Maybe paying for good grades is not so bad

Jay Matthews:

I have been compiling data on college-level courses and exams at every public high school in the Washington area since 1998. It’s fun, like collecting baseball cards. Sometimes schools make progress. Sometimes they slip. Sometimes I find weird and exciting statistical jumps.

This year, the numbers from Stafford County triggered my curiosity. Three of its schools had big increases in Advanced Placement tests given last May. Those are difficult three-hour exams at the end of tough courses. Many students who would do well in them don’t take them, even though they help prepare for college. But at Colonial Forge High School, the number of AP tests jumped 25 percent. Tests at North Stafford High were up 56 percent. At Stafford High, the increase was 105 percent, from 543 to 1,113 tests. The passing rates declined slightly from the previous year, but the number of tests with passing scores was much higher.

Where We Stand: Praise Doesn’t Pay the Bills – Concord Review to Fold

Al Shanker via Will Fitzhugh:

Usually when I write this column, I’m trying to convince thousands of people about something. This time, I’m trying to reach one or two people. I don’t even know who they are, but they’ll have to be people receptive to spending some money on a good cause. Here’s the story.

Over the past several years, I’ve looked forward to seeing a quarterly history journal called The Concord Review come across my desk. The articles are a pleasure to read; they’re fresh, lively, well-researched and sometimes elegant. Their range is impressive. Among the essays I’ve found most interesting were ones on the Pullman Strike of 1894; on Lillie A. James, an African-American woman who pioneered education for African-Americans in Pensacola; and George W.G. Ferris, the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, which he meant to be the American answer to the Eiffel Tower. If you just picked it up and started reading, you’d never know the most extraordinary thing about The Concord Review—that all the essays are the work of high school students.

Editor Will Fitzhugh quit teaching and founded the journal five [27] years ago. He was impressed by the essays some of his own students produced, and he became convinced that there must be lots of other terrific history essays out there. Why not recognize, and encourage excellence by publishing some of them? The results have been wonderful. The essays come from both public and private school students, and they exemplify the level kids can achieve when they are interested in what they are doing and encouraged to pursue it.

The Review has won plenty of friends and admirers among people who are concerned about raising the standards of achievement in American education: Diane Ravitch, noted historian and assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education; Chester Finn, a former assistant secretary of education; Harold Howe, a former U.S. Commissioner of Education; James Freedman, president of Dartmouth College; and Theodore Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, have all written in its support. I wrote an earlier column myself.

People in the front lines have been enthusiastic, too. Teachers from all over the world have sent student essays and money for subscriptions. And a commercial publisher has chosen four essays that appeared in the Review for a series on writing dedicated to secondary school students. One of Fitzhugh’s favorite testimonials is from an official of a foundation that didn’t offer the Review an financial support. Apparently, the man picked up a copy to glance at one essay and ended up reading the entire 150-page issue [now typically 270 pages].

But praise doesn’t pay the bills. The Review now [1992] has subscribers in 44 states and 15 foreign countries but nowhere near the number needed to make it self-supporting. This is no surprise. Fitzhugh, who has financed the journal largely with his own money, has never had the funds to promote it properly. And, as he points out, even Sports Illustrated, a magazine with mass-market appeal, and a yearly swim suit issue, took 10 years to break even. Unfortunately, he’s now at the point where he will have to close down operations in March—unless he can find the corporate or foundation support that has so far eluded him.

What’s the problem? Fitzhugh says some people have suggested that excellence of the kind that he is trying to encourage is elitist. In other words, the standards The Concord Review sets is too high for most kids. I don’t think that’s true. Jaime Escalante has shown us that expecting more of kids means you get more. This is as much the case with history as it is with math. If we encouraged students to raise their sights, many of them could measure up to the standards set by the Review; many more would enjoy reading essays written by other students and discussing them in class. And working with the journal would inspire everyone to do better—just the way watching a good runner inspires kids to go out and do as well as they can. Even if they have no hope of beating his record, they can try to break their own.

Or maybe the problem is that The Concord Review is ahead of its time. It’s a new idea so it doesn’t fit into the categories and priorities that foundations have identified. Fitzhugh says that when a foundation turns him down, that’s often what they tell him.

Something like this happened when he applied to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This federally funded agency is interested in history and it’s interested in raising standards. It also funds summer seminars for teachers. But NEH can’t consider Fitzhugh for a grant because he isn’t a teacher; they don’t fund student projects; and they don’t fund publications. In other words, The Concord Review falls through the cracks. And that, more or less, is the story with every foundation or agency that Fitzhugh has applied to.

Will Fitzhugh needs $150,000 a year [$250,000 needed 22 years later] and some time to build on the solid base he has already laid. There must be one or two people or a business or a foundation out there that can bend its guidelines so that this extraordinary publication won’t disappear.

© 1992 by Albert Shanker

Should We Rank Colleges Based on Their Graduates’ Earnings?

Jordan Weissmann:

recently reported on PayScale’s newest batch of college rankings, which compare how much a school’s graduates earn to how much they pay for tuition. In other words, it calculates each institution’s financial return on investment, which seems a far saner way to look at the value of a degree than anything that U.S. News, for instance, has cooked up. (In case you were wondering, PayScale ranked Harvey Mudd College at No. 1, with a $1.094 million 20-year net ROI on $116,800 tuition; MIT, Caltech, and Stanford came in at Nos. 2, 3, and 4, respectively.)

But not everybody feels so warmly about the idea of judging schools according to their ROI—particularly academics, who expressed qualms last year when President Obama proposed his own ratings system for colleges that would take into account how much graduates make. With the PayScale list out, Cedar Riener, a professor of psychology at Randolph-Macon College, took me—and PayScale—to task with a blog post titled “The Absurdity of Ranking Colleges by Graduate Salaries.” Riener was particularly irked by my decision to focus on colleges at the very bottom of PayScale’s list that offered alumni a negative return—meaning students spent more on their education than they made back in extra earnings.

Kindergarten drug scandal leads to calls for overhaul of regulations

Wu Nan:

Allegations that kindergartens gave prescription drugs to pupils without parents’ consent have led to calls for the laws governing them to be tightened.

It is alleged the drugs were administered to ensure high attendance rates and fees.

Lan Liqiang, a medical legal consultant advising some parents whose children were given the medicines, said the rules covering the operation of nursery schools were vague, out of date and in need of an overhaul.

“How could kindergartens as children’s guardians trade their health for money? The government should establish strict rules to prevent such incidents from happening again,” Lan said.

Parents are threatening legal action and some fear more kindergartens around the country may have fed pupils the anti-flu drug moroxydine hydrochloride without permission.

Some 10 nursery schools in Xian , Shaanxi , Jilin city in Jilin province, and Yichang in Hubei are so far thought to have given children the medicine.

Another kindergarten in Gansu province is said to have given pupils another antiviral treatment to ward off hand, foot and mouth disease.

The Ministry of Education and the National Health and Family Planning Commission have ordered nationwide inspections at all kindergartens and primary and middle schools to check the scale of the problem.

Elementary Financial Literacy: Lesson Ideas and Resources

Brian Page:

My daughter is in elementary school. She hates math, but she loves to count her own money! I have used her allowance to help bring basic mathematics alive, including some of the lessons created by the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability exhibited on the website Money As You Grow. These are 20 essential, age-appropriate financial lessons — with corresponding activities — written explicitly for parents. At a time when parents are most involved with their children’s lives, this is an ideal resource to engage them about teaching money management skills at home.

Schools are beginning to partner with organizations and provide matched savings programs, which enlist donors to make contributions to low-income children’s college accounts. My dream would be to see these opportunities available for every student. I doubt that matched savings programs in our elementary schools are scalable in the immediate future, but they may be in the years that lie ahead. Research has found that such opportunities lead to improvements in knowledge and attitudes toward money.

However, schools don’t need a matched savings program partner to integrate financial literacy skills. As you will read below, there are a number of ways that financial literacy can be integrated into English and mathematics.

Celebrate? Sorry, We’re Studying

Karen Crouse:

On the eve of their West Regional final Saturday against Arizona, the Wisconsin players were ensconced in a hotel down the street from Disneyland, in a meeting room with two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows.

In the fishbowl that is the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament, temptation was giving the Badgers a full-court press. Outside, Wisconsin fans basking in the bright sunshine strolled past in shorts, red T-shirts and halter tops. A few held beer cans, including a woman who rapped on a window until the players looked up.

The basketball portion of their day was done, but the Badgers had more business to tend to. They put their heads down and resumed studying, ignoring the foot traffic outside, the chocolate chip cookies left over from the lunch buffet and the officials’ whistles coming from the television, tuned to a regional game featuring their Big Ten rival Michigan, filtering in from the lobby bar on the other side of the double doors.

Big data: are we making a big mistake?

Time Harford:

Big data is a vague term for a massive phenomenon that has rapidly become an obsession with entrepreneurs, scientists, governments and the media.

Five years ago, a team of researchers from Google announced a remarkable achievement in one of the world’s top scientific journals, Nature. Without needing the results of a single medical check-up, they were nevertheless able to track the spread of influenza across the US. What’s more, they could do it more quickly than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Google’s tracking had only a day’s delay, compared with the week or more it took for the CDC to assemble a picture based on reports from doctors’ surgeries. Google was faster because it was tracking the outbreak by finding a correlation between what people searched for online and whether they had flu symptoms.

Not only was “Google Flu Trends” quick, accurate and cheap, it was theory-free. Google’s engineers didn’t bother to develop a hypothesis about what search terms – “flu symptoms” or “pharmacies near me” – might be correlated with the spread of the disease itself. The Google team just took their top 50 million search terms and let the algorithms do the work.

Nominations Finalized for MTI Officers & Bargaining Committe

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

At the March 18 meeting of the MTI Faculty Representative Council, nominations were finalized for MTI Officers, as well as for the MTI Bargaining Committee relative to vacancies caused by terms ending in May, 2014. Nominated for President-Elect was current President Peg Coyne (Black Hawk). She will again serve as MTI President for the 2015-16 school year. Peg previously served as President during the 2011-12 school year. She is also a member of the Bargaining Committee. In addition, others nominated were Art Camosy (incumbent -Memorial) for Vice-President; Liz Donnelly Wingert (incumbent -Elvehjem) for Secretary; and Greg Vallee (incumbent – Thoreau) for Treasurer. Mike Lipp (West), who was elected last spring, will serve as President for the 2014-15 school year.

Nominated for the MTI Bargaining Committee were: High School Representative – Art Camosy (incumbent-Memorial); Middle School Representative – Nichole Von Haden (incumbent-Sherman); Elementary School Representative – Laurie Solchenberger (incumbent – Lincoln); At-Large Representative – Steve Pike (incumbent-West); Educational Services Representative-Middle School – Gabe Chavez (incumbent-Jefferson). The Bargaining Committee, from which the Bargaining Team is selected and which is the body responsible for MTI’s Teacher Contract negotiations, consists of 15 members, of which five are elected each year. MTI’s general election will be held April 28-30.

When one New Zealand school tossed its playground rules and let students risk injury, the results were surprising

Sarah Boesveld:

It was a meeting Principal Bruce McLachlan awaited with dread.

One of the 500 students at Swanson School in a northwest borough of Auckland had just broken his arm on the playground, and surely the boy’s parent, who had requested this face-to-face chat with its headmaster, was out for blood.

It had been mere months since the gregarious principal threw out the rulebook on the playground of concrete and mud, dotted with tall trees and hidden corners; just weeks since he had stopped reprimanding students who whipped around on their scooters or wielded sticks in play sword fights.

He knew children might get hurt, and that was exactly the point — perhaps if they were freed from the “cotton-wool” in which their 21st century parents had them swaddled, his students may develop some resilience, use their imaginations, solve problems on their own.

The parent sat down, stone-faced, across from the principal.

“‘My son broke his arm in the playground, and I just want to make sure…” he began.

“And I’m thinking ‘Oh my God, what’s going to happen?’” Mr. McLachlan recalled, sitting in his “fishbowl” of an office one hot Friday afternoon last month.

The parent continued: “I just wanted to make sure you don’t change this play environment, because kids break their arms.”

Yes, Private Schools Beat Public Schools

Jason Bedrick

How can researchers publish a book concluding that government schools are outperforming private schools despite all the evidence to the contrary? By ignoring all the evidence to the contrary, of course.

Writing at Education Next, Patrick Wolf casts a gimlet eye on the claims of Sarah and Chris Lubienski in their book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools:

Research on this question goes back some 30 years. From James Coleman’s early observational studies of high schools to the experimental voucher evaluations of the past 15 years, researchers have routinely found that similar students do at least as well and, at times, better academically in private schools than in public schools. How have the Lubienskis come up with this surprising finding?

Student loan debt deal comes with tax catch

Kelsey Snell:

Millions of taxpayers struggling with student loan debt are being pitched what may seem like a dream come true this tax season: lower monthly payments and a chance to see a chunk of their debt disappear.

But there’s a catch: the potential for a huge tax bill down the road.

The new push from the Departments of Treasury and Education uses tax time to promote the opportunity for a borrower to have their entire debt repaid after 20 or 25 years. The agencies are partnering with TurboTax, the tax software used by more than 18 million Americans, to advertise the deal.

It’s part of an administration-wide effort to make college affordable, but consumer advocates worry that the tax-time pairing fails to fully disclose that the debt forgiveness counts as income and will likely lead to a bill from the Internal Revenue Service. Some even liken it to the too-good-to-be-true mortgages that played a role in the collapse of the housing market.

