Civics: Microsoft’s Challenge to Government Secrecy Wins Dozens of Supporters

Nick Wingfield

Dozens of allies threw their weight behind Microsoft on Friday in a case that challenges law enforcement’s use of secrecy orders to cloak its pursuit of digital communications in investigations.

Amazon, Google, Snapchat, Salesforce and several others filed a brief on Friday in support of Microsoft in its case against the United States Justice Department, while Apple, Mozilla and others made their own filing. Civil liberties groups and media organizations like Fox News, National Public Radio and The Washington Post submitted their own briefs.

Microsoft was also backed by a collection of law professors and a group of former United States attorneys who worked in the Western district of Washington, where Microsoft filed its federal lawsuit in April.

A new film explores the influence of think tanks and lobbyists on America’s public colleges and universities.

Emily Deruy

Are American colleges supposed to prepare future citizens for civically engaged adulthood? Or is their job to provide student consumers a market-driven good so they’re capable of becoming productive participants in the economy?

That’s the framing of a debate about the future of higher education in the new film Starving the Beast, which explores both the view—generally proffered by liberals and schools that rely on taxpayer support—that higher education in the U.S. is a public good to be supported by society, and the counter narrative—backed by conservative think tanks and policy wonks—that it is a cost to be shouldered primarily by individual degree-earners and private entities (who will presumably benefit in the long run).

College Group Sues US, Says That It Is A Target Of A Political Agenda

The Education Department has been increasing pressure on the multibillion-dollar career-training industry, responding to complaints that some for-profit colleges burden students with debt and leave them without promised skills and jobs.

On Tuesday, the department got a pushback. The owner of a chain of colleges, the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, filed an unusual lawsuit in federal court accusing education officials of pursuing a political agenda. The suit argues that the department is trying to put the colleges out of business by failing to classify them as nonprofit educational institutions, curbing their access to federal student aid dollars.
The department declined to comment on the suit.

Created in 2006 as a charity dedicated to promoting free-market principles throughout the higher education industry, the Center for Excellence bought several colleges, including Stevens-Henager, California College and CollegeAmerica, six years later from their founder, Carl B. Barney. Nearly all of the money for the $636 million purchase came from donations and loans made by Mr. Barney, an entrepreneur and ardent devotee of the capitalist evangelist Ayn Rand.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate:  A Comparison of the Tax Burden on Labor in the OECD, 2016

Tax Foundation

Taxation of Wage Income in the United States

There are two major types of taxes that wage earners in the United States pay. First, individual income taxes are levied by federal, state, and sometimes, local governments to fund the general operations of government. Second, governments levy payroll taxes on both employees and the employers, though the economic burden of both ultimately falls on wage earners. Payroll taxes are dedicated to funding programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance funds.

How do you get a job that doesn’t exist yet

Laurent Haug

A few years ago, I sat down with the CEO of a 40,000-people company and asked him to list the skills he thought would be needed in a digital, data-driven future. He mentioned programmers, designers and online marketing specialists. I then asked him to list the skills his company had on the payroll. The difference was painfully obvious.
 For those whose training is becoming obsolete, and organizations needing completely new skills in a short amount of time, the transition will be complicated. As the author Alvin Toffler once predicted, the future belongs to those who can unlearn and relearn.
 History tells us that technology creates more opportunities and jobs. The state of the world might look confusing and worrying, but it is not. Virtual or tangible, automated or humanized, work is changing in many ways, but the fundamentals remain: acquiring skills and doing things that people need.

The Populist Revolt Against Failure

William Galston:

The populist revolt against governing elites sweeping advanced democracies is the latest chapter in the oldest political story. Every society, regardless of its form of government, has a ruling class. The crucial question is whether elites rule in their own interest or for the common good.

In the decades after World War II, the ruling classes in Western Europe and the U.S. managed their economies and social policies in ways that improved the well-being of the overwhelming majority of their citizens. In return, citizens accorded elites a measure of deference. Trust in government was high.

These ruling classes weren’t filled by the traditional aristocracy, and only partly by the wealthy. As time passed, educated professionals assumed the leading role. Many came from relatively humble backgrounds, but they attended the best schools and formed enduring networks with fellow students.

Some were economists, others specialists in public policy and administration, still others scientists whose contributions to the war effort translated into peacetime prestige. Many were lawyers able to train their honed analytical powers on governance. They were, in a term coined in the late 1950s, the “meritocracy.”

Why Most Academics Will Always Be Bad Writers

Noah Berlatsky:

Academic writing is bad, and academics should feel bad for writing it. So said Steven Pinker in The Chronicle a couple of years back, but he’s hardly alone. Academics have been kicking — or, if you prefer, virtually dialectically deconstructing — academic writing for more than a decade.

Many “academics (and especially younger ones) tend to confuse incomprehensibility with profundity,” Stephen Walt declared in 2013. “Call me simple-minded, call me anti-intellectual, but I believe that most poor scholarly writing is a result of bad habits, of learning tricks of the academic trade as a way to try to fit in,” Rachel Toor argued in 2010. “Obscurity creates an aura of importance,” said Martha Nussbaum as part of a lengthy takedown of the feminist theorist Judith Butler in 1999. You can go back further to find people making the same case if you’re so inclined.

