All posts by Jim Zellmer

Civics & Google: How We Examined Gmail’s Treatment of Political Emails

By Leon Yin, Adrianne Jeffries, and Surya Mattu:

In early 2018, several advocacy groups noticed a drop in open rates for subscribers with Gmail domains. They said this had a negative impact on calls to action and donations. 

Using data sent to us by three of these advocacy groups as well as Change.org, a for-profit company that hosts petitions for political causes, we confirmed there was a lasting decrease in open rates unique to subscribers using Gmail. 

Madison school board members object to East High principal hire

Dylan Brogan:

After learning from Madison school board president Gloria Reyes that district officials had decided to make Brendan Kearney the permanent principal of East High, school board member Ananda Mirilli quickly sent an email asking district administrators to hold off on the hire.

The email, obtained by Isthmus, was sent with support from board members Ali Muldrow and Nicki Vander Muelen. Mirilli lists board colleagues Savion Castro and Cris Carusi as sharing her concerns. But Castro tells Isthmus the email was sent without his consent. Carusi, in a statement sent by Tim LeMonds, the district’s public information officer, says that she also did not give permission to include her name on the email. 

“I believe these families, the East community and the entire MMSD community deserve to know what happened, who was all involved, what really happened with communication to the families and law enforcement and clarity on our crisis response,” wrote Mirilli at 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 20. “Our community deserves to know what we have done to support our families immediately after the first call was made by the students and subsequent events thereafter.”

About an hour later, interim Superintendent Jane Belmore informed parents via email that Kearney would be the new principal at East High, effective immediately. Two sources confirm to Isthmus that Belmore knew board members had previously raised concerns about moving forward with the hire.

David Kruchten, a business teacher at East and the advisor for the DECA club, was one of two chaperones on the school trip to Minneapolis where hidden cameras were found in the rooms of students. On Jan. 30 he was arrested on seven federal charges of “attempting to produce child pornography” for two separate incidents in 2019. On Feb. 6, he was also indicted on three counts of “interfer[ing] with privacy against a minor” in Hennepin County, Minnesota. The criminal complaint alleges Kruchten placed hidden cameras in three rooms “that were positioned in bathrooms in places where the likely intent was to capture sexual imagery.”

The cameras were concealed in a smoke detector and in two air fresheners.

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

Civics & K-12 Opportunity: AOC Admits She Got Her Goddaughter Into a Bronx Charter School

Billy Binion:

This isn’t the first time that AOC has inadvertently made the case for school choice. At an October rally for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), she shared that her family left the Bronx for a house in Westchester county, so that she could attend a higher-quality school. “My family made a really hard decision,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “That’s when I got my first taste of a country who allows their kids’ destiny to be determined by the zip code they are born in.” 

The congresswoman has correctly diagnosed the problem. Whether or not a student is able to attend a decent public school too often turns on the neighborhood he or she happens to grow up in. It’s a reality that briefly dominated the national conversation during the recent college admissions scandal, which saw wealthy celebrities paying to have their children receive rigged acceptances to elite universities. Comparisons were immediately drawn to the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, who received a five-year prison sentence for using her father’s address to ensure that her children could attend the superior elementary and middle schools nearby.

As AOC recognized in her speech at the Sanders rally, such a dilemma is only possible when the system hinges on a zip code. But isn’t that a problem that school choice can help fix?

If her experience is any guide, the congresswoman should say yes. But school choice has become strangely polarizing in recent years, as many Democratic leaders forcefully repudiate charters.

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

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Civics: Journalism Schools, relevance vs. cost

Frederic Filloux:

Should students pay $30,000 or even up to $100,000 to attend a journalism school in the United States? Is it realistic considering the starting salaries in the profession? Is teaching journalism schools actually needed?

An interesting discussion was prompted last week by Rafat Ali, about the cost of tuition in journalism schools in the United States. Rafat is a creator of Skift and a pioneer in digital journalism and media entrepreneurship. On February 21, he tweeted the following:

On average, a student will pay $57,000 per year to attend one of these J-schools (living expenses not included). Compared to that, at $16,500 per year, the SciencesPo Journalism school where I teach in Paris looks like a bargain (students actually get generous aid: only 2% pay the full rate and 35% of the SciencesPo J-School pay zero tuition). For that price, you get the best journalism school in France, with some of the classes taught in English, and the curriculum also offers a dual degree with the Paris School of International Affairs — end of our commercial break.

‘Unlearning whiteness’ in the Madison schools

David Blaska:

The school lesson plan is chaos

“[We] talk about race as if it was every race but whiteness. How can we support you, elevate your work around actually talking about white culture in our schools and how teachers can start doing this work of, like, unlearning whiteness.” 

  — Madison school board member Ananda Mirilli on the district’s Black Excellence Coalition, Madison Board of Education 1:58:52 into the meeting.

Once again, the Madison school board proved Monday (02-24-2020) that it cannot keep order at its own meetings. No wonder there is chaos in the classroom.

School board members had to huddle around president Gloria Reyes to be heard as the usual suspects stormed the stage of the Doyle administration building and chanted their slogans. “Don’t arrest us; arrest the police.” This being Madison’s public schools, the disrupters were not arrested. As for the police, it was a close vote.

At issue was a $35,000 appropriation to continue policing special events such as athletic contests and dances. It barely passed, 4 to 3 (Ali Muldrow, Ananda Mirilli, and Nicki Vander Meulen voting no). Roll the tape, Lester:

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

2013 – 2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison Experience.

The Department of Justice has filed a brief in a federal lawsuit filed by Students For Fair Admissions

Justice.gov:

Harvard College receives millions of dollars in federal taxpayer-financed assistance every year. By accepting federal funding, Harvard subjected itself to Title VI’s stringent restrictions on the use of race. As Harvard undisputedly considers applicants’ race when selecting its incoming freshman class, it bore the burden at trial of proving that its consideration of race in the admissions process is narrowly tailored to a cognizable compelling interest. Yet the unvarnished record shows that Harvard’s use of race is hardly tailored at all.

The trial record established that Harvard actively engages in racial balancing that Supreme Court precedent flatly forbids. Indeed, the racial composition of Harvard’s admitted class is strikingly stable from year to year. That result is no accident. The school considers applicants’ race at virtually every step, from rating applicants to winnowing the field of applicants when attempting to avoid an over- subscribed class. And its inclusion of race in the analysis frequently makes a dispositive difference. The district court found that Harvard’s use of race was “determinative” for “approximately 45% of all admitted African American and Hispanic applicants.” ADD84. Moreover, Harvard meticulously tracks and shapes the racial makeup of its emerging incoming class throughout the process, continuously comparing the new class’s racial composition with that of the previous year. This overt engineering of racial stasis bears no resemblance to the flexible, nonmechanical “plus” factor that the Supreme Court’s cases to date have permitted.

I Took ‘Adulting Classes’ for Millennials

Andrew Zaleski:

On the eve of my wife’s 30th birthday—a milestone I, too, will soon hit—she posed a troubling question: Are we adults yet?

We certainly feel that way: We hold our own jobs, pay our own rent, cover our own bills, drive our own cars. Our credit is in order. But we don’t yet own a house and have no children—two markers commonly associated with fully-fledged adulthood (and two markers that both our sets of parents had reached well before they turned 30). And there are other gaps in our maturity: I don’t buy napkins or know how to golf; up until last year, I didn’t know how to change the oil in my car’s engine. Thankfully, last year we managed to throw a dinner party, our first, without burning the pork roast.

A vague anxiety over these known-unknowns is something of a generational hallmark. A Monday-morning scroll through the social media feed of the average 20-something might turn up a handful of friends sharing memes of dogs—looking bewildered, exasperated, or both—unironically captioned with something like: “Don’t make me adult today.”

Is this the best Madison’s (taxpayer supported) public schools can do?

David Blaska:

Today’s blog excerpts Kaleem Caire’s social media thread in the wake of his letter, co-signed by other local black leaders, expressing disappointment that Matthew Gutierrez of Texas was chosen as new superintendent of Madison WI schools over their preferred candidate, Taylor Eric Thomas of Georgia. Caire expresses frustration over the virulent Progressive Dane/Madison Teachers Inc. faction of Madison progressivism that defeated him for school board last year.

Other signatories were Pastor Marcus Allen, Ray Allen, Ruben Anthony, Pastor Joseph Baring,  Carola Gaines, Pastor Alex Gee, Greg Jones, Kirbie Mack, Vanessa McDowell, John Odom, Teresa Sanders and Yolanda Shelton Morris.

Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick is the very woke, Derail the Jail enemy of police in schools, ally of Ali Muldrow, Brandi Grayson, Freedom Inc., et cetera.

Yet another example of how identity politics is roiling education here in Madison and nationwide. 

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

2013 – 2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison Experience.

Getting educated on China K-12 tutoring edtech

Pandaily:

Episode 61 of Tech Buzz China is on K-12 edtech entrepreneurs, who are seeing their businesses grow instead of shrink in the wake of the coronavirus. Co-hosts Rui Ma and Ying-Ying Lu discuss top trends and the key players before the virus hit, and how they are responding now.

In 2018, the raging headline was that half of the venture capital deployed in edtech that year went to Chinese companies. In the past three years alone, 25 Chinese education companies have gone public. It’s a massive market, but what are the common misconceptions held by Western investors? Listen to hear context on China’s education system and the resulting influence on edtech business models, as well as the stories behind selected companies GSX and Yuanfudao.

The New “Causal” Research on School Spending is Not Causal

Jay Greene:

Some researchers and journalists have become very excited about a new set of studies that claim to find a causal relationship between increasing school spending and improving student outcomes.  These folks acknowledge that the vast majority of earlier research found no relationship between additional resources and stronger results, but that research was purely observational.  Perhaps school systems with weaker outcomes tend to get a larger share of increased spending, creating the false impression that more money doesn’t help.  That is, perhaps bad outcomes often cause more money, not the other way around.

There is a new wave of research that claims to find the causal relationship between school spending and student outcomes and those new results are much more positive.  The problem is that the new research pretty clearly falls short of having strong causal research designs.  Instead, the new research just seems to be substituting different non-causal methods with a different potential direction of bias for the old ones.

The new “causal” studies generally come in two types — regression discontinuity (RD) studies of bond referenda and instrumental variable (IV) analyses of court-ordered spending increases.  While RD and IV designs can produce results that approximate a randomized experiment and can be thought of as causal, the RD and IV studies in this new literature generally fail to meet the requirements for those designs to effectively approximate randomized experiments.  That is, the new “causal” research on school spending is not really causal.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Digital magic, or the dark arts of the 21st century—how can journals and peer reviewers detect manuscripts and publications from paper mills?

Jennifer Byrne and Jana Christopher:

In recent years, it has been proposed that unrealistic requirements for academics and medical doctors to publish in scientific journals, combined with monetary publication rewards, have led to forms of contract cheating offered by organizations known as paper mills. Paper mills are alleged to offer products ranging from research data through to ghostwritten fraudulent or fabricated manuscripts and submission services. While paper mill operations remain poorly understood, it seems likely that paper mills need to balance product quantity and quality, such that they produce or contribute to large numbers of manuscripts that will be accepted for publication. Producing manuscripts at scale may be facilitated by the use of manuscript templates, which could give rise to shared features such as textual and organizational similarities, the description of highly generic study hypotheses and experimental approaches, digital images that show evidence of manipulation and/or reuse, and/or errors affecting verifiable experimental reagents. Based on these features, we propose practical steps that editors, journal staff, and peer reviewers can take to recognize and respond to research manuscripts and publications that may have been produced with undeclared assistance from paper mills.

Fail productively… how to turn yourself into a super-learner

David Robson:

If your aim for 2020 was to learn a new skill, you may be at the point of giving up. Whether you are mastering a new language or a musical instrument, or taking a career-changing course, initial enthusiasm can only take you so far, and any further progress can be disappointingly slow.

From these struggles, you might assume that you simply lack a natural gift – compared to those lucky people who can learn any new skill with apparent ease.

However, it needn’t be this way. Many polymaths – including Charles Darwin and the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman – claimed not to have exceptional natural intelligence. Most of us have more than enough brainpower to master a new discipline, if we apply it correctly – and the latest neuroscience offers many strategies to do just that.

Much research in the field hinges on the idea of “desirable difficulties”, pioneered by Profs Robert and Elizabeth Bjork at the University of California, Los Angeles. The aim is to deliberately create a slight feeling of frustration as you learn, which leads the brain to process the material more deeply, creating longer-lasting memories. It’s like physical exercise: you need to feel a bit of resistance to make significant long-term gains.

$35K contract for police at school events turns into heated debate, protests Monday

Scott Girard:

A $35,000 contract not initially up for discussion at the Madison School Board meeting Monday night ended up the most hotly debated topic among board members.

The contract with the city of Madison provides for up to $35,000 paid to the Madison Police Department in 2020 for officers to provide security, safety and crowd control services at extracurricular events like well-attended sporting events and graduation.

