also the most popular way.  So, if you’ve ever committed these teaching errors, don’t worry, you’re not alone.  I’ve been there, too.  I was shocked when I realized that many teacher prep courses and even professional development classes are teaching reading methods not supported by science.  If you’re reading this blog and find yourself surprised or even defensive at these “errors,” please take a moment to step back, take a deep breath, and use it as a springboard to start your journey into learning more about the science of reading.  Instead of feeling denial, guilt, or anger…I encourage you to simply learn more and do better.

Deadly Error #1:  3-Cueing Strategies (aka the Beanie Baby Reading Strategies)

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

Yes, China’s internet is strictly policed, but it’s also a place for weirdness, subversion, and the occasional glimpse of freedom.

Mara Hvistendahl:

The story is a familiar one by now: When a mysterious virus cropped up in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, a 33-year-old opthamologist named Li Wenliang took to WeChat to sound the alarm. “7 cases of SARS have been confirmed in the Huanan fruit and seafood market,” he wrote in a private message to a group of his medical school classmates. “They were isolated in the emergency department of our Houhu District hospital.”

Someone posted Li’s messages online. Soon afterward, local police reprimanded Li for spreading rumors and forced him to apologize. But their efforts to muzzle him backfired. Li eventually contracted the virus. On January 30, 2020, as his condition worsened, he posted publicly about his run-in with the authorities on the Twitter-like platform Weibo. What happened next reveals a great deal about the dynamics of state control and popular dissent on China’s internet.

The metaphor most often used by Western observers for the Chinese internet is a wall. The slew of controls enacted by the state to regulate internet traffic is the “Great Firewall,” and using a VPN or other tool to circumvent these controls is called pa qiang, or “climbing the wall.” But this metaphor tends to obscure what is happening on the other side of the barrier. There we find people who respond to state controls with creativity and spunk. While some spend their days trawling cat videos, others create oases of subversion within the reality that they’ve been dealt.

Universal basic income and the end of the republic

Christ Talgo:

The U.S. economy is sinking, and some on the far left have a preposterous plan to prevent Americans from drowning in more unpaid bills and debt: Stay home and don’t worry about anything. The government will send you a check for $2,000 every month

If only it were that easy.

Since the onslaught of shutdowns to flatten the curve and prevent the nation’s health care system from being overwhelmed, more than 30 million Americans have lost their jobs. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed to 14.7 percent. Families throughout the United States are struggling to buy food and pay their bills because the government will not let them return to work.

To date, Congress has allocated more than $2.4 trillion in coronavirus-related economic aid. From the CARES Act to the Paycheck Protection Program, Congress has tried to keep businesses afloat and employees on payrolls. Obviously, as the most recent unemployment report shows, this stopgap strategy is not working. 

Perhaps we should pause and reassess the necessity of the draconian shutdown strategy. After all, we have flattened the curve, and at this point it does not seem that health care facilities are in danger of being overrun. Wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to focus on how to safely reopen the economy so Americans can return to work and retain their self-reliance?

Yet, according to prominent Democrats in Congress, instead of smartly reopening the economy, we should double-down on Keynesian economics and just print more money than ever. In other words, Americans ought to stay home and get “paid” by the U.S. government.

Commentary on Madison’s planned 2020 tax and spending increase referendum

Scott Girard:

In the midst of economic collapse, the Madison School Board is likely to decide in June or July whether to ask taxpayers for additional funds through November referenda.

But most board members stated their support for putting both questions on the ballot during a discussion Monday night. Each of the seven board members spoke of their continued support for the questions, though some asked to see more of the economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic before voting.

“We definitely need it,” board president Gloria Reyes said. “It’s just, given the economic instability and what this does to our taxpayers … I think we have to also be responsible and figuring out, is this the best route for our taxpayers right now given people losing jobs?”

Board member Savion Castro said the pandemic, “which is already exacerbating so many disparities across the board,” has shown “now is not the time to cut back our investment into public education for our students and our teachers.”

