All posts by Jim Zellmer

Minnesota teachers union opposes constitutional amendment to address achievement gap

Mary Lynn Smith:

The largest organization representing Minnesota educators announced Wednesday that it opposes a plan to change the state Constitution in an effort to narrow the state’s persistent academic achievement gap.

Education Minnesota, the union representing 80,000 members who work in pre-K and K-12 schools and higher-education institutions, announced its opposition as the authors of the proposal launched a public effort to woo support for their “out-of-the-box” idea.

Alan Page, a former Minnesota Supreme Court justice, and Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, want to make quality public education a civil right for all children. To do that, they propose amending the Constitution’s current language on education, which has remained largely the same since it was written in 1857.

But the teachers union argues that the change would pave the way for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private schools, which they’ve long opposed.

“The public schools paid for by the taxpayers should be available to every Minnesota family no matter where they are from, how they pray, whether their children have special needs, or who they love,” Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said in a written statement.

The proposal would remove the mandate for a uniform system of public education, creating even wider inequities between wealthy and poor districts, Specht wrote in a series of tweets.

Related: “An emphasis on adult employment“.

Administrative Commentary on the taxpayer supported Palmyra-Eagle School District (and the relevance of many smaller districts)

Chris Rickert:

Five of the six other board members, all representing other local school districts, agreed. Only the state superintendent of public instruction’s designee to the board, David Carlson, voted against keeping the district open.

District employees, students and community members packing the district’s middle school gymnasium where the board was meeting erupted in applause when the fourth vote in favor of keeping the district open was announced, and then again when the final vote was tallied.

“I am just happy to give this to our students. … and to know that our juniors are going to graduate next year as Panthers means the world to me and their families,” said Tara LeRoy, a mother of two students in the district and a main force behind a citizens group working to preserve the district, named the Panther Community Network after the district’s mascot.

Palmyra-Eagle has seen its enrollment drop over the last 14 years from 1,154 students to 769 in 2018-19. It’s lacked commercial and industrial development to drive property tax revenues and seen an increase in the number of students in the district — up to 40% — opting to go to school in other surrounding districts under the state’s open enrollment program.

Related: An emphasis on adult employment.

A battle over gifted education is brewing in America

The Economist:

The debate over whether education of gifted children segregates them on the basis of pre-existing privilege rather than cognitive ability is neither new nor uniquely American. The number of selective, state-run grammar schools in Britain reached its zenith in 1965, before the Labour government of Harold Wilson embarked on a largely successful effort “to eliminate separatism in secondary education”. The three-tiered German education system—which sorts children on the basis of ability at the age of ten into either university-preparatory schools or vocational ones—has always been criticised for fostering social segregation. The fact that the children of Turkish migrants are now disproportionately sorted into lower-tier secondary schools instead of selective Gymnasien adds a disquieting racial divide.

In America the debate is kicking up anew. The issue is national: the most recent statistics show that whites are 80% more likely than black students to take part in programmes for the gifted, and Asians are three times as likely. But the principal battleground has been New York City.

Madison, 2006: “They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT!

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

NEA and Its State Affiliates Took In $1.6 Billion in 2018, Federal Disclosures Show

Mike Antonucci:

As #RedForEd strikes hit West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and a handful of other states, 2018 was dubbed the year of teacher protests. It was also the year of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus ruling, which promised to have a profound effect on teacher union finances.

In between those events, the National Education Association and its state affiliates completed their annual financial disclosure reports for the Internal Revenue Service detailing their income and expenditures. These reports are public records, because all these unions are exempt from federal income taxes. The reports are filed well after each affiliate’s fiscal year is complete, leaving us to examine disclosures that are now 18 months old. Even so, one affiliate, NEA New Mexico, has apparently not filed yet.

I have compiled information from the filings of NEA and its state affiliates for the 2017-18 school year. Their revenues totaled more than $1.66 billion, an increase of 3.1 percent over the previous year.

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators.

The most radical prediction for America’s future

Larry Kammer:

I have written thousands of posts about our problems and possible solutions (the former are much more popular than the latter, which is part of our problem). But the Millennials I know, mostly Scouts I led (now in 24-30), say that my solutions are inadequate to the problems I described. Far too small. They are right. I believe we have passed the exits leading to easy or pleasant solutions.

So what lies ahead? We might get horrific outcomes, the dystopian or collapsitarian solutions Americans love so much (“everything is doomed, so my passivity is AOK”). Or we might stumble into stable but dark solutions (in the jargon, “non-optimal”). Or we might make harsh choices and take difficult actions to build a better America. So I have accepted their challenge to abandon consensus thinking behind and try to imagine what radical futures might lie ahead.

The point of this exercise is not to make predictions (like those listed on my Forecasts page) but to help people open their imaginations to the possibility of strange futures for America. All we know that in ClownWorld the unexpected is tomorrow’s news.

Observing, funding and interacting with the “we know best” K-12 education infrastructure reveals a great deal, from endless spending growth to diminishing results for future generations.

Chrome Scans PC’s and reports data to Google

Martin Brinkman:

Software Reporter Tool, the executable file is software_reporter_tool.exe, is a tool that Google distributes with the Google Chrome web browser.

It is part of the Chrome Cleanup Tool which in turn may remove software that causes issues with Chrome. Google mentions crashes, modified startup or new tab pages, or unexpected advertisement specifically.  Anything that interferes with a user’s browsing experience may be removed by the tool.

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

The world is not enough

Samuel Graydon:

It’s no secret, however, that light does act like a wave as well – which is very much where the questions start. And, in fact, wave-particle duality exists not just as a phenomenon of light, but, seemingly, of all matter as well. One of the most famous experiments in all quantum theory is the double slit experiment. It relies on diffraction, which most of us are familiar with from school. Pass a water wave through two slits close to each other and ripples will propagate from them both; as the two sets of ripples encounter one another you will see a pattern of constructive and destructive interference between them, as they either enhance or attenuate the oscillations. The same is true of other at least nominally more corpuscular things. Fire a beam of electrons towards two slits and you will also see peaks and troughs spread out on the wall behind them.

Moreover, if you fire one electron at a time through the slits, so that they cannot interfere with any other particle, you still get peaks and troughs at the other end. An interference pattern emerges over time as you fire electrons one by one through the slits, though individually they arrive on the other side of the slits in a defined place. We are forced to conclude that electrons can interfere with themselves like waves. They pass through both slits at once.

But this isn’t the strangest thing about the experiment. Every attempt – every attempt – to measure an electron passing through the slits has destroyed the interference pattern, and produced a definitive answer to which path the electron took. Without a measurement there is concrete evidence for a wave-like nature; but as soon as one is made, however it is made, all evidence of it disappears and we are just left with particles.

A Brooklyn school district tackles school segregation

The Economist:

New york city is famous for its diversity. Yet the 1.1m pupils in the city, who are mostly non-white, attend some of the most segregated schools in the country. They are even more segregated than schools in some southern cities such as Atlanta. Complacency has reigned for decades. But a school district in Brooklyn is showing early signs of success in a drive towards integration.

District 15 encompasses expensive brownstone houses in Park Slope, immigrant enclaves in Sunset Park and one of the country’s largest public-housing projects in Red Hook. Despite that, it remained intensely segregated. The more affluent—and usually white—school-age children flocked to the district’s “good schools”. Last year, after a parents’ campaign, the district eliminated admission screens, which included test scores, attendance and behaviour records, for its 11 middle schools. Parents still rank their preferred schools, but now the district uses a lottery, with 52% of places at each school set aside for pupils who come from poor families, are still learning English or are homeless.