The contract passed on a 4 to 3 vote over shouts from Freedom Inc. activists and after an amendment to redirect the funding to community organizations was offered and later removed without a vote. Board members Savion Castro, Cris Carusi, Gloria Reyes and Kate Toews voted in favor; Ananda Mirilli, Ali Muldrow and Nicki Vander Meulen voted against.

Logan Wroge:

Following the vote, about a dozen opponents of the contract chanted over board members as they discussed other items on the agenda, saying the decision to continue staffing special events, such as sporting events and graduate ceremonies, with police officers could disproportionately affect minority students.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

“We know best”: Authoritarianism’s Fatal Flaw

Zeynep Tufekci:

Authoritarian blindness is a perennial problem, especially in large countries like China with centralized, top-down administration. Indeed, Xi would not even be the first Chinese ruler to fall victim to the totality of his own power. On August 4, 1958, buoyed by reports pouring in from around the country of record grain, rice, and peanut production, an exuberant Chairman Mao Zedong wondered how to get rid of the excess, and advised people to eat “five meals a day.” Many did, gorging themselves in the new regime canteens and even dumping massive amounts of “leftovers” down gutters and toilets. Export agreements were made to send tons of food abroad in return for machinery or currency. Just months later, perhaps the greatest famine in recorded history began, in which tens of millions would die because, in fact, there was no such surplus. Quite the opposite: The misguided agricultural policies of the Great Leap Forward had caused a collapse in food production. Yet instead of reporting the massive failures, the apparatchiks in various provinces had engaged in competitive exaggeration, reporting ever-increasing surpluses both because they were afraid of reporting bad news and because they wanted to please their superiors.

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

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Where is the fashionable mathematics?

Xena Project:

My last post was, amongst other things, a challenge for the community behind every modern computer proof verification system to start formalising “proper mathematics”. This term has some problems, so how about the equally vague but perhaps less offensive “fashionable mathematics”. What mathematics is fashionable? Just take a look at the work of the recent Fields Medallists. That’s a pretty good way of telling.

But fortunately, unlike many other fashions, “fashionable mathematics” is not controlled by the whim of big companies or some cabal. Fashionable mathematics is mathematics which justifies itself by its ability to answer questions which have been previously deemed interesting or important. Peter Scholze’s definition of a perfectoid space opened a door. In the last ten years, perfectoid spaces have been used to prove new cases of the monodromy-weight conjecture, to prove the direct summand conjecture, to give a new proof of purity for flat cohomology, a strengthened version of the almost purity theorem and so on (and I didn’t even mention applications to the Langlands philosophy). These are results whose statements do not mention perfectoid spaces, and some have been open for decades. This is what makes this kind of mathematics fashionable — it is giving my community new insights.

Each formal proof verification system (Lean, Coq, Isabelle/HOL, UniMath, all of the others) has its own community, and it is surely in the interests of their members to see their communities grow. These systems are all claiming to do mathematics, as well as other things too (program verification, research into higher topos theory and higher type theory etc). But two things have become clear to me over the last two years or so:

Black community leaders share concerns about Madison School District’s superintendent hire, call process ‘flawed, incomplete’

Scott Girard:

A letter signed by 13 black community leaders in Madison expresses concerns about the Madison Metropolitan School District’s hiring of Matthew Gutiérrez to be its next superintendent.

The concerns include how much larger and more diverse MMSD is than Gutiérrez’s current Seguin Independent School District in Texas, student performance scores in Seguin and a “flawed, incomplete” process that “lacked substantive input from the Black Community.”

“We are dissatisfied with the process and how the input of the Black Community was minimized, if considered at all,” the letter reads. “Given the differences between Madison and Seguin, we expected a greater and broader background of experience, skills and abilities that would move the Madison District further in cultural competency, social justice, and academic outcomes for black students.

“Dr. Gutiérrez is woefully lacking in all of these categories.”

The signers are Pastors Alex Gee, Marcus Allen and Joseph Baring; Kaleem Caire, Ruben Anthony, Teresa Sanders, Vanessa McDowell, Carola Gaines, Yolanda Shelton Morris, John Odom, Kirbie Mack, Greg Jones and Ray Allen.

The letter was emailed to the School Board Thursday.

MMSD announced Gutiérrez as its hire Jan. 24. He was one of three finalists who visited the district last month to meet with community leaders and hold a public forum. The interviews included closed sessions with the School Board and with some minority community leaders.

During the press conference announcing his hire, School Board president Gloria Reyes said it was a “unanimous decision” of the board to hire Gutiérrez during a Jan. 17 closed session meeting pending contract negotiations.

“Whoever the choice, there will be those who with good intention say our selection wasn’t their first choice,” Reyes said at the press conference. “This is the kind of passion toward education that makes our community strong and we are thankful for that.”

Logan Wroge:

In her letter, Reyes said Gutierrez was selected as a result of “the most transparent and community-involved hiring process” ever undertaken by the district. As elected officials, it is the board’s responsibility to make the final decision, she said.

The black community leaders were critical of how the Seguin district scored on a Texas school performance report in 2018, with a higher proportion of Seguin schools rated below average compared with Texas schools at large.

Gutierrez became superintendent in Seguin, which is in the San Antonio metro area, in August 2017. It was his first job as a permanent superintendent in an 18-year educational career, all of which has been spent in Texas.

Moving forward, Reyes called for a unified approach of “keeping students at the center of everything we do.”

“As is with most larger districts, we are replete with distancing mechanisms and labels that serve to divide us,” Reyes said in her letter. “This is not a time of division, particularity when considering that (the school district) is making history in hiring the first superintendent of color as its leader.”

Kaleem Caire:

Just because we disagree with the Board of Education’s choice for Superintendent doesn’t mean we are being divisive. If the reference here is referring to perceived division along racial lines because Mr. Guettierez is Latino and we are Black, well, several Latino leaders who were a part of the same community interview that Madison’s African American Pastors arranged (and that I was present for as well) also felt that Dr. Guettierez was not the most qualified finalist candidate for the position. We also felt that the finalist candidate pool did not yield the caliber of candidate that our school district needs overall. Many of us felt Dr. Thomas was the most qualified candidate; however, some of us preferred that the Board of Education reopen the search process and try again. Furthermore, the only time many of us were involved in the hiring process was when local Black Ministers requested that we have the opportunity to meet the finalist candidates. This Board did not come to us. Given our collective experience and background in education in Madison (and some of us nationally), you would think the MMSD Board of Education would have thought to include us in this unprecedented community involved process. If you wonder why we are concerned, read the piece I wrote in last month’s Madison365: https://madison365.com/why-black-people-in-madison-are-impatientand-should-be/. This isn’t about Mr. Guettierez race. Instead, it is about our concern for the present and future of our children – and yours.

Onward.

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

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

2013 – 2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison Experience.

Ohio graduates won’t have to be “proficient” in math or English, under state superintendent’s plan

Patrick O’Donnell:

High school students won’t have to be “proficient” in either math or English to graduate, under minimum required test scores proposed by State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria.

They will just need to know enough to do the most basic of jobs.

New high school graduation requirements passed this summer require most students to show “competency” in math and English through scores on Ohio’s Algebra I and English II tests to qualify for a diploma. The new requirements start with the class 2023, this year’s high school freshmen.

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

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Academic Treason

Kirsten Hacker:

International collaboration has become a contentious issue in the world of academia. From a recent Bloomberg article by Tyler Cowen, I learned that ivy league universities have been accepting huge sums of money from countries like Iran, China and others. The chair of the Harvard chemistry department accepted 50,000 dollars per year and as much as 150,000 dollars in perks from Chinese collaborators and a hundred researchers at Texas A&M, many of whom worked in areas relevant to national defense, had gotten money from China and only five of them disclosed this.

I know people who work for a German lab and they are encouraged to collaborate with Chinese institutes, but I’ve heard that this sort of collaboration is sometimes controversial from the US standpoint, especially when the German lab also collaborates with US institutes. What these people do is all in compliance with the law, unlike US companies that set up work arounds to sell their products by going through intermediaries that are not on US soil, but for people in Germany and South Korea, countries that have always been stuck between two sides of a cold war, trying to remain friends with both sides has become increasingly challenging. They are both well aware that their security is dependent on support from the US, but as technocrats and mafia-sorts do battle, keeping clean shoes is challenging.

By some measures, academia has always operated as an entity that has no respect for international boundaries and this was its strength, but in times of war, knowledge becomes weaponized. Even though conflicts today seem to fly under the radar, this doesn’t mean that there are no casualties. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that people who are involved in the transfer of sensitive technology are simply eliminated in discrete ways.

This leads me to wonder about the extent to which international collaboration in fundamental physics is restricted. There was a conference last year in Hamburg during which dual use (military/civilian) applications of free electron laser technologies was discussed and from what I gathered, the conclusion was that military uses of the technology have been tried out and ruled out. This left the doors of international collaboration open within that sphere, but what happens if a nuclear physicist goes abroad to spread knowledge to populations that are not typically invited to conferences? (I honestly don’t know since I didn’t study nuclear physics.)

The AOC Tapes: Rep says she got goddaughter into Bronx charter school

Jon Levine:

Good for me, but not for thee.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez managed to get her goddaughter into a Bronx charter school, according to a Facebook Live video she recorded in 2017 — before she was a public figure.

“This area’s like a lot of where my family is from,” AOC says as she strolls along Hunts Point Avenue in the Bronx. “My goddaughter, I got her into a charter school like maybe a block or two down.”

It’s unclear exactly how Ocasio-Cortez managed to finagle the favor for her goddaughter, or which school she attended. There are at least five — including South Bronx Classical Charter School I and Bronx Charter School for the Arts — within walking distance of the Hunts Point subway station where the video cuts out.

Reps for AOC did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Embracing charters would be a big no-no for Ocasio-Cortez’s Democratic socialist base, which calls for the total abolition of charters, arguing that their existence hurts traditional public schools.

“Charter schools act as tools for privatizing education and weakening the power of unionized teachers,” the party says in its New York City platform, which called for ending “the creation of new charter schools, [banning] the expansion of existing charter schools, and transform[ing] existing charter schools into public schools.”

Though Ocasio-Cortez has frequently talked about how her own family fled the Bronx to avoid the borough’s failing public schools, she has also publicly stood in total lockstep with anti-charter advocates.

2011: A majority of the Madison school board aborted the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter School.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Small UW campuses provide access to education. What would happen if they disappeared?

Kelly Meyerhofer:

Yet many of the branch campuses have fewer students enrolled than at any point during the past 45 years. What effect would closing one or more of them have on access to higher education?

The Wisconsin State Journal turned to UW-Madison higher education professor Nicholas Hillman, who leads the university’s Student Success Through Applied Research (SSTAR) lab and has studied so-called “education deserts,” places that lack easy access to higher education.

Wisconsin birth and abortion data [politics].

Wisconsin high school student counts.

Civics: How governments are using charges of cybercrime to silence journalists

Sophie Fogin:

Governments are cracking down on journalists worldwide, charging them with so-called cybercrimes, but evidence suggests that the cybercrime charges are only a means to silence real journalism.

When acquitted of the cybercrime charges against him earlier this month, Brazil-based, US journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted that the news was good, but “not good enough” for his team at the investigative news outlet The Intercept, which he founded in 2014.

Commentary on Open Enrollment, the rule of law and the taxpayer supported Madison School District

Scott Girard:

The Madison Metropolitan and Monona Grove school districts are applying for a waiver from the state to continue an agreement that allows up to five MGSD students to attend Nuestro Mundo Charter School beginning with each kindergarten class.

The state Department of Public Instruction informed the districts in December 2019 that the agreement, which has allowed the MGSD students to bypass the open enrollment and MMSD lottery processes since the school moved to Monona in 2012, does not comply with statutes. 

“A preference cannot be given to a set number of Monona Grove School District (MGSD) resident students based on their residency,” the Dec. 18, 2019, letter from DPI school administration consultant Cassi Benedict states. “MGSD students are subject to the same admission requirements and random selection process of all students interested in attending Nuestro Mundo Charter School.”

Notes and links on open enrollment.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Groundbreaking Settlement in California Literacy Lawsuit to Provide Immediate Relief to 75 Low-Performing Schools, Advances Holistic Approach to Learning in Schools

Morrison Foerster:

Superior court Judge Rupert Byrdsong today received notice of a wide-ranging settlement in a major education lawsuit brought by students, parents and advocacy groups against the State of California. The lawsuit was the first civil rights action brought under any state constitution to protect students’ right to access to literacy. The ability to read is a foundation for education, which is a right secured by the state constitution. According to a 2012 report prepared by experts engaged by the state, there is an urgent need to address the literacy crisis in California schools, which primarily affects California’s low-income students of color. Under the settlement reached in Ella T. v. State of California, the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond have agreed to provide resources to improve literacy outcomes for the state’s lowest performing schools, adopt a holistic approach to literacy, and provide extra support to the Stockton Unified School District.

