Choose Life: the ongoing battle – China’s Proposed ‘No Child Tax’ Stirs Controversy: “First Forced Abortions, Now Pressured Into Pregnancy”

What’s on Weibo: A recent article, in which two Chinese academics propose the implementation of some sort of ‘tax’ for people under 40 who have no second child, has sparked outrage on social media. “The same woman who had to undergo a forced abortion before, is now pressured to get pregnant,” some say. A controversial […]

How Chinese overseas students are learning harsh life lessons

Eric Fish: When 22-year-old Langou Lian looks back at her decision to study in the United States, one influence sticks out: Disney Channel movie High School Musical. “I hated Chinese education,” Lian says, the high-pressure, test-centred schooling in her native Sichuan province. High School Musical presented an alternative: a carefree atmosphere where even adolescent students […]

The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life

Radhika Nagpal:

As a young faculty member at Harvard, I got asked such questions a lot. Why did you choose this career? How do you do it? And I can’t blame them for asking, because I am scared by those myths too. I have chosen very deliberately to do specific things to preserve my happiness, lots of small practical things that I discovered by trial and error.
So when asked by graduate students and other junior faculty, I happily told them the things that worked for me, mostly in one-on-one meetings over coffee, and a few times publicly on panels. Of course, I said all these things without any proof that they lead to success, but with every proof that they led me to enjoy the life I was living.
Most people I talked to seemed surprised. Several of my close friends challenged me to write this down, saying that that I owed it to them. They told me that such things were not done and were not standard. That may be true. But what is definitely true, is that we rarely talk about what we actually do behind the scenes to cope with life. Revealing that is the scariest thing of all.
I’ve enjoyed my seven years as junior faculty tremendously, quietly playing the game the only way I knew how to. But recently I’ve seen several of my very talented friends become miserable in this job, and many more talented friends opt out. I feel that one of the culprits is our reluctance to openly acknowledge how we find balance. Or openly confront how we create a system that admires and rewards extreme imbalance. I’ve decided that I do not want to participate in encouraging such a world. In fact, I have to openly oppose it.

Putting your own kids at risk for an ideal Advice from a parent already trying to lead a ‘textured life’

Esther Cepeda:

In his revealing book “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” Charles Murray spends hundreds of pages using statistics to illustrate the rising inequality that is increasingly putting the white working class on the path toward generational poverty.
Murray concludes by suggesting that the “new upper class” — which increasingly is cloistered in pockets of rich, highly educated super-neighborhoods — move into the communities of “regular” people.
“Age-old human wisdom has understood that a life well lived requires engagement with those around us,” writes Murray, who himself lives in what he describes as an increasingly troubled “blue-collar and agricultural region of Maryland.”
He closes: “A civic Great Awakening among the new upper class can arise in part from the renewed understanding that it can be pleasant to lead a glossy life, but it is ultimately more rewarding — and more fun — to lead a textured life, and be in the midst of others who are leading textured lives.”
Murray’s invocation sprung to mind a few weeks ago as I was reading stay-at-home dad Andy Hinds’ “Why I Want to Choose the ‘Disadvantaged’ Local School (and Why I Might Not)” on The New York Times’ “Motherlode” blog.
Hinds describes the gut-wrenching choice he has to make about whether to put his “mixed-race, socioeconomically advantaged, English-proficient twin girls” into the good school where his neighbors’ kids go or into the troubled school only a five-minute walk from his home. His idealism makes him wonder if he and a group of caring, motivated parents could change a school with 100% poverty and a predominantly Hispanic student body. Ultimately, such participation could make a difference for the whole community.

Parents Should Be Allowed to Choose Their Kids’ Teacher

Andrew Rotherham:

The most important decision you will make about your children’s education is picking their school, right? That’s the conventional wisdom, but it’s actually wrong — or at best it’s only half-correct. Teacher effectiveness varies a lot within schools, even within good schools, which means that just choosing the right school for your kid is not a proxy for choosing great teachers. So while “school choice” is hotly debated (next week is National School Choice Week, complete with Bill Cosby’s blessing and events galore,) there are few rallies being held for giving parents the right to choose a particular teacher. That’s because the whole system is stacked against empowering families in this way. In fact, because of how seniority rules generally work, it’s a lot more common for teachers to choose their students than for students to choose their teachers.
Just how much individual teachers matter is the big implication of an analysis of 2.5 million students and their instructors that was released in December and highlighted recently in the New York Times. The long-term, large-scale study by economists at Columbia and Harvard used two decades of data to examine differences in student outcomes (including such categories as teen pregnancy and college enrollment) and link those differences with how effective their teachers were at improving student scores on achievement tests. The headline-grabbing finding was that replacing an ineffective teacher with one of average quality would boost a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by a quarter-million dollars. And that’s just from one year of assigning that group of kids to an average teacher instead of a lousy one. A second study, released January 12 by the Education Trust-West, an education advocacy group in California, examined three years of data on teachers from the Los Angeles public school system and noted that low-income and minority students are twice as likely to have teachers in the bottom 25% of effectiveness. The Ed Trust study did not get as much attention as the one by the Ivy League economists, but it reached the same obvious conclusion: more effective teachers boost learning for students

Life After Algebra II

Michael Alison Chandler:

As the school year speeds by, rising seniors at Fairfax High are already meeting with their teachers and guidance counselors to decide which classes they should take next year. Up until this point, the math sequence is spelled out — Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II. After this point, there are plenty of options.
Here are the math classes students in a non-honors Algebra II class can choose from:
Trigonometry (Semester Course)
Probability and Statistics (Semester Course)
Discrete Math (Semester Course)
Pre Calculus with Trigonometry
AP Statistics
AP Computer Science
If they are not pursuing an advanced diploma, they can also choose to take no math class their senior year. That’s an option a few students I talked to this week planned to take. Others were aiming for pre-calculus, which will put them on track to take Calculus in college. Others were talking about a combination of the semester-long courses.

Asperger’s: My life as an Earthbound alien


Recently, at 48 years of age, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. For most of my life, I knew that I was “other,” not quite like everyone else. I searched for years for answers and found none, until an assignment at work required me to research autism. During that research, I found in the lives of other people with Asperger’s threads of similarity that led to the diagnosis. Although having the diagnosis has been cathartic, it does not change the “otherness.” It only confirms it.
When I talk to people about this aspect of myself, they always want to know what it means to be an “Aspie,” as opposed to a “Neurotypical” (NT). Oh, dear, where to start . …
The one thing people seem to know about Asperger’s, if they know anything at all, is the geek factor. Bill Gates is rumored to be an Aspie. We tend to have specialized interests, and we will talk about them, ad infinitum, whether you are interested or not. Recognizing my tendency to soliloquize, I often choose silence, although perhaps not often enough. Due to our extensive vocabularies and uninflected manner of speaking, we are called “little professors,” or arrogant.

MetLife 2006 Survey of the American Teacher

Harris Interactive: The 2006 survey looks at the expectations of teachers upon entering the profession, factors that drive career satisfaction, and the perspectives of principals and education leaders on successful teacher preparation and long-term support. In addition, it examines data collected from past MetLife American Teacher surveys to understand the challenges teachers face and their […]

Why You Should Choose Math in High School

Espen Andersen, Associate Professor, Norwegian School of Management and Associate Editor, Ubiquity: [The following article was written for Aftenposten, a large Norwegian newspaper. The article encourages students to choose math as a major subject in high school – not just in preparation for higher education but because having math up to maximum high school level […]

China move points to possible end of birth limits

Associated Press: China is eliminating a trio of agencies responsible for enforcing family planning policies in a further sign the government may be planning to scrap long-standing limits on the number of children its citizens can have. The move was part of a reorganization of the National Health Commission announced Monday that creates a new […]

On Point: The Population Threat to China’s Prosperity

Austin Bay: It’s highly probable China will face the same “geriatric” economic conditions that already threaten Japan and several Western European countries: too few workers paying the pensions of retirees as well as shouldering their medical costs. By 2030, the median age in China will rise to 43. In 1980, the median was 23. In […]

China Signals End to Child Birth Limits by 2020 at Latest

Bloomberg: China’s parliament struck “family planning” policies from the latest draft of a sweeping civil code slated for adoption in 2020, the clearest signal yet that the leadership is moving to end limits on the number of children families can have. A new draft of the Civil Code submitted Monday to the Standing Committee of […]


Will Flanders: First, it is important to note that spending on school choice represents a minuscule share of the state’s education spending. For fiscal year 18-19, Wisconsin spent $5,899,757,400 in aid to local school districts according to LFB. Spending on school choice was $192 million, or about three percent of that total. To make the […]

A Few Simple Steps to Vastly Increase Your Privacy Online

Keith Axline: Online privacy is important for everyone, not just tinfoil hat wearers. First, it’s more in line with what a user’s expectation is when they browse the internet. Not many people understand all the tracking that happens by default. Second, it’s more how we operate in real life. You don’t have someone following you […]

The $1.5 Trillion Student Loan Debacle Hits a Tipping Point

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

The 10 worst colleges for free speech: 2018

FIRE: Every year, FIRE chooses the 10 worst colleges for free speech — and unfortunately, 2017 left us with plenty of options: Campuses were rocked by violent mob censorship, monitored by bias response teams, plagued by free speech zones, and beset by far too many disinvitation attempts. Although the number of colleges with the most […]

The Closing of the American Mind

Jacob Hamburger: Allan Bloom was an elitist. He saw himself as a champion of excellence in an age of vulgarity. While a professor at the University of Chicago between 1979 and 1992, he sought to immerse his students in only the most classic works of philosophy and literature. Someone looking to define the “Western canon” […]

History Teachers Wanted

Will Fitzhugh, via a kind email: Albert Shanker was a very good friend to The Concord Review almost from the very beginning in 1987. He wrote a number of letters, to the MacArthur Foundation and others, and he spent two of his New York Times columns on comments about the journal. In addition, at a […]

Unlearning the myth of American innocence

sSuzy Hansen: When my best friend from Wall revealed one night that she hadn’t heard of John McEnroe or Jerry Garcia, some boys on the dormitory hall called us ignorant, and white trash, and chastised us for not reading magazines. We were hurt, and surprised; white trash was something we said about other people at […]

Students Last

Will Fitzhugh, via a kind email:The great social psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan wrote that the principal problem with communication is that we think we express meaning to others, when in fact we evoke it. That is, what we say brings a response in the listener which involves their current thoughts at the time, their feelings, […]

Milwaukee’s Voucher Verdict What 26 years of vouchers can teach the private-school choice movement—if only it would listen

Erin Richards: Together, Travis Academy and Holy Redeemer have received close to $100 million in taxpayer funding over the years. The sum is less than what taxpayers would have paid for those pupils in public schools, because each tuition voucher costs less than the total expense per pupil in Milwaukee Public Schools. But vouchers weren’t […]

Are We Teaching Composition All Wrong?