Eight of the 11 schools are now hitting integration-rate targets. Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, a think-tank, calls it “one of the most exciting educational-reform efforts in the entire country”. One school, MS51, was 47% white last year. It is now 28% white.

It is still early days for District 15. But so far, integration appears to be stable. Fears of “white flight” out of the public-school system have not been realised. The middle schools’ incoming classes remain 31% white, roughly the same since 2015. MS88, which was only 9% white last year, is now 24% white. Ailene Mitchell, MS88’s principal, says children from different backgrounds are starting to socialise with each other and joining each other’s after-school activity programmes. Jason Hoffner, a teacher, says some of the “new” pupils had near-perfect exam scores, but in classroom discussions there is little difference.

Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.

New Jersey’s Teachers Union: A spider web of political power and influence

Mike Lilley, via a kind reader:

In total, from 2009 to 2016, the NJEA alone has spent over $33 million on the wide variety of non-profits and political action groups mentioned in this report, and in many cases is a major source of funding for these groups. When added to the funding provided by its fellow public sector unions, this massive amount of money is the animating force behind an unrivalled network of progressive and public sector union-backed organizations that reaches every corner of the state. These organizations include a wide variety of civic and political action groups – some directly connected to the NJEA and its fellow unions, some indirectly – but the one characteristic they have in common is that they all assist the NJEA and the public sector unions in their unceasing efforts to shape New Jersey’s political order. Importantly, they help the unions form coalitions that give the unions more political reach and weight. Ultimately, not only do they ensure the continued domination of state politics by deep-pocketed special interests but they help to disguise it as well.

Laura Waters:

The way NJEA funnels money to its allies is complex. You can read the report yourself for the details. But to give a sense of NJEA’s influence throughout the state, their allies (in addition to the others mentioned above) include Education Law Center, New Jersey Policy Perspective, the Abbott Leadership Institute, the Latino Action Network, Paterson Education Fund, BlueWave NJ, Statewide Parent Advocacy Network, the NJ arm of NAACP, Paterson Education Fund, Parents Unified for Local School Education, and NJ Communities United. And that’s not the full list.

How does the NJEA’s reach affect our public schools system? The power of its endorsements and cash woo legislators to pass NJEA-friendly bills, its power over the Governor (this didn’t work with Christie) gives NJEA influence on leadership appointments, and its power over its allies initiate lawsuits on issues important to NJEA. Here is an incomplete list:

“Students need exposure to rigorous grade-level curriculum and they need to work at their learning edge.”

Sal Khan:

Back in 2010, my experience tutoring told me that students’ struggles had nothing to do with “innate ability” or subject matter difficulty. Instead, they struggled largely due to knowledge gaps and weak foundations that had been accumulated over time. We needed to meet students where they were, diagnose their gaps, and then allow them to progress at a speed right for them.

I talked about mastery learning a lot back then. By enabling progress through a mastery-based system, we would help students build confidence and challenge them in the most personalized way. In 2015, a major report from the research nonprofit RAND found that personalized learning works, confirming many of our hopes. It also pointed to challenges implementing mastery in the classroom—challenges we’re eagerly making progress on to this day.

I continue to talk about mastery now because I believe more strongly than ever in its power to tailor education for every student. The philosophical core of Khan Academy is mastery learning. 

Yet a tension exists today between the notion of assigning grade-level work and providing a highly personalized, mastery-based learning experience for every student. I’d posit that it’s a false choice, and here’s why: We can have both.

“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”

Wisconsin taxpayers have been protected from high school referendum costs

Benjamin Yount:

Sen. Duey Stroebel of Wisconsin’s 20th District wants taxpayers in the state to know two things.

One, property taxes in Wisconsin are actually down over the past decade. That’s thanks, he says, to Republican lawmakers and former Gov. Scott Walker. And two, Stroebel said the state legislature has protected homeowners from the skyrocketing cost of local school referendums. But that may end. 

“Taxpayers haven’t really felt the pain of those increased [local school] budgets because of the backfill that’s been going on,” Stroebel, R-Saukville, said. 

Stroebel said the Wisconsin legislature spent more than $4 billion on schools across Wisconsin over the past five years to help keep former Gov. Walker’s promise to hold the line on taxes. 

Taxpayer supported K-12 spending transparency is worth a deep dive.

School Spending Data Enables Better Decisions, Better Results

Data Quality Campaign:

Under ESSA, states are required to publish school-level spending data in report cards. This information shines a light on the education investments in communities and how they are used to serve students. DQC’s infographic illustrates what it looks like when leaders – from state and local leaders to principals and community advocates – use school-level spending data in their roles to ensure successful, well-resourced classrooms.

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

On facts and thinking

Patrick:

There are two types of facts, and two types of thinking. They can be combined into four techniques for making sense of the world.

Facts

A first order fact is one that is immediately relevant to a narrative or subject. It is usually presented as a detail in the description of the narrative or subject. Its purpose is to convey information. An example of a first order fact is that the sky is blue on sunny days.

A higher order fact is a fact that is not immediately relevant to a narrative or subject, but which can influence opinion about the subject.

American dinner tables are home to the most common example of a higher-order fact. A child who will not finish dinner is met with the fact that “there are starving children in Africa”. The subject is dinner, and people in Africa are not immediately relevant. The higher order fact is used to make the child eat, not to communicate information.

How One Person Can Change the Conscience of an Organization

Nicholas W. EyrichRobert E. QuinnDavid P. Fessell:

In December 2000, when Dr. Tadataka Yamada became the new chairman of research and development at Glaxo SmithKline, he was horrified to learn that his company was a complainant in a lawsuit over access to drug therapies for HIV/AIDS patients. GSK was one of 39 pharmaceutical companies charging Nelson Mandela and the government of South Africa with violating price protections and intellectual property rights in their efforts to access lower priced antiretroviral drugs. Close to 25 percent of black South Africans were living with HIV/AIDS and at the time, antiretroviral therapies cost approximately $1000 per month—more than a third of the average South African’s annual salary, putting treatment out of reach for most patients.

Yamada held discussions with his research staff and quickly learned that he was not alone in his opposition to the lawsuit. The team wanted to be a part of the solution to global health issues, not party to a lawsuit preventing such drugs from reaching those in dire need, but they felt they lacked the power to change the company’s direction. Yamada felt differently. In one-on-one meetings with individual board members of GSK, he stressed the company’s moral responsibility to alleviate human suffering and tied it to the long-term success of the company. He stated that GSK can’t make medicines that save lives and then not allow people access to them. He noted the public relations disaster associated with the lawsuit, and set forth a vision, co-created by his team, for how GSK could also become a leader in the fight against TB and malaria, diseases that also were disproportionately impacting third-world populations. The external pressure did not abate, with protests against many drug companies around the world.

We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does.

Alvin Chang:

Think about your elementary school. 

If you attended an American public school, chances are you went to that school because your family lived in that school’s attendance zone. You probably didn’t think twice about it.

We tend to assume these are neutrally drawn, immutable borders. But if you take a step back and look at the demographics of who lives in each attendance zone, you’re faced with maps like this.

Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools, despite space in nearby facilities.

