Undergraduate student expansion not dependent on further sales of student loans

The Royal Society:

The Universities Minister David Willetts yesterday confirmed there was no “direct connection” between the plans to expand student places and the Government’s intention to sell off student debts.
Appearing before the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee, Mr Willetts said the sell-off would act as “cash flow assistance”, and chimed with the Coalition’s plan to reduce the net debt. He noted that “if you can hold down Public Sector Net Debt, it makes it easier to have policies such as more students”.
Funding the cost of expansion through the sell-off of loans, such as the ‘new style’ income-contingent student loans, has been likened in some quarters to a ‘Ponzi’ scheme. Both policies were mentioned in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, which seemed to offset the costs of expansion of student places with the money generated by selling of parts of the post-1997 student loan book.

University of Texas Graduate Earning Website

University of Texas System:

Given that traditional revenue streams in higher education are declining across the country, and the cost of getting an education is increasing, it is critical for students, along with their families, to make informed decisions about their academic careers. The UT System has developed this website and complementary online tool that provide valuable data about employment earnings for the first five years after graduation, as well as average student loan debt, for graduates by degree major.
Even as the cost of earning a degree is rising, having a college degree has become a minimum requirement for even entry-level jobs in many fields. To finance an education, students and their families must find the right balance of available grant and scholarship aid and family financial contributions, with student loans making up the difference. Based on The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s 2011 estimate, 37 million borrowers owed $870 billion in student loan debt. And, while debt itself is not inherently bad, uninformed borrowing decisions can lead to burdensome debt loads.

Madison School district’s plan redistributes wealth — to the wealthy

Chris Rickert:

There’s not much evidence showing that children learn any more effectively by way of computer screen than by way of pencil, paper, chalkboard and textbook.
Although at the very least, the Madison School District’s $31 million plan to put a tablet or netbook in the hands of every student will familiarize them with the kinds of technology necessary to function in modern-day America.
What I can’t figure out is why a community as fond of wealth redistribution as Madison would want to spread some of the school district’s wealth to the already wealthy.
The district has said that it’s open to the possibility of students bringing their own computer devices to school. But for now, it’s planning to lease new tablets or netbooks for every child regardless of his or her family’s ability to lease or buy their own.
With few exceptions, this is contrary to the way the district and the community treat other student necessities — which tablets or netbooks might soon become.

Related: Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham proposes $31 million, five-year technology plan.

James Howard not convinced discipline plan will end racial disparities in Madison schools

Pat Schneider:

Madison school board member James Howard is not convinced a proposed Student Conduct and Discipline Plan will end a pattern of suspending and expelling disproportionately high numbers of African-American students.
“It’s not clear to me that it will,” Howard says. “I could never vote for a code that does not address those disparities and disproportionalities.”
Howard, currently the school board’s sole African-American member, is leading the board committee overseeing the revamp of the discipline plan.
The plan includes a chart that matches up examples of student misconduct with appropriate responses from teachers and school administrators. If a student’s misbehavior escalates, the responses escalate as well. The stated goal of the plan is to give kids the “space to make mistakes, learn from them and receive support to make changes in their behavior.”
But Howard says research shows that adopting positive behavior support models, while reducing the total number of suspensions and expulsions, does little to erase racial disparities. And while the proposed plan spells out step-by-step responses to misconduct, Howard says he is not yet convinced that component will address the inconsistencies in enforcing discipline between schools and even within schools.

“Who Is Carmen Fariña?” Mayor De Blasio’s new schools chancellor is a longtime champion of failed progressive pedagogy.

Sol Stern:

In his press conference introducing Carmen Fariña as New York City’s next schools chancellor, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested that he had picked her over several other candidates because she was on the same page with him in opposing Bloomberg-era education reforms. Most of the city’s education reporters took the new mayor’s spin and ran with it, even though Fariña had served loyally as Michael Bloomberg’s second-highest-ranking education official. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez predicted that Fariña would now bring “revolutionary” changes to the department of education that she left in 2006. A headline in The Hechinger Report claimed that Fariña wanted DRAMATIC–EVEN JOYFUL–DEPARTURE FROM BLOOMBERG ERA. But that depends on what Bloomberg era you’re talking about: during the years that she served in the administration, Fariña was fully on board with its education policies.
In fact, considering Fariña’s pivotal role during the first Bloomberg term in shaping the Department of Education’s radical initiatives, portraying her as a dissident from within seems absurd. Mayor Bloomberg took control of the schools in June 2002, but he knew little about what actually went on in the city’s classrooms. He appointed Joel Klein, a corporate lawyer with no background in instructional issues, as his first schools chancellor. Bloomberg and Klein deferred virtually all decision-making on classroom instruction and curriculum to a cadre of veteran progressive educators led by Diana Lam, Klein’s first deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. Lam and Fariña convinced Klein to introduce the constructivist “balanced-literacy” reading and writing program, developed by Lucy Calkins of Columbia Teachers College, along with a fuzzy constructivist-math program called Everyday Math, into just about every elementary school classroom in the city. (Klein would eventually realize that adopting balanced literacy was a serious mistake.)
In an early 2003 speech presenting his administration’s new education reforms, Mayor Bloomberg declared that the “experience of other urban school districts shows that a standardized approach to reading, writing, and math is the best way to raise student performance across the board in all subjects,” and therefore that “the chancellor’s office will dictate the curriculum.” And so it did. Lam soon became embroiled in a nepotism scandal and had to resign. Fariña then took over as deputy chancellor for instruction. She became the DOE’s enforcer, making sure that all teachers in the elementary schools toed the line and implemented Calkins’s constructivist methods for teaching reading and writing. Teachers received a list of “nonnegotiable” guidelines for arranging their classrooms, including such minute details as the requirement that there must be a rug on the floor for students to sit on in the early grades and that nothing but student work be posted on the walls.
Balanced literacy has no track record of raising the academic performance of poor minority children. No independent research study has ever evaluated its methodology. Nevertheless, it was popular in education schools because it promulgated two of progressive education’s key commandments: that teachers must abandon deadening “drill and kill” methods and that students are capable of “constructing their own knowledge.” Progressives such as Calkins evoked ideal classrooms, where young children naturally find their way to literacy without enduring boring, scripted phonics drills forced on them by automaton teachers. Instead, in a balanced-literacy classroom, students work in small groups and follow what Calkins calls the “workshop model” of cooperative learning. The program takes for granted that children can learn to read and write naturally, with minimal guidance. Calkins rejects E.D. Hirsch’s finding (based on an overwhelming consensus in cognitive-science research) that the key to improving children’s reading comprehension is grounding them in broad knowledge, which she and other progressives dismiss as “mere facts.” Calkins also believes that her model classrooms promote “social justice” for all. In an interview I conducted with her at the time the DOE selected her program, she told me that “It’s a great move to social justice to bring [balanced literacy] to every school in the city.”
That’s what Fariña tried to accomplish in the early years of the Bloomberg administration–including the social-justice part. She was instrumental in creating the most centralized, top-down instructional system in the recent history of American public education. Agents of the deputy chancellor (euphemistically called “coaches”) fanned out to almost all city elementary schools to make sure that every teacher was marching in lockstep with the department of education’s new pedagogical approach. Under the rubric of “professional development,” DOE central headquarters launched an aggressive campaign to force teachers to teach literacy and math only one way–the progressive way. Each of the city’s 80,000 teachers got a six-hour CD-ROM laying out the philosophy behind the new standardized curriculum and pedagogy. The CD portrayed the world of progressive education writ large, with all its romantic assumptions about how children learn. In addition to inculcating Calkins’s balanced literacy, the DOE’s training manual celebrated the theories of an obscure Australian education guru–Brian Cambourne of Wollongong University in New South Wales, a leader of the whole-language movement (a cousin of balanced literacy) then dominating Australian public schools. Cambourne’s ideas gave city teachers not only more balanced literacy (or whole language) theory, but also a warrant for social-justice teaching.
Cambourne claims that as a young teacher, he discovered that many of his poorly performing students were actually quite bright. To his surprise, almost all demonstrated extraordinary competence in performing challenging tasks. The son of the local bookie, for example, “couldn’t learn basic math,” according to Cambourne, “but could calculate the probability the Queen of Spades was in the deck faster than I could.” Cambourne decided that children learn better in natural settings, with a minimum of adult help–a staple of progressive-education thought. Thus the role of the educator should be to create classroom environments that stimulate children but also closely resemble the way adults work and learn. Children should no longer sit in rows facing the teacher; instead, the room should be arranged with work areas where children can construct their own knowledge, much as in Calkins’s workshop model of balanced literacy.
Such constructivist assumptions about how to teach literacy were enforced with draconian discipline in city schools for several years. Progressives like Calkins, Cambourne, and Fariña don’t insist that more learning occurs when children work in groups and in “natural” settings because they’ve followed any evidence. To the contrary, as much as it tells us anything on this issue, science makes clear that, particularly for disadvantaged children, direct, explicit instruction works best. But under Fariña, reeducation sessions for teachers were meant to overcome dissenting opinion and drive home the progressive party line. To quote the directives to teachers included on the CD: “Your students must not be sitting in rows. You must not stand at the head of the class. You must not do ‘chalk and talk’ at the blackboard. You must have a ‘workshop’ in every single reading period. Your students must be ‘active learners,’ and they must work in groups.”
As I reported at the time, some brave teachers objected. At Junior High School 44 in Manhattan, a teacher tried to point out to his supervisor, quite reasonably, that some teachers feel more comfortable with and get better results through direct instruction and other traditional methods. The school’s literacy coach, sent by the DOE, then responded: “This is the way it is. Everyone will do it this way, or you can change schools.”
Calkins was grateful for Carmen Fariña’s efforts in advancing her instructional agenda, her career, and her organization’s bottom line. (Calkins’s Readers and Writers Program at Teachers College received over $10 million in no-bid contracts from the city.) Calkins expressed her appreciation in a forward she penned for Fariña’s book, A School Leader’s Guide to Excellence, coauthored with Laura Koch, Fariña’s closest associate and collaborator at the DOE. “When Carmen and Laura took the helm of New York City’s school system, teachers, staff developers, and principals across the entire city let out a collective cheer of enthusiasm,” Calkins writes. She conjures a glorious history: “Within a week [of Fariña’s promotion to deputy chancellor for instruction] our education system began to change. Educators at every level could feel possibility in the air; the excitement was palpable.” And because of Fariña’s magic, “sound practices in the teaching of reading and writing became the talk of the town–the subject of study groups and hallway conversations in every school . . . The entire city began working together afresh to meet the challenge of improving education for all children.”
In reality, though, the balanced-literacy advocates failed in this task. The city’s eighth-grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests barely budged over 12 years, despite a doubling of education spending–from $12 billion to $24 billion. There was no narrowing of the racial achievement gap. (In sounding his tale of two cities theme, Mayor de Blasio makes no accounting for the failure of progressive education programs to reduce the academic achievement gap between poor and middle-class children.)
Recognizing balanced literacy’s meager results, Chancellor Klein reverted to a system of more autonomous schools, giving principals far more discretion over instructional matters. Klein apparently came to believe that he had been misled by Fariña and Calkins. The chancellor then became a supporter of Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum, with its focus on direct instruction and the teaching of broad content knowledge. He set up a three-year pilot program, matching ten elementary schools using the Hirsch early-grade literacy curriculum against a demographically similar cohort of ten schools that used balanced literacy. The children in the Core Knowledge schools significantly outperformed those in the schools using the Calkins approach.
Still opposing the direct teaching of factual knowledge, Fariña recently shrugged off the pilot study, saying that not enough schools were involved. But if Fariña is serious about that criticism, she now has an opportunity to run a much larger evaluation of Core Knowledge. As a result of the city’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards and of aligned curricula emphasizing the “rich content knowledge” that the standards require, 71 elementary school principals have chosen to use Hirsch’s Core Knowledge literacy program in their schools.
Let Fariña visit and study those schools over the next year. If she really is committed to changing the tale of two cities, as she and the new mayor claim to be, one way to start would be to cast aside ideology and judge whether those Core Knowledge classrooms, drenched in “mere facts,” are actually the key to narrowing the devastating knowledge gap between middle-class kids and poor children, who begin school with little knowledge of the world and with a stunted vocabulary. She might also find that there is at least as much “joy” in classrooms in which children get taught explicitly about the world around them as there is in classrooms in which children “construct” their own knowledge.

The University Has No Clothes: The notion that a college degree is essentially worthless has become one of the year’s most fashionable ideas, with two prominent venture capitalists (Cornell ’89 and Stanford ’89, by the way) leading the charge.

Daniel Smith:

Pity the American parent! Already beleaguered by depleted 401(k)s and gutted real-estate values, Ponzi schemes and toxic paper, burst bubbles and bear markets, he is now being asked to contend with a new specter: that college, the perennial hope for the next generation, may not be worth the price of the sheepskin on which it prints its degrees.
As long as there have been colleges, there’s been an individualist, anti-college strain in American culture–an affinity for the bootstrap. But it is hard to think of a time when skepticism of the value of higher education has been more prominent than it is right now. Over the past several months, the same sharp and distressing arguments have been popping up in the Times, cable news, the blogosphere, even The Chronicle of Higher Education. The cost of college, as these arguments typically go, has grown far too high, the return far too uncertain, the education far too lax. The specter, it seems, has materialized.
It’s no surprise, given how the Great Recession has corroded public faith in other once-unassailable American institutions, that college should come in for a drubbing. But inevitability is just another word for opportunity, and the two most vocal critics are easy to identify and strikingly similar in entrepreneurial self-­image. In the past year or so, James Altucher, a New York-based venture capitalist and finance writer, has emerged through frequent media appearances as something of a poster boy, and his column “8 Alternatives to College” something of an essential text, for the anti-college crusade. The father of two young girls, Altucher has a very personal perspective on college: He doesn’t think he should pay for it. “What am I going to do?” he asked last March on Tech Ticker, a popular investment show on Yahoo. “When [my daughters are] 18 years old, just hand them $200,000 to go off and have a fun time for four years? Why would I want to do that?” To Altucher, higher education is nothing less than an institutionalized scam–college graduates hire only college graduates, creating a closed system that permits schools to charge exorbitant ­prices and forces students to take on crippling debt. “The cost of college in the past 30 years has gone up tenfold. Health care has only gone up sixfold, and inflation has only gone up threefold. Not only is it a scam, but the college presidents know it. That’s why they keep raising tuition.”