Will You Obey Your Robot Boss?

Jessica Lieber:

People are always joking about our robot overlords, but before robots become the world’s rulers, they’re probably going to be our bosses at work first. Either way, it’s important to know how pliable we humans are going to be.

Researchers at the University of Manitoba were curious about how far people would go in obeying the commands of a robot, so they designed an experiment that echoes Stanley Milgram’s infamous obedience studies, in which many participants obeyed an authority figure who told them to administer painful electrical shocks to strangers.

Substitute a small but slightly evil-sounding humanoid robot for the lab-coated researcher, and give the participants a really, really boring task rather than a morally fraught one, and you have the set up below. It’s actually a little uncomfortable to watch.

The Drugging of the American Boy

By Ryan D’Agostino:

By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It’s time we recognize this as a crisis.

If you have a son, you have a one-in-seven chance that he has been diagnosed with ADHD. If you have a son who has been diagnosed, it’s more than likely that he has been prescribed a stimulant—the most famous brand names are Ritalin and Adderall; newer ones include Vyvanse and Concerta—to deal with the symptoms of that psychiatric condition.

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies stimulants as Schedule II drugs, defined as having a “high potential for abuse” and “with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.” (According to a University of Michigan study, Adderall is the most abused brand-name drug among high school seniors.) In addition to stimulants like Ritalin, Adderall, Vyvanse, and Concerta, Schedule II drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, Demerol, and OxyContin.

Paying for the Party


The authors lived for a year in a “party” dorm in a large midwestern flagship public university (not mine) and kept up with the women in the dorm till after they had graduated college. The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).

The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up. The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process. Furthermore, the non-party women on the party floor are, although reasonably numerous, individually isolated—they feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the heavy demands of the party scene. The authors document that the working class students who thrive are those who transfer to regional colleges near their birth homes.

Reports of a Drop in Childhood Obesity Are Overblown

Mike Derer:

It is no secret that the United States has a weight problem. Roughly 30 percent of American adults are clinically obese, or have a body mass index of at least 30. That’s more than 175 pounds for someone who’s 5 foot 4, the average height of an American woman; or more than 203 pounds for someone who’s 5 foot 9, the average height of an American man. Obesity is associated with a whole host of health issues — diabetes, sleep apnea, stroke, heart attack and on and on — meaning that for many of us, diet is the real killer.

Obesity rates have risen over time, especially in children. The disease we now refer to as Type 2 diabetes used to be called “adult-onset diabetes.” One of the main reasons for the name change is that the onset became increasingly common in children, caused by obesity.

With this backdrop, the headlines last month about declines in childhood obesity were remarkable and encouraging. Here’s how The New York Times described it: “Obesity Rate in Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade.” This and other articles went on to describe a huge decrease — from 13.9 percent to 8.4 percent — in the obesity rate for children between the ages of 2 and 5. The articles cited all sorts of reasons for the drop, including that kids are drinking less soda and that more mothers are engaged in breastfeeding. First lady Michelle Obama’s push for kids to exercise more and eat healthier foods also got credit.

White UK students get better degrees than minority peers with same entry grades

Richard Adams:

White university students at English universities receive significantly higher degree grades than their peers from minority ethnic backgrounds with the same entry qualifications, research from the Higher Education Funding Council for England has revealed.
 The report found that 72% of white students who have grades BBB at A-level went on to gain a first or upper second-class degree, compared with only 56% of Asian students and 53% of black students. The figures – from the most comprehensive study of its kind – raise concerns that universities in England are failing to support black and Asian undergraduates during their student career, despite improved efforts to recruit them.

“we don’t believe now is the time to move individual (charter school) proposals forward” – Madison Superintendent

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham (3MB PDF):

While we are busy working in the present day on the improvement of all of our schools, a key aspect of our long-term strategy must include the addition or integration of unique programs or school models that meet identified needs. However, to ensure that these options are strategic and that they enhance our focus rather than distract from it, we need to build a comprehensive and thoughtful strategy.

We need to think in depth about how options like additional district charter schools would meet the needs of our students, how they would support our vision and close opportunity gaps for all. The things we are learning now from our high school reform collaborative, which was just launched, and the review of our special education and alternative programs, which is now in progress, will be powerful information to help build that strategy over the coming school year.

Until we establish that more comprehensive long-term strategy, together with the Board and with direction and input from our educators and families, we don’t believe now is the time to move individual proposals forward. Both the district and those proposing a charter option should have the guidance of a larger strategy to ensure that any proposal would meet the needs of our students and accomplish our vision.

Related: A majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School. Also, the proposed (and rejected) Studio School.

Choice, Not More Spending, Is Key To Better Schools; Wisconsin 12th in Spending, 24th in Achievement

W. Michael Cox & Richard Alm

Education looms as both cause and cure for the decline of the middle class and the widening gap between rich and poor.

In today’s knowledge-based economy, poorly performing public schools leave many U.S. workers ill-equipped for jobs that pay middle-class wages.

So it follows that improving education is the only way to raise up the poor, reduce inequality and restore the American middle class.

We all want better schools — right-wingers, left-wingers, even business and labor are on board. Most proposals for improving education come down to the same thing — spend more of the taxpayers’ money.

But that’s what we’ve been doing for two or more generations, and it hasn’t worked. Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, calculates that inflation-adjusted spending per pupil more than doubled from $5,500 a year in 1970 to more than $12,500 in 2010.


So why do some states have better public schools — if it’s not a matter of money? Statistical regressions using the adjusted spending and demographic data find that test scores improve significantly as parents get more education and earn higher incomes.

The intuitive story goes like this: Better educated and richer parents tend to appreciate the value of schooling. They insist on better schools for their children and stress education in the home. School districts that spend more tend to be those where the cost-of-living is higher, where income is higher and where adults are better educated.

It’s not the spending that improves scores, it’s the parents’ high expectations and emphasis on education.

Money can buy a lot in public schools — smaller classes, better teachers, modern facilities, computers and other technologies. So why hasn’t spending paid off in better educational outcomes? The biggest impediment is a government-run school system resistant to innovation, indifferent to student needs and mired in mediocrity.

Wisconsin ranks 12th in dollars spent and 24th in achievement among the 50 US states.

State Education Trends by Andrew Coulson:

ong-term trends in academic performance and spending are valuable tools for evaluating past education policies and informing current ones. But such data have been scarce at the state level, where the most important education policy decisions are made. State spending data exist reaching back to the 1960s, but the figures have been scattered across many different publications. State-level academic performance data are either nonexistent prior to 1990 or, as in the case of the SAT, are unrepresentative of statewide student populations. Using a time-series regression approach described in a separate publication, this paper adjusts state SAT score averages for factors such as participation rate and student demographics, which are known to affect outcomes, then validates the results against recent state-level National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores. This produces continuous, state-representative estimated SAT score trends reaching back to 1972. The present paper charts these trends against both inflation-adjusted per pupil spending and the raw, unadjusted SAT results, providing an unprecedented perspective on American education inputs and outcomes over the past 40 years.

Locally, Madison spends double the national average per student.

“the analysis shows that in a year’s time, on average, students in Los Angeles charter schools make larger learning gains in reading and mathematics”

Center for Research on Education Outcomes (PDF):

Across the country, charter schools occupy a growing position in the public education landscape. Heated debate has accompanied their existence since their start in Minnesota two decades ago. Similar debate has occurred in California, particularly in Los Angeles, with charter advocates extolling such benefits of the sector as expanding parental choice and introducing market-based competition to education. Little of that debate, however, is grounded in hard evidence about their impact on student outcomes. This report contributes to the discussion by providing evidence for charter students’ performance in Los Angeles for four years of schooling, beginning with the 2008-2009 school year and concluding in 2011-2012.

With the cooperation of the California Department of Education (CDE), CREDO obtained the historical sets of student-level administrative records. The support of CDE staff was critical to CREDO’s understanding of the character and quality of the data we received. However, it bears mention that the entirety of interactions with CDE dealt with technical issues related to the data. CREDO has developed the findings and conclusions independently.

This report provides an in-depth examination of the results for charter schools physically located within the Los Angeles Unified School District boundary. It is the first separate analysis by CREDO of the performance of Los Angeles’ charter schools. However, charter schools in Los Angeles were included in the CREDO report on all California charter schools, which can be found on our website.1 This report has two main benefits. First, it provides a rigorous and independent view of the performance of the city’s charter schools. Second, the study design is consistent with CREDO’s reports on charter school performance in other locations, making the results amenable to being benchmarked against those nationally and in other states and cities.

The analysis presented here takes two forms. We first present the findings about the effects of charter schools on student academic performance. These results are expressed in terms of the academic progress that a typical charter school student in Los Angeles would realize from a year of enrollment in a charter school. The second set of findings is presented at the school level. Because schools are the instruments on which the legislation and public policy operate, it is important to understand the range of performance for the schools. These findings look at the performance of students by school and present school average results.

Compared to the educational gains that charter students might have had in a traditional public school (TPS), the analysis shows that in a year’s time, on average, students in Los Angeles charter schools make larger learning gains in reading and mathematics. Results for Hispanic charter students, especially Hispanic students in poverty, are particularly notable. At the school level, we compare the average performance over two growth periods to the average results for the school’s control group. The results in Los Angeles are among the strongest observed in any of the previous CREDO studies. Larger shares of schools outperform their local market in reading and math than was reported in the national study that was released in 2013.2

Meanwhile, a majority of Madison School Board members rejected the Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter school a few years ago. The traditional – Frederick Taylor -, non diverse governance model remains well entrenched here.

The Charter School Performance Breakout

Karl Zinsmeister:

Many have been puzzled by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s skepticism toward charter schools, his calls for ending space-sharing and charging them rent, and his $210 million cut of a construction fund important to the schools. Education reformers are also anxious about the failure of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to defend charter schools in the face of these prominent reversals of New York City policy. Is this just about teacher-union politics, or are there perhaps legitimate performance reasons for tapping the brakes on charter schools in public education today?

The first thing to remember about charter schools is how recent an invention they are. Born in the 1990s, it wasn’t until 2006 that total enrollment reached a million children—out of 55 million pupils in the country. More than half of the charters in New York City are less than five years old.

With huge waiting lists for every available seat, though, charters are now beginning to mushroom. Well before Mr. de Blasio faces re-election in 2017, charters will educate 10% of New York City’s public-school students, and they already enroll a quarter of all pupils in some of the city’s poorest districts. Nationwide, charter schools will enroll five million by the end of this decade.

Race, gender, schooling and university success – six key charts

George Arnett:

Does any part of how you are born and raised mean you are more likely to be successful after reaching university?
 A report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) looked at how students from a variety of different backgrounds performed at English universities after entering a full-time degree course in 2007-08.
 The key element of the analysis is seeing which students were more likely to achieve first or upper second class honours than others who have the same A-Level results but come from different backgrounds.
 Each of the charts below is broken down by A-Level grades so the left-hand side shows how those with the highest marks performed compared to those on the right hand side who had the lowest marks.

Check out the terrible paper that earned a player an A- at North Carolina

Jay Busbee:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is one of our nation’s finest universities, ranking 30th in the latest U.S. News and World Report list of top schools and eighth on Forbes’ list of top public colleges. And the bit of drivel above apparently earned an A-minus, according to ESPN.
 Why? Simple. That paper was written by an athlete for a class specifically designed to keep them moving through the university.
 “Athletes couldn’t write a paper,” Mary Willingham, a specialist in the school’s learning-support system-turned-whistleblower, told ESPN. “They couldn’t write a paragraph. They couldn’t write a sentence yet.” She said that some of the students were reading at a second- or third-grade level, which is considered illiterate for a college-age student. As Willingham notes, in the “AFAM” classes, players were notching As and Bs, but in actual classes such as Biology and Economics were receiving Ds and Fs.

These U.S. Colleges and Majors Are the Biggest Waste of Money

Derek Thompson:

This morning we published a review of recent research by PayScale on the most valuable colleges and majors in America, based on self-reported earnings by individuals who graduated from hundreds of schools.
 Some of you asked: What about the least valuable colleges and majors in America? What a mischievous question! So we looked into that, too.
 Here are the eleven schools in PayScale’s data with a 20-year net return worse than negative-$30,000. In other words: these are the schools where PayScale determined that not going to college is at least $30,000 more valuable than taking the time to pay for and graduate from one of these schools.

The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education

Steve Denning:

I have been asked for my “single best idea for reforming K-12 education”. When you only have one shot, you want to make it count. So I thought I would share my idea here, in case anyone has a brighter insight.

Root cause: factory model of management

To decide what is the single best idea for reforming K-12 education, one needs to figure out what is the biggest problem that the system currently faces. To my mind, the biggest problem is a preoccupation with, and the application of, the factory model of management to education, where everything is arranged for the scalability and efficiency of “the system”, to which the students, the teachers, the parents and the administrators have to adjust. “The system” grinds forward, at ever increasing cost and declining efficiency, dispiriting students, teachers and parents alike.

Given that the factory model of management doesn’t work very well, even in the few factories that still remain in this country, or anywhere else in the workplace for that matter, we should hardly be surprised that it doesn’t work well in education either.

Companies Find Autism Can Be a Job Skill

Shirley Wang:

Some employers increasingly are viewing autism as an asset and not a deficiency in the workplace.