On the referendum #33: High performance government, ‘cognitive technologies’, Michael Nielsen, Bret Victor, & ‘Seeing Rooms’

Dominic Cummings:

This blog looks at an intersection of decision-making, technology, high performance teams and government. It sketches some ideas of physicist Michael Nielsen about cognitive technologies and of computer visionary Bret Victor about the creation of dynamic tools to help understand complex systems and ‘argue with evidence’, such as ‘tools for authoring dynamic documents’, and ‘Seeing Rooms’ for decision-makers — i.e rooms designed to support decisions in complex environments. It compares normal Cabinet rooms, such as that used in summer 1914 or October 1962, with state-of-the-art Seeing Rooms. There is very powerful feedback between: a) creating dynamic tools to see complex systems deeper (to see inside, see across time, and see across possibilities), thus making it easier to work with reliable knowledge and interactive quantitative models, semi-automating error-correction etc, and b) the potential for big improvements in the performance of political and government decision-making.

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

More, here.

An Instant Classic About Learning Ancient Greek

Mary Norris:

WWhen Andrea Marcolongo’s book “La Lingua Geniale,” subtitled “9 ragioni per amare il greco” (“Nine Reasons to Love Greek”), came out in 2016, I bought it, in Italian, and took it with me to Greece. I flashed it at a meeting with some highly accomplished multilingual women. “You read Italian?” one of them asked. Slowly, at a very low level, without full comprehension, I should have said. I had brought the book with me to the island of Rhodes because I thought it would be good practice in both Italian and Greek. I was writing a book on Greek myself, and the difficulty of Greek made Italian seem transparent in comparison. I had made it to page 10 of the first essay, on aspect—a property of verbs by which the ancient Greeks distinguished between the “how” and the “when” of an action—when I got distracted by a sidebar on Greek wine and decided that I really ought to get out more: take a walk in the Old Town, with its streets named after Socrates and Plato, and check to see if that bar called Beer Paradise had opened for the season.

Television viewing and cognitive decline in older age: findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

Daisy Fancourt & Andrew Steptoe:

There has been significant interest in the effects of television on cognition in children, but much less research has been carried out into the effects in older adults. This study aimed to explore whether television viewing behaviours in adults aged 50 or over are associated with a decline in cognition. Using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging involving 3,662 adults aged 50+, we used multivariate linear regression models to explore longitudinal associations between baseline television watching (2008/2009) and cognition 6 years later (2014/2015) while controlling for demographic factors, socio-economic status, depression, physical health, health behaviours and a range of other sedentary behaviours. Watching television for more than 3.5 hours per day is associated with a dose-response decline in verbal memory over the following six years, independent of confounding variables. These results are found in particular amongst those with better cognition at baseline and are robust to a range of sensitivity analyses exploring reverse causality, differential non-response and stability of television viewing. Watching television is not longitudinally associated with changes in semantic fluency. Overall our results provide preliminary data to suggest that television viewing for more than 3.5 hours per day is related to cognitive decline.

New evidence shows that the key assumption made in the discovery of dark energy is in error

Yonsei University:

The most direct and strongest evidence for the accelerating universe with dark energy is provided by the distance measurements using type Ia supernovae (SN Ia) for the galaxies at high redshift. This result is based on the assumption that the corrected luminosity of SN Ia through the empirical standardization would not evolve with redshift.

Accountability? Racine Unified one of two districts being reviewed by joint monitoring

Caitlin Sievers:

This fall, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction began joint monitoring of Racine Unified School District’s improvement efforts required under the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. According to DPI, joint monitoring is only used in districts that are identified as needing support in all aspects of the ESSA and IDEA. Both are federal laws.

“This work is about helping the district develop systems that provide all students an equitable opportunity for success,” said DPI Communications Officer Benson Gardner in a statement.

So far, Racine Unified is only one of two Wisconsin school districts that have been found to need support in all areas of ESSA and IDEA. The other is Milwaukee Public Schools.

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

K12 Tax & Spending Climate: Nine States Face Economic Contraction, Most Since 2009 Crisis

Alexandre Tanzi:

Nine U.S. states’ economies are expected to slide into contraction within six months — the most since the financial crisis ended more than a decade ago, according to the latest projections from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

West Virginia’s economy is forecast to shrink the most, while a decline in neighboring Pennsylvania is anticipated to be the most severe since May 2009 during the tail-end of the Great Recession, figures released this week show. A faltering economic outlook in coming months would likely cast a shadow over President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.

Delaware, Montana and Oklahoma are still expected to face shrinking economies in the next six months, as predicted in the analysis for the prior month. But the list of states was expanded to include contractions on the horizon for Vermont, New Jersey, Kentucky and Connecticut. The bank no longer expects Alaska to post negative growth.

The $230,000,000 College Admission Scandal America Ignored

Lizzy Francis:

here are countless different ways to pursue educational opportunity — some costly, some less so. Rob Stegall moved 15 miles south from Richardson, Texas, to a new home situated within the Dallas Independent School District to secure his daughter’s admission to Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He did this because he sensed that Booker T., which counts the singers Erykah Badu, Edie Brickell, and Norah Jones among its alumni, a $55 million theater, state-of-the-art dance studios, and a 25 percent acceptance rate, might offer an opportunity for a talented teenager interested in pursuing a career in theater. And he was not wrong. In 2019, the 250 seniors making up Booker T. ‘s graduating class received $62 million in scholarships, roughly $250,000 per student, to elite colleges across the country — with Julliard taking half of its incoming dance majors from the one magnet school.

Stegall’s daughter would have had a shot at Booker T. from outside the district — she was initially waitlisted — but the school prioritizes in-district students. Stegall was advised by the school’s theater director that a change in address would likely yield a change in admission status. And it did when his daughter joined the class of 2014.

“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”

An Instant Classic About Learning Ancient Greek

Mary Norris:

When Andrea Marcolongo’s book “La Lingua Geniale,” subtitled “9 ragioni per amare il greco” (“Nine Reasons to Love Greek”), came out in 2016, I bought it, in Italian, and took it with me to Greece. I flashed it at a meeting with some highly accomplished multilingual women. “You read Italian?” one of them asked. Slowly, at a very low level, without full comprehension, I should have said. I had brought the book with me to the island of Rhodes because I thought it would be good practice in both Italian and Greek. I was writing a book on Greek myself, and the difficulty of Greek made Italian seem transparent in comparison. I had made it to page 10 of the first essay, on aspect—a property of verbs by which the ancient Greeks distinguished between the “how” and the “when” of an action—when I got distracted by a sidebar on Greek wine and decided that I really ought to get out more: take a walk in the Old Town, with its streets named after Socrates and Plato, and check to see if that bar called Beer Paradise had opened for the season.

Do You Pay Too Much for Internet Service? See How Your Bill Compares.

Inti Pacheco and Shalini Ramachandran:

Americans in low-income neighborhoods and rural areas get slower broadband speeds even though they generally pay similar monthly prices as their counterparts in wealthy and urban areas.

The country’s biggest broadband provider charges more in markets without competition.

Most people don’t have a choice.

These are among the findings of a Wall Street Journal analysis of America’s internet bills. After a small sample of bills revealed that broadband prices varied drastically across the country, the Journal collected and analyzed information from more than 3,300 bills from homes in all 50 states. Billshark, a company that helps customers negotiate better rates with their cable and telecommunications providers, provided the vast majority of the bills; BillFixers, another such company, and Journal readers also sent in a sizable number.