The Early-Decision Racket

James Fallows

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

Schools and Citizens

Robin West:

It is no surprise, given the stakes, that education reform is now one of the major battles in American politics. Particularly at the municipal and state levels–from Washington, D.C. to Boston to Chicago–it has created upheaval not only in schools, but also in elections, as Democrats and unions have parted ways and new pressure groups have emerged to funnel cash toward candidates who espouse the reform movement’s vision.
All of this leaves Diane Ravitch, a historian and assistant secretary of education under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, troubled. In her new book Reign of Error, she mounts a well-documented and generally compelling case against the agenda of the “corporate school reform movement” of the last twenty-five years. She takes on its advocacy of testing and accountability as a means of raising the quality of low-performing schools; its promotion of for-profit, nonprofit, and cyber charter schools; its urge to replace professional educators with inexperienced college graduates and swap school board members, superintendents, and principals for corporate executives.
These are familiar complaints. Ravitch’s particular contribution is to unpack the philosophical assumptions guiding the reform movement. Reformers’ goals–higher test scores for all students and a reduced gap in achievement between affluent and poor, white and nonwhite–seem admirable. But Ravitch argues that their achievement comes at the cost of replacing both the ideal and the experience of education as a public good–provided by publicly financed, publicly controlled institutions that aspire to educate future citizens for their public responsibilities and adult lives–with an understanding of education as a private commodity chosen by parents. This commodity, like others, would be produced by rival corporations motivated by profit. Corporations would seek to educate not for the responsibilities of citizenship but for success in competitive markets. The philosophical and ideological commitment to the corporate over the public, Ravitch contends, threatens real damage not only to the education of mostly low-income children, but, more broadly, to our republic and the social compact and civil society on which it rests.

Independent charter school debate highlights ideological divide

Erin Richards:

A contentious proposal to expand independent charter schools in Wisconsin worries public-school advocates because it would further reduce aid to traditional districts and open the door for more private companies to run public schools.
But advocates of the bill, in a vigorous debate in Madison on Thursday, argued that’s largely the point — that it would offer more public-school options to families, as well as bring Wisconsin’s charter-school law in line with other states.
There are hints that such a change is too controversial to pass the Senate, primarily because of the financial effect it could have on school districts statewide. But that didn’t stop a robust, seven-hour debate about Assembly Bill 549 in the Assembly’s Committee on Urban Education — much of which revolved around differing ideologies about how to provide quality options for all in public education.

School Climate: Bowhunting in America

The Economist:

THEODORE “TEDDY” ROOSEVELT, soldier, president and outdoorsman, once summed up his vision for America as a “doctrine of the strenuous life”. Hunting lay at the heart of that doctrine: the virile business of learning to shoot straight, to track beasts through brutal heat or cold and to master “buck fever”–a nervous excitement felt in the face of prey that must be suppressed by effort of will. Years before he declined to blast a bear tethered to a tree by his hosts on a 1902 hunt, spawning admiring newspaper cartoons and the worldwide teddy-bear industry, Roosevelt crafted and promoted a “credo of fair chase”.
In addition to encouraging sportsmanship, his vision of the American hunt was democratic. Though he crossed oceans to shoot lions and scaled mountains to hunt bears, Roosevelt deplored Europe’s elitism, with its royal forests and aristocratic estates wherein lisping sons of privilege chased their father’s deer for sport. Closer to home Roosevelt and his allies were dismayed by the near-extinction of the buffalo and other species, driven by such forces as gun technology and competition for land.

StudentsFirst Evaluates Wisconsin Schools (D+)


Wisconsin can improve many of its educational policies to make its public school system more student-centered. Specifically, the state can do more to prioritize teacher effectiveness in decision-making and empowering parents with information and quality choices.
Despite educator evaluations that include student academic growth as a significant factor, Wisconsin continues to prioritize seniority, rather than effectiveness, in its personnel decisions. Wisconsin empowers parents with choices through public charter schools and a model opportunity scholarship program that prioritizes low-income students stuck in low-performing schools. However, the state lacks a strong charter accountability framework that holds authorizers accountable for school performance. Wisconsin also does not empower parents with accessible information regarding school and classroom performance, nor does it guarantee that no student will be placed with an ineffective teacher for two consecutive years.

Laura Waters takes a look at New Jersey’s report card.

Madison Superintendent: Teachers Must Get on Board with Tech Plan

Pat Schneider:

“When a teacher tells me they want to opt out of using technology because of their lack of comfort, it means students are not getting access to tools that have become an essential part of life, certainly of work life,” Cheatham told school board members Monday. “I don’t think that’s fair. I don’t think that’s okay. We need to demand that all students have access to technology they will be expected to use when they go on to college and career.”
Cheatham’s remarks came at the end of a meeting where school board members heard an outline of her district technology plan, which calls for a one-to-one ratio of devices to students and teachers by the 2018-2019 school year.
“It’s scary. We’re asking people to think differently about the profession,” Cheatham said, recalling resistance to the daily use of email by some teachers when that technology emerged. “But an adult’s comfort level shouldn’t be something that stops us from doing the right thing for kids.”

It may well be time to simply let teachers buy their own equipment via a stipend.

Defending the Humanities and Heather Mac Donald

Peter Wood:

Heather Mac Donald may be the Ida Tarbell of our age: a writer who combines a meticulous eye for facts, intellectual brilliance, a sure sense of the historical moment, and deep moral seriousness. Tarbell is famous for her History of the Standard Oil Company, serialized in McClure’s Magazine between 1902 and 1904, and is celebrated today by the Left for her having struck a blow against Big Business. She even merited her own postage stamp in 2002, along with three other women journalists.
It may be a while before Mac Donald wins such philatelic immortality. Like Tarbell, she is a deft expositor of the excesses of large enterprises that have grown unaccountable and corrupt. But Mac Donald’s preferred topics are big city government and, increasingly, academia. The Left has a hard time coming to grips with the prospect that the latter day equivalent of Standard Oil may be the University of California.
Witness the splenetic rage of Rebecca Schuman writing on Slate. The occasion was the republication in The Wall Street Journal of an essay that Mac Donald first published in City Journal: “The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity.” Mac Donald offered a fer instance of why students across the country are forsaking majors in the humanities and minimizing the number of courses they take in the traditional humanistic departments. Her essay explains what happened at UCLA in 2011, when the English Department deep-sixed its requirements in “the cornerstones of English literature” in favor of some theory-besotted junk. Schuman’s rebuttal takes the form of a series of snotty rhetorical questions meant to imply that Mac Donald is a cultural ignoramus.

Singapore will introduce programming lessons in public schools to boost the economy

Terence Lee:

The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), a government agency in charge of the country’s internet industry, has announced plans to progressively introduce software programming classes into public schools, giving students an opportunity to write code in a classroom setting. The news was first reported on Good Morning Singapore in mandarin yesterday.
Given the rapidly changing nature of the technology industry, the agency hopes to roll out these classes quickly in the next few months with the ultimate aim of keeping the Singapore economy at the top.
“Infocomm technology is getting to be more pervasive, and we all recognize that it’s going to be a strategic catalyst for [Singapore’s] competitive advantage,” said James Kang, assistant chief executive of the government chief information office at IDA.
To be sure, topics like programming and 3D printing are already available in some schools as extra-curricular activities with IDA’s help, so it’s unclear for now how these classes differ from previous initiatives, and how the IDA works with the education ministry to introduce the field. Tech in Asia has contacted the agency for more details.

Related: Madison considers more hardware for schools.

Humanities scholarship is incredibly relevant, and that makes people sad.

Natalia Cecire:

The humanities are often represented as an irrelevant, moribund, and merely preservationist field, passing on old knowledge of old things without producing anything new. That’s why it keeps having to be “defended” by people saying, “no! old shit matters too!” (It does–witness one chapter from Washington Irving’s 1819-20 Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. getting rebooted yet again, this time as a goofy paranormal procedural–but this already accepts a basic misrepresentation of humanities scholarship.)
Yet it’s precisely the production of new knowledge in the humanities that powerfully influences the everyday lives of Americans, and which leads to pearl-clutching by those who insist on the humanities’ irrelevance. David Brooks, for example, is very sad that the humanities have failed to be stagnant. He claims that humanities enrollments have substantially declined (factually untrue) since the rise of critical theory and its concurrent attention to race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in the 1980s. But the humanities didn’t just turn to these categories for kicks (still less because it was “fashionable,” as culture-wars critics like Alan Sokal have claimed); turning to them was the result of research. Through research, scholars found out that these categories were complicated, powerful, and important for understanding culture. Brooks seems to suppose that doing research that has a broad impact makes your field irrelevant. This is deranged.*

Academic Kindness A record of unsolicited kindness, unexpected goodwill, and excessive generosity in academia.

Academic Kindness:

was spending time at my undergraduate school’s library putting the final touches on my Masters thesis, and I stopped in to the student union for lunch. While in line, I ran into a professor emeritus that I had taken classes from as an undergraduate. He asked what I was up to, as well as asking why I was on campus a year or so after graduating. I told him about my thesis, and that I was graduating in two weeks, and he told me to submit my CV to the department chair.
Two weeks later?
Masters degree in one hand and a very lucrative adjunct position in the other! This same department also went out of its way (when I was leaving!) to help me with my Ph.D. application materials.

Thinking beyond ourselves: The “crisis” in academic work

Melonie Fullick:

In the past few weeks some interesting and contentious threads of discussion have been unwinding on “Academic Twitter”, in particular one that’s focused on the current conditions of the academic job market in the United States. It seems the debate was kicked off by a post from Rebecca Schuman at Pan Kisses Kafka blog, who criticized a UC Riverside department for the practice of sending out interview requests only five days before the interviews would take place at the annual MLA conference. This provoked a response from Claire Potter in her blog Tenured Radical, in which she insisted that there had to be reasonable explanations for the process. Potter also critiqued the tone of Schuman’s post, describing it as a “hissy fit”. Multiple follow-up posts ensued.
After the exchange between Schuman and Potter, the flames were further fanned by Karen Kelsky’s response at The Professor Is In, wherein she made a comparison between the denial of privilege by the tenured and the denial of racism by white people. The comparison is inappropriate, but Kelsky’s analysis of the advantages of the tenured hit home, and it set off another intense discussion about the responsibilities of tenured faculty in a context where non-tenured peers/colleagues are working in exploitative conditions.
I think there have been a couple of things happening in this debate. One of them is the underlying issue itself – the job market and hiring practices and, at root, the culture of academe and its professionalization process. This is tied closely to the nature of the academic workforce, which in the United States now comprises over two-thirds temporary and/or contingent faculty positions (hence “New Faculty Majority”); tenure is becoming exceptional. But also emerging from this heated exchange about academic working conditions is the question of how we talk with each other, and the issue of the “policing” of people’s participation in the name of civility or professionalism as illustrated in Potter’s response to Schuman.

Government Policy and Tuition in Higher Education

Angela K. Dills, Rey Hernández-Julián, Nathan Hale:

Listed tuition–essentially the sticker price–for US colleges has increased significantly, even after adjusting for inflation. For all institutions of higher education, that increase averages 71 percent since 1990 and 36 percent since 2000.1 Tuition has increased faster in public, four-year institutions, where the increase has averaged 126 percent since 1990 and 62 percent since 2000, but listed tuition has increased in all categories–public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit, two-year and four-year. Private schools’ prices started in 1990 at much higher absolute levels, so although their increases since then have generally been lower in terms of percentage, they were often higher in terms of dollar amount.
In the 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama stated that “taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do.” In the same speech, the president argued that policies such as tax credits, grants, and subsidized loans have been important policy tools to “make college more affordable.” In 2007 President George W. Bush signed into law a bill that increased the maximum Pell Grant award–in order, he said, to “help millions of low-income Americans earn a college degree.” 2 Both presidents failed to mention that the policies they supported could themselves have been responsible for some of the increase in tuition. Considering two effects of the subsidies–direct price reduction and higher sticker prices–at the same time is important for understanding the intended and unintended consequences of higher education subsidies.

Association of New Brunswick Teachers: what’s really happening with bargaining?


If you’re reading this alongside the latest bargaining updates from UNB management, you could be forgiven for wondering if you’d strayed into a parallel universe. UNB management continues to assure the world that they are committed to a negotiated agreement. “Faculty are the lifeblood of any university”, we are told. “We are committed to continuing to negotiate to achieve a new collective agreement,” another email to students insists. Yet there has been little progress on key issues. UNB’s administration seems keen on continuing, but not on concluding, the contract negotiations that began ten months ago.
AUNBT has a simple response to these protestations: send a bargaining team to the table with an actual mandate to bargain.
Negotiating requires that the people in UNB management who make the decisions stop hiding in their offices and board rooms and roll up their sleeves. Merely sending a team to sit in a row at a long table day after day does not amount to negotiating. Denying that team a real bargaining mandate is not negotiating. Refusing even to discuss issues is not negotiating.
No-one strikes recreationally. Certainly not in New Brunswick in January. AUNBT is the only NB faculty union that has never gone on strike. But over 90% of our full-time members have become so frustrated with spending priorities at UNB that they are willing to take that step now. We are not willing to continue to circle the drain. AUNBT members came to UNB to contribute to a nationally competitive comprehensive university. Yet we are discovering that our work is not valued and that the current senior administration refuses to take concrete action to maintain our reputation and standing.