“Going into March there was a sense that this was really needed,” Castro said. “After COVID, it’s just underscored even more how badly our public schools need this investment from our community and I think we have a responsibility to be honest about that need.”

Before the pandemic, the board was planning to approve the questions for the November ballot with a March vote. Two weeks before that meeting, schools closed across the state of Wisconsin by order of the governor and public health officials.

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 K-12 Spending up 19% from 2014-2020

Notes, links and commentary on Madison’s planned 2020 tax and spending increase referendum plans.

Meanwhile, the City of Madison is planning furloughs…

China bans teachers from pushing young children to learn ahead of curriculum

Mandy Zhou:

China’s education ministry has renewed its push to reduce the academic burden on the country’s schoolchildren as they return to class after the lockdown.

Primary and middle schools have been issued with a detailed list of what not to teach, in the latest effort to stop the widespread practice of getting young children ahead of the curriculum in the hope of giving them a head start in the all-important National Higher Education Entrance Examination, or gaokao.

Education in China is extremely competitive, especially in the major cities, and it is common for children to be pushed to learn beyond their age group to improve their chances of getting into a top school. The annual gaokao has long been viewed as the one thing that can make or break someone’s future, particularly for the less privileged.

The latest ruling bans teachers from increasing the difficulty of their classes and teaching ahead of the government-designed syllabus. The list, which was issued on the weekend, specifically mentions teaching grade 1 and 2 children – aged six and seven – phonetics and requiring them to write English words.

Civics: Facebook is quietly helping to set up a new pro-tech advocacy group to battle Washington

Tony Romm:

Facebook is working behind the scenes to help launch a new political advocacy group that would combat U.S. lawmakers and regulators trying to rein in the tech industry, escalating Silicon Valley’s war with Washington at a moment when government officials are threatening to break up large companies.

The organization is called American Edge, and it aims through a barrage of advertising and other political spending to convince policymakers that Silicon Valley is essential to the U.S. economy and the future of free speech, according to three people familiar with the matter as well as documents reviewed by The Washington Post. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the group because it hasn’t officially been announced.

In December, American Edge formed as a nonprofit organization, and last month, it registered an accompanying foundation, according to incorporation documents filed in Virginia. The setup essentially allows it to navigate a thicket of tax laws in such a way that it can raise money, and blitz the airwaves with ads, without the obligation of disclosing all of its donors. Many powerful political actors — including the National Rifle Association — similarly operate with the aid of “social welfare” groups.

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

Civics: Additional Warrantless Domestic Spying Legislation

Spencer Ackerman:

Barr has come under withering criticism from ex-Justice Department officials for corrupting his office on Trump’s behalf, starting with Robert Mueller last year. On Sunday, Mary McCord, a former senior department national-security official, accused Barr ally Timothy Shea of misrepresenting her position on the Flynn investigation in his brief for dropping the charges. A day later, former Roger Stone prosecutor Jonathan Kravis, a public-corruption expert, wrote that Barr had “betray[ed] the rule of law” by “directly intervenin[ing] to benefit the president’s associates.”

McConnell’s amendment blocks the FBI from seeking the “content” of web browsing and searching conducted by Americans. But it explicitly permits the warrantless collection of “Internet website browsing records or internet search history records.” Barr and other attorneys general approve guidelines for conducting such surveillance. 

Wyden and GOP colleague Steve Daines of Montana have been pushing to restrict warrantless web-browsing data collection by the intelligence agencies. Wyden considers McConnell’s amendment egregious.

“The reference to ‘content’ in the McConnell amendment is meaningless, since its application to web browsing has never been settled in the courts,” Wyden told The Daily Beast. “That’s just an invitation to Barr to engage in more secret interpretations of the law, which have led to abuses again and again.” That’s a reference to how the NSA and Justice Department, from 2006 until 2015, shoehorned the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records into part of the Patriot Act.