The Western Canon

Harold Bloom:

• Since the literary canon is at issue here, I include only those religious, philosophical, historical, and scientific writings that are themselves of great aesthetic interest. I would think that, of all the books that are in this first list, once the reader is conversant with the Bible, Homer, Plato, the Athenian dramatists, and Virgil, the crucial work is the Koran…

“I have included some Sanskrit works, scriptures and fundamental literary texts, because of their influence on the Western canon. The immense wealth of ancient Chinese literature is mostly a sphere apart from Western literary tradition and is rarely conveyed adequately in the translations available to us.”

Chicago Public School Data Shows Hundreds of Underutilized Schools

Matt Masterson:

The district’s annual space utilization figures show that nearly 290 schools across the city are considered either overcrowded or underutilized based on space availability and student enrollment.

“As part of a state-mandated process, the district posted its annual space utilization file, which provides schools and district leaders with an understanding of how school communities are using their buildings,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said in a statement. “The district is committed to making data accessible and space utilization represents one of the many resources the district has available for stakeholders to learn more about the schools in their communities.”

According to the data, 253 CPS school buildings are underutilized, meaning they use less than 70% of their ideal enrollment capacity. Thirty-five schools were classified as overcrowded – meaning they use more than 110% of their ideal capacity – while another 206 schools were deemed “efficient.”

Violence and the Sacred: College as an incubator of Girardian terror

Dan Wang:

I’ve written about René Girard’s ideas once before, to try my hand at identifying mimetic crises in the world of George R. R. Martin. Today I’d like to apply Girard’s ideas to another world in which people are driven to conflict over small differences and personal slights.

(Rather than attempting to explain Girard’s ideas in depth, I leave concessions to the reader, and point instead to discussions from the Raven Foundation and the IEP. If you’re looking for a quick introduction to the life of Girard, take a look at his obituary in the Times.)

Girard presents a model of human conflict that is Shakespearean, not Marxist. That is, he thinks that people are not engaged in class struggle, in which proletarians unite against the bourgeoisie; instead, people reserve horror and resentment for people most like themselves. Consider the origin of the ancient grudge laid out in the opening line of Romeo and Juliet: “Two houses, both alike in dignity…” The Montagues and Capulets fight not because they’re so different but because they’re so alike.

The closer we are to other people—Girard means this in multiple dimensions—the more intensely that mimetic contagion will spread. Alternatively, competition is fiercer the more that competitors resemble each other. When we’re not so different from people around us, it’s irresistible to become obsessed about beating others. Girard’s framework vastly improves Freud’s phrase “the narcissism of small differences.” It’s also a framework for Kissinger’s quip: “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.

Gym class without the gym? With technology, it’s catching on.

Carolyn Thompson:

The 14-year-old freshman is getting school credit for virtual physical education, a concept that, as strange as it may sound, is being helped along by availability of wearable fitness trackers.

For students whose tests and textbooks have migrated to screens, technology as gym equipment may have been only a matter of time.

Grace, who lives in Alexandria, wears a school-issued Fitbit on her wrist while getting in at least three 30-minute workouts a week outside of school hours. She has an app on her computer that screenshots her activity so she can turn it in for credit.

While online physical education classes have been around for well over a decade, often as part of virtual or online schools, the technology has made possible a new level of accountability, its users say.

“We’re asking kids to wear this while they do an activity of their choice, and they can change the activity as they desire, as long as it’s something that they understand is probably going to get their heart rate up,’’ said Elizabeth Edwards, department head for online physical education at Fairfax County Public Schools, which includes Grace’s high school.

Taking Stock and Moving Forward: Lessons From Two Plus Decades of Research on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Michael R. Ford & Fredrik O. Andersson:

In this article we review the substantial literature on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the U.S.’s oldest and largest urban school voucher program, and use the review to propose an agenda for second generation school voucher research. We review research on student-level impacts, public school response, parental decision-making, fiscal impacts, organizational churn, and the larger public policy issues resulting from Milwaukee’s voucher policy. We conclude that the balance of literature on the MPCP shows limited positive effects for voucher users, positive fiscal impacts for taxpayers, substantial numbers of school closures, and various externalities that need to be better understood given the program’s size and prominence. Given this, we suggest a future research agenda focused on the question of how to make voucher policies as successful as possible.

Stubborn Stupidity Vs Hidden Motives

Robin Hanson:

3) The simple theory of random stupidity strongly predicts a random pattern of overspending on some things, and underspending on others. In terms of statistical inference, such a theory is relatively easily beat by any other theories that can explain patterns in over and underspending in any other terms. Yes, you might try to retreat to a correlated-randomness theory, which posits that over versus underspending is correlated in “related” areas. But then you’ll need a theory of “relatedness” of areas.

We also seem to see overspending in medicine, law, school, investment analysis, campaign spending, and much else. A consistent pattern I think I see is overspending in areas where spending lets one associate with prestigious folks. So I suggest that much of this overspending is better explained via motives to gain prestige via association.

Madison taxpayers have long spent far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts. Yet, we have long tolerated disastrous reading results.

How the 1% Scrubs Its Image Online

Rachael Levy:

Jacob Gottlieb was considering raising money for a hedge fund. One problem: His last one had collapsed in a scandal.

While Mr. Gottlieb wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, googling his name prominently surfaced news articles chronicling the demise of Visium Asset Management LP, which once managed $8 billion. The results also included articles about his top portfolio manager, who died by suicide days after he was indicted for insider trading in 2016, and Mr. Gottlieb’s former brother-in-law, an employee of Visium who was convicted of securities fraud. Searches also found coverage of Mr. Gottlieb’s messy divorce in New York’s tabloids.

Expanding Taxpayer Supported Programs amidst long term, disastrous reading results

Scott Girard:

The Madison Metropolitan School District could continue its expansion of the Community Schools program as soon as the 2021-22 school year.

School Board members will receive an update on the program, which offers expanded services at four schools to help serve as a “hub” to their surrounding community, at a Monday Instruction Work Group meeting beginning at 5 p.m. at the Doyle Administration Building.

MMSD began its Community Schools program in 2016-17 at Leopold and Mendota elementary schools, expanding it to Lake View and Hawthorne in the 2018-19 school year. The schools ask parents, students and neighborhood residents to help identify school issues and find solutions to address them. The district website defines them as “a welcoming and inclusive place that builds on the assets of the community to help serve the identified needs of the students, families and community through well integrated and coordinated, strategic partnerships.

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

Taxpayer supported Dane County Board joins the Madison School Board in ignoring open meeting laws

Chris Rickert:

Groups of Dane County Board members have since 2014 been meeting privately and without any public notice to discuss government business — a practice that echoes private caucus meetings the liberal-dominated board has conducted in years past.

Meetings between the board’s leadership and leaders of some of its key committees, first reported by a local blogger, raise questions about whether the board is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the state open meetings law, as well as why county leaders feel the meetings need to be secret at a time when the board has been making a concerted effort to interest the public in its work.

Notes and links on taxpayer supported school Board open meeting issues, including Madison.

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

A discussion of recent politically correct policies

Katherine Tampf:

A lot has happened in the last decade — including a lot of things being called racist, sexist, offensive, or insensitive.

Here, in no particular order, are 24 of the most absurdly politically correct moments of the decade:

1. A college diversity-training course taught that it was culturally insensitive to expect people to be on time. 

A Clemson University training course taught its attendees that it is offensive to expect people to be on time, because “time may be considered fluid” in other cultures.-

2. The phrase “trigger warning” was deemed a trigger.

According to a piece in Everyday Feminism, “trigger warning” is actually in itself a trigger — because it could “be re-traumatizing for folks who have suffered military, police, and other forms of violence.” (The piece recommended using “content warning” instead.)