2016 Wisconsin Legislative Council Study Committee on School Data

Wisconsin Legislature:

The Study Committee is directed to review all student data gathered by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the data security measures that protect student privacy. The committee will study whether the data is required by federal law, state statute, or administrative rule and the purposes for which the data is utilized, and consider developing legislation to limit the types of student data collected by DPI and to improve the security of that data.

Two documents from the August session: Data Quality Campaign (PDF).

Electronic Privacy Information Center – EPIC (PDF).

The Anti-Vaccination Movement Is Gaining Ground In Texas

Leif Reigstad:

The video was posted on Facebook as a trailer for Vaxxed, a documentary film directed by disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield, the author of a since-retracted study that linked vaccines with autism. The film, which doubled down on his research, drew so much criticism from actual doctors that it was pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival this spring. The trailer preceded a longer eleven-minute promotional video released on Tuesday featuring LaHood and his wife, who claim vaccinations are responsible for health problems that their two children have developed.

On Wednesday, LaHood continued his anti-vaccination campaign, posting a long rant on Facebook encouraging parents to “educate yourselves for the sake of your precious children,” and to “stay away from rhetoric and look at hard facts.” As of Thursday morning, the post had garnered nearly 1,500 comments. LaHood’s responses to some of the more critical commenters are politely defensive, though he does call one commenter a “fool with your head in the sand” and “the typical zealot without an open mind.”

In Austin Public Schools, a Clear Divide on AP Test Passing Rates

Kate McGee

According to district data, students in schools with majority low-income students are more likely to fail Advanced Placement tests than students in schools with higher-income students. In low-income schools, students are often not taking Advanced Placement tests at all, instead, focusing on other ways to receive college credit in high school, like dual credit.

Lou Kuhn teaches Advanced Placement calculus and dual enrollment* pre-calculus at Crockett High School, where she’s been a teacher for 11 years. She’s known around campus for her dance videos that she makes with her students.

Kuhn is an experienced teacher who has received multiple AP course trainings by the College Board, but she’s very open about something other teachers may be less likely to admit.

Jack Bogle: The Undisputed Champion of the Long Run

Holman Jenkins, JR:

Four decades ago, a mutual-fund industry graybeard warned him that he would “destroy the industry.” Mr. Bogle’s plan was to create a new mutual-fund company owned not by the founding entrepreneur and his partners but by the shareholders of the funds themselves.

This would keep overhead low for investors, as would a second part of his plan: an index fund that would mimic the performance of the overall stock market rather than pay genius managers to guess which stocks might go up or down.

UT security review calls for more police, fewer homeless on campus

Ralph Haurwitz:

A comprehensive safety review after the slaying of a student at the University of Texas recommends that UT hire more police officers and security guards, improve lighting and tighten controls on nighttime access to campus buildings, among other improvements, officials said Wednesday.

The report by the Texas Department of Public Safety also calls for removing excessive vegetation in some areas, upgrading video surveillance systems and developing policies aimed at reducing the presence of homeless people on campus.

UT President Gregory L. Fenves echoed his previous pledge, when he had asked for the review, to implement all of the recommendations.

Graduate Students, the Laborers of Academia

Mark Oppenheimer

Twenty years ago, when I was a senior at Yale, the graduate students embarked on a two-week “grade strike,” during which they refused to hand in the fall grades of the undergraduates they were teaching. Grades were due on January 2, 1996, but the grad students, then as now agitating for union recognition, withheld the grades until two weeks later, when it became clear that they were losing the battle on all fronts. The dean of the graduate school brought three union leaders up on disciplinary charges (one was dismissed, though the other two had their punishments overturned); some faculty members threatened graduate students with reprisals, like poor letters of recommendation; and the Yale undergraduates, for whom a transcript without grades was like a scull without oarsmen, turned viciously on their teaching assistants.

More Detroit Public School Principals Have Been Charged With Crimes in 2016 Than All the Charter School CEOs in John Oliver’s Rant

Eric Boehm

After detailing how the CEOs of charter schools in Florida and Pennsylvania had recently been convicted of embezzling school funds to enrich themselves, Oliver stressed that the two incidents were not outliers.

“In Philadelphia alone, at least 10 executives or top administrators had pled guilty in the last decade to charges like fraud, misuse of funds or obstruction of justice,” he said.

How education reform lost its mojo

Robert Pondisco

Response to this series of stunning attacks and political reversals has been muted. The usual groups have told journalists where and how they disagree with the antis. But there’s been no outcry of support for the agenda items under attack, and certainly not from any political leaders, prominent columnists, etc.

This week, by marked contrast, the atmosphere inside the edu-bubble was set alight by—wait for it—John Oliver. The British comedian recorded a “takedown” of charter schools that was quickly and correctly dismissed by Reason‘s Nick Gillespie as “clever, glib, and uninformed.” From the reactions of education reformers, however, you’d think Oliver was Edward R. Murrow and that the expose had appeared on 60 Minutes, not a late-night comedy show.

The Mathematics of Charles Sanders Peirce

Louis Kauffman

This essay explores the Mathematics of Charles Sanders Peirce. We concentrate on his notational approaches to basic logic and his general ideas about Sign, Symbol and diagrammatic thought.

