How to Tell Science Stories with Maps

Greg Miller:

Maps are amazing for their ability to show us something we can’t see directly, from the path of the Curiosity rover on Mars, to the tangle of underground fracking wells in North Dakota, to clusters of unvaccinated schoolchildren in California. For journalists, maps can be both a powerful data-visualization tool and a reporting tool.

“Maps are some of the most information-dense ways of communicating data,” says Len De Groot, director of data visualization at the Los Angeles Times. People understand maps intuitively because they use them in their everyday lives, De Groot says. “You can do a lot in a map because people already understand the fundamentals—unlike, say, a scatterplot.”

Maps can also reveal relationships and stories that aren’t otherwise apparent. In the mid-2000s, De Groot was part of a team at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that mapped FEMA disbursements after several hurricanes, including Hurricane Frances, which struck in 2004. “We didn’t start with any agenda, we were just doing the standard where’s-the-money-going thing,” he says. “To our surprise there was one zip code in Miami where we saw there was a spike in payouts in areas where we knew there was very little damage.” That led to a broader investigation by the paper, which revealed widespread fraud and got the paper nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and ultimately led to policy changes at FEMA.

Let’s Abolish Social Science

Michael Lind:

In my old age, I hope to found a new university, called rather unimaginatively the New University, with funding from one or another imprudent billionaire (a prudent billionaire would turn me down). In contemporary universities and colleges there is often a division among the natural sciences, social science and humanities. In my New University, there would be only two faculties: natural sciences and the humanities. The social sciences would be abolished.

Social science was — it is best to speak in the past tense — a mistake. The dream of a comprehensive science of society, which would elucidate “laws of history” or “social laws” comparable to the physical determinants or “laws” of nature, was one of the great delusions of the 19th century. Auguste Comte formulated a Religion of Humanity based on “the positive philosophy” or Positivism. Karl Marx went to his grave convinced that his discovery of laws of history had made him the Darwin or Newton of social science.

Positivism mercifully had little political influence, except in 19th-century Brazil, to which it contributed the national motto “Order and Progress.” In the 20th century Marxism split between a revisionist branch which became indistinguishable from welfare-state capitalism and communist totalitarianism, which survives in pure form today only in North Korea, and from the devastating effects of which Russia, China, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Vietnam and other countries are slowly recovering.

The Gifts of a Teacher

Bret Stephens:

Why teach? More than once in recent years I’ve heard from teachers, nearing or past retirement, who wondered whether they had chosen the right profession. One thought that maybe she would have done better as an architect. “That way,” she said, “at least I could point to something I made.”

I suspect that many teachers harbor these sorts of doubts—the wiser the teacher, the graver the doubt. Teaching at its best is less in the business of imparting knowledge than it is of shaping souls. But who can tell what, if anything, has been shaped, much less how well? How much can any single teacher do, in the space of a semester or two, to form the interior spaces of her students’ intellectual and emotional lives?

Amy Kass, one of the best teachers I ever had (along with her husband, Leon, also at Chicago), was not immune to these sorts of doubts. She knew that even in the best classrooms at the University of Chicago, with the brightest students in the country, there was a limit to what she could accomplish.

Let’s Get This Straight: Income Inequality And Poverty Aren’t The Same Thing

Harry Frankfurt:

There is very considerable discussion nowadays about the increas­ingly conspicuous discrepancy between the incomes of wealthier Americans and the incomes of those Americans who are less wealthy. President Barack Obama has declared that income in­equality is the greatest political challenge of our time. But just what is so awful about economic inequality? Why should we have this great concern, urged upon us by so many politicians and public figures, about the growing gap between the in­comes of the richest people in our country and the incomes of those who are less affluent?

The first thing to notice is that economic inequal­ity, however undesirable it may be for various reasons, is not in­herently a bad thing. Think about it: We could arrange for the members of a society to be economically equal by ensuring that the economic resources available to each member of the society put everyone equally below the poverty line. To make everyone equally poor is, obviously, not a very intelligent social ambition.

New Orleans, the Reluctant ‘City Laboratory’

Brentin Mock:

Referring to New Orleans as anything like a “laboratory” during the first weeks and months after Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters receded would have been a bad move. As displaced residents trickled back into the city, they were first and foremost seeking help with piecing their old lives back together: How were they going to pay for a new roof? Where could they find their displaced aunts and nephews? How would they soothe their traumatized children back to sleep during rainstorms? Any conversation about “experimentation” wasn’t going to fly with already rattled residents.

And yet, public hypothesizing about a “new” New Orleans began nearly immediately. James Reiss, an avatar of Uptown wealth and chairman of the Regional Transit Authority, helicoptered back into New Orleans after the floods to declare, “Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically.”

“People know next to nothing about Reconstruction”: The pernicious Civil War revisionism poisoning American history students

Eric Fonor:

No living historian has done more to shape our understanding of the American Civil War era than Eric Foner. A rare scholar who is both prominent outside the historical community and esteemed within it, over the course of a fifty-year career Foner has acquired virtually every award, tribute, and professional honor available to a historian in the United States.

Yet the true measure of his legacy lies not in accolades but influence. Foner’s most important books have transformed the way we see — and the way we teach — the origins of the Civil War, the significance of slave emancipation, and the politics of postwar Reconstruction.

Foner grew up in a New York family equally devoted to historical scholarship and left-wing politics. His father, Jack, and his uncle, Philip, both taught history at City College before they were dismissed and blacklisted as Communists.

Commentary on Student Testing

Kristina Rizga:

ONE HOT MORNING in May, Kiana Hernandez came to class early. She stood still outside the door, intensely scanning each face in the morning rush of shoulders, hats, and backpacks. She felt anxious. For more than eight months she had been thinking about what she was about to do, but she didn’t want it to be a big scene.

As her English teacher approached the door, she blocked him with her petite, slender frame. Then, in a soft voice, she said, “I’m sorry. I’m not going to take the test today.” The multiple-choice test that morning was one of 15 that year alone, and she’d found out it would be used primarily as part of her teacher’s job evaluation. She’d come into class, she said, but would spend the hour quietly studying.

More College Students Selling Stock—in Themselves

Douglas Belkin:

Elida Gonzalez feared drowning in college debt on her road to a middle-class job, so instead she sold investors a piece of her future.

The now-23-year-old daughter of a farm worker from Santa Maria, Calif., signed up with 13th Avenue Funding, borrowing $15,000 to complete her bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The Sacramento-based nonprofit group agreed to fund her college expenses in exchange for a share of her future earnings in an arrangement called an income-share agreement.

“I was able to trust them, which is really hard for me to do,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who could pay back more than the cost of a traditional loan if she does well, but is on the hook for only 5% of her income for 15 years if she doesn’t. Repayments don’t kick in until she makes at least $18,000 a year.

How The Ballpoint Pen Killed Cursive

Josh Giesbrecht:

ecently, Bic launched a campaign to “save handwriting.” Named “Fight for Your Write,” it includes a pledge to “encourage the act of handwriting” in the pledge-taker’s home and community, and emphasizes putting more of the company’s ballpoints into classrooms.

As a teacher, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone could think there’s a shortage. I find ballpoint pens all over the place: on classroom floors, behind desks. Dozens of castaways collect in cups on every teacher’s desk. They’re so ubiquitous that the word “ballpoint” is rarely used; they’re just “pens.” But despite its popularity, the ballpoint pen is relatively new in the history of handwriting, and its influence on popular handwriting is more complicated than the Bic campaign would imply.

The Most Affordable Place in the U.S. to Raise a Family

Eric Morath:

A family of four can meet its basic needs for $49,114 a year in Morristown, Tenn.—about half the income needed to raise a family in New York or Washington.

There are 140 communities and regions where a family can meet basic needs such as rent, health care and taxes for less than $60,000 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator released Wednesday.

But in Washington, New York, San Francisco and six other areas, the same essentials cost at least $90,000 a year.

Madison’s growing property tax burden is a not insignificant factor in family costs.

K-12 Tax & spending climate: China Selling US Debt Holdings


Chinese sales of U.S. government debt may have kept yields from falling this month as a selloff in global stocks prompted investors to favor the safest assets.

“By selling Treasuries to defend the renminbi, they’re preventing Treasury yields from going lower despite the fact that we’ve seen a sharp drop in the stock market,” David Woo, head of global rates and currencies research at Bank of America Corp., said on Bloomberg Television on Wednesday. “China has a direct impact on global markets through U.S. rates.”

China Holdings
The latest available Treasury data and estimates by strategists suggest that China controls $1.48 trillion of U.S. government debt, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That includes about $200 billion held through Belgium, which Nomura Holdings Inc. says is home to Chinese custodial accounts.

The PBOC has sold at least $106 billion of reserve assets in the last two weeks, including Treasuries, according to an estimate from Societe Generale SA. The figure was based on the bank’s calculation of how much liquidity will be added to China’s financial system through Tuesday’s reduction of interest rates and lenders’ reserve-requirement ratios. The assumption is that the central bank aims to replenish the funds it drained when it bought yuan to stabilize the currency.

Related: Hillary Clinton’s plan to borrow and spend more for student debt….

Study delivers bleak verdict on validity of psychology experiment results

Ian Sample:

A major investigation into scores of claims made in psychology research journals has delivered a bleak verdict on the state of the science.

An international team of experts repeated 100 experiments published in top psychology journals and found that they could reproduce only 36% of original findings.

The study, which saw 270 scientists repeat experiments on five continents, was launched by psychologists in the US in response to rising concerns over the reliability of psychology research.

The first imperative: Science that isn’t transparent isn’t science
Read more
“There is no doubt that I would have loved for the effects to be more reproducible,” said Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology who led the study at the University of Virgina. “I am disappointed, in the sense that I think we can do better.”