Most 2020 AP tests are just essay questions, and Wisconsin students and teachers aren’t sure how to prepare

Samantha West & Alec Johnson:

Over the 14 years Adam Wiskerchen has taught Advanced Placement psychology, he’s become something of an expert in predicting the concepts and skills that students may see on the high-stakes exams every spring.

The Preble High School social studies teacher has conducted an audit of a decade’s worth of exams, analyzing which terms most often appear in the multiple-choice and free-response essay questions on the test.

It’s not an exact science, but Wiskerchen said it helps him narrow the focus of his class and the review materials he gives students.

But this year, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rock the education world, Wiskerchen doesn’t know what to expect because, starting Monday, his students and millions of others face AP exams that will look nothing like those from years prior. The testing runs through May 22.

During a typical year, high school students with advanced skills take AP classes that are taught at what is considered a college level. Schools can offer classes in a range of subjects, from physics and chemistry to history and geography to English literature and foreign languages.

Civics: Google’s Street View Cameras – More Than Meets the Eye


Lasers, gyroscopes, accelerometers…

Last month I looked at the history of the Street View camera, from the early versions in 2007, to the drastically improved cameras Google now uses.

Many of you followed up, asking me about the lasers I mentioned fleetingly in that post.

Well, here’s more about the lasers, and the many other sensors that make up the Google Street View Camera rigs.


Street View imagery must be associated with accurate positioning.

Each camera is equipped with a combined DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System) / IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) system from Topcon, together with a wheel mounted odometer that, in conjunction with the IMU (accelerometers and gyroscopes), can help establish a position where GPS coverage is poor or has been lost in tunnels or within high-rise urban areas.

Madison School Board Continues Fall 2020 referendum tax and spending increase plans

Logan Wroge:

Board members acknowledged the tough financial reality facing residents, but several members said the need to renovate aging school buildings and shore up the operating budget remains the same.

“These are not things I think we should be putting off,” board member Ali Muldrow said during an online Operations Work Group meeting. “We are talking about the integrity of our district.”

In these challenging times, our local businesses need your support. Find out how to get food, goods, services and more from those remaining open.

Board President Gloria Reyes, though, said while she supports the referendums, the board needs to be “cautious,” given how many people have lost their jobs or are on unsure financial ground.

The School Board sought in March to finalize the referendum questions, but the vote was scrapped as the public health situation worsened.

The majority of the $317 million facilities referendum — $280 million — would go toward renovating, repairing and adding onto the district’s four main high schools, each getting $70 million.

Notes, links and commentary on Madison’s planned 2020 tax and spending increase referendum plans.

David Blaska:

Cieslewicz gets the resentment felt by the Safer at Home protesters. 

  • Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is estimated to be 27% due to closures and social distancing orders aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

  • National GDP dropped 4.8% in the first quarter, which only caught the first weeks of the national shutdown.

  • “One in three Wisconsin small businesses may never reopentheir doors,” Cieslewicz writes. Yet … yet … yet

Meet Two Small Business Owners Fighting to Open Wisconsin

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 K-12 Spending up 19% from 2014-2020

Will Facebook’s new oversight board be a radical shift or a reputational shield?

Julia Carrie Wong:

I wish I could say that the Facebook review board was cosmetic, but I’m not even sure that it’s that deep,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia and author of a book on Facebook. “If Facebook really wanted to take outside criticism seriously at any point in the past decade, it could have taken human rights activists seriously about problems in Myanmar; it could have taken journalists seriously about problems in the Philippines; it could have taken legal scholars seriously about the way it deals with harassment; and it could have taken social media scholars seriously about the ways that it undermines democracy in India and Brazil. But it didn’t. This is greenwashing.”

The board’s initial work will be to review appeals of Facebook’s content takedowns, and it will be empowered to overrule decisions made by Facebook’s army of content moderators or executives.

In this way, the board appears designed to address the kind of controversies that Facebook has faced over content with journalistic, historic or artistic merit that nevertheless violates the company’s advertiser-friendly “community standards”, such as the international outcry over its censorship of the “Napalm girl” photograph in 2016 or the years-long legal dispute over its shuttering of the account of a Frenchman who had posted Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World. Other pressing issues that could face the panel include content from anti-vaccine activists, conspiracy theorists or rightwing extremists who have become adept at gaming the platform’s rules.