In the course of this paper we discuss two notations of Peirce, one of Nicod and one of Spencer-Brown. Needless to say, a notation connotes an entire language and these contexts are elaborated herein. The first Peirce notation is the portmanteau (see below) Sign of illation. The second Peirce notation is the form of implication in the existential graphs (see below). The Nicod notation is a portmanteau of the Sheffer stroke and an (overbar) negation sign. The Spencer-Brown notation is in line with the Peirce Sign of illation. It remained for Spencer-Brown (some fifty years after Peirce and Nicod) to see the relevance of an arithmetic of forms underlying his notation and thus putting the final touch on a development that, from a broad perspective, looks like the world mind doing its best to remember the significant patterns that join logic, speech and mathematics. The movement downward to the Form (“we take the form of distinction for the form.”[9, Chapter 1, page 1]) through the joining together of words into archetypal portmanteau Signs can be

Some rather strange history of maths

The Renaissance Mathematicus:

Scientific American has a guest blog post with the title: Mathematicians Are Overselling the Idea That “Math Is Everywhere, which argues in its subtitle: The mathematics that is most important to society is the province of the exceptional few—and that’s always been true. Now I’m not really interested in the substantial argument of the article but the author, Michael J. Barany, opens his piece with some historical comments that I find to be substantially wrong; a situation made worse by the fact that the author is a historian of mathematics.

Barany’s third paragraph starts as follows:

In the first agricultural societies in the cradle of civilization, math connected the heavens and the earth. Priests used astronomical calculations to mark the seasons and interpret divine will, and their special command of mathematics gave them power and privilege in their societies.

The Math Myth

David Edwards:

The math myth is the myth that the future of the American economy is dependent upon the masses having higher mathematics skills. This myth goes back to at least Sputnik, when the Russians were going to surpass us because they were better in math and science. It returned in the late 80’s when the Germans and Japanese were going to surpass us because they were better in math and science. It’s occurring again now because the Indians and Chinese are better than us in math and science.

I find it difficult to find anyone who uses more than Excel and eighth grade level mathematics (=arithmetic, and a little bit of algebra, statistics and programming). In the summer of 2007 I taught an advanced geometry course and had two students in the class who had been engineers and one who had been an actuary. They claimed never to have used anything beyond Excel and eighth grade level mathematics; never a trig function or even a log or exponential function! There is in fact a deskilling going on in our economy, where even the ability to make change is about to disappear as an important skill.

Vivek Wadhwa has described how there’s no shortage of scientists and engineers. I’ve been concerned with what skills those who are working as scientists and engineers actually use. I find that the vast majority of scientists, engineers and actuaries only use Excel and eighth grade level mathematics. This suggests that most jobs that currently require advanced technical degrees are using that requirement simply as a filter. In particular, I’m working on documenting the following:

Math Myth Conjecture: If one restricts one’s attention to the hardest cases, namely, graduates of top engineering schools such as MIT, RPI, Cal. Tech., Georgia Tech., etc., then the percent of such individuals holding engineering as opposed to management, financial or other positions, and using more than Excel and eighth grade level mathematics (arithmetic, a little bit of algebra, a little bit of statistics, and a little bit of programming) is less than 25% and possibly less than 10%.

UW-Madison launches diversity measures

Maggie Angst

The educational opportunities for students include:

A Black Cultural Center in the Red Gym.
Inclusivity and diversity training for teaching assistants.
A new ethnic studies course to be launched next year.
Three new mental health staff members in the University of Health Services.
Additional training for housing fellows.
Instructional materials for faculty and staff to address diversity.
Although the report outlines a number of programs and initiatives to encourage diversity understanding and conversations this fall, the report does not specifically outline benchmarks to determine whether the programs are successful.

Dean of Students Lori Berquam said measures of success vary depending on the program but did not give a specific example of a program’s success benchmarks.

“For example, with Our Wisconsin we plan to do a formal evaluation because we want to make sure it’s accomplishing what we think it ought to,” Berquam said.

REVOLUTION U What today’s critics of the university get right…and wrong.

Chad Wellmon:

Since at least the nineteenth century, research universities from Berlin to Baltimore have been indispensable institutions. They have conserved, created, and circulated knowledge not just for the specialized scholars within their ivied and bricked walls but also for the communities outside them. Research universities authorized and legitimated knowledge. They helped separate fact from fallacy. The research university, as Daniel Coit Gilman, the founding president of Johns Hopkins, put it in 1885, was a civilizing force. Alongside the family, commerce, and religion, it moved civilization forward. It was the motor of modernity.

But all that, as the sages of Silicon Valley tell us, is being disrupted. The research university, they say, has ossified into a bureaucratic behemoth that no longer creates knowledge—or innovates as the disrupters would put it—so much as inefficiently processes and distributes it. For the prophets of entrepreneurship, innovation, and start-up-ism, the research university is a vestige of a predigital age. Like journalism, manufacturing, and music before it, the research university too will soon be destroyed and reinvented in the digital revolution.

The research university emerged in late eighteenth- and early nineteenthcentury Germany, when Prussian intellectuals and government leaders worried that the very idea of a university, whose origins stretched back at least six centuries to Bologna, Paris, and Oxford, was on the verge of collapse. In 1795, the Wednesday Society, a secret salon of Prussian civil ministers and intellectuals, entertained a provocative proposition from one of its members, a Reformed pastor named J.G. Gebhard. Universities, he asserted, should be abolished. “In our age,” he wrote in an essay circulated among the group before one of their Wednesdayevening meetings, had become “dispensable.” Their “purpose” could be achieved by other means, by which he meant other media, namely, print. As printed encyclopedias, lexica, periodicals, and monographs became more affordable and readily available, the university was losing what many saw as its monopoly on knowledge.

