The Algebra of Algebraic Data Types, Part 1

Chris Taylor:

In this series of posts I’ll explain why Haskell’s data types are called algebraic- without mentioning category theory or advanced math.
The algebra you learned in high school starts with numbers (e.g. 1, 2, 3 …) and operators (e.g. addition and multiplication). The operators give you a way to combine numbers and make new numbers from them. For example, combining 1 and 2 with the operation of addition gives you another number, 3 – a fact that we normally express as
When you get a little older you are introduced to variables (e.g. x, y, z …) which can stand for numbers. Further still, and you learn about the laws that algebra obeys.

Tracking Progress & Learning from Top Performers

The Unstudent Blog:

In the summer of 2008 I was working in the basement of the Seeley W. Mudd building where Columbia University’s Plasma Physics Lab is located. Our experiment was contained in a large steel vacuum chamber that sat on top of the concrete housing of an never-used Mark III TRIGA nuclear test reactor. Attached to our experiment were cryopumps, high voltage lines, an RF generator, and hundreds of diagnostic sensors. We were studying hydrogen plasmas in a dipole magnetic fields, such as the ones that surround the Earth and are responsible for aurorae.
It was one of my first experiences doing serious research and I was still an undergraduate in Applied Physics at the time. In our group we had this one stellar guy, who really looked like he had it together. He worked more efficiently then any other scientist I’ve spent serious time with. He always seemed like he had a clear idea about what he was doing and kept scrupulous notes as he tracked his progress.

This session’s winners and losers in Texas education

Will Weissert:

Six days before Christmas, state Sen. Dan Patrick decamped from the Capitol to a nearby Roman Catholic school. The start of the legislative session was still two-plus weeks away, but the tea party Republican wanted to be in a classroom as he declared he was ready to lead the largest public education overhaul Texas had seen in decades.
“We don’t have time for evolution in public schools,” said Patrick, who hails from Houston and heads the powerful Senate Education Committee. “We need a revolution.”
It was a line he often repeated in the following months. And, by the time the 140-day session ended this week, Patrick had succeeded — at least partially.
Lawmakers restored nearly $4 billion of the $5.4 billion cut from public education in 2011, transformed high school standardized testing and curriculum standards, and expanded charter schools. Patrick’s push to allow students to attend private school with public funds fell flat — but could be revived during an ongoing 30-day special session that so far is focused solely on redrawing the state’s political maps.
“I’m really pleased,” Patrick said during the session’s final hours. Referencing the 150 House and 31 Senate lawmakers, he continued: “I’m just one of 181 members and there will always be members who disagree on a lot of things. But we’ve made a lot of progress.”

Jeb Bush, Accountability And Support On Reading

Andrew Rotherham:

Getting students reading well by 3rd-grade is again emerging as a policy priority in many states. WaPo’s Lyndsey Layton took a look at the trend in March and Reading Partners’ Michael Lombardo responded.
What’s interesting is that a focus on early-learning was a key part of Florida’s success over the past decade (along with accountability, choice, and some other elements). Today, Jeb Bush’s advocacy on education is one reason states are adopting these reading policies. But while some states are now simply adopting the hard-edged policies around retention, the former Florida governor makes clear that the policies should be paired with support. I’ve asked experts on reading policy why they think some states are ignoring the support side and while answers vary, “selective listening based on underlying ideology on spending,” as one person put it, is the consensus response.
When I interviewed Bush for TIME late last year, I asked him about what had worked in Florida and why? Here’s what he said about coupling hard-edged policies with supports for students:

The End of the Beginning for Common Core

Jay Greene:

The folks at Pioneer have landed another blow against Common Core in the mainstream Conservative press. This time Jim Stergios and Jamie Gass have a lengthy piece in the Weekly Standard detailing the start of troubles for Common Core, both substantively and politically. This follows on a piece by Gass and Charles Chieppo in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. A central part of the strategy for Common Core was to create the impression that it was inevitable, so everybody might as well get on board. That aura of inevitability has been shattered.
My reasons for opposing Common Core are slightly different from those articulated by the folks at Pioneer, but we agree on the political analysis of its fate. To become something meaningful Common Core requires more centralization of power than is possible under our current political system. Pushing it forward requires frightening reductions in parental control over education and expansions of federal power. These are not the unnecessary by-products of a misguided Obama Administration over-reach. Constraining parental choice and increasing federal power were entirely necessary to advance Common Core. And they were perfectly foreseeable (we certainly foresaw these dangers here at JPGB).