Joseph R. Teller My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives, and I’ve had it. In 10 years of teaching writing, I have experimented with different assignments, activities, readings, approaches to commenting on student work — you name it — all to help students write coherent prose that someone would actually want […]

How to stop your children catching ‘rich kid-itis’

Hugo Greenhaigh: “Enough to give them opportunity, but not to induce a sense of complacency,” is how Gavin Oldham, philanthropist and founder of The Share Centre summed it up. Gerald Ratner confessed that it did his children “quite a bit of a good when I was in my wilderness years” following the infamous speech that […]

The Humanities Behind Bars

Nancy Shepherdson: Almost every man at the prison, which is located about 40 miles southwest of Chicago, has been sentenced to a minimum of 20 years; some have been sentenced to life without parole. And because of Illinois truth-in-sentencing laws, many of those serving time for murder expect to remain behind bars for their entire […]

The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love

Robert Frank: Social scientists have been trying to identify the conditions most likely to promote satisfying human lives. Their findings give some important clues about choosing a career: Money matters, but as the economist Richard Easterlin and others have demonstrated, not always in the ways you may think. Consider this thought experiment. Suppose you had […]

Civics: Encryption Tales From President Obama

Jenna McLaughlin: “Why isn’t ‘government must always have the ability to access plaintext’ the more ‘absolutist’ view?” asked Julian Sanchez, privacy and technology senior fellow at the Cato Institute, in a tweet. “‘Swallow arsenic.’ No. ‘Ok, a little hemlock then.’ No. ‘Well, c’mon, you can’t be an ABSOLUTIST about this,’” he joked. Kevin Bankston, the […]

STEM & Girls

Kate Russell: It is a sad fact of life today that while women make up around 46% of the UK workforce, they are extremely poorly represented in the STEM professions – in other words science, technology, engineering and mathematics. According to recent Government figures, if you exclude medical professions just 15.5% of UK STEM jobs […]

A Letter To My Children: What It Means to Be a Teacher

Sarah Brown Weisling: Dear Evan, Lauren, and Zachary, Many (many) years ago, there was this little girl who spent her summer afternoons creating neighborhood schools for all of the children on her block. She mimicked what school looked like to her: rows of desks, questions and answers, praise and encouragement from the teacher, stickers and […]

College Is (Almost) Obsolete

Diego Basch: Of course there are other fields for which a formal education and certification is still important (medicine is the most obvious one). Also, there are other reasons to go to college besides increasing your value as a worker: it’s a life experience, a good way to meet like-minded people, and it provides a […]

“The Plight of History in American Schools”

Diane Ravitch writing in Educational Excellence Network, 1989: Futuristic novels with a bleak vision of the prospects for the free individual characteristically portray a society in which the dictatorship has eliminated or strictly controls knowledge of the past. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the regime successfully wages a “campaign against the Past” by banning […]

Why Do American Students Have So Little Power?

Amanda Ripley: For the past four months, a group of Kentucky teenagers has been working to make a one-sentence change to a state law. In the history of student activism, this is not a big ask. They want local school boards to have the option—just the option—of including a student on the committees that screen […]

Math & History

[I asked her about some of her experiences with math and history. Will Fitzhugh] Jessica Li (Class of 2015) High School Junior, Summit, New Jersey 24 May 2014 [6,592-word Sophomore paper on Kang Youwei… Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize 2014] My interest and involvement in mathematics was inspired by my family and my own exploration. My […]

The Early-Decision Racket

James Fallows

In 1978 Willis J. Stetson, known as Lee, became the dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania. The new job was quite a challenge. Penn at the time was in a weak position. In an era when big-city crime rates were still rising, its location in West Philadelphia was a handicap. Its promotional efforts took pains to point out that despite its name, the University of Pennsylvania was a private university and a member of the Ivy League, like Yale and Harvard, not of a state system, like the University of Texas. But within the Ivy League, Penn had acquired the role of backup or safety school for many applicants. “I would estimate that in the 1970s maybe forty percent of the students considered Penn their first choice,” Stetson told me recently. For the rest, Penn was the place that had said yes when their first choice had said no.
Stetson’s job, and that of the Penn administration in general, was to make the school so much more attractive that students with a range of options would happily choose to enroll. Through the next decade the campaign to make Penn more desirable was a success. As urban life became safer and more alluring, Penn’s location, like Columbia’s, became an asset rather than a problem. Stetson and his staff traveled widely to introduce the school to potential applicants. When Stetson first visited the Harvard School, a private school for boys in California’s San Fernando Valley, he found that few students had even heard of Penn. The school is now coed and known as Harvard-Westlake, and of the 261 seniors who graduated last June, more than a quarter applied to Penn. The Lawrenceville School, in New Jersey, and Phillips Exeter Academy, in New Hampshire, have in recent years sent more students to Penn than to any other college. Colleges may complain bitterly about rankings of their relative quality, especially the “America’s Best Colleges” list that U.S. News & World Report publishes every fall, but a college is quick to cite its ranking as a sign of improvement when its position rises. When U.S. News published its first list of best colleges, in 1983, Penn was not even ranked among national universities. Last year it was tied with Stanford for No. 6–ahead of Dartmouth, Columbia, Cornell, and Brown in the Ivy League, and of Duke and the University of Chicago.

Madison Teachers Union “Fair Share” Members

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity eNewsletter (PDF), via a kind Jeannie Kamholtz email:

MTI represents nearly 3,000 teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Of that number, over 96% are members of their Union. That number has been rising since Governor Walker, as he described it, “dropped the bomb” on public employees and collective bargaining almost three years ago.
However, there are currently several hundred MMSD employees in the teacher bargaining unit who are not members of MTI. They choose to be “fair share” contributors – that is, they pay a maintenance fee to the Union for all of the rights and benefits MTI has negotiated for them and provides to them, even though they are not members of their Union. These individuals have no voice in what issues MTI pursues; how MTI is governed; and can’t vote on MTI contracts, or in the election of MTI officers.
Faculty Representatives in each school and work location receive, on a monthly basis, updated lists of members and fair share contributors. What can you do? Share this article with fair share teachers at your work location, and have a discussion about the many rights and benefits MTI has negotiated on their behalf over the last 45 years, e.g., a never-ending salary schedule, health, dental and life insurance, due process, retirement, TERP, leaves of absence, paid sick leave, paid holidays and FMLA integration, to name a few.


The term “autodidact” is usually reserved for those who, like Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, and so on, did not have the advantages of spending much time in school or the help of schoolteachers with their education.
I would like to suggest that every student is an autodidact, because only the student can decide what information to accept and retain. Re-education camps in the Communist world, from Korea to Vietnam to China, no doubt made claims that they could “teach” people things whether they want to learn them or not, but I would argue that the threat of force and social isolation used in such camps are not the teaching methods we are searching for in our schools.
And further, I would claim that even in re-education camps, students often indeed reserve private places in their minds about which their instructors know very little.
My main point is that the individual is the sovereign ruler of their own attention and the sole arbiter of what information they choose to admit and retain. Our system of instruction and examination has no doubt persuaded many sovereign learners over the years to accept enough of the knowledge we offer to let most of them pass whatever exams we have presented, but the cliché is that after the test, nearly all of that information is gone.
Teachers have known all this from the beginning, and so have developed and employed all their arts to first attract, and then retain, the attention of their students, and they have labored tirelessly to persuade their students that they should decide to attend to and make use of the knowledge they are offering.
One of the best arguments for having teachers be very well-grounded in the subjects they are teaching is that the likelihood increases that they will really love their subject, and it is easier for teachers to convince students of the value of what they are teaching if they clearly believe in its value themselves.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the mind is a mercurial and fickle instrument, and the attention of students is vulnerable to all the distractions of life, in the classroom and out of it. I am distressed that so many who write about education seem to overlook the role of students almost entirely, concentrating on the public policy issues of the Education Enterprise and forgetting that without the attention and interest of students, all of their efforts are futile.
It seems strange to me that so little research is ever done into the actual academic work of students, for instance whether they ever read a complete nonfiction book, and whether they every write a serious academic paper on a subject other than themselves.
For many reformers, it seems the only student work they are interested in is student scores on objective tests. Sadly, objective tests discover almost nothing about the students’ interest in their experiences of the complexity of the chemistry, history, literature, Chinese, and other subjects they have been offered.
There was a time when college entrance decisions were based on essays students would write on academic subjects, and those could reveal not only student fluency and knowledge, but something of their attachment to and appreciation for academic matter.
But now, we seem to have decided that neither we nor they have time for extended essays on history and the like (except for the International Baccalaureate, and The Concord Review), and the attractions of technology have led examiners to prefer tests that can be graded very quickly, by computer wherever possible. So, when the examiners show no interest in serious academic work, it should not surprise us that students may see less value in it as well.
The Lower Education teachers are still out there, loving their subjects, and offering them up for students to judge, and to decide how much of them they will accept into their memories and their thoughts, but meanwhile the EduPundits and the leaders of the Education Enterprise [Global Education Reform Movement = GERM, as Pasi Sahlberg calls it], with lots of funding to encourage them, sail on, ignoring the control students have, and always have had, over their own attention and their own learning.
“Teach by Example”
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The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
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“I Came to Duke with an Empty Wallet”