Madison School Board races starting to emerge as filing deadline approaches

Scott Girard:

For the past seven months, Strong has been a program associate with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Strong said in an interview Thursday he considers school safety and racial disparities in discipline and achievement to be the top issues facing MMSD.

“We have to make sure that our schools are safe and that they’re safe learning environments for our kids to learn and for our teachers to teach in,” Strong said. He stressed the importance of “tackling the achievement gap and just making sure that all of our students are given the best possible opportunity to get the quality education they deserve.”

He said he dislikes having to choose a seat to run for in Madison’s at-large system, but determined Seat 7 was the “most comfortable” for him at this time. As someone who had children go through Madison schools and will have grandchildren in them in the future, Strong said he thinks he can provide leadership on the board and that he has a “passion for education.”

Vander Meulen said Thursday she was “glad to have a challenger” so that voters can make a choice based on what they value. She said the board’s three jobs are to make a budget, listen to constituents and write policies — and that they need to do more on the last of those.

Logan Wroge:

“We really at a basic level need to figure how to make sure students are gaining the literacy skills that they need to be successful students,” she said.

Pearson wants to make sure students are able to gain academic and social-emotional skills, support teachers in anti-racist work, and increase school and community collaboration. She said school safety is the biggest challenge the district is facing.

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

Commentary on Wisconsin Governance, including K-12 (no mention of Mr. Evers teacher mulligans)

Mitchell Schmidt:

The former educator’s first year in office came with its share of partisan battles, including disagreements over his appointed cabinet heads and efforts by Republicans to limit the governor’s power. Divided government stalled attempts to appease constituents on both sides of the aisle: Republicans refused to take up gun control measures and marijuana legalization; Evers vetoed GOP-driven anti-abortion bills and tax cuts.

Evers said he has “partially delivered” on his campaign promises so far. He pointed to the budget, which included an increase in spending on K-12 education and a Republican-supported 10% income tax cut for the middle class, as a positive step.

In addition, a WisPolitics.com analysis found Evers’ 61 executive orders in 2019 was more than any Wisconsin governor in more than 50 years.

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

Evers signs record number of executive orders in first year.

Four Corrections to a Context And Fact-Free Article Called “The Democrats’ School Choice Problem.”

Laura Waters:

On New Year’s Eve The Nation published an analysis by Jennifer Berkshire called “The Democrats’ School Choice Problem.” Her piece is instructive because it illustrates a strategy commonly employed by those who regard themselves as warriors against craven privatizing shysters intent on expanding charter schools and/or voucher programs. This is how it works: Ignore context. Ignore math. Ignore inconvenient facts. And hustle together a specious I argument that plays to those who —perhaps responding to the Trumpian lurch to the right by Republican Party leaders in D.C. —believe that the only way to retain decency and moral order is by careening just as far to the left, which seems to me a surefire way to guarantee Trump a second term. (Not sure what these directions mean anyway. Since when is limiting public school choice, which primarily benefits low-income children of color, a value of left-wingers? Since when is it a violation of Democratic Party loyalty to want better schools for your kids?)

To unknowing readers (which apparently includes The Nation’s fact-checking department) Berkshire’s argument, as context and fact-free as it is, holds power. So let’s demystify the mystique and look at some of the ways that Berkshire makes her argument that the Democratic pro-choice coalition is “unraveling” and that no choice is the right choice.

First, to give credit where credit is due, Berkshire  begins with the recent AFT/NEA “school choice forum” last month in Pittsburgh where seven candidates begged for union money and endorsement. She notes that the invitation-only audience was greeted by a Black mother affiliated with the Working Families Party (closely tied in agenda and funding with AFT/NEA) while 250 Black mothers (she says 100 but who’s counting) stood in a cold rain because they were locked out of the “public forum” for wanting quality schools for their children even if they can’t afford to live in Gloucester. (See here.) Why were they outside in the rain? Because the candidates, with the sole exception of Mike Bennett, refused to walk down the block and meet with them in a hotel room paid for by a GoFundMe campaign. Inside, audience members wore “F*%k Charter Schools” tee-shirts.

Madison’s taxpayer supported K – 12 school district has resisted school and parental choice.

A majority of the school board rejected the proposed Madison preparatory Academy ib charter school in 2011.

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

Critical Thinking is Nothing Without Knowledge

DJ Buck:

Among high school students, I’ve seen puzzled looks in response to the mention of Adolf Hitler, segregation, Thomas Jefferson, the Cold War, Aristotle and the Bill of Rights—among other things. This shocking lack of knowledge has a noxious effect on student thought. Take a question I gave during a video assignment: to which country did many Americans move during the Great Depression? Seconds before, I had prompted my students to listen as the narrator explained that many Americans moved to the Soviet Union in search of work. Nevertheless, after we had finished watching, very few students had a response.

What caused this? It wasn’t a matter of apathy. One student revealingly asked, “wait, the Soviet Union is a country?” As freshmen, these students had only learned ancient history and a smattering of US history, and were unaware that Russia was once part of the Soviet Union. The issue was one of background knowledge, a schema of known facts and information into which an individual can fit new ideas. 

Education reformers, teachers, politicians, advocates and parents often call for schools not just to teach rote facts—children can look those up on the internet—but to create critical thinkers. Companies say that they are seeking employees with critical thinking skills. As Bryan Caplan puts it, “from kindergarten on, students spend thousands of hours studying subjects irrelevant to the modern labor market. Why do English classes focus on literature and poetry instead of business and technical writing?” 

How could I have asked my students, however, to think critically about the Cold War, without knowing that Russia was once part of the Soviet Union? Should we prioritize business and technical writing for students who don’t even know who Martin Luther King Jr. is? How could any college student meaningfully support a cause like socialism if she arguably doesn’t even know what it entails?

So is critical thinking undergirded by a teachable set of skills? Where does it fit within the trite facts versus feelings dichotomy often alluded to on Twitter? To begin to find out, we need to probe an even more foundational skill: reading.

Madison spends far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 School Districts and tolerates long term, disastrous reading results.

Denying a Professor Tenure, Harvard Sparks a Debate Over Ethnic Studies

Kate Taylor:

The news spread quickly, angering Latino students and others at Harvard: One of the few professors who specialized in Latino and Caribbean studies and devoted time to mentoring students of color had been denied tenure.

The students sprang into action, occupying an administration building last month and also disrupting a faculty meeting. They submitted a letter to administrators demanding transparency about the tenure process and the creation of an ethnic studies department. And on the day in December that early admissions decisions were to be released, black, Latino and Asian students protested in the admissions office, accusing the university of using them as tokens in its professed commitment to diversity, while failing to invest in academic areas critical to their lives.

It is an unsettled moment at Harvard. The university is still fighting a lawsuit challenging its use of race-based affirmative action in admissions; a district court judge ruled in Harvard’s favor in October, but the plaintiffs are appealing.

Campus Bias Blowback

Wall Street Journal:

The infection of speech restrictions on campus has spread nationwide, but some are fighting back. The latest defense of the First Amendment is a lawsuit filed Thursday against Iowa State University.

The Ames, Iowa, school has “created a series of rules and regulations designed to restrain, deter, suppress, and punish speech concerning political and social issues of public concern,” says the suit filed in federal court on behalf of Iowa State students by the nonprofit Speech First.