“The longest yet most urgent struggle for social justice in America has been for access to literacy,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Directing Attorney at Public Counsel. “The right to read is not just the cornerstone of education, it is the cornerstone of our democracy. Without it, we continue to build a future on the illusion that the haves compete on the same terms with the have nots. This revolutionary settlement, coming nearly 70 long years after Brown v. Board, does not end that struggle, but it invigorates it with the power of children and their communities who insist on the equal opportunity to tell their stories and remake California in the images of all.”

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

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Sleepmore in Seattle: Later school start times are associated with more sleep and better performance in high school students

Gideon P. Dunster1, Luciano de la Iglesia1, Miriam Ben-Hamo1, Claire Nave1, Jason G. Fleischer2, Satchidananda Panda2 and Horacio O. de la Iglesia1,3:

Most teenagers are chronically sleep deprived. One strategy proposed to lengthen adolescent sleep is to delay secondary school start times. This would allow students to wake up later without shifting their bedtime, which is biologically determined by the circadian clock, resulting in a net increase in sleep. So far, there is no objective quantitative data showing that a single intervention such as delaying the school start time significantly increases daily sleep. The Seattle School District delayed the secondary school start time by nearly an hour. We carried out a pre-/post-research study and show that there was an increase in the daily median sleep duration of 34 min, associated with a 4.5% increase in the median grades of the students and an improvement in attendance.

The Mathematical Nomad, Paul Erdős

Jorgen Veisdal:

This is how American mathematician Joel Spencer remembers the now legendary late Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős (1913–1996). Throughout his life, the nomadic Erdős was known for many things, not least of all his personal eccentricities, unimaginable cognitive abilities and purity of mission.

Born in Austria-Hungary two years before the breakout of World War I, he thought himself mathematics from books and could multiply three-digit numbers in his head before the age of four. Living out of a suitcase traveling from university to university, throughout his life he survived off speaking fees and modest endowments from various universities. As a teenager, he reproved Chebyshev’s theorem before the age of 20. He was awarded a doctorate in mathematics in addition to his undergraduate degree at age 21. In his 83 years of life, he published over 1500 academic papers with more than 500 collaborators, making him the most prolific mathematician in history, comparable only with Leonard Euler.

Here’s to Paul Erdős, who dedicated his life solely to mathematics — and his friends.

Should Facebook, Google be liable for user posts? asks U.S. Attorney General Barr

Nandita Bose, Raphael Satter:

“No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts. They have become titans,” Barr said at a public meeting held by the Justice Department to examine the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“Given this changing technological landscape, valid questions have been raised about whether Section 230’s broad immunity is necessary at least in its current form,” he said.

Section 230 says online companies such as Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc’s Google and Twitter Inc cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of information they provide. This largely exempts them from liability involving content posted by users, although they can be held liable for content that violates criminal or intellectual property law.

Barr’s comments offered insight into how regulators in Washington are reconsidering the need for incentives that once helped online companies grow but are increasingly viewed as impediments to curbing online crime, hate speech and extremism.

Many taxpayer supported school districts, including Madison, use Google and Facebook services.

How to Collaborate with People You Don’t Like

Mark Nevins:

As Kacie and I explored the situation, she told me that Marta was seen as a highly talented, accomplished, and well-liked executive — she wasn’t toxic or difficult. But Kacie admitted that she didn’t really like Marta. They had different styles, and Marta rubbed her the wrong way.

Over a series of conversations, Kacie and I worked through the situation. She revisited the stakeholder map she had created in her first few weeks in the role, which clearly showed that Marta’s collaboration and partnership were essential for getting the business results Kacie wanted. In assessing the relationship more honestly, Kacie came to realize that she had been failing to reach out to Marta. She had not made her new colleague feel like her input and perspectives were valuable, had been leaving her and her team off communications, and had more or less been trying to avoid her.

Kacie developed a handful of useful strategies for working better with Marta. While none were particularly easy or comfortable, these are ideas and insights that almost anyone can use when they have to work with someone they just don’t like.

The art of powerful questions

Eric Vogt, Juanita Brown and David Isaacs:

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first- 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

—ALBERT EINSTEIN

When was the last time you sat through a meeting and said to yourself, “This is a complete waste of time!”? Was it yesterday, or even just a few hours ago? Why did that gathering feel so tedious? Perhaps it’s because the leaders posed the wrong questions at the start of the session. Or, worse yet, maybe they didn’t ask any engaging questions, and as a result, the meeting consisted of boring reports-outs or other forms of oneway communication that failed to engage people’s interest or curiosity. ^

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Taxpayer Income, purchasing power and 2020 Madison Referendum climate

Oren Cass:

2/ Punchline: Popular perception is correct. In 1985, the typical male worker could cover a family of four’s major expenditures (housing, health care, transportation, education) on 30 weeks of salary. By 2018 it took 53 weeks. Which is a problem, there being 52 weeks in a year.

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

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

Projected enrollment drop means staffing cuts coming in Madison School District

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

The Case Against Italicizing “Foreign” Words

Catapult:

When Emily Dickinson implored us to “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant,” she wasn’t referring to an injunction to italicize words that people outside hegemonic cultures use on a regular basis, yet are deemed “other.” She was, we assume, referring to telling the truth in an uncommon way, encouraging us to create newness with language—and this newness, this uncommonness, is what is often implied with slanting words: italics.

In the past several years, working alongside fellow writers and translators who strive to operate with feminist, decolonial aesthetics (including my cohort of contributors to Sophie Collins’s edited volume Currently and Emotion: Translations, as well as Tilted Axis Press), I’ve become invested in the active ethos of not italicizing supposedly “foreign” words—words that supposedly aren’t used in the dominant culture. I’ve come to understand the practice of italicizing such words as a form of linguistic gatekeeping; a demarcation between which words are “exotic” or “not found in the English language,” and those that have a rightful place in the text: the non-italicized.

This magazine does not italicize non-English words for that reason, a policy I wish other English-language publications would emulate. So normalized is it to italicize the dominated “othered” that it takes people, myself included, many years if not decades to unlearn this trick.

Let’s use the example of food, a topic I’m always eager to discuss as a woman who is often hungry. At what point does a food word become worthy of inclusion in the English language, and according to whom? Who are the editors of which dictionaries? Which populations do they look at for usage frequency, considering more and more of the world (worryingly, for the state of linguistic diversity and cultural preservation in many regions) uses English regularly?

The New Haven Teachers Union Is Redoing Its Election. The Reason Involves Gift Cards, Personal Loans & Accusations of Extortion

Mike Antonucci:

The union was praised by then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Its president, David Cicarella, was honored by the Obama White House in 2012 as a “School Turnaround Champion of Change.”

“New Haven is a gold standard in terms of how you do things right,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

But in 2019, the union made headlines for a different reason.

Cicarella was challenged for the presidency by his vice president and longtime friend Tom Burns. After the votes were counted and certified, Cicarella had won his fifth term by 20 votes.

Burns challenged the election on a number of grounds, most having to do with Cicarella allegedly using his powers of incumbency to gain an unfair advantage during the campaign. The challenge was dismissed by the union’s board, so Burns went up the chain — to AFT Connecticut, AFT national and the U.S. Department of Labor’s union oversight office.

During subsequent investigations, Burns withdrew some charges, and the rest were found to be without merit. However, AFT did determine that 27 members who worked as nurses in the private sector had not been allowed to vote. The national union ordered a rerun of the election.

UCLA drops controversial face recognition plan

Jefferson Graham:

The idea was to have the University of California Los Angeles use facial recognition as a way to gain access to buildings, to prove authenticity and to deny entry to people with restricted access to the campus, matching their faces against a database. Advocacy group Fight for the Future says UCLA was the first major university exploring using facial recognition to monitor students. 

The group had tested facial recognition software and found that “dozens” of student-athletes and professors were incorrectly matched with photos from a mug shot database, “and the overwhelming majority of those misidentified were people of color.”

A Future with No Future: Depression, the Left, and the Politics of Mental Health

Mikkel Krause Frantzen:

HOW DO YOU throw a brick through the window of a bank if you can’t get out of bed?” This question, formulated by Johanna Hedva in “Sick Woman Theory,” has been with me for quite some time now. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Why? Because it points to a situation familiar to too many of us (but who is that “us”?): a situation characterized by despair and depression. A situation in which you really can’t get out of bed. This situation is also, in most cases, saturated by politics and by the economy. Contrary to mainstream psychological and psychiatric discourse the reason why you can’t get out of bed is not because you have a bad attitude, a negative mindset, or because you have somehow chosen your own unhappiness. Nor is it merely a matter of chemistry and biology, an imbalance in the brain, an unlucky genetic disposition, or low levels of serotonin. More often than not it is a matter of the world you live in, the work that you hate, or the job that you just lost, the debt that haunts your present from the future, or the fact that the planet’s future is going still faster and further down the drain.

The World’s Most Efficient Languages

John McWhorter:

Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.

But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?

Effects of Scaling Up Private School Choice Programs on Public School Students

David N. Figlio, Cassandra M.D. Hart, Krzysztof Karbownik:

Using a rich dataset that merges student-level school records with birth records, and a student fixed effect design, we explore how the massive scale-up of a Florida private school choice program affected public school students’ outcomes. Expansion of the program produced modestly larger benefits for students attending public schools that had a larger initial degree of private school options, measured prior to the introduction of the voucher program. These benefits include higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism and suspension rates. Effects are particularly pronounced for lower-income students, but results are positive for more affluent students as well.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Classics Faculty Proposes Removal Of Homer And Virgil From Mods Syllabus

Yaamir Badhe

The Oxford Student has been notified about a proposal by the Classics faculty to remove the study of Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid from the Mods syllabus, a decision which has surprised many across the faculty.

This proposal forms part of a series of reforms aimed to modernise the first stage of the Classics degree, known as Moderations (Mods), which take place during Hilary term of second year for all students taking Classics courses across the university.

The Mods course, which is assessed by a set of ten exams at the end of Hilary, has been increasingly criticised in recent years, due to the attainment gaps found between male and female candidates, as well as between candidates who have studied Latin and/or Greek to A-Level (Course I) and those who have not (Course II). 

The removal of Virgil and Homer papers, which take up two out of the ten Mods papers, have been marketed as a move that will reduce the attainment gaps and thus improve access to the subject. However many have questioned why the solution to this problem involves the removal of Homer and Virgil.

The 1619 Project perpetuates the soft bigotry of low expectations

Ian Rowe:

On March 18, 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama began an oration that Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic called a “searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech” and “the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime.”

“‘We the people, in order to form a more perfect union,’” Obama began, quoting the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. “Two hundred twenty-one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy.”

Standing in the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Obama argued that, despite America’s original sin, the abomination of slavery, he was optimistic that future generations would continue to make progress toward “a more perfect union,” precisely because our nation was founded on the principles enacted in the Constitution in 1789.

Obama’s speech is relevant amid today’s fierce debate as to what to teach young Americans about the nation’s origin story and true birthdate. Like Obama, some posit that it is 1789, the year the Constitution went into effect, establishing the American form of government. Most Americans believe it was 1776, upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the enumeration of the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

How I Learned French in 12 Months

Runwes.com

A bit over a year ago, I was a completely monolingual English speaker with zero experience with the French language. Twelve months later, I very comfortably passed the internationally recognized DELF B2 exam. If you don’t know what “B2” means, check out the CEFR scale.

Furthermore, all of my progress was the result of study and practice at home. My learning was entirely self-directed, without any formal programs or immersion. This was only possible through the many amazing resources available online, many of which are free. Furthermore, I succeeded in part because I prioritized receiving quality input and producing output, particularly by spending lots of time talking with fluent French speakers.

I will say my learning pace was somewhat aggressive, in that I devoted a lot of time towards learning French over the past year, but it was nowhere near full-time study.

I wouldn’t call myself completely “fluent”, but to give you an idea of my level, here are some things I can do without much trouble:

Endless Accountability Mulligans for Taxpayer Supported K-12 School Districts

Darrel Burnette II:

Across the nation, hundreds of school districts are trapped in a death spiral of declining enrollment that forces dramatic budget cuts which then trigger more student departures.

State officials, who have the power to merge or dissolve districts to create more financially stable systems, are often reluctant to interfere in a process that can raise issues of class and race and brims with emotional implications for how communities define themselves.

In Wisconsin right now, there are deep anxieties in the legislature about a dissolution process that went awry after residents in Palmyra-Eagle, a rural district near Milwaukee in fiscal distress, repeatedly voted to dissolve the district but were rebuffed by an appointed panel controlled by the state school boards association.

The district now faces severe layoffs this summer after more than 100 students, unsure of the district’s fate, enrolled in surrounding districts.

“This has created a bit of an uproar in Madison,” said CJ Szafir, the vice president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, an influential conservative think tank in Milwaukee. “We know there needs to be more district efficiency. The question for us is if the state should take a carrots or sticks approach to this.”