Vouchers: First He Came for the Teachers; then He Came for the Kids; School Calendar 2013-14; Ready, Set, Goal Conferences; Parent-Teacher Conferences

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter (PDF), via a kind Jeannie Bettner email:

As he described it in February, 2011, Governor Scott Walker “dropped a bomb” on Wisconsin’s public employees, attempting to strip them of their rights to collectively bargain. Now he’s aiming at our kids. Walker’s 2013 biennial budget goes a long way in his plan to crush public education in Wisconsin; a move to privatize via VOUCHERS (i.e. providing funding from the area public school to enable parents to pay tuition to send their children to private or religious schools).
In its press conference on May 17, the Forward Institute released their study of the impact of school funding on educational opportunity. The study found that schools with higher poverty levels have experienced greater loss in funding when compared to more affluent schools across the state. The number of students in Wisconsin living in poverty has doubled since 2007, and since 2007 state funding of public education has fallen to its lowest level in 17 years. Walker’s biennial budget proposes to further exacerbate the situation by expanding voucher schools into nine additional areas, including Madison.
Expanding voucher schools will take away funding from our public schools. Not only are school districts required to pay 38.4% of the cost of each voucher; they lose the ability to count the student attending private/parochial schools in the state aid formula on which the amount of revenue is based. In Madison, a person would receive $6,442 from the MMSD to send their child to a private or parochial school. Yet Madison would receive no additional state aid to offset that cost, so payments come directly from money that would have supported education in Madison public schools. It is projected that in the first five years of vouchers, Madison schools could lose nearly $27 million to vouchers.


MTI has received several concerns regarding the calendar, as recently released by the District, for the 2013-14 school year. Among the demands by the District, enabled by Governor Walker’s Act 10, in last year’s negotiations, was that one of the Voluntary Days, August 28, be converted to a mandatory attendance “development day”. It is specifically designated as “development”, not “staff development”. The latter is designated for August 29. Since the 1970’s the Contract provided returning teachers three Voluntary Days, days for which they are paid, but did not have to be at their assigned work site. The new Contract, effective July 1, 2013, reduces that to two days. “All Staff Day” is August 30.
Secondly, an agreement provides that the District has full
discretion as to whether to enable Ready, Set, Goal Conferences. The agreement provides teachers compensation or flex time for engaging parents in such conferences. Because of the proposed cut in State aid under Governor Walker’s Budget, MMSD may not authorize RSG Conferences this fall. They ask that teachers prepare letters inviting parents for such conferences, should funding enable them.
Third, is the issue of Parent-Teacher conferences. The Contract provides that there will be two evenings for conferences and that the day following conferences will also be for conferences with no students present to enable conferences which were not held on the prior evening. The District has failed to list November 13 as being with no students, while they scheduled evening conferences on November 12. The District has proposed to MTI changing the day following each conference to be with students, and having the only “no student” day be November 27, the day before Thanksgiving.

Vouchers are not an existential threat to our local public school structure. Long-term disastrous reading scores are, and merit everyone’s full attention.

City of Monona to fine parents of bullies

Chris Walker:

The Monona City Council passed the measure last month (PDF), which levies fines on parents of bullies if they continually harass their peers.
It’s an unprecedented move that, so far as anyone can tell, hasn’t been adopted anywhere else in the nation.
The law wouldn’t target parents of first-time bullyers, but rather those whose children are consistent offenders. Before receiving a ticket, parents would have to be informed of a bullying incident that had occurred within the past 90 days. If the child continued to bully after the initial warning, the parents could then be fined.

The Commodification of Learning: Economic value is being attached to learning; in turn, this is giving the wrong incentives to students. Memorisation is winning over mind-broadening.

Michael Moore-Jones:

You can learn a huge amount by reading a novel, examining an artwork, or watching a movie. You can usually learn a lot more by doing one of those things than you can by reading a school textbook that spoon-feeds you information.
But every day, I see people choose to read a textbook they’ve already read a dozen times over a new novel, because they can see an immediate reward for reading that book. Namely, that reward is better grades.
But getting better grades doesn’t mean you’ve learned more. Getting a better grade on a topic usually shows that you’ve trained your brain to regurgitate information on a given topic so well that your brain isn’t even conscious of it anymore. It wasn’t learning beyond the point that you understood the concepts – from there, it was simple memorisation.