Gebhard’s frank proposal prompted a lively debate among his Wednesday Society colleagues about the purpose of the university in an age of print. They quickly moved beyond his vague imperative—abolish universities— to a more nuanced discussion of the ends of universities. What was the purpose of a university? And, perhaps more importantly, what kind of technologies and institutions were needed around 1800 in order to create and share knowledge that people could trust? Could the medieval model of the university survive the political, technological, religious, and economic revolutions of modernity? Gebhard and his colleagues’ concerns about the future of the university, however, revealed deeper anxieties about the fate of knowledge in an age of the proliferation of print. What counted as real, authoritative knowledge?

N.J. triples weight of PARCC results in teacher evaluations11

Adam Clark:

TRENTON — The results of controversial standardized tests that many New Jersey students have yet to pass will carry three times as much weight in some teacher’s evaluations this school year, the state announced Wednesday.

Teachers in grades 4-7 whose students participate in the PARCC math tests or in grades 4-8 whose students take PARCC English exams will have 30 percent of their rating based on students’ performance on the tests, an increase from 10 percent, Deputy Education Commissioner Peter Shulman said in a memo to schools.

The teacher evaluations take into account how much a teacher’s students improved their scores on the annual PARCC exams. So, a teacher whose students earn low test scores can still get a boost in his or her performance rating as long as the students made progress compared to their peers, according to the state.

“As New Jersey now enters into its third year of PARCC testing, schools have successfully transition to the new exams,” Shulman wrote in the memo. “The PARCC assessment can be used as a tool to improve classroom instruction more effectively than any previous statewide assessment.”

Putting Head Start’s ‘Sleeper Effects’ to Rest

Jason Richwine

When the Head Start Impact Study generally failed to show cognitive or behavioral improvements that lasted beyond kindergarten, Head Start’s defenders pointed to possible “sleeper effects” as a reason to keep the program going. The argument is that Head Start may have imparted a benefit that is not detectable in the elementary years but that emerges later on. A new paper from Brookings’ “Hamilton Project” follows in that tradition, claiming that Head Start improves high school graduation rates, college attendance, self-control, self-esteem, and parenting practices.

Schools that teach in two languages foster integration — so how come so many families can’t find programs?

Conor Williams & Catherine Brown:

School integration has been a critical priority for many waves of education reformers: students in diverse, integrated schools grow up better prepared to flourish in a plural democratic society and economy.

Yet efforts to convert this promise into practice have repeatedly crashed and broken against various intractable interests: familial anxieties, real estate patterns, and scarcely concealed racism or bigotry. Anxious, privileged, predominantly white families have too frequently responded to integration efforts by leaving diverse neighborhoods or cities for wealthier communities beyond the borders of local desegregation efforts.

Putting Japan on the Map

Miriam Kingsburg:

Part II of the collection is largely concerned with the 18th- and 19th-century rise of commercial cartography. Fed by growing literacy, travel, and urbanism, a market arose for maps of all kinds, including tourist guides, bird’s-eye views, and spatial depictions of current events. A few authors even note the appearance of faux antique maps, illustrating the popular demand for the application of modern technology to the land and cityscapes of epochs past. Ronald P. Toby shows how cartographers inscribed maps of Edo (present-day Tokyo), then as now the world’s largest city, with information about status distinctions, the “most salient reality” of early modern life in Japan. Mary Elizabeth Berry interrogates the Japanese address system. Why, she asks, have urban residents traditionally identified their location by neighborhood (chô) rather than by street (as in Chinese and Western practice)? Although this was (and is) confusing to outsiders, Berry argues that it serves a more important purpose than navigation: it expresses the irreplaceable function and strong consciousness of local community to residents. Even today, the system remains vital: when displaced from their homes by the “triple disaster” of March 11, 2011, refugees organized camp spaces by chô.

Classic College Movies Updated for the Adjunct Era

Shannon Reed:

Good Will Hunting

MIT Professor Gerald Lambeau is impressed by the intellect of Will Hunting, a janitor who solved an extremely difficult math problem, but Will needs help processing his complex emotions and anger. Lambeau turns to his estranged former college roommate, Dr. Sean Maguire, for help. Sadly, Maguire, an adjunct professor who must shuttle between three campuses in two states and teach 7 classes a semester to stay off the dole, can’t find a minute to call Lambeau back. Will ends up in jail by the age of 23, Lambeau never goes out on a limb for another student, and Maguire is fired for being late to class because of a car pile-up on I-90.

Run Time: 1 hour

How Teach For America Empowers DACAmented Teachers

Emerson collective:

In 2012, President Obama offered a bright spot with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. While limited in scope, the program grants temporary deportation relief and work permits to select immigrants brought as children to the United States—for some, the only country they’ve ever really known. Finally, these hardworking young people had the opportunity to flourish.

Recognizing the deep impact that immigration issues have on children, Teach for America became one of many organizations to stand up and invite DACA recipients to work as corps members. Today, young people with DACA status are teaching in communities across the country.

Seeking flexibility around deployments, military families turn to homeschooling

Patricia Murphy

Even in the middle of the school day, you won’t find Rebecca and Tim Owen’s children in a classroom.