The Inadequacy of Word Processors for Academic Writing


There are more than 130 million students and faculty in Higher Education worldwide. Every one of these individuals needs to write academic papers and articles. However, the tools we have for academic writing are extremely limited (see Table 1):

Microsoft Word is, primarily, desktop with a wide range of features making it difficult to learn and demands too much time to manage the formatting, and also causes version control issues
Google docs is a cloud-based product with excellent collaboration features, but is limited for most academic work
Scrivener is a Mac product that has some nice note features, but has a very confusing user interface
Authorea is a relatively new cloud-based word processor, but it is a latex product that requires knowledge of this technical language

Behind The Ivy Curtain: A Data Driven Guide to Elite College Admissions Kindle Edition


Let me give you some backstory. I went to a fun high school but it was really easy and fun and I was a pretty big slacker. Around sophomore spring I decided I wanted to leave Florida, and the best way to do that was to get a scholarship to a good school. I had no idea how to do that so I spent a bunch of time reading online forums like College Confidential ( to figure out what works. I then acted on the advice, became the first kid from my school to go to an Ivy, and gave presentations/tutoring sessions at school to help other kids – I’m still close with my principal and try to be involved in the community there.

Anyways, I really wanted to consolidate my knowledge in book form, but there are other books on college admissions. So what I did was programmatically scrape the forums to gather admission results for nearly 5,000 kids over several years to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Most of you have graduated college already, but I really want to use the book to share this info broadly. Specifically, college admissions consulting is a multi-million dollar industry for no reason – it’s all built on information asymmetry. I want to get this stuff into the hands of every interested kid, and I wanted to use real data/outcomes instead of “oh well this one kid a few years ago did X”, so I put in the effort and wrote this book.

What’s Really At Stake When A School Closes?

Jelani Cobb:

Jamaica High School, in Queens, was once the largest high school in the United States. For most of its history, it occupied a majestic Georgian Revival building on Gothic Drive, designed in the nineteen-twenties by William H. Gompert, who had begun his career at McKim, Mead & White. With east and west wings, granite columns, and an elaborate bell tower, the building looked like a state capitol that had been dropped into the middle of a residential neighborhood; it sat on the crest of a hill so imposing that planners would have been guilty of pretense had it housed anything other than a public institution.

One evening in June of last year, Jamaica students wearing red and blue gowns gathered with their families and teachers and with members of the school staff at Antun’s, a catering hall in Queens Village, for the senior-class commencement ceremony. Accompanying the festivities was the traditional graduation boilerplate—about life transitions and rising to new challenges—but it carried a particular significance on this occasion, because it was as applicable to the faculty and the staff, some of whom had been at the school for nearly three decades, as it was to the students. After a hundred and twenty-two years, Jamaica High School was closing; the class of 2014, which had just twenty-four members, would be the last.

Talking Humans and Machines with NYT’s John Markoff


Longtime New York Times technology and science writer John Markoff joins the a16z Podcast to discuss our changing relationship with technology and machines … as well as the changing nature of Silicon Valley itself (where Markoff grew up).

Jumping off from the themes of Markoff’s new book, Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots, we explore the future of human and robot work; hear about chatbots that keep kids enthralled during “toilet time;” and the implications of “the wheels finally falling off of Moore’s Law” — something people have long predicted but has never happened yet. And finally, why education is the raw material for a future where humans and intelligent machines work hand in (robotic) hand.

Civics and “equal protection under the law”

Troy Senik

What’s truly unsettling is that it has been widely taken as read among both the media and the general public that Mrs. Clinton will likely avoid serious legal consequences for her behavior because the Justice Department is ultimately answerable to President Obama – and Democrats will not use the instruments of government to destroy one of their own. Whether that eventually proves true, the sentiment itself reveals a troubling trend in American politics.

While it’s far from unheard of for public officials to apply less-exacting standards to their partisan allies, it’s unnerving that the segments of society charged with keeping those officials in check – namely, the media and the voters – now regard such lack of principle as so unremarkable that it barely merits mention. We have transformed into a country in which it’s difficult to imagine precisely what kind of official malfeasance would be met with more than a shrug of the shoulders.

While this trend has been at work for decades – you can thank both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton for hastening the decline – it has reached escape velocity during the Obama years. The Justice Department, for example, already took a pass on prosecuting Lois Lerner, the IRS official at the center of the scandal in which conservative groups were singled out for special scrutiny by the federal government on the basis of their political beliefs. If there’s anything that ought to be a matter of consensus in American politics, it’s that holding the reins of power doesn’t give you carte blanche to turn the power of the state against your partisan rivals. Yet Ms. Lerner, having done that very thing, doesn’t seem to be much worse for the wear.

Civics: Printing Money Goes Haywire in Venezuela

Megan McArdle:

The problem was that the money he was using was, essentially, the nation’s seed corn. Venezuelan crude oil is relatively expensive to extract and refine and required a high level of investment just to keep production level. As long as oil prices were booming, this policy wasn’t too costly because the increase offset production losses. But this suffered from the same acceleration problem that we discussed earlier: The more production fell, the more the country needed prices to rise to offset it. Between 1996 and 2001, Venezuela was producing more than 3 million barrels a day. It is now producing about 2.7 million barrels a day. In real terms, the price of a barrel of oil is barely higher than it was in August 2000, but Venezuela is producing something like 700,000 fewer barrels each day. Policies that looked great on the way up — more revenue and more social spending — became disastrous on the way down as the population was hit with the double whammy of lower production and lower prices.

This was predictable. Indeed, many people predicted it, including me, though I was just channeling smarter and better-informed people, not displaying any particular sagacity. But the Venezuelan government either didn’t listen to the predictions or didn’t believe them. Now falling oil prices are crushing government revenues at exactly the time the country most needs money to help the people who are suffering great misery as the oil cash drains out of their economy. In the beginning, printing money may have looked like the best of a lot of bad options. By the time it became clear that the country was not fudging its way out of a temporary hole, but making a bad situation worse, it was committed to a course that is extremely painful to reverse.

K-12 tax & spending climate: We borrow too much from the future at our peril

Peter Fisher:

Why are central bankers so concerned with liquidity? Is this sympathy for the plight of the hard-working bond trader? It is more likely they wonder if the lofty asset prices they have engineered with quantitative easing can be sustained.

By liquidity we mean our ability to sell an asset without material loss. In this sense, individual transactions can be liquid and some of us can find liquidity for some of our assets some of the time. But we cannot all withdraw our deposits from the bank the same day nor sell all our bonds and stocks at the same time.

In financial markets when we rush for the exits the doors get smaller. The system rests on a liquidity illusion. Keynes derided the idea that liquidity was a virtue, calling it an antisocial fetish that “forgets that there is no such thing as liquidity of investment for the community as a whole”.

Related: Madison property tax growth compared with income (ability to pay)…

‘My degree is next to worthless’


I’ve had a few interviews, but even those jobs that are advertised for graduates end up being taken by people with experience.

Who is going to hire someone with no experience when they can get someone who has it?

I went to university as a mature student after realising, aged 25, what I wanted to do.

But I can’t do that, and now I’m 35 and working in a pub because I have lots of experience in that industry.

It’s either that or a call centre – that is all my CV says.
I’ve given up applying for town-planning jobs, it’s pointless.

How The U.S. Is Neglecting Its Smartest Kids

Anya Kamenetz:

So it’s not surprising that his grandkids got him wondering about — and researching — a big question: How well is the U.S. educating its top performers?

His answer: not very. “High achievers are being neglected in all sort of ways by schools that had no incentive to push them farther up.”

His research became a book, with co-author Brandon Wright, out next month from Harvard Education Press. It’s titled Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students. It contains an analysis of the U.S. issue, plus case studies on gifted education from a dozen countries around the world.

College Board AP History Changes

Daniel Henninger:

In this summer of agitated discontent for American conservatives, we can report a victory for them, assuming that is still permitted.

Last year, the College Board, the nonprofit corporation that controls all the high-school Advanced Placement courses and exams, published new guidelines for the AP U.S. history test. They read like a left-wing dream. Obsession with identity, gender, class, crimes against the American Indian and the…

Visual cortex of blind children can be remodeled to process language.

Anne Trafton:

In 2011, MIT neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe and colleagues reported that in blind adults, brain regions normally dedicated to vision processing instead participate in language tasks such as speech and comprehension. Now, in a study of blind children, Saxe’s lab has found that this transformation occurs very early in life, before the age of 4.

The study, appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience, suggests that the brains of young children are highly plastic, meaning that regions usually specialized for one task can adapt to new and very different roles. The findings also help to define the extent to which this type of remodeling is possible.

“In some circumstances, patches of cortex appear to take on other roles than the ones that they most typically have,” says Saxe, a professor of cognitive neuroscience and an associate member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “One question that arises from that is, ‘What is the range of possible differences between what a cortical region typically does and what it could possibly do?’”

The Case for Teaching Ignorance

Jamie Holmes:

IN the mid-1980s, a University of Arizona surgery professor, Marlys H. Witte, proposed teaching a class entitled “Introduction to Medical and Other Ignorance.” Her idea was not well received; at one foundation, an official told her he would rather resign than support a class on ignorance.

Dr. Witte was urged to alter the name of the course, but she wouldn’t budge. Far too often, she believed, teachers fail to emphasize how much about a given topic is unknown. “Textbooks spend 8 to 10 pages on pancreatic cancer,” she said some years later, “without ever telling the student that we just don’t know very much about it.” She wanted her students to recognize the limits of knowledge and to appreciate that questions often deserve as much attention as answers. Eventually, the American Medical Association funded the class, which students would fondly remember as “Ignorance 101.”

At Auburn, Athletics and Academics Collide

Ben Cohen:

In 2013, Auburn University’s curriculum review committee took up the case of a small, unpopular undergraduate major called public administration. After concluding that the major added very little to the school’s academic mission, the committee voted to eliminate it.

But according to internal documents and emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the committee’s decision was ultimately overruled by top administrators after it met significant opposition from another powerful force on campus: Auburn’s athletic department.

How do British and American attitudes to dictionaries differ?