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham proposes $31 million, five-year technology plan

Molly Beck:

All students in the Madison School District would have their own tablets or notebook computers by the 2018-19 school year under a five-year, $31 million plan proposed by Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham.
If approved, the plan would increase the district’s current
$1.5 million annual technology budget to $4.2 million in the 2014-15 school year to start upgrading the district’s network infrastructure, upgrade or equip classrooms and libraries with new technology or computers, and provide notebook computers to all district teachers and administrators. Elementary teachers also would get tablet computers under the plan.
Costs to upgrade are projected to increase each of the five years of the plan for a total of $31 million spent in that time. Afterward, the annual budget for technology would be about $7 million per year going forward.
Madison School Board members, who formally received the plan at their meeting Monday, were mostly optimistic about the plan. Board member T.J. Mertz questioned whether the program needed to be as extensive as it’s proposed given what he said were other unmet needs in the district and given research that he called “universally disappointing” surrounding such initiatives.
Mertz said in an interview after Monday’s board meeting that he agrees with the majority of the investments in technology under the plan, “but then there’s a third or a quarter where I think it’s going overboard.”
As an example, Mertz said he questions whether every kindergarten student needs their own tablet computer.

Prior to spending any additional taxpayer funds on new initiatives, I suggest that the District consider (and address) the status of past expensive initiatives, including:
Infinite Campus: is it fully implemented? If not, why? Why continue to spend money on it?
Standards based report cards“.
Connected Math.
Small Learning Communities.
And of course, job number one, the District’s long term disastrous reading scores.
Madison already spends double the national average per student ($15k). Thinning out initiatives and refocusing current spending on reading would seem to be far more pressing than more hardware.

The shame of Cooper Union

Felix Salmon:

The Cooper Union Board of Trustees today managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was a depressing and yet entirely predictable vote, which resulted in a depressing and yet entirely predictable statement.
You might remember the tragedy of Cooper Union — the way in which a unique and irreplaceable institution was destroyed by the inflated egos of overpaid technocrats. Well, after many months of outcry and outrage, a glimpse of hope appeared in December: a detailed and hopeful 54-page Working Group Report was submitted to the board, explaining how the institution could still, amazingly continue without charging tuition. Today, the board voted on whether to adopt the report.
As Kevin Slavin explains, the stakes could hardly be higher:

If the vote goes one way, a new, lean, careful Cooper Union will tiptoe forward, tuition-free. It will require equal parts deep sacrifice, wild ambition, and straightforward pragmatism. And it will uphold a 150+ year tradition of free undergraduate education.
If it goes the other way, all of that will disappear. Not just the free tuition, but everything that was built on it. In its place we’ll find a tragic fraud. A joke. A zombie.

For better or worse, Walton Family Foundation plays role in Milwaukee

Alan Borsuk:

What do you say to someone who has given more than $30 million to helps schools and educators in Milwaukee?
My parents taught me to say thank you. Seems like a good practice.
But it’s not that simple when that someone is the Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the mega-billions heirs of Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. Their generous, but ideological-oriented support leaves many people saying thank you and many others wishing the Waltons would go away.
The role of a dozen or so foundations with the assets to have nationwide impact in promoting change in education frequently brings out strong opinions.
The dividing line, not surprisingly, is often over ideas such as school choice, private school vouchers, independent charter schools, and the roles of entrepreneurs and teachers unions. Several of the big foundations, including Walton, strongly support what many call “reform” ideas.
You would think Milwaukee would be a primary venue for the philanthropic titans. We have the oldest and one of the largest urban voucher programs and an energetic charter school sector. But for whatever reasons, we haven’t seen that much of the “billionaire boys club,” as Diane Ravitch, an adamant and leading critic, has called it.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the giant among giants, put quite a bit of money into launching small high schools in Milwaukee a dozen years ago or so, leaving behind a few good schools but not too much overall. Otherwise, we’ve been kind of low on the Gates priority list, at least compared to some other places.

Age of Ignorance

Charles Simic:

Widespread ignorance bordering on idiocy is our new national goal. It’s no use pretending otherwise and telling us, as Thomas Friedman did in the Times a few days ago, that educated people are the nation’s most valuable resources. Sure, they are, but do we still want them? It doesn’t look to me as if we do. The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.
An educated, well-informed population, the kind that a functioning democracy requires, would be difficult to lie to, and could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. Most of our politicians and their political advisers and lobbyists would find themselves unemployed, and so would the gasbags who pass themselves off as our opinion makers. Luckily for them, nothing so catastrophic, even though perfectly well-deserved and widely-welcome, has a remote chance of occurring any time soon. For starters, there’s more money to be made from the ignorant than the enlightened, and deceiving Americans is one of the few growing home industries we still have in this country. A truly educated populace would be bad, both for politicians and for business.

Silent Technical Privilege

Philip Guo:

As an Asian male student at MIT, I fit society’s image of a young programmer. Thus, throughout college, nobody ever said to me:
“Well, you only got into MIT because you’re an Asian boy.”
(while struggling with a problem set) “Well, not everyone is cut out for Computer Science; have you considered majoring in bio?”
(after being assigned to a class project team) “How about you just design the graphics while we handle the backend? It’ll be easier for everyone that way.”
“Are you sure you know how to do this?”
Although I started off as a complete novice (like everyone once was), I never faced any micro-inequities to impede my intellectual growth. Throughout college and grad school, I gradually learned more and more via classes, research, and internships, incrementally taking on harder and harder projects, and getting better and better at programming while falling deeper and deeper in love with it. Instead of doing my ten years of deliberate practice from ages 8 to 18, I did mine from ages 18 to 28. And nobody ever got in the way of my learning – not even inadvertently – because I looked like the sort of person who would be good at such things.

America’s market sector develops skills our education system leaves untapped

Michael Barone:

In a post-Christmas blog post my indefatigable American Enterprise Institute colleague Jim Pethokoukis points to a study that shows that no economy in the world rewards smart, skilled workers more than the United States. the study, by economists Eric Hanushek, Guido Schwerdt, Simon Wiederhold and Ludger Woessmann, and published by the National Bureau for Economic Research, quantifies the return on numeracy skills for the U.S. at 28 percent, significantly ahead of Ireland, Germany, Spain and the U.K., which range between 21 percent and 23 percent. Korea, Canada, Poland and Japan hover below 20 percent.
Pethokoukis argues that the higher returns come in “economies with more open, private-sector-based labor markets.” He goes on to ask, “Wouldn’t this seem to argue that higher U.S. inequality — based on pre-tax, pre-transfer market incomes — reflects 21st century market forces rewarding ability rather than some sort of breakdown in social norms.”
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To this (seemingly rhetorical) question I would answer “yes,” and would go on to say that it tends to confirm the thesis of my 2004 book Hard America, Soft America. In it, I contrasted Hard America — the parts of American society in which there is competition and accountability, and Soft America, the parts of American society in which there isn’t. K-12 education, in my view, is part of Soft America; the competitive market economy is part of Hard America.

Kansas Lawmakers Await Court Ruling on School Funding

Mark Peters:

After passing some of the most aggressive tax cuts in the nation, Kansas lawmakers are watching the state’s top court for a ruling that could force education spending to skyrocket.
The Kansas Supreme Court will determine whether the state must comply with a lower-court ruling requiring the GOP-led legislature and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to increase annual funding for K-12 education by an estimated $450 million, or 14% above the previous year’s level. The timing of the ruling is unclear, but it could come to dominate the state legislative session that opens Monday.
The court battle, which came after school districts challenged how much money the state sends to towns and cities for K-12 education, is one of several across the U.S. that have pulled judges into the fights over how much states should spend on public education.
In Kansas, lawmakers started to push back against the courts last year. The Senate passed a bill to amend the state constitution so that such decisions on education spending would be up to the legislature. To go into effect, the proposed amendment would have to win approval in the House by a two-thirds majority and pass in a statewide vote.

Commentary on the Madison School Board’s Uncontested Election

Chris Rickert

“The test of any particular voting scheme is the quality of the candidates who are elected under it,” Hughes told me. “We currently have seven good board members. After the spring election we’ll continue to have seven good board members. I don’t see a problem.”
And here I thought that in a democracy the best test of a voting “scheme” was how well it represented the desires of the democracy’s citizens.
Silly me.

Here’s the truth about Shanghai schools: they’re terrible

Saga Ringmar:

The western world watches China’s rise as a formidable world-power with a mixture of awe and apprehension. Sci-fi films depict a futuristic world where Baidu.com is the new Google and Mcdonalds has been replaced by Grandma Wang’s Dumpling Emporium. And yet again Shanghai is number one on the Programme for International Student Assessment’s (Pisa) 2012 ranking list of international education, and the US is once again at a low rank, this time 36th place. The US is desperate, and naturally the Chinese educational system seems like an answer. But let me tell you – this is not the case. I know; for two years I attended a local Shanghainese high school and this is the truth: they are terrible.
The biggest problem with Chinese education? It’s medieval. Shanghainese education is just like the stories my grandmother tells about high school in the 1940’s. Footage of military parades in Fascist Italy share an unnerving resemblance to the morning assemblies from my school in Shanghai. Chinese education would be a poison for America, not a remedy.
The problem is that there are too many Chinese students. Shanghainese classrooms have about 40 students and in the countryside classes have over 60. The most efficient way to organize all these children is by testing, categorizing and grading them – Chinese education is essentially elitist. Students that excel in school are rewarded with prizes and encouragement, but struggling students are abandoned. I once served as a translator for the principal of my school when seven Swedish principals came to visit Shanghai. The Swedes asked what the school did for students with “special needs” and the principal answered:

Trends from 2013: the higher education bubble

Bryan Alexander:

This concept, which I began to track in early 2012, built across multiple fronts in 2013. The bubble idea holds that colleges are overpriced, that student demand is questionable, and both could drop together. I have tested this concept throughout 2013 through social media and in-person presentation, using multiple trends and analyzes, and even developed an alternative model (peak higher education). My verdict now is… the bubble might be happening.
A series of major trends supported the bubble concept in 2013:
College and university tuition and fees continued to rise, despite several tuition freeze experiments. This is consistent with a rising bubble, among other interpretations.
Student debt rose throughout 2013, inspiring widespread anxiety. This is also consistent with a bubble (as well as other models: consumer behavior in a captive market, and also consumers reacting to media panic, etc.)
A number of institutions took drastic steps to stave off financial crisis, including merging with other campuses, ending academic programs, and laying off faculty (I dubbed the latter two “sacrificing the queen”). These events could be advance signs of a bubble about to pop.
The number of students taking classes went down across many sectors (see “Enrollment decline” above). If this continues, then that’s a sign of a bubble popping.
Some graduate programs suffered badly in 2013, most notably law schools, who saw declining revenues, applicants, graduates, and jobs.
Outside of campuses, political pressures remained steady. Some of this occurred in partisan terms, as Republicans extended their criticism of public K-12 to all of higher education, sometimes with an anti-union dimension.
Indeed, I find bubble arguments most often made by conservatives. However, 2013 also saw Democrats joining in for a full-court bipartisan press on higher education, from a presidential charge to build a new institutional assessment system to high-profile governors and mayors calling for reduced higher education fees.

GED Test Overhauled, Some States opt for New Exam

Kimberly Hefling:

The GED test, for decades the brand name for the high school equivalency exam, is about to undergo some changes.
On Thursday, an upgraded GED exam and two new competing equivalency tests offered in several states will usher in a new era in adult education testing.
The GED (General Educational Development) exam was created in 1942 to help World War II veterans who dropped out of high school use college benefits offered under the GI Bill. This will be its first face-lift in more than a decade.
The revamped test is intended to be more rigorous and better aligned with the skills needed for college and today’s workplaces. The new test will only be offered on a computer, and it will cost more. What consumers pay for the test varies widely and depends on state assistance and other factors.
Even before its launch, officials in many states have balked at the cost increase and at doing away with paper-and-pencil testing. At least nine states — New York, New Hampshire, Missouri, Iowa, Montana, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine and West Virginia — severed ties with the GED test and adopted one of the two new tests that are entering the market. Three others — Wyoming, New Jersey and Nevada — will offer all three. Tennessee will offer the GED test and one other, and other states are expected to decide what to do in the coming months.

Much at stake in Obama’s proposed ranking of colleges

Kate Howard Perry

Name a factoid about a college — best party school, most military-friendly, et cetera — and a magazine or website somewhere is probably ranking it.
The implication of those measures is usually some publicity.
But a new ratings system proposed by President Barack Obama would put more than a college’s reputation at stake.
The nation’s colleges would be pitted against one another on measures such as graduation rates, student debt and cost of attendance under the president’s proposed system, aimed at putting a rating to the value colleges provide for their tuition dollars.
Obama said the plan is intended to hold down the cost of college and steer federal loans and grants toward those schools that rate the best. The schools that come out on top could eventually be rewarded with a bigger piece of the federal funding pie.

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

Radhika Nagpal:

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

Intergenerational Economic Mobility

Dr. Bhashkar Mazumder:

In an era of rising income inequality, understanding the extent of economic mobility from one generation to the next in America has never been more important. Only if there is considerable opportunity for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to move beyond their parents’ place in the income distribution, may economic inequality be viewed as tolerable. This report introduces two new and flexible measures to examine upward relative mobility–the extent to which children can rise above their parents’ position when compared to their peers. The report also explores various factors that might account for racial differences in upward economic mobility rates.
Using the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and measuring family income averaged over several years, the report discusses the following key findings:
The vast majority of individuals, 71 percent, whose parents were in the bottom half of the income distribution actually improved their rankings relative to their parents. However, the amount of their movement was not large.

  • Only about 45 percent of those who started in the bottom half moved
    up the income distribution by more than 20 percentiles relative to their
    parents’ ranking.

  • Many of those who did manage to exceed their parents’ income started near the very bottom, where exceeding one’s parents is not a very steep hurdle.