Why Men Are Avoiding College

Helen Smith:

Among minorities, the male-female balance is even more skewed. When economist Andrew Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University looked at gender disparities in the Boston Public Schools, they found that for the class of 2008, among blacks there were 188 females for every 100 males attending a four-year college or university. Among Hispanics the ratio was 233 female for every 100 males. The facts are incontrovertible: young women from low-income neighborhoods in Boston, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., do much better than the young men from those same neighborhoods. There are now dozens of studies with titles like “The Vanishing Latino Male in Higher Education” and “African-American Males in Education: Endangered or Ignored?”
Males Fading Away
So where are all the men? Media accounts are short on insight and often just insult males, calling them lazy and dumb. Maybe we would be better off if the media and elites weren’t so openly pleased that women are outpacing men in college. The college strike didn’t happen overnight. It started years ago when the war against boys began after the feminist era. Initially, feminism was presented as being about equal rights between the sexes. Now it is often about revenge and special privileges for women and girls. Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of The War Against Boys, argues that feminists and their sycophants have worked hard to turn the educational system into one that favors girls at the expense of boys. Boys are now seen as “defective girls” in need of a major overhaul. Sommers says, “Gender experts at Harvard, Wellesley, and Tufts, and in the major women’s organizations, believe that boys and men in our society will remain sexist (and potentially dangerous) unless socialized away from conventional maleness. . . . The belief that boys are being wrongly ‘masculinized’ is inspiring a movement to ‘construct boyhood’ in ways that will render boys less competitive, more emotionally expressive, more nurturing–more, in short, like girls.”

Web Courses Woo Professors

Douglas Belkin & Melissa Korn:

Technology companies trying to reinvent higher education through online instruction are looking to win over the group with the most to lose from the effort: professors.
Coursera, one of the biggest providers of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, plans to announce Thursday it will open its doors to professors at 10 major university systems to create their own online courses.
Until now, Coursera content has come almost exclusively from professors at the world’s most prestigious institutions, making it vulnerable to charges that it was helping to create a system where elite professors would produce the content and eventually cost faculty at less selective schools their jobs.
The contracts broaden Coursera’s audience, currently 3.68 million people, by giving it access to more than 1.25 million students enrolled in the combined university systems. Professors will be able to incorporate MOOCs into their campus-based classes, creating a blended model designed to free up time for more classroom discussions as students watch lectures on their own.

Prosecutors Should Be Ashamed of Their Egregious “Terrorism” Prosecution of Olutosin Oduwole

Justin Peters:

In 2007, an Illinois college student named Olutosin Oduwole was arrested after a campus police officer found a note promising “a murderous rampage similar to the [Virginia Tech] shooting” inside Oduwole’s locked car. Even though Oduwole insisted that the note was only a draft of some rap lyrics, he was nevertheless convicted of attempting to make a terrorist threat and sentenced to five years in prison. This March, Oduwole’s conviction was reversed on appeal, but the Illinois attorney general’s office promised to fight the reversal. Yesterday, the Illinois Supreme Court refused to review the appellate court’s decision. Oduwole is a free man.
This is great news for Oduwole–and, indeed, for everyone who cares about free speech. But it’s still worth noting that Oduwole should never have been tried in the first place. As I’ve written before, the “attempt” charge was baffling, given that, by all reasonable standards, Oduwole had not actually attempted to threaten anyone. The note was found face-down inside a locked car, where nobody would have been able to see or become alarmed by it. Police found no other evidence to support their charges.

Racial segregation continues to impact quality of education in Mississippi–and nationwide

Alan Richard:

Debate is raging this year in Mississippi about whether state legislators should agree to start public pre-k programs for the first time. They’re also arguing about school funding and charter schools.
In decades of debate on school reform in Mississippi, though, one issue is ever-present but draws little public discussion: race.
The state’s public schools remain nearly as segregated, in some cases, as they did in the 1960s. In many communities across the state, especially in towns where black children are in the majority, white children almost exclusively attend small private schools founded around the time of court-mandated desegregation in the late 1960s.
Black children, by contrast, usually attend the public schools in these communities. This is also true in Jackson, the state capital. The consequences have been devastating for the state in terms of educational attainment and economic disparities.
White students are a minority in Mississippi’s public schools: Only 44 percent of the students in the state who attended public schools in 2010 were white, compared with 51 percent of whom were black and 3 percent who were Hispanic (a growing population), according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ annual Condition of Education report. This is one of the lowest percentages of white students attending public schools in the nation–and remember that the majority of Mississippi’s population is white.