Germany-based software company SAP AG SAP.XE +1.43% has been actively seeking people with autism for jobs, not because of charitable outreach but because it believes features of autism may make some individuals better at certain jobs than those without autism.

It’s a worthy initiative, according to disability experts, since 85% of adults with autism are estimated to be unemployed.

Piloted in Germany, India and Ireland, the program is also launching in four North American offices, according to an announcement Thursday.

SAP aims to have up to 1% of its workforce—about 650 people—be employees with autism by 2020, according to Jose Velasco, head of the autism initiative at SAP in the U.S.

People with autism spectrum disorder—characterized by social deficits and repetitive behavior—tend to pay great attention to detail, which may make them well suited as software testers or debuggers, according to Mr. Velasco, who has two children with the condition.

The Hidden College Problem: When Universities, Not Just Students, Take On Debt

Josh Freedman:

Last week, the University of California got downgraded. Not in the U.S. News or other college rankings, where six of its campuses rank in the top 15 public colleges in the United States; nor in College Prowler’s list of schools with the most attractive men on campus (where flagship UC-Berkeley clocks in at a measly number 1185). Rather, the UC system has been downgraded in the credit markets: ratings agency Moody’s lowered the UC system’s general revenue bonds from Aa1 to Aa2.

People like to talk about student debt – read, for example, my five part series on the topic. (Ok, I know you’re busy. How about at least one part of it? Do it for me.) But university debt, although rarely discussed, is arguably more important. Schools across the country are borrowing more money, and the increasing reliance on debt-financing at universities is adding logs covered in lighter fluid to an already flammable higher education system. The University of California system, for example, has $14.5 billion in outstanding debt, more than double its level in 2005. The total volume of debt across colleges of all kinds has increased so much that interest payments per student have increased 86% since a decade ago despite low interest rates.

Autism ‘begins long before birth’

Helen Briggs:

Scientists say they have new evidence that autism begins in the womb.

Patchy changes in the developing brain long before birth may cause symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research suggests.

The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises hopes that better understanding of the brain may improve the lives of children with autism.

It reinforces the need for early identification and treatment, says a University of California team.

The Graduate Student Debt Review

Jason Delisle:

A New America analysis of recently available Department of Education data reveals that much of America’s student debt problem may be a result of expensive graduate and professional degrees—not unaffordable undergraduate educations. In fact, around 40 percent of recent federal loan disbursements are for graduate student debt, suggesting that a large chunk of the ubiquitous “$1 trillion in outstanding federal student debt” number is, in fact, graduate debt.
 New America’s report, The Graduate Student Debt Review, suggests that debt for graduate students in a range of master’s and professional degree programs accounts for some of the most dramatic increases in student borrowing between 2004 and 2012. Moreover, this trend is not limited to what many already know are high-cost credentials, like those in medicine and law. According to the data, in 2004, the median level of indebtedness for a borrower who earned a Master of Arts degree was $38,000. In 2012, that figured jumped to $59,000, after adjusting for inflation. Debt levels for other master’s degrees, such as a Master of Science or a Master of Education, show similar trends. For borrowers at the 75th percentile of indebtedness, the increases are even larger in absolute terms. For most master’s degrees, debt at the 75th percentile jumps from about $54,000 for degree recipients in 2004 to $85,000 in 2012, after adjusting for inflation.


Leo Widrich:

Exercise has been touted to be a cure for nearly everything in life, from depression, to memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and more. At the same time, similar to the topic of sleep, I found myself having very little specific and scientific knowledge about what exercise really does to our bodies and our brains.
 “Yes, yes, I know all about it, that’s the thing with the endorphins, that makes you feel good and why we should exercise and stuff, right?” is what I can hear myself say to someone bringing this up. I would pick up things here and there, yet really digging into the connection of exercise and how it effects us has never been something I’ve done.
 Inspired by a recent post from Joel on what makes us happy I’ve set out to uncover the connection between our feeling of happiness and exercising regularly.

It’s impossible to work your way through college nowadays

Randy Olson:

Earlier today, I ran across a conversation about how the cost of tuition at Michigan State University (MSU) has changed over the years. I had just finished talking with my grandpa over the phone, and he had spent the latter half of the talk extolling the virtues of working your way through college (without family support), so I was rightly annoyed on the topic already.

The creator of the discussion pointed to the historical trends for MSU’s tuition, and in another comment pointed to the Federal minimum wage trends. If you crunch some of the numbers there, you’ll get the chart below showing the number of hours a student must work on minimum wage to pay for a single credit hour at MSU. I’ll provide the data set here to save you the number crunching*.

Mediocre may be closer than it appears

Jonathan Butcher:

When driving, if you look in your side-view mirror, you’re reminded that “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” In Arizona, lawmakers, parents, and schools are struggling to gauge how close we are to high achievement levels in our state.
 Since 2011, more and more schools earned higher scores on the state’s A-F report cards. Nearly 63 percent of schools in the state earned an A or a B on the most recent ratings. This might mean that the low performance we fear for students is quietly slipping behind us.
 Or that Arizona has taken an exit off of the highway.
 Last November, research from the Arizona Board of Regents revealed that half of Arizona’s high schools only had 5 percent or fewer of their graduates earn bachelor’s degrees within 6 years (the national average is 60 percent). Just 40 of the state’s high schools accounted for 62 percent of all of the Arizona high school graduates that finished college around the country.

Vergara case inside court, dueling press conferences outside

Vanessa Romo:

As lawyers in the Vergara v. California case made their closing arguments inside the court room for the benefit of an audience of one – Judge Rolf Treu – their dueling press conferences held outside were directed at a statewide audience, to be broadcast by a number of television cameras.
 The state defense team got their side of the story out first at an early morning event with the message that state laws that offer employment protections for public school teachers help California public schools “keep the American dream alive.”

Vignettes from the Modern Workplace

Harvard University Press Blog:

For decades, large corporations have been contracting whatever work they can to foreign suppliers—think manufacturing, call centers, etc. Meanwhile, the vitality of the domestic service sector, comprised of all those unable-to-be-outsourced jobs, has become an economic refrain. Yet large employers have also been rapidly shedding those service sector jobs, offering contracts to smaller firms that desperately squeeze costs, resulting in declining wages, eroding benefits, unhealthy workplaces, and greater inequality. In The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It, David Weil details the pressures of subcontracting, franchising, and supply chains, revealing the distressing state of the “secure” service sector. His book begins with the following series of “Vignettes from the Modern Workplace.”


The-fissured-workplaceA maid works at the San Francisco Marriott on Fisherman’s Wharf. The hotel property is owned by Host Hotels and Resorts Inc., a lodging real estate company. The maid, however, is evaluated and supervised daily and her hours and payroll managed by Crestline Hotels and Resorts Inc., a national third-party hotel management company. Yet she follows daily procedures (and risks losing her job for failure to accomplish them) regarding cleaning, room set-up, overall pace, and quality standards established by Marriott, whose name the property bears.

A cable installer in Dayton, Ohio, works as an independent contractor (in essence a self-employed business provider), paid on a job-by-job basis by Cascom Inc., a cable installation company. Cascom’s primary client is the international media giant Time Warner, which owns cable systems across the United States. The cable installer is paid solely on the basis of the job completed and is entitled to no protections normally afforded employees. Yet all installation contracts are supplied solely by Cascom, which also sets the price for jobs and collects payment for them. The installer must wear a shirt with the Cascom logo and can be removed as a contractor at will for not meeting minimum quotas or quality standards, or at the will of the company.

How Endowment Hoarding Hurts Universities

Jefrrey Brown:

The financial security of a strong university endowment would seem to matter most when hard times come along—when revenues slow and core functions are in danger of being compromised. At such times, an endowment can help guard against shortsighted cost cutting that harms both near-term quality and long-run vitality. But it turns out that many universities do nothing of the sort.

During the recent recession, most endowments took a beating, with the average endowment losing a quarter of its value. That decline followed years of heady growth that led endowments to grow at a far faster clip than university spending did. As a result, the losses suffered in the market meltdown represented a much larger loss relative to universities’ annual operating budgets than did any previous market correction.

What Chess and Moore’s Law teach us about the progress of technology


Computers beating humans at chess is old news. But that’s precisely why it’s worth reviewing. Solved problems sometimes hold the best lessons. And the numerical chess rating system makes it particularly useful in quantifying some common assertions about the progress of technology.

Chess player’s competitive level is ranked using the ELO rating system. Players gain rating points by beating a competitor. And lose points when beaten. The scale is constructed so that “for each 400 rating points of advantage over the opponent, the chance of winning is magnified ten times in comparison to the opponent’s chance of winning.” The competition outcome is modeled as a logistics curve. The way the math works, when a player rated 1100 competes against a player rated 1000 (rating gap of 100), they’ll win 64% of the time. When a player rated 1400 player competes against a player rated 1000 (rating gap 400), they’ll win 92% of the time. What matters here is: a) the chess rating scale is exponential, and b) a 400 point gap means 10x better.

Seeking Autism’s Biochemical Roots

Claudia Dreifus:

The biochemist Ricardo E. Dolmetsch has pioneered a major shift in autism research, largely putting aside behavioral questions to focus on cell biology and biochemistry.

Dr. Dolmetsch, 45, has done most of his work at Stanford. Since our interviews — a condensed and edited version of which follows — he has taken a leave to join Novartis, where his mission is to organize an international team to develop autism therapies.

“Pharmaceutical companies have financial and organizational resources permitting you to do things you might not be able to do as an academic,” he said. “I really want to find a drug.”

Q. Did you start out your professional life studying the biochemistry of autism?

Help me put 3D printers in UK schools

Luke Johnson:

If I had my life again I know what I would do: I’d be an inventor. I can think of nothing more creatively and intellectually rewarding than devising and making wonderful new products. As Nikola Tesla, one of the greatest inventors, said: “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of his brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love everything.”

Now it could be argued that one is never too old to switch careers: after all, I’ve dabbled in a few fields over the decades – restaurants, stockbroking, television, healthcare – and even writing for newspapers. But I have always held the view that inventing is a younger person’s game; or at least, a pursuit one should embark upon at a young age.

College students bypassing degrees on purpose

Eddie Small:

Kevin Floerke has been down this route before.

A student at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California, Floerke, 26 years old, already graduated in 2010 from UCLA, where he majored in archaeology.

This time, however, he’s not after a degree. He’s just trying to master a set of techniques and technologies that will help him verify the details he finds while doing fieldwork.

“I’m really there to learn the program itself and be able to use it in a professional setting,” he said.

Does School Board Leadership Matter?

By Arnold F. Shober & Michael T. Hartney:

Are the nation’s 90,000-plus school board members critical players in enhancing student learning? Are they part of the problem? Are they harmless bystanders? Among the takeaways are the following:

Board members, by and large, possess accurate information about their districts when it comes to finance, teacher pay, collective bargaining, and class size. Whether they were knowledgeable from the outset or surround themselves with savvy staff and administrators, many are making decisions from an informed point of view.

But such knowledge is not uniformly distributed. Surprisingly, members who were never educators themselves are more accurately informed than their peers who once were (or still are) educators. Likewise, political moderates appear to have more accurate knowledge than their liberal or conservative counterparts.
A district’s success in “beating the odds” academically is related to board members’ focus on the improvement of academics. Unfortunately, not all board members have this focus; some prefer a broader approach, such as developing the “whole child.”

Board members elected during on-cycle, at-large elections are more likely to serve in districts that “beat the odds” than those chosen by voters off-cycle or by ward. In some localities, how board members are elected may deter the best and brightest from taking on these key roles.

What does this mean for education governance? School board members and their attitudes do matter—so it’s important to take seriously who gets elected and how. Even as we strive to bring about structural reforms and governance innovations in the education system, we should also be working to get better results from the structures in place in most communities today.

Activist Coalition Wins Control of L.A. Teachers Union

Samantha Winslow:

An activist slate pledging to reenergize teachers to fight attacks on public schools has just won leadership of United Teachers-Los Angeles, the second-largest teachers local in the country.
 Union Power’s presidential candidate, Alex Caputo-Pearl, beat out nine candidates with 48 percent—more than twice the votes of his nearest opponent, incumbent Warren Fletcher.
 Caputo-Pearl needed 50 percent to win outright, however, so he will face an April runoff against Fletcher.
 Outside the top spot, the coalition won outright every spot it ran for, 24 seats. “In every area, in every position it was a big margin between the Union Power candidates and our opponents,” said teacher Rebecca Solomon, who won an executive board spot. “It’s not against one person: it’s everywhere.

Humanities High Anxiety

Timothy Burke:

What I’ll ask about is this: what stirs many tenured faculty in humanities departments at wealthy private colleges and universities to so often pick and fret and prod at almost any perturbation of their worlds of practice–their departments, their disciplines, their publications, their colleges and universities? Why do so many humanistic scholars rise to almost any bait, whether it is a big awful dangling worm on a barbed hook or some bit of accidental fluff blown by the wind into their pond?

The crisis in the humanities, we’re often assured, doesn’t exist. Enrollments are steady, the business model’s sound, the intellectual wares are good.

The assurance is, in many ways, completely correct. The trends are not so dire and many of the criticisms are old and ritualized. Parents have been making fun of the choice to major in philosophy for five decades. Or longer, if you’ve read your Aristophanes.

And yet humanists are in fact anxious. Judging from a number of experiences I’ve had in the last year at Swarthmore and elsewhere, there’s more and more tense feelings coming from more directions and more individuals in reaction to a wider and wider range of stimuli.