Math: Dealerships Give Car Buyers Some Advice: Just Stop Paying Your Loan

AnnaMaria Andriotis and Ben Eisen:

Credit-reporting firm TransUnion calculates that nearly 24 million U.S. vehicle loans were originated in 2018. About 300,000 of those vehicles were repossessed within 12 months, up 17% from 2014. Such a quick souring of the loan can be a signal of some sort of auto fraud.

Roughly a fifth of people who have had a car repossessed over the last several years take out another auto loan within a year of the repossession, TransUnion says.

Dealerships typically don’t make loans. When consumers need financing, a dealership electronically sends their loan applications to banks, credit unions and other lenders. They, in turn, decide whether to fund the loan.

An examination into incidents reported to the Bias Response Team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Christian. Schneider:

When students settled in to a sociology class on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus on September 14, 2018, the professor started describing certain theories he said he was eager to critique in a proposal that he was thinking of sending to the sociology department.

Yet, the professor added, some theories and beliefs couldn’t be critiqued; he called them “sacred cows” within academia.

This statement angered one student, who complained to university administrators that use of the term “sacred cows” was inappropriate.

“The way he used this term was offensive to me, because in some cultures, cows are deemed to be sacred, and his employment of the term as a snarky rhetorical device demonstrates the lack of awareness or concern this person has towards future colleagues and students who might be from those countries,” the student wrote.

“I grew up in India, and found his use of this terminology to be condescending and racist,” the student added. “I would not feel safe around him, and feel that his confident lack of awareness perpetuates the unsafe white-centric and white-supremacist environment of UW-Madison.”

Mind Those Manners: Kids Need Lessons in Email and Phone Etiquette

Julie Jargon::

If the email addresses of Amanda McCraw’s eighth-graders didn’t contain some portion of their names, she would have no clue who the senders were.

“There’s no subject line, no signature. It’s just, ‘Hey, can you send me that paper?’ ” said Ms. McCraw, a teacher and principal at a tiny school in rural Paicines, Calif.

Texting may be second nature to many kids, but composing an email seems like an ancient craft. And making calls—or answering one from a stranger? That’s so last century. Educators and parents are trying to teach kids digital etiquette so that when they enter the workforce, they will be able to communicate using words instead of abbreviations and emojis.

Ms. McCraw is so serious about it that she has made email composition a part of her students’ language arts grade. Each week she has her middle-school students email her about assignments they have completed in Google documents, just to get them in the habit. If the memos don’t contain a subject line, a salutation and a signature, they get marked down.

Sandra Boynton Writes Children’s Books That Don’t Condescend

Warren Bass:

To celebrate her recent books “Silly Lullaby” and “Dinosnores,” the beloved children’s author Sandra Boynton threw not a book party but a pajama party. At a New York store on a Chelsea morning, three of Ms. Boynton’s four adult children—fresh-faced, cheerful and vigorous—shimmied onstage in flannel jammies near large cardboard cutouts of Ms. Boynton’s charmingly bewildered cows and other animals. They led a roomful of rapt children and beaming parents in the titular lullaby, which is as silly as promised: “Go to sleep, my zoodle, my fibblety-fitsy foo. Go to sleep, sweet noodle. The owl is whispering ‘Moo.’” A long line of short readers waited for Ms. Boynton to sign their board books, often lovingly battered and bitten. “This is like meeting Bono,” one mother said happily.

Children and parents don’t always agree on enjoyable reading (and rereading), but for decades, they have agreed on Sandra Boynton. Since publishing her first book, “Hippos Go Berserk!”, in 1977, her titles have sold 70 million copies, according to Workman, one of her publishers, along with Simon & Schuster. “It’s a lot of books,” she says. “And I’ve only bought half of those.”

M.B.A. Programs Rush to Add STEM Degrees

Patrick Thomas:

Business schools are racing to add concentrations in science, technology, engineering and math to their M.B.A. programs as they try to broaden their appeal to prospective students overseas who want to work in the U.S.

Several schools, including Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, have unveiled STEM-designated master’s in business degrees in recent months. The University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business recently reclassified its entire M.B.A. program as STEM.

A STEM degree or concentration in a field such as data analytics or management science can be particularly appealing to international students, especially those with visa worries. The designation allows foreign graduates of U.S. universities to apply for a work-authorization program that can extend their stay in the country by two additional years versus a more traditional business degree.

“If I’m an international student, going to a school that will give me the extra years would be a big deal,” said Georgette Phillips, dean of Lehigh University’s College of Business. The school unveiled a 15-credit, STEM-designated business-analytics concentration for its M.B.A. program in December.

Commentary on the Madison School District’s teacher climate

David Blaska:

In a school district that is 18% black, 57% of students suspended from school the first semester of the current school year (2019-20) were African-American. White students, 43% of the student body, accounted for 11% of out-of-school suspensions.

To school board member Ali Muldrow, the data showed more about school staff than about students’ behavior. “We are really excited to discipline black students and seem far less compelled to discipline or suspend or expel white students.”

Board member Savion Castro said the data is “evidence of racism in our schools” that needs to be looked at “through a lens of public health.” 

School board member Ananda Mirilli “pointed to adults who are upholding an old system that gives us this [disproportionality] year after year after year.”

Play by the rules and you’ll still get thrown under the bus, as Mr. Rob learned at Whitehorse middle school. Or use the N-word in an educational setting.

Heading for the exits

Good Madison progressives would rather blame Scott Walker. But the former Republican governor did not hire Jennifer Cheatham nor did he elect Ali, Ananda, and Savion. We’ll know the situation is going from bad to worse if Muldrow/Mirilli protege Maia Pearson survives today’s (02-18-2020) primary election

Scott Girard:

More teachers left the Madison Metropolitan School District during and after the 2018-19 school year than each of the four previous years, according to the district’s annual human resources report.

The report, posted on the district’s Research, Accountability and Data Office this month, shows 8.3% of teachers left the district, not including retirements. That’s up from the 6.7% that left in 2017-18, 6.9% in 2016-17, 6.1% in 2015-16 and 5.5% in 2014-15.

The count includes those who left between Nov. 1 of the given school year and Oct. 31 of the following year.

Notes and links on the 2020 Madison School Board Candidates.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

The Discriminatory Costs of Preserving Women’s-Only Sports

Leo Desforges:

Separate categories for men and women in sports will become a relic of the early 21st century. Here is why we will go backwards to go forwards:

In much of the world, we have become accustomed to having gender segregated categories for competition in sports. But the past 50 years mark a bubble which is popping as we speak. The past half century will be looked back on as the golden era of women’s sport, where segregated categories gave women a chance to compete on a playing field that excludes men, transgender people and intersex people.

Generally, men are not allowed to compete in women’s categories, but women ARE allowed to compete in mens. We have for decades allowed men, transgender people and intersex people to be discriminated against when it comes to sports. And this discrimination is now being highlighted as the discussions surrounding the inclusion of transwomen and intersex people intensifies.

This gendered bias is highlighted by the embarrassing “gender checks” of the previous century where genitals were inspected and/or genetic testing done. The IOC (International Olympic Comitee) stopped using that policy in 1999, recognizing its inherent ineffectiveness and discriminatory nature. In 2004, the IOC also made new provisions for transwomen to compete in womens categories at the Olympics. Those regulations were lightened in 2015, but recently tightend a bit for the 2020 games. (I will be talking more about these regulations later in this article). Either way, we see a very powerful regulatory body forced to publicly contend with the fairness and legality of the 20th century gender discrimination practices.

Top officials at Milwaukee Public Schools don’t apply or interview for jobs

Casey Geraldo:

The I-TEAM verified with a district spokesperson who clarified in an email that “the superintendent has the ability to appoint these positions regardless of an application process or not.” He continued, writing “I’d be curious to learn if that is common practice for other large districts.”

We called other similar-sized districts. Both Kansas City and St. Louis have processes that include an application and interviews. Milwaukee’s process does not.

Superintendent Keith Posley’s office declined several interview requests over two months. The I-Team’s Casey Geraldo caught up to him in a stairwell after a school board meeting. In response to a question about how he knows he’s chosen the best people to run the district, he said: “I know I have the best people working for the district.”

His office declined another opportunity to interview after the stairwell meeting.

Related: “an emphasis on adult employment.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: $418,600 pension for former CalPERS investment manager largest ever, new data show

Transparent California:

When excluding partial benefits paid out to beneficiaries, the average full-career pension for safety officers was $100,155 last year. Non-safety employees received an average full-career pension of $65,855.

There were 740 Oakland city retirees receiving a pension worth $100,000 or more — the most of any city statewide. Long Beach (533) and Anaheim (431) ranked 2nd and 3rd, respectively, among cities enrolled in CalPERS. To view the data sorted by individual city or other employing public agency, please click here.

The number of $100,000 or greater pensions continues to grow both in raw terms and as a percentage of total outlays. While only 5 percent of pensioners are collecting annual pensions of $100,000 or more, these 5 percent account for 18 percent of total annualized pension payouts.

Ramanujan surprises again

Marianne Freiberger:

Ramanujan’s story is as inspiring as it is tragic. Born in 1887 in a small village around 400 km from Madras (now Chennai), Ramanujan developed a passion for mathematics at a young age, but had to pursue it mostly alone and in poverty. Until, in 1913, he decided to write a letter to the famous Cambridge number theorist G.H. Hardy. Accustomed to this early form of spam, Hardy might have been forgiven for dispatching the highly unorthodox letter straight to the bin. But he didn’t. Recognising the author’s genius, Hardy invited Ramanujan to Cambridge, where he arrived in 1914. Over the following years, Ramanujan more than repaid Hardy’s faith in his talent, but suffered ill health due, in part, to the grizzly English climate and food. Ramanujan returned to India in 1919, still feeble, and died the following year, aged only 32. Hardy later described his collaboration with Ramanujan as “the one romantic incident in my life”.

The taxi-cab number

The romanticism rubbed off on the number 1729, which plays a central role in the Hardy-Ramanujan story. “I remember once going to see [Ramanujan] when he was ill at Putney,” Hardy wrote later. “I had ridden in taxi cab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavourable omen. ‘No’, he replied, ‘it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.'” What Ramanujan meant is that…

The Map of Mathematics

Kevin Hartnett:

Here is a map of mathematics as it stands today, mathematics as it is practiced by mathematicians.

From simple starting points — Numbers, Shapes, Change — the map branches out into interwoven tendrils of thought. Follow it, and you’ll understand how prime numbers connect to geometry, how symmetries give a handle on questions of infinity.

And although the map is necessarily incomplete — mathematics is too grand to fit into any single map — we hope to give you a flavor for the major questions and controversies that animate the field, as well as the conceptual tools needed to dive in.

UW System seeks to double online enrollment after failing to meet unfunded budget requirement

Kelly Meyerhofer:

Key to Wisconsin’s online education market are the thousands of working adults who have some college credits but no degree. A recent report estimates this share of the state’s population to be as many as 662,000 people. System officials see online education as the bridge connecting this group with the skills employers say they desperately need from their workforce.

“We’re really aiming at this adult professional market,” said Aaron Brower, who oversees the System’s online education programs. “That’s a group that’s pretty under-served in our state.”

Many adult learners are in their 30s balancing work, school and family commitments, so they need flexible and personalized programming that fits their existing lifestyles.

Credentialism: Illinois Bill Would Ban Adults From Pumping Their Own Gas

Christian Britschgi:

The free market experiment of letting people pump their own gas is over. It failed. That appears to be the message behind a new piece of Illinois legislation that would prohibit self-service gas stations.

“No gas may be pumped at a gas station in this State unless it is pumped by a gas station attendant employed at the gas station,” reads the Gas Station Attendant Act, which was introduced last week by state Rep. Camille Lilly (D–Oak Park).

Should it pass, Illinois would join New Jersey as the only other state in the union to prohibit self-service gas stations. Oregon allows self-service gas stations in counties of less than 40,000 people but maintains prohibitions everywhere else in the state. A bill to allow gas stations in the Beaver State to designate a quarter of their pumps as self-service failed in 2019.

The Invasion of the German Board Games

Jonathan Kay:

In a development that would have been hard to imagine a generation ago, when video games were poised to take over living rooms, board games are thriving. Data shows that U.S. sales grew by 28 percent between the spring of 2016 and the spring of 2017. Revenues are expected to rise at a similar rate into the early 2020s—largely, says one analyst, because the target audience “has changed from children to adults,” particularly younger ones.

Much of this success is traceable to the rise of games that, well, get those adults acting somewhat more like children. Clever, low-overhead card games such as Cards Against Humanity, Secret Hitler, and Exploding Kittens (“A card game for people who are into kittens and explosions”) have sold exceptionally well. Games like these have proliferated on Kickstarter, where anyone with a great idea and a contact at an industrial printing company can circumvent the usual toy-and-retail gatekeepers who green-light new concepts. (The largest project category on Kickstarter is “Games,” and board games make up about three-quarters of those projects.)