Learning styles, science, practice, and Disneyland

Daniel Willingham:

A teacher from the UK has just written to me asking for a bit of clarification (EDIT: the email came from Sue Cowley, who is actually a teacher trainer.)
She says that some people are taking my writing on the experiments that have tested predictions of learning styles theories (see here) as implying that teachers ought not to use these theories to inform their practice.
My own learning style is Gangnam
Her reading of what I’ve written on the subject differs: she thinks I’m suggesting that although the scientific backing for learning styles is absent, teachers may still find the idea useful in the classroom.
The larger issue–the relationship of basic science to practice–is complex enough that I thought it was worth writing a book about it. But I’ll describe one important aspect of the problem here.
There are two methods by which one might use learning styles theories to inspire ones practice. The way that scientific evidence bears on these two methods is radically different.

Online Instruction for K-12

Larry Cuban:

For those familiar with past efforts to install new technologies in schools, the many claims for online instruction transforming traditional teaching and learning in K-12 public schools either cause snickers for their hyperbole or strike a flat note in their credibility. Consider the following answer Clayton Christensen author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Transform the Way the World Learns gave to an interviewer’s question: “Do you think that education is finally ready for the Internet?”
I absolutely do. I think that not only are we ready but adoption is occurring at a faster rate than we had thought… We believe that by the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K-12 will be taught online… The rise of online learning carries with it an unprecedented opportunity to transform the schooling system into a student-centric one that can affordably customize for different student needs by allowing all students to learn at their appropriate pace and path, thereby allowing each student to realize his or her fullest potential….
Such hype from academic gurus is unfortunate. Apart from mirth, they contribute to low credibility because of the history of exaggerated claims for earlier technologies (e.g., distance education, instructional television, and desktop computers) and thereby mask the complexity of online instruction. Moreover, the claims ignore differences among students who take online courses, how teachers deliver instruction, the quality of online teaching, assessments of student learning, and design of research studies.
Consider, for example, that students receiving online instruction span children of home-schoolers and those with disabilities who cannot attend school to students enrolled in the International Baccalaureate diploma program and Advanced Placement courses to those teenagers who have failed courses and sign up for credit recovery. And recently, there are now elementary schools that blend individual “learning labs” with regular classroom instruction. [i]

Teachers Clash With Union Prez Over Turnaround

Melissa Bailey

Community, teachers are discovering they may have less power than before–not more.
That’s the thrust of an emerging disagreement between teachers and their union leadership at the 230-student magnet school on Water Street.
High School in the Community (HSC) has been teacher-run since its inception in 1970: Instead of answering to a principal, teachers elect their own peers to run the school through a democratic process.
That democratic process may soon change. The new boss threatening to change the rules is not a central office bureaucrat, but the very man teachers elected to lead their union, Dave Cicarella (pictured above).
Cicarella took on a new role last fall, when his union took over management of HSC as part of a new experiment aimed at turning around a failing school.

A Message for the Class of 2013

Rob Lazebnik:

Thank you, President and Trustees.
I have to confess that coming here to speak today raised a question in my mind: Now that high-school students are so accomplished and work so hard, would I even be admitted today to this eminent liberal arts school, from which I graduated 25 years ago? I was curious enough about this that I contacted an admissions officer here. I asked her to dig up my old application and give me a quick opinion.
This turned out to be a grave mistake. Not only was her answer “absolutely not,” but a few days later I received a letter informing me that I had been retroactively denied admission to my own alma mater. To make matters worse, they culled through the entire cabinet of applications from my year and decided to revoke admission for 73% of my classmates.
If that includes any parents here today, I’m really sorry. I’ve printed out the non-admit list, and after my speech I’ll nail it to the door of our 300-year-old memorial church, which has recently been transformed into the student-run coffee shop Jitters and Beans.