For 20 years, 14 of those in England, I’ve been giving lectures about the social power afforded to dictionaries, exhorting my students to discard the belief that dictionaries are infallible authorities. The students laugh at my stories about nuns who told me that ain’t couldn’t be a word because it wasn’t in the (school) dictionary and about people who talk about the Dictionary in the same way that they talk about the Bible. But after a while I realized that nearly all the examples in the lecture were, like me, American. At first, I could use the excuse that I’d not been in the UK long enough to encounter good examples of dictionary jingoism. But British examples did not present themselves over the next decade, while American ones kept streaming in. Rather than laughing with recognition, were my students simply laughing with amusement at my ridiculous teachers? Is the notion of dictionary-as-Bible less compelling in a culture where only about 17% of the population consider religion to be important to their lives? (Compare the U.S., where 3 in 10 people believe that the Bible provides literal truth.) I’ve started to wonder: how different are British and American attitudes toward dictionaries, and to what extent can those differences be attributed to the two nations’ relationships with the written word?

Our constitutions are a case in point. The United States Constitution is a written document that is extremely difficult to change; the most recent amendment took 202 years to ratify. We didn’t inherit this from the British, whose constitution is uncodified — it’s an aggregation of acts, treaties, and tradition. If you want to freak an American out, tell them that you live in a country where ‘[n]o Act of Parliament can be unconstitutional, for the law of the land knows not the word or the idea’. Americans are generally satisfied that their constitution — which is just about seven times longer than this blog post — is as relevant today as it was when first drafted and last amended. We like it so much that a holiday to celebrate it was instituted in 2004.

The Case for Teaching Ignorance

Jamie Holmes:

IN the mid-1980s, a University of Arizona surgery professor, Marlys H. Witte, proposed teaching a class entitled “Introduction to Medical and Other Ignorance.” Her idea was not well received; at one foundation, an official told her he would rather resign than support a class on ignorance.

Dr. Witte was urged to alter the name of the course, but she wouldn’t budge. Far too often, she believed, teachers fail to emphasize how much about a given topic is unknown. “Textbooks spend 8 to 10 pages on pancreatic cancer,” she said some years later, “without ever telling the student that we just don’t know very much about it.” She wanted her students to recognize the limits of knowledge and to appreciate that questions often deserve as much attention as answers. Eventually, the American Medical Association funded the class, which students would fondly remember as “Ignorance 101.”

Classes like hers remain rare, but in recent years scholars have made a convincing case that focusing on uncertainty can foster latent curiosity, while emphasizing clarity can convey a warped understanding of knowledge.

IBM School Addresses Tech & Achievement Gap

Issie Lapowsky

But four years ago, these six students were among the first to enroll in a new public high school called P-TECH, short for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. The program, backed by IBM, aims to prepare mainly minority kids from low-income backgrounds for careers in technology. The idea is to earn a high school diploma and a free associate degree in six years or less. The students sitting in Barclays tonight—P-TECH’s inaugural graduates—plowed through the program in just four.

Since it opened in 2011, the likes of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and President Obama himself have praised the school as a potential solution to the nation’s high youth unemployment rate and its growing need for a skilled tech labor force. That makes tonight’s graduation more than a milestone for these six students. It’s a milestone for the model itself. From this day forward, Cletus Andoh, Gabriel Rosa, Kiambu Gall, Michelle Nguyen, Radcliffe Saddler, and Rahat Mahmud will be held up as irrefutable proof that this solution might actually work.

The Terrible Teens

Elizabeth Kolbert:

Every adult has gone through adolescence, and studies have shown that if you ask people to look back on their lives they will disproportionately recall experiences they had between the ages of ten and twenty-five. (This phenomenon is called the “reminiscence bump.”) And yet, to adults, the adolescent mind is a mystery—a Brigadoon-like place that’s at once vivid and inaccessible. Why would anyone volunteer to down fifteen beers in a row? Under what circumstances could Edward Fortyhands, an activity that involves having two forty-ounce bottles of malt liquor affixed to your hands with duct tape, be construed as enjoyable? And what goes for drinking games also goes for hooking up with strangers, jumping from high places into shallow pools, and steering a car with your knees. At moments of extreme exasperation, parents may think that there’s something wrong with their teen-agers’ brains. Which, according to recent books on adolescence, there is.

The top ten most unexpected words added to the online Oxford dictionary

By Lucy Clarke-Billings:

Awesomesauce, Grexit and manspreading have all made the cut

The online Oxford dictionary has added 1,000 new words to its database.

The latest additions have been announced, highlighting the things British people have been talking about in the summer of 2015, such as inconsiderate commuters, solidified waste and unacceptable service charges.

Here are ten of the most unexpected words on the list:

Fort Wayne school buses: An American icon runs into political trouble; Madison Spends 59% more per student

The Economist:

Complicating the politics, school buses have their roots in a very different philosophy. More than just machines for moving children around, they have often been tools for social engineering. Busing took off in the 1930s, as progressive education officials sought to close one-room rural schoolhouses and move kids to “modern” township schools. Visitors to the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, can see a handsome school bus used in pre-war Indiana. Some rural parents feared the new schools would bring higher taxes and alien values, the museum notes: they were overruled. Even their uniform colour dates back to a meeting of experts in New York in 1939, who deemed bright yellow the most visible shade at dawn and dusk, setting a standard now known as “National School Bus Chrome”. The civil-rights era saw furious protests as courts ordered schoolkids bused across once-inviolable racial lines.

A series of desegregation plans explain why Fort Wayne has rather a large school bus fleet (it has 240 now, serving a district with 30,000 pupils). A first plan saw black pupils carried from the inner city to white suburban secondary schools. That “one-way busing” did not bring about a “kumbaya moment” of racial or educational equality, recalls Fort Wayne’s school superintendent, Wendy Robinson, who was raised in the city. A more ambitious desegregation plan, agreed to after a lawsuit in the 1980s, opened “magnet schools” in the inner city, offering such specialisms as science or a Montessori education. The aim was to create schools that both urban and suburban families wanted to attend, giving kids from all backgrounds a reason to jump on the bus.

Fort Wayne spent $281,352,667 (2015 budget pdf) or $9,378 per student for 30,000 students during the 2015 budget. Madison, the land of milk and honey, spent more than $15,000 per student during the same year.

Listen to This Lecture From the Man Who Dropped Both Atomic Bombs

Matthew Gault:

As the lecture wears on, the tension between Beser and his audience grows. About halfway through, someone asks him if he holds anyone responsible for “this deed,” meaning the nuclear bomb.

Beser mishears him. He thinks the man called the nuclear attack a misdeed. It takes a moment to clear up the confusion, but it stuck with Beser.

“See, I thought you said misdeed,” Beser says. “I was going to come right at you.” Nervous laughter moves through the crowd.

Later, another person questions using the atomic bomb at all. Why not drop it as a show of force in a rural area far away from people? Why didn’t America prove it had a superweapon then ask Japan to surrender?

“What would be lost?” Beser says. “The integrity of your threat is gone … the ability to carry out your threat is paramount. You do not win a war by just threatening to do things and then go ‘poof.’”

“These people had demonstrated a will to fight to the death. They did not know the word surrender. It was an honor to die for the Emperor. The topography of the main islands was ideal for the defenders and was very poor for the attacker,” he explains later. “It is very mountainous and it would have been a bloodbath.”

Another student later asks if him the United States couldn’t have done the same amount of damage to Japan with conventional weapons. But America had been bombing Japan before it decided to drop a nuke. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians had already died.

“It hurts my pride to say this — strategic bombing in World War II was the most overrated thing that we did,” Beser explains. “If you look at the yields on a cost-effective basis, nothing is better than even a one, two-billion-dollar weapon that we used for effectiveness.”

The benefits of a liberal education do not go out of date

John Kay:

It is hard to imagine life without digital search and the internet. This is as true for me as for anyone else: the greater ease of obtaining and checking relevant facts and data has transformed the life of the columnist. Pulling books from library shelves and turning their pages was never an efficient search technique, even if sometimes an entertaining and instructive one. But exercises that once required hours in a library, and were often unproductive, can now usually be accomplished with a few mouse clicks.

This change, which has taken place in the 20 years since I first wrote a column for the Financial Times, highlights wider shifts in the nature of knowledge and corresponding methods of education. Today it is less important to know, and more important to know what is known. The options trader need not be familiar with Black-Scholes equations, though he must know that they exist, and that others give them weight: the lawyer need not recall the judge’s reasoning in Bloggs v Bloggs, but must still have the higher-level knowledge that guides her search for relevant cases.

At the frontiers of knowledge, the finance academic who seeks to find a more advanced option pricing model, or the judge who must determine the case to which Bloggs v Bloggs applies, must still acquire personal mastery of all relevant information. But writing newspaper columns, running businesses, managing assets and advising clients in legal disputes are activities whose primary demand is synthesis. The ability to make connections between disparate sources of information is more critical than detailed familiarity with any specific source. This is the task that modern technology has made so much easier.

It’s High Time We Learned Something From our Students

Nandini Sundar

What did the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) have in mind when it reportedly told the striking students of Pondicherry University that academic violations by their Vice-Chancellor had nothing to do with them and would not affect their degrees? Surely the quality of academic leadership has some bearing on the quality of education an institution provides, and if not, then why waste tax payer money on the salaries and allowances of V-Cs, directors and chairpersons of academic institutions?

It is heartening that the young are not buying the MHRD’s warped logic. The sustained agitation by the Film and Television Institute of India students against Gajendra Chauhan and other members of the FTII society, and in favour of transparent criteria for selection, is well known. Less covered, but equally important, is the strike by the students and faculty of Pondicherry University protesting the fake CV and plagiarism of their V-C, Chandra Krishnamurthy, appointed by the previous UPA government and kept in power by the current NDA regime. Earlier, the students of the postgraduate English department at Delhi University had complained about the quality of faculty recruitment after some particularly egregious appointments by the Vice-Chancellor.

As Coursera Evolves, Colleges Stay On and Investors Buy In

Jeffrey Young:

Three years ago everyone was talking about Coursera, which had begun partnering with some of the world’s most elite colleges to offer free courses. There was overheated hype, as pundits speculated that it could be a magic bullet to bring down college costs. And there were tough questions, as people wondered what the goal was for partner colleges, and how the Silicon Valley company could make enough revenue on free courses to survive.

Today the MOOC hype has dissipated, but the company’s leaders say Coursera has found a way to make money, and that partner colleges have found a clear reason to participate. Those answers, the company announced on Tuesday, were enough to convince investors to give a fresh infusion of $60 million in venture-capital funds.

PARENTINGSquare Root of Kids’ Math Anxiety: Their Parents’ Help

Jan Hoffman:

A common impairment with lifelong consequences turns out to be highly contagious between parent and child, a new study shows.

The impairment? Math anxiety.

Means of transmission? Homework help.

Children of highly math-anxious parents learned less math and were more likely to develop math anxiety themselves, but only when their parents provided frequent help on math homework, according to a study of first- and second-graders, published in Psychological Science.

Researchers tested 438 children from 29 public and private schools in three Midwestern states for math ability as well as math anxiety, at the beginning and end of the school year. Their parents completed questionnaires about math anxiety, and about how often they helped their children with homework.

Graduate stock Funding students with equity rather than debt is appealing. But it is not a cure-all

The Economist:

DEBATES over how to fund higher education never lie dormant for long. In Britain, recently, there have been reforms about twice a decade; the last one, which hiked tuition fees, all but killed off the Liberal Democrats, members of the previous coalition government. In America, concerns abound over soaring costs and towering student debts. As a result, presidential candidates have been weighing in with plans to overhaul the system.

Why should the state support students in the first place? One argument is that society benefits from educated citizens, who pay more taxes, generate more jobs and help to advance human knowledge. Typically, such social gains justify subsidies. But the private returns to many degrees are juicy enough to encourage would-be students without a subsidy. The New York Fed reckons that a bachelor’s degree provides a 15% return on investment.

Melting $200,000,000 Donations To The Newark Public Schools

Jonathan Knee:

Watching the $200 million iceberg (Mr. Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation was contingent on raising a matching amount) slowly melt into an ocean of recrimination over the course of 256 brisk pages can be a sometimes painful exercise. The union boss, Joe Del Grosso, demanded a ransom of $31 million to compensate for what he felt members should have received in previous years — before agreeing to discuss any labor reforms. The superintendent, Cami Anderson, demanded accountability from schools but set her own performance goals only after the academic year was largely over and relied on expensive consultants — whose total bill ultimately exceeded $20 million — without clear objectives long after she had promised to recruit a permanent leadership team.

The school reform movement’s focus on measurable results and “business-style management” is laudable. But it is downright chilling to watch the leadership team throw around buzz phrases from business best-sellers with minimal focus on the nuanced requirements of applying these principles to the education ecosystem generally or to the Newark public schools particularly. Too many of Newark’s children have suffered unspeakable trauma from their exposure to a combination of violent crime, family turmoil and deep poverty. With all the high-minded talk of revolution and “ripping off Band-Aids” and “changing the engine while flying the plane,” remarkably little thought went into the actual effect these policies might have on this population in desperate need of stability — much less how $200 million could be best spent in this context.

The Hidden Bias of Science’s Universal Language

Adam Huttner Koros:

Newton’s Principia Mathematica was written in Latin; Einstein’s first influential papers were written in German; Marie Curie’s work was published in French. Yet today, most scientific research around the world is published in a single language, English.

Since the middle of the last century, things have shifted in the global scientific community. English is now so prevalent that in some non-English speaking countries, like Germany, France, and Spain, English-language academic papers outnumber publications in the country’s own language several times over. In the Netherlands, one of the more extreme examples, this ratio is an astonishing 40 to 1.

An Alternative View on Charter Schools and Backfill

Robin Lake:

Paul has legitimate concerns about the “backfill” issue (whether charter schools should be required to take students mid-year or after traditional entry grades), concerns that are grounded in his research with Gail Foster and Tamar Gendler at RAND back in the 80s. High Schools with Character is one of the best things I’ve read about the importance of school-level coherency and is foundational reading at CRPE. Paul is worried that by asking the most effective, “high-output” charter high schools to backfill, they will begin to look like traditional comprehensive high schools, compromising high standards and the learning opportunities for high-achieving students.

We at CRPE have always believed that the real promise of chartering rests on the ability of the school to act as a focused, results-oriented organization. A school should be able to define a clear vision of the skills, character, and competencies of its graduates, and it should be able to define how instruction, culture, and resources are aligned in support of producing those kinds of graduates. It is essential that everyone in the school community—teachers, students, parents, and even the cafeteria staff—is on board with that plan. Focus and coherency are especially important at the high school level, where student interests, skills, and behaviors can vary dramatically. Trying to respond to those diverse needs led us to where we are today, with comprehensive high schools that often produce award-winning football teams and jazz bands but struggle to ensure that every student leaves on a path to success.

Wisconsin ACT scores hold steady at No. 2 for Class of 2015

Erin Richards:

Wisconsin’s Class of 2015 posted an average ACT composite score of 22.2, tying the state for second nationally among states where the majority of students take the national college entrance exam, according to results released Wednesday.

The results come from the 73% of Wisconsin students who graduated in 2015 and took the exam in high school. Another round of ACT scores will be released this fall, tied to the new mandate that requires all juniors to take the exam — which happened for the first time this spring.

Because that pool of test-takers will include students who may not have otherwise chosen or been academically prepared to take the ACT, Wisconsin’s average statewide composite score is expected to drop.

“By setting a new course and administering the ACT to all high school juniors, we’re helping way more students consider further education after high school,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said in a statement Wednesday.

Nationally, 49% of graduates, or 1.9 million students, took the ACT in 2015, posting a national average composite score of 21.

Compare districts and schools, here.

The evolving syllabus of the Twitter group connecting the legacy of Reconstruction to Black life today in the United States

Black Reconstruction:

Depending on whom you ask, Reconstruction, which lasted from 1863 to 1877, began with Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that declared “all persons held as slaves within [Confederate] States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free.” Others might say it began the moment the Confederacy, its industry, farms, and railroads ruined, surrendered to Union troops in 1865. Still, a more exacting group might date it at the passage of the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, which carved the South into five military districts in which a military commander had the final word for an entire decade. Despite these varied beginnings, all ignore the stories of the people central to this revolutionary moment: enslaved Black people.

As we grapple with the radical meaning of today’s Black Lives Matters movement, it is important to look at our history to understand how our ancestors mobilized to secure freedom after the Civil War. It is also important to understand power and the systems that sought to undermine the potential for Black autonomy and freedom in the United States.

While Reconstruction demonstrated the law’s limited ability to reverse the violence of 366 years of chattel slavery, Black people still organized civic associations, won elective office, and established towns—all motivated by an alternative vision of American democracy.

We are indebted to W.E.B. Du Bois’s book Black Reconstruction, the first revisionist account of the racist view that Black people were unequipped for freedom. We will read Du Bois in tandem with other sources past and present.

Silence at Baylor

Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon

In early June, Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was a guest speaker at a luncheon in Fort Worth for the Baylor Sports Network. During his speech, he dropped a bit of long-anticipated information about the team’s plans: He expected defensive end Sam Ukwuachu—a Freshman All-American who transferred in 2013 from Boise State to Baylor only to miss 2014, his first eligible season with the Bears, for unspecified reasons—to finally take the field. It was a significant announcement for a program that’s a favorite pick to clinch one of four College Football Playoff spots, and it was reported by a breathless sports media eager to talk up head coach Art Briles’ program. No one questioned Bennett’s assertion that Ukwuachu was expected to play—even though Ukwuachu was due to stand trial in Waco for sexual assault in just a few weeks, and if convicted, could spend up to twenty years in prison.

The Bright Students Left Behind

Chester Finn & Brandon Wright:

A great problem in U.S. education is that gifted students are rarely pushed to achieve their full potential. It is no secret that American students overall lag their international peers. Among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, whose students took the PISA exams in 2012, the U.S. ranked 17th in reading, 20th in science and 27th in math.

Less well known is how few young Americans—particularly the poor and minorities—reach the top ranks on such measures. The PISA test breaks students into six levels of math literacy, and only 9% of American 15-year-olds reached the top two tiers. Compare that with 16% in Canada, 17% in Germany and 40% in Singapore.

Practical Rocketry


The first rockets ever built, the fire-arrows of the Chinese, were not very reliable. Many just exploded on launching. Others flew on erratic courses and landed in the wrong place. Being a rocketeer in the days of the fire-arrows must have been an exciting, but also a highly dangerous activity.

Today, rockets are much more reliable. They fly on precise courses and are capable of going fast enough to escape the gravitational pull of Earth. Modern rockets are also more efficient today because we have an understanding of the scientific principles behind rocketry. Our understanding has led us to develop a wide variety of advanced rocket hardware and devise new propellants that can be used for longer trips and more powerful takeoffs.

Rocket Engines and Their Propellants

Most rockets today operate with either solid or liquid propellants. The word propellant does not mean simply fuel, as you might think; it means both fuel and oxidizer. The fuel is the chemical rockets burn but, for burning to take place, an oxidizer (oxygen) must be present. Jet engines draw oxygen into their engines from the surrounding air. Rockets do not have the luxury that jet planes have; they must carry oxygen with them into space, where there is no air.
Solid rocket propellants, which are dry to the touch, contain both the fuel and oxidizer combined together in the chemical itself. Usually the fuel is a mixture of hydrogen compounds and carbon and the oxidizer is made up of oxygen compounds. Liquid propellants, which are often gases that have been chilled until they turn into liquids, are kept in separate containers, one for the fuel and the other for the oxidizer. Then, when the engine fires, the fuel and oxidizer are mixed together in the engine.

Sorting The World’s Numbers

Ericca Klarriech:

Neil Sloane is considered by some to be one of the most influential mathematicians of our time.

That’s not because of any particular theorem the 75-year-old Welsh native has proved, though over the course of a more than 40-year research career at Bell Labs (later AT&T Labs) he won numerous awards for papers in the fields of combinatorics, coding theory, optics and statistics. Rather, it’s because of the creation for which he’s most famous: the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences (OEIS), often simply called “Sloane” by its users.

Privilege and Power, the High School Edition

Education and Class

I’ve often talked with others about Kahn’s observations of the apparently rigorous curriculum that confirms for the students that they are the best among the best, that they deserve their privileges. The challenge, Kahn notes as a teacher and researcher, is that given the many competing demands on students’ time — all part of their induction in a life of privilege they’ll come to understand as earned –no student has time to do all the required reading.

Instead, Kahn suggests, students learn not to read massive amounts of history and literature, but instead to learn to talk about important books without having read them in any depth. And they learn this well.

It seems an important distinction, that they would learn to act educated, without actually doing the hard work of thinking about challenging ideas.

Creditors and College Administrators

Matt Reed:

Six months ago or so, Ry Rivard and I (separately) wrote in IHE about the implications of increased control of campus decisions by creditors, and specifically financial institutions. Yesterday IHE followed with a piece on lenders trying to keep struggling colleges alive long enough to bleed out repayments and avoid the loan forgiveness that happens when a college shuts down.

I really don’t think most of us who pay attention to shared governance in higher ed have connected the dots yet. We should.

The term “shared governance” implies an “us” among whom governance is shared. Historically, colleges have tended to define the “us” as faculty, staff, and administrators, with trustees hovering outside. The boundaries have long been contested — adjuncts, for example, are often excluded either de jure or de facto — but they’ve been understood mostly to encompass people who work on campus and who see each other on a regular basis.

But to the extent that colleges become increasingly beholden to lenders, lenders are starting to demand power. And their agendas are entirely different.

the Department of Education as loan shark

Fredrik deBoer:

Jordan Weissmann’s piece today, discussing grad student loan debt today, is a bit of a logical pretzel. The piece is set up as a complaint about the fiscal damage grad students are doing to the budget, with a headline reading “The Newest Scourge of the Federal Budget: Graduate Students.” But as Weissmann points out, grad students are a large money maker for the federal government. That’s because the federal government draws huge interest payments off of grad students, as they do off of all students who take advantage of student loans. Weissmann says that “Graduate degree holders are relatively affluent, meaning there isn’t a great argument for heavily subsidizing their educations.” As Mike Konczal has pointed out (I can’t find where right now), if the government is making money off of a financial program, that’s the precise opposite of a subsidy. Would Weissmann say that payday lenders are subsidizing poor people who take out predatory loans to pay for food or the rent?

Book review: ‘Notes on the Death of Culture’ by Mario Vargas Llosa

Anne Haverty:

We may not be living in the worst of times, although a case might very well be made for it, but anyone with a thought in their head would be entitled to say that we’re living in the stupidest. Mario Vargas Llosa, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, certainly believes we are. In this series of coruscating and passionate essays on the state of culture he argues that we have, en masse, capitulated to idiocy. And it is leading us to melancholy and despair.

This is a book of mourning. What Vargas Llosa writes is a lament for how things used to be and how they are now in all aspects of life from the political to the spiritual. Like TS Eliot in his essay Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, written in 1948, he takes the concept of culture in the general sense as a shared sensibility, a way of life.

Eliot too saw culture decaying around him and foresaw a time in which there would be no culture. This time, Vargas Llosa argues, is ours. Eliot has since been under attack for what his critics often describe as his elitist attitudes – as well as much else – and Vargas Llosa will probably also be tarred with the same brush for his pains.

How Coursera Cracked The Chinese Market

Coursera announced in July that they crossed 1 million registrations as China became their second largest market, overtaking India. Most U.S. consumer Internet companies have a hard time breaking into China.

Cultural differences and the Internet firewall are a huge barrier to entry. Even tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter have pulled out or found themselves on the wrong side of the Chinese firewall. So how did Coursera, a relatively young company, achieve this significant milestone?

The very slow increase of literacy in England, 1580-1920

Max Roser:

Empirical View

In general in the past, when education rates rose, democratization and industrialization of the society also increased. This is also true for early European societies where democratic and industrial societies first emerged. The rise of science and the abundance of creativity that characterise modernity has roots that reach far back into the past.

# The Spread of Literacy in Europe before 1800

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Why Didn’t Higher Education Protect Hispanic and Black Wealth?

William R. Emmons , Bryan J. Noeth:

College-educated families usually earn significantly higher incomes and accumulate more wealth than families headed by someone who does not have a four-year college degree. The income- and wealth-boosting effects of education apply within all racial and ethnic groups. Higher education may also help “protect” wealth, buffering families against major economic and financial shocks and mitigating adverse long-term trends. Based on two decades of detailed wealth data, we conclude that education does not, however, protect the wealth of all racial and ethnic groups equally.
Compared to their less-educated counterparts, typical white and Asian families with four-year college degrees withstood the recent recession much better and have accumulated much more wealth over the longer term. Hispanic and black families headed by someone with a four-year college degree, on the other hand, typically fared significantly worse than Hispanic and black families without college degrees. This was true both during the recent turbulent period (2007-2013) as well as during a two-decade span ending in 2013 (the most recent data available).

Why didn’t higher education protect Hispanic and black family wealth from either short-term turbulence or long-term competitive pressures? Job-market difficulties specific to Hispanic and black college graduates probably played a role, especially over the longer term. Financial decision-making appears even more important in explaining large wealth declines among Hispanic and black college-educated families during the Great Recession and its aftermath.

Higher education typically boosts income and wealth. The first row of Table 1 shows differences in 2013 median income between families with college degrees and families without. The median income among all families headed by someone with a degree was 2.4 times the median income among families headed by someone without such a degree. The ratio was somewhat larger among whites and Asians than among blacks and Hispanics, but all were within the range of two to three times.

Table 2 shows that higher education is even more strongly associated with wealth accumulation. The typical college-educated family had between three and 10 times more wealth than its racial or ethnic counterpart without a degree. The white and Asian wealth ratios shown in the table are noticeably larger than those of blacks and Hispanics. One reason why the income and wealth ratios are highest among white and Asian college graduates is that they are more likely than black or Hispanic college graduates to have graduate or professional degrees. Advanced degrees typically provide significantly higher earnings and are strongly associated with greater wealth accumulation.1

It begins early with Madison’s long term disastrous reading results.

The decline and fall of the American university is written in 25-page course syllabi.

Rebecca Schuman:

hen I was an undergrad in the ’90s, there was little more exciting than the first day of class. What will my professor be like? What books will I be reading? How many papers will I have to write? Answers came readily, in the form of a tidy one-page document that consisted solely of the professor’s name and office hours, a three-sentence course description, a list of books, and, finally, a very brief rundown of the assignments (papers, exams) and their relevant dates. This was a course syllabus in 1996, and it was good.

UW Foundation’s fees from Blue Cross donation questioned

Guy Boulton:

“We all said, ‘Expense recapture fee? What’s that?'” said Leean, a former state senator and former secretary of what was then the Department of Health and Family Services. “Well, it’s a fancy name for essentially funding their fundraising operation.”

Thomas Hefty, the former chief executive of Blue Cross Blue Shield United of Wisconsin, also said he did not learn of the 1% fee until the 2010 audit.

“It never occurred to us that they would take such a high fee out of money intended for education and faculty and research and public health,” Hefty said. “This was the third-largest gift to a medical school in history, and they chose to skim some of the money for other purposes.”

“The money was given for one purpose and they used it for another,” he added. “That’s the bottom line on this.”

In January 2012, the UW Foundation lowered its fee to 1% up to $250 million of the endowment and 0.7% on the amount above that.

For the $381 million in the endowment at the end of 2013, that works out to $3.4 million for the year.

“They threw a little bone toward the medical school and the public health grants, but that’s about all they did,” said Leean, who met with the UW Foundation after the first audit.

With the reduction, the total fee was about 0.9% of the endowment.

The Wisconsin Partnership Program — the entity that allocates the money — has a target of spending on average a total of 4.5% of the endowment on grants and administering the program each year. This means that 16.7% of the total money spent from the Blue Cross endowment in 2013 went to the UW Foundation.

Here’s the math: 0.9% equals 16.7% of the total amount distributed from the endowment — the sum of 4.5% for programs plus 0.9% given to the foundation.

At the time the Blue Cross money was donated, no one thought to ask whether the UW Foundation would charge a fee beyond the cost of managing the endowment, Leean said.

Government Considering Legal Action Against Former Sallie Mae Loan Servicer

<A href=””>Molly Hensley-Clanc</a>: <blockquote><i>The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering taking legal action against Navient Corp., the country’s largest student loan servicer and a former division of Sallie Mae, after an investigation into the company’s disclosures and late fees. The company disclosed the threat of legal action in a filing today.

Any legal action against Navient could be a significant blow to the company, which was spun off from the student loan giant Sallie Mae partially in an attempt to repair its battered image as a loan servicer. Last year, the two companies were ordered to pay a $60 million settlement over allegations that they had denied benefits to military service members.</i></blockquote> 

The treatment of autistic children in the 20th century was shocking

The Economist:

Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity. By Steve Silberman. Avery; 544 pages; $29.95. Allen & Unwin; £16.99.

EVERYTHING about autism, which is among the most common and the most slippery of mental conditions, is contested. The American Psychiatric Association, which determines what ailments American insurance companies will pay to treat, classifies it as a disorder. Many parents of autistic children are desperately searching for a cure, and find themselves easy prey for people who overpromise, selling remedies that have no scientific basis. Plenty of other people think that autism—which is characterised, among other things, by an inward focus that makes it hard to abide by the conventions of social behaviour—is not a disorder at all, and therefore has no need of a cure. America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention thinks that one in 68 children in the country have at least a touch of autism, which if true means there are more autistic Americans than Jewish ones. This too is contested.

Are Graduate Students ‘Workers’?

Michelle Chen:

The New School was founded as a bastion of progressive thought a century ago, but it’s taking a decidedly old school approach to its students’ labor rights.

Late last month, graduate students seeking to organize a union at the famously liberal institution were thwarted by a decade-old precedent that bars the right to unionize for graduate student instructors and researchers. The regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) deemed graduate students with Student Employees at the New School (SENS-UAW) as non-employees, based on a 2004 decision involving graduate-student workers at Brown University, in which the Board ruled that the relationship between the students and institution wasn’t that of a worker and employer, but rather, that “the graduate student assistants have a predominantly academic, rather than economic relationship with their school.” So although they taught, researched and performed administrative tasks in exchange for the school’s financial support for their studies—even when working on a regular schedule with a designated hourly wage, under a supervisor—that labor wasn’t work, but rather, simply a privilege of their academic experience. This realm, supposedly, is one of scholarly discourse, not labor and capital.

Incidentally, this logic is perfectly convenient for a wealthy private institution that absorbs millions of dollars annually in grants and hyperinflated tuitions. Inconvenient for the doctoral student struggling to juggle teaching and research on fast-food wages.

Though the higher-education sector is mostly “not for profit,” the American university system operates as an absurdly lucrative corporate hierarchy, with the teaching workforce at the bottom. But the low teaching salaries are subsidized by a patina of meritocracy, credentials and brand prestige. Still, in a city like New York, scholarly credentials don’t offset poverty payscales, with minimal control over schedules and working conditions.

School-Loan Reckoning: 7 Million Are in Default

Josh Mitchell:

Nearly 7 million Americans have gone at least a year without making a payment on their federal student loans, a high level of default that suggests a widening swath of households are unable or unwilling to pay back their school debt.

As of July, 6.9 million Americans with student loans hadn’t sent a payment to the government in at least 360 days, quarterly data from the Education Department showed this past week. That was up 6%, or 400,000 borrowers, from a year earlier.

Judge said the ‘intelligent, educated, ambitious’ 16-year-old from east London was suffering ‘psychological and emotional harm’

Henry Austin :

After B was removed from a flight to Turkey in December 2014 and made a ward of court, Mr Justice Hayden said her parents had appeared to co-operate with police and social workers to stop her and her siblings accessing online terrorist propaganda. But when counter-terrorism officers searched the family home in June, they found “a plethora of electronic devices” including those belonging to the father, containing Isis material.
These included pictures of beheadings and material on bomb-making and how jihadists should “hide” their identities. This showed the parents had carried out “a consummately successful deception” of the authorities, he said.
Of the girl, he added: “I can see no way in which her psychological, emotional and intellectual integrity can be protected by her remaining in this household.”

North Dakota looks to address teacher shortage by cutting through red tape

Rob Port:

“Community experts” are people with expertise and training in a given subject who don’t have a specific teaching degree. An example would be someone with a four-year music degree getting a job as a music teacher despite not having a teaching degree. Or perhaps someone with experience in the building trades taking over a shop class.

It’s an emergency rule, and must be approved by Gov. Jack Dalrymple, but so far this seems to be something that will likely happen. That’s a good thing.

The only real problem is that we weren’t already doing this as a matter of permanent policy.

“Content knowledge is just half of what it takes to be a good teacher,” Baesler said in a Fargo Forum article about her initiative.

Telegraph cheers success of state schools, but has it fudged the figures?

Richard Adams and Helena Bengtsson:

Hold the front page: it turns out that the best state schools in England are genuinely very good – and even as good as their famous independent peers. This won’t surprise the families of children who for many years have attended state schools and received an excellent education. But it appears to have come as a shock to the editors of the the Daily Telegraph and Spectator – hence the headline “State pupils put private schools in the shade”.

Yet the chairman of the Independent Schools Council, Barnaby Lenon, called the comparison “grossly unfair”. While appeals to fairness jar coming from an organisation whose schools charge £12,000 a year per pupil, he has a point. What the Spectator and Telegraph have done is crudely compare the top 500 state sixth forms with almost every private school that offers A-levels. The research involved a few simple clicks on the Department for Education’s performance tables.

Clinton’s $350 billion College Spending Growth Plan

Wall Street Journal

The plan—dubbed the “New College Compact” and estimated to cost $350 billion over 10 years—would fundamentally reshape the federal government’s role in higher education by offering new federal money, but with strings attached.

States would have to increase their own spending on higher education, and universities would be required to control spending, though the Democratic presidential front-runner hasn’t yet worked out details. Families still would be required to contribute, but students wouldn’t have to take out loans to attend public schools.

Commentary, including Mark Cuban.

US National Debt.

The end Of Walking

Antonia Malchik:

In 2011, Raquel Nelson was convicted of vehicular homicide following the death of her four-year-old son. Nelson, it’s crucial to note, was not driving. She didn’t even own a car. She and her three children were crossing a busy four-lane road from a bus stop to their apartment building in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. She’d stopped on the median halfway across when her son let go of her hand and stepped into the second half of the road. Nelson tried to catch him but wasn’t fast enough; she and her two-year-old daughter were also injured.

The driver admitted to having alcohol and painkillers in his system (and to being legally blind in one eye) and pleaded guilty to the charge of hit-and-run. He served six months in prison. For the crime of walking three tired, hungry children home in the most efficient way possible, Nelson faced more jail time than the man who had killed her son.

I am writing from a position of privilege. Not white or middle-class privilege – although I am both of those things and those facts play a role in my privilege – but rather, the privilege Americans don’t realise they’ve lost in a nearly Orwellian fashion: I can open the door of my home, take my kids by their hands, and meet almost any need by lifting my feet and moving forward. Food, schools, social centres, books, playgrounds, even doctors and dentists and ice cream – nearly everything our family uses daily is within about a mile’s walk of home and well-served by wide, uncrowded sidewalks.

Kettle Moraine stands out with high achievement, global push

Alan Borsuk:

That said, I’d call the Kettle Moraine School District the real thing, for three reasons.

First, the 4,400-student district in western Waukesha County has a strong commitment to get the broadest perspective on how its students are doing. Talking about student performance, Superintendent Patricia Deklotz said, “Our results are generally high, but compared to whom?”

How about: Compared to the highest-performing education systems on the planet?

Kettle Moraine has been at the forefront of a still-small movement in Wisconsin and nationwide to compare student performance at a school level against the world. The way to do that is through use of the OECD Test for Schools, a version of the international test that underlies almost everything you’ve seen about how American kids are doing compared to kids in Finland, Singapore and so on.

For the past two years — and, very likely, again in the coming school year — a representative sample of students at Kettle Moraine High School took the OECD test. Last year, a sample of students at KM Perform, a charter school within the district, also took the test.

Overall, the results for the main high school were OK in the first year — not great in reading, better in math and science. School leaders thought one reason scores weren’t higher was simply that students didn’t try their hardest. Results aren’t reported for individual students and carry no consequences for them.

In the second year, participating students got a sales job on why they should give the test their best effort — they got T-shirts, water bottles and pep talks about being the team from Kettle Moraine competing with the world. For the main high school, math and science scores stayed about the same and reading scores jumped significantly. For KM Perform, which is smaller and has an arts emphasis, results were even better.

Overall, the Kettle Moraine students did much better than the United States. If Kettle Moraine was a country, it would be among the top performers in the world.

Meanwhile, nothing of the sort has occured in Madison, where disastrous reading results have long been tolerated.

The Man Behind Modern Math

John Steele Gordon:

Mathematicians often deal in abstractions that are quite beyond the ken of non-mathematicians. For instance, in 1637, the Frenchman Pierre de Fermat conjectured that there is no whole-number solution for the equation An + Bn = Cn where N is greater than two. He famously wrote in the margin of a book that he had a proof for it, but he never wrote it down.

Most people think Fermat was mistaken, for the proof became a sort of holy grail of mathematicians. And it wasn’t until 1995 that the British professor Andrew Wiles published a proof of Fermat’s conjecture, using many 20th century techniques that were unavailable to Fermat. The proof runs 109 pages, and—trust me on this—if you don’t have a Ph.D. in math, you won’t understand a word of it.

Related: Math Forum audio/video and Connected Math.

Controversial Undercover Report Reveals China’s College Entry Examinations Rife with Fraud

Charles Liu:

China’s annual university placement examinations, commonly known as the gaokao, have been rocked by allegations of rampant fraud that has led to the immediate arrests of two ghostwriters who were taking the test as paid substitutes. This morning, the arrest count climbed to nine.

The Southern Metropolis Daily, a newspaper in Guangzhou, published a report Sunday that said one of its reporters had successfully infiltrated a gang that specializes in providing paid substitutes to not only take the gaokao, but ensure a passing grade.

The person named in the report as a test-taker was escorted out by police during the examination on Sunday in the Jiangxi capital of Nanchang. Another person suspected of academic fraud was arrested in Yingtan, also in Jiangxi. Meanwhile, the Jiangxi ministry of education says it will check students’ identities more rigorously before taking the gaokao.

The Next Wave

Kurzweil argues that you have interlocked curves, so even after silicon tops out there’s going to be something else. Maybe he’s right, but right now that’s not what’s going on, so it unwinds a lot of the arguments about the future of computing and the impact of computing on society. If we are at a plateau, a lot of these things that we expect, and what’s become the ideology of Silicon Valley, doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen the way we think it does. I see evidence of that slowdown everywhere. The belief system of Silicon Valley doesn’t take that into account.

There was a wonderful moment when I went down to cover the DARPA robotics challenge in Southern California. There was a preliminary event in Florida about eighteen months ago where they had the finals. They had twenty-five teams. It was quite an event. It was a spectacle. They built these by and large Terminator-style machines, and the idea was that they would be able to work in a Fukushima-like environment. Only three of the machines, after these teams worked on them for eighteen months, were able to even complete the tasks. The winning team completed the tasks in about forty-five minutes. They had an hour to do eight tasks that you and I could do in about five minutes. They had to drive the vehicle, they had to go through a door, they had to turn a crank, they had to throw a switch, they had to walk over a rubble pile, and then they had to climb stairs.

I’d have been able to do it a lot quicker than five minutes. It took the robot about forty-five minutes. Most of the robots failed at the second task, which was opening the door. Rod Brooks, who’s this pioneering roboticist, came down to watch and comment on it afterwards because he’d seen all these robots struggling to get the door open and said, “If you’re worried about the Terminator, just keep your door closed.” We’re at that stage, where our expectations have outrun the reality of the technology.

Creative schools

Robert Pondiscio:

Every sentence in Sir Ken Robinson’s Creative Schools begins with a capital letter. There is also a punctuation mark at the end of each, without exception. I have made a careful study of his nearly three-hundred-page manuscript, and can now report conclusively that its author employs—precisely and exclusively—the twenty-six letters of the standard English alphabet.

Normally, this would not be worth remarking upon. Most of us have come to expect standard English in books written for general readers. But most of us are not Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D. He is “one of the elite thinkers on creativity and education,” whose TED talk on how schools kill creativity in children is “the most watched in TED history.” Sir Ken intensely dislikes standardization in all its forms. So it is at least somewhat disappointing that he has chosen to eschew interpretive dance, semaphore flags, or other means to argue against standards and for creativity in education.

Yes, Let’s Follow the Money: The Myths of Billionaire-Funded Education Reform

Caroline Bermudez:

A growing amount of scrutiny is paid to the roughly $4 billion private philanthropies give to public K-12 education annually.

Such attention is understandable—even if the amount is dwarfed by the $600 billion in local, state, and federal dollars taxpayers spend every year on public schools. We should be talking about the sway the very rich can have over national policy.

But if “follow the money” is now our mantra, we also need to ask what $600 billion has gotten us if our schools cannot properly educate black, brown, low-income and disabled children—if our system cannot figure out a way to spend that money fairly in a way that does not penalize children most at risk.

In a previous life, I was a journalist. For eight years, I reported for The Chronicle of Philanthropy on the charitable giving of the wealthy. Yes, I interviewed and wrote about the 1 percenters and in some cases, they were closer to the .000001 percenters.

Bulgarian University Ranking System

Ministry of Education and Science:

Bulgarian University Ranking System has been developed to support education service users in their choice of a university. The 2014 updated version of the system contains information on 51 accredited universities in Bulgaria, which offer education in a variety of majors that have been grouped into 52 professional fields. Depending on the individual priorities and needs of each user, the system allows for producing comparisons and rankings of different scope and type in each professional field. See more at “Documents and Links” page.

The automation mythRobots aren’t taking your jobs— and that’s the problem

Matthew Yglesias:

If robots were taking our jobs, the productivity of the workers who still have jobs — the total amount of work that gets done divided by the total number of people who are employed — would be going up rapidly. But it’s not. It is rising, but it’s rising slower than it did in the past.

And the slowing rate of productivity growth is an important source of the wage slowdown that people have been worrying about.

The 2015 Economic Report of the President calculated that if productivity growth had continued at its 1948–1973 pace for the past 40 years, the average household’s income would be $30,000 higher today. By contrast, had inequality stayed at its 1973 level for the same period, Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers calculates that the average household’s income would be only $9,000 higher.

Rising to the Challenge of New Tests

Peter Cunningham:

Every parent knows that kids must be challenged to be well prepared for life’s tests. The worst thing a parent can do is lower expectations for their children. Yet, that’s precisely what most states in America did.

Until now.

In the months ahead, for the first time, many states will release scores to districts, schools, teachers and parents on the new tests aligned with the more rigorous Common Core State Standards. It is widely expected that the scores will show that fewer students are on grade than previous state tests indicated.

But it’s also likely that the scores will start rising again as students and teachers get used to the higher standards and rise to the challenge. In fact, it appears to be happening.

Elizabeth Warren Brooks No Bullies as She Fights for Progressive Accountability in Federal Education Laws

Laura a Waters:

But for both conservative Republicans and teacher union leaders, this amendment is the hill to die on, the former because of resentment towards federal intrusion into state autonomy and the latter because of resentment towards accountability. Here’s an excerpt of a letter from NEA to the U.S. Senate:

On behalf of the three million members of the National Education Association and the students they serve, and as a follow-up to our letter on the underlying bill, the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (S. 1177), we urge you to VOTE NO on amendment 2241 offered by Senators Murphy (D-CT), Durbin (D-IL), Warren (D-MA), Booker (D-NJ) and Coons (D-DE) expected to be voted on this week. Votes associated with this amendment will be included in NEA’s Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress.

Despite NEA’s threat that they’ll withhold campaign funding from advocates of accountability and a small degree of federal oversight, Warren and the tiny group of brave Democrats remain committed to educational equity. On Friday CommonWealth, which describes Warren as the “the new face of an unapologetically liberal wing of the Democratic Party,” reported tha

Governance: Charters In New York

NY Post

The Empire State’s top public-school system is no longer in Scarsdale or any other suburb; it’s right here in New York City — the Success Academy Charter Schools network.

With 11,000 students in schools across four boroughs, Success is a system in its own right. And it romped in the latest state exams: 93 percent of Success scholars passed the math test, against 35 percent for the city as a whole and 75 percent for Scarsdale.

In English, 68 percent of Success kids passed, vs. 30 percent citywide and 64 percent for Scarsdale.

The Success test-takers couldn’t get more inner-city: 65 percent African-American; 27 percent Hispanic. Yet they did better than white and Asian kids in the city’s regular public schools.

These scholars didn’t start off as the cream of the crop: The only thing that set them apart from any other child in the city public schools is that their families applied and won the lottery to enter Success.

The different results come because these children benefit from good-to-great teachers, a sound curriculum and a genuinely supportive school staff in every class and extracurricular, year after year.
“English-language learners” in the regular public schools tend to stay that way. At Success, they become “former ELLs” — because they actually learn English.

Here’s why student loan delinquencies are so high

Joseph Lawler:

Student loan delinquencies are growing, even as the subprime mortgage disaster and financial crisis recede into the past.

If there’s a student loan crisis, it’s here.

The share of U.S. student debt delinquent for at least 90 days rose slightly to 11.45 percent in the second quarter, according to the latest report on household debt and credit from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

That percentage has nearly doubled from a decade earlier, when it was 6.71 percent.

Your Favorite Grammar Rule Is Probably Fake

Chi Luu:

This isn’t a new story but it is one that refuses to die. The thorny question of what constitutes ‘correct’ grammar in English seems to have a cyclical life, aided and abetted by new generations of enthusiastic grammarians.

The Online Privacy Lie Is Unraveling

Natasha Lomas:

A new report into U.S. consumers’ attitude to the collection of personal data has highlighted the disconnect between commercial claims that web users are happy to trade privacy in exchange for ‘benefits’ like discounts. On the contrary, it asserts that a large majority of web users are not at all happy, but rather feel powerless to stop their data being harvested and used by marketers.
 The report authors’ argue it’s this sense of resignation that is resulting in data tradeoffs taking place — rather than consumers performing careful cost-benefit analysis to weigh up the pros and cons of giving up their data (as marketers try to claim). They also found that where consumers were most informed about marketing practices they were also more likely to be resigned to not being able to do anything to prevent their data being harvested.

The League for Innovation in the Community College

Civitas learning space:

Since 1997 the League for Innovation in the Community College has issued the Trends Report – a compilation of research and surveys designed to catalyze and inform community colleges from the boardroom to the student senate, as well as legislative stakeholders. The sixth installment of the report has recently been released. It comes at a time of significant change for the community college, and it offers insights into future trends and the road ahead. What is clear is the road ahead is a fast lane for change across the colleges.

Grad-School Loan Binge Fans Debt Worries

Josh Mitchell:

Virginia Murphy borrowed a small fortune to attend law school and pursue her dream of becoming a public defender. Now the Florida resident is among an expanding breed of American borrower: those who owe at least $100,000 in student debt but have no expectation of paying it back.

Ms. Murphy pays just $330 a month—less than the interest on her $256,000 balance—under a federal income-based repayment program that has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing entitlements. She plans to use another federal program to have her balance forgiven in about seven years, a sum set to swell by then to $300,000.

A successful strategy to get college students thinking critically

Scott Johnson:

“We aren’t teaching students how to think critically!” So goes the exasperated lament you have probably heard and possibly uttered. The thing is, that’s a crazy hard thing to do. It may seem like a logic class should teach you to think in a more disciplined way, for example, but the sad fact is that those mental habits are very unlikely to transfer beyond the walls of the logic course. There are many different styles and contexts of critical thinking, and there is no magic subroutine that we could insert into our mental programming that covers them all.

But despair is not the only option. Effective coursework can build important and useful critical thinking skills. Doug Bonn at the University of British Columbia and Stanford’s N.G. Holmes and Carl Wieman focused on good scientific, quantitative thinking when teaching a group of first-year physics students. And like good critically thinking educators, they put their strategy to the test and published the results so they can be evaluated by others.

In this freshman calculus-based physics course, students worked through weekly experiments in lab sections as most physics students do. But the researchers tried a little something different a couple years ago when a fresh class of 130 students came in. In their early lab sections, the students were guided through comparisons between multiple experimental datasets and between experimental datasets and mathematical models.

By applying some statistics they were gradually learning, they grappled with why their comparisons came out the way they did. Rather than simply chalking up mismatches to “we’re just students, and our measurements probably aren’t perfect,” as students often do, they considered modifying their experiments. How could they reduce their error bars? Were the data telling them the mathematical model was incorrect?

HOWTO: Get tenure


Even before I got tenure, folks have told me they’re “looking forward to an academic advice post on tenure.”

I’ve found it easy to write academic posts on just about every topic.

Except this one.

I got tenure over a year ago, yet every time I tried to sum up my views on tenure, I froze.

I think it’s because every path to tenure is inherently unique and non-repeatable.

Even though I got tenure, I wouldn’t wish an exact repeat of the last seven years of my life on even Reviewer Number 3 – for reasons that will soon be obvious.

Stop Universities From Hoarding Money

Victor Fleisher:

WHO do you think received more cash from Yale’s endowment last year: Yale students, or the private equity fund managers hired to invest the university’s money?

It’s not even close.

Last year, Yale paid about $480 million to private equity fund managers as compensation — about $137 million in annual management fees, and another $343 million in performance fees, also known as carried interest — to manage about $8 billion, one-third of Yale’s endowment.

In contrast, of the $1 billion the endowment contributed to the university’s operating budget, only $170 million was earmarked for tuition assistance, fellowships and prizes. Private equity fund managers also received more than students at four other endowments I researched: Harvard, the University of Texas, Stanford and Princeton.

Job Market, Student Debt Keep Millennials With Parents

Rob Williams:

For the millions of parents who wonder when their adult kids will move out of the basement, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has some insights about what’s holding back the millennial generation.

The lackluster jobs market, housing affordability, student debt and delayed marriage may keep a lid on household formation for years to come, according to the New York-based bank’s analysis.

“The share of young people living with their parents has increased relative to pre-recession rates for all labor force status groups, not just the unemployed and underemployed,” said Jan Hatzius, head economist at Goldman. “The share of 18- to 34-year-olds living at home might not fully return to pre-recession rates.”

Five once-average schools remade into the worst in Florida.

Cara Fitzpatrick, Lisa Gartner & Michael LaForgia:

In just eight years, Pinellas County School Board members turned five schools in the county’s black neighborhoods into some of the worst in Florida.

First they abandoned integration, leaving the schools overwhelmingly poor and black.

Then they broke promises of more money and resources.

Then — as black children started failing at outrageous rates, as overstressed teachers walked off the job, as middle class families fled en masse — the board stood by and did nothing.

Today thousands of children are paying the price, a Tampa Bay Times investigation has found.

They are trapped at Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose — five neighborhood elementary schools that the board has transformed into failure factories.

The Economic Inequality in Academia

Richard Goldin:

In focusing on the wealthy as the singular source of economic inequality, progressive politics obscures the machineries of privilege which function at all levels of society. Individuals are trapped within these mechanisms; their lives lessened in ways that are far more damaging than the actions of the “one per cent.”

Economic hierarchies are maintained not by brute force, but by strategies which rationalize the privilege of a few and the struggle of many. Within a multitude of economic contexts, structures of inequality are arduously perpetuated, even by those who consistently profess a belief in economic justice. Progressives need to analyze these contradictions and to expose the strategies which are utilized to justify hierarchy.

Academic Freedom at UIUC: Freedom to Pursue Viewpoints and Positions That Reflect the Values of the State

aCorey Robin:

Wilson’s piece is long and well worth reading, but lest readers overlook three astonishing quotes that Wilson has uncovered, which together comprise a rough definition of what academic freedom at UIUC might mean, I thought I’d highlight them here.

First, education professor Nicholas Burbules, a real piece of work as far as I can see, has emerged in the last few days as one of Chancellor Wise’s close confidants on the faculty. He seems to fancy himself, in these writings at least, as a kind of Machiavellian consigliere. But where Machiavelli’s counselor knew how to mould the prince to his own purposes, Burbules reminds one of nothing so much as those hapless Cold War intellectuals who thought they were taming and influencing the American state—only to discover, after it was too late, that it was it that was taming and influencing them. Christopher Lasch aptly characterized the farce of these buffoons more than a half-century ago:

Homeschooling in the City Frustrated with the public schools, middle-class urbanites embrace an educational movement

Matthew Hennessey:

For Wade and her husband, and for city dwellers with concerns ranging from classroom environment to the Common Core, public school is out of the question. And for them, as for many urban middle-class families, paying hefty private school tuition is not a realistic option, either. “It wasn’t so much a decision of what we were going to do—it was what we weren’t going to do,” she says. In the end, the Wades opted to homeschool. “Homeschooling is in some ways the easiest option. We’re driving our children’s education. We’re giving up a lot to do it, but in the end we thought it would make us most satisfied.”

At first, the Wades knew no other homeschoolers, and, like many young parents in the city, they had no family nearby, so they prepared themselves to go it alone. Before too long, however, they found a growing network of urban homeschoolers. “In a city like this, you can find your tribe,” says Wade. “You can find your homeschoolers. And there are a lot of us.”

Not so long ago, homeschooling was considered a radical educational alternative—the province of a small number of devout Iowa evangelicals and countercultural Mendocino hippies. No more. Today, as many as 2 million—or 2.5 percent—of the nation’s 77 million school-age children are educated at home, and increasing numbers of them live in cities. More urban parents are turning their backs on the compulsory-education model and embracing the interactive, online educational future that policy entrepreneurs have predicted for years would revolutionize pedagogy and transform brick-and-mortar schooling. And their kids are not only keeping pace with their traditionally schooled peers; they are also, in many cases, doing better, getting into top-ranked colleges and graduating at higher rates. In cities across the country, homeschooling is becoming just one educational option among many.

No Cheating Allowed

Philip Lemon:

Recently, a number of students on Khan Academy found a way to cheat by taking hints offline and not having them counted towards their online profile. When going through exercises on Khan Academy you answer the problems given to you and receive feedback on whether your answer was correct or incorrect. If you get stuck on a problem you are able to take hints and have that problem counted as incorrect. Check out this exercise if you want to try it yourself. The images below show the user getting a correct answer and taking a hint respectively.

Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data

Katie Allen:

In the 1800s it was the Luddites smashing weaving machines. These days retail staff worry about automatic checkouts. Sooner or later taxi drivers will be fretting over self-driving cars.

The battle between man and machines goes back centuries. Are they taking our jobs? Or are they merely easing our workload?

A study by economists at the consultancy Deloitte seeks to shed new light on the relationship between jobs and the rise of technology by trawling through census data for England and Wales going back to 1871.

Does Assessment Make Colleges Better? Who Knows?

Erik Gilbert

Last year the younger of my two sons went off to college. As we went through the search process, we looked at university and department websites, checked faculty research interests, looked for evidence of faculty involving students in their research, flinched at the prices, marveled at the climbing walls, and considered quality of the food on campus. Basically we did all the things a typical middle-class family would do in a college search, along with a few insider concerns like looking at faculty publications and grants and checking that the university libraries had at least one of my books. In retrospect one question that never crossed my mind was, “I wonder what this place’s assessment program is like?” I suspect I am not alone in this.

My lack of curiosity about assessment when making an important choice about my children’s education probably surprises no one, but it should. It’s unsurprising in that no one, higher-ed insider or not, ever seems to worry about this when choosing a college. No admissions officer ever touted his institution’s assessment results. No parent ever exclaimed, “Suzy just got into Prestigious College X. I hear they are just nailing their student learning outcomes!” But it’s still a little surprising in that I am a professor and an administrator who has been involved in assessment in various forms for a long time. I have been dutifully doing assessment in my classes almost since I started teaching a decade and half ago.

Mass Producing Genes

Lisa Krieger:

Mother Nature has always been life’s master architect, working off genetic blueprints that are fine-tuned from one generation to the next.

Until now.

Scientists increasingly are designing life from scratch, using inexpensive, fast and accurate tools to create and assemble strands of DNA like tinkertoys — and instructing cells to do things that nature never imagined.

In industrial clusters in the Bay Area, La Jolla and Boston, the competitive gene-building field is doing for biology what Johannes Gutenberg did for printing — turning what was once a laborious and uneven artisan effort into affordable and accurate mass production. With the potential to create an industry that could lead to products worth hundreds of billions of dollars, the fast-moving field is not only prompting investor funding but also sparking calls for oversight.

Automation Won’t Replace People as Your Competitive Advantage

Thomas H. Davenport & Julia Kirby

Geoff Colvin’s new book insists that humans are underrated. It’s a fun follow-up declaration to his earlier book, which taught us that talent is overrated.

The two are not as incompatible as it might seem. Colvin’s point in the earlier book was that talented people always succeed in the context of a system, and it’s hard to rate talent independent of its context. As a result, stars usually get more credit for their successes than they’re due. (Boris Groysberg’s research backs this up by showing how the high performance of stars in various fields turns out not to be portable when they are recruited away by other employers.) Indeed, it’s often a well-designed system that makes someone valuable; the best systems are able to get “A” results out of “B” players. If you can build that kind of system as an enterprise, there is no reason to break the bank recruiting superstars or otherwise allow the top percentiles of your talent to walk away with “winner takes all” rewards.

algorithms and responsibility

One of my fairly regular subthemes here is the increasing power of algorithms over our daily lives and what Ted Striphas has called “the black box of algorithmic culture”. So I am naturally interested in this interview with Cynthia Dwork on algorithms and bias — more specifically, on the widespread, erroneous, and quite poisonous notion that if decisions are being made by algorithms they can’t be biased. (See also theses 54 through 56 here.)

Success Academy Posted Its Latest Test Scores. The Results Are Astounding.

Jim Epstein:

New York released its annual test scores this week, and Success Academy, the city’s rapidly expanding charter school network, posted remarkable results. Again.

Success Academy schools did well in English—68 percent of students were proficient, compared with 30 percent in the city over all—but in math, the scores were astonishing. Ninety-three percent of Success Academy test-takers were proficient in math, compared with 35 percent citywide.

To put that into perspective, of the 1,282 public schools tested, just 12[*] were part of the Success Academy network, or 1 percent of the total. Yet 5 out of the 10 schools that scored highest in math were part of the Success Academy network. Of the 20 schools that did best in math, 9 were part of the Success Academy network. All twelve schools in the network were ranked in the top 40 for math. Results of this sort were unheard of before Success Academy arrived on the scene.

Musings on Math


When Pure Math is explained to non-mathematicians, the audience always asks “Why?” and “Of what use is it?” The result is that mathematicians always have to motivate their explanations and give applications for the results:

Pure Number Theory is motivated by applications in cryptography,

Pure Calculus is motivated by applications in ballistics and weather forecasting,

Pure Combinatorics is motivated by analysis of computer networks and data processing,

Pure Statistics is motivated by life assurance, insurance and gambling,
Pure Linear Algebra is motivated by optimization problems and Google’s Page Rank algorithm.

The truth is far simpler. Mathematicians are solving puzzles, and some of those puzzles don’t come from the real world at all, and can’t be motivated in that way.

Why do we care that there are only five Platonic Solids? The true answer is because there is an answer, and it would be intolerable not to know it.

Why do we care if every even number from 4 onwards can be written as the sum of two primes? Answer: We don’t, really. But not knowing is an itch to scratch, and who knows what might turn up in our efforts to solve the problem.

It was said by E.C.Titchmarsh:

Leading On College Tuition Reform?

Nicklas Wyman:

Two other prominent Democratic Presidential candidates, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley issued their own plans to provide relief from rising college tuition costs and increasing student loan debt earlier in the year.

That this issue has come to the forefront of national politics is no surprise. College tuition costs have risen by over 1,000% since the late 1970s, forcing students and their parents to take out ever more excessive loans. The current level of outstanding student loan debt is over $1.2 trillion, and continues to rise.