KellyNoel Waldorf
The Chronicle

In my four years at Duke, I have tried to write this article many times. But I was afraid. I was afraid to reveal an integral part of myself. I’m poor.
Why is it not OK for me to talk about such an important part of my identity on Duke’s campus? Why is the word “poor” associated with words like lazy, unmotivated and uneducated? I am none of those things.
When was the first time I felt uncomfortable at Duke because of money? My second day of o-week. My FAC group wanted to meet at Mad Hatter’s Bakery; I went with them and said that I had already eaten on campus because I didn’t have cash to spend. Since then, I have continued to notice the presence of overt and subtle class issues and classism on campus. I couldn’t find a place for my “poor identity.” While writing my resume, I put McDonald’s under work experience. A friend leaned over and said, “Do you think it’s a good idea to put that on your resume?” In their eyes, it was better to list no work experience than to list this “lowly” position. I did not understand these mentalities and perceptions of my peers. Yet no one was talking about this discrepancy, this apparent class stratification that I was seeing all around me.
People associate many things with their identity: I’m a woman, I’m queer, I’m a poet. One of the most defining aspects of my identity is being poor. The amount of money (or lack thereof) in my bank account defines almost every decision I make, in a way that being a woman or being queer never has and never will. Not that these are not important as well, just that in my personal experience, they have been less defining. Money influenced the way I grew up and my family dynamics. It continues to influence the schools I choose to go to, the food I eat, the items I buy and the things I say and do.
I live in a reality where:
Sometimes I lie that I am busy when actually I just don’t have the money to eat out.
I don’t get to see my dad anymore because he moved several states away to try and find a better job to make ends meet.
I avoid going to Student Health because Duke insurance won’t do much if there is actually anything wrong with me.
Coming out as queer took a weekend and a few phone calls, but coming out as poor is still a daily challenge.
Getting my wisdom teeth removed at $400 per tooth is more of a funny joke than a possible reality.
I have been nearly 100 percent economically independent from my family since I left for college.
Textbook costs are impossible. Praise Perkins Library where all the books are free.
My mother has called me crying, telling me she doesn’t have the gas money to pick me up for Thanksgiving.
My humorously cynical, self-deprecating jokes about being homeless after graduation are mostly funny but also kind of a little bit true.
I am scared that the more I increase my “social mobility,” the further I will separate myself from my family.
Finances are always in the back (if not the forefront) of my mind, and I am always counting and re-counting to determine how I can manage my budget to pay for bills and living expenses.
This article is not meant to be a complaint about my life. This is not a sob story. There are good and bad things in my life, and we all face challenges. But it should be OK for me to talk about this aspect of my identity. Why has our culture made me so afraid or ashamed or embarrassed that I felt like I couldn’t tell my best friends “Hey, I just can’t afford to go out tonight”? I have always been afraid to discuss this with people, because they always seem to react with judgment or pity, and I want absolutely nothing to do with either of those. Sharing these realities could open a door to support, encouragement or simply openness.
Because I also live in a reality where:
I am proud of a job well done.
I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I get each paycheck.
I feel a bond of solidarity with those who are well acquainted with the food group “ramen.”
I would never trade my happy family memories for a stable bank account.
I would never trade my perspective or work ethic or appreciation of life for money.
Most times it certainly would be nice to have more financial stability, but I love the person I have become for the background I have had.
It is time to start acknowledging class at Duke. Duke is great because of its amazing financial aid packages. My ability to go here is truly incredible. Duke is not great because so many of the students fundamentally do not understand the necessity for a discussion of class identity and classism. Duke needs to look past its blind spot and start discussing class stratification on campus to create a more welcoming environment for poor students.
If you have ever felt like this important piece of your identity was not welcome at Duke, know that you are not the only one. I want you to know that “poor” is not a dirty word. It is OK to talk about your experiences and your identity in relation to socioeconomic status. It is OK to tell the truth and be yourself. Stop worrying whether it will make other people feel uncomfortable. People can learn a lot about themselves from the things that make them uncomfortable. I want to say to you that no matter what socioeconomic status you come from, your experiences are worthy.
And because no one in four years has said it yet to me: It’s okay to be poor and go to Duke.

Education in a Free Society

C. Bradley Thompson:

In “The New Abolitionism: Why Education Emancipation is the Moral Imperative of Our Time” (TOS, Winter 2012-13), I argued that America’s government school system is immoral and antithetical to a free society, and that it must be abolished–not reformed. The present essay calls for the complete separation of school and state, indicates what a fully free market in education would look like, and explains why such a market would provide high-quality education for all children.
The Need for Separation of School and State
What is the proper relationship of school and state? In a free society, who is responsible for educating children? Toward answering these questions, consider James Madison’s reasoning regarding the proper relationship of government and religion–reasoning that readily applies to the issue of education. In 1784, in response to Patrick Henry’s call for a compulsory tax to support Christian (particularly Episcopalian) ministers, Madison penned his famous “Memorial and Remonstrance,” a stirring defense of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. The heart of his argument can be reduced to three principles: first, individuals have an inalienable right to practice their religion as they see fit; second, religion must not be directed by the state; and third, religion is corrupted by government interference or control. Few Americans today would disagree with Madison’s reasoning.
One virtue of Madison’s response to Henry’s bill is that its principles and logic extend beyond church-and-state relations. In fact, the principles and logic of his argument apply seamlessly to the relationship of education and state. If we substitute the word “education” for “religion” throughout Madison’s text, we find a perfect parallel: first, parents have an inalienable right to educate their children according to their values; second, education must not be directed by the state; and third, education is corrupted by government interference or control. The parallel is stark, and the logic applies equally in both cases.
Just as Americans have a right to engage in whatever non-rights-violating religious practices they choose, so Americans have a right to engage in whatever educational practices they choose. And just as Americans would not grant government the authority to run their Sunday schools, so they should not grant government the authority to run their schools Monday through Friday.
Parents (and guardians) have a right to direct the education of their children.1 Parents’ children are their children–not their neighbors’ children or the community’s children or the state’s children. Consequently, parents have a right to educate their children in accordance with the parents’ judgment and values. (Of course, if parents neglect or abuse their children, they can and should be prosecuted, and legitimate laws are on the books to this effect.) Further, parents, guardians, and citizens in general have a moral right to use their wealth as they judge best. Accordingly, they have a moral right and should have a legal right to patronize or not patronize a given school, to fund or not fund a given educational institution–and no one has a moral right or properly a legal right to force them to patronize or fund one of which they disapprove. These are relatively straightforward applications of the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness–the rights on which America was founded.

The Most Basic Freedom Is Freedom to Quit Schools will become moral institutions only when children are free to quit.

Peter Gray:

We like to think of human rights in affirmative terms, so we speak most often of our rights to move toward what we want: our rights to vote, assemble freely, speak freely, and choose our own paths to happiness. My contention here, however, is that the most basic right–the right that makes all other rights possible–is the right to quit.
Quitting often has negative connotations in our minds. We grow up hearing things like, “Quitters never win, winners never quit.” We’re supposed to stick things out, no matter how tough the going. I rather like this variation, which I heard somewhere: “Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win and never quit are idiots.”
If we move our minds out of the quagmire of competition (indeed, we can’t win tennis matches by quitting) and think of life’s broader goals–the goals of surviving, avoiding injury, finding happiness, and living in accordance with our personal values among people whom we respect and who respect us–then we see that freedom to quit is essential to all of these goals. I am talking here about the freedom to walk away from people and situations that are harmful to our wellbeing.

Poverty Can Trump a Winning Hand of Genes

Alison Gopnik Changes in our environment can actually transform the relation between our traits and the outside world. We all notice that some people are smarter than others. You might naturally wonder how much these differences in intelligence depend on genes or upbringing. But that question, it turns out, is impossible to answer. That’s because […]

A Guantanamo of the Intellect


The Vice Chancellor of Calicut University promptly ordered a probe by a senior dean who, after visiting the internet ( as is the academic practice these days) discovered to his horror that al-Rubaish did have terrorist affiliations. He recommended its removal saying that ‘students would not lose much if they do not read this poem’. One of textbook’s editors explained that, at the time of selection of the poem, there was not much material available online about the poet. He said that they would not have selected this poem if the poet’s background was known to them.
It is an irony of our times that the editors are being shamed for an intellectual act, which was in fact , a creative way to expose the young undergraduates to the emotional impact of the international ‘war on terror’ across continents . Who would dispute that war on terror is a contemporary issue? How does literature react to it? Why and how do the detainees of Guantanamo Bay, the international jail set up by the USA to isolate its prey from life itself, choose poetry as a site to convey their pain and trauma? Most of them were non-poets. Can something they inscribed on the coffee cups or floors of the prison cell, in their desperation to speak, be accorded the exalted status of poetry?

Is Your College Going Broke? The Most And Least Financially Fit Schools In America

Matt Schifrin, via a kind reader email

In late June, nearly two months after most incoming freshmen had sent in their deposit checks securing places at hundreds of colleges across America, Long Island University’s Post campus, nestled in the wealthy New York City suburb of Brookville, N.Y., was testing a new approach in its efforts to fill up the 250 or so empty seats it had in its class of 2017.
The week of June 24 was “Express Decision Week” at LIU. High school seniors were invited to walk into Post’s Mullarkey Hall any time from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., transcript, SAT scores and personal statement in hand, and LIU’s admissions officers promised to make an acceptance decision on the spot. All application fees would be waived, and registration for fall classes would be immediate. An identical event was being held simultaneously at LIU’s Brooklyn campus.
Post’s aggressive marketing ploy is eerily reminiscent of the on-the-spot low-docmortgage approvals that occurred during the heady days leading up to the housing crisis. But the product here is bit less tangible than a loan that secures a house. These admissions officers are selling the promise of a better life through post-secondary-school learning.
LIU isn’t alone. Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, N.Y. and Centenary College in Hackettstown, N.J. offer similar same-day, on-the-spot admissions events. According to Jackie Nealon, Long Island University’s vice president of enrollment, LIU takes it a step further in the spring and sends admissions officers into Long Island high schools to admit students on location-the academic version of a house call.
If LIU sounds a bit desperate, it is. From a financial standpoint LIU is suffering from a host of ills common to hundreds of colleges today. According to the most recent financial data LIU has supplied to the Department of Education, its Post campus has been running at an operating deficit for three years. Its core expenses, or those essential for education activities, have been greater than its core revenues. Like many other schools, Post is a tuition junkie, with nearly 90% of its core annual revenues derived from tuition and fees.
This year Post raised its tuition and fees by 3.5% to $34,005, yet it offers steep tuition discounts to nearly every incoming freshman. In fact, a quick click over to its website shows the deals available. If your kid is an A student with an SAT score of about 1300 out of 1600, expect at least a $20,000 rebate per year.
This seeming paradox of raising prices while simultaneously offering deep discounts is a way of life among middling and lower-quality colleges in the market for higher education. It’s a symptom of a deeply troubled system where the cachet of elite institutions like Harvard and Yale has led thousands of nonelite schools to employ a strategy where higher prices and deeper discounts are more effective than cutting prices and tightening discounts. According to the National Association of College & University Business Officers, the so-called tuition discount rate has risen for the sixth straight year and is now averaging 45%. In some ways colleges operate like prestige-seeking liquor brands. In other ways they are more like Macy’s offering regular sales days, only quietly.