The new F-word: Father

Kathleen Parker:

News that women increasingly are the leading or sole breadwinner in the American family has resurrected the perennial question: Why do we need men?
Maureen Dowd attempted to answer this question with her 2005 book, “Are Men Necessary?” I responded three years later with “Save the Males.”
With each generation, the question becomes more declarative and querulous. Recent demographic shifts show women gaining supremacy across a spectrum of quantitative measures, including education and employment. Women outnumber men in college and in most graduate fields. Increasingly, owing in part to the recession and job loss in historically male-dominated fields, they are surpassing men as wage-earners, though women still lag behind at the highest income and executive levels.
My argument that men should be saved is that, despite certain imperfections, men are fundamentally good and are sort of pleasant to have around. Most women still like to fall in love with them; all children want a father no matter how often we try to persuade ourselves otherwise. If we continue to impose low expectations and negative messaging on men and boys, future women won’t have much to choose from.

Towards the end of poverty: Nearly 1 billion people have been taken out of extreme poverty in 20 years. The world should aim to do the same again

The Economist:

IN HIS inaugural address in 1949 Harry Truman said that “more than half the people in the world are living in conditions approaching misery. For the first time in history, humanity possesses the knowledge and skill to relieve the suffering of those people.” It has taken much longer than Truman hoped, but the world has lately been making extraordinary progress in lifting people out of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2010, their number fell by half as a share of the total population in developing countries, from 43% to 21%–a reduction of almost 1 billion people.
Now the world has a serious chance to redeem Truman’s pledge to lift the least fortunate. Of the 7 billion people alive on the planet, 1.1 billion subsist below the internationally accepted extreme-poverty line of $1.25 a day. Starting this week and continuing over the next year or so, the UN’s usual Who’s Who of politicians and officials from governments and international agencies will meet to draw up a new list of targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were set in September 2000 and expire in 2015. Governments should adopt as their main new goal the aim of reducing by another billion the number of people in extreme poverty by 2030.

Were all those standardized tests for nothing? The lessons of No Child Left Behind

Thomas Ahn & Jacob L. Vigdor:

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) introduced the first nationwide annual standardized testing requirement for students in grades 3 through 8. The law officially expired in 2007, and there is little or no legislative momentum to reauthorize it now. Should NCLB be thought of as a well-intentioned initiative that failed? Or did it make some progress in its stated goal of improving academic achievement, particularly for disadvantaged students?
This paper reviews the basic structure of the school incentives introduced by NCLB, as well as research and data from North Carolina public schools on the effect of these various sanctions on student learning. Among the main findings:

  • Evidence indicates that school accountability systems in general, and NCLB in particular, have beneficial systemic effects on standardized test scores. The overall effects are modest; however, accountability systems are complex policies that may entail a mix of beneficial and harmful elements. The most critical question is not whether NCLB worked, but which components worked.
  • Schools exposed to punitive NCLB sanctions, or the threat of sanctions, tend to outperform nearly identical schools that barely avoided them. Studies come to varying conclusions regarding differential effects by subject.
  • Most of the individual sanctions in the NCLB regime–including offering students transfers, tutoring, or modest “corrective actions”–appear to have had no effect.
  • Schools forced to undergo restructuring under NCLB posted significant improvements in both reading and math scores, suggesting that leadership change is an essential component of reform in persistently low-performing schools.
  • While a pure focus on proficiency can lead to scenarios where schools divert resources from higher- or lower-performing students, complementary policies focusing on those students appear to mitigate the risk substantially.
  • State and local initiatives have taught us much about promising strategies for offering schools incentives to improve student performance. NCLB encouraged a bottom-up approach to some extent, but in the final analysis did not go far enough. In imagining “accountability 2.0,” evidence indicates that a series of modifications to the NCLB approach would improve the system:

Charter Schools and the Road to College Readiness: The Effects on College Preparation, Attendance and Choice

The Boston Foundation & New Schools Venture Fund (PDF):