Instead, on a recent afternoon, six of the seven Owen kids were at Sunnyside Beach in Washington State. 4-year-old Zoe and 6-year-old year Joshua were looking for feathers to make a dreamcatcher, while the others read or explored the beach. The Owens are being homeschooled, and the trip was part of their curriculum.

After Tim joined the Army in 2005, Rebecca Owen says it made sense to homeschool their children because the family moved around so much.

” family with a $300,000 mortgage can expect to pay at least $60,000 more over the course of the mortgage”

Fix the Debt:

Growing national debt can drive up interest rates throughout the economy, leading to higher interest payments on mortgages, car loans, student loans, and credit card debt.

Although rates are currently low – due mainly to the weak economy and temporary efforts by the Federal Reserve to keep them down – they will most certainly rise as the economy recovers, and they will rise much higher if debt continues to grow.

Reducing the debt will help lower costs for middle-class families. Growing debt levels, on the other hand, will increase interest costs, squeeze family budgets, and put important family investments out of reach. In 25 years, interest rates would be 1 point higher because of debt.[2] Put another way, a family with a $300,000 mortgage can expect to pay at least $60,000 more over the course of the mortgage.

Less Room for Investment in Infrastructure, Research, and the Next Generation

Growing national debt means that the government must pay higher interest payments to service that debt. Interest will represent the fastest growing part of the federal budget. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects interest costs will more than triple from about $250 billion in 2016 to about $850 billion in ten years. By 2027, 100 percent of the revenue we collect will go toward interest payments and mandatory spending. That leaves little room for important priorities and investments such as national defense, education, infrastructure, low-income support, and basic research. As more of our budget goes to financing today’s spending and yesterday’s promises, spending targeted toward the next generation will continue to dwindle.

Is It Possible To Embrace “Uber U”?

Dan Butin:

have been mulling over David Theo Goldberg’s recent essay: “Coming Soon To You: Uber U.” It is a story of decline, of the university in ruins, of a powerful vision of the liberal arts impaled on the stake of profits. “The immediate future for academe,” Goldberg writes in his penultimate paragraph, “is one of the growing robotification of basic skills and service delivery and smart algorithms autogenerating their own code. The pressures to downsize the human interface of learning, to limit faculty determination of what and how things are valuable to be learned, and to discount critical knowledge and thinking capacity in every sense of the term will only intensify.”

I am very sympathetic to such a perspective. Higher education is one of the only chances and places where students are helped to understand and confront how to be thoughtful and engaged citizens in a complex and contested pluralistic democracy. Helping students to develop such productive habits of mind and repertoires of action – what the developmental psychologist Marcia Baxter Magolda has eloquently called “self-authorship” – is a fraught undertaking and one that we in higher education take extremely seriously even as we struggle to understand how to do it well.

Screen time is no substitute for real learning

Naomi Schaefer Riley

Rachel Barr, a professor of psychology at Georgetown, says the notion that young children need parents around in order to gain any real emotional or cognitive benefits from technology has been borne out by other studies as well.

In her own work with infants and toddlers, she has found that a parent’s presence can more than double the chances that a child figures out a task on a touch screen and a parent who is “warm and responsive and sensitive and uses clear language” can increase the likelihood of success even more.

How San Francisco’s Most Diverse, High-Achieving School Became Mostly White

Rosie Cima:

Grattan Elementary school is one of the crown jewels of the San Francisco public school district.

It has a lot going for it: a high ratio of teachers to students, an organic garden, enrichment programs that include choir, dance, technology, and “integrated drama,” high standardized test scores, and—despite being a public school—an enormous budget, courtesy of aggressive fundraising by its Parent-Teacher Association.

The school’s elite status is reflected in its admissions statistics. In San Francisco’s school assignment system, parents of students entering the public school system rank their school preferences, and are matched with schools in a system designed to promote equal opportunity. Every year, lots and lots of parents rank Grattan. In the 2015 school year, Grattan had 1,342 applicants for only 65 spots. The resulting admissions rate of 5% was lower than Harvard’s.

But back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Grattan was struggling. The school’s scores were lackluster, its enrollment was dangerously low, and it was unpopular, especially among affluent white families.

What Kids Wish Their Teachers Knew

Donna de la Cruz:

In her book, Ms. Schwartz writes about mistakes that might have been prevented if she had known her students better. She had a student named Chris who was obsessed with science. Ms. Schwartz thought she had done Chris a huge favor by securing a spot for him in a science-focused summer camp. But she was unaware of the family’s financial struggles and it turned out that his parents could not afford to take time off from work to get Chris to camp.

I am familiar with some private schools that require teachers visit students’ homes.

Reforms That Stick: How Schools Change

Larry Cuban

There is a strongly-held myth many academics, policymakers, and reformers repeat weekly: schools hardly ever change. Those who believe in this myth often cite the large literature demonstrating failed innova­tions in schools or point at calcified bureaucracies and stubborn teachers and principals who block reform after reform (see here and here). Like all myths, this one has a factual basis. There have been many failures to transform schooling in the U.S. From open-space schools to vouchers, there have indeed been vain attempts to alter the course of schooling.