Behind Forbes College Financial Grades

To do that we created the FORBES College Financial Grades, which measure the fiscal soundness of more than 900 four-year, private, not-for-profit schools with more than 500 students (public schools are excluded). For the purposes of our analysis we used the two most recent fiscal years available from the Department of Education-2011 and 2010. The grades measure financial fitness as determined by nine components broken into three categories.
-Balance Sheet Health (40%): As determined by looking at endowment assets per full-time equivalent (15%), expendable assets (assets that can be sold in a pinch) to debt, otherwise known as a college’s viability ratio (10%) and a similar measure known as the primary reserve ratio (15%). Primary reserve measures how long a college could survive if it had to sell assets to cover its expenses. Schools like Pomona and Swarthmore are so asset-rich, for example, that they could cover expenses for ten years without collecting a penny in tuition. Other well-known schools like Carnegie Mellon and Syracuse have primary ratios of about 1.0, meaning they could last about a year.
-Operational Soundness (35%): A blend of return on assets (10%), core operating margins (10%) and perhaps most important, tuition and fees as a percentage of core revenues (15%). Tuition dependency is the most serious risk facing middling colleges today.
-Admissions Yield (10%): The percentage of accepted students who choose to enroll tells not only how much demand there is from a specific school’s target customers but also gives an indication of the effectiveness of its admissions staff.
-Freshmen Receiving Institutional Grants (7.5%): The most desperate schools use “merit aid” as a tool to lure more than 90% of incoming freshmen.
-Instructional Expenses per Full-Time ?Student (7.5%): Struggling schools tend to skimp in this area.

College Path May Not Be Best

Brandon Busteed:

If Americans are judging the colleges they choose a, they may be better off not choosing a college at all. It turns out that college graduates are significantly less engaged in their jobs than everyone else. And this finding is true across all professions, age ranges, and income levels. College graduates are less engaged than technical/vocational school grads, high school grads, and even high school dropouts. This finding alone is about as devastating as it gets for higher education, but it’s actually worse than you think.
The key driver of college graduates being less engaged is that they are much less likely than everyone else to say they have an opportunity to “do what they do best every day.” In other words, something about college isn’t working — it appears it doesn’t do a good enough job of bringing students closer to figuring out what they are best at. The implications of this are so profound that it will literally change everything in higher education. From rethinking what its ultimate purpose should be, to the very basics of how we teach, coach, mentor, and develop learners.
College — based on recent economic analyses — does produce higher earnings over a lifetime. But it does not always lead to a “good job” – one in which people are engaged in their work and doing what they do best. At least, not compared to everyone else who doesn’t go to college. The magnitude of this failure can’t be over-exaggerated, especially considering what Gallup knows about human development and wellbeing — where nothing is more fundamental than doing what you’re best at every day.

A Ripon Graduation Speech

Retired Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:

The first speech was at a family dinner following that graduation ceremony 44 years ago. My father told me the most important thing to remember was to choose my career carefully. He said that I should do something I loved because 40 years is a long time doing something you don’t like or you don’t care about.
That’s Lesson #2: “Work is a 4-letter word,” my father said, “but so is the word play. Find a job that brings playful joy every day and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Not that it hasn’t had its ups and downs, but being an educator has been a labor of love for me, and I’m thankful that I followed my father’s advice. Now it’s your turn to find your own labor of love.
My mother then said, “Not so fast, young man,” as she leaned over, elbowing my father lovingly in the process. “It’s not all about enjoying yourself,” she said. “It’s not all about you–that’s selfish and useless.” She insisted, “Find something that will make the world a better place than you found it.” Although my mother was not a camper, and never saw an insect that she didn’t run from, she believed in the good camper rule. “Always leave your campsite better than you found it,” and she preached it constantly.
That’s Lesson #3: Make a positive difference for others. When you look back at your life, you won’t be proud of the money you made or the stuff you’ve accumulated or even the fun times you had for yourself. No, you’ll look back and be most proud of what you did for others. You will feel your life was worth living because you made the world a better place for others. Then, my mother told me to stop chewing with my mouth open and to save room for dessert, and the speeches were over.

I hope that Zimman stats active on education issues.

Alan Turing’s Reading List: What the Computing Pioneer Borrowed From His School Library

Maria Popova:

What Alice in Wonderland has to do with electromagnetic theory, relativity, and Pluto.
“You are a mashup of what you let into your life,” it’s been said. Since creativity is combinatorial, the architecture of mind and character is deeply influenced by the intellectual stimulation we choose to engage with — including the books we read. There is hardly anything more fascinating than the private intellectual diet of genius — like this recently uncovered list of books computing pioneer and early codehacker Alan Turing borrowed from his school library. Though heavy on the sciences, the selection features some wonderful wildcards that bespeak the cross-disciplinary curiosity fundamental to true innovation. A few personal favorites follow.

In jeopardy: Open government in Washington State

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Dear Colleagues and Friends:
The citizens of Washington State need your help in defending the principle of open government.
Last week, I wrote an article for my blog “Betrayed” about how the board of Spokane Public Schools is again attempting to modify the Public Records Act in ways that would undermine the Act for citizens across the entire State of Washington. That article is found here:
One of the bills introduced this year regarding the Public Records Act is HB 1128, a bill that would essentially gut the Public Records Act for citizens and whistleblowers. HB 1128 would make it nearly impossible to obtain records that agencies do not want to release. It was theoretically written to protect and defend public agencies against abusive records requesters; it was not written to protect or defend citizens against abusive agencies.
On Jan. 25, HB 1128 was discussed in a legislative hearing. All of the pro-HB 1128 arguments were made by public officials, including Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke. Nearly all complained about vindictive behavior by former public employees. Meanwhile, all arguments made in opposition to HB 1128 were made by non-government people who spoke up for the principle of open government and the right of citizens to hold their government agencies accountable.
Legislators wisely elected to revisit the language of HB 1128, so we have a brief opportunity to influence this process. I’ve written an analysis of HB 1128, which I’ve pasted below and attached in a PDF file. You will see that the impact of HB 1128 would be devastating for open-government in Washington State and for all citizens. I also have serious worries about future bills regarding the Public Records Act.
All comments and suggestions are welcome. You also are welcome to quote or forward this email and the analysis as you wish.
If the language in any new legislation regarding the Public Records Act and other open-government laws doesn’t protect the rights of citizens and whistleblowers, I guarantee that language will be used against us. Please help us to maintain open government in Washington State. Please ask your legislators, your friends and your colleagues to stand up against HB 1128, against the language in HB 1128, and against any other bills that would negatively affect the principle of open government in this state.
There are other ways to accomplish what the authors of HB 1128 intended. Tim Ford, the open-government ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office, would be a great point of contact on how to do it.
Thank you for your help. Please see the analysis below or attached.
Laurie Rogers
Spokane, WA

Hugh Pope Interview

Hugh Pope SIS interviewIt was a privilege to talk with author and adventurer Hugh Pope [website, International Crisis Group, Twitter] recently regarding education. Pope has lived and worked in the “Middle East” for three decades. His books (all highly recommended) include: Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East, Sons of the Conquerors: the Rise of the Turkic World and Turkey Unveiled: a History of Modern Turkey.
Here’s an excerpt:

In your education as you think about growing up, when did your light go off about critical thinking and observation as opposed to just accepting? Was it your education, was it your experience? Was it your parents? What was decisive?
Hugh: Well, I think that I never felt that I had a particular base group to relate and I was born South Africa and lived the first nine years of my life there and saw things from a, I suppose, a English speaking South African perspective. Then I, because of political reasons we had to move out of South Africa…and the apartheid regime had made things difficult for my father, so we moved to England and I was put in a completely different area and they took, it was very puzzling because I spoke English, I thought it was English but it turned out that actually there’s more to English that’s being English than just language. I don’t think that I ever completely fit in, and so I always saw things as a bit of an outsider there. I think that when you are an outside you take a much more careful view of everything that’s going on. You see things rather more distinctly than someone who’s always been inside it, so perhaps that was the critical thing for me, moving at the age of nine. Not that I would particularly recommend it as a course of action, I don’t think it’s a very…It’s quite traumatic. I think that’s where it comes from if anything.
Jim: If we could turn on the time machine and take you back to 18 or 16, would you study the same thing? Would you pursue the same career? What would you do, Hugh?
Hugh: Well, I always remember at the Oriental institute, in my University, that we used to really pity the people that were studying Chinese and Turkish, because when we were 18 those two countries really seemed to be completely pointless. What were they ever going to contribute? Everyone clamored to learn Arabic and Persian because those were oil-rich countries that were clearly going to be much better for peoples’ careers, and of course it turned out to be exactly the other way around. [laughs] I suppose it’s a bit like those advertisements about investments, don’t judge past performance as an indication of future profits. It’s very difficult to choose what to do. I think I was very lucky in that I was one of the last generation of people educated for free in Britain.
It actually didn’t matter what one chose, because there was no debt associated with it. Nowadays if you go into University I think you’ve got to be much more aware of, “Whether this is going to be a possible investment of time and money?” because that debt is going to hang over people, isn’t it? If I was going today I think I would be a bit more commercially minded, in a sense that I would choose something that was not just of intellectual interest.
Still, I did love learning Persian, and I think that was a benefit in itself, I still think that the Persian poetry we were taught about made a deep impact on me. I wouldn’t change that. There are many things about the Middle East that make one really frustrated but at the same time there is a liveliness and an instantaneous about the Middle East which you don’t find in Europe.
The way that countries like Turkey and elsewhere change rapidly is much more exciting than a country in Europe where everything is planned many, many years ahead. People start thinking about their pensions in their 20’s.

I found Pope’s comments on languages interesting as well. I hope you enjoy the conversation and appreciate Hugh’s time.
Read the transcript or listen to the mp3 audio file.

The 2013 Maclean’s Canadian University Rankings

Josh DeHaas:

The 22nd annual Maclean’s University Rankings issue–the holy book for anyone planning their education in Canada–is now available on newsstands and tablets.
The 2013 issue, our biggest-ever, features 132 pages of charts, stories and advice designed to help future students choose the right school, while sparking conversations on the quality of the post-secondary experience from the size of classes to the cost of textbooks.
The issue also offers a peek inside campus life from coast to coast, including an examination of the viral videos phenomenon, a deeper look at the scourge of drinking, Emma Teitel on fraternities, the college advantage and pages more. There are online extras, too, like photo tours of life at 24 campuses.
And, of course, the issue features the 22nd annual rankings.

Newark Tries Merit Payouts For Teachers

Lisa Fleisher:

Newark and its teachers union on Thursday are expected to sign a tentative contract deal blessed by Gov. Chris Christie that would overhaul teacher pay, introducing lucrative merit bonuses and giving teachers a role in grading each other.
The contract, fueled by about $50 million from the foundation started by Facebook Inc. FB -4.55% founder Mark Zuckerberg, covers the next three years and would offer a compensation system that removes lifetime pay increases for those who earn advanced degrees and blocks poorly rated teachers from receiving automatic pay raises for years of experience, officials said.
Teachers could, however, choose to stick with the current pay scheme, which offers small, annual pay bumps for years served and for advanced degrees earned, officials said. They wouldn’t be eligible for some bonuses.