Boston charter schools are making a substantive difference in the lives of their students. For the Boston Foundation, recognition of this began in 2009, when we partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to publish an Understanding Boston report that compared the results of students in Boston’s charter schools, pilot schools and traditional schools.
The report, Informing the Debate, by a team of researchers from MIT and Harvard, which used data from the state, followed individual students over time. While it showed few advantages for students attending pilot schools, which the Boston Foundation had heavily invested in at the time, it did show that charter schools–at both the middle and high school levels had a decidedly positive impact on student achievement. The results in math achievement for middle-school students were nothing short of remarkable.
Informing the Debate helped to fuel the movement to partially lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts, spurred by President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top federal funding strategy for education, which emphasizes innovation and encourages the establishment of more charter schools. Inspired by the potential for federal funds for education, in the spring of 2009 Governor Deval Patrick announced support for in-district charter schools. On a local level, Mayor Thomas M. Menino filed legislation that would allow local school districts to open new, district-run charter schools.
In January of 2010, a major education reform act was passed in Massachusetts. Through our convening of the Race to the Top Coalition, the Boston Foundation was proud to play a key role in the passage of An Act Relevant to the Achievement Gap, which, among other advances, doubled the number of charter school seats in the state.

The Real Mismatch The Supreme Court should not force universities to trade affirmative action for socioeconomic diversity. Schools can have both.

Lee Bollinger:

The distance the United States has traveled in overcoming racial discrimination reflects one of our nation’s greatest achievements. Our long struggle toward redeeming the country’s founding ideal of equality has been embraced for decades by virtually every institutional sector in American society. But we still have a long way to go. And with an imminent Supreme Court ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case in which a white student has challenged the school’s affirmative action policy, we are at risk of historical amnesia, of unraveling a heroic societal commitment that we have yet to fulfill. This is occurring amid a public debate too often framed by a false choice about diversity in higher education.
On university and college campuses, the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity are not theoretical but real and proven repeatedly over time. This is a conclusion embraced both by the Supreme Court in its definitive 2003 ruling on the matter, Grutter v. Bollinger (as University of Michigan’s president at the time, I was the named defendant), and by my colleagues at 13 schools which, along with Columbia, jointly submitted a brief in the Fishercase asserting that “diversity encourages students to question their assumptions, to understand that wisdom and contributions to society may be found where not expected, and to gain an appreciation of the complexity of the modern world.” Empirical studies havedemonstrated that exposure to a culturally diverse campus community environment has a positive impact on students with respect to their critical thinking, enjoyment of reading and writing, and intellectual curiosity. Indeed, there is a nearly universal consensus in higher education about these benefits.
For many years now, the value of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints has been embraced as essential to the fabric of our major institutions, from the military services to private corporations. Yet there is evidence that, particularly in the private sector, the commitment to racial diversity is eroding. A change in the law at this moment making it harder for colleges and universities to supply racially diverse professional talent could be devastating.

Applying to Harvard Business Gets Easier

Melissa Korn:

Getting into Harvard Business School just got easier. At least, the application form did.
HBS announced that applicants seeking admission for the Fall 2014 incoming class will no longer need to submit two 400-word essays, and may not even have to write anything at all. The prompt now reads:
“You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-M.B.A. career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”
There’s no word limit, and Dee Leopold, managing director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid, says it’s possible HBS will even accept (or at least consider) candidates who decide to leave the section blank.

College Longreads Pick of the Week: ‘Freefall Into Madness,’ from Students at Fresno State

Aileen Gallagher:

There’s a lot of great writing on the Internet, but not as much great reporting. And that’s what we mean when we talk about “the death of newspapers.” It’s less about the end of a product and more about the dearth of watchdogs. Investigative reporting is expensive. It takes time, people and money. When it’s done well, it’s often upsetting, and not something that advertisers rally around.
But exposing injustice, malfeasance, waste, fraud, courage, humanity, and truth are the most important things journalists can do with their talents, skills and platforms. With that in mind, we selected an investigative piece as the inaugural #college #longreads selection.
Students at Fresno State, under the guidance of former Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Arax, produced “Freefall Into Madness: The Fresno County Jail’s Barbaric Treatment of the Mentally Ill.” Through their reporting, the team learned that Fresno County Jail denies medication to mentally ill inmates. “Because they are not mentally competent to stand trial, they bounce back and forth in a perverse revolving door between the county jail and state mental hospitals, costing taxpayers even more money,” the article notes in a chilling early paragraph.