Reading lessons: why synthetic phonics doesn’t work

Andrew Davis:

Current government policy concerning reading favours synthetic phonics (SP), where children learn to recognise letters with their associated sounds – and how to blend those sounds to “read” the “words”.

The revised national curriculum, coming into force from September 2014, requires reception and year 1 students to be taught SP. Students aren’t meant to get help from clues such as context, meaning or illustration. It’s difficult to gauge how rigidly this will be enforced, but the situation certainly suggests there’ll be a significant increase in pressure on schools and teachers to conform.

The existing universal imposition of a phonics check on all five and six year-olds reinforces SP. Students are tested on isolated pieces of text – half of them are pseudo-words, such as “vap”, and all of them can be blended from conventional letter sounds.

Much of the current documentation around SP gives the impression that phonemes are sounds from which spoken words can be constructed. For example, the “cat” sound can be made up from |k|, |æ| and |t|. But the term “phoneme” doesn’t mean “sound”; it actually refers to sets of sounds in speech that distinguish one word from another. For instance, /æ/ and /a:/ are separate phonemes in English. /æ/ can be heard in the middle of “hat”, while /a:/ is heard in the middle of “hart”. The change in the middle sound gives us a different word.

“Connected” Math problems: Brandon, Michigan School District underperformed compared to county average

Susan Bromley:

On average, less than one-third of students in third through eighth grades in the “>(Brandon) district are proficient in mathematics, according to the Michigan Educational Assessment Program.

MEAP scores released last month showed 28 percent of third grade students are proficient in math, compared with 40.2 percent statewide and 51 percent in the county. The gap grows larger by fourth grade. While the district showed 30 percent proficient in math at this grade, it was still behind the state at 45.3 percent, and far behind the county at 57 percent proficient.

Scores for science (tested in fifth and eighth grades) and social studies (tested in sixth and ninth grades) are even more dismal.

Less than 50 percent of district students tested proficient in writing in both fourth and seventh grades. The district’s strongest MEAP scores came in reading, ranging from 62 percent proficient in third grade, 55 percent proficient in seventh grade, to 77 percent proficient in eighth grade.

In every subject tested, at every grade level, district students underperformed compared to the county average, by as much as up to 27 percentage points. The district was also under the state averages at math for every grade level tested. The district did outperform the state average in reading for every grade tested besides seventh, and also did better than the state average in seventh grade writing, eighth grade science, and ninth grade social studies.

The district plans to be better prepared for whatever that test is with the board approval of $175,000 worth of new math materials for kindergarten through eighth grades. The materials, to be purchased at the end of this year, are the first new mathematics curriculum to be purchased at the elementary level in 12 years. Kindergarten through fifth grades will be using “Bridges” math curriculum, and sixth through eighth grades will use “Connected Math Project” to support the common core curriculum. Teacher representatives from all grade levels examined materials from several companies and selected Bridges and CMP as the best after sampling them in the classrooms and consulting with Geri Devine, a math consultant from Oakland Schools and district parent.

The materials are not traditional type textbooks, McMahon said, but for 6-8, bound books that each contain a unit of study, notebook like in size and shape. At the elementary level, the new materials are consumables, exercises and activities that a certain amount will have to be replaced yearly at a cost of roughly $20,000-$25,000.

“With the new materials, we should see an increase in scores,” McMahon said. “The publishers will give mathematics professional development and the district is also planning more professional development in the area of math, with instruction by expert users of the materials and those who have a proven track record for improving mathematical competency.”

Much more on Connected Math, here.

The Most Obvious Conspiracy in the History of the World

Bruce Deitrick Price:

People use these snarky expressions when they want to suggest that something is so totally obvious that ten out of ten people will see it instantly.

In a sane world, a good example would be Whole Word (or Look-say, as it was called when introduced in 1931). This is the famously bad reading method where kids have to memorize words as graphic designs, as shapes, as outlines.

Decade after decade, Whole Word produced dreadful results. It’s the main reason we have 50 million functional illiterates. The presence of this obvious hoax in elementary schools would seem to be prima facie proof of a vast conspiracy. Duh.

So how can this hoax survive if it’s so bad? The answer is that most people, once they become fluent readers, lose empathy for the difficulties that children face. As a result, the schools can get away with murder.

We need an easy way for adults to experience what it’s like to learn reading with Whole Word. Then they’ll care! Here’s a simple experiment that will drop you into an all-too-typical first grade:

Could a 3-Year-Old Just “Disappear”?

Jennifer Richler:

A few days ago, an old friend sent me a panicked email. She had just finished reading Ron Suskind’s beautiful essay in the New York Times Magazine about raising a son with autism: “Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney.” Suskind describes how, at almost 3 years of age, his son Owen “disappeared.” The child was once “engaged, chatty, full of typical speech,” but then he stopped talking, lost eye contact, even struggled to use a sippy cup.

Owen was eventually diagnosed with a regressive form of autism, which Suskind says affects about a third of children with the disorder. “Unlike the kids born with it,” he continues, “this group seems typical until somewhere between 18 and 36 months—then they vanish.”

That was the line that alarmed my friend, whose son is nearing his third birthday. “What is this ‘regressive autism?’ ” she asked me, the resident autism expert in her peer group. (I conducted research on autism and regression in autism before becoming a freelance writer.) “I thought we were out of the woods!”

What medieval Europe did with its teenagers

William Kremer:

Today, there’s often a perception that Asian children are given a hard time by their parents. But a few hundred years ago northern Europe took a particularly harsh line, sending children away to live and work in someone else’s home. Not surprisingly, the children didn’t always like it.

Around the year 1500, an assistant to the Venetian ambassador to England was struck by the strange attitude to parenting that he had encountered on his travels.

He wrote to his masters in Venice that the English kept their children at home “till the age of seven or nine at the utmost” but then “put them out, both males and females, to hard service in the houses of other people, binding them generally for another seven or nine years”. The unfortunate children were sent away regardless of their class, “for everyone, however rich he may be, sends away his children into the houses of others, whilst he, in return, receives those of strangers into his own”.

It was for the children’s own good, he was told – but he suspected the English preferred having other people’s children in the household because they could feed them less and work them harder.

College Admissions Office Finds Ideal Applicant Capable Of Subsidizing Tuition Of 3 Low-Income Students

The Onion:

After carefully scrutinizing the application of high school senior Erica Allson, admissions officers at Wesleyan University confirmed Monday that the 18-year-old was the ideal candidate to subsidize the tuition and fees of three lower-income students. “Erica is truly a perfect fit for us: Not only does she show sufficient academic potential, but her parents are two highly successful professionals capable of paying the school’s annual $47,000 in tuition plus $13,000 in room and board in their entirety,” assistant admissions director Stacey Wright said, adding that she was left in awe after reading Allson’s near flawless income disclosure form. “With the money she’ll bring to campus, we can easily admit several less-well-off students, which will help us project our desired image as a highly progressive and inclusive institution, plus we’ll still have some extra left over to add HDTVs to the dining hall and install a rock-climbing wall in the freshman dorms. It’s all about striking the right balance with our student body.” At press time, administrators confirmed that they had also just admitted a social activist whose contributions to the community would offset the reputations of three football recruits.

What Chinese people really think of US schools

Penelope Trunk, via a kind reader:

The best evidence of this trend? Waldorf is taking off in China. These photos are from Carolyn Drake’s trip to the Chengdu Waldorf School where there is a five-year waiting list.

Waldorf is notorious for not teaching kids to read until they ask to learn. Waldorf kids play pretty much non-stop until third grade. And self-directed learning rules the day. Every day. Until high school, when kids focus solely on their year-long passion project.

In the US, Waldorf is typically the school of choice for parents who believe in self-directed homeschooling but choose not to do it themselves.

So if you want to ensure your kids can compete in the workplace of the future, forget Mandarin. Everyone will speak English. Focus instead of homeschooling. Test-based schooling will be the ghetto of the 21st century.

I’ll Have a Dose of Confirmation Bias, Heavy on the Bias

Matthew Ladner:

So how do private school students do in Science compared to public school students. I wasn’t sure, so I went to the NAEP data explorer to find out.

Private school students outscore public school students, but private school students tend to be more affluent than public school students, and there can be differences in special need and language profiles. Fortunately the NAEP data explorer allows you to take such factors into account. To maximize the comparison, we will only look at the NAEP science scores of children eligible for a Free or Reduced priced lunch under federal guidelines, and who have neither a special education nor an English Language Learner designation. This is about as close to apples to apples comparison you can hope for in NAEP data.

So NAEP changed the framework of their Science exam in 2009, making the 2009 and later exams incomparable to those given before 2009. The comparison of general education poor children between public and private schools is sporadically available in both NAEP science frameworks. You can’t compare old NAEP science to new NAEP science, but you can compare public and private school scores within each year. So let’s start with 4th grade:


So for those of you scoring at home, in 8 possible comparisons, private school general education poor children outscored six times. It was close (within the margin of sampling error) a few times but every time the result was lopsided it was lopsided in favor of the private school children. Quite frankly science scores should be higher in both public and private schools for low=income kids, but the available evidence does show an overall private school advantage. Unless you happen to be Stephanie Simon working through a sizable case of confirmation bias, in which case this is what you saw:

Blaming Poverty On Culture Is Not A Solution

Eugene Robinson:

Blaming poverty on the mysterious influence of “culture” is a convenient excuse for doing nothing to address the problem.

That’s the real issue with what Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said about distressed inner-city communities. Critics who accuse him of racism are missing the point. What he’s really guilty of is providing a reason for government to throw up its hands in mock helplessness.

The fundamental problem that poor people have, whether they live in decaying urban neighborhoods or depressed Appalachian valleys or small towns of the Deep South, is not enough money.

Income Inequality by State, 1917 to 2011

Estelle Sommeiller & Mark Price:

According to state-level data, available only through 2011, the largest gaps between the top 1 percent and the bottom 99 percent are in Connecticut and New York. In both states the top 1 percent in 2011 earned on average over 40 times the income of the bottom 99 percent of taxpayers. This reflects in part the relative concentration of the financial sector in the greater New York City metropolitan area. After New York and Connecticut, the next eight states with the largest gaps between the top 1 percent and bottom 99 percent in 2011 are Florida (where the top 1 percent earned 32.2 times as much as the bottom 99 percent, on average), Massachusetts (30.2), Nevada (29.5), Wyoming (27.6), California (26.8), Texas (26.3), Illinois (24.5), and New Jersey (23.9). Even in the 10 states with the smallest gaps between the top 1 percent and bottom 99 percent in 2011, the top 1 percent earned between about 12 and 17 times the income of the bottom 99 percent. Those states include Kentucky (where the top 1 percent earned 16.7 times as much as the bottom 99 percent, on average), Idaho (16.3), Delaware (16.2), New Mexico (15.6), Nebraska (15.5), Mississippi (15.2), Maine (14.9), Iowa (13.7), Alaska (13.5), and Hawaii (12.1). Reported in Table 5 are the threshold incomes required to be considered part of the top 1 percent by state. Table 5 also includes the threshold to be included in the 1 percent of the 1 percent (or the top 0.01 percent). Finally, the average income of the top 0.01 percent (the highest one out of 10,000 taxpayers) is ranked among the 50 states. Connecticut had the highest average income in 2011 for the top 0.01 percent, $57.2 million. Wyoming’s top 0.01 per

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Managing Corrections Costs

National Conference of State Legislators:

States will spend $40 billion to incarcerate and supervise offenders in fiscal year (FY) 2014, according to the National Confer- ence of State Legislatures’ (NCSL) State Budget Actions: FY 2013 & 2014. This is a modest 2.5 percent increase over FY 2013 costs, with cor- rections a shrinking portion of overall state spending. In a growing number of states, legisla- tures have enacted policy shifts that make more effective use of corrections dollars but that also remain attentive to public safety.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico budgeted more in general funds for correc- tions in FY 2014 than in the previous fiscal year (Figure 1, on page 4). Only six states—Con- necticut, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma—and Puerto Rico in- 40 creased spending by more than 5 percent. Nine states—Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, 35 New Mexico, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia and 30 Wyoming—budgeted to spend less in the cur- rent fiscal year. Decreases range from .2 percent 25 in New Mexico to 8.4 percent in Wyoming. 20 Spending in New Jersey remains unchanged.

k-12 Tax & Spending Climate: In San Jose, generous pensions for city workers come at expense of nearly all else

Michael Fletcher:

Here in the wealthy heart of Silicon Valley, the roads are pocked with potholes, the libraries are closed three days a week and a slew of city recreation centers have been handed over to nonprofit groups. Taxes have gone up even as city services are in decline, and Mayor Chuck Reed is worried.

The source of Reed’s troubles: gold-plated pensions that guarantee retired city workers as much as 90 percent of their former salaries. Retirement costs are eating up nearly a quarter of the city’s budget, forcing Reed (D) to skimp on everything else.

“This is one of the dichotomies of California: I am cutting services to my low- and moderate-income people . . . to pay really generous benefits for public employees who make a good living and have an even better retirement,” he said in an interview in his office overlooking downtown.

Smart Regulation for Strong Schools

Robin Lake:

I recently read a fascinating Wall Street Journal article by Raymond Zhong, a Delhi-based reporter, about regulating global financial markets. I’m by no means a finance person; what caught my interest were the insights relevant to education and how we oversee and regulate schools.