“Facebook is a company that was made by brilliant engineers, and they were extremely good at that, and then they discovered that they were going to have to make complex decisions that would tax anyone, that were moral, legal, ethical, about privacy,” said Alan Rusbridger, the former editor-in-chief of the Guardian and a member of the new oversight board. “Those are decisions that newspaper editors make every day of our lives.”

But Vaidhyanathan argued that such questions are insignificant compared to Facebook’s power to amplify certain content over other content. And while Facebook has said that it may expand the scope of the oversight board’s decision making to other policy areas, it is unlikely that the board’s power will extend to re-tuning Facebook’s algorithms.

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school districts use Facebook services, including Madison.

A UW System crisis a decade in the making

Nicholas Fleisher and Donald Moynihan:

The blueprint presents an administrative downsizing wishlist dressed up as a set of existential imperatives. First and most prominently, Cross asserts that the UW System “must refine the missions of its comprehensive universities to provide greater institutional distinctiveness and identity.” The comprehensive universities are the four-year regional UW campuses: 11 in all, comprising everything but UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee. Cross’s plan is to force these campuses to compete against each other for the right to house various programs. “Greater institutional distinctiveness and identity” will be achieved via subtraction: will your campus be the one without sociology or the one without history?

For the unfortunate student in Superior or Whitewater or Stevens Point who will have to look beyond their local campus for courses, Cross’s blueprint proposes a “unified strategic online education delivery model.” Cross laments the UW System’s failure to capture a healthy share of the online education market (an area he has personally presided over for years, first as chancellor of the UW Colleges and Extension and, since 2014, as System President). In its details, however, the proposal looks like an attempt by UW System to win online market share from its own campuses, as it tried to do when merging the UW Colleges into the four-year campuses a few years ago.

The blueprint is also not terribly new. Cross’s emphasis on reducing duplication of programs across the system and shunting the affected students online echoes, almost word-for-word, the wishes of Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Regent Michael Grebe. Republican leaders in Wisconsin, including many UW System Regents, have long expressed a desire to downsize the system. Having stripped tenure protections out of state law and enabled the firing of faculty via program modification in 2015, they are treating the pandemic as an opportunity to use their new tools.

Students cannot be ‘poisoned’ with ‘false, biased’ information says Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam, vowing action

Kelly Ho:

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has claimed that students should be protected from being “poisoned” as she said that “false and biased” information had spread on campuses. She also rejected criticism on her administration’s Covid-19 measures and warned against legislative filibustering and “foreign interference.”

In an interview with state-run newspaper Ta Kung Pao published on Monday, the city’s leader said education cannot become a “doorless chicken coop” without regulation. She said that – in addition to the subject of Liberal Studies – other subjects could be “infiltrated,” urging the Education Bureau and schools to act as gatekeepers. 

Analysis of the Imperial College Epidemiological Model

Scarlett Strong:

The acid test for any model is whether it can predict successfully out of sample. There has been no evidence offered of the model’s ability to forecast. However, we do have a natural experiment to fall back on.

In “Intervention strategies against COVID-19 and their estimated impact on Swedish healthcare capacity,” the authors of that study re-implemented the Imperial College model and applied it to Sweden. An examination of the model documentation and the model source code (also written in c and on github), shows it is the same model. The Swedish version of the model made clear short term predictions of the number of fatalities that would occur in Sweden if it followed its announced laissez-faire policy of social distancing and how much those fatalities would be reduced if various other policies were followed that are similar to those employed in the US and the UK. In chart A of figure 4 in the paper, by May 9 when this review was written, the model predicts about 100K deaths if Sweden followed its announced policy and about 25K deaths if it adopted the most stringent social distancing policies. On May 9, the actual number of fatalities in Sweden was 3,175 deaths.