Such a myth is useful for those who beat the drums that U.S. schools are broken. After all, they seek changes that meet their view of what constitutes a “good” education. “Troubled” schools is the basis for the profound pessimism that presently exists over the capacity of public schools to improve. So it is a politically useful myth, but it is inherently mistaken nonetheless.

ACT Scores Fell Last Year. Relax! Students’ scores may have fallen, but the number taking the test is on the rise.

:Robert Kelchen:

As a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers, I keep an eye on what Butte Community College’s most famous student-athlete has to say. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers famously told fans in “Packer-land” in 2014 to “R-E-L-A-X” after the team got off to an uncharacteristically slow 1-2 start. Fans relaxed after the team went 11-2 the rest of the way in the regular season as Rodgers played like his regular self.

In the education policy niche of the world, few things get people more upset than declining standardized test scores. Last year, I wrote about the fuss about SAT scores declining—and how at least part of that decline is due to more students taking the test instead of the American education system failing young adults. Now it’s ACT’s turn to release their newest scores—and my message again is R-E-L-A-X.

Between 2015 and 2016, average ACT scores declined from 21.0 to 20.8 nationwide, the lowest score in at least five years. But as the now-dominant test in the United States (much to the surprise of many folks who grew up on a coast where the SAT is still common), the percentage of students taking the ACT rose from 52% in 2012 to 59% in 2015 and 64% this year. This sharp increase in ACT takers is in large part due to more states requiring all students to take the ACT as a graduation requirement. In 2016, all graduating high school seniors took the ACT in 18 states, up from 13 states in 2015.

The Ending of the Liberal Interregnum

Razib Khan:

There is one section of her talk where Dreger waxes eloquently about the Enlightenment, and freedom of thought, which caught my attention. We have always missed the mark, but at there was a point where in Western intellectual culture the idea that freedom of thought and striving toward truth was at least the paramount method and goal. I am not so sure that is the case today.

When Dreger pointed approvingly on Twitter to University of Chicago’s statement on “safe spaces,” I told her that most of my liberal Twitter follows were enthusiastically sharing this piece, UChicago’s anti-safe spaces letter isn’t about academic freedom. It’s about power. The piece makes some coherent points, but mostly it is self-congratulatory intellectual masturbation. At a certain point the cultural Left no longer made any pretense to being liberal, and transformed themselves into “progressives.” They have taken Marcuse’s thesis in Repressive Tolerance to heart.

Though I hope that Dreger and her fellow travelers succeed in rolling back the clock, I suspect that the battle here is lost. She points out, correctly, that the total politicization of academia will destroy its existence as a producer of truth in any independent and objective manner. More concretely, she suggests it is likely that conservatives will simply start to defund and direct higher education even more stridently than they do now, because they will correctly see higher education as purely a tool toward the politics of their antagonists. I happen to be a conservative, and one who is pessimistic about the persistence of a public liberal space for ideas that offend. If progressives give up on liberalism of ideas, and it seems that many are (the most famous defenders of the old ideals are people from earlier generations, such as Nadine Strossen and Wendy Kaminer, with Dreger being a young example), I can’t see those of us in the broadly libertarian wing of conservatism making the last stand alone.

Evaluating Madison’s Rejection of the Proposed IB Charter School…

Paul Finland

They point out that most coverage they analyzed was episodic, about a new report or the latest crime. Instead, they suggest “news media commit to reflexively exploring their community over the long haul, rather than reactively reporting on events as they arise. … This would mean a change in priorities, perhaps ditching the meeting in favor of a community dinner.”

Their conclusion was edgy: “Through their embrace of value-neutral and facts-only reporting, many Madison news outlets failed to build trust, diversify their sourcing, and tell the true stories of race.”

They wrote that reporters “have been schooled that they cannot have ‘skin in the game’ on any issue. They should not sign petitions, put bumper stickers on their cars, or plant a political sign in their yards.” Yet those reporters’ own life experiences vary around race, class, education, upbringing and social circles. “In covering race, their skin, quite literally, is in the game,” the authors argued.

This raises the question of the importance of employing a diverse staff, something the Cap Times and others struggle with. Our only full-time African-American journalist resigned recently to pursue her dream of law school in Washington, D.C. We are happy for her and sorry she left. She made a big contribution.

Much more on the aborted Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School, here.

Madison continues to spend more than most on a non diverse largely one size fits all K-12 structure.

Speech Is 3x Faster than Typing for English and Mandarin Text Entry on Mobile Devices

Stanford HCI

With the ubiquity of mobile devices like smartphones, two new widely used methods have emerged: miniature touch screen keyboards and speech-based dictation. It is currently unknown how these two modern methods compare. We therefore evaluated the text entry performance of both methods in English and in Mandarin Chinese on a mobile smartphone. In the speech input case, our speech recognition system gave an initial transcription, and then recognition errors could be corrected using either speech again or the smartphone keyboard.
 We found that with speech recognition, the English input rate was 3.0x faster, and the Mandarin Chinese input rate 2.8x faster, than a state-of-the-art miniature smartphone keyboard. Further, with speech, the English error rate was 20.4% lower, and Mandarin error rate 63.4% lower, than the keyboard. Our experiment was carried out using Baidu’s Deep Speech 2, a deep learning-based speech recognition system, and the built-in Qwerty or Pinyin (Mandarin) Apple iOS keyboards. These results show that a significant shift from typing to speech might be imminent and impactful. Further research to develop effective speech interfaces is warranted.