‘They know us better than we know ourselves’: how Amazon tracked my last two years of reading

Kari Paul:

When I requested my personal information from Amazon this month under California’s new privacy law, I received mostly what I expected: my order history, shipping information and customer support chat logs.

But tucked into the dozens of files were also two Excel spreadsheets, more than 20,000 lines each, with titles, time stamps and actions detailing my reading habits on the Kindle app on my iPhone.

I now know that on 15 February 2019 starting at 4.37pm, I read The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish – a dark novel by Katya Apekina – for 20 minutes and 30 seconds. On 5 January 2019 starting at 6.27pm, I read the apocalypse-thriller Severance by Ling Ma for 31 minutes and 40 seconds. Starting at 2.12pm on 3 November 2018, I read mermaid romance tale The Pisces by Melissa Broder for 20 minutes and 24 seconds.

And Amazon knows more than just what books I’ve read and when – it also knows which parts of them I liked the most. On 21 May 2019 I highlighted an excerpt from the third installment of the diary of Anaïs Nin, the data shows, and on 23 August 2018 at 11.25 pm, I highlighted an excerpt from Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath. On 27 August 2018, I changed the color of a highlighted portion of that same book.

Other habits tracked included the times I copied excerpts from books into my iPhone’s clipboard and how often I looked up definitions of words in Kindle’s attached dictionary.

Commentary on Wisconsin’s Disastrous Reading Climate

Wisconsin Reading Coalition, Via a kind email:

New Wisconsin Group Issues a Call to Action for Reading Excellence
On February 12th, a new group called WI-CARE – Wisconsin Call to Action for Reading Excellence – issued a Call to Action for DPI, detailing five areas of concern. You can watch their press conference on Wisconsin Eye and read commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Wisconsin State Journal.

Some Efforts Are Already Underway
DPI issued a statement in January indicating a new focus on explicit, systematic phonics, and Madison Metropolitan School Districtsays it is focusing on explicit, structured phonics as it moves through a process to adopt new English Language Arts instructional materials. We will be watching with great interest for details.

Reading League Wisconsin Sell-Out Demonstrates High Interest Among Teachers
Wisconsin’s new professional development organization, Reading League Wisconsin, expanded the venue for its April 14th kickoff event in Wausau after a quick sell-out of seats. Registration has reopened to accommodate additional educators wanting to hear from national experts Susan Hall and Pati Montgomery.

Free Sopris Voyager Webinar to Demonstrate Analysis of NAEP Data
Voyager Sopris Learning presents Wisconsin Reading Coalition founding member Dr. Steven Dykstra explaining how to navigate the NAEP Data Explorer to move beyond cookie cutter reports on state performance. You can catch this free webinar on Wednesday, February 19th, at 3:00 CT, or watch it later on demand. Dykstra will demonstrate how to use this powerful tool to ask better questions and find better answers.

Of Course, There Is Always Some Pushback
Various blogs, podcast, and tweets in Wisconsin have been mentioning a position taken by Jeffrey Bowers which minimizes the importance of systematic phonics instruction. Any time an author espouses views that seem to fly in the face of settled science, it’s wise to take a closer look before coming to any conclusions. Jennifer Buckingham does an excellent job of critiquing Bowers in her article, “The grass is not greener on Jeffrey Bowers’ side of the fence: Systematic phonics belongs in evidence-based reading programs.”

Parents sue Madison schools over transgender policy

Todd Richmond:

 A group of parents filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging the Madison school district’s transgender policy is unconstitutional because it prohibits teachers and staff from informing parents that their children want to switch sexes. 

Conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit on the parents’ behalf in Dane County Circuit Court. 

According to the lawsuit, Madison schools adopted a policy in 2018 that states a person’s gender identity can be male, female, a blend of both or neither and is determined by person’s sense of self. The policy states that the district is committed to affirming each student’s self-designated gender identity and the district will strive to “disrupt the gender binary” with books and lessons stating that everyone has the right to choose their gender.

Bruce Vielmetti:

The district’s policy interferes with parents’ right to direct their own children’s health treatment and religious upbringing, the suit states. Eleven of the parents are Christians and believe the “sex each of us is born with is a gift, not an arbitrary imposition.”

A policy affecting such fundamental rights must protect a compelling government interest in the most narrowly tailored and least restrictive ways. The suit says there is no such interest in “keeping secret from parents that their child is dealing with gender dysphoria.”

Brian Juchems, co-director at GSAFE, a support and advocacy group for LGBTQ students, said Madison’s policies provide “space for students to understand their identity while building confidence to tell their parents.”

He said most state school districts prohibit discrimination against transgender students, but few have adopted formal procedures like Madison to guide staff in providing support.

He also agrees parents should be in the conversation when a student is ready. “Telling your child that you will love and support them no matter who they are is a way for families to make it safer for the child to have that conversation

The Complaint:

This action seeks to vindicate parents’ fundamental and constitutional right to direct the upbringing of their children. The Madison Metropolitan School District has violated this important right by adopting a policy designed to circumvent parental involvement in a pivotal decision affecting their children’s health and future. The policy enables children, of any age, to socially transition to a different gender identity at school without parental notice or consent, requires all teachers to enable this transition, and then prohibits teachers from communicating with parents about this potentially life-altering choice without the child’s consent. Even more, the Madison School District directs its teachers and staff to deceive parents by reverting to the child’s birth name and corresponding pronouns whenever the child’s parents are nearby. These policies violate Plaintiffs’ rights as parents.

2020 Madison School Board Candidate Forum – 100 Black Men

Scott Girard:

“Teachers are ready to do this work, but for whatever reason there’s a barrier set up in front of them,” Ball said. “A goal is to have no gap. I know we can do it in this community.”

School Board candidate Ball wants to ‘get out of the way of people doing their work’ to help close opportunity gap

Gomez Schmidt, the director of enrichment at test prep and college admissions tutoring service Galin Education, is a Minneapolis native with two school-age children — one at Memorial High School, another in seventh-grade at EAGLE School in Fitchburg — and a third that graduated from Memorial. She stressed the importance of the district’s work toward adopting a new literacy curriculum, expected to be rolled out in fall 2021, as a tool to help close the gap and develop children’s reading skills early.

“We have to go back to the basics and we have to find a curriculum that teaches explicit phonics and teaches kids what they have to know to read,” Gomez Schmidt said.

Pearson, a revenue agent with the state Department of Revenue, has three children in Madison schools, all at Lincoln. She pointed to herself Monday as an example of what Black Excellence can look like in Madison, as someone whose family has been here for three generations, despite the ongoing disparities.

Notes and links on the 2020 Madison School Board Candidates.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Bodycam video shows Jacksonville girl, 6, ‘pleasant’ on ‘field trip’ to mental health facility from school

Emily Bloch:

The body camera footage obtained by the Times-Union captured the conversation between two responding officers. It also shows at times the child’s wrists, with no handcuffs visible. The mother had previously said the child was handcuffed, but the Sheriff’s Office and school district said that wasn’t true.

“I don’t see her acting how they said. She’s been actually very pleasant,” a female sheriff’s officer said to her male colleague. The Times-Union requested the names of the responding officers from the Sheriff’s Office. The male officer agreed, saying “you poke the bear one too many times and it’s gonna scratch you.”

The female officer added that she thinks the 6-year-old’s outbursts were in reaction to school personnel “pushing her buttons.”

She continued, “because they said this is the fourth out of five days she’s been acting like this. Well then, I think [the problem] might be y’all … she’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with her.”

Under the social worker’s recommendation, Falk’s daughter was placed under the Baker Act law, which provides emergency health services, temporary detention and psychiatric evaluation for people in need. River Point Behavioral Health Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Privacy: Unprecedented Facebook URLs Dataset now Available for Academic Research through Social Science One

Gary King and Nathaniel Persily:

We are excited to announce that Social Science One and Facebook have completed, and are now making available to academic researchers, one of the largest social science datasets ever constructed. We processed approximately an exabyte (a quintillion bytes, or a billion gigabytes) of raw data from the platform.  The dataset itself contains a total of more than 10 trillion numbers that summarize information about 38 million URLs shared more than 100 times publicly on Facebook (between 1/1/2017 and 7/31/2019).  It also includes characteristics of the URLs (such as whether they were fact-checked or flagged by users as hate speech) and the aggregated data concerning the types of people who viewed, shared, liked, reacted to, shared without viewing, and otherwise interacted with these links. This dataset enables social scientists to study some of the most important questions of our time about the effects of social media on democracy and elections with information to which they have never before had access. The full codebook for the dataset is here.

Big Data Won’t Save You From Coronavirus

David Fickling:

That’s not a comforting thought. We live in an era where everything seems quantifiable, from our daily movements to our internet search habits and even our heartbeats. At a time when people are scared and seeking certainty, it’s alarming that the knowledge we have on this most important issue is at best an approximate guide to what’s happening.

“It’s so easy these days to capture data on anything, but to make meaning of it is not easy at all,” said John Carlin, a professor at the University of Melbourne specializing in medical statistics and epidemiology. “There’s genuinely a lot of uncertainty, but that’s not what people want to know. They want to know it’s under control.”

That’s most visible in the contradictory information we’re seeing around how many people have been infected, and what share of them have died. While those figures are essential for getting a handle on the situation, as we’ve argued, they’re subject to errors in sampling and measurement that are compounded in high-pressure, strained circumstances. The physical capacity to do timely testing and diagnosis can’t be taken for granted either, as my colleague Max Nisen has written.

Early case fatality rates for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome were often 40% or higher before settling down to figures in the region of 15% or less. The age of patients, whether they get sick in the community or in a hospital, and doctors’ capacity and experience in offering treatment can all affect those numbers dramatically.

Even the way that coronavirus cases are defined and counted has changed several times, said Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the University of New South Wales’s Biosecurity Research Program: From “pneumonia of unknown cause” in the early days, through laboratory-confirmed cases once a virus was identified, to the current standard that includes lung scans. That’s a common phenomenon during outbreaks, she said. 

Related: the hype cycle.

The Quantified Employee: How Companies Use Tech to Track Workers

Chandra Steele:

For the seven years he’d been a professional trucker, 25-year-old Trevor had let his own common sense drive his actions. But one night last November, he was answering instead to a government-mandated device his employer had installed in his truck—and it nearly ended him.

Trevor, who asked us to use only his first name, was traveling through a small town and keeping to the posted speed limit. As he hit a curve, he knew he should have slowed down sooner, but the electronic logging device (ELD) installed in his truck was ticking away. If he lost time, he’d have to find a truckstop and sleep there instead of at home. 

Within seconds, he was nearly a statistic. His truck soared off the road. The twisted wreck of the bed lay behind it, and the lumber it carried was scattered down the highway like popsicle sticks. Miraculously, Trevor walked away with only bruises. 

‘Lord of the Flies’: Fights, bullying, chaos upend San Francisco middle school

Heather Knight:

A group of sixth-graders is even organizing a walkout for Feb. 21 to demand a beefed-up wellness center staffed with qualified therapists or social workers, crisis training for security guards, clear and consistent behavior guidelines, and follow-through when students violate them.

The students’ demands are spot-on — and it’s ironic they know what’s needed better than the adults paid to lead them. While the San Francisco Unified School District faces deep deficits in the coming years, it must direct more funds to help traumatized students and seek the philanthropic support to do it.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, whose daughter attends Aptos, said he was “a little bit shocked” when he began hearing from her and other Aptos families about what kids are facing there.

“What’s more concerning is the response from the district and the response from the administration, where they don’t seem like they’re doing anything. They don’t seem to be adding resources,” Ting said.

“I don’t think that actually stating they’re supporting these policies actually means that anything will change” (DPI Teacher Mulligans continue)

Logan Wroge:

“I don’t think that actually stating they’re supporting these policies actually means that anything will change,” said Mark Seidenberg, a UW-Madison psychology professor. “I don’t take their statement as anything more than an attempt to defuse some of the controversy and some of the criticism that’s being directed their way.”

While there’s broad agreement phonics alone is not a panacea for producing skilled readers, the degree and intensity to which it is taught has long been debated.

Forty-one percent of students scored proficient or better in reading on a state assessment last year, the state ranks middle-of-the-pack on its scores for fourth graders on a national reading assessment, and Wisconsin continues to have the worst disparity in reading scores between black and white students nationwide — figures proponents of the science of reading point to when saying the state needs to change direction.

State Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, said he’s pleased with DPI’s statement but is taking it with “cautious optimism.”

“They’ve been reluctant to go along with what the science has said, but to their credit, they seem to be making the right moves right now,” said Thiesfeldt, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee.

Last month Thiesfeldt and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, called for an audit to examine methods of reading instruction used in Wisconsin schools, whether DPI consistently measures student achievement and how a required test on reading instruction for certain teachers affects licensing.