Zhong presented leading theories from Andrew Haldane and others about how to most effectively regulate global financial institutions in a way that minimizes costly and onerous reporting and maximizes strong, viable, and productive financial firms. I thought there were important lessons for charter authorizing, which is becoming more and more process-oriented and risk-averse. Districts and state education agencies that are serious about promoting innovation and managing performance should pay attention to four lessons from Zhong’s piece.

Inside the admissions process at George Washington University

Nick Anderson:

Britt Freitag, an admissions officer at George Washington University, confessed she was “slightly nervous” about a candidate for the Class of 2018. His grades were solid, but not stellar. The student had taken some tough courses, but not as many as Freitag would have liked. Test scores, she said, were “definitely on the low side.”

On the other hand, Freitag told two other officers one recent morning, the student compared favorably to his high school classmates, wrote a good essay, showed impressive determination in activities outside class — and had a family connection to GW.

“I could go either way,” Freitag said.

“Either way what?” asked her colleague, Jim Rogers.

Deny or admit, she said, stumped. Her voice fell to a murmur. “You think maybe he’s a wait-list?”

This is the kind of conversation high school seniors across America wish they could hear but never will. For the past few weeks, teams of gatekeepers at colleges have dissected the academic and personal lives of these students in a matter of minutes to reach decisions that will chart their future.


At that point, some tentative decisions might be reversed to boost the financial-aid budget. That could help a few borderline students from affluent families.

College Notebook

Newton Papers:

This small notebook was probably used by Newton from about 1664 to 1665. It contains notes from his reading on mathematics and geometry, showing particularly the influence of John Wallis and René Descartes. It also provides evidence of the development of Newton’s own mathematical thinking, including his study of infinite series and development of binomial theorem, the evolution of the differential calculus, and its application to the problem of quadratures and integration. … show more

Unpaid student loans ‘a fiscal time bomb for universities’

Rowena Mason and Shiv Malik:

The university sector is facing a “fiscal time bomb”, the chairman of the Commons business committee has warned, after it was revealed that the government has dramatically revised down the proportion of student debt that will ever be repaid.
 Adrian Bailey said the Treasury needed to face up to the problem, after David Willetts, the universities minister, revealed the rate of non-repayment of student loans is near the point at which experts believe tripling tuition fees will add nothing to Treasury coffers.
 Bailey said: “There is a huge potential black hole in the government’s budget figures. You’ve got all these confident predications about budget deficit falling and right in the middle of that is a potential fiscal time bomb that doesn’t seem to have been addressed.”

How Art History Majors Power the U.S. Economy

Virginia Postrel:

There’s nothing like a bunch of unemployed recent college graduates to bring out the central planner in parent-aged pundits.

In a recent column for Real Clear Markets, Bill Frezza of the Competitive Enterprise Institute lauded the Chinese government’s policy of cutting financing for any educational program for which 60 percent of graduates can’t find work within two years. His assumption is that, because of government education subsidies, the U.S. is full of liberal-arts programs that couldn’t meet that test.

“Too many aspiring young museum curators can’t find jobs?” he writes. “The pragmatic Chinese solution is to cut public subsidies used to train museum curators. The free market solution is that only the rich would be indulgent enough to buy their kids an education that left them economically dependent on Mommy and Daddy after graduation.” But, alas, the U.S. has no such correction mechanism, so “unemployable college graduates pile up as fast as unsold electric cars.”

The boy whose brain could unlock autism

Maia Szalavitz:

SOMETHING WAS WRONG with Kai Markram. At five days old, he seemed like an unusually alert baby, picking his head up and looking around long before his sisters had done. By the time he could walk, he was always in motion and required constant attention just to ensure his safety.

“He was super active, batteries running nonstop,” says his sister, Kali. And it wasn’t just boyish energy: When his parents tried to set limits, there were tantrums—not just the usual kicking and screaming, but biting and spitting, with a disproportionate and uncontrollable ferocity; and not just at age two, but at three, four, five and beyond. Kai was also socially odd: Sometimes he was withdrawn, but at other times he would dash up to strangers and hug them.

Things only got more bizarre over time. No one in the Markram family can forget the 1999 trip to India, when they joined a crowd gathered around a snake charmer. Without warning, Kai, who was five at the time, darted out and tapped the deadly cobra on its head.

Large majority opposes paying NCAA athletes, Washington Post-ABC News poll finds

Alex Prewitt:

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that a large majority of the general public opposes paying salaries to college athletes beyond the scholarships currently offered.

Only 33 percent support paying college athletes. At 64 percent, opposition is nearly twice as high as support, with 47 percent strongly against the idea. Nearly every demographic and political group opposes it except non-whites, for whom 51 percent support. The breakdown among whites (73 percent oppose, 24 percent support) tilted strongly in the opposite direction, echoing the perspective of NCAA President Mark Emmert.

“We have long heard from fans that there is little support for turning student-athletes into paid employees of their universities,” Emmert said in a statement. “The overwhelming majority of student-athletes, across all sports, play college athletics as part of their educational experience and for the love of their sport — not to be paid a salary.”

Elementary Data: Madison’s Proposed $39,500,000 Maintenance & Expansion Referendum

Madison Schools’ March, 2014 Facility Plan (PDF)::

Shorewood Elementary: In conjunction with building an elevator tower, add a four-classroom addition. The additional classrooms are a relatively easy gain based on the building design.

Shorewood’s 2013-2014 Low Income Population: 33.8%; All Madison Elementary Schools: 52.1%

2012-2013 Basic & Minimal Reading Proficiency: 34.3% Madison School District: 62.5%

In conjunction with building an elevator tower, add a new cafeteria. Convert the existing cafeteria into four classrooms.

Midvale’s 2013-2014 Low Income Population: 60.9%; All Madison Elementary Schools: 52.1%

2012-2013 Basic & Minimal Reading Proficiency: 72.3% Madison School District: 62.5%

Wisconsin DPI School Report Cards: Midvale | Shorewood | Madison School District. Enrollment data.

Related: Madison’s 16% property tax increase since 2007, Median Household Income Down 7.6%, Middleton’s property taxes 16% less. Madison spends about $15k per student, double the national average.

Commentary on Madison and Surrounding School Districts; Middleton’s lower Property Taxes (16%)

Prior to spending more money from what is at best a flat tax base, perhaps Madison citizens might review previous maintenance referendum spending.

Current Madison Elementary School Boundaries…. & the School Board Election

Two Madison School Board candidates recently expressed opposition to boundary changes:

Flores also said when students and parents walk to their schools, it fosters family connections and relationships between families and school faculty.

“If (any) boundary changes obstruct from that, then I’m against that,” said Flores, who also said he supports asking voters for money to expand crowded schools and improve aesthetics. “If we allowed that big of a gap to happen to our own houses, our community would look dilapidated.”

Strong said the neighborhood school concept could benefit the Allied Drive area, where students — predominantly from low-income families — do not attend the same schools.

“A neighborhood school in that area is something we should look at because you do have these kids that are being bused to all these different schools,” he said.

I invite readers to review the District’s current boundaries [2.5MB PDF] vis a vis “walkability”. I continue to be astonished that the community apparently supports such a wide range of low income population across our schools.

Related: Madison’s current low income school population distribution:

Madison has long supported a wide variation in school demographics. The chart above, created from 2013-2014 Madison School District middle school demographic data, illustrates the present reality, with the largest middle school – near west side Hamilton – also featuring the smallest percentage low income population.

University of Chicago Is Outlier With Growing Debt Load

Michael McDonald and Brian Chappatta:

The University of Chicago has been trying to stand out from its elite rivals and is doing so in one category: amassing debt. That’s put its credit rating at risk.

The university founded by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller in 1890 is in the midst of a $1.7 billion development plan. As municipal interest rates remain close to generational lows, it may borrow as much as $900 million in the next four years, according to Standard & Poor’s. The plan prompted S&P and Moody’s Investors Service to cut the school’s credit outlook to negative. Chicago already has $3.6 billion of debt — the most relative to its endowment among the richest U.S. schools.

“When you look at the University of Chicago, they are an outlier — they are highly leveraged,” said Diane Viacava, an analyst at Moody’s in New York. “They need very strong cash flow to be able to provide the pledged revenue to pay for the debt service.”

Build it and they may come Management schools are on a building spree. That is a risk for some

The Economist:

BUSINESS-SCHOOL students are a pampered bunch. Scholars sipping a glass of red in the posh rooftop bar of Oxford’s Saïd Business School could be forgiven for thinking they had wandered into the nearby Randolph Hotel by mistake. Stanford students can view an impressive modern-art collection housed in its own museum. Harvard Business School MBAs can book a masseuse to relieve the stress of a hard day slaving over case studies.
 Life for the next generation of business students is to get even cushier. In the past few years the leading schools have been raising vast amounts to spend on new facilities. On January 9th Yale’s School of Management formally opened its swanky new home, designed by Foster + Partners, Norman Foster’s architecture practice. The Kellogg School of Management in Illinois will soon start work on a new headquarters (see artist’s impression, above) for its MBA programme on the shores of Lake Michigan, at a cost of $200m. Stanford’s business school spent $345m on its new campus, largely thanks to the largesse of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike.

Meanwhile, Madison’s K-12 world considers another $39,500,000 on bricks and mortar despite issues with previous spending and long term disastrous reading results.

Public school advocates dismiss voucher popularity at their own risk

Chris Rickert:

Usually, the popularity of something is an indication that people value it. Public school proponents and anti-voucher Democrats might want to keep that in mind, as their tendency to downplay support for vouchers can sound like an excuse for avoiding improvements to public schools that keep public school enrollments strong.


Pope did not respond to my messages, but her concern about shifting tax dollars from public schools to voucher schools seems misplaced, given that, on average, taxpayers spend about $5,000 more per public school student than they spend on a voucher.

Income limits keep the wealthy from entering the voucher program. But even if the limits didn’t exist and despite the alleged cost-shifting identified by DPI, this country has long committed to providing all children with taxpayer-funded educations. A taxpayer-funded education at a private school is still a taxpayer-funded education. What’s more, in Wisconsin, it’s a cheaper one.

A Civics Education for Privacy

Ben Moskowitz:

The Mozilla advocacy and campaign teams are meeting this week to plan a multi-year “privacy, security, surveillance” campaign. We’re searching for an issue where we can make a real impact.

I am pushing for “security” to be tip of our campaign’s spear. Something like “we want to know that our devices, communications, and Internet/web services are secure against compromises and attacks from governments or criminals. We don’t want them to contain any deliberate or known weaknesses or backdoors.” This is the kind of principle that resonates across ideological divides, gets people nodding their heads at the watercooler, and gets the red-meat internet people fired up about backdoors in Microsoft products. No public figure wants to be on record saying “a vulnerable Internet is a good thing.”

Intelligence and defense are pouring enormous resources into making the internet communications of our adversaries more vulnerable, which makes everyone more vulnerable. It’s counterproductive. It’s why Yochai Benkler talks in terms of an autoimmune disease; “the defense system attacking the body politic.” This problem is illustrated in ongoing leaks that suggest agencies are looking to deploy malware at mass scale. “When they deploy malware on systems,” security researcher Mikko Hypponen says, “they potentially create new vulnerabilities in these systems, making them more vulnerable for attacks by third parties.”

This is why I think we should put our energy behind “securing the internet.” We can’t stop spying, but we can affect a state change in internet security.

Related: Ed Schools & Civics Education.

Tiger Couple Gets It Wrong on Immigrant Success

Stephen Steinberg:

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
Penguin, $27.95

The tiger couple is chasing its own tail, which is to say, they are stuck in circular reasoning. In their new book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua, author of the best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and Jed Rubenfeld tackle the question of why certain groups are overrepresented in the pantheon of success. They postulate the reason for their success is that these groups are endowed with “the triple package”: a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. The skeptic asks, “How do we know that?” To which they respond: “They’re successful, aren’t they?”

But Chua and Rubenfeld proffer no facts to show that their exemplars of ethnic success—Jewish Nobel Prize winners, Mormon business magnates, Cuban exiles, Indian and Chinese super-achievers—actually possess this triple package. Or that possessing these traits is what explains their disproportionate success. For that matter, they do not demonstrate that possessing the triple package is connected, through the mystical cord of history, to Jewish sages, Confucian precepts, or Mormon dogma. Perhaps, as critics of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have contended, success came first and only later was wrapped in the cloth of religion. In other words, like elites throughout history, Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars enshroud their success in whatever system of cultural tropes was available, whether in the Talmud, Confucianism, Mormonism, or the idolatry of White Supremacy. The common thread that runs through these myths of success is that they provide indispensable legitimacy for social class hierarchy.

Chinese parents scramble to send children to top British schools

Helen Warrell:

Packed into a grey minibus, 22 Chinese parents are trundling down a bumpy driveway towards Cobham Hall, a girls boarding school set in 70 hectares of Kent countryside.

The red-brick Tudor mansion, with its octagonal wing turrets, looks like something out of an Enid Blyton novel. But there is nothing fanciful about the battle Asia’s rich are waging to secure places for their children in top British boarding schools – an export market worth about £1bn a year to the UK.

The Financial Times joined the Chinese parents on part of a week-long tour organised by Gabbitas, an education consultancy which advises on applications. By day, the group visits schools and by night, they enjoy retail events laid on by Harrods, the Bicester Village designer shopping centre and Asprey the jeweller.

“These parents are extremely high net worth,” explains Ian Hunt, the organisation’s managing director. “These are people who would not blink at spending £30,000 a year for 10 years for their children’s education . . . They start with the premise that Chinese education is too linear and constricting, and we try to show them the holistic environment in which the English system operates.”

The Overprotected Kid A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.

Hannah Rosin:

A trio of boys tramps along the length of a wooden fence, back and forth, shouting like carnival barkers. “The Land! It opens in half an hour.” Down a path and across a grassy square, 5-year-old Dylan can hear them through the window of his nana’s front room. He tries to figure out what half an hour is and whether he can wait that long. When the heavy gate finally swings open, Dylan, the boys, and about a dozen other children race directly to their favorite spots, although it’s hard to see how they navigate so expertly amid the chaos. “Is this a junkyard?” asks my 5-year-old son, Gideon, who has come with me to visit. “Not exactly,” I tell him, although it’s inspired by one. The Land is a playground that takes up nearly an acre at the far end of a quiet housing development in North Wales. It’s only two years old but has no marks of newness and could just as well have been here for decades. The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires that is growing ever smaller as a redheaded girl and her friend roll them down the hill and into the creek. “Why are you rolling tires into the water?” my son asks. “Because we are,” the girl replies.

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires. Three boys lounge in the only unbroken chairs around it; they are the oldest ones here, so no one complains. One of them turns on the radio—Shaggy is playing (Honey came in and she caught me red-handed, creeping with the girl next door)—as the others feel in their pockets to make sure the candy bars and soda cans are still there. Nearby, a couple of boys are doing mad flips on a stack of filthy mattresses, which makes a fine trampoline. At the other end of the playground, a dozen or so of the younger kids dart in and out of large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another. Occasionally a group knocks down a few pallets—just for the fun of it, or to build some new kind of slide or fort or unnamed structure. Come tomorrow and the Land might have a whole new topography.

Other than some walls lit up with graffiti, there are no bright colors, or anything else that belongs to the usual playground landscape: no shiny metal slide topped by a red steering wheel or a tic-tac-toe board; no yellow seesaw with a central ballast to make sure no one falls off; no rubber bucket swing for babies. There is, however, a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise it deposits you in the creek). The actual children’s toys (a tiny stuffed elephant, a soiled Winnie the Pooh) are ignored, one facedown in the mud, the other sitting behind a green plastic chair. On this day, the kids seem excited by a walker that was donated by one of the elderly neighbors and is repurposed, at different moments, as a scooter, a jail cell, and a gymnastics bar.

Scabs: Academics and Others Who Write for Free

Yasmin Nair:

In February, Nicholas Kristof bemoaned the fact that academics don’t write for larger audiences.

The piece was inane and sloppy, typical of Kristof’s writing, but its central thesis struck a nerve. It was subsequently critiqued by several people, including Corey Robin, who kindly pointed me out as one of those who do in fact write for non-academic audiences, but that’s not the only reason I cite his response. To the best of my knowledge, Corey’s piece is the only one which considers the issue of academic writing within the material conditions of academia today. He writes, “The problem here isn’t that typically American conceit of “culture” v. nonconformist rebel. It’s the very material pressures and constraints young academics face, long before tenure. It’s the job market. It’s the rise of adjuncts. It’s neoliberalism.”

I’ve been following these kinds of conversations about academia for a while, and watched as they’ve dovetailed with questions about writing for “the public.” Over the years, I’ve steadily embarked upon a career of freelance writing, and the bulk of my livelihood comes from writing.

So when there’s a conversation about academics writing for the public, I’m as hopeful as I am anxious and trepidatious. Hopeful, because voices like Corey’s situate such writing within the economic conditions of neoliberalism, but anxious and trepidatious because more often than not, such conversations eventually paint academia in unrealistic terms, hewing to Kristof’s wild fantasy about it as a quiet, cosy corner where the life of the mind continues unabated and untouched by trivial concerns like rent and bills. In this Shangri-La, writing for “the public,” a barely understood entity amongst most academics, is seen as an act of public service.

Preview the School in the Cloud documentary — and a new web platform for learning


Sugata Mitra thinks big. At last year’s TED, he unveiled his dream to transform primary education. Instead of a teacher, a chalkboard and a generic curriculum, the recipient of the 2013 TED Prize asked us to imagine an environment that empowered children to learn on their own, with the guidance of virtual mentors. Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the CloudIt involved nothing more than a few computers, an Internet connection and a bunch of curious minds. He called this utopian world School in the Cloud, a Self Organized Learning Environment (SOLE), or simply put, a place where children could tap into their innate sense of wonder by connecting with information online.

A year later, Mitra returned to the TED stage to give an update. He has opened five learning labs — three in India and two in the UK — with two more slated to open in May. Mitra is also the subject of a School in the Cloud documentary being filmed by British director Jerry Rothwell, the winner of the Sundance Institute | TED Prize Filmmaker Award. The trailer was released during TED2014, giving viewers a taster of all the work that went into building the School in the Cloud and a candid look at Sugata Mitra himself. Because let’s face it: some people thought his head was in the clouds when he conceived of this idea … But now, kids around the world are learning in this exciting new way.

At the same time, Mitra — a professor at Newcastle University — has also pioneered a digital tool, a virtual School in the Cloud Community Platform with the help of core technology and innovation partner Microsoft and their Skype Social Good team. The web platform, launched this week, ensures that anyone, anywhere around the world can experiment with self-organized learning. Made by Many, the product design team, spent six months co-creating the platform with Mitra’s team, Microsoft and children themselves, to ensure that the experience translates across cultural and economic barriers. Essentially, it is a giant global experiment in self-organized learning, inviting everyone to help design the future of learning.

“Kid, I’m Sorry, but You’re Just Not College Material

Michael Petrilli:

t’s an article of faith in the school reform community that we should be striving to prepare all students for success in college—if not a four-year degree, then some other recognized and reputable post-secondary credential. The rationale is clear and generally compelling; as a recent Pew study reiterated, people who graduate from college earn significantly more than those who do not. Other research indicates that low-income students in particular benefit from college, becoming nearly three times more likely to make it into the middle class than their peers who earn some (or no) college credits. And it’s not just about money: College graduates are also healthier, more involved in their communities, and happier in their jobs.

Thus, in the reformers’ bible, the greatest sin is to look a student in the eye and say, “Kid, I’m sorry, but you’re just not college material.”

But what if such a cautionary sermon is exactly what some teenagers need? What if encouraging students to take a shot at the college track—despite very long odds of crossing its finish line—does them more harm than good? What if our own hyper-credentialed life experiences and ideologies are blinding us to alternative pathways to the middle class? Including some that might be a lot more viable for a great many young people? What if we should be following the lead of countries like Germany, where “tracking” isn’t a dirty word but a common-sense way to prepare teenagers for respected, well-paid work?

Catching a Cheater Online

Jessica Lahey:

For the past month, about a hundred college professors have been embroiled in an online sting operation. It all started with a Seattle Craigslist ad:

Are you good with college level math? I need a taller college aged brunette female student to take a math placement test for me in person as I am out of state currently. If you believe that you can be of help please respond to this ad and let me know your math qualifications. Must know college level math. Willing to pay a neg fee. This could turn into more work in the near future if interested. Serious inquiries only as I need this done ASAP! Thank you!

The teachers, who all belong to a private Facebook teaching group, were not shocked by the fact that students might be cheating in their courses. They already knew that. They were shocked by the brazen nature of this student’s attempts to hire someone to cheat for her. J.C., one of the professors, who happens to be a tallish, brunette, English professor in Seattle, contacted the student using a pseudonym to dig around for more information. The student replied, saying she needed someone to help her get a place in a college-level online math class by taking the ACT Compass exam in person at a local testing center, and once she’d placed into the appropriate math class, possibly take the online course for her:

Columbia University Fired Two Eminent Public Intellectuals. Here’s Why It Matters.

Michelle Goldberg:

About a month ago, The New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof wrote a much-discussed column calling for academics to take on a greater role in public life. Most professors, he lamented, “just don’t matter in today’s great debates,” having instead burrowed into rabbit holes of hyper-specialization. PhD programs, he wrote, “have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.” Professors, Kristof pleaded, “don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks—we need you!”

Shortly before his column came out, Carole Vance and Kim Hopper, longtime professors at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, learned that they were losing their jobs because they hadn’t brought in enough grant money. Both, ironically, are models for the sort of publicly engaged intellectual Kristof wants to see more of. Vance has done pioneering work on the intersection of gender, health and human rights. “She has been a mentor and a leading influence on generations of scholars as well as activists and practitioners,” says Rebecca Schleifer, the former advocacy director for the health and human rights division at Human Rights Watch. Hopper, who divides his time between Columbia and the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, is both an advocate for the homeless and one of the nation’s foremost scholars on homelessness. Last year, American Anthropologist ran a piece highlighting his work beyond academia, noting that Hopper “has long urged anthropologists to take part in public debates, to translate ethnographic findings into policy proposals.”

His termination, along with Vance’s, suggests that scholars have good reason not to take this advice. Kristof is right that universities have become inhospitable places for public intellectuals, but he misses the ultimate cause. The real problem isn’t culture. It’s money.

Like many schools of public health, Mailman operates on a “soft money” model, which means that professors are expected to fund much of their salaries through grants. (Many professors there, including Vance and Hopper, work without tenure.) Recently, the amount expected has increased—from somewhere between 40 and 70 percent of their salaries to as much as 80 percent—and professors say that it’s become a hard rule, with less room for the cross-subsidization of those who devote themselves to teaching or whose research isn’t attractive to outside funders. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health, the primary source of grant money, has seen its budget slashed. These days, only 17 percent of grant applications are successful—a record low.

How babbling to babies can boost their brains

The Economist:

THE more parents talk to their children, the faster those children’s vocabularies grow and the better their intelligence develops. That might seem blindingly obvious, but it took until 1995 for science to show just how early in life the difference begins to matter. In that year Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas published the results of a decade-long study in which they had looked at how, and how much, 42 families in Kansas City conversed at home. Dr Hart and Dr Risley found a close correlation between the number of words a child’s parents had spoken to him by the time he was three and his academic success at the age of nine. At three, children born into professional families had heard 30m more words than those from a poorer background.

This observation has profound implications for policies about babies and their parents. It suggests that sending children to “pre-school” (nurseries or kindergartens) at the age of four—a favoured step among policymakers—comes too late to compensate for educational shortcomings at home. Happily, understanding of how children’s vocabularies develop is growing, as several presentations at this year’s meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science showed.

One of the most striking revelations came from Anne Fernald of Stanford University, who has found that the disparity appears well before a child is three. Even at the tender age of 18 months, when most toddlers speak only a dozen words, those from disadvantaged families are several months behind other, more favoured children. Indeed, Dr Fernald thinks the differentiation starts at birth.

Virginia Student Gets Suspended for Taking Razor From Kid Who Was Cutting

Elizabeth Nolan Brown:

Note to American tweens: Don’t be a Good Samaritan on the state’s watch. A sixth grader at a Virginia Beach public school was suspended this week for having a razor blade. She took the blade from another student who was cutting himself with it. Bad move, apparently.

The Bayside Middle School student, Adrionna Harris, said she took a razor blade away from another student because he was using it to cut himself. She threw the blade away and told school officials. Then she was suspended for 10 days, with a recommendation for expulsion, according to Virginia Beach news station WAVY.

Note that Harris didn’t even have the razor blade in her possession when she went to school administrators. The only evidence this razor blade existed is Harris’ own admission of it, when she told school officials what had happened and that she had already thrown it away.

Education in Kenya: Paid-for private schools are better value for money than the “free” sort

The Economist:

THERE can scarcely be two words in Kenya that cause more resentment than “school fees”. It is now more than ten years since charges for state primary schools in east Africa’s biggest economy were abolished by law. Yet it is an open secret that education is not truly free. In fact, fees are rising. Dorcas Mutoku, a policeman’s wife whose two sons attend a public primary school in the capital, Nairobi, has found that levies have simply been renamed. She has to find the equivalent of $35 for a one-off “signing-on” fee, and pay almost as much again for admission fees. End-of-term exams, uniforms and books cost at least another $10 per child.

Kenya’s parents will get their day in court on February 21st, when a lawsuit will be heard that accuses Jacob Kaimenyi, the education minister, and Belio Kipsang, his top civil servant, of failing to implement the law. Musau Ndunda, head of the national parents’ association, which is bringing the suit, says the government is guilty of “extraordinary doublespeak” when its officials ask why anyone would pay to send their child to school. Adding to Mr Ndunda’s frustration is his awareness, shared by many thousands of Kenyan parents, that the illicit fees are not being spent on better books and facilities but are merely padding the incomes of school administrators, none of whom—as far as he can tell—has been prosecuted.

We know best” is rather pervasive.

The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage

Michael Teitelbaum:

Everyone knows that the United States has long suffered from widespread shortages in its science and engineering workforce, and that if continued these shortages will cause it to fall behind its major economic competitors. Everyone knows that these workforce shortages are due mainly to the myriad weaknesses of American K-12 education in science and mathematics, which international comparisons of student performance rank as average at best.

Such claims are now well established as conventional wisdom. There is almost no debate in the mainstream. They echo from corporate CEO to corporate CEO, from lobbyist to lobbyist, from editorial writer to editorial writer. But what if what everyone knows is wrong? What if this conventional wisdom is just the same claims ricocheting in an echo chamber?

The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce. How can the conventional wisdom be so different from the empirical evidence? There are of course many complexities involved that cannot be addressed here. The key points, though, are these:


Don’t think, just teach: The party purges free thinkers but can it contain free thinking?

The Economist:

A MOTTO of Peking University, one of China’s leading academic institutions, is “freedom of thought and an all-embracing attitude”. But in recent months it was not all-embracing enough to allow Xia Yeliang, an outspoken economics professor, to keep his job. Economics was not the subject on which Mr Xia was most forthright. He was a signatory of Charter 08, a petition drawn up in 2008 that called for sweeping political change, and he was known for his liberal political views. (Another signatory of the charter was Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel peace prize in 2010 and is now serving an 11-year jail term for subversion.) Mr Xia was dismissed in October, accused of being a poor teacher. Unable to find another post in China, this month he took up a position as a visiting fellow at the Cato Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC.
 Mr Xia’s case is part of a wider clampdown on free-thinking intellectuals. In December Zhang Xuezhong, a legal scholar, was dismissed from East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai after he published a series of articles defending the provisions of China’s constitution. State media called such views a Western plot to overthrow the party. Also in December, Chen Hongguo, an academic at the Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi’an, resigned. The university had objected, among other things, to his holding salons that discussed texts by Western philosophers such as John Stuart Mill.

k-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Rhode Island Public Sector Pension Reform

The Economist:

WHEN Central Falls—a city of 19,000 people squeezed into barely one square mile—filed for bankruptcy in 2011, it sent shivers across Rhode Island and America. Some retired civil servants saw their pensions cut from $27,000 a year to $12,000. To stop the state from heading in the same direction, Gina Raimondo, its treasurer (pictured), launched a campaign to overhaul Rhode Island’s pension system, one of many that is in deep trouble (see map). She went from town to town explaining why change was needed, earning a reputation as a fiscally responsible Democrat with a bright political future. The legislature passed reforms in November 2011.


What Does Your MTI Contract Do for You? School Calendar

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter via a kind Linda Doeseckle email (PDF):

Does it matter to you when school begins in the fall? How about when and how long winter or spring break is? And, how about when the school year ends? Have you thought about how many days you work for your annual salary, or how many hours make up your school day? In members’ responses to many years of MTI bargaining surveys, all of these factors are “very important” to those in MTI’s various bargaining units.

It was MTI’s case in 1966 which gave teacher unions an equal voice in establishing all of the above. Ruling for MTI, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the school calendar is a mandatory subject of bargaining, meaning that a school district in Wisconsin must negotiate with the union to determine each of the factors described above. However, Governor Walker’s Act 10 reversed the Supreme Court’s ruling, because Act 10 removed workers’ rights to collectively bargain. And now to make it worse, there is a legislative proposal to enable school boards to unilaterally increase the number of hours in a school day.

Walker’s Act 10 enables a school board without a good conscience to abuse staff, especially teachers, because teachers are paid an annual salary not on an hourly basis. MTI’s victory before Judge Colas found Act 10, in great part, to be unconstitutional, which in turn enabled MTI to negotiate Collective Bargaining Agreements for MTI’s five bargaining units for 2014-15. Walker’s appeal of Judge Colas’ decision to the Supreme Court is pending decision. District management meantime, has refused to bargain over the calendar for the 2015-16 school year. This negativity not only impacts teachers’ planning for the 2015-16 school year, but is also causing families not to be able to plan ahead. Many families often plan vacations, weddings and other family and religious events years in advance.

A Positive Madison Magazine Article on Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham

Deanna Wright:

Last April, and to a remarkable amount of fanfare, Jennifer Cheatham became the superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District. From the very start, the community has opened its arms to welcome her. When I interviewed her for Madison Magazine TV last month, I was aware that the community, especially parents of color, continues to be hopeful, if not expectant, that she’ll be a superintendent who follows through on her promises to ensure that all students learn—no excuses. Here’s an excerpt of our talk.

Deana Wright: One component of the district’s new strategic framework is parental and community involvement. Research, of course, has shown that when parents get involved in their kids’ education, not only do test scores go up, but disciplinary problems go down. The report does indicate that the plan to develop family engagement strategies for each school is a little behind schedule. What is the next step?

Jennifer Cheatham: Each of our schools develop their school improvement plans, and one of the requirements for those improvement plans is to have a strategy for better engaging families. What we learned quickly is that our schools are struggling with that. They just don’t know enough about what great parent engagement looks like. So, we had to take a close look at, really, what defined parent and family engagement, first of all. I think we intentionally had to slow this work down, because we realized that it was more complicated than we originally thought and we’re trying to re-define family engagement so it isn’t about expecting families to come to us, to come to the traditional events that we hold in our schools, but to really think about family engagement differently.

DW: Does that mean going to them?


Jennifer Cheatham.

Madison’s long term disastrous reading results

Madison’s 2013-2014 budget, about $392,000,000 or $15k/student

A brief look at recent Madison Superintendents.

Google sued for data-mining students’ email

Lisa Vaas:

Google is in hot water for scanning millions of students’ email messages and allegedly building “surreptitious” profiles to target advertising at them.
 According to Education Week, a “potentially explosive” lawsuit is wending its way through US federal court, now being heard in the US District Court for the Northern District of California.
 In court filings, plaintiffs charge that Google data-mines Gmail users – a group that includes students who use the company’s Apps for Education tool suite.

My Final Report to the Community

Kaleem Caire, via a kind email:

This will be my final report to the community as the president & CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison. Today, former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray will take over as the interim leader of this great organization and I will spend the remainder of this month supporting his transition, ironing out my new path, drinking these wonderful green smoothies and enjoying more frequent trips to the gym and bike rides around town.

We have accomplished a great deal since I joined the organization on March 29, 2010. We increased the size, diversity and strength of our staff to meet increased community needs, invested more in their professional growth and development of our team members than ever before, and improved their compensation to be more consistent with the market rate for their positions. We also provided full-time employment to five team members who completed our job training programs.

Highlights of our other accomplishments:
Increased our industry-specific, skill-based training academies from one to five, adding Customer Service & Sales, IT, Food Service and Construction Trades Academies. We continue to operate the highly regarded Health Administration Training Program (HATP) and are exploring adding academies in facilities maintenance, coding and lab tech as well.
Added the Featured Employer Program, adding 40 new employer partners in just the last 18 months who are dedicated to hiring talent through the Urban League. Since January 2010, graduates of Urban League training programs have earned more than $17.2 million in salaries and wages, and yielded more than $3.5 million in paid taxes. We’ve also grown from serving 183 adults in 2009 to 1,731 in 2013 through our four-tiered workforce development strategy.

Launched the Urban League Scholars Academy, which is presently offering an extended day high school preparatory program to 127 sixth and seventh graders attending three Madison middle schools who have academic enrichment needs.

Tutored more than 2,500 children annually in 17 middle and high schools across four Madison area school districts, utilizing more than 900 skilled volunteers; prepared more than 300 students for success on the ACT college entrance exam; and launched a partnership with the Madison Metropolitan School District to identify young men and women who’ve dropped out of school and help them complete high school, prepare for the workforce, secure jobs and continue their post-secondary education.

Created the annual Workplace Diversity & Leadership Summit, Wisconsin’s largest training ground in workplace diversity for employers and career professionals, and the Urban League Jazz Cabaret, a new annual fundraiser. To learn more about the upcoming Summit on May 9th which we are co-hosting this year with the Madison Region Economic Partnership, click here.
Completed a comprehensive analysis of the needs and aspirations of residents of three important South Madison neighborhoods and hosted several community events that have brought together hundreds of residents to celebrate and work together, and build a strong South Madison community.

Established the Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals Chapter which will bring together an unprecedented number of diverse young professionals at its first ever Emerge Gala on March 29, 2014. To learn more and purchase tickets, click here.

Built one of the strongest and most diverse teams and Board of Directors among nonprofits in Greater Madison, and cultivated talented leaders who are doing great things within the Urban League and other organizations they have gone on to work for and lead.

Among our greatest achievements also was our effort to establish the Madison Preparatory Academy charter schools for young men and women. Though our vision was not realized, in pushing for the school we spearheaded an unprecedented and necessary conversation about the state of education for African American and low income children that has moved a community and a school district to become more engaged and accountable than ever.

It has been an honor and a pleasure to stand on the shoulders of the Urban League leaders and team members who’ve come before me, and serve this great organization and the Greater Madison region. Thank you for all the encouragement and support you’ve shown me and our team, and thank you for all that you do for our community as well. The Urban League is poised to accomplish great things for the community for years to come.

…and don’t forget to provide your sponsorship and buy your tickets to the YP’s Emerge Gala and Economic Development, Leadership & Diversity Summit. The League can’t succeed without your financial contribution, continued active engagement, and support.

To the Future. Onward.

Kaleem Caire
President & CEO
Urban League of Greater Madison

Much more on Kaleem Caire and the rejected Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter school.

The Future of Brain Implants

Gary Marcus & Christoph Koch:

What would you give for a retinal chip that let you see in the dark or for a next-generation cochlear implant that let you hear any conversation in a noisy restaurant, no matter how loud? Or for a memory chip, wired directly into your brain’s hippocampus, that gave you perfect recall of everything you read? Or for an implanted interface with the Internet that automatically translated a clearly articulated silent thought (“the French sun king”) into an online search that digested the relevant Wikipedia page and projected a summary directly into your brain?
 Science fiction? Perhaps not for very much longer. Brain implants today are where laser eye surgery was several decades ago. They are not risk-free and make sense only for a narrowly defined set of patients—but they are a sign of things to come.
 Unlike pacemakers, dental crowns or implantable insulin pumps, neuroprosthetics—devices that restore or supplement the mind’s capacities with electronics inserted directly into the nervous system—change how we perceive the world and move through it. For better or worse, these devices become part of who we are.
 Neuroprosthetics aren’t new. They have been around commercially for three decades, in the form of the cochlear implants used in the ears (the outer reaches of the nervous system) of more than 300,000 hearing-impaired people around the world. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first retinal implant, made by the company Second Sight.

A Progress Report on (math &) the Common Core

Tom Loveless:

William H. Schmidt of Michigan State University presented research on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics at the National Press Club on May 3, 2012.[1] A paper based on the same research, co-authored with Richard T. Houang, was published in Educational Researcher in October 2012.[2] Schmidt and Houang’s study (also referred to as the “MSU study” below) was important for endorsing CCSS’s prospective effectiveness at a time when debate on the CCSS was beginning to heat up. Opponents of the Common Core had criticized the CCSS for lacking empirical support. The MSU study showed that states with math standards similar to the Common Core, after controlling for other potential influences, registered higher NAEP scores in 2009 than states with standards divergent from the CCSS. The implication was that the math standards of CCSS would boost state math performance on NAEP.
 Is there reason to believe that projection will become reality? In this section of the Brown Center Report, a two-part investigation attempts to answer that question. First, the ratings of state standards provided by Schmidt and Houang’s study are examined using NAEP data that have been collected since their study was completed. The central question is whether the MSU ratings predict progress on NAEP from 2009-2013. Second, a new analysis is presented, independent from the MSU ratings, comparing the NAEP gains of states with varying degrees of CCSS implementation. The two analyses offer exploratory readings of how the Common Core is affecting achievement so far.
 Schmidt and Houang used state NAEP scores on the 2009 eighth grade math assessment to model the potential effectiveness of the CCSS. They first developed a scale to rate the degree of congruence of each state’s standards with the CCSS. The ratings were based on earlier work also conducted by Schmidt and his colleagues at MSU. That work made a lasting and important contribution to curriculum studies by attempting to represent the quality of curriculum standards—both international and domestic—in a quantitative form.[3] The key dimensions measured in the MSU ratings are focus and coherence. Focus refers to limiting topics in the math curriculum to the most important topics and teaching them in depth. Coherence refers to organizing topics in a manner that reflects the underlying structure of mathematics, allowing knowledge and skills to build sequentially.
 In the National Press Club talk, Schmidt presented a chart showing how the states fell on the congruence measure (see Table 3-1). Alabama, Michigan, California, and the others at the top of the scale had standards most like the CCSS math standards. Arizona, Nevada, Iowa and those at the bottom of the scale had standards that diverged from the CCSS.

College admissions are a joke: Why the process has nothing to do with education

Matthew Bruenig:

Last week, the College Board announced that the writing portion of the SAT college admissions test would be made optional. The move returns the test to its pre-2005 form with its 1,600-point scale based upon math and reading questions.
 The speculated reasons for the change include the fact that the SAT has been losing market share to the ACT college admissions test and that the SAT writing section is an unnatural and flawed writing indicator. These may be the actual motivating reasons for the change, but the SAT and the college admission process in general is flawed in a much more fundamental way.
 It’s no secret that the SAT, like most other educational metrics, is strongly correlated to the socioeconomic status of the student that takes it. The richer and more educated a kid’s parents are, the better they do on the test, all the way up and down the income educational attainment scales.
 Although much has been made recently of the undermatching of high-performing, low-income students with good colleges, expensive test prep courses and the increasing cost of college, it is class-based credential disparities that dominantly drive class-based disparities in college access. This is true for both the attendance of college itself and the quality of college attended. The parents of richer kids are certainly able to corruptly rig the game here and there in their favor, but the fact remains that kids from poorer backgrounds are just, on the whole, far behind their more affluent peers by the time college rolls around.