Outsourced Lectures Raise Concerns About Academic Freedom

Steve Kolowich:

Students at Massachusetts Bay Community College this year got a rare opportunity to take a computer-science course designed and taught online by some of the top professors in the field.
The 17 students in a programming course at MassBay’s Wellesley Hills campus watched recorded lectures and completed online homework assignments created by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and offered as a massive open online course through edX, a nonprofit MOOC vendor co-founded by MIT.
The MassBay students met for regular class sessions with Harold Riggs, a professor of computer science at the community college. Students were required to come for only 90 minutes each week, rather than the customary three hours. And in addition to graded in-class projects from Mr. Riggs, the students completed homework assignments and three major exams written by the MIT professors and graded automatically by edX. At the end of the semester, the students who passed the class got three credits from MassBay and a certificate of achievement from edX.

Opposition to Common Core standards defies political lines Tea party activists, union leaders form strange bedfellows

Erin Richards

or the past three years, teachers in Wisconsin’s public schools — and some private schools — have been changing curriculum and practices to make sure what’s taught in class fulfills the expectations of a common set of national standards in reading and math.
West Bend School District Superintendent Ted Neitzke calls them the highest standard he’s seen as a teacher.
“West Bend is now benchmarking itself against some of the best school districts in the country, such as Montgomery County, Md., because of the impetus of the Common Core State Standards,” Neitzke told a committee of legislators earlier this month.
“This is putting us in a position to move forward,” he said. “Whatever happens, we can’t go backward.”
But a growing movement of national resistance to the common core threatens to derail a movement that many Wisconsin education leaders say is a big step forward for the state.
Recently lawmakers in at least nine states have introduced legislation that would pause or block implementation of the common core. And last week the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee made a less aggressive move, voting to implement a more rigorous review process for any new standards introduced.

Zazes, Flurps and the Moral World of Kids

Alison Gopnik

Here’s a question. There are two groups, Zazes and Flurps. A Zaz hits somebody. Who do you think it was, another Zaz or a Flurp?
It’s depressing, but you have to admit that it’s more likely that the Zaz hit the Flurp. That’s an understandable reaction for an experienced, world-weary reader of The Wall Street Journal. But here’s something even more depressing–4-year-olds give the same answer.
In my last column, I talked about some disturbing new research showing that preschoolers are already unconsciously biased against other racial groups. Where does this bias come from?
Marjorie Rhodes at New York University argues that children are “intuitive sociologists” trying to make sense of the social world. We already know that very young children make up theories about everyday physics, psychology and biology. Dr. Rhodes thinks that they have theories about social groups, too.
In 2012 she asked young children about the Zazes and Flurps. Even 4-year-olds predicted that people would be more likely to harm someone from another group than from their own group. So children aren’t just biased against other racial groups: They also assume that everybody else will be biased against other groups. And this extends beyond race, gender and religion to the arbitrary realm of Zazes and Flurps.

California District To Test Student Location

Dian Schaffhauser:

An unnamed school district in Northern California will be testing a free system that communicates the location of students whose families have opted into the service. The district will run its test in June 2013 using StudentConnect, a service from East Coast Diversified (ECDC).
StudentConnect uses global positioning satellites (GPS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) to provide wireless communications to parents and schools regarding the status of students during their daily bus pickup and arrival at school and their school bus stop drop-off. Each child wears or carries an RFID tag, which is detected by an RFID reader on the bus when it’s in range and transmits data to a GPS system. That system sends parents text alerts to their mobile phones.
The same system also communicates with classroom RFID readers to track student entry and exit, allowing parents and schools to view online where the student is located during a given period.

Not a good idea in any way shape or form….

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Illinois plans to shift pension costs from the state to universities and community colleges

Kurt Erickson:

A plan to slowly shift employee retirement costs from the state to universities and community colleges won approval in the Illinois House on Thursday as part of a last-minute push by lawmakers to find a solution to the state’s pension mess.
The move came as Democrats in the Senate killed off a pension reform proposal that had won earlier approval in the House. They said the plan, backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, wasn’t constitutional.