The suit cites several examples of the school’s bias, such as a policy prohibiting students from “broadcasting email from a university account to solicit support for a candidate or ballot measure.” Another policy limits who can use chalk on pavement. The practice is popular with students on both sides of the abortion debate, and Iowa State recently intervened to say that only registered student organizations could use chalk on pavement and only to promote an event.

The university may be most legally vulnerable for its Campus Climate Reporting System, which is as Orwellian as it sounds. Under the “system,” students are encouraged to report “bias incidents” to a panel that includes the chief and vice chief of the Iowa State University Police Department, the dean of students, and the university counsel.

Google veterans: The company has become ‘unrecognizable’

Jennifer Elias:

Workers told CNBC that 2018 was a pivotal point in the company’s shift away from upfront communication. That was when news of Project Dragonfly, a secret Google plan to develop a censored search engine for possible rollout in China, first broke in The Intercept. Internally, the existence of the project had been kept on a need-to-know basis.

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

Commentary on 2020 Madison School Board Election Candidates

Scott Girard:

For the past seven months, Strong has been a program associate with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency. Strong said in an interview Thursday he considers school safety and racial disparities in discipline and achievement to be the top issues facing MMSD.

“We have to make sure that our schools are safe and that they’re safe learning environments for our kids to learn and for our teachers to teach in,” Strong said. He stressed the importance of “tackling the achievement gap and just making sure that all of our students are given the best possible opportunity to get the quality education they deserve.”

He said he dislikes having to choose a seat to run for in Madison’s at-large system, but determined Seat 7 was the “most comfortable” for him at this time. As someone who had children go through Madison schools and will have grandchildren in them in the future, Strong said he thinks he can provide leadership on the board and that he has a “passion for education.”

Vander Meulen said Thursday she was “glad to have a challenger” so that voters can make a choice based on what they value. She said the board’s three jobs are to make a budget, listen to constituents and write policies — and that they need to do more on the last of those.

“I’m choosing to run again because I want to continue to be a voice for the voiceless,” Vander Meulen said, citing the achievement gap and graduation rate for students with disabilities. “Things aren’t changing and they need to and the only way that happens is by speaking up and advocating.”

Notes and links on the 2020 Madison School Board Election.

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

Chart of the day: For every 100 girls/women…..

Mark Perry:

The table above is based on some of the items in the list “For every 100 girls….” that I featured last April on CD here. The list was originally created by Tom Mortenson in 2011 and I updated the list earlier this year with Tom’s permission. Special thanks to Gale Pooley for helping create the table.

The data in the table show that on many, many measures of: a) educational, behavioral and mental health outcomes, b) alcohol, drug addiction, and drug overdoses, c) suicide, murder, violent crimes, and incarceration, d) job fatalities and e) homelessness, boys and men are faring much worse than girls and women. And yet despite the fact that boys and men are at so much greater risk than girls and women on so many different measures, those significant gender disparities that disproportionately and adversely affect men get almost no attention. In fact, it’s girls and women who get a disproportionate amount of attention, resources, and financial support, including:

1. There are women’s centers and women’s commissions on almost every college campus in the country, but not a single men’s center or commission that I’m aware of.

The new red scare on American campuses

The Economist:

Early last autumn Alex and Victor, two students from mainland China, sat in the back row of a packed auditorium at Columbia Law School, in New York. They were there for a talk by Joshua Wong, thrice-jailed young hero of the Hong Kong democracy movement, which the two students support. They applauded enthusiastically; they also wore blue face masks.

The masks were in part symbols of solidarity with Mr Wong’s fellow protesters half a world away. But they were also a way of hiding their identities from face-recognition systems in China that might be scanning pictures of the audience, and from Chinese students in the hall less in tune with Mr Wong’s message—such as the ones who sang the national anthem of the People’s Republic in response to the talk. Their names are not, in fact, Alex and Victor; they asked The Economist to give them pseudonyms and not to say where in China they came from. As they talked, other Chinese students quietly observed them, national flags in hand.

There are 19.8m university students in America, of whom just over a million come from other countries. A bit less than a fifth of these foreigners come from India, and 6% from the European Union. Fully a third are Chinese—a much larger fraction than from anywhere else, and more students than China sends to all the other countries in the world put together. At Columbia, half of the nearly 12,000 international students are from China. This is all very good for the students’ future prospects and the universities’ coffers. But it worries the American government, the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) and some champions of academic freedom.

Educated Fools: Why Democratic leaders still misunderstand the politics of social class

Thomas Geoghegan:

Here’s a little thought experiment: What would happen if, by a snap of the fingers, white racism in America were to disappear? It might be that the black and Latino working class would be voting for Trump, too. Then we Democrats would have no chance in 2020. We often tell ourselves: “Oh, we lost just the white working class because of race.” But the truth might be something closer to this: “It’s only because of race that we have any part of the working class turning out for us at all.”

How many of us in the party’s new postgraduate leadership caste have even a single friendship, a real one, of two equals, with any man or woman who is just a high school graduate? It’s hard to imagine any Democrat in either House or Senate who did not go beyond a high school diploma. (And no, I am not talking about Harvard dropouts Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.)

Still, it’s unthinkable that the college-educated base of the party would trust a high school graduate without a four-year degree to run for or hold a serious office. We don’t trust them, and would never vote for one of them. Why should they trust or vote for one of us?

It used to be otherwise. Yes, in the 1940s and 1950s, many a Democrat in the House or Senate had no four-year diploma: Even a president, Harry S Truman, did not. What’s more, those who did frequently went to night law school, or a teachers’ college, and at least still lived, or had a social life, in neighborhoods where no one over a long stretch of city blocks had college B.A.s. This was true even for the profession now cited as a sort of polemic shorthand for rule by the knowledge elite—the “liberal media.” As late as 1970, my friend Steve Franklin joined a city paper and was surprised to learn that most of the editors had never been to college—and of course they lived in neighborhoods all over the city with people who had gone to the same high schools they had.

Back then, many of these people understood that they could trust the Democratic Party for the same reason they could trust the liberal media. The Democratic Party of the 1950s and 1960s was probably much more corrupt and inept than the Democratic Party of today—but back then it lived in the neighborhood, as it no longer does today. Now the Democratic Party relies on think tanks in elite universities to find out what people back in those neighborhoods are thinking

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

China roots out its ‘gaokao migrants’ as university entrance exam nears

Laurie Chen:

With only a month to go until China’s gaokao university entrance exam, education authorities have vowed to crack down on cheating candidates.

More than 10 million students had registered to take the notoriously competitive exam this year, state news agency Xinhua reported. The standardised nationwide test is widely viewed as a key to social mobility that can determine a student’s future prospects for better or worse.

On Sunday, the education bureau in the southern province of Guangdong ordered an investigation into the credentials of all students who had transferred to senior high schools there from elsewhere in the country, in a crackdown on so-called gaokao migrants.

These “migrants” – students who register to take the exam in a different province to boost their chances of scoring higher – are a widely recognised phenomenon in China.

The untapped potential of the ‘longevity economy

Mari Shibata:

In 2018, for the first time in history, those aged 65 or older outnumbered children younger than five globally. And the number of people aged 80 years or older is projected to triple, from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050.

The population aged 65 and older is growing faster than all other age groups, especially as the global birth rate has been plummeting since the second half of the 20th Century. According to the World Health Organization, fertility rates in every region except Africa are near or below what’s considered the ‘replacement rate’ – the level needed to keep a population stable. In most high-income countries this hovers around 2.1 children per woman.