As a result, only 38 percent of individuals who started in the bottom half of the income distribution moved to the top half of the distribution as adults

Tech’s Gender and Race Gap Starts in High School

Eleanor Barkhorn:

When people talk about how to diversify the tech field, a common solution is, “Start earlier.” Rather than focus on getting women and minorities hired at tech startups or encouraging them to major in computer science in college, there should be a push to turn them on to the discipline when they’re still teenagers–or even younger.
“It’s already too late,” Paul Graham, founder of the tech entrepreneur boot camp Y Combinator, said last month in a controversial interview. “What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that.”
Right now, the “start early” strategy doesn’t seem to be working: The students doing advanced computer science work in high school remain overwhelmingly white and male. According to data from the College Board compiled by Georgia Tech’s Barbara Ericson, only a small percentage of the high-schoolers taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam are women. Black and Latino students make up an even lower percentage of the test-takers.

More Students Subsidize Classmates’ Tuition

Douglas Belkin:

Well-off students at private schools have long subsidized poorer classmates. But as states grapple with the rising cost of higher education, middle-income students at public colleges in a dozen states now pay a growing share of their tuition to aid those lower on the economic ladder.
The student subsidies, which are distributed based on need, don’t show up on most tuition bills. But in eight years they have climbed 174% in real dollars at a dozen flagship state universities surveyed by The Wall Street Journal.
During the 2012-13 academic year, students at these schools transferred $512,401,435 to less well-off classmates, up from $186,960,962, in inflation-adjusted figures, in the 2005-06 school year.
Enlarge Image
Maria Giannopoulos, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, relies on the tuition help. Darren Hauck for The Wall Street Journal
At private schools without large endowments, more than half of the tuition may be set aside for financial-aid scholarships. At public schools, set-asides range between 5% and 40% according to the Journal’s survey.

The Open Office (Classroom) Trap

Maria Konnikova:

In 1973, my high school, Acton-Boxborough Regional, in Acton, Massachusetts, moved to a sprawling brick building at the foot of a hill. Inspired by architectural trends of the preceding decade, the classrooms in one of its wings didn’t have doors. The rooms opened up directly onto the hallway, and tidbits about the French Revolution, say, or Benjamin Franklin’s breakfast, would drift from one classroom to another. Distracting at best and frustrating at worst, wide-open classrooms went, for the most part, the way of other ill-considered architectural fads of the time, like concrete domes. (Following an eighty-million-dollar renovation and expansion, in 2005, none of the new wings at A.B.R.H.S. have open classrooms.) Yet the workplace counterpart of the open classroom, the open office, flourishes: some seventy per cent of all offices now have an open floor plan.
The open office was originally conceived by a team from Hamburg, Germany, in the nineteen-fifties, to facilitate communication and idea flow. But a growing body of evidence suggests that the open office undermines the very things that it was designed to achieve. In June, 1997, a large oil and gas company in western Canada asked a group of psychologists at the University of Calgary to monitor workers as they transitioned from a traditional office arrangement to an open one. The psychologists assessed the employees’ satisfaction with their surroundings, as well as their stress level, job performance, and interpersonal relationships before the transition, four weeks after the transition, and, finally, six months afterward. The employees suffered according to every measure: the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and, instead of feeling closer, coworkers felt distant, dissatisfied, and resentful. Productivity fell.

Madison’s Thoreau Elementary School was originally built with “open classrooms“.

Academe quits me

D.G. Myers:

Tomorrow I will step into a classroom to begin the last semester of a 24-year teaching career. Don’t get me wrong. I am not retiring. I am not “burned out.” The truth is rather more banal. Ohio State University will not be renewing my three-year contract when it expires in the spring. The problem is tenure: with another three-year contract, tenure becomes an option. In an era of tight budgets, there is neither money nor place for a 61-year-old white male professor who has never really fit in nor tried very hard to. (Leave aside my heterodox politics and hard-to-credit publication record.) My feelings are like glue that will not set. The pieces fall apart in my hands.
This essay is not a contribution to the I-Quit-Academe genre. (A more accurate title in my case would be Academe Quits Me.) Although I have become uncomfortably aware that I am out of step with the purposeful march of the 21st-century university (or maybe I just never adjusted to Ohio State), gladly would I have learned and gladly continued to teach for as long as my students would have had me. The decision, though, was not my students’ to make. And I’m not at all sure that a majority would have voted to keep me around, even if they had been polled. My salary may not be large (a rounding error above the median income for white families in the U.S.), but the university can offer part-time work to three desperate adjuncts for what it pays me. A lifetime of learning has never been cost-effective, and in today’s university–at least on the side of campus where the humanities are badly housed–no other criterion is thinkable.

Former Omaha teacher gives $2.5 million to Council Bluffs library

Mike Brownlee:

Ann Cook loved the library.
She spent hours upon hours during her 70 years there, reading about faraway lands, visions of the future and dramas about life and love.
As a gift to the institution that gave her so much joy, the former school teacher left $2.5 million to the Council Bluffs Public Library.
“I’m not surprised,” said Mildred Smock, head librarian from 1957 until her retirement in 1992.
“She was a great reader,” said Smock, who first met Cook when the library patron was a young girl. “She was in the library checking out books about once a week, very frequently. This was a long time ago, but in my recollection she read mostly fiction for pleasure.”
Cook supported the library financially throughout her life, thanks in part to money inherited from her parents, who also passed on their love of books and learning to their daughter. As an adult, Cook would stop by after school let out. She taught from 1964 to 1997 at Norris and the now-closed Bancroft Junior Highs in the Omaha Public Schools system. After retirement she spent even more time at the library, volunteering with the Friends of the Library organization.

Pay Our Teachers or Lose Your Job

Deborah Gerhardt:

My son Ben’s language arts teacher emailed one morning this winter to tell me she is leaving Ben’s school. I feel sick, but I don’t blame her. Three of Ben’s middle school teachers have left in the past year. North Carolina’s intentional assault on public education is working. It is pushing our best teachers out.
Ten years ago my family moved to Chapel Hill. A relatively low cost of living and bipartisan commitment to public education made North Carolina immensely attractive. There is plenty of historic precedent for devaluing public education in the South, and for many years North Carolina was not much different from its neighbors. In 1997 the state ranked 42nd in teacher pay. The year before, Gov. Jim Hunt had run on a platform to invest in public education. After he was elected, he worked with Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker to focus on excellence in teaching and raised teacher salaries up to the national average in just four years. That bipartisan investment paid off. In the 1990s our public student test scores rose more than any other state’s. North Carolina became known as “the education state.” As recently as 2008, North Carolina paid teachers better than half the nation.
Things can change quickly, especially if you’re not looking. Now, the brand that attracted us–“the education state”–sounds like a grim joke. After six years of no real raises, we have fallen to 46th in teacher pay. North Carolina teachers earn nearly $10,000 less than the national average. And if you look at trends over the past decade, we rank dead last: After adjusting for inflation, North Carolina lowered teacher salaries nearly 16 percent from 2002 to 2012, while other states had a median decline of 1 percent. A first-year teacher in North Carolina makes $30,800. Our school district lost a candidate to a district in Kentucky because its starting salary was close to $40,000. It takes North Carolina teachers more than 15 years to earn $40,000; in Virginia it may take only four. Gap store managers on average make about $56,000.

Comprehensive on Completion

Paul Fain:

Maryland’s public colleges are six months into complying with one of the nation’s most ambitious college completion bills. The state-mandated push puts Maryland in a class with Tennessee, Indiana and Georgia.
“It represents a defining moment for public higher education in the state of Maryland,” said Charlene M. Dukes, president of Prince George’s Community College. “It sets a whole new tone.”
A few educators said they were uneasy about the state’s Legislature getting so deep in the weeds with legislation that touches on everything from dual enrollment to remediation and completion plans for each student. (See below for more details about the measure.)
Making the many required changes has been a heavy lift at times. But several college leaders said the comprehensive nature of the legislation was a virtue.
That’s because Maryland’s completion law, which was enacted in July, deals simultaneously with K-12, community colleges and four-year institutions. Experts say attempted completion fixes, such as improving remedial course success rates, can benefit from reaching across the various stages of public education.
“If we really want to deal with developmental education,” said Bernie Sadusky, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges, “we have to go to the source of the problem. That is K-12.”

AFT’s Weingarten Backtracks on Using Value-Added Measures for Teacher Evaluations

Stephen Sawchuk:

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has announced that she’ll call for the end of using “value added” measures as a component in teacher-evaluation systems.
Politico first reported that the AFT is beginning a campaign to discredit the measures, beginning with the catchy (if not totally original) slogan “VAM is a sham.” We don’t yet know exactly what this campaign will encompass, but it will apparently include an appeal to the U.S. Department of Education, generally a proponent of VAM.
Value-added methods use statistical algorithms to figure out how much each teacher contributes to his or her students’ learning, holding constant factors like student demographics.
In all, though, Weingarten’s announcement is less major policy news than it is something of a retreat to a former position.
When I first interviewed Weingarten about the use of test scores in evaluation systems, in 2008, she said that educators have “a moral, statistical, and educational reason not to use these things for teacher evaluation.”

Much more on “value added assessment”, here.

Los Angeles library to offer high school diplomas

Associated Press:

A Los Angeles library plans to take its role as a place of learning a step farther and will start offering residents the opportunity to get an accredited high school diploma.
The Los Angeles Public Library announced Thursday that it is teaming up with a private online learning company to debut the program for high school dropouts, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
It’s the latest step in the transformation of public libraries in the digital age as they move to establish themselves beyond just being a repository of books to a full educational institution, said the library’s director, John Szabo.
Since taking over the helm in 2012, Szabo has pledged to reconnect the library system to the community and has introduced a number of new initiatives to that end, including offering 850 online courses for continuing education and running a program that helps immigrants complete the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

No, the ‘College Bubble’ Isn’t Popping

Jordan Weissman:

When newspaper editors are in the mood to run a good old-fashioned screed about the collapsing value of college, they inevitably turn to Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist who runs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Vedder likes to argue that the financial return on a B.A. is falling, graduates are chronically underemployed, and that our profligate universities are in for a reckoning once everyone wises up and stops throwing their money away. (For what it’s worth, I tend to disagree).
Today Vedder and one of his students, Christopher Denhart, have upped the ante a bit for The Wall Street Journal, where they’ve published an op-ed titled, “How the College Bubble Will Pop.” The reckoning, they say, is already upon us, as total college enrollment has fallen 1.5 percent since 2012.
“What’s causing the decline?” they ask. “While changing demographics–specifically, a birth dearth in the mid-1990s–accounts for some of the shift, robust foreign enrollment offsets that lack. The answer is simple: The benefits of a degree are declining while costs rise.”
It’s an alluring theory. But their evidence falls apart under even the lightest inspection.

Madison Schools’ 2014-2015 Budget Forecast 1; “Same Service” or “Cost to Continue”; “intends to go beyond marginal refinements”.

Madison School District (PDF):

This budget forecast and those that will follow are intended to keep the board informed as the budget development process unfolds. The forecasts also provide an opportunity for board discussion and input into important budget development issues.
MMSD’s Strategic Framework establishes the direction of the school district. The framework is supported by the annual budget, which is simply the resource strategy behind the Strategic Framework. The budget process begins with a thorough review of district priorities, current spending patterns, and outcomes. The zero- based budget process requires a critical examination of all budget practices and how those practices influence resource deployment.
Based upon our budget work thus far, we believe there are opportunities to make the staffing process more responsive to individual school needs, to shift non- personnel resources from central office budgets to school budgets, and to improve budget accuracy by clarifying and simplifying account structures. We’re excited to explore these and other opportunities throughout the 2014-15 budget process.
Zero-based Approach to Budget Development:
A zero-based approach is being used to develop the expenditure budget. Unlike an ‘historical cost’ budget or a ‘cost to continue’ budget, the zero-based process is intended to go beyond marginal refinements of existing budgets and existing structures.
For example, MMSD has used essentially the same staffing allocation process for over ten years under the ‘cost to continue’ approach, with only minor modifications along the way. While the existing allocation process is uniform and consistent, it can be improved by making it more responsive to the challenges presented by individual schools. The senior leadership team, with input from the principals, is assessing the staffing allocation process this month before any allocation decisions are put into motion in February.
The existing staff allocation process consists of a series of departmental layers, with separate staffing allocations for regular education, special education, Title 1, OMGE, pupil services, PBS, etc. We are hopeful that a more integrated and responsive staffing allocation process, beginning this year and refined continuously in subsequent years, will produce a more tailored fit for each school. The zero-based approach is designed to uncover such opportunities.
The zero-based process also includes in-depth reviews of each central office department. We are particularly interested in identifying inter-departmental overlaps, gaps, and even redundancies. We are optimistic that this effort will produce new efficiencies and help push resources from the district office into the schools.
Strategic Priorities Drive the Budget:
The resource decisions contained in the annual budget are subject to continuous review, either directly through the zero-based budget process, or indirectly through the SIP process, district surveys, targeted studies (such as the Principal Pipeline study [PDF] and High School Reform study), and several active advisory committees. These are the sources which inform the budget development process.
The Strategic Framework identifies five key priorities which are aimed at providing schools with the tools, processes and resources they need to serve children and their families better than ever before. The five priorities are: (1) Coherent Instruction, (2) Personalized Pathways, (3) Family and Community Engagement, (4) A Thriving Workforce, and (5) Accountability at All Levels.
Each of the priorities in the Strategic Framework includes a set of high-leverage actions that have cost implications. A preview of some of the major actions with cost implications, organized by Priority Area, will be developed and refined throughout the budget development process. A preview of the major actions will be presented to the Operations Work Group along with this Budget Forecast.

The word cloud is interesting, particularly in light of the District’s job number one, addressing its long term disastrous reading results.
Related: numerous links on the District’s 2013-2014 budget, here. Madison spends about twice the national average per student ($15k).