Stop the Glorification of Busy


I didn’t realize it was time for finals until I read the Facebook status updates. My newsfeed was littered with posts discussing immense sleep deprivation; pictures of meals comprised of Hot Cheetos, Red Bulls, and 5-Hour Energy drinks; and extensive lists of extracurricular activities that needed to be accomplished, alongside finals, in a ridiculously short amount of time. I’m no longer in college, so I was able to look at this with an outsider’s lens and what I saw astounded me. It was ridiculous. I was bothered by how the practices, and consequences, of busyness were glorified. Students wrote about them as if they were embarking on a fruitful challenge: maxing out the total credits they could take, being involved in every club, not sleeping. They would reap the rewards of A’s today and impressive resumes later, the health of their bodies not even considered. Several months ago, I was doing the exact same thing.
 In fact, I was probably the perfect illustration of the situation I am describing. By my senior year, I was managing student government, acting in a play, teaching a class, taking 20 credits, being in a research program, trying to bring about revolution…you get the idea. My mind was proud of my accomplishments, but my body suffered the consequences. It became so difficult to sleep that I required sleeping pills. I had panic attacks, which I never had before. My back and head were constantly hurting from tension. The food I was eating did not feel good in my body.
 Maybe it was my overachieving self. Maybe it was my inferiority complex as a poor womyn of color who doubted whether she was good enough. Who was trying to ensure she was a good job candidate to help her family pay rent they couldn’t afford. Who dreamed of graduate school, but was unsure of what it looked like or how to get there. Who tried to shout, “Fuck you!” to stereotypes and barriers. Who was trying to bring change NOW because she was impatient and tired of experiencing oppression.

A few links on the April, 2014 Madison School Board Election & Climate, 1 contested seat, 1 uncontested

Interview with MMSD School Board candidate Wayne Strong Safe schools and high academic achievement:

High academic achievement, for Strong, means that all of our MMSD students are achieving to the fullest extent of their abilities.

“Whether you are a TAG [Talented and Gifted] or a special-needs student or whether you are a middleof- the-road student, the teachers [should be] challenging our students to do the best that they can do and to be the best that they can be,” Strong says.

“We’ve got to make sure we are doing that for all of our students.”

Strong wants to improve graduation rates and he feels that the disparity in the way that kids are disciplined affects that quite a bit.

“Right now, our African American students are only graduating at a rate of 53 percent. That’s still not good,” Strong says.

Michael Flores: I’ll build bridge from community to School Board, more.

Madison school board candidates Wayne Strong and Michael Flores propose achievement gap solutions.

Credit Kaleem Caire for big impact

It’s easy to talk about Madison’s awful record of graduating barely half of its black high school students in four years, among other glaring racial disparities.

Kaleem Caire actually did something about it. And that’s what matters most. Caire’s impact on Madison during his four years as leader of the Urban League of Greater Madison has been profound.

Unfortunately, unanswered questions about his surprising departure and “less than ideal” use of the nonprofit’s credit cards won’t help the cause. It will give supporters of the status quo more leverage to argue against bold change.

The Madison School Board in late 2011 rejected the Urban League’s promising charter school proposal, siding with the teachers union over the Urban League and its many supporters. The proposal for a Madison Preparatory Academy was aimed at low-achieving minority students. It would have offered higher expectations for students, a longer school day and year, more pressure on parents to get involved, more minority teachers, uniforms, same-sex classes and internships with local employers

Libbey Meister: Flores would be wonderful School Board member.

Ed Hughes: I look forward to helping Madison schools thrive (Mr. Hughes is running uncontested for the 3rd time).

On Politics: Mary Burke would cut statewide vouchers, private school tuition deduction

‘Intelligent people are more likely to trust others’


Intelligent people are more likely to trust others, while those who score lower on measures of intelligence are less likely to do so, says a new study. Oxford University researchers based their finding on an analysis of the General Social Survey, a nationally representative public opinion survey carried out in the United States every one to two years. The authors say one explanation could be that more intelligent individuals are better at judging character and so they tend to form relationships with people who are less likely to betray them. Another reason could be that smarter individuals are better at weighing up situations, recognising when there is a strong incentive for the other person not to meet their side of the deal.
 The study, published in the journal, PLOS ONE, supports previous research that analysed data on trust and intelligence from European countries. The authors say the research is significant because social trust contributes to the success of important social institutions, such as welfare systems and financial markets. In addition, research shows that individuals who trust others report better health and greater happiness.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: 70% Of U.S. Spending Is Writing Checks To Individuals

Investors Business Daily:

Buried deep in a section of President Obama’s budget, released this week, is an eye-opening fact: This year, 70% of all the money the federal government spends will be in the form of direct payments to individuals, an all-time high.

In effect, the government has become primarily a massive money-transfer machine, taking $2.6 trillion from some and handing it back out to others. These government transfers now account for 15% of GDP, another all-time high. In 1991, direct payments accounted for less than half the budget and 10% of GDP.
What’s more, the cost of these direct payments is exploding. Even after adjusting for inflation, they’ve shot up 29% under Obama.
ObamaCare, Medicare…

Where do these checks go? The biggest chunk, 38.6%, goes to pay health bills, either through Medicare, Medicaid or ObamaCare. A third goes out in the form of Social Security checks. Only 21% goes toward poverty programs — or “income security” as it’s labeled in the budget — and a mere 5% ends up in the hands of veterans.

Colleges Trying Everything—Except Cutting Costs

Walter Russell Mead:

With enrollments down and tuition peaking, many colleges are looking everywhere for way to enhance their revenue streams. A new piece in the New York Times describes the rise of “bridge programs,” which are essentially third-party companies hired by colleges to recruit foreign students to study in American schools and prepare them for a foreign educational system.

The purpose of these programs is twofold: There is an abundance of talented foreign students eager to study in the U.S., but most have only heard of the big-name schools, but there aren’t a lot of spots open. Enter bridge programs, which steer foreign students toward lesser-known schools and offer them crash courses in the peculiarities of the American learning environment.

The second purpose of these programs—boosting applications and enrollment—is of more interest to the universities:

Milwaukee’s onetime premier arts school now caught in violent spiral

Erin Richards:

It was once the premier creative arts school in the Milwaukee area, drawing students from as far away as Elkhorn and Cedarburg.

Now, the staffers at Roosevelt Middle School talk about the size and number of fights they endure.

Former teacher Caryl Davis remembers a Thursday afternoon in 2012, when a fight started among students. The disruption spread, and Davis saw a group of eighth-grade boys rush around a corner.

She put her arms out to slow them down, and one boy twisted her arm painfully behind her back, Davis told police. The incident resulted in a torn rotator cuff, she said, and the trauma ultimately prompted her to resign.

Few who attended Roosevelt in its prime would recognize the place it has become. The school, at 800 W. Walnut St., has 627 students in sixth through eighth grades. Last month, Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton called for an emergency reorganization next year, eliminating the sixth-grade class entirely so staff could get a handle on the seventh and eighth grades for a year.

The Spring Break College Tour: A Survival Guide

Rob Lazebnik:

March Madness is upon us, by which I mean the tradition of taking your high school junior on a manic tour of college campuses. I’ve done it twice now, so I feel that I have some perspective on how to survive it.

As the parent, you have much to offer on this exciting and emotional journey—paying for it and doing the driving. But this limited influence does give you leeway to help design the trip, and here is where you can begin your subtle campaign of influencing where your kid goes to college. Keep your designs sub rosa, because the minute you say, “I’d love to see you at UMass Amherst,” she’ll set her heart on Sarah Lawrence. That one little sentence can cost you $40,000.

You’re only going to have a week or so on the tour, so you’ll have to pick your schools carefully. Most likely your kid will have already assembled a wish list of colleges to see. Don’t feel hurt if those places are far away from you—that is only because she wants to be really far away from you.

First off, pick schools that are only one nonstop flight away. A kid who has to take multiple planes to get home will soon be saying, “Brandon’s family is close, so I’m going to spend Thanksgiving there instead and go crossbow hunting with him and his friends.”

As you plot out a Google GOOG -0.19% map of the schools you want to visit, use the opportunity to avoid colleges you feel aren’t a good “fit”—that is college counselor-ese for, “She doesn’t have a shot in hell of getting in.”

How to fix higher education

Reihan Salam:

America’s elite higher education institutions are the envy of the world. Foreign students flock to the oldest and wealthiest U.S. research universities to take advantage of resources that are unparalleled, thanks to the deep pockets of many centuries’ worth of captains of industry.
 Yet when we consider the post-secondary institutions that educate the typical American high school grad, we see a very different picture. While the share of Americans who enroll in higher education has grown substantially in recent decades, graduation rates have been stagnant.
 Community colleges promise an affordable education to millions of students, but they often fail to offer the courses students need to complete a degree in a reasonable amount of time. Public colleges and universities churn out graduates who are forced to take jobs that don’t actually require a four-year post-secondary education. Most private non-profits do the same, and they’re also notorious for charging obscene tuition that their graduates can scarcely afford. And private for-profits, which have grown enormously by taking on some of the hardest-to-accommodate students, stand accused of loading up their students with debt without offering them marketable skills.

Philly school district broke, but the pay is good

Maura Pennington:

Salaries for employees in the Philadelphia school district are staggering.
 The district has 10 superintendents who make a combined $1.64 million annually. Superintendent William Hite tops the list at $270,000, and his deputy makes $210,000. Eight assistant superintendents each make $145,000.
 For the sake of comparison, Gov. Tom Corbett makes $175,000 annually.
 And while the district’s budget director makes $128,724, Philadelphia is operating so deeply and persistently in a deficit that students are underserved by actual school personnel.
 Department heads with titles such as “chief talent officer” and “chief of strategic partnerships” pull in six-figure salaries from the school district, but so do 13 deputy department chiefs.
 In total, 395 employees on the district payrolls make more than $100,000, although not a single one is a teacher or a staff member who spends the majority of his or her time in the classroom.
 The list, however, includes 218 principals and 60 assistant principals. The average base salary for a principal is $137,919.
 But those numbers soon may change. The principals’ union, the Commonwealth of School Administrators, struck a tentative deal this month with the district that features a 15 percent pay cut. Even with that, most senior administrators would still earn six-figure salaries.

Poorer families are bearing the brunt of college price hikes, data show

By Jon Marcus and Holly K. Hacker:

America’s colleges and universities are quietly shifting the burden of their big tuition increases onto low-income students, while many higher-income families are seeing their college costs rise more slowly, or even fall, an analysis of federal data shows.
 It’s a trend financial-aid experts and some university administrators worry will further widen the gap between the nation’s rich and poor as college degrees—especially four-year ones—drift beyond the economic reach of growing numbers of students.
 “We’re just exacerbating the income inequalities and educational achievement gaps,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit group that advocates for Latino and other students.

Homework’s Emotional Toll on Students and Families

KJ Dell’Antonio:

When your children arrive home from school this evening, what will be your first point of conflict? How’s this for an educated guess? Homework.
 Do they have any? How much? When are they going to do it? Can they get it done before practice/rehearsal/dinner? After? When is it due? When did they start it? Even parents who are wholly hands off about the homework itself still need information about how much, when and how long if there are any family plans in the offing — because, especially for high school students in high-performing schools, homework has become the single dominating force in their nonschool lives.
 Researchers asked 4,317 students from 10 high-performing high schools in upper-middle-class California communities to describe the impact of homework on their lives, and the results offer a bleak picture that many of us can see reflected around our dining room tables. The students reported averaging 3.1 hours of homework nightly, and they added comments like: “There’s never a break. Never.”

Madison Schools’ Referendum & Possible Boundary Change Commentary

Molly Beck:

Even though expanding eight schools is only part of the plan, “if there’s any one (school) that looks particularly challenging to explain,” Hughes said, “we know that will be what the opponents of the referendum will latch onto. … We are going to have to be able to work through that and decide whether each of these is separately defensible.”

Hughes added that attendance area boundary changes are tough, but the board might find out that could be a solution for one or two of the schools.

Board vice president Arlene Silveira and board member T.J. Mertz also said that the controversial idea needed to be thoroughly vetted.

“We have to have the discussion about boundaries — we have to show that we looked at it, and what that showed,” said Silveira, who also added that internal transfers at popular schools like Van Hise Elementary and Hamilton Middle School needed to also be examined as a way to relieve crowding.

Board member Mary Burke said making the proposed investment in the eight schools could ultimately save the district the cost of having to build schools, especially if the district sees enrollment gains in the future as schools improve.

Related: Might low income student distribution be addressed? and Effective school maintenance spending?

Colleges Are Tested by Push to Prove Graduates’ Career Success

Melissa Korn:

College admissions officers trumpet graduates’ success in finding well-paying jobs. But the schools often have a hard time getting solid proof.

Boiling down employment outcomes to a single metric isn’t easy, many college officials say, since hurdles stand in the way of gathering meaningful figures and conveying them. Others say they are leery of tying the nuances of educational success to dollar figures.

But with student-loan debt outstanding hitting a record $1.1 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the issue of quantifying graduate success has become increasingly important as colleges come under pressure to prove the education they provide is worth the investment.

Bonnie Mann Falk was dismayed at the lack of information on student outcomes that she and her daughter, Mollie, got from admissions officers during the college hunt this past fall. Mollie, a 17-year-old high-school senior from Long Island in New York, plans to study retail management and sought assurance she could find a job in that industry.