Thus, the model massively over-predicted fatalities. The zombie assumption is the likely problem.

Overall conclusion: this model cannot be relied on to guide coronavirus policy. Even if the documentation, coding, and testing problems were fixed, the model logic is fatally flawed, which is evidenced by its poor forecasting performance.

Is Meritocracy an Idea Worth Saving?

Anastasia Berg, Ross Douthat, Thomas Chatterton Williams, and Caitlin Zaloom:

ack in February, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Program for Public Discourse convened a forum on “Meritocracy in Higher Education.” The event was hosted by Sarah Treul, a political scientist at UNC, and featured the New York Times opinion columnist Ross Douthat, the anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom, the philosopher Anastasia Berg, and the writer Thomas Chatterton Williams, the latter three of whom had written about meritocracy for The Chronicle Review a few months earlier.

This discussion took place before Covid-19 changed everything. But the topics — the definition of meritocracy, the role of universities in a just society, the composition of socioeconomic class, and the real purpose of education — are as relevant as ever. As we figure out what to make of our university system in the wake of this unprecedented crisis, this conversation offers an urgent and intelligent guide.

Sarah Treul: When I think of the meritocratic ideal — that social and economic rewards, rather than family status, should track achievement — it’s very much in alignment with the American dream, working hard, and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. But here, with the exception of Thomas, all of you seem to be against meritocracy, which is an increasingly popular opinion in American culture.

Madison K-12 Spending up 19% from 2014-2020

MMSD Budget Facts: from 2014-15 to 2020-21 [May, 2020]

1. 4K-12 enrollment: -1.6% (decrease) from 2014-15 to projected 2020-21
2. Total district staffing FTE: -2.9% (decrease) from 2014-15 to proposed 2020-21
3. Total expenditures (excluding construction fund): +17.0% (increase) from 2014-15 to proposed 2020-21
4. Total expenditures per pupil: +19.0% (increase) from 2014-15 to proposed 2020-21
5. CPI change: +10.0% (increase) from January 2014 to January 2020
6. Bond rating (Moody’s): two downgrades (from Aaa to Aa2) from 2014 to 2020

1. DPI WISEdash for 2014-15 enrollment; district budget book for projected 2020-21 enrollment
2. & 3.: District budget books
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics (
6. Moody’s (

Much more on the taxpayer supported Madison School District’s spending, here.

Notes and links on Madison’s 2020 Superintendent search.

2013-2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison experience.

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.

Half-Time High School May Be Just What Students Need

Michael Petrilli

The shutdown of America’s high schools has deprived millions of students of rites we previously took for granted. Coursework can be transferred online to some degree, but no virtual environment can replace football games, choir concerts, musicals and so much more that’s part of the American high school experience. We may continue to yearn for such things well into the autumn, especially in communities that face additional closures, and where public officials want students and educators to stay “socially distant” even when at school. Say goodbye to Friday Night Lights.

Yet while there’s much to rue about what the pandemic has taken away, it’s possible to glimpse a future in which technology liberates high school students — or at least some of them — from the six or seven-hour school day that has been crushing teenage souls for generations. That’s worth celebrating because so much of the school day amounts to wasted time.

Students only learn when they are focused, engaged and putting in effort. Yet surveys have long shown that teenagers spend most of their day bored, zoned out and only pretending to listen. For many students — especially the most motivated ones — they’d be better off, not to mention happier, if they spent much more of their time reading, writing and completing projects than going through the motions in our industrial-style schools. 

Land O’Lakes opens Wi-Fi spots to help rural broadband access

Adam Belz:

Land O’Lakes has turned on public Wi-Fi at more than 100 co-op locations in rural America to give people without good internet access a chance to finish their homework or communicate with a nurse about an illness.

For Beth Ford, chief executive of the Arden Hills-based co-op, the move is a chance to highlight what she views as a critical gap in the nation’s infrastructure.

Highlights from an interview last week:

Q: Why is it important to talk about rural broadband right now?