The Degree Is Doomed

Michael Staton:

The credential — the degree or certificate — has long been the quintessential value proposition of higher education. Americans have embraced degrees with a fervor generally reserved for bologna or hot dogs. Everyone should have them! Many and often! And their perceived value elsewhere in the world — in Asia in particular — is if anything even higher.
From the evaluator’s standpoint, credentials provide signals that allow one to make quick assumptions about a candidate’s potential contribution to an organization and their ability to flourish on the job. To a prospective student (or parent), the value lies in assuming these signals will be accepted in employment markets and other times of social evaluation. These signals have long been known to be imperfect, but they were often the only game in town. Thus, a degree from a top university has been seen to contain crucial information about a person’s skills, networks, and work habits.

The university has become a rogue institution in need of root-and-branch reform

Victor Davis Hanson:

Two factors have so far shielded the American university from the sort of criticism that it so freely levels against almost every other institution in American life. (1) For decades a college education has been considered the key to an ascendant middle-class existence. (2) Until recently a college degree was not tantamount to lifelong debt. In other words, American society put up with a lot of arcane things from academia, given that it offered something — a BA or BS degree — that almost everyone agreed was a ticket to personal security and an educated populace.
Not now. Colleges have gone rogue and become virtual outlaw institutions. Graduates owe an aggregate of $1 trillion in student debt, borrowed at interest rates far above home-mortgage rates — all on the principle that universities could charge as much as they liked, given that students could borrow as much as they needed in federally guaranteed loans.

School Wasn’t Canceled for Bad Weather in 1882

Eleanor Barkhorn:

Record-low temperatures caused by the Polar Vortex have forced schools across the country to close this week. Weather-related school cancellations tend to raise anxieties about whether we’re a nation of wimps. During President Obama’s first winter in Washington, he complained when his daughters’ school closed for bad weather: “We’re going to have to apply some flinty Chicago toughness to this town.” In response to this latest round of school closings, a Virginia mom sighed, “Hasn’t anyone heard of gloves, scarf and a hat when it’s cold?? Just bundle up–people do it all over the world. We are such wimps to cancel school.”
A story about a teacher assigned to a one-room schoolhouse in South Dakota in the 1880s will confirm suspicions that America has gone soft when it comes to dealing with the cold. The story is from These Happy Golden Years, the second-to-last book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved “Little House” series about growing up on the American frontier. It describes the protagonist, a 15-year-old teacher named Laura, traveling a half a mile in the snow to get to school:

How the College Bubble Will Pop In 1970, less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. Four decades later, more than 15% do.

Richard Vedder & Christopher Denhart:

The American political class has long held that higher education is vital to individual and national success. The Obama administration has dubbed college “the ticket to the middle class,” and political leaders from Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have hailed higher education as the best way to improve economic opportunity. Parents and high-school guidance counselors tend to agree.
Yet despite such exhortations, total college enrollment has fallen by 1.5% since 2012. What’s causing the decline? While changing demographics–specifically, a birth dearth in the mid-1990s–accounts for some of the shift, robust foreign enrollment offsets that lack. The answer is simple: The benefits of a degree are declining while costs rise.
A key measure of the benefits of a degree is the college graduate’s earning potential–and on this score, their advantage over high-school graduates is deteriorating. Since 2006, the gap between what the median college graduate earned compared with the median high-school graduate has narrowed by $1,387 for men over 25 working full time, a 5% fall. Women in the same category have fared worse, losing 7% of their income advantage ($1,496).
A college degree’s declining value is even more pronounced for younger Americans. According to data collected by the College Board, for those in the 25-34 age range the differential between college graduate and high school graduate earnings fell 11% for men, to $18,303 from $20,623. The decline for women was an extraordinary 19.7%, to $14,868 from $18,525.

November school board elections in N.J. could keep costs down

Laura Waters:

Okay, maybe he’s no shrinking violet, but it’s worth taking note that almost exactly two years ago today Christie signed A-4394/S-3148, a law that gives school districts the right to bypass school budget votes if they move school board member elections to November.
After years of dissent from the New Jersey Education Association and the NJ School Boards Association, the bill, mostly sponsored by Democrats in the Statehouse, passed quietly, forever changing the dynamics of school board politics and fiscal strategy. Final vote tallies were 34-3 in the Senate and 62-11 in the Assembly.
Wait: you mean school board elections used to be in April?

PISA’s China Problem Continues: A Response to Schleicher, Zhang, and Tucker

Tom Lovelace:

In October 2013, I posted an essay, “PISA’s China Problem,” that called on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to fully disclose its arrangement with China regarding Shanghai’s participation in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The latest PISA scores were to be released in December, offering an excellent opportunity for the OECD to dispel the mystery surrounding Shanghai’s 2009 involvement with PISA. I noted that Shanghai, the wealthiest, most educated province in China, was the only mainland province officially participating in PISA 2009 and PISA 2012. Other data from rural areas of China had been talked about by PISA officials over the years, but never released to the public domain. I called on PISA to release those data.
When the latest PISA scores came out in December, nothing had changed. I followed up with a second essay. I again urged full transparency. I also challenged PISA’s portrayal of Shanghai as a “high equity” school system. An extensive literature–including excellent journalism and both qualitative and quantitative scholarship–documents the cruel effects of the hukou system on migrants in Shanghai. Hukou is an internal registration system in China that limits rural migrants’ access to urban public services, in particular, to schools. These migrants are Chinese citizens, mind you, not immigrants from other countries. They have simply moved from rural areas to China’s big cities, or, because the hukou is inherited, they were born in one of China’s big cities but because of their family’s rural hukou, have become second generation migrants in the eyes of the state.

Can Unions Save Adjuncts?

Megan McArdle:

Last week, I wrote that collectively, faculty need to deal with the terrible market for professorships by producing fewer potential professors: admitting a lot fewer students to graduate school. Graduate school doesn’t exploit students the way that, say, a third-tier law school program does — the students are paid, not paying vast sums for degrees they can’t use. But by wildly overproducing graduate students, academia is doing something just as bad, in a different way: encouraging overoptimistic (OK, maybe arrogant) kids to spend their formative years in the labor market pursuing jobs they aren’t so likely to get, then hiring the excess students as essentially casual labor at low wages.
There are two criticisms I’ve received that seem worth responding to. The first is that I myself work in a profession that looks a lot like a tournament: a lucky few at the top, and a lot of hopefuls who don’t make it. That’s absolutely true. But I don’t encourage young people to seek jobs in the profession; I tell them the math is terrible and getting worse, and they should do something else. The economics of the industry are very bad, unless you are lucky enough to work for a place like Bloomberg News, which doesn’t depend on advertising. I certainly don’t get paid to train them for journalism jobs that they probably won’t get.
That said, most people don’t spend five or six or eight years just preparing to be eligible to get a job in journalism, and an additional four years or so cycling through post-docs before it becomes clear that that journalism job isn’t going to happen. Nor, when they are six years into their first permanent job, do they have a committee that meets to decide whether to fire them and put them back on the job market, quite possibly with very poor prospects. They don’t have to move to towns in the middle of nowhere or give up relationships because their partners will never be able to find work in the Ozarks. Female journalists do not have to put off starting a family until they’re pushing 40 because it would be insane to reproduce before the tenure committee approves them. The opportunity costs of trying to become a journalist are quite a bit lower than the opportunity costs of trying to become an academic.

How to Help College Students Graduate

David Kirp:

AMERICAN students are enrolling in college in record numbers, but they’re also dropping out in droves. Barely half of those who start four-year colleges, and only a third of community college students, graduate. That’s one of the worst records among developed nations, and it’s a substantial drain on the economy. The American Institutes for Research estimates the cost of those dropouts, measured in lost earnings and taxes, at $4.5 billion.
Incalculable are the lost opportunities for social mobility and the stillborn professional careers.
There’s a remedy at hand, though, and it’s pretty straightforward. Nationwide, universities need to give undergraduates the care and attention akin to what’s lavished on students at elite institutions.
If that help is forthcoming, graduation rates more than double, according to several evaluations of an innovative program at the City University of New York’s community colleges.

Youth Misery Index Hits all time High

Jennifer Kabbany:

A Youth Misery Index that measures young Americans’ woes has skyrocketed under President Barack Obama and hit an all-time high.
The index, released Wednesday, was calculated by adding youth unemployment and average college loan debt figures with each person’s share of the national debt. While it has steadily grown over the decades, under Obama the figure has shot up dramatically, from 83.5 in 2009 to 98.6 in 2013.
The index has increased by 18.1 percent since Obama took office, the highest increase under any president, making Obama the worst president for youth economic opportunity, according to the nonprofit that released the figure.
“Young people are suffering under this economy,” said Ashley Pratte, program officer for Young America’s Foundation, which developed the index and calculates it annually using federal statistics. “They’re still living in their parent’s basements, unable to find full-time jobs that pay them what they need in order to pay back their debt.”
Youth unemployment in 2013 was 16.3 percent, and student loan debt came in at a record-breaking average of $29,400 last year, the foundation points out; what’s more, each person’s share of the roughly $17 trillion dollar national debt stands at its highest level ever: $52,948.

Madison Teachers Union “Fair Share” Members

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

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

Patronage for Plutocrats: Why elite colleges with the fewest low-income students get the most work-study money.

Jon Marcus:

Greg Noll, a senior at Columbia University, balances his engineering major with a federally subsidized “work-study” job at the university’s fitness center, where he fills spray bottles, wipes sweat off the machines, and picks up towels for twenty hours a week. The $9-an-hour wage he’s paid is underwritten by the federal work-study program, which was launched in 1964 to support low-income students who would not otherwise be able to afford college.
While Noll and his counterparts at Columbia and other pricey, top-tier private colleges and universities no doubt benefit from the program–Noll says he uses the money to buy books and food and to go out with his friends on the weekends–they are not necessarily the intended recipients of aid from the $1.2 billion federal program. Noll’s family, for instance, makes $140,000 a year, which he says, rightly, puts them squarely in the upper-middle class. In fact, researchers at the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, have found that only 43 percent of students who receive work study meet the federal definition of financial need as determined by whether they also receive Pell Grants. Work study “disproportionately benefits the students who need it the least,” says Rory O’Sullivan, research and policy director at the youth advocacy organization Young Invincibles.
A major source of the problem stems from the fact that the work-study program uses a fifty-year-old formula to determine how federal funds are allocated. Unlike other federal financial aid programs that distribute money according to how many students at a university actually need aid, money for the work-study program is based instead on how much a university received the previous year, and how much it charges for tuition.

How College Pricing Is Like Holiday Retail Sales

Marian Wang:

Higher education may seem like a different world, but universities in many ways have been working from the same playbook.
Savvier college-bound consumers know that the so-called “sticker price” of tuition and fees at a given college or university isn’t what many – or even most – students pay.
Take American University, where 74 percent of full-time freshmen got a grant or scholarship – essentially, a discount off the list price – for the 2011-2012 school year. Or Drexel University, where that figure was 98 percent.
At nearly 200 schools, 100 percent of full-time freshmen got a scholarship, as DePaul University’s Jon Boeckenstedt points out.

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader

Colin Robinson:

“TO read a novel is a difficult and complex art,” Virginia Woolf wrote in a 1925 essay, “How to Read a Book.” Today, with our powers of concentration atrophied by the staccato communication of the Internet and attention easily diverted to addictive entertainment on our phones and tablets, book-length reading is harder still.
It’s not just more difficult to find the time and focus that a book demands. Longstanding allies of the reader, professionals who have traditionally provided guidance for those picking up a book, are disappearing fast. The broad, inclusive conversation around interesting titles that such experts helped facilitate is likewise dissipating. Reading, always a solitary affair, is increasingly a lonely one.
A range of related factors have brought this to a head. Start with the publishing companies: Overall book sales have been anemic in recent years, declining 6 percent in the first half of 2013 alone. But the profits of publishers have remained largely intact; in the same period only one of what were then still the “big six” trade houses reported a decline on its bottom line. This is partly because of the higher margins on e-books. But it has also been achieved by publishers cutting costs, especially for mid-list titles.

Much at stake in Obama’s proposed ranking of colleges

Kate Howard Perry

Name a factoid about a college — best party school, most military-friendly, et cetera — and a magazine or website somewhere is probably ranking it.
The implication of those measures is usually some publicity.
But a new ratings system proposed by President Barack Obama would put more than a college’s reputation at stake.
The nation’s colleges would be pitted against one another on measures such as graduation rates, student debt and cost of attendance under the president’s proposed system, aimed at putting a rating to the value colleges provide for their tuition dollars.
Obama said the plan is intended to hold down the cost of college and steer federal loans and grants toward those schools that rate the best. The schools that come out on top could eventually be rewarded with a bigger piece of the federal funding pie.

10 Words to Cut From Your Writing

Shanna Mallon:

As Mark Twain famously wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” His point? Strong writing is lean writing.
When you want to make your writing more powerful, cut out words you don’t need–such as the 10 included in this post:
1. Just: The word “just” is a filler word that weakens your writing. Removing it rarely affects meaning, but rather, the deletion tightens a sentence.
2. Really: Using the word “really” is an example of writing the way you talk. It’s a verbal emphasis that doesn’t translate perfectly into text. In conversation, people use the word frequently, but in written content it’s unnecessary. Think about the difference between saying a rock is “hard” and “really hard,” for example. What does the word add? Better to cut it out to make your message stronger.

Eric Cantor vows fierce protection of school choice

Stephanie Simon & Maggie Severns:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor vowed Wednesday to protect and promote school choice programs and attacked Democratic politicians, including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, for seeking to block the growth of charter schools and voucher programs.
Long an advocate of school choice, Cantor used a speech at the Brookings Institution to vow that Republicans would defend what he called an “education revolution” that has shifted power away from traditional public schools and put it in the hands of parents. Many states now allow parents to get tax-funded vouchers to send their children to private or parochial schools or chose from an array of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.

How Students Are Forced to Prop Up the Education Bubble

Malcolm Harris:

If there was going to be major action to reduce the $1 trillion in student debt–or at least the rate at which it’s increasing–it probably should have happened by now.
The conventional wisdom going into the election was that President Obama and the Democrats would have to galvanize the youth vote if they wanted a repeat of 2008. With nearly 20 percent of families, and 40 percent of young families, owing a slice of the education debt, the issue affects a large and growing constituency. And because existing student loan policy is so anti-student and pro-bank, Democrats could have proposed a number of commonsense, deficit-neutral reforms, even reforms that would have saved the government money. The stars were aligned for a major push.
Remarkably, it didn’t happen. Instead we saw dithering, half-measures, and compromises meant to reassure voters that politicians were aware of their suffering and that something was going to be done. The moves that were implemented did not address the core problem: the amount of money debtors will have to pay. For example, President Obama claimed credit for delaying a doubling of interest rates on federal loans from 3.4 to 6.8 percent, while, at the same time, ending interest grace periods for graduate and undergraduate students. The first measure is temporary and is expected to cost the government $6 billion; the second is permanent and will cost debtors an estimated $20 billion in the next decade alone. Despite his campaign rhetoric, President Obama has overseen an unparalleled growth of student debt, with around a third of the outstanding total accruing under his watch.

California students sue state over ineffective teachers

Mary C. Tillotson, via a kind reader:

California’s laws surrounding teacher tenure, dismissal, and layoffs violate the state’s constitution — specifically, students’ right to an equal opportunity to access quality education — say nine students suing the state. The trial is set to begin Jan. 27.
If they win, the effects could ripple across the country.
“I think any time that you see a genuine reform in California, you empower reformers everywhere in the country who realize if you can actually fix something like that in California, you can fix it anywhere,” said Ed Ring, executive director of the California Public Policy Center.
Plaintiffs argue that minority and poor students are most in need of effective teachers and least likely, in California, to be taught by them.
“Research has shown that inside the school building, nothing matters more than the quality of the teachers,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president for National Council on Teacher Quality. “An effective teacher and a highly effective teacher make a really significant difference in the trajectory of their students, and the same is true in the negative capacity for an ineffective teacher.”
Other factors, like parents’ level of education, are also correlated with student performance, but as far as factors schools can control, teacher quality matters more than any other variable, she said.

“Wisconsin Together” – Merger Details Revealed

Mike Antonucci:

Having asked their national affiliates for permission, the Wisconsin Education Association Council and AFT-Wisconsin finalized the founding documents of a new merged state teachers’ union, to be called Wisconsin Together.
The representative bodies of both unions will vote on a new constitution and by-laws in April. If approved, the merger will go into effect on September 1.
AFT-Wisconsin has posted the full text of the documents on its web site, but here are a few of the highlights:
While Wisconsin Together will come into being in September 2014, it will have a two-year transition period during which the current WEAC president and the AFT-Wisconsin president will act as co-presidents.
One of the major differences between NEA affiliates and AFT affiliates is that the former practice term limits for executive officers while the latter do not. The new representative body of Wisconsin Together will decide the issue after September 2016.

Digest of Education Statistics 2012

Thomas Snyder & Sally Dillow (PDF):

The data in this volume were obtained from many different sources–including students and teachers, state education agencies, local elementary and secondary schools, and colleges and universities–using surveys and compilations of administrative records. Users should be cautious when comparing data from different sources. Differences in aspects such as procedures, timing, question phrasing, and interviewer training can affect the comparability of results across data sources.
Most of the tables present data from surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) or conducted by other agencies and organizations with support from NCES. Some tables also include other data published by federal and state agencies, private research organizations, or professional organizations. Brief descriptions of the surveys and other data sources used in this volume can be found in Appendix A: Guide to Sources. For each NCES and non-NCES data source, the Guide to Sources also provides information on where to obtain further details about that source.
Data are obtained primarily from two types of surveys: universe surveys and sample surveys. In universe surveys, information is collected from every member of the population. For example, in a survey regarding certain expenditures of public elementary and secondary schools, data would be obtained from each school district in the United States. When data from an entire population are available, estimates of the total population or a subpopulation are made by simply summing the units in the population or subpopulation. As a result, there is no sampling error, and observed differences are reported as true.

Finding New Meaning in Life Through PowerPoint

Anand Giridharadas:

Lourdes del Castillo de Rumié, 77 years old and practically vibrating (because there is so much left to do!), thinks she may have found the secret to joyous old age: PowerPoint.
Yes, that PowerPoint: legendary time drain of consultants, bureaucrats and generals — the software that never fails to make simple things more complicated. But Mrs. del Castillo de Rumié has found that what makes it tedious for the young makes it marvelous for the ripened. After all, when you are old, though you lack for years ahead, you have all the hours in the world.
Mrs. del Castillo de Rumié wants to tell any older person she can to take the path she did a year and a half — and 175 or so PowerPoint presentations — ago, after many fulfilling decades baking wedding cakes and teaching informal art history classes to adults from her home in this lush Caribbean city. “You’re going to find so much happiness before you die,” she said.
She traces her late blossoming as a PowerPoint evangelist to bank visits in which the teller would ask for her email address. It was humiliating to confess she didn’t have one.
That bitter feeling is where the encounter with technology so often ends for the well-aged. It might have for Mrs. del Castillo de Rumié, too, had it not been for a friend whom she considered truly old.

25 sources of free public domain books

Piotr Kowalczyk:

An updated list of sites that offer free public domain books in electronic and audio format.
Every year new publications enter public domain. That means their intellectual property rights have expired or are not applicable any longer.
The content of these works becomes available for public use. Anyone is free to use it – but also to reuse it, for instance publish a new edition. Therefore you may find in major ebookstores (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBook Store, or Google Play Books) public domain books that are not free.

Friday Interview: Government Fuels Higher Education ‘Arms Race

Richard Vedder:

People of all political persuasions have identified significant problems plaguing the American system of higher education. President Obama outlined some reform ideas during a back-to-school tour of New York and Pennsylvania colleges. But Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, believes the president’s proposals fall short in some important ways. During a visit to the Triangle, Vedder discussed higher education challenges with Mitch Kokai for Carolina Journal Radio. (Click here to find a station near you or to learn about the weekly CJ Radio podcast.)
Kokai: We have heard quite a bit about this issue of what’s wrong with higher ed, especially [when] the president made a big deal out of this. … First of all, you think that some of his ideas made some sense.
Vedder: Yeah, the president said one or two very sensible things. He said we need more transparency in higher education. That is to say people should have better information about the decisions they make. I don’t see how one could reasonably disagree with that. Indeed the federal government does have some data available that it could make available, such as earnings data on graduates. There’s a decent argument that can be made that that should be provided. So that part of his remarks didn’t bother me at all.

Diminished in wake of Act 10, 2 teachers unions explore merger

Erin Richards:

acing reduced membership, revenue and political power in the wake of 2011 legislation, Wisconsin’s two major state teachers unions appear poised to merge into a new organization called Wisconsin Together.
The merger would combine the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, and AFT-Wisconsin, a smaller union that includes technical college, higher education and state employees, according to new draft documents.
At the same time, a national educators group that promotes itself as an alternative to unions — and has the backing of some conservative-leaning organizations — is picking up new members in Wisconsin.
The developments underscore the changing landscape for Wisconsin teachers unions since the passage of Act 10, which limits collective bargaining and makes it more difficult for unions to collect dues.
After Act 10, WEAC has lost about a third of its approximately 98,000 members and AFT-Wisconsin is down to about 6,500 members from its peak of approximately 16,000, leaders of both organizations have reported.
According to their most recent federal tax filings, WEAC collected about $19.5 million in dues in 2011, and AFT-Wisconsin collected about $2 million. Both have downsized staff and expenses.
The initial governance documents of Wisconsin Together, which include a transition document, constitution and bylaws, have been posted on AFT-Wisconsin’s website for members of both organizations to peruse. A final vote on whether to merge will be taken at a special joint assembly in Green Bay on April 26.

Darien Top 10 of 2013: No. 1 — Special education

David DesRoches, via a kind reader:

Darien’s issues have highlighted a special education flaw that exists across the state and nation. The question over what is appropriate has drawn a deep divide among residents. Parents from several states and Connecticut towns have contacted The Times, saying that Darien’s problems happen everywhere, and in most cases, the problems are worse.
Sue Gamm, the Chicago attorney hired by the Board of Education to investigate how deep the special education problems went, told The Darien Times that her work in town was the most difficult job in her 40-plus year career. Gamm formerly was a top administrator for Chicago Public Schools and a division director for the U.S. Office of Civil Rights. She has performed similar duties in more than 50 school districts across the United States.
John Verre, the man charged with overhauling Darien’s special education program, has also noted the difficult challenge Darien presents.
“Darien is a particularly challenging combination of problems,” Verre told The Times shortly after he was hired in October. “It compares to the most challenging situation I’ve ever found.”
A number of people have resigned from their top-earning positions, including the schools’ superintendent, Steve Falcone, along with Matt Byrnes, a former assistant superintendent, Dick Huot, the finance director, and Antoinette Fornshell, the literacy coordinator. Most recently, one of the people who has been consistently named as having contributed to the illegal special education program, Liz Wesolowski, announced to fellow staff members she was leaving Darien for a position with Shelton Public Schools.
Fornshell and Wesolowski played key roles in the implementation of the district’s SRBI program, which Gamm criticized for its lack of data and poor implementation due to staff being poorly trained. There was also no manual for SRBI, which is an intervention program designed to give children extra help if they fall behind in their class work. It’s intended to prevent children from needing more expensive special education services, but critics say it is more often used to delay providing special ed to children with legally-defined disabilities.

Four ways for low-income schools to thrive, according to a remarkable study

Jay Matthews:

For the past 31 years, since I stumbled across amazing things happening at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, my main topic as an education writer has been schools whose low-income students have been raised to unexpected heights of academic achievement. There are many schools in the Washington area that have done that. What about those that haven’t?
By my count, in about 20 predominantly low-income high schools in the District and Prince George’s County, the passing rates on Advanced Placement exams have been stuck below 10 percent. Yet other high schools full of impoverished kids in those same two school districts have done better on the challenging college-level tests.
Why are some succeeding and others not?
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has released a remarkable study answering these questions from a national perspective. It found six districts among contenders for its annual Broad Prize for Urban Education where black students in AP “were improving passing rates quickly enough to gain on their white peers while increasing or keeping participation levels steady.” They were: Cobb County and Fulton County in Georgia, the Garland Independent district in Texas, Jefferson County in Kentucky, Orange County in Florida and the San Diego Unified district in California. The researchers identified four reasons for their success:
1. Searching for more academic talent: In many cases, this meant enlarging gifted programs for younger students far beyond the designations based on high IQ scores that most districts use. In Fulton County, the settlement of a court-ordered desegregation plan in the early 2000s included a big expansion. The district went from two to 58 elementary schools with gifted-education teachers, and from 300 to almost 2,000 elementary school students getting gifted services.
2. Giving more high school students access to challenging courses: A surprising finding, at least to me, was that the move to smaller high schools in some urban districts reduced the variety of course offerings, including AP. I know of some small charter high schools that have plenty of AP courses, but I can see how smaller schools in big districts might be shortchanged. The researchers said: “San Diego has opened several small schools and is now moving back to large ones in part because of the lack of opportunities for specialized courses.” The districts doing well with AP tend to give PSAT tests to all students to identify the many who are overlooked for AP but whose test scores show they are ready. The researchers said that approach is based on this fact: “A College Board study showed only a 0.28 correlation between AP exam passage and grade point average, while the correlation with PSAT scores was 0.5 to 0.7.”

Madison 4.10.2014: Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy Conference with Pete Wright, Esq.

Wrights Law, via a kind reader:

Wrightslaw Special Education Law and Advocacy Training Conference, a Wrightslaw training program featuring Pete Wright, Esq., is being sponsored and organized by ParSEC Wisconsin, LLC., with Co-sponsors Integrated Development Services (IDS), Walbridge School, The Law Center for Children & Families and Wisconsin Family Ties. This is the first Wrightslaw conference in the state of Wisconsin!

The education crisis spreads to the professions. Watch the universities crack.

Fabius Maximus:

Today we look at the first signs of collapse in the business model of America’s universities. The For More Information section has a wealth of information about the crisis in education (and links to posts about the crisis in journalism).
Structural Change
More education as a solution for America
The universities act like vampires, bleeding their students
The law of supply and demand strikes back
Articles about the collapse of universities
For More Information
More education as a solution for America
Decades of falling real wages has sparked a frantic scramble by youth (and increasing numbers of older people) for undergraduate and advanced degrees. In July 2009 I wrote that this made sense for an individual — but could not work for a nation, and would not end well.

How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World

Max Ehrenfreund:

We’d all like to absolve our children of their bad behavior by blaming it on some pernicious influence or other. As Howard Gardner and Katie Davis document in “The App Generation,” there is plenty to forgive. They examine data showing that children have become less empathetic and more socially isolated, less imaginative and more hesitant to take risks.
Yet the authors make a common mistake. Like many others, they assume that because kids spend so much time with their gadgets, these are crucially important to children’s psychology and can explain all of their behavior. At times our phones (and not just our kids’) may indeed seem to reflect our quirks and our weaknesses, but if they do, the most natural explanation is that our weaknesses have shaped the technology’s development, not the other way around.

In Montgomery County schools, no answers yet for failed math exams

Donna St. George:

Montgomery County schools officials plan to survey students taking high school final exams in math next week about how they think about and prepare for the biggest test of the semester, as school leaders explore the causes of steep failure rates on the countywide tests.
The officials say they still have no clear answers for why a majority of 30,000 high school students in the high-performing district failed their finals in key math courses last year. The low grades came to public attention as data about the tests circulated in the spring, underscoring a problem that had gone on for years.
A work group studying the issue will make recommendations by March, said Erick J. Lang, associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional programs. A report was expected in November, but the issue has not been easy to unravel, he said.
Some parents and educators have suggested that the problem might be that students have been advanced too quickly in math courses or that they lack academic support. Many blame grading policies that leave students assuming that the test will not affect their course grades.