Income based diversity lags at some universities

Richard Perez Pena:

Opponents of race-based affirmative action in college admissions urge that colleges use a different tool to encourage diversity: giving a leg up to poor students. But many educators see real limits to how eager colleges are to enroll more poor students, no matter how qualified — and the reason is money.
“It’s expensive,” said Donald E. Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University. “You have to go out and identify them, recruit them and get them to apply, and then it’s really expensive once they enroll because they need more financial aid.”
The Supreme Court is expected to rule soon in a closely watched case over admissions at the University of Texas at Austin, and the court could outlaw any consideration of race.
Opponents of affirmative action welcome that prospect, arguing that race-conscious admissions favor minority applicants who are not disadvantaged, and people on both sides of the issue contend that colleges should do more to achieve socioeconomic diversity. Polls show that while most Americans oppose racial or ethnic preferences in college admissions, they also think colleges should give extra help to the poor.

States sinking in pension plan debt: Column

Nathan Benefield:

Taxpayers nationwide are staring down a swelling tidal wave of government pension debt. Recent estimates put the combined unfunded liability of state pension systems at $2.5 trillion. Nearly every state has tried to reduce these unsustainable costs, but most reforms have proven to be baby steps or worse — leaving future generations up to their necks in waves of debt.
One inescapable fact remains: Without meaningful reform, paying down these liabilities would cost the average American household an additional $1,385 in taxes every year for the next three decades.
Not all state reforms have merely kicked the can down the road, however. Some states have pursued — or are pursuing — a shift to a defined contribution plan like the 401(k), which most private companies already offer. These states are leading the way in government pension reform. By simply moving to a 401(k)-style plan, states will put themselves on surer financial footing and protect taxpayers from the political games that have created this funding crisis.

Would Smell As Sweet: Geo-popularity of Given Names

Frank Jacobs:

Maybe you’ve never heard of Emmaland or Sophialand, but if you’re reading this in the United States, there’s a better than 90% chance that you live in either one of these two curious nations.
The former is made up of the 31 states where ‘Emma’ was the most popular baby name for girls in 2012. In spite of that institutional majority, another girl’s name proved more popular nationwide. ‘Sophia’ also came out ahead in 16 states, including America’s three most populous ones [1].
Last year, a total of 20,791 Emmas were born in the United States. The size of that cohort [2] was only surpassed by the 22,158 Sophias added to the US population in 2012. Together, both names came out on top in 47 of the 50 states. The exceptions were Florida, where baby girls were most likely to be named Isabella (#3 nationwide); Idaho, where new parents preferred Olivia for their girls (#4 overall); and Vermont, where new parents favoured Ava for their newborn daughters (#5 in the national rankings).

The Modern Writing-School Paradox: More Students, Fewer Jobs, More Glory

Jon Reiner:

Never before have there been so many teachers telling so many students how to write. This is very good for the teachers. However meager the money, teaching is a paying gig and a subsidized education. Nothing helps you understand something like being forced to explain it.
The students, though, are a mystery. The number of traditional MFA programs, undergraduate writing programs, non-traditional low-residency writing programs, online writing courses, weekend writing workshops, summer writing conferences, writers’ colony retreats, private instruction classes, and How-to-Write books, blogs, and software programs has grown so colossally you’d think there is as much demand for new writers in the marketplace as there is for mobile app designers. You’d be wrong. But given the explosion of writing academies, you may be persuaded to chuck that programming job at Y Media Labs to join the monster literary salon.

The GOP and the Common Core

Chester E. Finn Jr.:

Though few Americans have ever heard of the “Common Core,” it’s causing a ruckus in education circles and turmoil in the Republican Party. Prompted by tea party activists, a couple of influential talk-radio hosts and bloggers, some disgruntled academics, several conservative think-tanks, and a couple of mysterious but deep-pocketed funders, the Republican National Committee recently adopted a resolution blasting the Common Core as “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.” Several red states that previously adopted it for their schools are on the verge of backing out. Indiana has already hit the “pause” button.
What, you ask, is this all about?
Thirty years after a blue-ribbon panel declared the United States to be “a nation at risk” due to the weak performance and shoddy results of our public-education system, one of the two great reforms to have enveloped that system is the setting of explicit academic standards in core subjects, standards that make clear what math youngsters should know by the end of fifth grade, what reading and writing skills they must acquire by tenth grade, and so on. (The other great reform: school choice.)
Up to now, individual states set their own academic standards. A few did this well but most, according to reviews undertaken by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and others, faltered badly, putting forth vague expectations that lack content and rigor, are unhelpful to teachers and curriculum directors, and often promote left-wing dogma. Even the good ones differ so much from state to state that school and student performance cannot be compared around the country, much less with other lands.