The population isn’t just ageing, though: people are living longer and increasing their ‘healthspan’ for prolonged health, too. That means that as the population of elders increases, so grows a group of consumers, workers and innovators. In other words, they’re not simply a group that needs services from the ‘silver economy’, which is aimed solely at older and ageing people – rather, the ageing population can continue to be full-service participants in the economy at large.

“We’re now talking about a new life stage which is as long as the latter part of your adult life,” says Dr Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and author of Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market.

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

Matt Ridley:

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

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

Perhaps one of the least fashionable predictions I made nine years ago was that ‘the ecological footprint of human activity is probably shrinking’ and ‘we are getting more sustainable, not less, in the way we use the planet’. That is to say: our population and economy would grow, but we’d learn how to reduce what we take from the planet. And so it has proved. An MIT scientist, Andrew McAfee, recently documented this in a book called More from Less, showing how some nations are beginning to use less stuff: less metal, less water, less land. Not just in proportion to productivity: less stuff overall.

This does not quite fit with what the Extinction Rebellion lot are telling us. But the next time you hear Sir David Attenborough say: ‘Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is either a madman or an economist’, ask him this: ‘But what if economic growth means using less stuff, not more?’ For example, a normal drink can today contains 13 grams of aluminium, much of it recycled. In 1959, it contained 85 grams. Substituting the former for the latter is a contribution to economic growth, but it reduces the resources consumed per drink.

Google collects face data now. Here’s what it means and how to opt out

Dale Smith:

Google’s latest smart display brings with it a controversial new feature that’s always watching. Face Match, introduced on the Google Nest Hub Max, uses the smart display’s front-facing camera as a security feature and a way to participate in video calls. It also shows you your photos, texts, calendar details and so on when it recognizes your face.

This mode of facial recognition sounds simple enough at first. But the way companies like Google collect, store and process face data has become a top concern for privacy-minded consumers. Plenty of people want to know who has their personal information once it makes its way into the cloud.

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

What the World can learn from Hongkong From Unanimity to Anonymity

Katharin Tai:

The people of Hong Kong have been using unique tactics, novel uses of technology, and a constantly adapting toolset in their fight to maintain their distinctiveness from China since early June. Numerous anonymous interviews with protesters from front liners to middle class supporters and left wing activists reveal a movement that has been unfairly simplified in international reporting. The groundbreaking reality is less visible because it must be – obfuscation and anonymity are key security measures in the face of jail sentences up to ten years.

Instead of the big political picture, this talk uses interviews with a range of activists to help people understand the practicalities of situation on the ground and how it relates to Hongkong’s political situation. It also provides detailed insights into protestors’ organisation, tactics and technologies way beyond the current state of reporting. Ultimately, it is the story of how and why Hongkongers have been able to sustain their movement for months, even faced with an overwhelming enemy like China.

What we know about you when you click on this article

Rani Molla:

If you’re reading this story on Vox.com, we have probably already collected quite a few bits of information about you. We, as well as our third-party advertisers, likely know which type of device you’re on, what browser you’re using, what you do on our site (which articles you read, how long you stay, what ads you visit), and what site you visit next when you click somewhere else. We know where you are based on your device’s IP address — a unique identifier assigned to each device connected to the internet — but don’t use GPS to actively track your location.

Americans and Digital Knowledge

Emily Vogels and Monica Anderson:

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that Americans’ understanding of technology-related issues varies greatly depending on the topic, term or concept. While a majority of U.S. adults can correctly answer questions about phishing scams or website cookies, other items are more challenging. For example, just 28% of adults can identify an example of two-factor authentication – one of the most important ways experts say people can protect their personal information on sensitive accounts. Additionally, about one-quarter of Americans (24%) know that private browsing only hides browser history from other users of that computer, while roughly half (49%) say they are unsure what private browsing does.

This survey consisted of 10 questions designed to test Americans’ knowledge of a range of digital topics, such as cybersecurity or the business side of social media companies. The median number of correct answers was four. Only 20% of adults answered seven or more questions correctly, and just 2% got all 10 questions correct.

As was true in a previous Center survey, Americans’ knowledge of digital topics varies substantially by educational attainment as well as by age. Adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree and those under the age of 50 tend to score higher on these questions. These are some of the key findings from a Pew Research Center survey of 4,272 adults living in the United States conducted June 3-17, 2019.

Who is really fighting for the forgotten child?

CJ Safir and Libby Sobic:

Across the country, parents, many of them low-income, are using school choice to educate their children at schools outside their public neighborhood options. Twenty-nine states, and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico provide some school choice program for students to attend private schools, including tax-credit scholarships, school vouchers, tax deduction and education savings accounts. Many more states (44 and D.C. and Puerto Rico) allow for high-performing charter schools, which are public schools with less red tape than traditional public schools.

Trump’s roundtable highlighted these successes as well as those of particular states. For example, Trump heaped praise on Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis who, less than a year into his tenure, secured legislation to move 14,000 students off wait lists for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

However, despite successful state programs, far too many students are without access to quality schools, which is why President Trump says the Education Freedom Scholarships proposal is necessary. The bill, authored by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), would strengthen school choice from a federal level while allowing states to have the flexibility to manage how the scholarships are structured, determine which students are eligible and how the funds could be used.

The demand for school choice is largely a reflection of frustration with the current system. K-12 education in the U.S. ranks 13 in science and 31 in math compared to other Organization for Economic-Cooperation and Development countries. Yet, the U.S. is the second-biggest spender on K-12 schools (after Norway). The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results found that student reading proficiency declined in 17 states and mathematical proficiency is stagnant. This is why, according to a RealClear Opinion Research poll this month, 70 percent of registered voters favor a federal tax credit scholarship and 68 percent support some form of school choice.  

How Did Detroit Schools Spend $286,596 On LA Conference?

Tom Gantert:

On Dec. 17, 2017, the Detroit Public Schools Community District sent the staff of its Office of Strategy to a six-day conference in Los Angeles at a cost of $286,596.

Under a spending transparency requirement lawmakers added to the school aid act in 2009, school districts must publish such expenses on their websites.

Other travel expense reports from the Detroit school district mention $250,000 in spending for staffers to attend a May 2019 conference in Italy and $240,000 for a six-day conference in Los Angeles in December 2018.

Michigan’s second largest school district is Utica Community Schools, and it has reported nothing comparable to the Detroit school for travel expenses. That district’s highest expense for out-of-state conferences in 2018-19 was $2,609. Those expenses included just transportation, hotel and registration costs.

The highest travel cost recorded by Ann Arbor Public Schools in 2018-19 was $19,746 for a conference in Nashville, where the district sent 12 people. There was no explanation for what those costs included.

How Focus Became More Valuable Than Intelligence

Alexand.ro

This may be the most important problem of our lifetime.

An individual is considered valuable to the society, to other people and to itself by the ability he has to apply what he knows in order to craft solutions to different problems or visions. The difficulty of the problem may vary: from rock climbing where your undivided focus and concentration decides every second if you will remain alive or not, to problem solving that may decide the future of your company or life.

In our days we need to solve problems harder than ever before and we have a lot of intelligent people to do that. Or do we? You see, even if you are intelligent, there is a prerequisite every single time you wake up which will decide if your intelligence will be used or wasted that day. That prerequisite is focus.