“If they are serious about wanting to make these changes, they should not be hesitant to have an outside group come in and evaluate what it is they’ve been doing,” Thiesfeldt said.

At a Capitol press conference Wednesday, a group of science of reading proponents called on DPI to create a new cabinet-level position dedicated to reading, provide more training and coaching opportunities for teachers related to reading instruction, and place greater emphasis on reading proficiency when rating schools on state report cards, among other changes they’re seeking.

Annysa Johnson:

Speaking at the Capitol Wednesday, Seidenberg said DPI “has done little to address literacy issues that have existed for decades.”

“We know the best ways to teach children to read,” he said. “Wisconsin is simply not using them, and our children are suffering.”

The group said a small number of districts, including Thorp and D.C. Everest near Wausau, have seen promising results after shifting their reading curricula. It is promoting its initiative with a new website, and Facebook Page, titled The Science of Reading — What I should have learned in College.

Under the group’s proposal, the new assistant superintendent would work with a reading science task force to identify resources for educators across the state, including training and technical support, classroom coaching and guides to high-quality curriculum and instructional resources.

In addition, supporters said, all schools of education in Wisconsin would be invited to revise their reading curricula, to bring them in line with the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teaching of Reading.

Advocates for more explicit phonics instruction have found powerful allies in parents of children with dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult for them to read. They have been pushing legislation across the country, including two taken up by the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday that would require schools to develop systems for identifying and serving dyslexic students and require each of the cooperative education organizations known as CESAs to hire dyslexia specialists.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Mr. Wroge’s opening is incorrect.

DPI has resisted substantive reading improvements, largely by giving mulligans to thousands of Wisconsin elementary reading teachers who failed to pass our only content knowledge exam: the Foundations of Reading.

My question to Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers on Teacher Mulligans and our disastrous reading results.

“An emphasis on adult employment.”

3 more Madison private schools to join statewide voucher program

Logan Wroge:

Three more private Madison schools intend to join the statewide voucher program in the fall, bringing the number of Dane County schools that plan to accept vouchers in 2020-21 to seven.

The state Department of Public Instruction released Thursday the lists of schools that have signed up for three programs that provide taxpayer-funded vouchers for income-eligible families to send their children to private schools.

The Madison schools joining the program in 2020-21 are Eastside Evangelical Lutheran Elementary, Holy Cross Lutheran School and Madinah Academy of Madison, which will be the first Islamic school in Dane County to join.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Malcontents

Boz:

There is an important, under appreciated group at every company who are never content no matter how much success they or the company has had. There is a set of people who care so deeply about the company and its products that they take any shortcomings personally. They are offended by bad products and angered by cultural deficiencies. They write passionate notes that nobody asked for and rally people on comment threads in groups they aren’t required to be a part of. They speak truth to power because they are righteous and speak for those who might otherwise have no voice. They aren’t afraid to rock the boat no matter how much the people around them value stability and they can’t be bothered to do it politely. Adam Grant calls these people “Disagreeable Givers.” I call these people malcontents. And I am one of them.

We malcontents are often confused with entitled whiners but that’s a mistake. Whiners and Malcontents may share the same disagreeable tactics when it comes to complaining, but whiners have poor motivation whereas we malcontents have the best intentions. Whiners want to change the establishment for their own benefit. We malcontents want the establishment to change for its own benefit. Unlike whiners, we malcontents often make personal sacrifices to effect positive change (even if we would rather not be forced to). We often do valuable, unsexy, and sometimes underappreciated work like fixing bugs, improving tools or processes, and helping others. When you see large shifts in culture, organizations, or technology not driven by extrinsic or top down forces there is usually a malcontent behind the scenes or leading the charge.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Introduction to Clifford Algebra

John Denker:

We begin by discussing why we should care about Clifford Algebra. (If you want an overview of how Clifford Algebra actually works, skip to section 2.)

1. It is advantageous to use Clifford algebra, because it gives a unified view of things that otherwise would need to be understood separately:

• The real numbers are a subalgebra of Clifford algebra: just throw away all elements with grade > 0. Alas this doesn’t tell us much beyond what we already knew.

• Ordinary vector algebra is another subalgebra of Clifford algebra. Alas, again, this doesn’t tell us much beyond what we already knew.

• The complex numbers are another subalgebra of Clifford algebra, as discussed in reference 1. This gives useful insight into complex numbers and into rotations in two dimensions.

• Quaternions can be understood in terms of another subalgebra of Clifford algebra, namely the subalgebra containing just scalars and bivectors. This is tremendously useful for describing rotations in three or more dimen

2019-nCoV — A Teaching Moment, Spring Term 2020

Geremie Barme:

The following remarks were addressed to senior high school students by a Chinese Language teacher at the Linyin Campus of High School No.7 in Chengdu, Sichuan province 四川成都七中林蔭校區 as schools opened in the second week of February after an extended Spring Festival holiday occasioned by the outbreak of the coronavirus (2019 novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV) in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

The text of the speech was posted online on 10 February and widely circulated before being ‘scrubbed’ from the mainland Chinese Internet by intellectual hygiene workers.

Are Algorithmically-Generated Term Papers the Next Big Challenge to Academic Integrity?

Jeffrey Young:

There’s a new application of AI in education, and educators aren’t going to like it.

A growing number of companies now let students outsource their homework to a bot—or, more specifically, an algorithm that writes term papers for them based on chosen keywords.

For instance, after subscribing to a service called EssaySoft, you can tell its essay generator to write a paper on, say, “symbolism in the great Gatsby” (or whatever you need for class). Then you enter how many words you want the final paper to be, select other specs from drop-down menus (set research depth to “low” if you want the machine to return an answer as fast as possible), and click “Generate Essay.”

“Within five years these essay generators will be good enough that [students who want to cheat] won’t have to hire people anymore. They can just have the essay generator do it.”

—Tricia Bertram Gallant, director of the Academic Integrity Office at the University of California San Diego

Girls sue to block participation of transgender athletes

Associated Press:

The families of three female high school runners filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block transgender athletes in Connecticut from participating in girls sports.

Selina Soule, a senior at Glastonbury High School, Chelsea Mitchell, a senior at Canton High School and Alanna Smith, a sophomore at Danbury High School are represented by the conservative nonprofit organization Alliance Defending Freedom. They argue that allowing athletes with male anatomy to compete has deprived them of track titles and scholarship opportunities.

“Mentally and physically, we know the outcome before the race even starts,” said Smith, who is the daughter of former Major League pitcher Lee Smith. “That biological unfairness doesn’t go away because of what someone believes about gender identity. All girls deserve the chance to compete on a level playing field.”

The Jerks of Academe

Eric Schwitzgebel:

This morning you probably didn’t look in the mirror and ask, “Am I a jerk?” And if you did, I wouldn’t believe your answer. Jerks usually don’t know that they are jerks.

Jerks mostly travel in disguise, even from themselves. But the rising tide (or is it just the increasing visibility?) of scandal, grisly politics, bureaucratic obstructionism, and toxic advising in academe reveals the urgent need of a good wildlife guide by which to identify the varieties of academic jerk.

So consider what follows a public service of sorts. I offer it in sad remembrance of the countless careers maimed or slain by the beasts profiled below. I hope you will forgive me if on this occasion I use “he” as a gender-neutral pronoun.

The Surprising Science Behind Friendship

Andrea Petersen:

What does studying how animals relate to each other tell us about human friendships?

At its simplest, it’s just how critical quality social bonds and friendships are. In animals, the big measures that evolutionary biologists study are reproductive success, which they count as either how many babies you have or how long those babies live, and longevity, or how long you survive. Nonhuman primates have very structured hierarchies that they exist in, and everyone assumed that that must have more importance for how long you live and how many babies you have and how healthy they are. And it wasn’t. The most important thing was the strength of the social bonds, how positively and well and regularly an individual animal interacted with other animals. Scientists really couldn’t believe it.

How does friendship affect physical health?

Friendship literally improves your body’s cardiovascular functioning, how your immune system works, how you sleep. You can imagine the food you put in your body makes you healthy or not. But sitting in a coffee shop with someone and just chatting about what’s going on with your life, we always thought emotionally that made you feel good. But actually it really is doing much more.

A big study at Harvard of men across their lives from 20 to 80 found that the single best predictor of your health and happiness at 80 was not your wealth or your professional success. It was your relationships at 50.

“We definitely see science-based reading instruction as urgent in our – Madison – schools” (!)

Scott Girard:

The 2018-19 state Forward Exam, given to students in grades 3 through 8, showed 35% of students scored proficient or advanced on the English Language Arts portion. For black students, it was 10.1% and for Hispanic students, 16%.

Those scores come amid a nationwide, and more recently statewide, push for using the Science of Reading to educate students at an early age. That includes the use of phonics — the understanding of the relationship between letters and sounds — and connecting that knowledge to text.

As detailed in an Isthmus article this spring, the district and state have, until now, focused on so-called “balanced literacy,” an approach that mixes foundational skills education and phonics with group and individual work on reading and word study. Kvistad said they’ve heard the push for more phonics education from teachers throughout the review process.

“We want explicit, structured phonics,” Kvistad said. “Our teachers are saying they want that.”

Logan Wroge:

Morateck said new materials also provide clearer direction for teachers by grouping instructional components of literacy, such as grammar, into “text sets.”

“We actually know a little bit more about the science of reading and how to teach reading,” Kvistad said. “We know more now that reading actually has to be taught. Children don’t just come knowing that.”

This year, the district is doing a “field test” with materials from curriculum provider EL Education in five kindergarten classes at Allis and Gompers elementary schools.

Morateck said the point of the pilot is to learn about implementing new classroom lessons and what training will be necessary.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

School choice and the Milwaukee vote

David Blaska:

“School choice is detrimental to our public schools,” state Democrats say,  when the reality is that too many public schools are detrimental to learning. Why won’t Democrats tell the public that the state aid follows the student? Why do they insist on penalizing families for choosing what works best for their children?

Competition is the surest reformer

⇒ The Urban Milwaukee study shows that the weighted performance score for MPS traditional schools is 54.9 (“meets few expectations”) out of a perfect 100. For charter schools, it is 74.2 (“exceeds expectations”) and for choice schools it is 70.1 (“meets expectations”).

Urban Milwaukee concludes: “So long as MPS schools continue to ignore the evidence of success by choice and charter schools, it is likely they will continue to lose students to those schools.”

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

U.S. Fertility Reaches All-Time Low as People Choose Things Other Than Children

Ronald Bailey:

The U.S. total fertility rate has dropped to below 1.73 births per woman, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics. This record low edges out the previous U.S. fertility nadir of 1.74 births per woman back in 1976.

U.S. rates appear to be following the downward trend seen in other developed countries. The overall total fertility rate for the 28 members of the European Union is just under 1.6 births per woman; Japan is at 1.4, and Canada is 1.5.

In a 2010 study, University of Connecticut anthropologists Nicola Bulled and Richard Sosis found that fertility drops as female life expectancy increases. As global average life expectancy rose from 52.6 years in 1960 to 72.4 years today, the global total fertility rate fell by more than half, from 5 to 2.4 births per woman.

CDC US abortion data:

In 2016, 623,471 legal induced abortions were reported to CDC from 48 reporting areas. The abortion rate for 2016 was 11.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 186 abortions per 1,000 live births.

Compared with 2015, the total number and rate of reported abortions fell by 2%, and the abortion ratio decreased by 1%. Additionally, from 2007 to 2016, the number, rate, and ratio of reported abortions decreased 24%, 26%, and 18%, respectively. In 2016, all three measures reached their lowest level for the entire period of analysis (2007-2016).

Madison School District staff bathroom use becomes an issue after complaint regarding transgender staff member at Allis

Scott Girard:

Should Madison Metropolitan School District staff use the same bathrooms as students?

That question has been discussed at the district’s central office over the past couple of weeks after a transgender teacher at Frank Allis Elementary School accused the district of implementing a transphobic policy. The teacher said staff have been asked to only use the school’s all-gender bathrooms following a complaint.

A letter published in Our Lives Magazine’s January issue from Vica Steel claims that she used the women’s bathroom across from her classroom beginning in January after coming out last March, but after receiving a complaint, the district asked her principal to implement a practice that bars all staff from using the same bathrooms as students.

Civics: Why reporters should help combat misleading opinion pieces

Alexander Russo:

Maybe you, like me, are long past caring very much what Diane Ravitch has to say about education. Seeing how much less frequently she’s quoted in education stories these days, I get the sense that I’m not alone.

For that reason, I was more than a little bit surprised to see that TIME magazine published a particularly misleading op-ed from the former George H.W. Bush administration education official without seeming to have given it the editing and fact-checking it so badly needed.

However, you don’t have to care about Ravitch or TIME or opinion journalism to be concerned about what I’m calling “copy and paste” opinion pieces.

Copy and paste op-eds are minimally edited, generally absent thoughtful consideration of complexities, and sometimes factually inaccurate. They are unfortunately pretty common.

They create a Wild West experience for readers, who don’t know that what they’re reading is misleading. They erode trust in news stories that are carefully reported and edited for accuracy and fairness. Occasionally, they blow up in media outlets’ faces.

This kind of thing has to stop. The torrent of polarizing opinion pieces has grown too toxic. And it’s not enough to call for more and better editing by short-staffed opinion sections.

Mumps outbreaks across England

Gov.uk:

Provisional data from Public Health England (PHE) show that there were 5,042 lab-confirmed cases of mumps in England in 2019, compared to 1,066 cases in 2018. This is the highest number of cases since 2009.

The rise in cases looks set to continue in 2020, with 546 confirmed cases in January 2020 compared to 191 during the same period in 2019.

The steep rise in cases in 2019 has been largely driven by outbreaks in universities and colleges. Many of the cases in 2019 were seen in the so-called ‘Wakefield cohorts’ – young adults born in the late nineties and early 2000s who missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were children. These cohorts are now old enough to attend college and university and are likely to continue fuelling outbreaks into 2020.

Mumps is a viral infection that used to be common in children before the introduction of the MMR vaccine.

It is most recognisable by the painful swelling of the glands at the side of the face, giving a person with mumps a distinctive ‘hamster face’ appearance. Other symptoms include headaches, joint pain and fever, which may develop a few days before the swelling. If you suspect that you or a family member has mumps, contact your GP.

California Gov. Newsom Wants To Halt School Physical Education Class Testing

CBS5:

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to pause physical education tests for students for three years due to concerns over bullying and the test discriminating against disabled and non-binary students. The move also comes after annual test results show a growing percentage of students scoring not healthy.

H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the Department of Finance, said the state has received complaints that the current examination’s measurement of body mass index is discriminatory to non-binary students. A measurement calculated from weight and height, BMI screenings require students to select “male” or “female,” he said.

Annual state reports of the fitness test since the 2014-2015 school year show a steady decline in the share of students scoring healthy, according to a review by The Associated Press. Students’ scores have particularly dropped in the category of the fitness test that measures “aerobic capacity” — which can be tested in a one-mile run or by other methods. Other categories also test for flexibility and exercises like push-ups.

In the last five years, the percentage of fifth graders scoring healthy in the aerobic category has dropped by 3.3 percentage points. In seventh and ninth grades, the drops are 4.4 percentage points and 3.8 percentage points, respectively. Meanwhile, the percentage of students identified as “needing improvement” and having a “health risk” went up: by 3.3 percentage points among fifth graders, 4.4 for seventh graders and 3.8 among ninth graders.

The Department of Education did not immediately comment on those results.

Mechanical Engineer Bill Nye Madison Appearance

Kelly Meyerhofer:

Nye hosted a science show from 1993-1998 and has also written eight science children’s books. The Emmy award-winner recently starred in the documentary, “Bill Nye: Science Guy,” which took viewers behind the scenes as Nye challenged individuals denying science, including climate change.

GS. Muse: Why Bill Nye Is Not A Scientist – And Why It Matters:

What Qualifies Someone To Be Called A Scientist?

In order to earn the privilege of calling yourself a “scientist” one normally has to have an earned PhD (or at least a Master’s) in the natural sciences. But as one geneticist that I know told me, even after earning his PhD, he still felt hesitant using the word “scientist” to describe himself. To be able to call yourself a “scientist” is a very high honor, and not one that those in the scientific community use lightly.

[Author’s Note: In my original writing of this article, I failed to give credit to scientists who have their Master’s degrees who have done incredible work in the scientific community, and deserve that respect and recognition. And for that, I am deeply sorry. I thought about it, but then honestly failed to mention it, as it was not relevant to the case of Bill Nye. — That said, many of the replies insist that Bill Nye is a scientist, simply because he has spent a lot of time talking about science on TV, and trying to educate people, but this objection simply is not valid.]

Wikipedia:

Nye began his career as a mechanical engineer for Boeing Corporation in Seattle, where he invented a hydraulic resonance suppressor tube used on 747 airplanes. In 1986, Nye left Boeing to pursue comedy, writing and performing jokes and bits for the local sketch television show Almost Live!, where he regularly conducted wacky science experiments. Nye aspired to become the next Mr. Wizard, and with the help of several producers, successfully pitched the children’s television program Bill Nye the Science Guy to KCTS-TV, Seattle’s public television station. The show—which proudly proclaimed in its theme song that “science rules!”—ran from 1993 to 1998 in national TV syndication. Known for its “high-energy presentation and MTV-paced segments,”[4] the program became a hit among kids and adults, was critically acclaimed and was nominated for 23 Emmy Awards, winning 19.

Cut the drama. The real story of the West in the 21st century is one of stalemate and stagnation.

Ross Douthat:

Everyone knows that we live in a time of constant acceleration, of vertiginous change, of transformation or looming disaster everywhere you look. Partisans are girding for civil war, robots are coming for our jobs, and the news feels like a multicar pileup every time you fire up Twitter. Our pessimists see crises everywhere; our optimists insist that we’re just anxious because the world is changing faster than our primitive ape-brains can process.

But what if the feeling of acceleration is an illusion, conjured by our expectations of perpetual progress and exaggerated by the distorting filter of the internet? What if we — or at least we in the developed world, in America and Europe and the Pacific Rim — really inhabit an era in which repetition is more the norm than invention; in which stalemate rather than revolution stamps our politics; in which sclerosis afflicts public institutions and private life alike; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, consistently underdeliver? What if the meltdown at the Iowa caucuses, an antique system undone by pseudo-innovation and incompetence, was much more emblematic of our age than any great catastrophe or breakthrough?

Literary criticism and the existential turn

Toril Moi:

For generations, literature students have been told never to treat characters as if they were real people.1 Academic literary theory is replete with warnings against committing this cardinal sin. We must not ask how many children Lady Macbeth had. We must not think of characters as “our friends for life,” or feel that they “remain as real to us as our familiar friends.” We must not talk about the “unconscious feelings of a character,” for that would be to fall into the “trap of the realistic fallacy.”

If those are thoughts academic critics mustn’t think, then here are things we are urged to bear in mind: We must never forget that “le personnage … n’est personne,” that the person on the page is nobody. We must always remind ourselves that characters “exist only as words on a printed page,” and therefore “have no consciousness.” Should the “feeling that they are living people” arise, we must resolutely repress it, for it is an “illusion.” We must remember that if characters fascinate us, it is only because they “invit[e] cathexis with ontological difference.”

Standardized Testing Task Force Report

University of California Academic Senate:

In July 2018, President Napolitano wrote to 2017-18 Academic Senate Chair Shane White asking the Academic Senate to examine the current use of standardized testing for admission to the University of California (UC or the University); review the testing principles developed in 2002′ by the Board of

Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) and revised by BOARS in 20102; and determine whether any changes in policies on use of test scores are needed.

In early 2019, 2018-19 Senate Chair Robert May empaneled an eighteen-member Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF) to consider whether the University and its students are best served by UC’s current testing practices, a modification of current practices, another testing approach, or the elimination of testing. Chair May asked the STTF to develop a set of actionable recommendations to the Academic

Council; to approach its work analytically, without prejudice or presupposition; and to consult with experts from a broad range of perspectives. The STTF met 12 times between February 2019 and January 2020, and empaneled a six-member subcommittee to draft specific recommendations.

Chair May’s charge to the STTF identified the followmg questions:

How well do UC’s current stancfardized testing practices assess entering high school students for UC readiness?

How well do UC current standardized testing practices predict student success in the context of its comprehensive review process?

Do standardized testing assessments fairly promote diversity and opportunity for students applying to UC?

Does UC ‘s use of standardized tests increase or contract the eligibility pool compared to two other possibilities: I) cfe-weighting standardized tests; or 2) eliminating the testing requirement?

Should UC testing practices be improved, changed, or eliminated?

By way of background, the University admits students through a two-stage process: first, a determination of eligibility for the University overall, then selection by a specific campus using comprehensive review. Test scores are used to establish eligibility for some (but not all) students and are also used in admissions decisions. Some campuses also use test scores for purposes other than admissions, such as awarding of scholarships, placement in classes, identification of students who might benefit from extra support, and admissions to honors programs. Standardized test scores tend to exhibit differences along lines of race and class, with students who belong to many of the demographic groups historically excluded from educational (and other) opportunities on average receiving lower scores.

How well do UC ‘s current standardized testing practices assess entering high school students for UC readiness? How well do UC current standardized testing practices predict student success in the context of its comprehensive review process?

The STTF found that standardized test scores aid in predicting important aspects of student success, including undergraduate grade point average (UGPA), retention, and completion. At UC, test scores are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average (HSGPA), and about as good at predicting first-year retention, UGPA, and graduation.3 For students within any given (HSGPA) band, higher standardized test scores correlate with a higher freshman UGPA, a higher graduation UGPA,

What Do We Want History to Do to Us?

Zadie Smith:

Two women are bound at the waist, tied to each other. One is a slim, white woman, in antebellum underskirt and corset. A Scarlett O’Hara type. She is having the air squeezed out of her by a larger, bare-breasted black woman, who wears a kerchief around her head. To an American audience, I imagine, this black woman could easily read as “Mammy.” To a viewer from the wider diaspora—to a black Briton, say—she is perhaps less likely to invoke the stereotypical placidity of “Mammy,” hewing closer to the fury of her mythological opposite, the legendary Nanny of the Maroons: escaped slave, leader of peoples. Her hand is held up forcefully, indicating the direction in which she is determined to go, but the rope between her and the white woman is pulled taut: both struggle under its constriction. And in this drama of opposing forces, through this brutal dialectic, aspects of each woman’s anatomy are grotesquely eroticized by her adversary: buttocks for the black woman, breasts for her white counterpart. Which raises the question: Who tied this constricting rope? A third party? And, if the struggle continues, will the white woman eventually be extinguished? Will the black woman be free? That is, if the white woman is on the verge of extinguishment at all. Maybe she’s on the verge of something else entirely: definition. That’s why we cinch waists, isn’t it? To achieve definition?

The two women are traced in Kara Walker’s familiar, cartoonish line, which seems to combine in a single gesture the comic brevity of Charles Schulz, the polemical pamphleteering of William Hogarth, and the oneiric revelations of Francisco Goya and Otto Dix. The drawing was made, according to Walker, in “1994ish…when I was 24ish,” which is to say at the very beginning of her career, when her drawings were still largely unknown, and few people knew or could guess at the busy chalk portraits that lurked on the other side of the newly famous—and soon-to-be notorious—paper cutouts. The sentence underneath the image reads: what I want history to do to me. Its meaning is unsettling and unsettled, existing in a gray zone between artist’s statement, perverse confession, and ambivalent desire. The sentence pulls in two directions, giving no slack, tense like the rope. And just as the eye finds no comfortable place to rest in the image—passing from figure to figure seeking resolution, desiring a satisfying end to a story so strikingly begun—so the sentence is partial and in unresolved motion, referring upward to the image, which only then refers us back down to the words, in endless, discomfiting cycle.

Training teachers to fail

Jasmine Lane & Jon Gustafson:

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the reading crisis in U.S. schools. Careful reporting has pinpointed a common problem: Many newly-trained and veteran teachers are not aware of the latest research on early reading instruction or comprehension. In 2016, NCTQ reviewed the syllabi of 820 teacher preparation programs across the country and found that only 39 percent of programs were teaching the basics of effective reading instruction. Four years later that number of programs has risen to 51 percent. While this signals a positive trend in adopting evidence-informed reading instruction, the fact remains that 49 percent of incoming teachers do not have the tools to effectively teach reading.

After examining our experiences at two well-known teacher training programs in Minnesota and looking at what we were—and were not—taught about the basics of literacy, we have come to the same conclusion: We were not prepared for the responsibility of the job. This failure to prepare teachers, we believe, should be a red flag for the current system in place for how we train and place teachers into classrooms.

Restraint and seclusion in Wisconsin schools allowed, but not tracked

Samantha West:

When Amber McGinley looks at her 9-year-old son, she sees a kind and loving little boy who loves helping her in the kitchen, doing puzzles and playing with electronic devices.

She also sees a little boy who faces significant challenges at school.

The third-grader has autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, sensory processing disorder and vestibular issues, and he receives special education services at Ferber Elementary.

He sometimes becomes aggressive and violent when he’s upset or overly stimulated. He yells and throws objects. He threatens and hits and scratches and pushes his teachers.

When that happens, school staff may physically restrain him or seclude him in a room separate from his classmates.

On those days, he comes home from school withdrawn, sometimes with cuts and bruises. Teachers and administrators tell McGinley their actions were the only option, as he was presenting a “clear, present and imminent risk” to physical safety — the only time seclusion and restraint can be used, according to Wisconsin law.

Texas State assignment asks future teachers to argue ‘whiteness is a construct of privilege’

Jeremiah Poff:

Students studying to become teachers at Texas State University who take the course “Public Education in a Multicultural Society” are required to complete a series of assignments on “whiteness.”

The class, Culture and Instruction 3310: Public Education in a Multicultural Society, is “designed to give students an overview of public schooling in America in terms of multicultural, historical, legal and political contexts,” according to the course description.

“Prospective teachers will examine the concepts of professionalism, effective teaching, educational philosophy, curriculum, school organization and legal issues of teaching in a culturally diverse world.”

Civics: Suspected of spying for just being Chinese: US government rejects security clearance for Chinese-Americans

Peter Waldman:

For days after his FBI interrogation, Wei Su wondered: where had the microphone been? The agents had played him a scratchy recording of a conversation he’d had with a friend at a restaurant in Eatontown, New Jersey. Both men found it strange when an unasked-for pot of hot tea arrived at their table, but only later did Su, an award-winning scientist for the United States Army’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate, form a hypothesis. He thinks the teapot was bugged.
On the recording, Su says, he can be heard telling his friend in Chinese to always use English when they spoke on the phone because the government was monitoring his calls. “When you work with us, you need to be careful,” he warned. Su says the FBI demanded to know if “us” was a reference to Chinese intelligence. No, he answered, “us” simply meant his employer, the army.
Nevertheless, questions about Su’s loyalty would propel a multi-year investigation that, in 2016, prompted the US Department of Defence to revoke the top-secret security clearance he’d held for 24 years. He retired the next year: humiliated, angry and, the Pentagon later admitted, completely innocent.

Don’t sell my data! We finally have a law for that

Geoffrey A. Fowler:

With apologies to the Beastie Boys: You gotta fight for your right to privacy.

America’s first broad data privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act, went into effect Jan. 1. These days, a wild range of companies gather and sell your data, from Ford and Chipotle to Uber and Walmart. Now the CCPA gives you the power to say cut it out.

And while the law technically covers only California residents, Americans living anywhere can use the CCPA to reset their relationships with more than a dozen major businesses (and counting).

Just know that some companies are going to make you jump through hoops. To help, I’m breaking the CCPA down into bites — and collecting below a growing list of links you can use to take action.

I’ve been learning how to use the law by filing requests to more than 100 companies. To be covered by the CCPA, companies have to make more than $25 million per year or collect data on more than 50,000 people. They’re not incentivized to make it easy: Amazon hid critical links in legal gobbledygook. Marketing data company LiveRamp asked me to submit a selfie holding my own ID, kidnap-victim style. Walmart asked for my astrological sign to confirm my identity. (Really.) And one business left me a voice mail, but the message included no return number … or even the name of the company. (Please call back!)

Can Journalism Be Saved?

Nicholas Lemann:

The question arises at this point, why are there so many black sheep in journalism? Why so many “fakes”? Why is the epidemic of “yellow journalism” so prevalent? This phrase is applied to newspapers which delight in sensations, crime, scandal, smut, funny pictures, caricatures and malicious or frivolous gossip about persons and things of no public concern.

This was Horace White, one of American journalism’s most esteemed elder statesmen, writing in 1904. He continued:

When I entered journalism, the press of the country, with only one exception that I can now recall, was clean, dignified and sober minded. It had various aims in life, aims political, literary, scientific, social, religious, reformatory and mixed, which were deemed by the conductors of the papers advantageous to the commonweal. To make money by pandering to the vices and follies of the community, and thus adding to the mass of vice and folly, was generally unthinkable.

Journalists are eternally nostalgic, and alarmed at how things are now. Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth, published last year, is modeled on David Halberstam’s The Powers That Be, published in 1979. Abramson remembers Halberstam’s book as a description of a “golden age” in journalism—the 1960s and 1970s. That attitude is typical of members of the generation now past fifty (including me), who find ourselves longing for a period some decades back in the past. Three other books under review here—Dan Bernstein’s on The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California; Frederic Hill and Stephens Broening’s on The Baltimore Sun; and Dan Kennedy’s on (mostly) The Boston Globe—also use the term “golden age” to describe the newspaper business during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

School board candidates reflect on school climate ahead of primary

Jenny Peek:

It’s been a difficult year for the Madison school district.

A barrage of high-profile incidents has taken over the narrative of what it’s like in Madison’s schools, from the use of racist language, to a teacher being arrested for attempting to produce child pornography, to issues of safety at a district middle school.

The district is also in the midst of changing leadership as Matthew Gutiérrez takes over as superintendent, following Jennifer Cheatham, who announced her departure last May.

Amid the change and turmoil, voters will begin the process of electing two new members to the Madison school board. A primary for the general election is Feb. 18, and will include a narrowing down of candidates for the board’s Seat 6, currently held by Kate Toews, who is not seeking re-election.

All those running for Seat 6 — Maia Pearson, Christina Gomez Schmidt and Karen Ball — have children in Madison’s schools. The top two vote-getters will face off in the general election on April 7, where they will join incumbent Nicki Vander Meulen and challenger Wayne Strong, the two candidates running for Seat 7, on the ballot. Savion Castro, who was appointed to Seat 2 in July, is running unopposed in a special election.

Leading up to the primary, Isthmus wanted to know what each of the candidates in contested races thought about the overwhelmingly negative press the district has been getting in the last year — and how it’s affecting students. We also asked candidates to explain how, if elected, they would address the critical issues facing Madison’s schools, while also ensuring students feel valued and supported.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

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

This Wisconsin student earned her high school diploma and an associate degree in the same year. How’d she do it?

Samantha West:

Thanks to a Fox Valley Technical College program called Start College Now, Pingel was able to get a head start on her college education. The program is designed to give high school students a taste of higher education by simultaneously earning high school and college credit.

But it’d be safe to say Pingel got more than just a taste of college. On Friday, she’ll graduate from FVTC with an associate degree in business management — just six months after she graduated from Chilton High School, and completely debt-free.

“It almost doesn’t feel real. Less than six months ago, I was having a graduation party for my high school graduation,” Pingel said. “Now we’re talking about celebrating my college graduation and I’m only 18 years old.” 

While it’s currently rare to see a student graduate as quickly as Pingel, technical college officials say it won’t stay that way for much longer, given that students are encouraged to take as many dual-credit and Advanced Placement courses as they can.

“It’s starting to get to be sort of the goal,” said Mary Hansen, director of FVTC’s office of K-12 Partnerships.

The college currently has dual-credit partnerships at 50 high schools and offers about 500 dual-credit courses every year. 

Dual credit courses are modeled after real college classes and are taught in high schools and by high school teachers, who are trained by the college. The Start College Now program, on the other hand, allows high school students to take real college classes that also count as high school credit.

I wonder what, if anything Madison’s taxpayer supported $20K/student K-12 system might offer?

Madison’s administration, has, in the past resisted credit for non District courses.

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

In addition, Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

Inside Singapore’s oldest Islamic religious school, where they put faith in Apple iPads

Ilya Sholihyn:

About a thousand years ago, the Muslim world flourished with math, science, medicine, culture and economics.

It’s unrecognisable now, but Baghdad in the 8th to 13th centuries was an intellectual centre, a hub of learning that hosted the greatest collection of knowledge in a grand library known as the House of Wisdom. Muslim scholars gave the world devices that could read the stars, surgical instruments, and algebra, named after the Arabic word “al-jabr”, which translates to the “reunion of broken parts” in English.

But as religious conservatism and fundamentalism slowly took hold, the scientific method was tossed in the trunk, argues Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, while regular conflict in the Middle East didn’t exactly help push things forward.

Centuries later and over 7,000 kilometres away from the Middle East, an Islamic institution holds a sturdy belief that a conservative, religious education system doesn’t need to prohibit modern, cutting-edge technology. In fact, quite the opposite: Madrasah Alsagoff Al-Arabiah has fully embraced the cult of Apple — so much so that it has scored the official title of being an Apple Distinguished School. It’s a rare title attained by just 400 schools around the world, including Nanyang Girls’ High School and Singapore American School.

Loyalty (to diversity) oaths are back

Joanne Jacobs:

Many universities now require applicants for faculty jobs to submit a statement declaring their allegiance to “diversity.”

Like the anti-communist loyalty oaths of the McCarthy Era, it’s a political litmus test, writes Abigail Thompson, University of California–Davis math chair, in the Wall Street Journal. Applicants must pledge to treat people “not as unique individuals but as representatives of their gender and ethnic identities.”

At Berkeley, some departments will not consider a job candidates’ qualifications unless they submit a sufficiently detailed and enthusiastic plan to advance diversity, writes Robby Soave on Reason.

China influence scandal rocks Berlin university

David Matthews:

A leading German university has been plunged into scandal after it emerged that it had signed a contract binding it to abide by Chinese law while accepting hundreds of thousands of euros from China to set up a professorship to establish a Chinese teacher training programme.

German lawmakers have criticised the Free University of Berlin (FU) over the terms, which critics fear give the Chinese government leverage to prevent teaching about subjects such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and Tibet.

The contract, obtained by the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel, allows the Chinese side to reduce or halt funding if any element of the programme contravenes Chinese law.

Other clauses also place the FU at the mercy of political pressure from China, critics argue. Each year, Hanban – the agency that runs controversial Confucius Institutes in Western universities and is the contractual partner of the FU – is allowed to revoke the agreement at its discretion, according to Tagesspiegel. If the FU wants to end the agreement, however, the conditions are more onerous.

The revelations have drawn condemnation from some German lawmakers. “The interference of China at FU Berlin clearly shows how China envisages ‘cooperation’ with our educational institutions. Independence of science is one of the most important freedoms and must be guaranteed,” tweeted Renata Alt, a federal parliamentarian for the Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Civics: For decades, the CIA read the encrypted communications of allies and adversaries.

Greg Miller:

For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret.

The company, Crypto AG, got its first break with a contract to build code-making machines for U.S. troops during World War II. Flush with cash, it became a dominant maker of encryption devices for decades, navigating waves of technology from mechanical gears to electronic circuits and, finally, silicon chips and software.

The Swiss firm made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries well into the 21st century. Its clients included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican.

But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages.

The decades-long arrangement, among the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War, is laid bare in a classified, comprehensive CIA history of the operation obtained by The Washington Post and ZDF, a German public broadcaster, in a joint reporting project.

The Disneyfication of a University

Dane Kennedy:

The culture that Disney has crafted for us is not, it should be said, the high culture of the arts that the poet Matthew Arnold described as “sweetness and light.” Nor is it the anthropological notion of culture—a system of meaning that shapes social behavior. Rather, it is corporate culture, a creature that has become all the rage in the business world—and now, it seems, is burrowing its way into universities. Its professed aim is to instill a sense of shared purpose among employees, but its real objective is far more coercive and insidious.

Our president is rumored to have forked over three to four million dollars to the Disney Institute to improve our culture (he refuses to reveal the cost). A select group of faculty and staff, those identified as opinion leaders, are being offered all-expenses paid trips to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando “to gain first-hand insight into Disney’s approach to culture.” For everyone else, the university is conducting culture training workshops that run up to two hours. All staff and managers are required to attend. Faculty are strongly “encouraged” to participate, and some contract faculty, who have little job security, evidently have been compelled to do so.

I attended one of these workshops. It was a surreal experience. About a hundred mostly sullen university employees—maintenance workers, administrative staff, faculty members, and more—filled a ballroom. Two workshop leaders strained to gin up the crowd’s enthusiasm with various exhortations and exercises, supplemented by several slickly produced videos. The result was a cross between a pep rally and an indoctrination camp.

Civics: Can Journalism Be Saved?

Nicholas Lemann:

The question arises at this point, why are there so many black sheep in journalism? Why so many “fakes”? Why is the epidemic of “yellow journalism” so prevalent? This phrase is applied to newspapers which delight in sensations, crime, scandal, smut, funny pictures, caricatures and malicious or frivolous gossip about persons and things of no public concern.

This was Horace White, one of American journalism’s most esteemed elder statesmen, writing in 1904. He continued:

When I entered journalism, the press of the country, with only one exception that I can now recall, was clean, dignified and sober minded. It had various aims in life, aims political, literary, scientific, social, religious, reformatory and mixed, which were deemed by the conductors of the papers advantageous to the commonweal. To make money by pandering to the vices and follies of the community, and thus adding to the mass of vice and folly, was generally unthinkable.

Journalists are eternally nostalgic, and alarmed at how things are now. Jill Abramson’s Merchants of Truth, published last year, is modeled on David Halberstam’s The Powers That Be, published in 1979. Abramson remembers Halberstam’s book as a description of a “golden age” in journalism—the 1960s and 1970s. That attitude is typical of members of the generation now past fifty (including me), who find ourselves longing for a period some decades back in the past. Three other books under review here—Dan Bernstein’s on The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California; Frederic Hill and Stephens Broening’s on The Baltimore Sun; and Dan Kennedy’s on (mostly) The Boston Globe—also use the term “golden age” to describe the newspaper business during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

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