Online Teaching, Testing Spurs Calls for Faster School Connections, Revamp of Program

Stephanie Banchero:

As public schools nationwide embrace instruction via iPads, laptops and other technologies, many are realizing they lack the necessary broadband speed to perform even simple functions. This is crimping classroom instruction as more teachers pull lesson plans off the Internet and use bandwidth-hungry programming such as video streaming and Skype.
An estimated 72% of public schools have connections that are too slow to take full advantage of digital learning, according to EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit that tests school broadband speeds and works to upgrade Internet access. The average school has about the same speed as the average American home, while serving 200 times as many users, according to the Obama administration. Expanding high-speed Internet in schools involves upgrading wiring, expanding Wi-Fi capabilities or simply spending more money to purchase faster service.
Adding to the worries: 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the new Common Core math and reading standards and most will take the new online assessments in the 2014-15 school year. The test results will be used to evaluate teachers, make student promotion and graduation decisions and rate schools.
“Just as people are getting excited about the power of what the Internet offers to students and teachers, they are running into the buzz saw of infrastructure,” said Evan Marwell, CEO of EducationSuperHighway.

Common Core Doesn’t Add Up to STEM Success

Sandra Stotsky:

As a former member of the Common Core Validation Committee and the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I am one of the few mothers to have heard the full sales pitch for this latest educational reform, which has been adopted by 45 states.
I know the Common Core buzz words, from “deeper learning” and “critical thinking” to “fewer, clearer, and higher standards.” It all sounds impressive, but I’m worried that the students who study under these standards won’t receive anywhere near the quality of education that children in the U.S. did even a few years ago.
President Obama correctly noted in September 2012 that “leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today–especially in science, technology, engineering and math.” He has placed a priority on increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital STEM fields. And the president’s National Math and Science Initiative is strongly supported by people like Suzanne McCarron, president of the Exxon Mobil XOM -0.24% Foundation, who has said she wants to “inspire our nation’s youth to pursue STEM careers by capturing their interest at an early age.”
Yet the basic mission of Common Core, as Jason Zimba, its leading mathematics standards writer, explained at a videotaped board meeting in March 2010, is to provide students with enough mathematics to make them ready for a nonselective college–“not for STEM,” as he put it. During that meeting, he didn’t tell us why Common Core aimed so low in mathematics. But in a September 2013 article published in the Hechinger Report, an education news website affiliated with Columbia University’s Teachers College, Mr. Zimba admitted: “If you want to take calculus your freshman year in college, you will need to take more mathematics than is in the Common Core.”

Tale of two Kentucky schools: Barbourville gets $8,362 per student; Anchorage gets $19,927

John Cheves:

Public schools in this Appalachian town pocked with shuttered factories and vacant storefronts got an average of $8,362 to spend on each student’s education in 2013, the least they had gotten in five years.
Several hours away, at the public K-8 school in the wealthy Jefferson County suburb of Anchorage, revenue rose slightly to $19,927 per student, more than twice as much as Barbourville’s.
Everything looks better in Anchorage: teachers’ salaries and experience levels, class sizes, textbooks, computer access, test scores and the future in general. After eighth grade, Anchorage students can go to a number of fine private academies. Or, if their parents desire, they can bypass Louisville’s sometimes troubled urban classrooms for public high school in affluent Oldham County, 10 miles down the road.
“The model we have here is really working,” said Anchorage school superintendent Kelley Ransdell.
In Barbourville, the locals are proud of their independent “city school,” as they call it, a small campus enrolling about 700 mostly poor children from preschool to 12th grade. But they don’t fool themselves about where it ranks.
There’s no money for pay raises and little for arts programs unless parents raise it themselves. There are a handful of desktop computers, outdated in the iPad era. There’s no state aid for textbooks, so the books on hand are few, old and worn. When new books became essential last year to teach modern “division math” at the elementary school, officials lifted $19,276 from the building repair fund.

Locally, Madison plans to spend about $15k/student during the 2013-2014 school year.

Teaching to the Big Questions – Changing the Framework of Higher Education

Jason Boyers:

So much about education, from the classroom to the textbook has changed, largely due to educators setting a clear vision for the future. What initially began as a lecture-based style of teaching in the days of Greek philosophers has moved past teaching solely from the question and answer format. Engagement and creativity have found their way into the classroom, pushing students to think critically rather than just absorb knowledge. And in a world of iPads and Google Glass, educators too have had to find new ways to teach and adapt over the years, but the box can be pushed further if we allow it. We know the goal of all educators is to enhance the learning process, but can that goal be furthered by looking at new ways to approach classroom learning? The tried-and-true principles that have created the fundamentals of what a classroom education means are vital, but can also drive us into new ways to examine the educational process, rethink the concept of learning and forge new pathways for higher education success.
So how do we get to that next step of educational innovation? We as educators must build upon the current framework that drives our teaching and create a new space for innovation to take place. Consider today’s higher education framework, which revolves around the goal of engaging students in critical thinking, inquiry and thoughtful discussion. The method itself opens the door to creativity, illuminates ideas and stimulates conversation that may have never been considered. But are we satisfied with stopping there, or are we ready to take the next step in engaging students in the classroom, from where they live, where they work and in perspective to how they learn?

2013 Madison Summer School Report

Scott Zimmerman:

The district provided a comprehensive extended learning summer school program, K-Ready through 12th grade, at ten sites and served 5,097 students. At each of the K-8 sites, there was direction by a principal, professional Leopold, Chavez, Black Hawk and Toki, and oral language development was offered at Blackhawk and Toki. The 4th grade promotion classes were held at each elementary school, and 8th grade promotion classes were held at the two middle school sites.
Students in grades K-2 who received a 1 or 2 on their report card in literacy, and students in grades 3-5 who received a 1 or 2 in math or literacy, were invited to attend SLA. The 6-7 grade students who received a GPA of 2.0 or lower, or a 1 or 2 on WKCE, were invited to attend SLA. As in 2012, students with report cards indicating behavioral concerns were invited to attend summer school. Additionally, the summer school criterion for grades 5K-7th included consideration for students receiving a 3 or 4 asterisk grade on their report card (an asterisk grade indicates the student receives modified curriculum). In total, the academic program served 2,910 students, ranging from those entering five-year-old kindergarten through 8th grade.
High school courses were offered for credit recovery, first-time credit, and electives including English/language arts, math, science, social studies, health, physical education, keyboarding, computer literacy, art, study skills, algebra prep, ACT/SAT prep, and work experience. The high school program served a total of 1,536 students, with 74 students having completed their graduation requirements at the end of the summer.
All academic summer school teachers received approximately 20 hours of professional development prior to the start of the six-week program. Kindergarten-Ready teachers as well as primary literacy and math teachers also had access to job embedded professional development. In 2013, there were 476 certified staff employed in SLA.

Jennifer Cheatham:

Key Enhancements for Summer School 2014
A) Provide teachers with a pay increase without increasing overall cost of summer school.
Teacher salary increase of 3% ($53,887).
B) Smaller Learning Environments: Create smaller learning environments, with fewer students per summer school site compared to previous years, to achieve the following: increase student access to high quality learning, increase the number of students who can walk to school, and reduce number of people in the building when temperatures are high. ($50,482)
C) Innovations: Pilot at Wright Middle School and Lindbergh Elementary School where students receive instruction in a familiar environment, from a familiar teacher. These school sites were selected based on identification as intense focus schools along with having high poverty rates when compared to the rest of the district. Pilot character building curriculum at Sandburg Elementary School. ($37,529)
D) Student Engagement: Increase student engagement with high quality curriculum and instruction along with incentives such as Friday pep rallies and afternoon MSCR fieldtrips. ($25,000)
E) High School Professional Development: First-time-offered, to increase quality of instruction and student engagement in learning. ($12,083)
F) Student Selection: Utilize an enhanced student selection process that better aligns with school’s multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) so that student services intervention teams (SSIT) have time to problem solve, and recommend students for SLA. Recommendations are based on student grades and standardized assessment scores, such as a MAP score below the 25th percentile at grades 3-5, or a score of minimal on the WKCE in language arts, math, science, and social studies at grades 3-5. (no cost)
Estimated total cost: $185,709.00
Summer School Program Reductions
The following changes would allow enhancements to summer school and implementation of innovative pilots:
A) Professional development (PD): reduce PD days for teachers grades K-8 by one day. This change will save money and provide teachers with an extra day off of work before the start of summer school (save $49,344.60).
B) Materials reduction: the purchase of Mondo materials in 2013 allows for the reduction of general literacy curricular materials in 2014 (save $5,000).
C) Madison Virtual Campus (MVC): MVC is not a reimbursable summer school program as students are not in classroom seats. This program could be offered separate from summer school in the future (save $18,000).
D) Librarians: reduce 3 positions, assigning librarians to support two sites. Students will continue to have access to the expertise of the librarian and can utilize library resources including electronic equipment (save $12,903.84).
E) Reading Interventionists: reduce 8 positions, as summer school is a student intervention, it allows students additional learning time in literacy and math. With new Mondo materials and student data profiles, students can be grouped for the most effective instruction when appropriate (save $48,492).
F) PBS Coach: reduce 8 positions, combining the coach and interventionist positions to create one position (coach/interventionist) that supports teachers in setting up classes and school wide systems, along with providing individual student interventions. With smaller learning sites, there would be less need for two separate positions (save $24,408).
G) Literacy and Math Coach Positions: reduce from 16 to 5 positions, combining the role and purpose of the literacy and math coach. Each position supports two schools for both math and literacy. Teachers can meet weekly with literacy/math coach to plan and collaborate around curriculum and student needs (save $27,601.60).
Estimated Total Savings: $185,750.04
Strategic Framework:
The role of the Summer Learning Academy (SLA) is critical to preparing students for college career and community readiness. Research tells us that over 50% of the achievement gap between lower and higher income students is directly related to unequal learning opportunities over the summer (Alexander et al., 2007). Research based practices and interventions are utilized in SLA to increase opportunities for learning and to raise student achievement across the District (Odden & Archibald, 2008). The SLA is a valuable time for students to receive additional support in learning core concepts in literacy and math to move them toward MMSD benchmarks (Augustine et.al., 2013). SLA aligns with the following Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Strategic Framework goals:
A) Every student is on-track to graduate as measured by student growth and achievement at key milestones. Milestones of reading by grade 3, proficiency in reading and math in grade 5, high school readiness in grade 8, college readiness in grade 11, and high school graduation and completion rate.
B) Every student has access to challenging and well-rounded education as measured by programmatic access and participation data. Access to fine arts and world languages, extra-curricular and co-curricular activities, and advanced coursework.

UFT calls for new revenue

Jimmy Vielkind:

The United Federation of Teachers will make a push to raise taxes in New York City to fund universal pre-K “one of the main pieces in our legislative package this year,” the union’s president, Michael Mulgrew, told Capital. Republicans in the State Senate and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo have so far declined to embrace the idea, citing an openness to the program but a reluctance to raise taxes. “There might be different ideas about this, but right now, this is the idea we are supporting,” said Mulgrew, adding that “an additional revenue source” is needed. “It should not come out of any revenue source that we currently have. The state budget is tight enough as it is; we are still not past the economic damage of this recession.”

Central Valley California School District Develops Education Success Formula; Graduates 94% of Hispanic Students; Spends 50% less than Madison per student

Gosia Wozniacka:

When Yadir Sanchez arrived in this San Joaquin Valley agricultural town at age 5, she joined a well-traveled path to academic failure that children of other Mexican farmworkers had been on for years.
Students like Sanchez – poor, Hispanic and barely bilingual – routinely fell through the cracks in the Sanger Unified School District, which had one of the worst records in the state. Lacking basic math and English skills, students were pushed into trades or allowed to drop out.
Sanchez appeared to be no different, speaking only Spanish in kindergarten and struggling with English until fifth grade.
But something remarkable happened that lifted the fortunes of Sanchez and so many like her. The district reinvented itself, making huge strides by shaking up the way teachers worked with students, parents and each other.
In 2012, the district graduated 94 percent of its Hispanic students, 20 percentage points higher than the state average and similar districts. Its Hispanic dropout rate was just 3 percent, compared to 18 percent statewide.
Sanger’s success is still the exception across California. While Latinos are poised to become the state’s largest ethnic group in 2014, they continue to score lower on standardized tests, graduate at lower rates and drop out more often than other students.
Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that will funnel more money to help poorer schools, but Sanger’s success serves as a model for how a district made vast gains despite budget cuts.

Mark Arax

Take Sanger Unified, for one. Six years ago, the achievement gap between whites in Sanger and whites in Fresno stood at 57 points on the API test. Today, the gap has widened to 78 points. Whites in Sanger score 892 points on the API compared to 814 points for whites in Fresno. The gap between Latinos, by far the majority population in both districts, is even wider. Latinos in Sanger score 811 on the API compared to 708 for Latinos in Fresno. The most stunning gap — a gulf really — can be seen in the black community. Blacks in Sanger score 821 while blacks in Fresno score 665. That’s a 156-point difference in two districts whose headquarters sit a few miles apart.

Sanger will spend $80,795,175 for 11,000 students during the 2013-2014 school year (PDF Budget document), or $7,345 per student. That is about half the amount Madison spends per student (!) and similar to the national average.
Sanger’s “Academic Performance Index“. Demographic comparison: Sanger | Madison.
Sanger high school offers 14 AP courses.
Madison’s substantial per student spending continues, despite long term disastrous reading results.

The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity When Shakespeare lost out to ‘rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class’ at UCLA, something vital was harmed.

Heather Mac Donald:

In 2011, the University of California at Los Angeles wrecked its English major. Such a development may seem insignificant, compared with, say, the federal takeover of health care. It is not. What happened at UCLA is part of a momentous shift that bears on our relationship to the past–and to civilization itself.
Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton–the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the “Empire,” UCLA junked these individual author requirements. It replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.
In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare, but the department was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to “alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class.”

Cheating 101 at Middleton High School

Sari Judge:

Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school. In the letter, they explain the scope of the incidents, including the taking, sharing and selling of cell phone photos of exam questions.
The administrators close their letter by saying, “We feel fortunate to have a wonderful student body (at Middleton High) whose academic record on multiple assessments is top-notch. We are hopeful that through our collaborative efforts we can determine the root cause of talented students choosing to participate in dishonest academic practices. In January, we will host a series of focus groups including staff, students and parents to problem-solve short- and long-term solutions.”
Ms. Herrmann and Ms. Jondle, I think I can save you lots of time on focus groups. I’m the parent of a high school student, albeit in Madison, and I have a pretty good inkling on the “root cause” of why “talented students” would choose to cheat.
It’s because these students are reminded every day that every test matters. These kids all have access to on-line forums like College Confidentialthat tell them, in no uncertain terms, that if they want to get into a top-ranked college or university, they better take the most rigorous high school curriculum available to them, which means calculus, perhaps even AP calc. But to get to calculus at all in high school, a year of math has to be skipped somewhere. The standard high school sequence has pre-calc as the 12th grade norm — so the jockeying for top dog status starts in elementary school.

Degrees of Value: Making College Pay Off; For Too Many Americans, College Today Isn’t Worth It

Glenn Reynolds:

In the field of higher education, reality is outrunning parody. A recent feature on the satire website the Onion proclaimed, “30-Year-Old Has Earned $11 More Than He Would Have Without College Education.” Allowing for tuition, interest on student loans, and four years of foregone income while in school, the fictional student “Patrick Moorhouse” wasn’t much better off. His years of stress and study, the article japed, “have been more or less a financial wash.”
“Patrick” shouldn’t feel too bad. Many college graduates would be happy to be $11 ahead instead of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, behind. The credit-driven higher education bubble of the past several decades has left legions of students deep in debt without improving their job prospects. To make college a good value again, today’s parents and students need to be skeptical, frugal and demanding. There is no single solution to what ails higher education in the U.S., but changes are beginning to emerge, from outsourcing to online education, and they could transform the system.
Though the GI Bill converted college from a privilege of the rich to a middle-class expectation, the higher education bubble really began in the 1970s, as colleges that had expanded to serve the baby boom saw the tide of students threatening to ebb. Congress came to the rescue with federally funded student aid, like Pell Grants and, in vastly greater dollar amounts, student loans.

Related: UW Law School 2013 Graduation Speech by Judge Barbara Crabb.

Of (Former Teacher) Ronn Johnson, shattered trust and lessons learned

Alan Borsuk:

What really matters when it comes to the quality of education? It’s not whether a school is public, private or charter, said a speaker at a panel discussion I moderated.
“It’s about what happens with that personal relationship between that young person and that teacher when the door closes.”
The speaker said he had seen success at schools where he taught early in his career because of great leadership, and he aimed to be that kind of leader when he became a principal.
The best part of his job, he said, “was introducing myself and saying I was the proudest principal in America.”
His school didn’t have as much money as some schools, and it served students with a lot of needs. But, he said, “we did more with less because you had people who cared, and we were going to make it happen one way or the other.”
Oh, Ronn Johnson. What you said at that session 10 months ago was all true. As principal of Young Leaders Academy, an independent charter school in the YMCA branch at W. North and N. Teutonia avenues, you had accomplishments that deserved praise.
The school had a distinctive program, a lot of energy, solid structure and a record of decent, although not great, student achievement since it opened in 2002.

“Graph of the Year”


Knowledge may be priceless, but a higher education is clearly not. University administrators keep hiking tuition, the wages of graduates keep falling, and a whole generation of Americans is struggling under the crushing burden of debt as they postpone their dreams for a tomorrow that may never come.

‘Skin in the Game’ on Loans

Michael Stratford:

A group of Senate Democrats announced Thursday a new push to provide student loan borrowers with more protections and hold colleges more accountable for loan defaults.
In a call with reporters, Senators Richard Durbin of Illlinois, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts highlighted a package of new and existing proposals aimed at reducing the burden of student debt. Durbin acknowledged that the senators had had “limited success” in getting Republican support for the measures, but said they will be a centerpiece of the Democratic agenda in the Senate in 2014.
One of the more controversial new proposals, to be introduced by Reed, would require colleges with high student loan default rates to pay a penalty to the government that is proportional to the defaulted debt.

Raising Children With an Attitude of Gratitude

Diana Kapp:

At the Branstens’ modern white dining table, the family holds hands for their nightly ritual.
Arielle, 8 years old, says she’s thankful for her late grandfather, Horace, and how funny he was. “I’m missing him,” she says. Her third-grade pal, over for dinner, chimes in, “I’m grateful for the sausages.” Leela, who works for an education nonprofit, and her attorney husband Peter, burst into smiles. The San Francisco couple couldn’t have scripted this better. Appreciation for things big and small–that’s why they do this.
Giving thanks is no longer just holiday fare. A field of research on gratitude in kids is emerging, and early findings indicate parents’ instincts to elevate the topic are spot-on. Concrete benefits come to kids who literally count their blessings.
Gratitude works like a muscle. Take time to recognize good fortune, and feelings of appreciation can increase. Even more, those who are less grateful gain the most from a concerted effort. “Gratitude treatments are most effective in those least grateful,” says Eastern Washington University psychology professor Philip Watkins.
Among a group of 122 elementary school kids taught a weeklong curriculum on concepts around giving, gratitude grew, according to a study due to be published in 2014 in School Psychology Review. The heightened thankfulness translated into action: 44% of the kids in the curriculum opted to write thank-you notes when given the choice following a PTA presentation. In the control group, 25% wrote notes.

Academic research The useful science?

The Economist:

DO ACADEMIC economists focus too much on America? Yes: a sample of 76,000 papers published between 1985 and 2005 shows that econo-nerds are infatuated with the “land of the free”.
There were more papers focused on the United States than on Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa combined (see chart). And for the world’s top-five economics journals–where publication of a paper can push a young researcher towards a full professorship–the imbalance is yet more marked. Even accounting for the fact that lots of economic research (and often the best) comes from American universities, the bias persists.
The world’s poorest countries are effectively ignored by the profession. From 1985 to 2005 Burundi was the subject of just four papers. The American Economic Review, the holy grail for many academics, published one paper on India, by some measures the world’s third-largest economy, every two years.

The US should encourage Arabic language students, not criminalise them

Anna Lekas Miller:

In August of 2009, Nicholas George boarded a flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. He was on his way back to university at Pomona College.
While he was going through airport security, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent discovered Arabic language flashcards in his carry-on luggage.
He was pulled aside, detained and interrogated for five hours – two of which were allegedly spent in handcuffs.
“Do you know who did 9/11?” one of the TSA agents allegedly asked.
“Osama bin Laden,” George responded.
“Do you know what language he spoke?”
“Do you see why these cards are suspicious?”
Nicholas George was released when it became clear that neither he nor his flashcards posed a threat to US national security. George went on to try to sue the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for violating his first and fifth amendment rights. Last week -more than four years after the incident – the case was dismissed.
In other words, it is legal and legitimate to detain and interrogate a traveller on the grounds of suspicion from Arabic language flashcards alone.
As an Arab-American who came of age post-9/11, I am frustratingly resigned to the well-documented fact that airports are often hostile places for Arab and Muslim-Americans. Watching my white father effortlessly glide through airport security while my brown mother is frequently “randomly selected” to be stopped, searched and asked to show the contents of her bag is evidence of this in and of itself. However, detaining a traveller for Arabic language flashcards brings this flagrant racism and criminalization of all things Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim (as the three are often conflated) to a whole new level.

2013 in Education

Peter Wood:

A week ago I published my list of top ten stories–highs and lows–in higher education in 2013. I was generously rewarded when Powerline picked it as #2 in its list of top ten top lists. But there are still some minutes left in the season of top ten lists, which ought to extend to January 6, the traditional date of Epiphany. Then we have the (lower case) epiphany that it is time to get on with things.
My new list is mainly about people who did something original, creative, noteworthy, or surprising in 2013 whose accomplishments deserve a little more attention. I set out to list only positive accomplishments, but unfortunately a few infamies sneaked in. What follows are the top ten best surprises: the gifts you didn’t know you wanted until you unwrapped the package. First up:
1. Thug Notes. This YouTube site debuted in June, with Sparky Sweets, Ph.D. explicating Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Since then, Dr. Sweets has offered his taut plot summaries and explications de texte for Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Sun Also Rises, The Inferno, Heart of Darkness, Moby Dick, and many more canonical works of literature. The intro to each piece is a pastiche of Masterpiece Theater, the camera scanning across a shelf of beautifully bound volumes accompanied by Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 3, then cutting to a book-lined study in which Dr. Sweets sits in a comfortable chair, in gold-chained muscle shirt and do-rag, announcing this week’s selection. “What’s happening, yo? This week on Thug Notes we get regal with Hamlet by William Shakespeare.”
This could have been a one-off parody, hitting the two birds of pretentious British TV and mass-marketed cheat sheets with one gangsta, but Dr. Sweets has developed the idea further. His wordplay (Hamlet serves up “Elizabethan hater-ade”) is smart and his rapid-fire analyses delivered in character as a street-smart thug really are smart.
The series has conferred minor celebrity on Dr. Sweets. He takes what he does seriously, telling one interviewer that he created Thug Notes because “literature is enshrouded by a veil of unnecessarily pedantic terminology and intellectual one-upmanship,” and that his calling is to bring it to “people on the opposite side of the social stratum.” Dr. Sweets holds that “the gift of literature is universal.”
2. Leaked! Harvard’s Grading Rubric. A+++ to Nathaniel Stein, who published this satire of Harvard’s grade inflation in The New York Times. Presented as a memorandum from the Dean of Harvard College, Leaked! purports to explain the criteria that qualify a term paper for an A+, including the stipulation that the “The paper contains few, if any, death threats.” Grades of A++ or A+++ are designated “A+ with garlands.”
3. Farewell. College presidents come and go and typically there is there is no reason to celebrate one’s leaving. The next is likely to be as bad or worse. But occasionally one comes and stays. And stays. And stays. In June Gordon Gee announced his retirement as president of Ohio State University. Gee became president of West Virginia University in 1981 at age 37, and then served in succession as president of the University of Colorado, Ohio State University, Brown University, Vanderbilt University, and then back to Ohio State again. He distinguished himself mainly by his soaring remuneration, becoming by 2003 the highest paid university president in the U.S. (and no doubt the world) with compensation of over $1.3 million.
It would difficult to understate Gee’s other accomplishments, though he did manage an uncommonly graceless departure by sneering at Roman Catholics and the University of Notre Dame (“those Damn Catholics”) and mocking other colleges. The remarks didn’t sit well with the Ohio State board of trustees. But let’s let Dr. Gee settle into his well-upholstered retirement. Few men have profited more from higher education than he.

College Students’ Thesis Topics Are Hilarious, Depressing

Will Oremus:

Even the most ardent academic must concede that there’s something darkly funny about devoting years of one’s life to a thesis question so abstruse that no one else had ever cared enough to ask it–and then answering it at such great length that few will ever care to read it.
Enter lolmythesis.com, a Tumblr started by a Harvard senior procrastinating on her own undergraduate thesis. The blog encourages fellow undergrad and graduate students to distill all their hard-won knowledge into a single sentence–a sort of self-mocking tl;dr of their years-long labor of love/hate. The concept is reminiscent of #overlyhonestmethods, the brilliant hashtag game that swept science-Twitter earlier this year. If lolmythesis is a little less piercingly witty than its forebear, it’s also more accessible to non-academics. And it’s been flooded with submissions: Three weeks after it launched, the blog stands at 54 pages’ worth of academic one-liners.

2014: The year of universal proficiency

Michael J. Petrilli:

– No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, section 1111(2)(F)
Those of us who fail to heed the lessons of history are destined to repeat it. So let us take this moment, as we enter the New Year, to remember the hubris that caused reformers, policy elites, members of Congress, and the George W. Bush Administration to set the goal of attaining “universal proficiency” in reading and math by 2014.
The next time someone says that we must ensure that all students are college and career ready…remember “universal proficiency by 2014.”
The next time someone says that we must place a highly effective teacher in every classroom…remember “universal proficiency by 2014.”
The next time someone says that we must eradicate childhood poverty…remember “universal proficiency by 2014.”

At-risk youth offered DJ and music production skills

Avishay Artsy:

Terrence lives at The Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services center in Highland Park. He’s trying to scratch a record for the first time.
Josh Winkler, an Atlanta DJ better known as Klever, says Terrence was impressive for his first attempt at DJing.
“He’s doing good. I think the most important thing right now is being on beat, the rhythm part,” he said. “And confidence really, man. Because at first all the guys were kind of looking, and scared. But now, look at ’em, they’re all wanting to do it, so overcoming all that stuff means more to me than trying to learn a scratch.”
Klever was one of about a dozen prominent DJs and music producers stationed at five tables set up around the gym, offering lessons in scratching, beat making, and other basic tricks of the trade.

Online Education Commentary & Expectations

Laura Oda:

One year ago, many were pointing to the growth of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, as the most important trend in higher education. Many saw the rapid expansion of MOOCs as a higher education revolution that would help address two long-vexing problems: access for underserved students and cost.
In theory, students saddled by rising debt and unable to tap into the best schools would be able to take free classes from rock star professors at elite schools via Udacity, edX, Coursera and other MOOC platforms.
But if 2012 was the “Year of the MOOC,” as The New York Times famously called it, 2013 might be dubbed the year that online education fell back to earth. Faculty at several institutions rebelled against the rapid expansion of online learning — and the nation’s largest MOOC providers are responding.
Earlier this year, San Jose State University partnered with Udacity to offer several types of for-credit MOOC classes at low cost. The partnership was announced in January with lots of enthusiastic publicity, including a plug from California Gov. Jerry Brown, who said MOOC experiments are central to democratizing education.

Substantive change takes more than a year, but will likely happen faster than Oda expects.