Apps & Autism

Rory Cellan-Jones:

New technology can be inspiring, exciting or sometimes infuriating – but I can’t ever remember it being really moving. Until, that is, I met Ruby Dunn, whose life is being changed by a piece of software.
Ruby, who was born 14 weeks premature in 2006, has autism and has never spoken. She does, however, attend her local school – Sandford Primary in Somerset – and is well integrated into every aspect of school life. But it is an app which she uses on an iPod and an iPad which is making a big difference.
Ruby uses the app, Proloquo2Go, to communicate with her teachers, her family and other children. She taps on symbols, constructs a sentence and out it comes, spoken in a child’s voice. So in the playground, she taps “head, shoulders” to choose a game. At lunchtime she chooses “lasagne” and “carrots” adds “please” and “Tina” and hands it to the dinner lady. And in the classroom she reads a story and then taps out answers to questions about it via the iPad version of the app.

Summer programmes can add a lot of fun to the long holidays, but only if they fit the child

Angela Baura:

With the long summer holidays upon us, many parents will be hoping to keep themselves sane and their children entertained by signing them up for summer classes. But with a plethora of programmes to choose from, selecting one that will entertain and educate your child can be a daunting task.
“One of the most important considerations when selecting a summer programme for your child is their interest,” advises Dr Caleb Knight, an educational and child psychologist at the Child and Family Centre in Central. “It is not productive to push a child into a programme of activity in which they show little motivation.”

The National History Club

Robert L. Nasson, via a kind email:

The National History Club (NHC) was formed in March 2002 to promote the reading, writing, discussion, and enjoyment of history among secondary students and their teachers by giving after school history clubs around the country a clearinghouse to share history-related activities and information with each other. We now have 445 chapters in 43 states and there are over 13,000 students involved. Each chapter sets its own course, and this has led to a wide array of activities that include: Veterans Day ceremonies involving local veterans, participation in National History Day, historic preservation outreach in their communities, and trips to such historic sites as the 16th Street Baptist Church, Valley Forge, and the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site.
This makes the organization unique. By encouraging students to take charge of the direction of their clubs, the NHC uses a bottom-up approach, where students passionate about history are doing the history activities they choose. Rather than a traditional top-down method, which often leads to apathetic students, the NHC has given an ownership stake to every chapter that has joined the organization.
History is the only topic taught in every secondary school that can engage students in learning from past to achieve understanding of, and tackling human problems in, the world today. In history there is truly something for everyone. History is political, artistic, social, economic, military, athletic, scientific, cultural, religious, technological, literary, philosophical, geographic, ethnic, and mathematical. History can be as contemporary as yesterday and as ancient as Mesopotamia, as near as the city one lives in and as far away as Andromeda. History can be seen and touched, read and written, made and remembered. Everyone is a part of history.
More importantly, the study of history builds the critical skills students need to become responsible citizens and effective leaders. Researching and discovering new information, as well as reading, synthesizing, and communicating that information effectively: these are the skills that help make someone successful in business, in civic life, and even in science.
We produce a tri-annual Newsletter that features chapter accounts from throughout the country, and run a number of award programs with various history organizations such as George Washington’s Mount Vernon and The History Channel. Chapters are frequently sharing ideas and activities with each other, and this leads to an active and involved membership. Through this interaction, students and Advisors see that they are not alone in their passion for the study of history, and this encourages more schools to join.
The work of the NHC is as important as ever considering the deteriorating history standards in our schools. A 2010 Civics Assessment administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress displayed the lack of understanding of civics among students in our secondary schools. Among some of the key findings:
Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights.
Only one in 10 eighth graders demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
Three-quarters of high school seniors were unable to name a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.
While there are many people and organizations now complaining about the historical illiteracy of the younger generation, we are one of the few actually doing something about it. The NHC has a sustainable model in place, and we are constantly adding chapters in schools from big cities and rural towns to our community. We want students, teachers, and schools that have a passion for history to join our movement. To view our latest Newsletter or to find out how to create a chapter and join the NHC please visit
Robert L. Nasson
Executive Director,
National History Club
P.O. Box 441812
Somerville, MA 02144

Science Envy

Historian David McCullough was asked by a reporter recently if he started writing any of his books with a theme. He said that when he became interested in a subject he started reading to see what he could find out about it, but he had no advance idea of what would result.
Even those of our teachers who do work with students on research papers too frequently indulge in the science envy of requiring them to have a thesis. Students are asked to have some prior notion of the history they will read which they will test to see whether it is falsifiable or not.
Science is rich, famous and powerful, so it is not surprising that it is envied in our culture, but it should be remembered that its practice is to reduce, as much as possible, reality to numbers.
History does not lend itself well to a reduction to numbers, as it is about human beings, who also cannot very well be competently encompassed by numerical descriptions.
Words are the numbers of history, and words connote as much as they denote, they contain and evoke possibility and ambiguity in ways that the number users of science sometimes find annoyingly imprecise and quite uncomfortable.
The study of history should begin with curiosity about people and events: What was that person really like? How did that event come to happen and what resulted from it? These are the sort of non-thesis questions that our students of history should be asking, instead of fitting themselves out for their journey of learning about the past hampered with the straitjacket of a thesis.
Serious history students are often curious over something they have read about. They want to know more, and, when they have learned quite a bit, they frequently want to tell others what they have discovered. Like scientists, they are curious, but unlike them, they are willing to live with the uncertainties that are the essential ingredients of human experience.
Science has earned our admiration, but its methods are not suitable to all inquiries and we should not let envy of the success of science mislead us into trying to shrink-wrap history to fit some thesis with which students would have to begin their study of history.
David McCullough has reported that when he speaks to groups very often he is asked how much time he spends doing research and how much time he spends writing. He said he is never asked how much time he spends thinking.
The secondary students of history published in The Concord Review do not generally begin their work with a thesis to prove or disprove, but rather with wonder about something in history. The quality of their papers reveals that not only have they done a good deal of reading and research–if there is any difference there–but that they also have spent some serious time thinking about what they have learned, as well as how to tell someone else about it.
They have inevitably encountered the complex causes of historical events (no control groups there) and the variety of forces and inclinations both within and without the historical figures they have studied.
Some of these students are very good in calculus, science, and so forth, but they realize that history is a different form of inquiry and provides a non-reductionist view of the truth of human life, but one that may be instructive or inspiring in several ways.
So I urge teachers of students of history, who are asking them to write serious research papers, to let them choose their own topics, based on their own wonder and curiosity about the past, and to relieve them of the science envy of a thesis requirement. Let them embark on their own study of some part of the immense and mysterious ocean of history, and help them return with a story and an understanding they can call their own and can share, through serious research papers, with other students of history.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Our Love-Hate Relationship With the SATs

Andrew Rotherham:

There is little love for the SAT. How little, you ask? When a massive cheating scandal erupted this fall, fewer people rushed to defend the test than rose to defend Penn State officials for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of children. But as unpopular as the iconic SAT may be – among students and many educational activists alike – it’s actually pretty good at what it’s designed to do, which is to serve as a common measure across the hodgepodge of academic standards, grading systems and norms being used by America’s sprawling 25,000 high schools.
Unlike many of the tests that the education world loves to argue about, the SAT is an optional test; students choose to take it if they want to attend schools that require it for admission. So SAT angst is limited to the college-bound. (The test is administered by the New York-based nonprofit College Board, which is also in charge of high school Advanced Placement tests.) And although its only true fans are the intellectually insecure, the SAT, which used to be an acronym for Scholastic Aptitude Test, doesn’t show how smart or savvy students are or how successful, happy, or impactful they’re likely to be in life. But on average, it does fairly accurate gauge on how well students will do in their first year of college. That’s something admissions officials want to know. And that’s why good scores can boost an applicant’s chances of getting in and low scores can torpedo them.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis on Rahm, Brizard, Arne Duncan, and the Longer School Day

Carol Felsenthal:

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has had some ugly squabbles with Rahm Emanuel–the longer school day battles, for starters, including his recent charge that the union is “cheating children out of an education”–and, in my opinion, she has often emerged the loser.
Last week, she filed the CTU’s latest lawsuit against the city, charging that the school board is using its “TeacherFit” questionnaire to hire teachers who are willing to buck the union.
The camera doesn’t favor her, and in her battle to stop the new mayor from pushing through a longer school day, she seems on the side of outmoded, lumbering labor. Who, after all, wants to deny Chicago public school kids more time for math, reading, lunch, and recess?
But in person, Lewis, 58–South Sider (grew up in Hyde Park, now lives in the Oakland neighborhood), CPS lifer (Kenwood, ’71), daughter of two teachers, former high-school chemistry teacher (Sullivan, Lane Tech, King College Prep), wife of a now-retired CPS P.E. teacher–has a sharp sense of humor, and intelligence and articulateness to spare. After an hour spent with her at a conference table at the CTU’s headquarters in the Merchandise Mart, if someone asked me to choose a few words to describe her, I’d say “substantial, self-confident, direct.”

Everything you wanted to know about urban education and its solutions!

Dr. Armand A. Fusco, via a kind email:

“No one has been able to stop the steady plunge of young black Americans into a socioeconomic abyss.” Bob Herbert / Syndicated columnist
Everything you wanted to know about urban education and its solutions!
For over 50 years this shame of the nation and education has remained as a plague upon its most vulnerable children. All reform efforts involving billions of dollars have not alleviated this scourge in our public schools. The rhetoric has been profound, but it has been immune to any antidote or action and it is getting worse; but it doesn’t have to be!
The following quotes summarize the 285 pages and over 400 references from my book.

Edited Insightful Quotes
The explanations and references are found in the contents of the book.

  • School pushouts is a time bomb exploding economically and socially every twenty-six seconds
  • Remember what the basic problem is–they are in all respects illiterate and that is why they are failing.
  • Every three years the number of dropouts and pushouts adds up to a city bigger than Chicago.
  • Politics trump the needs of all children to achieve their potential.
  • One reason that the high school dropout crisis is known as the “silent epidemic” is that the problem is frequently minimized.
  • Simply stated black male students can achieve high outcomes; the tragedy is most states and districts choose not to do so.
  • In the majority of schools, the conditions necessary for Black males to systematically succeed in education do not exist.
  • While one in four American children is Latino–the largest and fastest growing minority group in the United States–they are chronically underserved by the nation’s public schools and have the lowest education attainment levels in the country.
  • Miseducation is the most powerful example of cruel and unusual punishment; it’s exacted on children innocent of any crime.
  • Traditional proposals for improving education–more money, smaller classes, etc.–aren’t getting the job done.
  • The public school system is designed for Black and other minority children to fail.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has never even acknowledged that the problem exists.
  • Though extensive records are kept…unions and school boards do not want productivity analysis done.
  • Educational bureaucracies like the NEA are at the center of America’s dysfunctional minority public schools.
  • Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes? We found that it does not.
  • Performance pay is equivalent to “thirty pieces of silver.”
  • Data necessary to distinguish cost-effective schools are all available, but our system has been built to make their use difficult.
  • Districts give credit for students who fail standardized tests on the expectation that students someday will pass.
  • We saw some schools that were low performing and had a very high parent satisfaction rate.
  • We’re spending ever-greater sums of money, yet our high school graduates’ test results have been absolutely flat.
  • America’s primary and secondary schools have many problems, but an excess of excellence is not one of them.
  • Not only is our use of incarceration highly concentrated among men with little schooling, but corrections systems are doing less to correct the problem by reducing educational opportunities for the growing number of prisoners.
  • Although states will require school districts to implement the common core state standards, the majority of these states are not requiring districts to make complementary changes in curriculum and teacher programs.
  • We can show that merit pay is counterproductive, that closing down struggling schools (or firing principals) makes no sense.
  • The gap between our articulated ideals and our practice is an international embarrassment.
  • It’s interesting to note that despite the growing support by minority parents for charters, the NAACP, the National Urban League, and other civil rights groups collectively condemn charter schools.
  • Public schools do respond constructively to competition by raising their achievement and productivity.
  • Gates Foundation has also stopped funding the small school concept because no results could be shown.
  • The policies we are following today are unlikely to improve our schools.
  • Our country still does a better job of tracking a package than it does a student.
  • Indeed, we give these children less of all the things that both research and experience tell us make a difference.
  • Reformers have little knowledge of what is working and how to scale what works.
  • The fact is that illiteracy has persisted in all states for generations, particularly among the most vulnerable children, and getting worse is a testament that national policy and creative leadership rings hollow.
  • We can’t change a child’s home life, but what we can do is affect what they do here at school.
  • Only a third of young Americans will leave high school with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.
  • Black churches can no longer play gospel in the sanctuaries while kids drop out into poverty and prison. They must embrace school reform and take the role that Catholic churches have done for so long and for so many.
  • There is only one way to equalize education for all–technology.
  • Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future.
  • The real potential of technology for improving learning remains largely untapped in schools today.
  • Can’t read, can’t learn, can’t get a job, can’t survive, so can’t stay within the law.
  • Of the 19.4 million government workers, half work in education, which rivals health care for the most wasteful sector in America.
  • The only people not being betrayed are those who feed off our failing education system…that group gets larger every year.
  • Mediocrity, not excellence, is the national norm as demonstrated by the deplorable evidence.
  • Parents are left to face the bleak reality that their child will be forever stuck in a failing school and a failing system.
  • The key is that unless there is accountability, we will never get the right system.
  • The very public institutions intended for student learning have become focused instead on adult employment.
  • We conclude that the strategies driving the best performing systems are rarely found in the United States.
  • No reform has yet lived up to its definition!
  • Minority males don’t get the beef, they get the leftovers.
  • The cotton plantations have become the school plantations (children held in bondage of failing schools) and the dropouts move on to the prison plantations.

“Unlimited Distribution” Michael Hart, father of e-books and founder of Project Gutenberg, died on September 6th, aged 64

The Economist:

AMONG the episodes in his life that didn’t last, that were over almost before they began, including a spell in the army and a try at marriage, Michael Hart was a street musician in San Francisco. He made no money at it, but then he never bought into the money system much–garage-sale T-shirts, canned beans for supper, were his sort of thing. He gave the music away for nothing because he believed it should be as freely available as the air you breathed, or as the wild blackberries and raspberries he used to gorge on, growing up, in the woods near Tacoma in Washington state. All good things should be abundant, and they should be free.
He came to apply that principle to books, too. Everyone should have access to the great works of the world, whether heavy (Shakespeare, “Moby-Dick”, pi to 1m places), or light (Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes, the “Kama Sutra”). Everyone should have a free library of their own, the whole Library of Congress if they wanted, or some esoteric little subset; he liked Romanian poetry himself, and Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”. The joy of e-books, which he invented, was that anyone could read those books anywhere, free, on any device, and every text could be replicated millions of times over. He dreamed that by 2021 he would have provided a million e-books each, a petabyte of information that could probably be held in one hand, to a billion people all over the globe–a quadrillion books, just given away. As powerful as the Bomb, but beneficial.

Project Gutenberg:

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We carry high quality ebooks: All our ebooks were previously published by bona fide publishers. We digitized and diligently proofed them with the help of thousands of volunteers.
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WEAC (Wisconsin Teacher Union): Who Benefits?

Why this area teacher chose the non-union option

If the teachers union is as wonderful as it claims, then it should have no problem attracting members, without the need to force teachers to join. How is this any different from any other professional organization that teachers, as professionals, may choose to join? It’s a question I have been pondering since I became a public school teacher in Wisconsin.
For years, I have chosen not to be a member of the union. However, this is a choice I didn’t exactly have before Gov. Scott Walker’s collective-bargaining bill became law. As a compulsory union state, where teachers are required to pay union dues as a condition of employment, the most I could hope for was a “fair share” membership, where the union refunded me a small portion of the money that was taken from my paycheck that lawyers have deemed “un-chargeable.”
Every September, after lengthy, bureaucratic and unadvertised hurdles, I would file my certified letter to try to withdraw my union membership. Then, the union would proceed to drag its feet in issuing my small refund. I often wondered why this kind of burden would be put on an individual teacher like me. Shouldn’t it be up to the organization to convince people and to sell its benefits to potential members afresh each year?
Why should I have to move mountains each fall to break ties with this group that I don’t want to be a part of in the first place? Something seemed dreadfully wrong with that picture.

Union’s efforts help all students, educators and schools

WEAC President Mary Bell:

I became a Wisconsin teacher more than 30 years ago. I entered my classroom on the first day of school with my eyes and heart wide open, dedicated to the education of children and to the promise public schools offer. I was part of our state’s longstanding education tradition.
Like many beginning teachers, I soon encountered the many challenges and opportunities educators face every day in schools. About 50% of new educators leave the profession within their first five years of teaching. New teachers need mentors, suggestions, support and encouragement to help them meet the individual needs of students (all learning at different speeds and in different ways) and teach life lessons that can’t be learned from textbooks.
That’s where the union comes in. In many ways, much of the work the Wisconsin Education Association Council does is behind the scenes: supporting new teachers through union-led mentoring programs and offering training and skill development to help teachers with their licenses and certification. Our union helps teachers achieve National Board Certification – the highest accomplishment in the profession – and provides hands-on training for support professionals to become certified in their fields. These are efforts that benefit all Wisconsin educators, not just a few, and no single educator could accomplish them all alone.

Schools and educators deserve support, not disparagement

George Russell:

These are difficult times for public education. As school districts struggle to choose where to whittle and whack next, it’s easy to suggest that there are simple ways to achieve savings and reduce costs.
What’s troubling, however, is the misleading and sometimes inaccurate information that some folks are using to disparage our schools and educators.
Public schools’ mission is teaching and learning. Our success is measured by the opportunities that we create for our students, both in our classrooms today and later in life.
Throughout these lean economic times brought on by the Great Recession, the Eugene School District has worked steadily to keep cuts away from the classroom as much as possible. Now, facing a $21.7 million budget shortfall, we can no longer avoid further reductions to our teaching staff and the resulting increase in class sizes.
We continue to put the needs of students first and to maintain high academic expectations. We are focused and clear about our priorities. We have made hard decisions to let go of valued programs so that all students have the educational opportunities that they need to be successful. This is not, and will not be, easy for students, parents, staff or our community.

Questions and Concerns Regarding the “Findings and Recommendations” of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report

The following questions and concerns are submitted to you for your consideration regarding the “findings and recommendations” of the MMSD K-12 Literacy Program Evaluation report:
1. What findings and recommendations are there for ‘year-around’ literacy experiences to help mitigate ‘losses’ over the summer months in achievement gains during the traditional academic year?
Although “summer loss” was not a particular focus of discussion during the evaluation process, there are several ways in which the recommendations address reducing the impact of summer reading loss. These include:
Recommendation I – curricular consistency will provide for a more seamless connection with content and instruction in summer school, Saturday school (pending funding) and after school supports.
Recommendation II – more explicit instruction focused in early grades will allow students to read for enjoyment at earlier ages.
Recommendation III – a well-developed intervention plan will follow a student through summer school and into the following academic year

2. What are the findings and recommendations regarding parental (significant adults in student’s life) participation, training, evaluation and accountability in the literacy learning process?
Parental participation opportunities to support their children’s enjoyment and achievement in literacy include:
Family Literacy Nights at various elementary schools and in collaboration with Madison School and Community Recreation. Town Hall Meetings that provide opportunities for families to share pros and cons of literacy practices at school and home.
Literacy 24-7: Parent training for Spanish speaking families on how to promote literacy learning. Read Your Heart Out Day: This event builds positive family, community and school relationships with a literacy focus and supports both the family involvement and cultural relevance components of the Madison Metropolitan School District Strategic Plan.
Tera Fortune: Professional development for parents about the Dual Language Immersion Program with a focus on bi-literacy throughout the content areas. MALDEF Curriculum Training: Nine-week training covering a variety of topics to assist parents in sharing the responsibility of student success and how to communicate effectively in schools.
Regular column in Umoja Magazine: Forum to inform families and community members about educational issues through African American educators’ expertise. Several columns have focused on literacy learning at home.
Training is provided for parents on how to choose literature that:
Has positive images that leave lasting impressions
Has accurate, factual information that is enjoyable to read
Contains meaningful stories that reflect a range of cultural values and lifestyles
Has clear and positive perspective for people of color in the 21st century
Contains material that is self affirming Promotes positive literacy learning at home
Evaluations of the Read Your Heart Out and Family Literacy Night were conducted by requesting that participating parents, staff, students and community members complete a survey about the success of the event and the effects on student achievement.

3. What are the consequential and remediation strategies for non-performance in meeting established achievement/teaching/support standards for students, staff and parents? What are the accompanying evaluation/assessment criteria?
A District Framework is nearing completion. This Framework will provide clear and consistent expectations and rubrics for all instructional staff and administrators. Improvement will be addressed through processes that include the School Improvement Plans and staff and administrator evaluations processes.
4. Please clarify the future of the Reading Recovery program.
MMSD proposes to maintain Reading Recovery teachers and teacher leaders as an intervention at grade 1. There are currently two Reading Recovery teacher leaders participating in a two-year professional development required to become Reading Recovery teacher leaders. One of these positions will be certified to support English Language Learners. The modifications proposed include: 1) targeting these highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers to specific students across schools based on district-wide data for 2011-12 and 2) integrating the skills of Reading Recovery staff into a comprehensive intervention plan along with skilled interventionists resulting in all elementary schools benefiting from grade 1 reading intervention.
5. How will the literacy learning process be integrated with the identification and development of Talented and Gifted (TAG) students?
The development of a balanced, comprehensive assessment system will result in teachers having more frequent and accurate student data available to tailor instruction. K-12 alignment uses tools such as Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) are being implemented in Spring, 2011.
The Response to Intervention model is based on evidence-based instruction and responds to students who need additional challenge and/or support.

6. What will be the 2010-2011 budgetary priorities and strategies for undertaking the literacy program and resources recommendations outlined in the report?
PreK-12 literacy will be a priority for the 2011-12 budget process. In addition to the prioritization of funding within our budget parameters, MMSD is in the process of writing a major grant (Investing in Innovation – i3) to support the recommendations of the literacy evaluation as a key strategy to close achievement gaps and improve literacy for all students to be ready for college and/or careers.

An Interview with Kaleem Caire

Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz:

Caire believes the Madison community must first address its at-risk population in a radically different way to level the playing field before fundamental change can come.
“Madison schools don’t know how to educate African Americans,” says Caire. “It’s not that they can’t. Most of the teachers could, and some do, valiantly. But the system is not designed for that to happen.”
The system is also not designed for the 215 annual school days and 5 p.m. end times that Madison Prep proposes. That, and the fact that he wants the school to choose teachers based on their specific skill sets and cultural backgrounds, is why Caire is seeking to proceed without teachers union involvement.
“Ultimately,” he says, “the collective bargaining agreement dictates the operations of schools and teaching and learning in [the Madison school district]. Madison Prep will require much more autonomy.”
Many aspects of Caire’s proposed school seem rooted in his own life experience. Small class sizes, just like at St. James. Uniforms, just like the Navy. Majority African American and Latino kids, eliminating the isolation he grew up with. Meals at school and co-curricular activities rather than extracurricular, so that poor students are not singled out or left out.
Teachers the students can identify with. Boys only, in the hopes of fostering the sensitive, supportive male peer groups so critical to Caire’s evolving sense of self over the years.

Much more on Kaleem, here.

Commentary on “Waiting for Superman”; a Look at the Tortured Path Toward School Choice in New York City

Tom Friedman

Canada’s point is that the only way to fix our schools is not with a Superman or a super-theory. No, it’s with supermen and superwomen pushing super-hard to assemble what we know works: better-trained teachers working with the best methods under the best principals supported by more involved parents.
“One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me Superman did not exist,” Canada says in the film. “I read comic books and I just loved ’em …’cause even in the depths of the ghetto you just thought, ‘He’s coming, I just don’t know when, because he always shows up and he saves all the good people.’ ”
Then when he was in fourth or fifth grade, he asked, “Ma, do you think Superman is actually [real]?” She told him the truth: ” ‘Superman is not real.’ I was like: ‘He’s not? What do you mean he’s not?’ ‘No, he’s not real.’ And she thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. And I was crying because there was no one … coming with enough power to save us.”
Waiting for Superman” follows five kids and their parents who aspire to obtain a decent public education but have to enter a bingo-like lottery to get into a good charter school, because their home schools are miserable failures.
Guggenheim kicks off the film explaining that he was all for sending kids to their local public schools until “it was time to choose a school for my own children, and then reality set in. My feelings about public education didn’t matter as much as my fear of sending them to a failing school. And so every morning, betraying the ideals I thought I lived by, I drive past three public schools as I take my kids to a private school. But I’m lucky. I have a choice. Other families pin their hopes to a bouncing ball, a hand pulling a card from a box or a computer that generates numbers in random sequence. Because when there’s a great public school there aren’t enough spaces, and so we do what’s fair. We place our children and their future in the hands of luck.”
It is intolerable that in America today a bouncing bingo ball should determine a kid’s educational future, especially when there are plenty of schools that work and even more that are getting better. This movie is about the people trying to change that. The film’s core thesis is that for too long our public school system was built to serve adults, not kids. For too long we underpaid and undervalued our teachers and compensated them instead by giving them union perks. Over decades, though, those perks accumulated to prevent reform in too many districts. The best ones are now reforming, and the worst are facing challenges from charters.

Every parent and taxpayer should see this film.

Everyone Wins in the Postcode Lottery

Tim Harford

Life expectancy at birth ranges from 80 years in Hawaii to 72 in Washington, DC; and from 83 in Japan to 40 in Swaziland. In vitro fertilisation is available in some regions of the UK within months; in others it takes years. Fill in your own example here, because it is now a commonplace that the price, availability and quality of anything from a nursing home to a good education will vary depending on where you live.
I am not sure whether the British complain more about this than anyone else, but we have developed our own term to describe it: the “postcode lottery”. For community-minded gamblers there is actually a real postcode lottery, in which prizes are shared between winning ticket-holders and those fortunate enough to have homes on the same street. But for most Britons, the term is a lazy shorthand for the fact that where you live affects what you get.
There is a glaring problem with this phrase: while the ticket that gets pulled out of the tombola is chosen at random, the postcodes where you and I live are not. We aren’t serfs. If we want to move and we can afford to move, we can move.
I live in Hackney, a London borough where crime is high and the schools are poor. If I had a few spare million, perhaps I would move to Hampstead or Chelsea. I do not. People who shop at Harrods expect better food than those who shop at Tesco. Ferraris are faster and sexier than Fords. There are many words to describe this state of affairs, but “lottery” is not the one I would choose.

Harford makes an excellent point. It is clearly futile to impose one size fits all approaches, particularly in education. We, as a society are far better off with a diverse governance (many smaller schools/districts/charters/vouchers) and curricular environment.

Serious Math

Katy Murphy:

Over the years, I feel like I’ve come to know you — your political leanings and life experiences, your writing style, sense of humor and average snark level. But what about your math skills?
For example: Can you (or any high school student you know) do this?
Show that there are only finitely many triples (x, y, z) of positive integers satisfying the equation abc = 2009(a + b + c).
Or this?
Let n be an integer greater than 3. Points V1, V2, …, Vn, with no three collinear, lie on a plane. Some of the segments ViVj , with 1 *< i < j < n, are constructed. Points Vi and Vj are neighbors if ViVj is constructed. Initially, chess pieces C1,C2, ...,Cn are placed at points V1, V2, ..., Vn (not necessarily in that order) with exactly one piece at each point. In a move, one can choose some of the n chess pieces, and simultaneously relocate each of the chosen piece from its current position to one of its neighboring positions such that after the move, exactly one chess piece is at each point and no two chess pieces have exchanged their positions. A set of constructed segments is called harmonic if for any initial positions of the chess pieces, each chess piece Ci(1< i < n) is at the point Vi after a finite number of moves. Determine the minimum number of segments in a harmonic set. (*Note: This sign (<) should read "less than or equal to," but I have some keyboard limitations.)

All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting.

Jennifer Senior:

There was a day a few weeks ago when I found my 2½-year-old son sitting on our building doorstep, waiting for me to come home. He spotted me as I was rounding the corner, and the scene that followed was one of inexpressible loveliness, right out of the movie I’d played to myself before actually having a child, with him popping out of his babysitter’s arms and barreling down the street to greet me. This happy moment, though, was about to be cut short, and in retrospect felt more like a tranquil lull in a slasher film. When I opened our apartment door, I discovered that my son had broken part of the wooden parking garage I’d spent about an hour assembling that morning. This wouldn’t have been a problem per se, except that as I attempted to fix it, he grew impatient and began throwing its various parts at the walls, with one plank very narrowly missing my eye. I recited the rules of the house (no throwing, no hitting). He picked up another large wooden plank. I ducked. He reached for the screwdriver. The scene ended with a time-out in his crib.
As I shuffled back to the living room, I thought of something a friend once said about the Children’s Museum of Manhattan–“a nice place, but what it really needs is a bar”–and rued how, at that moment, the same thing could be said of my apartment. Two hundred and 40 seconds earlier, I’d been in a state of pair-bonded bliss; now I was guided by nerves, trawling the cabinets for alcohol. My emotional life looks a lot like this these days. I suspect it does for many parents–a high-amplitude, high-frequency sine curve along which we get the privilege of doing hourly surfs. Yet it’s something most of us choose. Indeed, it’s something most of us would say we’d be miserable without.

Louisiana School waiver plan, now law, challenged by teacher union

Bill Barrow & Ed Anderson:

Trying to put the finishing touches on a series of education policy victories in the recently concluded legislative session, Gov. Bobby Jindal has signed into law a hotly debated plan to let local schools seek waivers from a range of state rules and regulations.
But as soon as the ink was dry on House Bill 1368, one of the state’s major teachers unions delivered on its promise to challenge the act as unconstitutional.
The teachers group wants a Baton Rouge district court to rule that the Legislature cannot abdicate its law-making authority by effectively allowing the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to pick and choose which laws local schools have to follow.
The new program topped Jindal’s K-12 education agenda for the session that ended June 21. The governor pitched waivers as a way to give schools more flexibility, much like public charter schools that have proliferated in New Orleans and elsewhere since Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Gove has a precious chance to save our schools from the state

Matthew d’Ancona:

In the past few days, we have heard much sound sense from the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, about schools reform. But here is what the Prime Minister had to say, and it is worth quoting at length: “No one will be able to veto parents starting new schools or new providers coming in, simply on the basis that there are local surplus places. The role of the LEA [local education authority] will change fundamentally. There will be relentless focus on failing schools to turn them round. Ofsted will continue to measure performance, albeit with a lighter touch. But otherwise the schools will be accountable not to government at the centre or locally, but to parents, with the creativity and enterprise of the teachers and school leaders set free.”
The PM continued: “Where parents are dissatisfied, they need a range of good schools to choose from; or where there is no such choice, [to be] able to take the remedy into their own hands. Where business, the voluntary sector, philanthropy, which in every other field is an increasing part of our national life, want to play a key role in education, and schools want them to, they can. Where local employers feel local schools aren’t meeting local skill needs, they can get involved. The system is being empowered to make change. The centre will provide the resources and enable local change-makers to work the change. We will set the framework and make the rules necessary for fairness. Where there is chronic failure, we will intervene. But the state’s role will be strategic; as the system evolves, its hand will be lifted, except to help where help is needed.”

Tweens and cosmetics: Cosmetics use is rising among tweens – and parents are divided on how to handle it

Douglas Quenqua:

It began for Alyssa Pometta, as these habits so often do, with the soft stuff. We are talking, of course, about lip gloss. She began wearing it in fourth grade – Bonne Bell’s Lip Smackers, a girl’s rite of passage – after yearsof wearing ChapStick and pretending it was Revlon. But the thrill of flavoured lip gloss was fleeting, and in January, 11-year-old Alyssa asked her mother, Phyllis Pometta, if she could graduate to the hard stuff: lipstick, eyeliner and mascara.
Pometta’s first instinct was to send her daughter to her room, but she reconsidered. Instead, she took her for a makeover.
“I’m using the choose-your-battles kind of parenting,” Pometta, an independent publicist, reasons. “I figured, better that she’s informed and has the right tools than she goes into it blindly with her friends in the bathroom and comes out looking like a clown.”

“Anything But Knowledge”: “Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach”

from The Burden of Bad Ideas Heather Mac Donald, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 82ff.
America’s nearly last-place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation’s teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores–things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. “Let’s be honest,” darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University’s Teachers College last February. “What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?” It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their handbooks of multicultural education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.
The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation’s teacher education schools. For over eighty years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)–self-actualization, following one’s joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity–but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh, sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in “constructing one’s own knowledge,” or “contextualized knowledge.” Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.
The education profession currently stands ready to tighten its already viselike grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to “professionalize” teaching further. In New York, as elsewhere, that means closing off routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school. But before caving in to the educrats’ pressure, we had better take a hard look at what education schools teach.
The course in “Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education” that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit, and with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.
As with most education classes, the title of Professor Nelson’s course doesn’t give a clear sense of what it is about. Unfortunately, Professor Nelson doesn’t either. The semester began, she said in a pre-class interview, by “building a community, rich of talk, in which students look at what they themselves are doing by in-class writing.” On this, the third meeting of the semester, Professor Nelson said that she would be “getting the students to develop the subtext of what they’re doing.” I would soon discover why Professor Nelson was so vague.
“Developing the subtext” turns out to involve a chain reaction of solipsistic moments. After taking attendance and–most admirably–quickly checking the students’ weekly handwriting practice, Professor Nelson begins the main work of the day: generating feather-light “texts,” both written and oral, for immediate group analysis. She asks the students to write for seven minutes on each of three questions; “What excites me about teaching?” “What concerns me about teaching?” and then, the moment that brands this class as hopelessly steeped in the Anything But Knowledge credo: “What was it like to do this writing?”

Rules on Writing

Molly Young:

Deep down, we know the rules of writing. Or the rule, rather, which is that there are no rules. That’s it. That’s the takeaway point from any collection of advice, any Paris Review interview and any book on writing, whether it be Stephen King’s “On Writing” or Joyce Carol Oates’s “The Faith of a Writer” (both excellent, by the way, but only as useful as a reader chooses to make them).
Despite this fact, writers continue to write about writing and readers continue to read them. In honour of Elmore Leonard’s contribution to the genre, “Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing”, the Guardian recently compiled a massive list of writing rules from Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Annie Proulx, Jeanette Winterson, Colm Tóibín and many other authors generous enough to add their voices to the chorus.
Among the most common bits of advice: write every day, rewrite often, read your work out loud, read a lot of books and don’t write for posterity. Standards aside, the advice generally breaks down into three categories: the practical, the idiosyncratic and the contradictory. From Margaret Atwood we learn to use pencils on airplanes because pens leak. From Elmore Leonard we learn that adverbs stink, prologues are annoying and the weather is boring. Jonathan Franzen advises us to write in the third person, usually.

How Corrupted Language Moved from Campus to the Real World

Harvey Silvergate:

In some quarters I’m viewed as a lawyer with a professional identity problem: I’ve spent half of my time representing students and professors struggling with administrators over issues like free speech, academic freedom, due process and fair disciplinary procedures. The other half I’ve spent representing individuals (and on occasion organizations and companies) in the criminal justice system.
These two seemingly disparate halves of my professional life are, in fact, quite closely related: The respective cultures of the college campus and of the federal government have each thrived on the notion that language is meant not to express one’s true thoughts, intentions and expectations, but, instead, to cover them up. As a result, the tyrannies that I began to encounter in the mid-1980s in both academia and the federal criminal courts shared this major characteristic: It was impossible to know when one was transgressing the rules, because the rules were suddenly being expressed in language that no one could understand.
In his 1946 linguistic critique, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote that one must “let meaning choose the word, not the other way around.” By largely ignoring this truism, administrators and legislators who craft imprecise regulations have given their particular enforcement arms—campus disciplinary staff and federal government prosecutors—enormous and grotesquely unfair power.

Report on New York City small schools finds more choice, but modest interest

Anna Phillips:

A new report on the rapid proliferation of small schools in New York City finds that while the schools have expanded students’ options, most students choose to attend larger schools.
Commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the report is one of four that will eventually be released in order to study how the schools have multiplied, who is attending them, who is teaching in them, and whether they’re succeeding. The Gates Foundation popularized and funded the small schools movement in New York, fueling the growth of nearly 200 small schools with a $150 million investment.
A New-York based research group, MDRC, conducted the report, which does not look at the schools’ academic record — that analysis will come out in spring — but focuses on the schools’ enrollment and demographics.
One of the report’s key findings is that the small schools are seeing modest demand from students.

Complete report: 3.4MB PDF.

Will school districts drop sex ed rather than comply with state law?

Shawn Doherty:

Opponents of a controversial sex ed bill passed by Wisconsin legislators last week warn that if Gov. Jim Doyle signs the bill into law as he has promised, some local school districts will stage a revolt against the measure by ignoring it or dropping their human growth and development curriculum entirely.
“Did the state in its zeal to impose its own way even think about the consequences? Because a lot of districts are just going to just walk,” predicts Matt Sande, director of legislation at Pro-Life Wisconsin.
The proposed new law would require any Wisconsin public school district that offers a course in human growth and development — or sexual education — to teach students about sexually transmitted diseases and methods of safe sex, including contraception. Under current law districts can choose to provide only instruction focusing on abstinence or chastity.
The proposed new law doesn’t require school districts to offer such courses at all, however. School districts can drop their sex ed classes completely rather than comply, which is what Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, says her organization will encourage them to do in upcoming mailings. “This is a Planned Parenthood dream come true,” Appling says about the bill. “They have taken options away from local school districts. Now the choice is something Madison says is best or to have no human growth and development classes at all, which, quite honestly, is the better choice.”

New Tack on Math Promoted Problem-Solving Is Focus of High School Guide

Sean Cavanagh:

Three years after calling for a reordering of elementary and middle school math curricula, the nation’s largest group of math teachers is urging a new approach to high school instruction, one that aims to build students’ ability to choose and apply the most effective problem-solving techniques, in the classroom and in life.
Cultivating those skills will make math more useful, and more meaningful, to students, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics argues in a document scheduled for release this week.
Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making” is a follow-up to the NCTM’s 2006 document, “Curriculum Focal Points,” which offered grade-by-grade content standards in math for prekindergarten through 8th grade. “Focal Points” won general praise in math circles, even from some of the NCTM’s strongest critics.
The high school document has both a different purpose and a different structure. It is not a suggested set of content standards, but rather a framework that attempts to show how skills that the NCTM considers essential–reasoning and sense-making–can be promoted across high school math.

Bay Area is Biggest Little Italy for Preschools

Patricia Yollin:

Abigail Call corrects her mother’s grammar when they speak Italian and has started to teach her father the language, sometimes making up nonexistent words just to toy with him a bit. She is not quite 4 years old.
“When she’s by herself with her dolls, she sings all these songs in Italian,” said Abigail’s mother, Jessica Hall. “I’m a parent, so of course it makes me want to cry – to think that her little brain, in those unprompted moments of alone time, chooses to do that.”
Abigail doesn’t know it yet, but she is part of a trend.
Italian playgroups, preschools and language centers for children are proliferating in the Bay Area these days in a manner unequaled anywhere in the country, according to Marco Salardi of the Italian Consulate in San Francisco.
“It’s just exploding,” said Salardi, director of the consulate’s office of education. “It’s very new. And it’s becoming bigger and bigger. It’s a very nice surprise.”
La Piccola Scuola Italiana on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. Spazio Italiano Language Center in North Beach. The tiny Vittoria Italian Preschool in the Mission District. Girotondo Italian School and Parliamo Italiano, both in Marin County. Mondo Bambini in Berkeley, purchased a few months ago by Girotondo so it can expand to meet a swelling demand in the East Bay.

Learning-community dorm: Cool or not cool?

Deborah Ziff:

There are dorms that are popular on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus: Elizabeth Waters, the scenic hall in the center of campus, or the new Ogg, which has air conditioning and walk-in closets.
And then, for whatever reason, there are the ones that aren’t. Whether it be Witte, Cole, Kronshage, or another, officials say they’re never sure which dorms will drop to the bottom of the list on any given year, falling victim to the whims of 17- and 18-year-olds.
In particular, the university has had some trouble enticing students to live in dorms they label as learning communities, or those that bring faculty, staff, and unique seminars into dorm life.
There are two full dorms on campus with this mission — Chadbourne and Bradley — plus floors with special interest themes like women in science and engineering, entrepreneurship, international interests and more.
Last year, UW-Madison started a program that rewards students for picking these halls by allowing them to choose their room online, a la seat selection with the airlines. The fate of other students are left to a computer program’s random picks.

Where Kids Learn All About The Bulls and the Bears

Candice Lee Jones:

Long division or long stock position? Both are part of the curriculum at Chicago’s Ariel Community Academy, a public school sponsored by Ariel Investments, where the kids are managing real-life portfolios.
Each first-grade class is given $20,000 to seed a portfolio. At first, the money is invested on their behalf as they study the savings-and-investment curriculum, a joint project of Ariel Investments and Nuveen Investments.
Finance classes start with counting coins. By sixth grade, students take more control of their portfolio.
Teacher Connie Moran says students usually choose to invest in names they recognize — Nike, Target, McDonald’s. And yes, their investments are down just like yours. Between March 31, 2008, and March 31, 2009, class portfolios fell an average of about 40 percent.