A: I’ve pushed this topic a number of times — the need for technology investment in rural communities to support things like telemedicine, tele-education, entrepreneurs.

Nobody’s going to stay in communities or move to communities that don’t have that kind of access. This is in stark relief in this moment, where you can see this issue with the pandemic and everyone is going to remote learning and there’s concern over the reduction of the number of hospitals in rural communities, the shortage of doctors.

We’ve been pushing the need for a 1930s kind of rural electric level investment where we have broadband accessible across the United States. That would be a $100 billion to $150 billion investment.

Q: What is the obstacle to rural broadband getting done?

How a Johns Hopkins Professor and Her Chinese Students Tracked Coronavirus

Jon Hilsenrath and Jon Kamp:

Lauren Gardner, an associate engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University, was sitting in a school coffee shop with two graduate students in January, chatting about their work on measles, Dengue fever and the Zika virus, when conversation turned to an emerging coronavirus in China.

The students, both from China, wanted to track it, and Dr. Gardner, who researches how transportation systems propagate the spread of disease, was game. They built a website in a day, a Covid-19 dashboard, and after launching it on Jan. 22,…

Our Bookless Future

Mark Bauerlein:

Neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf had a surprise hit a dozen years ago, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (2007), a study of literacy’s role in the development of human cognition. But as she wrote the final sections, she realized the book had already become dated. The Digital Revolution had happened, and she was too buried in Sumerian scripts and Greek alphabets to notice. She felt like Rip van Winkle, she admits in her new book, Reader, Come Home, comprising nine companionable letters addressed to anybody interested in the value of reading. Here, Wolf uses the tools of neuroscience to examine what happened to reading in that transition from old print to new screens—“how the circuitry of the reading brain would be altered by the unique characteristics of the digital medium, particularly in the young.” Her focus is neither the reading mind, nor our tastes, knowledge, intelligence, or skills, but the physical organ inside our heads. Those other things are shaped by what our brains are able and disposed to do.

* * *

Wolf begins with a genetic fact: “human beings were never born to read.” Literacy is an epigenetic achievement, extending our biological capacities for vision and language into a new “circuitry” that performs wondrous feats—not only the creation of masterpieces such as Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, which grabbed Wolf when she was young, but the capacity to imagine other selves and worlds, follow complex arguments, and acquire and store knowledge. She calls it “an unnatural cultural invention,” but it did more than transform oral cultures into print cultures. Literacy altered the human brain, making it “refit some of its existing neuronal groups” and “form newly recycled circuits.” The brain had to change because the innate brain can’t read. It responds to what it is exposed to if exposure happens often, for a long period. Literacy develops through practice—through labor that compels the development of revised brain functions. The more you read, the more your brain adapts. It is a “plastic” organ.

In a world of telework, some people just take better to working from home. Does this productivity come naturally, or can you learn it?

Meredith Turits:

For some, working from home is a gift – a remarkable opportunity to focus and be hyper-productive, all the while finding time to walk the dog and even exercise in pyjamas. For others – well, the transition isn’t quite as seamless. Some find all they’ve done with their eight hours is answer two emails, dream about a massage or discover their ‘cheese hour’.

It’s true: some people simply have dispositions and personality traits that enable them to better adjust to the new world of remote work than others. However, it’s not so black and white. You’re not necessarily destined to be good or bad at working remotely – some may just have to put in more effort than others.

The pull of procrastination

Procrastination is never easier than when your superior isn’t looking over your shoulder. As long as the status light on your communication app is green, it’s easy to pop into the kitchen and try a new recipe, or get into a YouTube hole, with no one any the wiser.

If it feels easier to procrastinate at home than in the office, it is for most: telework is a “weak situation” with murkier expectations about behaviour, says Timothy Pychyl, associate psychology professor at Carleton University in Ontario. In contrast, he points to a common situation: “In an elevator, we all typically ‘act elevator’, for example avoid eye contact with others, and keep our distance as [much as] possible …. The office is more of a strong situation with expectations for many things such as dress codes, arrival and departure times [and] time spent on or off task.” Weaker cues and lower accountability may make procrastination more likely at home.

Secessio plebis


Secessio plebis (withdrawal of the commoners, or secession of the plebs) was an informal exercise of power by Rome’s plebeian citizens, similar in concept to the general strike. During the secessio plebis, the plebs would abandon the city en masse and leave the patrician order to themselves. Therefore, a secessio meant that all shops and workshops would shut down and commercial transactions would largely cease. This was an effective strategy in the Conflict of the Orders due to strength in numbers; plebeian citizens made up the vast majority of Rome’s populace and produced most of its food and resources, while a patrician citizen was a member of the minority upper class, the equivalent of the landed gentry of later times. Authors report different numbers for how many secessions there were. Cary & Scullard state there were five between 494 BC and 287 BC.[1]

A Victory for Campus Justice

Robert Shibley:

With accusations of sexual misconduct front and center for the second presidential election in a row, it may be hard to believe that the U.S. is making progress on this serious issue. But on Wednesday, the Education Department brought Americans a step closer to having such allegations tried more thoroughly and fairly—at least on college campuses.

More than a year after issuing a draft rule, the department released final regulations on how colleges and universities must treat students involved in disciplinary procedures under Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination—and has been interpreted to include sexual misconduct—in federally funded education programs. Institutions will finally have to guarantee due process for students caught up in campus kangaroo courts.

Consider the presumption of innocence. The most recent survey of due process protections at U.S. News’s top 53 national universities by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education determined that 72% of them—including Georgetown and Caltech—didn’t explicitly tell accused students that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The new rules will correct this abuse.

The Booming Market for Gloom

Noah Rothman:

Peruse the media landscape today, and you’re likely to come away thinking that Americans are more or less content with their current circumstances. The press is replete with a new phenomenon: trend pieces that don’t identify trends but rather forecast them, and the future is quite bleak. Thus, these clairvoyant trend pieces speculate, Americans are probably just going to default to living like they are in lockdown forever.

The pandemic has changed the way we as a country eat, the Washington Post averred. That’s only partly attributable to the fact that so many restaurants are closed, and the supply chain now teeters on the brink. But is there any bright side? Has this plague perhaps shaken us from our “mass-produced, processed, factory-farm-driven diets?” Nope.

Americans, the Post determined, are cooking at home more, but what they’re cooking is still garbage. Pre-packaged, ready-to-eat meals are fast becoming the norm. So, this dispatch assumes, that’s just going to become part of our new normal. “When it is all said and done, the real change brought about by the coronavirus won’t be a back-to-the-kitchen movement,” the report affirms. “It will be a rush toward hyper-convenience at mealtime that could make us more reliant than ever on food prepared by other people.”

Know what else is never coming back? Buffets. Supermarket salad displays and hot food bars may be a thing of the past, suggests this item from Boston-area NPR affiliate WGBH. Even though this particular coronavirus is not food-borne, the countertops around which customers huddle may be a source of viral transmission. According to one professor of marketing and hospitality management, it will take a “Herculean effort”–akin to post-9/11 initiatives to convince travelers it was safe to fly again–to convince customers “it is safe to dine again at supermarket hot bars.” The status quo ante will be unacceptable “in the post-coronavirus economy.”

Prominent Beirut university faces fight of its life as crises hit

Samoa Nakhoul:

The American University of Beirut has graduated leading figures in medicine, law, science and art as well as political leaders and scholars over the decades including prime ministers.

It has weathered many crises, including Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, when a number of staff including two presidents were killed or abducted and a bomb destroyed one of its main halls.

But Lebanon’s problems now may be the biggest threat yet to the institution founded in 1866 by Protestant missionaries. It ranks among the world’s top 200 universities and its collapse would deprive future generations in Lebanon and the wider region of internationally recognized higher education.

“This is one of the biggest challenges in AUB’s history. The country is crashing catastrophically,” AUB President Fadlo Khuri told Reuters in an interview.