The Great Massachusetts Charter Schools Debate

Rachel Slade

In November, Massachusetts voters will decide whether the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) can raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed, or increase enrollment in existing charters in underperforming districts. If the referendum is approved, the city of Boston—which currently has 27 Commonwealth charter schools that operate independently of the district and educate about 14 percent of the student population—will likely see an increase in charters over the next several years. It’s an advance that charter advocates firmly champion but opponents see as another little push in the direction of a very steep cliff.

How did public education get so contentious, even as Boston’s public school system is near the top on every available scoring index of the nation’s major urban districts? Why does Brooke Charter Schools founder Jon Clark, a quiet, straight-talking guy from Wellesley, become slightly unhinged when I share some of the views of the anti-charter folks? What is it about this debate that brings out the tinfoil-hatted paranoia in all of us?

Ideologically speaking, charter schools—which are publicly funded but operate outside of typical district and teachers union rules—are the muddiest of all political issues, simultaneously supported by neoliberals and ultraconservatives, progressives and regressives, hedge funders and immigrants. For those who favor them, charters represent our best hope for improving education. In fact, the pro-charter movement is predicated on the certainty that public education is in crisis, and it lays the blame squarely on government incompetence and union hegemony. Well-run charters, they argue, not only educate children more cheaply, but also more effectively. The data back that up: The average SAT composite score in Boston’s charter high schools in 2015 was 100 points higher (about 10 percentile points) than the district schools’.

A majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school.

Four charts reveal what Americans think about the biggest education fights, including school closures and opt out

Alex Zimmerman:

Americans are overwhelmingly against closing struggling schools, divided on whether parents should be allowed to opt their kids out of standardized tests, and more enthusiastic about expanding career and technical education than honors classes.

They’re also split on what, exactly, schools are for in the first place.
Those are just some of the findings from an annual poll published Monday by PDK International, a professional association of educators. And while the study is based on a representative sample drawn from across all 50 states, Josh Starr, a former New York City teacher who is now CEO of PDK, said the findings map onto local debates about the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program, for instance, and state policy on career and technical education.
Here are four charts from the report that connect with conversations that are unfolding in New York City.

Lawmakers want to know why U-Va. stockpiled billions but still boosted tuition

Nick Anderson, Susan Svrluga and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel Education

The University of Virginia has spent the past decade building an investment fund that now totals $2.2 billion, a pile of money so large that officials say it could finance the entire school and medical center for nine months.

As the balance grew, the university sought to protect the annual funding it gets from Virginia taxpayers and raised its tuition significantly, with the price for in-state freshmen rising 30 percent since 2013.

On Friday, lawmakers in Richmond plan to ask the school to justify stockpiling so much money, outside of its endowment, to generate discretionary revenue for selected projects. Their questions come as the state confronts a possible shortfall of about $1.5 billion in its current two-year budget.

A Brief History of the College Textbook Pricing Racket

Ernie Smith

A version of this post originally appeared on Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter that hunts for the end of the long tail.

When I recently wrote about airport stores, one of the most interesting (albeit minor) facets of the piece was the fact that airport travelers are generally considered a captive audience, making it easy for shops to jack up prices.

Airports, though, are amateur hour compared to the college textbook industry.

Any industry that can increase its prices by 1,041 percent over a 38-year period—as the textbook industry did between 1977 and 2015, according to an NBC News analysis—is one that knows how to keep, and hold, an audience. (It’s almost like they’re selling EpiPens.)

Why Did We Stop Teaching Political History?

Frederick Logevall & Kenneth Osgood

This matters. Knowledge of our political past is important because it can serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy “lessons of the past.” It can make us less egocentric by showing us how other politicians and governments in other times have responded to division and challenge. And it can help us better understand the likely effects of our actions, a vital step in the acquisition of insight and maturity.

Judging by the state of our political discourse during this dismal campaign season, the change can’t come soon enough.

The 2016 Washington Monthly College Guide and Rankings are Out!

Paul Glasteris

• While 19 out of U.S. News’ top 20 national university rankings are private schools, the majority of Washington Monthly’s top 20 are public institutions, including University of California-San Diego, Texas A&M, and Utah State University, schools that rate nowhere near the top at U.S. News.

• While a few elite schools, such as Stanford and Harvard top the Washington Monthly list, others underperform. Columbia, Northwestern, and Washington University in St. Louis, which rank 4th, 12th, and 15th respectively, on the U.S. News list, come in 24th, 40th, and 99th in the Washington Monthly rankings.

• Berea College, ranked 67th on U.S. News’ list of liberal arts colleges, comes in 1st in the Washington Monthly.

While nearly half of all college students today are adults, no national publication has ever ranked colleges based on which serve adult students best—until now. To put together its exclusive ranking of the best four-year and two-year colleges for adult learners, the Washington Monthly compiled reams of data on which schools best meet these students’ unique needs, such as plenty of weekend, evening, and online classes to fit busy work schedules.

The top five four-year colleges for adults are:
• Golden Gate University—San Francisco (CA)
• University of Utah (UT)
• Park University (MO)
• Concordia University—St. Paul (MN)
• University of Colorado-Denver (CO)

Facebook recommended that this psychiatrist’s patients friend each other

Kashmir Hill

Facebook’s ability to figure out the “people we might know” is sometimes eerie. Many a Facebook user has been creeped out when a one-time Tinder date or an ex-boss from 10 years ago suddenly pops up as a friend recommendation. How does the big blue giant know?