A Modern Introduction to Online Learning

Francesco Orabona

In this monograph, I introduce the basic concepts of Online Learning through a modern view of Online Convex Optimization. Here, online learning refers to the framework of regret minimization under worst-case assumptions. I present first-order and second-order algorithms for online learning with convex losses, in Euclidean and non-Euclidean settings. All the algorithms are clearly presented as instantiation of Online Mirror Descent or Follow-The-Regularized-Leader and their variants. Particular attention is given to the issue of tuning the parameters of the algorithms and learning in unbounded domains, through adaptive and parameter-free online learning algorithms. Non-convex losses are dealt through convex surrogate losses and through randomization. The bandit setting is also briefly discussed, touching on the problem of adversarial and stochastic multi-armed bandits. These notes do not require prior knowledge of convex analysis and all the required mathematical tools are rigorously explained. Moreover, all the proofs have been carefully chosen to be as simple and as short as possible.

Audio gives new voice to books in the digital age

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson

Everybody thought the ebook was going to be the thing, and it turns out the audiobook is the thing,” says Maria Pallante, president of the Association of American Publishers.

Her members’ audiobook revenue shot up from $200m in 2010 to more than $500m in 2018, or 6.6 per cent of industry sales. Including Amazon’s imprints and self-published titles on its Audible and ACX platforms, US sales are approaching $1bn. Audiobooks are growing even faster in the UK, jumping by 43 per cent between 2017 and 2018 to reach £69m, according to Nielsen. Global sales, according to forecasts by Deloitte, could hit $3.5bn in 2020.

“At the beginning there was a feeling that it was a fad and it wouldn’t stick,” recalls Patch McQuaid, who started his London studio business with unwanted equipment after the CD-Rom fad faded. “Digital changed everything.”

The story of the audiobook boom is not just a financial one, though: it is one of the unexpected effects that techno­logy has had on us — and of our need to escape technology. Whether our genre is self-improvement or frothy romance, it also speaks volumes about how we have responded to a decade of dislocation and distraction.

Civics: NSA’s Backdoor Key from Lotus-Notes

Cyberspace.org

Before the US crypto export regulations were finally disolved the export version of Lotus Notes used to include a key escrow / backdoor feature called differential cryptography. The idea was that they got permission to export 64 bit crypto if 24 of those bits were encrypted for the NSA’s public key. The NSA would then only have the small matter of brute-forcing the remaining 40 bits to get the plaintext, and everyone else would get a not-that-great 64 bit key space (which probably already back then NSA would have had the compute power to brute force also, only at higher cost).

Anyway as clearly inside the application somewhere would be an NSA public key that the NSA had the private key for, I tried reverse engineering it to get the public key.

In doing this I discovered that the NSA public key had an organizational name of “MiniTruth”, and a common name of “Big Brother”. Specifically what I saw in my debugger late one night, which was spooky for a short moment was:

O=MiniTruth CN=Big Brother

Literary note: for those who have not read Orwell’s prescient “1984” the Ministry of Truth was the agency who’s job was propaganda and suppression of truths that did not suit the malignant fictional future government in the book, and “Big Brother” was the evil shadowy leader of this government. The whole book is online here.

Chinese Parents Test DNA to Check If Kids Will Become Prodigies

Daniela Wei , K Oanh Ha , and Kristen V Brown:

Months after his daughter’s birth in 2017, Chris Jung dropped off a test-tube of her saliva to his company’s genetic testing lab in Hong Kong. He had grand ambitions for the baby, and was seeking clues to the future in her DNA. She might become a prominent professional, he thought, possibly even a doctor.

But Jung’s plans shifted after analysis by his firm, Gene Discovery, suggested his daughter had strong abilities in music, math and sports—though a lesser aptitude for memorizing details. As the little girl grows up, Jung said he will pour resources into developing those talents, while steering her away from professions that require a lot of memorization.

“Originally, I would like her to become a professional like a doctor or lawyer,” said Jung, chief operating officer of Good Union Corp., the parent company of Gene Discovery. “But once I looked into the results, it talked about how her memory is so bad. I switched my expectations because if I would like her to become a professional, she needs to study a lot and remember a lot.

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

Jenna McLaughlin and Zach Dorfman

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

These problems are now being recognized by Congress as well. 

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

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

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

Olivia Donaldson:

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

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

Has The Master’s Degree Bubble Burst?

Lindsay MacKenzie:

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

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

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

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

QuanticDev:

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

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

Scott Girard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stubbs offered her endorsement during Monday’s announcement.

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

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

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

Scott Girard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology Review:

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

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

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

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

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

Melody Warnick:

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

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

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

Yin Yin Lu:

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

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

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

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

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

Natasha Singer:

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

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

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

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

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

Kirby Smith:

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

Introduction

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

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

Disrupting Schools For Racial Justice

Rod Dreher:

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

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

Our Hopes for Higher Ed Reform in 2020

Martin Center:

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

Jenna A. Robinson, President

More Colleges Experimenting with Income Share Agreements

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

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

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

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

Amnesty:

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

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

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

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

Bennett Cyphers:

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

Global Wave of Debt Is Largest, Fastest in 50 Years

World Bank:

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

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

Illegal Madison School Board Meetings

Brenda Konkel:

OK, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO HAVE HAPPEN KONKEL?

At. least. try.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Unlimited Supply Of Borrowed Cash Is Destroying Higher Education

Rebecca Kathryn Jude and Chauncey M. DePree, Jr:

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

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

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

Computer Science from the bottom up

Ian Weinand:

Table of Contents

• Introduction

◦ Welcome

▪ Philosophy

▪ Why from the bottom up?

▪ Enabling Technologies

• 1. General Unix and Advanced C

◦ Everything is a file!

◦ Implementing abstraction

▪ Implementing abstraction with C

▪ Libraries

◦ File Descriptors

▪ The Shell

• 2. Binary and Number Representation

◦ Binary — the basis of computing

▪ Binary Theory

▪ Hexadecimal

▪ Practical Implications

◦ Types and Number Representation

▪ C Standards

▪ Types

▪ Number Representation

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

Tech @Cliqz:

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

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

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

The $1.6tn US student debt nightmare

Alice Kantor:

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

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

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

Knowledge @ Wharton:

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

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

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

Conservatives Need Not Apply for Prestigious Scholarships

Christian Schneider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madison School Board member Kate Toews not seeking reelection

Logan Wroge:

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

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

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

Scott Girard:

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

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

Notes and links on Kate Toews.

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

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

Dean Mosiman:

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

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

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

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

Patti Neighmond:

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

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

5 Reasons Why People Love Cancel Culture

Rob Henderson:

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

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

My Semester With the Snowflakes

James Hatch:

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

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

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

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

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

The university doesn’t referee free speech

George Korda:

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

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

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

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

Drew Harrell:

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

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

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

10 heroes of Wisconsin education from 2019

Alan Borsuk:

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

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

Commentary on the Madison School Board’s Superintendent Search Finalists

Scott Girard:

The finalists are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Logan Wroge:

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

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

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

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

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

Notes and links on previous Madison Superintendent search experiences.

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

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

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

Commentary

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

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

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

Reimagining the PhD

Nadia Eghbal:

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

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

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

Why so many Japanese children refuse to go to school

Alessia Cerantola:

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

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

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

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

Crack down on genomic surveillance

Yves Moreau:

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

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

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

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

Commentary on taxpayer supported Madison K-12 Curriculum

Scott Girard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean Coughlan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thieves of experience: On the rise of surveillance capitalism

Nicholas Carr:

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

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

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

Abid Omar:

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