While some of these incredibly accurate friend suggestions are amusing, others are alarming, such as this story from Lisa*, a psychiatrist who is an infrequent Facebook user, mostly signing in to RSVP for events. Last summer, she noticed that the social network had started recommending her patients as friends—and she had no idea why.

“I haven’t shared my email or phone contacts with Facebook,” she told me over the phone.

The next week, things got weirder.

Most of her patients are senior citizens or people with serious health or developmental issues, but she has one outlier: a 30-something snowboarder. Usually, Facebook would recommend he friend people his own age, who snowboard and jump out of planes. But Lisa told me that he had started seeing older and infirm people, such as a 70-year-old gentleman with a walker and someone with cerebral palsy.

Weapons of Math Destruction

Rana Foroohar

When there is wrongdoing in fields that are both complex and opaque, it often takes a whistle-blower to inform the public. That’s exactly what former quant trader turned social activist Cathy O’Neil has become for the world of Big Data. A Harvard trained mathematician, O’Neil spent the last several years teaching at Barnard, working for DE Shaw, one of the world’s leading hedge funds, and launching a technology start up designed to deliver targeted advertising. Her key takeaway from the last two experiences—that Big Data is increasing inequality and threatening democracy—is the subject of her important new book, Weapons of Math Destruction, out on September 6.

Unlike the WMDs that were never found in Iraq, data driven algorithms are all around us. Already, many of our bosses use them to grade our performance. Our children’s teachers are hired and fired by them. They decide who gets access to credit and who pays higher insurance premiums, as well as who will receive online advertising for luxury handbags versus who’ll be targeted by predatory ads for for-profit universities.

In fact, it was that last example that prompted O’Neil, who’s also a member of the Occupy Movement, to write her book. While working at the start-up, she heard a presentation from an investor lauding the fact that the company’s new technology would mean that he would “never have to see another ad for the University of Phoenix,” but would be automatically funneled more offers for “vacations in Aruba and jet skis.” “I realized that far from doing anything good, this technology was actually siloing people into online gated communities where they no longer had to even acknowledge the existence of the poor,” she says.

O’Neil sees plenty of parallels between the usage of Big Data today and the predatory lending practices of the subprime crisis. In both cases, the effects are hard to track, even for insiders. Like the dark financial arts employed in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis, the Big Data algorithms that sort us into piles of “worthy” and “unworthy” are mostly opaque and unregulated, not to mention generated (and used) by large multinational firms with huge lobbying power to keep it that way. “The discriminatory and even predatory way in which algorithms are being used in everything from our school system to the criminal justice system is really a silent financial crisis,” says O’Neil.

The effects are just as pernicious. Using her deep technical understanding of modeling, she shows how the algorithms used to, say, rank teacher performance are based on exactly the sort of shallow and volatile type of data sets that informed those faulty mortgage models in the run up to 2008. Her work makes particularly disturbing points about how being on the wrong side of an algorithmic decision can snowball in incredibly destructive ways—a young black man, for example, who lives in an area targeted by crime fighting algorithms that add more police to his neighborhood because of higher violent crime rates will necessarily be more likely to be targeted for any petty violation, which adds to a digital profile that could subsequently limit his credit, his job prospects, and so on. Yet neighborhoods more likely to commit white collar crime aren’t targeted in this way.

In higher education, the use of algorithmic models that rank colleges has led to an educational arms race where schools offer more and more merit rather than need based aid to students who’ll make their numbers (thus rankings) look better. At the same time, for-profit universities can troll for data on economically or socially vulnerable would be students and find their “pain points,” as a recruiting manual for one for-profit university, Vatterott, describes it, in any number of online questionnaires or surveys they may have unwittingly filled out. The schools can then use this info to funnel ads to welfare mothers, recently divorced and out of work people, those who’ve been incarcerated or even those who’ve suffered injury or a death in the family.

Indeed, O’Neil writes that WMDs punish the poor especially, since “they are engineered to evaluate large numbers of people. They specialize in bulk. They are cheap. That’s part of their appeal.” Whereas the poor engage more with faceless educators and employers, “the wealthy, by contrast, often benefit from personal input. A white-shoe law firm or an exclusive prep school will lean far more on recommendations and face-to-face interviews than a fast-food chain or a cash-strapped urban school district. The privileged… are processed more by people, the masses by machines.”

Judge: Lower Merion schools misled taxpayers, must revoke tax hike

Kathy Boccella:

A Montgomery County judge has ordered the Lower Merion School District to revoke its latest tax hike, saying the district misled taxpayers by projecting large budget deficits to justify raising taxes 4.4 percent when it actually had socked away millions of surplus dollars.

In what may be an unprecedented win for Pennsylvania taxpayers, Common Pleas Judge Joseph A. Smyth said in his decision Monday that the district could increase taxes for 2016-17, but no more than 2.4 percent.

The judge said he would “leave for another day” the question of rebates, refunds, and credits for those who already paid their current school tax bills. He said he would consider establishing a trust to collect “improperly” accumulated past taxes – an estimated $1,400 per household – if it is determined that all Lower Merion taxpayers are plaintiffs.

“I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me

Edward Schlosser:

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.

What it was like before
In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy.