John Urschel Goes Pro

Jordan Ellenberg:

1. “Purposeful messiness”

John Urschel comes out of a rainy Cambridge night into the gleaming, very of-the-moment vegetarian restaurant where we’re meeting—his suggestion. He’s wearing a charcoal-gray sweater, his beard is perfectly groomed, there is not a drop of water on his glasses. He’s a very big guy but he doesn’t look as big as he is. He’s here to talk about math. He is exactly on time.

“Very rigorous, very structured,” Urschel tells me, when I ask him to describe his personal habits. “Nothing drives me crazy more than being late.”

At which point he pauses and rethinks. “I think I am messy,” he says. “But it’s a very purposeful messiness. My desk might be messy but everything’s where it’s supposed to be. I don’t like people messing with my mess.”

For those of you who don’t spend a lot of time around our tribe, Urschel is being an extremely typical mathematician here. This isn’t a matter of his work habits or his physical presentation. As far as those things go, there is no typical; the range of mathematicians is pretty much conterminous with the range of human beings. When I was starting out in math I wore John Lennon glasses and a lot of corduroy shorts. I know mathematicians who look and dress like Paris runway models, and mathematicians who look and dress like grindcore drummers, and mathematicians who look and dress like wind-battered sea captains. John Urschel looks and dresses like a successful pro athlete who has moved on to a string of high-profile media gigs, which, in part, he is.

Three arrested in shooting near La Follette; alleged shooter not a student, Madison police say

Shelly Mesch and Bill Novak:

The school district screened students entering the school Thursday and Friday with metal detector wands as a precaution following the shooting. Joe Balles, safety and security coordinator for the school district, said screening will not need to continue next week but there will be screening for students entering Saturday’s Homecoming dance.

The arrests were made by the Police Department’s violent crime unit.

The shooting was the second near La Follette in a week. On Sept. 19, a 15-year-old boy on a Metro Transit bus near the school injured two 16-year-old students when a gun he had accidentally fired. The 15-year-old, who was arrested the next day, was not a student at La Follette. A district spokeswoman would not say what schools the three attend.

Related: Gangs and school violence audio video.

DeVos Urges Campuses to Promote Free Speech


A few days ago, someone leaked a draft of the Education Department’s proposed new Title IX regulations. The document seeks to use federal authority to ensure that universities employ fairer procedures when adjudicating sexual misconduct claims. Today, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—quite appropriately—took a different approach to the issue of free speech on campus. Rejecting the idea of a “speech police” from the Department of Education, DeVos instead used the power of the bully pulpit to urge universities to create an environment that welcomes discourse, even on controversial issues.

DeVos’ Constitution Day speech worried that “precious few campuses can be described” as promoting a “free and open” intellectual environment. She cited several examples; perhaps the most troubling of her list was last year’s incident at William & Mary University, where Black Lives Matters protesters successfully shut down a talk—intended to celebrate free speech and the First Amendment!—by a representative of the ACLU. (Reason’s Robby Soave had excellent coverage of the affair.)

DeVos sharply criticized administrators for too often seeking to undermine, rather than promote, free speech on campus. (She especially worried about what she saw as the abuse of security fees as a way of shutting down controversial speakers whose views might challenge the perspective of the campus majority.) Administrators, DeVos feared, too often “attempt to shield students from ideas they subjectively decide are ‘hateful’ or ‘offensive’ or ‘injurious’ or ones they just don’t like”—a patronizing approach that the Education Secretary convincingly argued harms, rather than enhances, a typical student’s educational experience.

You’re Making a Better First Impression Than You Think

Katie Heaney:

Is there anything worse than meeting people? I don’t think so! Sure, they might become lovers (sorry), or lifelong friends, or even short-term friends, but more often than not, the people you meet just become people you met. And for many of us, people we met just become people we aren’t sure liked us. Sure, they smiled, and shook our hands, and asked us clarifying questions about our jobs. But they thought we were boring, right? Maybe even a little annoying? Yes, sometimes. (Sorry again.) But that’s not the norm — in fact, new research suggests that most people like you more than you think.

In an incredibly awkward-sounding experiment, researchers forced small talk among their subjects, who were strangers, and then asked them to rate their conversation partners, and to estimate how their partners rated them. The researchers found that participants consistently underestimated how well their conversation partners rated them and enjoyed their company, a phenomenon which they named “the liking gap.” This gap was found to be especially high for shy subjects, who tended to assume their partners basically hated their guts.

Interestingly, researchers noticed that the so-called liking gap persisted beyond the initial meeting — a number of the subjects were surveyed several times between meeting at the start of the school year and May, and even those who became friends (aw) still underestimated how much they were liked. No matter how long the conversations, or how much the subjects reported liking their new friends, they viewed their own conversational skills harshly. “Conversation appears to be a domain in which people display uncharacteristic pessimism about their performance,” said the researchers. They hypothesize that because we’re so absorbed in second-guessing the things we’re saying, we often miss signs that our conversation partners are actually enjoying themselves.

Denver law school pays up big-time over gender pay disparity

Joey Bunch:

Everyone at the University of Denver should have known better. The school’s prestigious Sturm College of Law was accused of under-paying women. The plaintiffs were eight law professors. The private university, founded in 1864, has a boldly progressive reputation. Let all that sink in.

If it can happen among the talented legal minds, brown-bricked temples of academia and the trimmed lawns of DU, imagine the free rein that pay discrimination enjoys in the factories, restaurants and offices towers anywhere else.

Ultimately it took $2.66 million from the university to settle a suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging that DU paid women professors in its law school much less than men.

Facebook Network Breach Affects Up to 50 Million Users

Mike Isaac and Sheera Frankel:

Facebook on Friday said an attack on its computer network led to the exposure of information from nearly 50 million of its users.

The company discovered the breach earlier this week, finding that attackers had exploited a feature in Facebook’s code that allowed them to take over user accounts. Facebook fixed the vulnerability and notified law enforcement officials.

More than 90 million of Facebook’s users were forced to log out of their accounts Friday morning, a common safety measure for compromised accounts.

Facebook said it did not know the origin or identity of the attackers, nor had it fully assessed the scope of the attack. The company is in the beginning stages of its investigation.

Many services use Facebook credentials – unfortunately.

Brian Krebs has much more.

IQ scores look to be on the decline. Is there a complicated explanation, or are we just getting stupider?

Daniel Engber:

Given all this appetite for news of our destruction, you’d think the Great Endumbening described in that European special would’ve become a source of fascination over here (or at least a source of nervous Facebook posts). Instead, it’s been pretty much invisible. Across the Atlantic, one can find some real concern about a downward slide in measures of intelligence, amid confusing and disturbing arguments over what those changes, if they’re real, could really mean. In the United States, no one seems to care. We might be grateful for this fact—that for whatever reason we’ve been spared another gloom-and-doom prediction. But the latest science about these dropping scores suggests the worries aren’t altogether fake, and that they may deserve more attention than they’ve gotten.

It’s wrong to hint that scores on tests of memory and abstract thinking have been falling everywhere, and in a simple way. But at least in certain countries—notably in Northern Europe—the IQ drops seem very real. Using data from Finland, for example, where men are almost always drafted into military service, whereupon they’re tested for intelligence, Dutton showed that scores began to slide in 1997, a trend that has continued ever since. Similar trends have been documented using data from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. At some point in the mid-1990s, IQ scores in these countries tipped into decay, losing roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of a point per year. While there isn’t any sign of this effect on U.S. test results (a fact that surely bears on our indifference to the topic), researchers have found hints of something similar in Australia, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Such signs are all the more surprising given that IQ scores have (or had) been increasing, overall, for many decades in a row. That upward trend was identified by a few different researchers and named for James R. Flynn, who explored it most comprehensively.
Starting in the 1980s, Flynn documented “massive gains” in mean IQ, starting with Americans, whose scores had soared by 14 points since 1932. The Flynn effect has since been well established across at least 34 countries; on average, scholars say IQs have increased by several points per decade.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Seeing (More of) the Gig Economy and Platform Workers in Tax Return Data

District Economics:

The reason is very simple, really, and tied to what the BLS survey asks of the individual respondent. They ask about the nature of the respondent’s sole or “main” job—the job they spend the most hours per week doing. While the BLS regularly tracks how many people hold multiple jobs, in the contingent and alternative work arrangements survey, they did not ask about whether any of the job holder’s additional work qualified as contingent or alternative.

Here is where we realized that tax return data can tell us something about the labor market that even the official employment data cannot. In principle, all taxable income should be reported on one’s tax return. Tabulations provided by the Internal Revenue Service’s Statistics of Income (SOI) revealed close alignment between the numbers from BLS’s contingent and alternative arrangements survey and the numbers of persons reporting self-employment income as their only source of earned income on their tax return, as shown below:

How to read a mathematics textbook

David R. MacIver:

Miikka asked me how I read a maths textbook the other day, and I didn’t have a better answer than “badly”. I’ve mostly tried to read textbooks linearly cover to cover, and this doesn’t actually work – I sometimes end up understanding the material, but it’s usually not until long after I’ve finished or given up on the book.

After some thought and experimentation, I think I now have a better answer that helps integrate understanding and reading immediately. It’s very much a work in progress, and I’m sure I will refine the process over time, but initial experience with it seems promising.

It’s designed along a couple of important principles:

The goal is not, in fact, to read the textbook. The goal is to understand the material the textbook covers, and reading it helps you achieve that.

Why Schools Are Banning Yoga

Alia Wong:

In certain parts of the United States, it’s getting more and more likely that rather than a game of dodgeball in gym class or a round of Heads-up, Seven-up as a break between lessons, students will instead find themselves doing downward-facing dog. The internet is saturated with yoga-based lesson plans, teacher-training courses, and “mindful” music playlists designed for schools, while programs for certified yoga instructors who want to bring their practice onto campus have also gained popularity.

While up-to-date data on the prevalence of school-based yoga is hard to come by, a 2015 survey led by the New York University psychologist Bethany Butzer identified three dozen programs in the United States that reach 940 schools and more than 5,400 instructors. School-based yoga programs, Butzer and her co-authors concluded, are “acceptable and feasible to implement.” The researchers also predicted that such programs would grow in popularity.

The trend, however, seems to have been accompanied by an uptick in vocal pushback against the idea. In 2016, an elementary school in Cobb County, Georgia, became the subject of heated controversy after introducing a yoga program. Parents’ objections to the yoga classes—on the grounds that they promoted a non-Christian belief system—were vociferous enough to compel the district to significantly curtail the program, removing the “namaste” greeting and the coloring-book exercises involving mandalas. A few years before that, a group of parents sued a San Diego County school district on the grounds that its yoga program promoted Eastern religions and disadvantaged children who opted out. While a judge ruled in favor of the district, the controversy resurfaced two years ago amid concerns that the program was a poor use of public funds in already strapped schools. Meanwhile, just last month the Alabama Board of Education’s long-standing ban on yoga caused some ballyhoo after a document listing it as one of the activities prohibited in “gym class” was recirculated, grabbing the attention of a Hindu activist.

Madison’s Sherman Middle School focuses on new energy after blog post leads to principal’s departure

Jenny Peek:

Just three months ago, the school community was roiling over a blog post penned by teacher Karen Vieth about Sherman and its former principal, Kristin Foreman.

“I am leaving this district, because I cannot serve the children I love in the current climate,” Vieth wrote. “I have never seen a building as deeply in crisis as Sherman Middle School, yet my cries for help went unanswered for three years. I saw ‘Band Aid’ fixes and many more promises. I saw a principal being given chance after chance and three years of her being coddled and coached with no substantive change.”

The post spread like wildfire on social media. Parents, former students and teachers added fuel to the fire by sharing personal experiences and commentary on what they referred to as a school in crisis. Criticisms ranged from a lack of visibility to high turnover rates to blatant disrespect toward staff.

One Sherman teacher, who asked to remain anonymous, tells Isthmus that Foreman provided “little to no true leadership.”

Heather Banschbach, the mother of a sixth and eighth grader at Sherman, agrees that there were problems at the school. While Sherman didn’t have a formal PTO in the past two years, she says there was an informal parent group that met throughout Foreman’s tenure. Parents frequently vented to the group and Banschbach has about 100 emails from parents raising concerns about the school administration.

“I had a few families who had never been directly involved with the school come to me and ask for help advocating for their kids,” Banschbach writes in an email. “I can’t list all of the issues that came up. I just remember the big ones that were consistent were safety, staff morale, communication, policies, lack of parent involvement/input, and the overall culture of the school being toxic.”

In response to Vieth’s post, Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham called the incident a “public shaming of a principal of color.”

“We do not believe this type and tenor of dialogue represents who we are or how we want to solve problems in MMSD. While we fully embrace the feedback, it is important that our words and actions align with our core values of belonging, inclusion and racial equity,” Cheatham wrote.

Much more on Sherman middle school, here.

The Mines

Pedestrian Observations:

There’s a literary trope in which an ambitious young man goes to work in the mines for a few years to earn an income with which to go back home. In the US it’s bundled into narratives of the Wild West (where incomes were very high until well into the 20th century), but it also exists elsewhere. For example, in The House of the Spirits, the deuterotagonist (who owns an unprofitable hacienda) works in the mines for a few years to earn enough money to ask to marry a society woman. The tradeoff is that working in the mines is unpleasant and dangerous, which is why the owners have to pay workers more money.

More recently, the same trope has applied in the oil industry. People who work on oil rigs, which as a rule are placed in remote locations, get paid premiums. Remote locations with oil have high incomes and high costs in North America, but even the Soviet Union paid people who freely migrated to Siberia or the far north extra. The high wages in this industry are especially remarkable given that the workers are typically not university-educated or (in the US) unionized; they cover for poor living conditions, and a hostile environment especially for families.

I bring up this background because of conditions that I’ve heard second-hand in San Francisco. When I first heard of university-educated adults living several to a bedroom, I assumed that it was a result of extremely high rents and insufficient incomes. But no: I am told a reasonably transit-accessible two-bedroom in San Francisco proper is $5,500 a month at market rate, which is affordable to a mid-level programmer at a large tech firm living alone or to entry-level programmers (or non-tech professionals) living one to a bedroom.

And yet, I’ve heard of Google programmers living two to three to a bedroom in Bernal Heights, not even that close to BART. I’ve also heard a story of people near the Ashby BART stop in Berkeley renting out their front porch; the person sleeping the porch was not a coder, but some of the people living inside the house were.

I have not talked to the people in these situations, only to friends in Boston who live one person (or one couple) to a bedroom, even though they too can afford more. As I understand it, they treat the Bay Area as like working in the mines. They earn a multiple of the income they would in other industries with their education and skills, and have no particular ties to the region. (Some East Coasters have taken to use the expression “drain to the Bay,” complaining that friends in tech often end up leaving Boston for San Francisco.) The plan is to save money and then retire in their 30s, or take a lower-paying job in a lower-cost city and start a family there.

Overcrowding is not normal in San Francisco. The American Community Survey says that 6.7% of city housing units have more than one person per room (look up the table “percent of occupied housing units with 1.01 or more occupants per room”); it’s actually below state average, which is 8.3%. Some very poor people presumably have more overcrowding, especially illegal immigrants (who the census tends to undercount). Figuring out overcrowding by demographic from census data is hard: the ACS reports crowding levels by public use microdata area (PUMA), a unit of at least 100,000 people, and the highest crowding in San Francisco (13.7%) is in the SoMa and Potrero PUMA, which covers both the fully gentrified SoMa area and poorer but gentrifying areas of the Mission. But it’s conceivable that crowding levels among tech workers are not comparable to those of the working-class residents of the Mission that they displace.

Credentialism: Maryland state school board agrees to allow non-educators to become superintendents

Liz Bowie:

The state school board voted Tuesday to allow the appointment of non-educators to superintendent positions.

The new regulation passed despite significant protest by educators across the state, including the association representing local school boards.

Across the nation, it is not unusual for individuals with a track record of success in another field to take the helm of a school system. Most notably, Joel Klein, a lawyer, headed the New York City school district from 2002 to 2010.

The impetus for the change came last year, when members of the board set up a task force to look at creating a new regulation that would allow local school boards to go outside of the usual education circles and find an “exceptional” leader.

Maryland currently requires its superintendents to have specific academic credentials, as well as teaching and administrative experience.

The new regulations do not go as far as many board members would have liked.

Parents Are Leery Of Schools Requiring ‘Mental Health’ Disclosures By Students

Julio Ochoa:

Children registering for school in Florida this year were asked to reveal some history about their mental health.

The new requirement is part of a law rushed through the state legislature after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The state’s school districts now must ask whether a child has ever been referred for mental health services on registration forms for new students.

“If you do say, ‘Yes, my child has seen a counselor or a therapist or a psychologist,’ what does the school then do with that?” asks Laura Goodhue, who has a 9-year-old son on the autism spectrum and a 10-year-old son who has seen a psychologist. “I think that was my biggest flag. And I actually shared the story with a couple of mom friends of mine and said, ‘Can you believe this is actually a thing?’”

Google Suppresses Memo Revealing Plans to Closely Track Search Users in China

Ryan Gallagher & Lee Fang:

Google bosses have forced employees to delete a confidential memo circulating inside the company that revealed explosive details about a plan to launch a censored search engine in China, The Intercept has learned.

The memo, authored by a Google engineer who was asked to work on the project, disclosed that the search system, codenamed Dragonfly, would require users to log in to perform searches, track their location — and share the resulting history with a Chinese partner who would have “unilateral access” to the data.

The memo was shared earlier this month among a group of Google employees who have been organizing internal protests over the censored search system, which has been designed to remove content that China’s authoritarian Communist Party regime views as sensitive, such as information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

According to three sources familiar with the incident, Google leadership discovered the memo and were furious that secret details about the China censorship were being passed between employees who were not supposed to have any knowledge about it. Subsequently, Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers. Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained “pixel trackers” that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined.

Spending on California schools chief race expected to set records again

Nico Savidge:

Spending in the campaign for state superintendent of public instruction in California is expected to break records once again this fall, as charter school advocates and labor organizations focus on the race.

Although the Nov. 6 ballot will include races for governor and U.S. Senate, it is the nonpartisan contest between Democrats — Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond and Marshall Tuck, a former charter school executive — for an office with limited power that is expected to attract the most money during the general election.

With seven weeks to go before Election Day, fundraising for Tuck has already surpassed what his supporters raised in the former school administrator’s unsuccessful run for superintendent four years ago.

“This is going to be the most expensive election, period,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.

What happens to police departments that collect more fines? They solve fewer crimes.

Michael Sances:

Alongside the Black Lives Matter movement in the past several years, civil rights advocates have begun pointing out that the way municipalities collect fees and fines often disproportionately affects low-income communities of color, especially when those communities aren’t well represented in local governments. In 2015, as a follow-up to investigations of police bias in Ferguson, Mo., the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department released the Ferguson report, which painstakingly documents how the police department in that city relied overwhelmingly on fees and fines collected from people in ways that “both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias.”

But here’s another result of fee and fine enforcement that has never before been measured: Police departments that collect more in fees and fines are less effective at solving crimes.

Reading and knowledge never seem to find their way into discussions of Literacy in Our Schools: Reading Before Writing

Will Fitzhugh:

The extra-large ubiquitous Literacy Community is under siege from universal dissatisfaction with the Writing skills of both students and graduates, and this is a complaint of very long standing.

The Community response is to request more money and time to spend on sentence structure, paragraphing, voice, tone, and other mechanical Writing paraphernalia.

It never seems to occur to them that if students read more, they would know more, and in that way actually have some knowledge they wanted to write about. But reading and knowledge never seem to find their way into discussions of Literacy in Our Schools.

When teaching our students to write, not only are standards set very low in most high schools, limiting students to the five-paragraph essay, responses to a document-based question, or the personal (or college) essay about matters which are often no one else’s business, but we often so load up students with formulae and guidelines that the importance of writing when the author has something to say gets lost in the maze of processes.

On the one hand writing is difficult enough to do, and academic writing is especially difficult if the student hasn’t read anything, and on the other hand teachers feel the need to have students “produce” writing, however short or superficial that writing may be. So writing consultants and writing teachers feel they must come up with guidelines, parameters, checklists, and the like, as props to substitute for students’ absent motivation to describe or express in writing something they have learned.

Samuel Johnson once said, “an author will turn over half a library to produce one book,” the point being, as I understand it, that good writing must be based on extensive reading. But reading is just the step that is left out of the “Writing Process” in too many instances. The result is that students in fact do not have much to say, so of course they don’t have much they want to communicate in writing.

Enter the guidelines. Students are told to write a topic sentence, to express one idea per paragraph, to follow the structure of Introduction, Body, Conclusion, to follow the Twelve Steps to Effective Writing, and the like. This the students can be made to do, but the result is too often empty, formulaic writing which students come to despise, and which does not prepare them for the serious academic papers they may be asked to do in college.

I fear that the history book report, at least at the high school level in too many places, has died in the United States. Perhaps people will contact me with welcome evidence to the contrary, but where it is no longer done, students have not only been discouraged from reading nonfiction, but also have been lead to believe that they can and must write to formula without knowing something—for instance about the contents of a good book—before they write.

A nationally famous teacher of teachers of writing once told me: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much…” This is a splendid example of the divorce between content [reading and knowledge] and process [techniques] in common writing instruction.

Reading and writing are inseparable partners, in my view. In letters from authors of essays published in The Concord Review since 1987, they often say that they read so much about something in history that they reached a point where they felt a strong need to tell people what they had found out. The knowledge they had acquired had given them the desire to write well so that others could share and appreciate it as they did.

This is where good academic writing should start. When the motivation is there, born from knowledge gained, then the writing process follows a much more natural and straightforward path. Then the student can write, read what they have written, and see what they have left out, what they need to learn more about, and what they have failed to express as clearly as they wanted to. Then they read more, re-write, and do all the natural things that have always lead to good academic writing, whether in history or in any other subject.

At that point the guidelines are no longer needed, because the student has become immersed in the real work of expressing the meaning and value of something they know is worth writing about. This writing helps them discover the limits of their own understanding of the subject and allows them to see more clearly what they themselves think about the subject. The process of critiquing their own writing becomes natural and automatic. This is not to deny, of course, the value of reading what they have written to a friend or of giving it to a teacher for criticism and advice. But the writing techniques and processes no longer stop up the natural springs for the motivation to write.

As students are encouraged to learn more before they write, their writing will gradually extend past the five-paragraph size so often constraining the craft of writing in our schools. The Page Per Year Plan© suggests that all public high school Seniors could be expected to write a twelve-page history research paper, if they had written an eleven-page paper their Junior year, a ten-page paper their Sophomore year, and a nine-page paper their Freshman year, and so on all the way back through the five-page paper in Fifth Grade and even to a one-page paper on a topic other than themselves their first year in school. With the Page Per Year Plan©, every Senior in high school will have learned, for that twelve-page paper, more about some topic probably than anyone else in their class knows, perhaps even more than any of their teachers knows about that subject. They will have had in the course of writing longer papers each year, that first taste of being a scholar which will serve them so well in higher education and beyond.

Writing is always much harder when the student has nothing to communicate, and the proliferating paraphernalia of structural aids from writing consultants and teachers often simply encumber students and alienate them from the essential benefits of writing. John Adams urged his fellow citizens to “Dare to read, think, speak and write” so that they could contribute to the civilization we have been given to enjoy and preserve. Let us endeavor to allow students to discover, through their own academic reading and writing, both the discipline and the satisfactions of reading and of writing carefully and well.

In 1625, Francis Bacon wrote, “Reading maketh a Full man, Conference a Ready man, and Writing an Exact man.” These benefits are surely among those we should not withhold from our K-12 students.

The Concord Review, 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 978-443-0022

A failure of parents to transmit religion to their children could be driving the rise of nonreligion


The number of so-called “nones” — individuals who do not identify with any organized religion — is rapidly growing in the United States. New research suggests that this trend could be driven, at least in part, by a disconnection between parents and their children.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, found a large gap between the religiousness of parents and their teenage children.

“In an earlier publication, Joseph Hammer, Michael Nielsen, and I developed a new scale for measuring how secular someone is,” said study author Ryan T. Cragun of the University of Tampa.

“There were many reasons why we developed that scale. The obvious reason was that no one had done anything like that before. But there are two other important reasons. Most prior measures of religiosity either did a really poor job of asking questions that could be answered by the nonreligious or didn’t even ask questions that were relevant to the nonreligious.”

The Nonreligious-Nonspiritual Scale (NRNSS) measures secularity along two spectrums: from nonreligious to highly religious and from nonspiritual to highly spiritual.

Voucher Regulation Reduces Quality of Private School Options

Corey A. DeAngelis:

If only it were that easy.

My just-released study — co-authored with George Mason University graduate student Blake Hoarty — suggests that higher-quality private schools are less likely to participate in two of the most highly regulated voucher programs in the country, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship Program.

The data suggest that school choice regulations reduce the quality of private schools participating in voucher programs, with quality measured by tuition and customer reviews. Specifically, we find that an increase in tuition of $1000 is associated with a 3 to 4 percent decrease in the likelihood of participation in a voucher program. We also find that a one-point increase (out of five points) in a school’s GreatSchools review score is associated with around a 15 percent decrease in the chance that a school participates in the Milwaukee voucher program.

But this isn’t the first study to find that voucher regulations could inadvertently reduce the quality of options available to families in need. A recent peer-reviewed evaluation I conducted with colleagues at the University of Arkansas also finds that higher-quality private schools are less likely to participate in voucher programs in three other locations: Washington, D.C., Indiana, and Louisiana. And another recent peer-reviewed evaluation I conducted with the Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke finds that voucher program regulation likely leads to less private school specialization.

Why does regulation reduce the quality of private schools that participate in voucher programs?

More Regulation of School Choice a Mistake

Will Flanders:

Calls for more regulation of Wisconsin’s school choice programs have been getting louder. Making the claims that performance isn’t consistent enough, generally on standardized tests, they argue that government—or some outside entity—needs greater control of school entry and school exit in the state. However, a new study by Corey DeAngelis of the Cato Institute adds to the growing body of evidence that such arguments are wrongheaded. Rather than under-regulation, problems in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) likely result from too many regulations being forced on private schools.

By many measures, the MPCP is already one of the most regulated school choice programs in the country. MPCP schools are forced to take the voucher amount as the full cost of tuition, which eliminates the feature of a functional market whereby service quality and demand sets prices. Schools are subject to a number of accounting hoops and accreditation requirements that school leaders will often tell you are difficult to understand and keep up with. Schools are also required to hire certified teachers with certain educational requirements, which may make it difficult to fill positions, or may necessitate the hiring of someone less objectively qualified for a particular job. WILL and School Choice Wisconsin’s study of accountability in the MPCP and other state programs last year highlights even further the difficulty of the regulatory environment faced by schools that want to participate.

DeAngelis examines the impact of such regulations across two school choice programs—the MPCP in Milwaukee and Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program. In both cases, he finds that proxies for school quality (tuition and school rankings on the website Great Schools) are negatively related to the likelihood of schools to participate in the voucher program. Specifically in the MPCP, a $1,000 increase in tuition is related to a 3% decline in probability that a school participates. By the other measure, a one point increase in a school’s score on Great Schools is related to a 14.8% decline in the likelihood of participation. This is consistent with previous work that DeAngelis has coauthored, which showed that lower levels of regulation in school choice in Indiana result in higher levels of school participation than more regulated programs in Washington, DC and Louisiana.

Madison’s taxpayer funded non diverse K-12 governance model has long tolerated disastrous reading results.

A majority of the Madison School Board rejected the proposed Madison Preparatory IB Charter School (2011).

Yet, we spend far more than most taxpayer supported school districts.

A Trip to Tolstoy Farm

Jordon Michael Smith:

Huw Williams is not a hermit. Not exactly. For one thing, he answers a telephone while I’m visiting him. The phone connects to a jack somewhere, although I don’t understand how it can function properly; it seems impossible that a cabin so rudimentary and run-down could support something as technologically advanced as a telephone.

The floors are covered with broken power tools, a machete, unmarked VHS tapes, decades-old newspapers and knocked-over litter boxes once filled by the three cats prowling around. Stenches of urine and filth are masked only by the rot on the stove, where the remains of long-ago meals are eating through the pans they were prepared in. And the cabin is so cold that when anyone speaks, breath becomes vapor.

Dried-out orange peels hang from the ceiling. “It’s a way of breaking up the straight lines,” the 76-year-old Williams tells me cryptically. “I’m averse to being inside a box, with all straight lines.” A radio plays environmental talk radio here in Edwall, a tiny community about 35 miles by car from Spokane, Washington. The radio is part of an ’80s-style dual cassette player, but the trays where the cassettes should go are broken off.

The situation for writers in China is complex

Lesley McDowell:

Yan Lianke published his first story in 1979 at the age of 21, and has gone on to produce a formidable body of work. Some of Yan’s novels have been banned in his native China for their satirical take on contemporary life, including his latest work, The Day the Sun Died, which had to be published first in Taiwan. The novel, about 14-year-old Li Niannian, who tries to save his fellow townsfolk from themselves during one dreadful night of “dream walking”, has been read in the west as a critique of Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” of national greatness. Yan has won the Man Asian literary prize and the Franz Kafka prize, has twice been shortlisted for the Man Booker international prize, and has been widely tipped for the Nobel. Born in Henan province, he lives in Beijing, where many of his novels are set.

What was the idea behind the novel?
I had experienced some instances of sleepwalking myself, and I kept seeing reports on my phone of other people sleepwalking. The idea for the novel came from this. I wanted to write about people’s inner worlds, and how they might manifest themselves if they behaved according to their innermost, most secret, desires.

Tech Giants Spend $80 Billion to Make Sure No One Else Can Compete

Shira Ovide:

General Motors Co. and Google couldn’t be more different. GM musters an army of people and machines to produce the 10 million cars it sells each year. What Google makes doesn’t really exist: You type on a laptop or click play on a YouTube video, and Google zips back bits of digital information.
 But Google parent Alphabet Inc. and the other four dominant U.S. technology companies—Apple, Amazon​.com, Microsoft, and Facebook—are fast becoming industrial giants. They spent a combined $80 billion in the last year on big-ticket physical assets, including manufacturing equipment and specialized tools for assembling iPhones and the powerful computers and undersea internet cables Facebook needs to fire up Instagram videos in a flash. Thanks to this surge in spending—up from $40 billion in 2015—they’ve joined the ranks of automakers, telephone companies, and oil drillers as the country’s biggest spenders on capital goods, items including factories, heavy equipment, and real estate that are considered long-term investments. Their combined outlay is about 10 times what GM spends annually on its plants, vehicle-assembly robots, and other materials.
 The splurge by tech companies is behind an upswing in capital-goods spending among big U.S. companies, which is seeing its fastest growth in years, according to a Credit Suisse analysis. The $80 billion tab also is a snapshot of why it’s tough to unseat the tech giants. How can a company hope to compete with Google’s driverless cars when it spends $20 billion a year to ensure it has the best laser-guided sensors and computer chips? There are a lot of physical assets behind all those internet clouds.

The Deliberate Awfulness of Social Media

Mark O’Connell:

The problem, for Lanier, is not technology, per se. The problem is the business model based on the manipulation of individual behavior. Social-media platforms know what you’re seeing, and they know how you acted in the immediate aftermath of seeing it, and they can decide what you will see next in order to further determine how you act—a feedback loop that gets progressively tighter until it becomes a binding force on an individual’s free will. One of the more insidious aspects of this model is the extent to which we, as social-media users, replicate its logic at the level of our own activity: we perform market analysis of our own utterances, calculating the reaction a particular post will generate and adjusting our output accordingly. Negative emotions like outrage and contempt and anxiety tend to drive significantly more engagement than positive ones. This toxic miasma of bad vibes—of masochistic pleasures—is not, in Lanier’s view, an epiphenomenon of social media, but rather the fuel on which it has been engineered to run.

Lanier has coined a term for this process: he calls it BUMMER, which stands for “Behaviours of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent.” (Sample BUMMER-based sentence: “Your identity is packified by BUMMER.” Sample marginalia, scrawled by this reviewer with sufficient desperate emphasis to literally tear the page: “Please stop saying BUMMER!”) In Lanier’s view, BUMMER is responsible, in whole or in part, for a disproportionate number of our contemporary ailments, from the election of Donald Trump to the late-career resurgence of measles due to online anti-vaccine paranoia.

Decline of Global Extreme Poverty Continues but Has Slowed

World Bank:

Fewer people are living in extreme poverty around the world, but the decline in poverty rates has slowed, raising concerns about achieving the goal of ending poverty by 2030 and pointing to the need for increased pro-poor investments, the World Bank finds.

The percentage of people living in extreme poverty globally fell to a new low of 10 percent in 2015 — the latest number available — down from 11 percent in 2013, reflecting steady but slowing progress, World Bank data show. The number of people living on less than $1.90 a day fell during this period by 68 million to 736 million.

“Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history. This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said. “But if we are going to end poverty by 2030, we need much more investment, particularly in building human capital, to help promote the inclusive growth it will take to reach the remaining poor. For their sake, we cannot fail.”

College without remediation

Joanne Jacobs:

If remedial classes don’t help college students succeed — and there’s lots of evidence for that — what’s the alternative? California State University needs to develop better supports for poorly prepared students and help high schools improve academic rigor, writes Michael Kurlaender, professor of education policy at University of California Davis, in Education Next.

Academic Preparedness on 2015 NAEP Mathematics and Reading, Grade 12
“Only 30 percent of California 11th graders are deemed ready for college-level work in both mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA),” based on the state’s Common Core-aligned exam, he writes. “Another 30 percent meet standards in ELA but not in math, while 2 percent meet standards in math but not in ELA.” That leaves almost 40 percent of 11th graders who don’t meet either standard.

Test scores and high school grades correlate with college grades and persistence, he writes. However, students from low-poverty high schools are likely to be college-ready, even with a 2.5 GPA, while “even high-performing students are unlikely to be college ready” if they attend a high-poverty school.

Figure 1a: College Readiness in English and High School GPA in California Public Schools by School Composition of Socioeconomic Disadvantage

Grade Inflation Commentary

Cory Koedel:

I enjoyed reading Fordham’s recent study by Seth Gershenson on a topic that has always been high on my list of interests: grade inflation.

Grade inflation has a number of important implications for education policy at the K–12 and postsecondary levels, but is notoriously difficult to measure. Some of the more compelling evidence on the consequences of grade inflation include (a) Philip Babcock’s 2010 study showing that students with higher grade expectations give less effort, and (b) Kristin Butcher, Patrick McEwan, and Akila Weerapana’s 2014 study showing that students choose college majors based in part on differences in the grades awarded across departments. These studies show that grade inflation has important implications for how much and what type of human capital is produced in our society.

Gershenson performs a clever analysis to help us better understand grade inflation in K–12 schools. The basic idea of his research design is to benchmark course grades against scores on end-of-course exams (EOCs) in Algebra I. While neither the EOC nor the course grade is a complete measure of performance, both provide useful information.

Course grades are assigned by teachers, whereas the Algebra I EOC is independently scored. Noting that grades are a specific type of performance evaluation, we can draw on the larger performance evaluation literature for insight into the factors that drive grade inflation (e.g., see Kevin Murphy and Jeanette Cleveland’s 1991 book, Performance Appraisal). A prime factor in my view is that human nature pushes us to inflate performance evaluations in socially proximal settings. Another is that teachers likely view grades as a reflection of their own performance, rightly or wrongly.

Related: Seeing the Forest: Unpacking the Relationship Between Madison School District (WI) Graduation Rates and Student Achievement.

Harvard Raised $9.6 Billion in Its Latest Campaign. Here’s What You Could Do With That Money.

Cailin Crowe:

Harvard University concluded a five-year capital campaign on Thursday that shattered higher-education fund-raising records, according to The Harvard Crimson, by bringing in more than $9.6 billion. The total was well above the university’s original goal, $6.5 billion. The campaign began under the leadership of former President Drew G. Faust and ended in June. The next-most-lucrative fund-raising campaign was Stanford University’s most recent, which raised $6.2 billion in five years.
“As new challenges and opportunities arise in higher education and beyond, Harvard is well positioned to respond and adapt thanks to the generosity of our alumni and friends,” said President Larry Bacow, according to The Harvard Gazette.

Of the money raised, Harvard plans to spend $1.3 billion on financial aid; donors are also funding 142 endowed professorships, the university said.

Here’s what else the university could buy with the $9.6-billion chunk of change:

More, from Matt Reed.

News Site to Investigate Big Tech, Helped by Craigslist Founder

Nellie Bowles:

Now, with a $20 million gift from Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, she and her partner at ProPublica, data journalist Jeff Larson, are starting The Markup, a news site dedicated to investigating technology and its effect on society. Sue Gardner, former head of the Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, will be The Markup’s executive director. Angwin and Larson said that they would hire two dozen journalists for its New York office and that stories would start going up on the website in early 2019. The group has also raised $2 million from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and $1 million collectively from the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Initiative.

Angwin compares tech to canned food, an innovation that took some time to be seen with more scrutiny.

“When canned food came out, it was amazing,” said Angwin, who will be the site’s editor-in-chief. “You could have peaches when they were out of season. There was a whole period of America where every recipe called for canned soup. People went crazy for canned food. And after 30 years, 40 years, people were like, ‘Huh, wait.’

“That is what’s happened with technology,” Angwin said, calling the 2016 election a tipping point. “And I’m so glad we’ve woken up.”

The false choices of “What School Could Be”

Gary Houchens:

Ted Dintersmith’s new book, What School Could Be, profiles dozens of schools across the United States that are engaging students in rich, real-world learning, and contrasts their experiences with the vast majority of other schools. Dintersmith calls on schools to innovate in ways that closely parallel some of my own frustrations and desires for education in Kentucky and beyond. But unfortunately the vision of What Schools Could Be is wrapped up in a badly overstated diagnosis about what ails us. Dintersmith reinforces dangerous, false choices that all too commonly frame our debates about schooling and mostly obscure, rather than clarify, the path forward.

Dintersmith, an entrepreneur and former representative to the United Nations General Assembly under President Obama, is best known as co-author with Tony Wagner of Most Likely to Succeed and producer of the documentary film by the same name. Last year he was honored by the National Education Association with its Friend of Education Award, the group’s highest recognition. What School Could Be extends the themes of Most Likely To Succeed, arguing that students are too often bored, that teachers focus too narrowly on annual test score increases, and that schools are failing to adequately prepare students for the economic and social realities of the 21st century. On all counts, I agree.

To look for alternatives, Dintersmith spent a year traveling to all 50 states, touring schools and conducting hundreds of interviews with students, teachers, parents, and education policy leaders. In every state he found exciting examples of schools taking students to a different place of learning, especially at the high school level, like the Big Picture Learning network of schools which focus on meaningful career preparation, the Albermarle schools in Virginia which are pioneering project-based learning as the focal point of the school experience, and the Eminence Independent Schools here in Kentucky, the state’s first officially recognized District of Innovation.

Why I’m done with Chrome; A Few Thoughts on Cryptographic Engineering

Matthew Green:

What changed?
 A few weeks ago Google shipped an update to Chrome that fundamentally changes the sign-in experience. From now on, every time you log into a Google property (for example, Gmail), Chrome will automatically sign the browser into your Google account for you. It’ll do this without asking, or even explicitly notifying you. (However, and this is important: Google developers claim this will not actually start synchronizing your data to Google — yet. See further below.)
 Your sole warning — in the event that you’re looking for it — is that your Google profile picture will appear in the upper-right hand corner of the browser window. I noticed mine the other day:

Bring Order to Chaos: A Graph-Based Journey from Textual Data to Wisdom

Dr. Alessandro Negro and Dr. Vlasta Kůs:

The data, in its native form, is completely useless because it doesn’t provide any value. It is sparse, distributed and unstructured – it is chaotic.

To make sense of the data, we have to transform and organize it – a process that produces information. However, for the information to become “knowledge,” which is learned, requires more work. Knowledge is connected information. There is a big jump between information and knowledge. It is a quality change, but it is not an easy change. It requires a transformation process which, by connecting the dots, creates sense, significance and meaning from the information.

Why college students don’t vote absentee? They don’t know where to buy a postage stamp

Max Smith:

“One thing that came up, which I had heard from my own kids but I thought they were just nerdy, was that the students will go through the process of applying for a mail-in absentee ballot, they will fill out the ballot, and then, they don’t know where to get stamps,” Lisa Connors with the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs said.

“That seems to be like a hump that they can’t get across.”

The focus group included college interns from across numerous county departments.

“They all agreed that they knew lots of people who did not send in their ballots because it was too much of a hassle or they didn’t know where to get a stamp,” Connors said.

“Across the board, they were all nodding and had a very spirited conversation about ‘Oh yeah, I know so many people who didn’t send theirs in because they didn’t have a stamp.’”

To take on the apparent challenge, the county hopes many students will vote in-person absentee while visiting home during fall breaks. In-person absentee voting begins Friday.

Machine Learning Confronts the Elephant in the Room

Kevin Hartnett:

Score one for the human brain. In a new study, computer scientists found that artificial intelligence systems fail a vision test a child could accomplish with ease.

“It’s a clever and important study that reminds us that ‘deep learning’ isn’t really that deep,” said Gary Marcus, a neuroscientist at New York University who was not affiliated with the work.

The result takes place in the field of computer vision, where artificial intelligence systems attempt to detect and categorize objects. They might try to find all the pedestrians in a street scene, or just distinguish a bird from a bicycle (which is a notoriously difficult task). The stakes are high: As computers take over critical tasks like automated surveillance and autonomous driving, we’ll want their visual processing to be at least as good as the human eyes they’re replacing.

It won’t be easy. The new work accentuates the sophistication of human vision — and the challenge of building systems that mimic it. In the study, the researchers presented a computer vision system with a living room scene. The system processed it well. It correctly identified a chair, a person, books on a shelf. Then the researchers introduced an anomalous object into the scene — an image of an elephant. The elephant’s mere presence caused the system to forget itself: Suddenly it started calling a chair a couch and the elephant a chair, while turning completely blind to other objects it had previously seen.

“There are all sorts of weird things happening that show how brittle current object detection systems are,” said Amir Rosenfeld, a researcher at York University in Toronto and co-author of the study along with his York colleague John Tsotsos and Richard Zemel of the University of Toronto.

Researchers are still trying to understand exactly why computer vision systems get tripped up so easily, but they have a good guess. It has to do with an ability humans have that AI lacks: the ability to understand when a scene is confusing and thus go back for a second glance.

Privacy: Just to spell it out: this means Google logins for Chrome are now de-facto mandatory if you ever login to a Google site.


When someone in the security community raised this, it turned out that apparently this is intended behaviour from Google’s side as confirmed by multiple googlers and they were wondering why the new behaviour might feel abusive to some people. Some folks working on Chrome pointed out that most people can’t differentiate between logging into a Google Site and logging into Chrome and this has lead to problems with shared computers, where person A logs into GMail, but person B is logged into Chrome. This prompted Chrome developers to come up with the change that erases the distinction entirely.

It is at this point that I should note that I don’t personally use Chrome, as I felt it was too closely corporate Google even before this change. This is also not a post arguing that “some users can tell the difference, therefor…”, I do believe software should be written with the common users in mind. Interestingly, the common user belief that strongly equates Chrome with a Google Service (and not an application or tool) is probably the more accurate view of Chrome, post release 69. It’s worth wondering from where users got that impression and why.

So if this change is just about bringing Chrome in line with what most users believe anyway, what’s the fuss? Perhaps it’s not about what people believe, but what is right. Perhaps Google doesn’t want Chrome, currently having majority browser market share, to be a neutral platform. A lot of people, developers especially, believe that Chrome is a Google-influenced but more or less neutral tool and then this widespread belief has to be reconciled with the Chrome-as-a-service thinking.

Violating the content vs browser separation layer doesn’t just conform to what a lot of users believe, it also ties what’s happening inside the browser to Google on an unprecedented level, throwing the neutrality of Chrome as a platform into question. What’s the next thing that Google and only Google can make Chrome do? Concerned about shared computers but you’re not Google? There is no neutral API to log someone out from Chrome and prevent data from being synced if it’s about person A logging into Facebook in person B’s Chrome profile.

Many schools, including Madison, use Google services. Matthew Green dives into Google’s privacy policy.

Civics: Ngar Min Swe given 7 years for Facebook post

Toe Wai Aung:

A former newspaper columnist has been sentenced to seven years in prison and fined K100,000 (US$63) for violating the country’s sedition law in a Facebook post.

Ngar Min Swe, also known as Sar Min Swe, was found guilty in Yangon Western District Court on Monday of inciting hatred against the government in his Facebook post of January 24, in violation of section 124A of the penal code.

The court ruled against Sar Min Swe after 11 hearings. He did not have a lawyer but represented himself in court.

During the Tatmadaw (military) government, U Min Swe was a weekly columnist in state-owned newspapers who wrote articles critical of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now head of government. His pro-government articles at the time earned him the nickname “Phar (Toady) Min Swe”.

‘Made In China 2025’: a peek at the robot revolution under way in the hub of the ‘world’s factory’

He Huifeng Celia Chen:

Amid the sprawl of drab, dusty concrete factories in Shunde district in the southern Chinese city of Foshan, one gleaming new structure stands out.

The 40,000 square metre (430,000 square feet) factory, designed by an American architect, cost 120 million yuan (US$17.5 million) to build and is expected to triple Jaten Robot & Automation’s annual production to 10,000 robots.

Just a few miles away, work is under way on an 800,000 square metre, 10 billion yuan industrial estate that will house three ventures between Chinese appliance maker Midea and German robotics firm Kuka, which Midea bought in 2016. The new complex will have the annual capacity to produce 75,000 industrial robots by 2024.

Jaten and Midea are among the biggest players helping to make Foshan – a city of 7 million people best known as the home of the Cantonese style of lion dance and kung fu – the hub of China’s robotics industry.

How feelings took over the world

William Davies:

What had caused this event? The police had received numerous calls from members of the public reporting gunshots on the underground and at street level, and had arrived within six minutes ready to respond. But the only violence that anyone had witnessed with their eyes was a scuffle on an overcrowded rush-hour platform, as two men bumped into each other, and a punch or two was thrown. While it remained unclear what had caused the impression of shots being fired, the scuffle had been enough to lead the surrounding crowd to retreat suddenly in fear, producing a wave of rapid movement that was then amplified as it spread along the busy platform and through the station. Given that there had been terrorist attacks in London earlier in the year and others reportedly foiled by the police, it is not hard to understand how panic might have spread in such confined spaces. Nobody would expect people to act in accordance with the facts in the heat of the moment, as a mass of bodies are hurtling and screaming around them. Where rapid response is essential, bodily instinct takes hold.

Google Suppresses Memo Revealing Plans to Closely Track Search Users in China

Ryan Gallagher and Lee Fang:

According to three sources familiar with the incident, Google leadership discovered the memo and were furious that secret details about the China censorship were being passed between employees who were not supposed to have any knowledge about it. Subsequently, Google human resources personnel emailed employees who were believed to have accessed or saved copies of the memo and ordered them to immediately delete it from their computers. Emails demanding deletion of the memo contained “pixel trackers” that notified human resource managers when their messages had been read, recipients determined.

The Dragonfly memo reveals that a prototype of the censored search engine was being developed as an app for both Android and iOS devices, and would force users to sign in so they could use the service. The memo confirms, as The Intercept first reported last week, that users’ searches would be associated with their personal phone number. The memo adds that Chinese users’ movements would also be stored, along with the IP address of their device and links they clicked on. It accuses developers working on the project of creating “spying tools” for the Chinese government to monitor its citizens.

People’s search histories, location information, and other private data would be sent out of China to a database in Taiwan, the memo states. But the data would also be provided to employees of a Chinese company who would be granted “unilateral access” to the system.

To launch the censored search engine, Google set up a “joint venture” partnership with an unnamed Chinese company. The search engine will “blacklist sensitive queries” so that “no results will be shown” at all when people enter certain words or phrases, according to documents seen by The Intercept. Blacklisted search terms on a prototype of the search engine include “human rights,” “student protest,” and “Nobel Prize” in Mandarin, said sources familiar with the project.

According to the memo, aside from being able to access users’ search data, the Chinese partner company could add to the censorship blacklists: It would be able to “selectively edit search result pages … unilaterally, and with few controls seemingly in place.”

Event: Exploring the lessons of Bush-Obama school reform 9.26.2018


What lessons might we draw from the past two decades in education reform? What do the George W. Bush and Barack Obama years teach us about K–12 reform strategies and Washington’s efforts to support them?

Join AEI on September 26 for a panel discussion to explore these questions and to discuss Frederick M. Hess and Michael Q. McShane’s new edited volume, “Bush-Obama School Reform: Lessons Learned” (Harvard Education Press, 2018).

Civics: Four Years Afar

Xu Zhiyong:

Xu Zhiyong was released from prison on July 16 after serving four years for his role in the New Citizens Movement. Xu is a seminal figure in China’s rights defense movement with the founding of “Gongmeng” (公盟) in 2003, a NGO providing legal assistance to victims of social injustice. It was a training ground for some of the earliest human rights lawyers and took on some of the most high-profile cases of the time. Gongmeng was shut down by the government in 2009. After that Xu Zhiyong and colleagues sought new ways to continue their work for change, resulting in the New Citizens Movement. Between 2013 and 2014, dozens of participants were thrown in jail, including Xu himself. China Change had extensive coverage of the movement and the crackdown, and a lengthy interview titled “Who Is Xu Ziyong?” Scroll down midway for a new, 6-minute video in which Xu Zhiyong speaks about his current projects and hopes for the future. The following article was first posted on July 20 in Xu’s new blog, and China Change is pleased to offer a complete translation of it. –– The Editors

Civics: Inside a Failed Silicon Valley Attempt to Reinvent Politics

Joshua Brustein:

This isn’t the first setback for Win The Future, which also goes by the unfortunate acronym WTF. The group, founded last July, was the brainchild of Zynga founder Mark Pincus, who initially described it as “a new movement and force within the Democratic Party, which can act like its own virtual party.” WTF set out on a series of tech-themed political experiments to engage disaffected populations by crowdsourcing policy ideas on Twitter. At one point, Pincus considered fielding a primary challenger to run against U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Now the group’s sole project is Bee’s app. Even if WTF can overcome its technical issues, it seems like quite a comedown if the sum total of its output for the 2018 midterms is a civically minded clone of last year’s hottest smartphone app.

New Records Reveal What It Takes to Be One of the 75 NYC Teachers Fired for Misconduct or Incompetence Between 2015 and 2016

David Cantor:

Seventy-five tenured teachers found guilty of abuse or incompetence — many of them male, veteran educators assigned to struggling New York City schools — were fired over 16 months in 2015 and 2016, an analysis of disciplinary records obtained by The 74 has found.

Educators were terminated for choking students, publicly taunting children who couldn’t read, and, in the case of one Brooklyn technology teacher in 2011, threatening to “shoot up everyone” at a school. But the majority were found by their schools to be inadequate as instructors.

China expunges unapproved, foreign content from school textbooks


The sweep by China’s education ministry, running until Oct 15, will “correct and dispose of” illegal foreign or self-written courses used instead of state-approved materials in China’s nine-year compulsory education period, the official Xinhua news agency said.

“Recently, it has been discovered that some companies that write and publish textbooks have without permission altered the content of certain textbooks, and certain schools are using their own textbooks in the place of national textbooks,” the ministry’s teaching materials bureau told Xinhua.

From the 2019 Spring term onwards, the ministry will continue to make follow up checks and random inspections and any serious cases of schools still found to be using unapproved content can be held accountable by law, Xinhua said.

Attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to make love of the motherland and its own history and ideology a core part of the country’s education system have increasingly come up against a flourishing private school sector and an interest in alternative or foreign education among middle class families.

Wealthy L.A. Schools’ Vaccination Rates Are as Low as South Sudan’s

Olga Khazan:

Hollywood parents say not vaccinating makes “instinctive” sense. Now their kids have whooping cough.

When actors play doctors on TV, that does not make them actual doctors. And that does not mean they should scour some Internet boards, confront their pediatricians, and demand fewer vaccinations for their children, as some Hollywood parents in Los Angeles have apparently been doing.

The Hollywood Reporter has a great investigation for which it sought the vaccination records of elementary schools all over Los Angeles County. They found that vaccination rates in elite neighborhoods like Santa Monica and Beverly Hills have tanked, and the incidence of whooping cough there has skyrocketed.

Here’s a map of the schools with dangerously low vaccination rates (an interactive version is on their site). Note how the schools cluster together as little red dots all over the wealthy, crazy Westside—not unlike crimson spots on a measles patient:

July 2018 Average MBE Scores Decrease

National Conference of Bar Examiners:

45,274 examinees sat for the Multistate Bar Examination in July 2018. This represents 2.9% fewer examinees than those who sat for the July 2017 exam, and is the smallest group of examinees to take the July MBE since 2001.

The national average MBE score for July 2018 was 139.5, a decrease of about 2.2 points from the July 2017 average.

Jurisdictions are currently in the process of grading the written components of the bar exam; once this process is completed, bar exam scores will be calculated and passing decisions reported by jurisdictions.

Parents Claim Children Sick From Toxic School Grounds

Fan Liya:

Parents of students in Central China’s Hubei province are questioning their school’s health and safety standards after 100 children fell sick shortly after the start of the fall semester, China Newsweek reported on Sunday.

Some 132 of the 1,200 students enrolled at the newly built Canglong No. 2 Primary School in Wuhan suffered from nosebleeds, vomiting, and eczema, one parent surnamed Xia — who did not offer her full name for privacy reasons — told Sixth Tone on Monday. The mother of a 7-year-old student claimed that the illness was linked to toxins in the classrooms, running track, and playground.

Earlier this month, after parents staged several protests, the publicity division of Jiangxia District — where the school is located — said the medical diagnosis of some students showed that the nosebleeds were due to the autumn’s dry weather. However, Xia disagrees. “The doctors did not explicitly say that the nosebleeds resulted from the dry weather or the school’s refurbishing,” she said. “But some doctors said that nasal mucosa infection might be related to stimulants present in the campus air.” Sixth Tone could not reach the education bureau of Jiangxia District for comment on Monday.

On Sept. 10, Xia had joined several parents to request that officials from the school and the education bureau remove the synthetic surface on the playground and suspend classes until it was deemed safe. However, she said the school administrators rejected the request, citing that construction met standards. Two separate assessments led by the parents also showed that the materials used in the playground met the national standard for synthetic surfaces.

China is building a digital dictatorship to exert control over its 1.4 billion citizens. For some, “social credit” will bring privileges — for others, punishment.

Matthew Carney:

A vast network of 200 million CCTV cameras across China ensures there’s no dark corner in which to hide.

Every step she takes, every one of her actions big or small — even what she thinks — can be tracked and judged.

And Dandan says that’s fine with her.

What may sound like a dystopian vision of the future is already happening in China. And it’s making and breaking lives.

The Communist Party calls it “social credit” and says it will be fully operational by 2020.

Within years, an official Party outline claims, it will “allow the trustworthy to roam freely under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

Social credit is like a personal scorecard for each of China’s 1.4 billion citizens.

In one pilot program already in place, each citizen has been assigned a score out of 800. In other programs it’s 900.

Civics: The Justice Dept’s secret rules for targeting journalists with FISA court orders

Trevor Timm:

When using the legal authorities named in the “media guidelines,” the Justice Department (DOJ) must go through a fairly stringent multi-part test (e.g. certifying that the information is critical to an investigation, that it can’t be obtained by other means, and that the DOJ exhausted all other avenues before doing so) before targeting a journalist with surveillance. They must also get approval from the Attorney General.

With the FISA court rules, there is no multi-part test that we know of. The DOJ only must follow its regular FISA court procedures (which can be less strict than getting a warrant in a criminal case) and get additional approval from the Attorney General or Assistant Attorney General. FISA court orders are also inherently secret, and targets are almost never informed that they exist.

How Connected Is Your Community to Everywhere Else in America?

Emily Badger & Quo trumg Bui:

America is often described as a place of great divides — between red and blue, big cities and rural towns, the coasts and the heartland. But our social lives are shaped by a much stronger force that ignores many of these lines: distance.

In the millions of ties on Facebook that connect relatives, co-workers, classmates and friends, Americans are far more likely to know people nearby than in distant communities that share their politics or mirror their demographics. The dominant picture in data analyzed by economists at Facebook, Harvard, Princeton and New York University is not that like-minded places are linked; rather, people in counties close to one another are.

Even in the age of the internet, distance matters immensely in determining whom — and, as a result, what — we know.

Coastal cities like New York, Washington, San Francisco, Boston and Los Angeles do exhibit close ties to one another, showing that people in counties with similar incomes, education levels and voting patterns are more likely to be linked. But nationwide, the effect of such similarity is small. And the pull of regionalism is strong even for major cities. Brooklynites are still more likely to know someone on Facebook near Albany or Binghamton than in the Bay Area.

A Picture of Social
Connectedness in America

How to reverse grade inflation and help students reach their potential

Amber M. Northern, Ph.D. and Michael Petrilli:

One of us recently mused that perhaps the reason dismal state test scores don’t resonate with parents is because they conflict with what parents see coming home from school. Who knows their kids better: their teachers or a faceless test provider? The teachers, of course. But what if the grades that teachers assign don’t reflect the state’s high standards? What if practically everyone is getting As and Bs from the teacher—but parents don’t know that?

That was the impetus for Fordham’s newest study, Grade Inflation in High Schools (2005–2016). We wanted to know how easy or hard it is today to get a good grade in high school and whether that has changed over time. We can’t develop solutions until we’ve accurately identified the problem. And in this case, we suspect that one reason for stalled student achievement across the land is that historically trusted grades are telling a vastly different story than other academic measures.

So we teamed up with American University economist Seth Gershenson, who is keenly interested in this topic, and whose prior research on the role of teacher expectations in student outcomes made him a perfect fit to conduct the research.

The study asks three questions:

How frequent and how large are discrepancies between student grades and test scores? Do they vary by school demographics?
To what extent do high school test scores, course grades, attendance, and cumulative GPAs align with student performance on college entrance exams?
How, if at all, have the nature of such discrepancies and the difficulty of receiving an A changed in recent years?

Related: Seeing the Forest: Unpacking the Relationship Between Madison School District (WI) Graduation Rates and Student Achievement.

Is the Second Farm Crisis Upon Us?

Siena Chrisman:

Joe Schroeder works as a farm advocate for Farm Aid, where he answers calls to the group’s farmer hotline. The calls, which are up 30 percent over last year, range from routine questions about navigating federal programs and exploring credit options to dire pleas for help from farmers who have run out of ways to keep their businesses solvent. He has heard from three or four suicidal farmers each month this summer.

Schroeder talks callers in crisis through Chapter 12 bankruptcy and sends out $500 checks to help them buy groceries and get the lights turned back on. One woman who called was eating nothing but frozen hamburger. Many families have had their electricity turned off, including one farmer who relies on an oxygen tank. Schroeder appealed to the electric company on his behalf, but the head of finance refused to work with them. The family could get him to the hospital if necessary, the farmer’s wife told Schroeder, because they had hidden their car in a barn nearby to keep it from being repossessed. Schroeder hasn’t been able to check in with the family since late July because their phone was disconnected.

Schroeder, who has been a farm advocate for nearly a decade, says the calls now are more desperate than they were even a year ago, when he started at Farm Aid. “They’re more complicated situations. People are calling us when it’s too late [to save their operations],” he says. He can offer help to many farmers, but what was once a robust network of state-funded farmer advocates has shrunk dramatically, leaving those remaining with more limited tools. “There are not many witnesses to this [crisis],” he says and sometimes simply being a witness is all he can do.

These are not isolated stories. As early as February 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted a decline in net farm income to its lowest level since 2002 (adjusted for inflation), with median farm income projected at negative $1,316. For well over a year, worries about a new farm crisis have rippled across rural America. The very term is synonymous with the 1980s, when the bottom dropped out of the agricultural economy, sending thousands of farms into foreclosure and shuttering businesses.

The Number of Youth in Juvenile Detention in California Has Quietly Plummeted

Will Huntsberry:

But Dilulio’s crime bomb – which led to tougher laws and bigger prisons – was a dud. Crime didn’t actually go up; it plummeted, especially among juveniles. Fear of super predators gave way to an era of acknowledgment by prosecutors and judges that locking up children put society at more risk, not less. Throughout the 2000s, laws softened and more money headed toward prevention.

San Diego County’s four detention facilities can hold 855 young people. But on a recent Wednesday, just 311 youths were housed inside the county’s prisons and camps, said Chief Probation Officer Adolfo Gonzales. At least five to six wings of the county’s juvenile detention space are totally empty at present, he said. Just eight years ago, the number of incarcerated kids was three times as high: The average daily population in lockup stood at 1,008 for January 2010.

The Impact of Chief Diversity Officers on Diverse Faculty Hiring

Steven W. Bradley, James R. Garven, Wilson W. Law, James E. West:

As the American college student population has become more diverse, the goal of hiring a more diverse faculty has received increased attention in higher education. A signal of institutional commitment to faculty diversity often includes the hiring of an executive level chief diversity officer (CDO). To examine the effects of a CDO in a broad panel data context, we combine unique data on the initial hiring of a CDO with publicly available faculty and administrator hiring data by race and ethnicity from 2001 to 2016 for four-year or higher U.S. universities categorized as Carnegie R1, R2, or M1 institutions with student populations of 4,000 or more. We are unable to find significant statistical evidence that preexisting growth in diversity for underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups is affected by the hiring of an executive level diversity officer for new tenure and non-tenure track hires, faculty hired with tenure, or for university administrator hires.

About 40% of economics experiments fail replication survey

John Bohannon:

When a massive replicability study in psychology was published last year, the results were, to some, shocking: 60% of the 100 experimental results failed to replicate. Now, the latest attempt to verify findings in the social sciences—this time with a small batch from experimental economics—also finds a substantial number of failed replications. Following the exact same protocols of the original studies, the researchers failed to reproduce the results in about 40% of cases.

“I find it reassuring that the replication rate was fairly high,” says Michael L. Anderson, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, not involved with the study. But he notes that most of the failures came from studies using a 5% “p value” cut-off for statistical significance, suggesting “what some realize but fewer are willing to discuss: The accepted standard of a 5% significance level is not sufficient to generate results that are likely to replicate.”

Psychology’s high-profile replication efforts, which were cautiously welcomed by the research community, have triggered policy changes at some scientific journals and modified priorities at many funding agencies. But the overall failure rate has also been called into question, because most of the original studies were reproduced only once, often without strictly following the initial protocol. And most of the replication studies allowed the replicators to choose their targets.

Civics: China, Venezuela, and the Illusion of Debt-Trap Diplomacy

Matt Ferchen:

In an article from early 2017, titled “China’s Debt-Trap Diplomacy,” geopolitics pundit Brahma Chellaney argued that China has sought to purposely ensnare some of its South Asian neighbors in unsustainable loans-for-infrastructure deals.

Since that article was published, the concept of debt-trap diplomacy has become increasingly popular among some journalists, researchers, and policymakers. These individuals are critical of China’s rapidly expanding provision of international infrastructure finance, especially through its ubiquitous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Yet, the emerging conventional wisdom that China gains when the countries it lends to are unable to service their debts risks misunderstanding how China has and will become a victim of its own lending missteps and hubris. No Chinese debt-based relationship is more instructive in this regard than its dysfunctional ties to Venezuela.

America needs more Chinese teachers, but Donald Trump’s immigration policies may make it harder to get them

Simone McCarthy:

Every year Sharon Huang, founder of HudsonWay Immersion School, anxiously awaits October.

That is when she will learn if several of the Chinese language teachers at her primary schools will be able to carry on teaching or if they will be forced to leave the country midway through the semester.

“It’s very stressful on everybody,” said Huang, who runs two schools in New York and New Jersey. “We’ve had teachers who were denied visas and then very shortly thereafter they had to uproot their lives. It’s sad for the kids and the whole school community.”

Huang files around half a dozen applications to upgrade her teachers’ temporary graduate visas into something more permanent.

But each year a couple of those will not make it through the H1B visa lottery system.

Though H1B visa sponsorship is expensive, the process is a problem for the growing number of American schools offering a Chinese immersion curriculum, where elementary students take at least half their classes in Mandarin and teachers are typically native-level speakers.

It also points to a broader problem weighing down the buoyant American interest in Chinese language education: a shortage of Americans who are both highly fluent speakers and properly accredited schoolteachers.

California’s poverty rate is still the highest in the nation, despite state efforts

Michael Finch, III:

Newly released federal estimates show California’s poverty rate remained the highest in the nation, despite a modest fall, and the state’s falling uninsured rate slowed for the first time since before Medicaid expansion.

According to the Census Bureau, the share of Californians in poverty fell to 19 percent — a 1.4 percent decrease from last year. However, policy experts warned that in spite of the good news more than 7 million people still struggle to get by in the state.

The poverty figures released Wednesday are said to paint the best picture of life for California’s working poor since it encompasses income from government programs and factors in the high cost of living in some corners of the state.

Although California has a vigorous economy and a number of safety net programs to aid needy residents, it’s often not enough to forestall economic hardship for one out of every five residents, the data show.

What’s stored in your school Google Drive account? You might be surprised. (Madison uses Google Services…)

Cheri Kiesecker:

While many have questioned Google’s invasion of the classroom and how Google Apps for Education, (now called G-Suite), collects and uses student or teacher information, few have really gotten much in the way of answers. What is reportedly happening with Springfield Missouri Public School’s use of Google Drive offers a rare glimpse into Google’s potential to collect data. School-issued student Google accounts connect to Google Drive which can allow for the ability to Auto-Sync devices to Auto-Save passwords, browsing history and other digital data points from numerous devices used by a single user. For students in SPS this could include digital data from non-school related accounts. This July 17, 2018 Fox 5 KRBK news story explains how one family discovered this practice and reported it to the school district.

“The Elys claim that the SPS Google Drive, given to all SPS employees and students, automatically begins to store information from any device the drive is accessed on. This includes browser history, but also personal information such as files and passwords. They add that even if you log out of the drive, it stays running and recording in the background.

After bringing their concerns forward this past May, they say that despite the evidence presented, no serious action has been taken on behalf of the district.

“They have a lot of evidence and have had it since December, and we have not heard one word from any of them, said Dianne Ely.

With more searching, the Elys have now found even more sensitive information that’s been stored to their daughter’s Google Drive, including 139 passwords to both her and her husband’s different accounts and also voice recordings of both her and her children.

“My voice to text was being stored as well as any search my kids did, and I could say ‘sure my daughter was searching on Google,’ but my phone uses Safari. When I used my texting app on my iPhone, it recorded my voice, as well as typing out the words and saving it on my Google Drive,” said Brette Hay, the Ely’s daughter and a teacher at Pershing Middle School.

The Elys hope with this new evidence, not only will parents, employees and students take action to check what private information of their own could be stored on the drive, but that the school district will also take the appropriate steps to make their Google Drive safe.” [Emphasis added]

Google’s censored search service for China.

Gubernatorial Candidate Tony Evers Proposal: Spend 12.3% (10%?) more taxpayer funds on Wisconsin K-12 school districts; while killing substantive reading improvement efforts.

Jessie Opoien:

Evers, a Democrat, is asking for $1.4 billion in additional funds for the state’s K-12 schools in the 2019-21 budget. The $15.4 billion request, submitted by Evers on Monday, comes less than two months before Walker and Evers will meet on the ballot — and Evers’ budget letter includes a swipe at the governor.

“Wisconsin has a proud history and tradition of strong public schools. Our state’s education system — from early childhood through higher education — has served as the pathway to prosperity for generations of Wisconsinites and the key to a skilled workforce and strong economy,” Evers wrote. “In recent years, however, historic cuts to education have impeded our progress.”

Evers’ budget request includes $606 million in new funding for special education programs, bringing funding for the programs up to $900 million by 2021. It also dedicates an additional $58 million to mental health programs, and an additional $41 million for bilingual-bicultural programs.

The DPI budget would also expand and fund new programs in the state’s five largest school districts — Milwaukee, Kenosha, Green Bay, Madison and Racine — which have disproportionate shares of students with significant achievement gaps. The proposals targeted toward those districts include expanding summer school grants, offering new funding for 3K programs and offering extra funding to National Board certified teachers who teach in high-poverty schools in those five districts.

The amounts noted above exclude substantial local taxpayer property taxes, redistributed federal taxpayer dollars and various grants. (The proposed taxpayer expenditure increase was 12.3% a few days ago).

Madison has benefited substantially from a $38B+ federal taxpayer electronic medical record subsidy.

Madison spends far more than most, nearly $20k per student.

Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), lead for years by Mr. Evers, has killed our one (!) attempt to follow Massachusetts’ successful teacher content knowledge requirement(s) – MTEL.

The DPI has granted thousands of annual waivers for the elementary teacher reading content knowledge exam: Foundations of Reading.

An emphasis on adult employment (2009).

“We are 10 steps behind”: Detroit students seek fair access to literacy

CBS News:

Our series, School Matters, features extended stories and investigations on education. In this installment, we’re looking at a lawsuit winding its way through the federal appeals process that questions whether access to literacy is a constitutional right. A federal judge in Michigan recently ruled it wasn’t when he dismissed a 2016 case. That case claimed students in some of Detroit’s lowest-performing schools were denied “access” to literacy due to poor management, discrimination and underfunding.

For years, Detroit public schools were under control of emergency managers, who were trying to lift the district out of debt. But, this case has drawn national attention because of its wide-ranging implications, possibly leading to federal changes to the education system.

March 10, 2018: The Wisconsin State Journal published “Madison high school graduation rate for black students soars”.

September 1, 2018: “how are we to understand such high minority student graduation rates in combination with such low minority student achievement?”


On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: “that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level”. We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”

2011: On the 5-2 Madison School Board No (Cole, Hughes, Moss, Passman, Silveira) Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School Vote (Howard, Mathiak voted Yes)

2013: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

The Simpson Street Free Press (!) digs: Are Rising MMSD Grad Rates Something to Celebrate?, and digs deeper: Madison’s ACT College Readiness Gap.

In closing, Madison spends far more than most K-12 taxpayer funded organizations.

Federal taxpayers have recently contributed to our property tax base.

Civics: China Is Buying African Media’s Silence

Azad Essa:

It is official. After more than a decade of planning, setting up, and bankrolling African media, the Chinese are finally ready to cash in on their investment.

Last week, I decided to dedicate my weekly column in a South African newspaper to discussing the persecution of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province.

The column looked at the discrimination suffered by the Turkic-Muslim community and the inability of the more than 40 African leaders in Beijing for a historic China-Africa forum to seek clarity from their host. No more than a few hours after the piece was published by newspapers belonging to Independent Media, South Africa’s second-largest media company, I was told that the column would not be uploaded online.

A day later, my weekly column on neglected people and places around the globe, which I have been writing since September 2016, was immediately canceled. I was told the “new design of the papers” meant that there was no longer space for my weekly venting.

Given the ownership structure of Independent Media, with Chinese state-linked firms holding a 20 percent stake, I understood when I wrote the column that it might rattle the higher-ups. I didn’t expect the exorcism to be so immediate and so obvious. I had, it would appear, veered into a nonnegotiable arena that struck at the very heart of China’s propaganda efforts in Africa.

Civics: Upcoming Live Event: Reporting from Xinjiang with Journalist Megha Rajagopalan


Rajagopalan is a world correspondent (formerly China bureau chief) with BuzzFeed News. She has reported extensively on digital privacy, security, and growing abuses in Xinjiang and reported from China for six years. She was a 2011 Fulbright fellow in Beijing, where she conducted research on the Chinese news media and was previously a research fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Five Reasons Why Student Loans Are a Looming Disaster

Peter H. Schuck:

The key feature of academic diversity ideology is the assertion that to be a member of an ever-growing number of favored victim groups at a college today is to be the target of pervasive bigotry on campus — despite, well, being favored. Taught by a metastasizing campus-diversity bureaucracy to believe that they are subject to an existential threat from circumambient bias, students equate nonconforming ideas with “hate speech,” and “hate speech” with conduct that should be punished, censored and repelled with force if necessary. This victimology fuels the efforts to shut down speech that challenges campus orthodoxies. Dozens of times in the past several years alone, classrooms have been invaded; professors, accosted and even assaulted; and outside speakers, silenced.

While these tactics have famously been directed at conservatives, that is not exclusively the case, as senior fellow at the Public Policy Center Stanley Kurtz has documented for National Review Online. It has happened year after year, recently.

In October 2017, protesters at Columbia University temporarily occupied a class and accused a professor who is an LGBTQ rights advocate and one of the school’s premier proponents of the idea that campuses are pervaded by rape culture of creating a “dangerous environment for students, including queer students.”

In Xi We Trust: How Propaganda Might Be Working in the New Era

Damien Ma and Neil Thomas:

That problem was the CCP itself. Most Chinese were well aware that the Party had drifted toward crony capitalism, as corruption swelled within its rank-and-file. The CCP brand reached its nadir when the Bo Xilai crisis—in which the populist and ambitious leader of Chongqing was purged and jailed after his wife murdered a British national—exploded in early 2012, reinforcing the growing cynicism the Chinese public held toward its government.

The crisis shook the CCP just before Xi took the reins of the world’s largest political party. Xi’s urgent task, then, which likely had consensus approval from other senior leaders, was to strengthen a weakened Party through a massive anti-corruption campaign and a reimagined Party narrative to win the hearts and minds of Chinese people.

These twin efforts were of equal importance to Xi’s goals and were mutually reinforcing in their implementation. From the CCP’s vantage point, faltering public trust was as much an existential threat to its legitimacy as a potential economic collapse. The Party understood that it must stand for something beyond perpetuating its own power and its cadres’ self-enrichment. Indeed, the CCP had to fill its platform with more compelling ideas—or face a credibility crisis of monumental proportions. In this context, Xi’s Chinese Dream set the stage for the elevation of ideological work to a level perhaps not seen since the Mao era.

Propaganda often gets short shrift in mainstream coverage of Chinese politics, possibly because the propaganda apparatus is frustratingly opaque and its effectiveness hard to measure. But the CCP, as a Leninist ruling party that demands political unity among its 89 million members and public compliance with its dictates from nearly 1.4 billion Chinese citizens, invests enormous resources in the promulgation of official ideologies, media management, and public opinion guidance.

Propaganda work is so instrumental to the political system that the Central Propaganda Department (CPD), established in 1924, is almost as old as the CCP itself, which was founded three years earlier in 1921. Since 1992, the propaganda system has been overseen by a PBSC member, who heads the Central Leading Small Group on Propaganda and Thought Work (CLSGPTW). This system is responsible for all Party publicity and for the supervision of all information domains in China and, to the extent possible, abroad. That it was so important for Xi to be the first top leader since Deng Xiaoping to enshrine his name in the Party Constitution—under the aegis of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”—is a testament to the tight control and crucial role of political expression under CCP rule.

Civics: Government Can Spy on Journalists in the U.S. Using Invasive Foreign Intelligence Process

Cora Currier:

The memos discussing FISA are dated in early 2015, and both are directed at the FBI’s National Security Division. The documents are on the same subject and outline some of the same steps for FISA approvals, but one is unclassified and mostly unredacted, while the other is marked secret and largely redacted. The rules apply to media entities or journalists who are thought to be agents of a foreign government, or, in some cases, are of interest under the broader standard that they possess foreign intelligence information.

Jim Dempsey, a professor at Berkeley Law and a former member of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an independent federal watchdog, said that the rules were “a recognition that monitoring journalists poses special concerns and requires higher approval. I look on it as a positive, and something that the media should welcome.”

“They apply to known media, not just U.S. media,” he added. “Certainly back in the Cold War era, certain Soviet media entities were in essence arms of the Soviet government, and there may have been reasons to target them in traditional spy-versus-spy context. And it’s possible today that there are circumstances in which a person who works for a media entity is also an agent of a foreign power. Not every country lives by the rules of journalistic integrity that you might want.”

But Ramya Krishnan, a staff attorney with the Knight Institute, said that concerns remained. “There’s a lack of clarity on the circumstances when the government might consider a journalist an agent of a foreign power,” said Krishnan. “Think about WikiLeaks; the government has said they are an intelligence operation.” Hannah Bloch-Wehba, a professor at Drexel University, said that “a probable example would be surveillance of reporters who are working for somewhere like RT” — the state-funded Russian television network — “and as a consequence, anyone who is talking to reporters for RT. The reporters are probably conscious they are subject to surveillance, but their sources might not be.”

48 Ways to Get Sent to a Chinese Concentration Camp

Tanner Greer:

There is a crisis in Xinjiang. The details are murky. The Communist Party of China has little incentive to reveal the inner workings of the vast system of surveillance and terror it has built to control the 12 million Uighur and Kazakh citizens of China’s westernmost region. From the party’s perspective, the further away the global spotlight is from its activities the better.

But we now have a rough outline of what is happening to the people of the region. In response to growing tensions between Han Chinese and the Uighur population of Xinjiang itself, the recruitment of Uighurs to fight in the Syrian civil war, and several terrorist attacks orchestrated by Uighur separatists, the party launched what it called the Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Terrorism. Despite its name, the campaign’s targets are not limited to terrorists. No Uighur living in Xinjiang can escape the shadow of the party nor can members of other ethnic minorities, especially Kazakhs.

Some of the methods used to surveil and coerce the population of Xinjiang are straight from the dystopian imagination: The party has collected the DNA, iris scans, and voice samples of the province’s Uighur population, regularly scans the contents of their digital devices, uses digitally coded ID cards to track their movements, and trains CCTV cameras on their homes, streets, and marketplaces.

As Chinese school year starts, some Beijing residents find their kids can’t get admission

Elias Glenn:

In the past year, Beijing has evicted a legion of status-less migrant workers and relocated hundreds of factories to cut down on what it calls an “urban disease” of over-population. Its number of registered residents saw a rare, albeit small, decline last year to 21.7 million.

But now, some long-term, tax-paying middle-class families are moving out because new rules have made it difficult for children to get admission in city schools.

A 35-year-old man called He, who did not wish to be further identified, said he had moved out of Beijing to the neighbouring district of Hebei after new residency rules barred his six-year-old son from applying for admission to the city’s schools.

He and his son went to Hebei two weeks ago ahead of the start of the school year last week, while his wife had to move in with relatives to be closer to her job in the capital.

He, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear his son could lose his place in school, now only sees his wife when she visits them on weekends. He quit his job in Beijing in March.

Are the foot soldiers behind psychology’s replication crisis saving science — or destroying it?

Tom Bartlett:

The mic is passed and the psychologists rise, one by one, to explain why they’re here. Some reasons are kind of funny (“I’m here because it was better than sitting in my office and swearing”); others are heartfelt (“I’m here because I want to trust science again”); a few come tinged with regret (“I’m here to atone for the sins earlier in my career”). And some betray frustration, even anger: “I’m here,” one researcher says, “because I want to burn things to the ground.”

The mission statement of the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science doesn’t mention anything about arson. Instead it states, in more measured tones, that the organization, known as SIPS, is dedicated to rigor, openness, and the “refinement of knowledge.” The couple hundred attendees at its fourth annual gathering, held recently in Grand Rapids, Mich., were mostly in their 20s and 30s, plenty of postdocs and assistant profs, along with a sprinkling of senior academics. They listened to presentations with nonthreatening subjects like “Using information-theoretic approaches for model selection” and “Assessing the validity of widely used ideological instruments.” There was enthusiastic chatter about a new project, called the Psychological Science Accelerator, that involves multiple laboratories coordinating data collection. All of which sounds serious, scholarly, and completely harmless.

So what’s with the talk of burning things to the ground?

Data selection and climate reporting

Alabama Climatologist:

Before you sell your house and move to Canada, let’s take a look at the real story. Having built many climate datasets of Alabama, some starting as early as 1850, I knew the Times story was designed to create alarm and promote the claim that humans who use carbon-based energy (gasoline, natural gas, coal) to help them live better lives are making our summers ever more miserable. Be aware reader, this webtool is not designed to provide accurate information.

First of all, climate data for Alabama began in the 19th century, not 1960. In 2016 Dr. Richard McNider (Alabama’s former State Climatologist) and I published a carefully constructed time series of summer temperatures for the state starting from 1883 that utilized numerous station records, some that even the federal government had not archived into its databases (which is the most common source for outfits like the Climate Impacts Lab.) I’ve updated that work to include summer temperatures through 2018 – the result is below. Not only are summer daytime temperatures not rising, they have actually fallen over the last 136 years. Hmmm … after looking at the graph, why do you suppose the Climate Impacts Lab decided to start their charts in 1960?

Chinese Thesis Ghostwriting Scandal Reveals Huge Gray Market

Wang Jiawen and Denise Jia:

A scandal involving a Chinese college professor providing thesis ghostwriting services has unveiled a lucrative market for academic paper fraud.

In an audio recording recently exposed by Chinese media, an associate biology professor named Han Chunyu discussed brokering thesis ghostwriting services for students, charging 7,000 yuan ($1,019) for a doctoral thesis, and 4,000 – 5,000 yuan for a master’s paper. Han is affiliated with Hebei University of Science and Technology (HEBUST) in the northern city of Shijiazhuang.

In the recording, Han also offered money in exchange for having his wife’s name added to a paper as a co-author.

Rethinking What Gifted Education Means, and Whom It Should Serve

Dana Goldstein:

It was a searing summer day before the start of the school year, but Julianni and Giselle Wyche, 10-year-old twins, were in a classroom, engineering mini rockets, writing in journals and learning words like “fluctuate” and “cognizant.”

The sisters were among 1,000 children chosen for an enrichment course intended in part to prepare them for accelerated and gifted programs in Montgomery County, Md. All of the students were from schools that serve large numbers of low-income families.

“It’s one of my favorite parts of summer,” Julianni said.

The program is one element in a suite of sweeping changes meant to address a decades-old problem in these Washington suburbs, and one that is troubling educators across the nation: the underrepresentation of black, Hispanic and low-income children in selective academic settings.


They’re all rich white kids and they’ll do just fine, not!

TAG complaint.

English 10.

The Harsh Truth About Progressive Cities; Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results

David Dahmer:

How can this be, in a “unversity town”?

It’s true, some more affluent people reside in this city due to the existence of a large, world-class university. People with more money do create disparities.

Does that explain the exodus of brown and black professionals when they complete their four years at the university because they feel so uncomfortable and unwelcome in this town?

Does that mean that Madison has to be so severely segregated by race?

Does that mean that we have almost zero affordable housing in Madison for people of color forcing Blacks and Latinos to live in separated areas on the fringes of the city where they are disenfranchised economically, socially, and politically?

Does having an elite institution mean huge disparities in prosecutions and arrests and incarceration?

March 10, 2018: The Wisconsin State Journal published “Madison high school graduation rate for black students soars”.

September 1, 2018: “how are we to understand such high minority student graduation rates in combination with such low minority student achievement?”


On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: “that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level”. We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.

2006: “They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!”

2011: On the 5-2 Madison School Board No (Cole, Hughes, Moss, Passman, Silveira) Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School Vote (Howard, Mathiak voted Yes)

2013: Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

The Simpson Street Free Press (!) digs: Are Rising MMSD Grad Rates Something to Celebrate?, and digs deeper: Madison’s ACT College Readiness Gap.

In closing, Madison spends far more than most K-12 taxpayer funded organizations.

Federal taxpayers have recently contributed to our property tax base.

St. John’s College announces plan to lower tuition by $17,000 a year

Laureen Lumpkin:

In a move to make education more affordable for its students, St. John’s College will slash tuition by $17,000 and attempt to bolster its endowment fund.

The private, liberal arts school in Annapolis is planning to install a new philanthropy-centered financial model that relies more on donor dollars, it announced Wednesday. This model will make St. John’s less dependent on tuition-paying students.

“We’ll make up that difference by doubling our endowment,” said Panayiotis Kanelos, president of the college’s Annapolis campus. St. John’s also has a campus in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “By next fall, no student at St. John’s will pay more than $35,000 a year.”

St. John’s on Wednesday also announced a fundraising initiative called “Freeing Minds: A Campaign for St. John’s College,” with the goal of raising $300 million to make up any gaps in funding. Alumni Warren and Barbara Winiarski announced Wednesday that their family foundation will match dollar for dollar every new gift up to $50 million.

“The capital campaign is to grow our endowment to ensure that we have the resources to do this,” Kanelos said. He also said the school has already raised more than 60 percent of its goal.

By the 2019-2020 school year, the new model — and tuition change — will take effect.

Related: Financial Aid Leveraging.

The Real Cost of the 2008 Financial Crisis

Joun Cassidy:

The standard narrative is that the rescue operation succeeded in stabilizing the financial system. The U.S. economy rebounded, spurred by a fiscal stimulus that the Obama Administration pushed through Congress in February, 2009. When the stimulus started to run down, the Fed gave the economy another boost by buying vast quantities of bonds, a policy known as quantitative easing. Eventually, the big banks, prodded by the regulators and by Congress, reformed themselves to prevent a recurrence of what happened in 2008, notably by increasing the amount of capital they hold in reserve to deal with unexpected contingencies. This is the basic story that Paulson, Bernanke, and Tim Geithner, who was the Treasury Secretary during the Obama Administration, told in their respective memoirs. It was given an academic imprimatur by books like Daniel Drezner’s “The System Worked: How the World Stopped Another Great Depression,” which came out in 2014.

This history is, on its own terms, perfectly accurate. In the early nineteen-thirties, when the authorities allowed thousands of banks to collapse, the unemployment rate soared to almost twenty-five per cent, and soup kitchens and shantytowns sprang up across the country. The aftermath of the 2008 crisis saw plenty of hardship—millions of Americans lost their homes to mortgage foreclosures, and by the summer of 2010 the jobless rate had risen to almost ten per cent—but nothing of comparable scale. Today, the unemployment rate has fallen all the way to 3.9 per cent.

Chinese Researchers Are Outperforming Americans in Science

Peter Orszag:

Thirty years ago in December, the modern exchange of scholars between the U.S. and China began. Since then, Chinese academics have become the most prolific global contributors to publications in physical sciences, engineering and math. Recent attempts by the U.S. to curtail academic collaboration are unlikely to change this trend.

For decades, China’s growth was driven by shifting workers from agriculture to manufacturing. As the country started to approach the so-called Lewis turning point, when such shifts no longer raise overall productivity, the government made an increasingly concerted effort to build the scientific base to provide another vector for growth. The results of those efforts are showing up in both the rankings of Chinese universities (11 of the top 100 globally) and in scholarly output.

Qingnan Xie of Nanjing University of Science & Technology and Richard Freeman of Harvard University have studied China’s contribution to global scientific output. They document a rapid expansion between 2000 and 2016, as the Chinese share of global publications in physical sciences, engineering and math quadrupled. By 2016, the Chinese share exceeded that of the U.S.

The problem with real news — and what we can do about it

Rob Wijnberg :

The news is also, almost without exception, negative. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a journalism catchphrase. In other words: good news is no news. People who keep up with the news are thus quick to think the world is getting ever more dangerous — though in fact the opposite is true. What’s more, the news constantly gives us the feeling that people can’t be trusted: they commit fraud, they’re corrupt, they steal from one another, they blow themselves up. The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people are good and want to do right by others. But that’s not news, is it?

The news is also obsessed by what’s recent. Almost everything that’s news must be something that has just now taken place. But the most recent thing isn’t by definition the most influential one. Everything in the world has a history. And that history determines in large part why something happens. Because the news usually keeps its eye trained on today, it blinds us to the longer term, both past and future. Informing us about power structures that have grown over time, like the historical roots of racism, or alerting us to gradual societal changes, like the financialization of our economy, is simply not natural to the forms and rhythms of daily news.

And the reason for that, lastly, is that the news revolves mainly around events. News has to have a hook, to use journalism jargon: a reason to report it now instead of later. That sounds logical, but it means that trends rarely make the evening news. For trends aren’t instances; they progress over time. That’s why the nightly news always ends with the weather, but never with the climate. You can’t say: “Today the climate changed”, even though it actually did.

Hook-think is also why much of the news consists of what we might call calendar journalism: recurring, often planned events that serve as an excuse to elevate something to the status of news. Consider press conferences, quarterly earnings, think tank reports, commemorative services, and anniversaries. Or the president’s tweets. That means you can pencil in much of the news in advance, making it something that isn’t “new” at all.

Teacher Compensation Commentary

Nick Gillespie:

You can read the study here. Allegretto and Mishel argue that teacher demonstrations and shortages around the country are driven by the fact that educators in K-12 public schools are making less money compared to other college graduates and “professionals” over the past several decades. “The teacher wage penalty was 1.8 percent in 1994, grew to 4.3 percent in 1996, and reached a record 18.7 percent in 2017,” they write. According to their analysis, the “penalty” shrinks to 11.1 percent when you add in total compensation.

Their agenda is straightforward: They think teachers should be paid more, both in absolute terms and relative to other workers with college degrees or professional status. They have amassed a number of statistics from credible sources which show that inflation-adjusted teacher wages have in fact been flat for about the past 20 years.

I don’t agree with Allegretto and Mishel that average teacher pay should be increased and I don’t buy into their framework of a teacher “pay penalty.” But that’s besides the point that the Time story constitutes something akin to journalistic malpractice by suggesting that teachers such as Brown, who are pulling down salaries in the mid-50s, are being forced to sell bodily fluids to make ends meet. Indeed, according to Time’s sister publication, Money, the median household income in Kentucky is $45,215, meaning that Brown is making about $10,000 more than half of all other households in the Bluegrass State.

And in fact, teachers are doing well compared to households on the national level, too. The median household income in the United States is $61,372. According to the largest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA),

An emphasis on adult employment (2009)”.

In Math Cram Sessions, Solving for Why

Tiffanie Wen:

“O.K., what are you supposed to know?” Dad would ask the night before my midterm.

Dad, an immigrant from China who has a Ph.D. from Berkeley in electrical engineering and worked for a space optics company in Silicon Valley, would take notes silently as I spoke. Sometimes I could rattle off concepts from the syllabus — linear equations and inequalities, graphing lines and slope, quadratics and polynomials. Other times I listed specific chapters (“he covered everything from seven through 12”), the contents of which the rest of my class had spent the previous months learning.

Dad would then shoo me from the room for a few minutes so he could flip through my textbook alone.

My mom was the one who interpreted the rules, cooked meals, drove us around and volunteered to work the hot lunch line. Dad, on the other hand, was driving to the office before we woke up, and came back in time for a late dinner, the whole family often sitting around the table staring at pots of Chinese food my mom prepared, waiting for him to walk in the door so we could start eating.

While my mom was gregarious and emotive, my dad was the quiet observer and thinker — some might say stoic, or on a bad day, curmudgeonly.

Reeducation Campus

John Tierney:

In 1970, after campus antiwar protesters ransacked and set fire to the administration building at the University of South Carolina, the school’s president appointed a task force to find a solution to student unrest. Many meetings, workshops, and encounter groups later, the university came up with an answer, and it was nothing so simple as expelling vandals and arsonists. No, the key was to teach students to “love their university,” starting with a new semester-long orientation course for freshmen.

An industry was born. John Gardner, an assistant professor of history and a social activist, made the course into an institution. He called it the Freshman-Year Experience, until he decided that the name was sexist and renamed it the First-Year Experience, now known commonly as FYE. He and his disciples promoted it so diligently that it has spread to 90 percent of American colleges and is rapidly growing overseas.

The programs often start with a “common read,” a book sent to everyone the summer before school starts, and proceed with lectures, discussion groups, seminars, courses, exercises, field trips, art projects, local activism, and whatever else the schools will fund. The programs are typically run not by professors but by “cocurricular professionals”—administrators lacking scholarly credentials who operate outside the regular curriculum. They don’t need to master an academic discipline or impart an established body of knowledge. They create a cocurriculum of what they want students to learn, which usually involves a great deal of talk about “diversity” and “inclusion.”

How Colleges Teach Students to See Bias Where It Doesn’t Exist

Heather MacDonald:

The key feature of academic diversity ideology is the assertion that to be a member of an ever-growing number of favored victim groups at a college today is to be the target of pervasive bigotry on campus — despite, well, being favored. Taught by a metastasizing campus-diversity bureaucracy to believe that they are subject to an existential threat from circumambient bias, students equate nonconforming ideas with “hate speech,” and “hate speech” with conduct that should be punished, censored and repelled with force if necessary. This victimology fuels the efforts to shut down speech that challenges campus orthodoxies. Dozens of times in the past several years alone, classrooms have been invaded; professors, accosted and even assaulted; and outside speakers, silenced.

While these tactics have famously been directed at conservatives, that is not exclusively the case, as senior fellow at the Public Policy Center Stanley Kurtz has documented for National Review Online. It has happened year after year, recently.

In October 2017, protesters at Columbia University temporarily occupied a class and accused a professor who is an LGBTQ rights advocate and one of the school’s premier proponents of the idea that campuses are pervaded by rape culture of creating a “dangerous environment for students, including queer students.”

“A Adult issues kept you out of the classroom where you belong”

Nate Bowling:

That’s an injustice and there’s no way to spin that. There shouldn’t have been a strike. I found the last two weeks mind-numbingly frustrating because it was preventable. If the McCleary Settlement was done with transparency, rather than dead-of-night-last-second deal making, we wouldn’t be here. If a fair contract had been offered from the beginning of negotiations, we wouldn’t be here. If young teachers in our city felt valued and knew they wouldn’t have to pick-up side-hustles to stay in their apartments, we wouldn’t be here.

Lastly for the school board, we elect school board members not spokespeople. Canceling school board meetings, ghosting from social media, and responding to community members with auto-form replies is not the way for school board members to lead. The community didn’t vote for the district public information office, we elected you. If you don’t want to face an angry public when things are bad, perhaps elected office isn’t your calling.

This will be my thirteenth year of teaching. I have worked in Tacoma my entire teaching career. But, my mentor in the profession departed during this strike. I am still not over that. Despite reaching a contract agreement, I have lingering concerns about our ability to retain many of the great teachers we have. I want for Tacoma Schools to be the world-class system our students deserve, but nothing that happened over the last two weeks brought us closer to that.

“An emphasis on adult employment”.

Are Audiobooks As Good For You As Reading? Here’s What Experts Say

Markham Heid:

Even for people who love books, finding the opportunity to read can be a challenge. Many, then, rely on audiobooks, a convenient alternative to old-fashioned reading. You can listen to the latest bestseller while commuting or cleaning up the house.

But is listening to a book really the same as reading one?

“I was a fan of audiobooks, but I always viewed them as cheating,” says Beth Rogowsky, an associate professor of education at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

For a 2016 study, Rogowsky put her assumptions to the test. One group in her study listened to sections of Unbroken, a nonfiction book about World War II by Laura Hillenbrand, while a second group read the same parts on an e-reader. She included a third group that both read and listened at the same time. Afterward, everyone took a quiz designed to measure how well they had absorbed the material. “We found no significant differences in comprehension between reading, listening, or reading and listening simultaneously,” Rogowsky says.

Civics: This Iowa city forged an unusual friendship with China and its president. Then came the soybean tariffs.

Jeanne Whalen:

This spring, residents of this Mississippi River city published a book celebrating three decades of friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who first visited as a regional official in 1985 to learn about modern farming practices.

That visit, and one Xi made in 2012, helped forge a relationship that turned China into a major consumer of Iowa’s agricultural exports. It also turned Muscatine into a pilgrimage site for Chinese officials and tourists wanting to meet the people Xi refers to as “old friends.”

So it was with some surprise that, a few months after the book’s publication, Muscatine watched Xi respond to a trade war with the United States by slapping steep tariffs on one of Iowa’s biggest exports: soybeans.

The tariffs caused a 20 percent drop in the price of U.S. soybeans and the first serious strain in a decades-long alliance on which U.S. farmers and Chinese consumers have come to rely. Local farmers say they understand the White House’s desire to challenge China on trade issues, but they worry that they will lose their grip on an export market developed through years of citizen diplomacy.

“I grow a lot of food, and they have a lot of people who need to eat. The tariffs are bad for both of us,” said Tom Watson, who grows corn and soybeans a short drive from Muscatine.

$250 Trillion in Debt: the World’s Post-Lehman Legacy

Brian Chappatta :

Now, 10 years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, we’re seeing the results of the grandest central-bank experiment in history. On the surface, it looks like mission accomplished. In the U.S., the unemployment rate is near a 48-year low, the S&P 500 Index recently reached another all-time high and consumers are about as confident as they’ve been this millennium. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that this road has been paved with debt, debt and more debt — and that it’s a one-way street.

This isn’t a uniquely American problem. Across the globe, government debt has soared over the past decade, both in nominal amount and as a percentage of GDP. While individuals and financial institutions have been busy getting their houses in order after the crisis, many large governments leaned on their captive buyer base — central banks — to binge on debt and pull forward economic growth.

The fact that central banks suppressed interest rates also encouraged nonfinancial companies to tap the bond markets early and often. Across the world, their debt load now represents more than 90 percent of GDP, up from about 77 percent in 2008, according to data from the Institute of International Finance. Sometimes those proceeds were put to productive uses, but often the corporations merely purchased their own shares, boosting the stock value.

If ‘Free College’ Sounds Too Good To Be True, That’s Because It Often Is

Cory Turner:

But is the idea pure fantasy?

More than a dozen states now offer grants, often called scholarships, promising to help qualifying students pay for some or all of their college education. In fact, that word, “promise,” shows up again and again in these programs’ official names: Nevada Promise, Oklahoma’s Promise, Oregon Promise, Tennessee Promise … you get the idea.

Sometimes referred to as “free college” programs, most are relatively new, sparked by the relentless rise in college costs and by a desire among state leaders to improve college access, especially for low-income students. Hundreds more free college programs have popped up at the local level, too. But a new review of 15 of these statewide programs, conducted by The Education Trust, finds that states vary wildly in how they define both “free” and “college.”

“I mean, I get paid to do this,” laughs Katie Berger, a senior analyst at the nonprofit advocacy group, “and it was very challenging for me to understand the nuances in a lot of these programs. … And if it’s hard for me to understand, I can’t imagine how challenging it is for low-income students and first-generation students to wrap their heads around this.”

To help measure and make sense of states’ free college efforts, Berger and The Education Trust used eight criteria, with a particular focus on equity. None of the programs managed a perfect score. Only one, in Washington, met seven of the criteria. Berger says that’s because every free college program is a complex balance of priorities and costs. “All of these choices represent trade-offs. There is no truly universal, college-is-completely-free-for-everyone-ever [program].”

“I think that the schools have been isolated and let on their own all too much,” K-12 monolithic governance: Madison edition

Abigail Becker:

The mayors also discussed Madison’s relationship with the school district. Sensenbrenner said the city, Dane County and community groups need to marshall their energy and resources to work more closely with the school district.

If Sensenbrenner were designing a local government from scratch, he said he would include the school district under the mayor’s purview.

“I think that the schools have been isolated and let on their own all too much,” he said

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most.

A majority of the Madison school board rejected the proposed Madison preparatory IB charter school.

Graduation rates ≠ achievement.

Social Justice and a Tenured Professor

Peter Wood:

The Canadian case of the moment involves a tenured associate professor of psychology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Professor Rick Mehta was suddenly fired from his position on August 31. The stated reason, provided to Professor Mehta in a letter from President Peter Ricketts, was: “failure to fulfill [his] academic responsibilities, unprofessional conduct, breach of privacy, and harassment and intimidation of students and other members of the University community.”

One might conclude from such language that Professor Mehta must be a walking nightmare who posed an enormous threat to the 3,500-some undergraduate students and 250-some faculty members. The truth, however, is that Professor Mehta found himself on what he calls the wrong side of a Canadian “culture war.” It’s a war that will sound pretty familiar to those who are watching the Littman, Hill, Brown, and Ronell cases in the U.S. Essentially, Mehta stood up for disinterested academic standards during a period in which Acadia University was rushing pell-mell to the “social justice” agenda.

The Herald News of Halifax covered the story in “Acadia Fires Rick Mehta After Fire Storm over Comments.” To fire a tenured professor over his “comments” suggests that he must have uttered some pretty remarkable syllables. Granted that Canada doesn’t have First Amendment protections. What did Mehta do? Did he denounce hockey as a sport inferior to American baseball? Did he declare personal opposition to Canada’s tariff protections of its dairy industry?

Chinese kindergarten asks children how much their homes cost

Zhuang Pinghui:

A questionnaire distributed to a class at BUJI The Dream of Children Kindergarten in Shenzhen on Friday included questions such as “does your family own the flat you live in, or rent it?”, “what is the floor plan of the flat?” and “how much did your family pay for the flat and what is its market value now?”, according to photographs of the document circulating online.

One parent posted a photo of the document with the comment: “Is this questionnaire really for children to understand the residential area they live in, or to pry on my financial capability?”

The questionnaire went viral online, with many asking whether the objective was background research on the families’ wealth.

Google China Prototype Links Searches to Phone Numbers

Ryan Gallagher:

“This is very problematic from a privacy point of view, because it would allow far more detailed tracking and profiling of people’s behavior,” said Cynthia Wong, senior internet researcher with Human Rights Watch. “Linking searches to a phone number would make it much harder for people to avoid the kind of overreaching government surveillance that is pervasive in China.”

The search engine would be operated as part of a “joint venture” partnership with a company based in mainland China, according to sources familiar with the project. People working for the joint venture would have the capability to update the search term blacklists, the sources said, raising new questions about whether Google executives in the U.S. would be able to maintain effective control and oversight over the censorship.

Sources familiar with Dragonfly said the search platform also appeared to have been tailored to replace weather and air pollution data with information provided directly by an unnamed source in Beijing. The Chinese government has a record of manipulating details about pollution in the country’s cities. One Google source said the company had built a system, integrated as part of Dragonfly, that was “essentially hardcoded to force their [Chinese-provided] data.” The source raised concerns that the Dragonfly search system would be providing false pollution data that downplayed the amount of toxins in the air.

Google has so far declined to publicly address concerns about the Chinese censorship plans and did not respond to a request for comment on this story. In the six weeks since the first details about Dragonfly were revealed, the company has refused to engage with human rights groups, ignored dozens of reporters’ questions, and rebuffed U.S. senators.

Many taxpayer supported school Districts, including Madison, use Google Services.

Melting Away: In China’s Far North a once proud tradition of reindeer herding breathes its last

Matthew Walsh, with Daniel Holmes, Wu Huiyuan and Li You:

Such is the modern herder’s life, one of GPS trackers, long truck rides, store-bought feed — and bureaucracy. These days, He Lei must submit paperwork and pass through checkpoints just to see his animals. “We’re restricted,” he grumbles. “We can’t go here, we can’t go there.”

He Lei is a giant of a man. Broad-shouldered and barrel-chested, he wears his hair in an unkempt tumble and stretches jazzy-colored T-shirts over his formidable belly. His lifestyle is fairly typical of today’s reindeer herders: He spends most of his time at home in New Aoluguya with his wife, 2-year-old daughter, and grandmother. His animals remain in the surrounding forest, where they forage for meager amounts of the lichen that’s supposed to form the mainstay of their diet. He Lei keeps a cabin in the woods.

He Lei says that reindeer herding — and Evenki culture itself — is dying out.

Winters are long and bitter. Genhe, the city that governs New Aoluguya, holds the record for China’s coldest recorded temperature, a soul-numbing minus 58 degrees Celsius. When the snows come, He Lei often spends several days in his cabin, rearing his reindeer on city-bought feed. Things get busier in the spring, when the doe give birth to lanky fawns. Some summers, He Lei saws off a few antlers and sells them for profit.

Life for today’s herders is a far cry from that of their ancestors. Historically, the Evenki lived in urilen, close-knit communities of families linked through the male bloodline. The urilen spent life permanently on the move, setting up camp every few days before heading on to new pastures when they or their reindeer had exhausted local food sources.

Gubernatorial Candidate Tony Evers Proposal: Spend 12.3% more taxpayer funds on Wisconsin K-12 school districts; while killing substantive reading improvement efforts.

Kelly Meyerhofer:

Walker proposed $13.7 billion in total state support for public schools for the 2017-19 biennium. That includes about $2.2 billion in property tax credits that are counted as K-12 funding, but don’t go directly into the classroom.

Walker’s campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger touched on the record amount in a Saturday statement:

“Scott Walker made record actual-dollar investments in our schools, the most in state history in what Tony Evers himself called a pro-kid budget,” Reisinger said. “He will continue to make historic investments in schools without raising taxes on hard-working families and seniors to do it.”

Evers’ spokesman Sam Lau referred questions to DPI’s McCarthy.

McCarthy said in an interview Saturday that the last time school finance was overhauled in Wisconsin this way was for the 1995-97 budget cycle when the state added $1.37 billion.

Evers’ request for $15.4 billion in state support for K-12 schools in 2019-21, up 12.3 percent from the $13.7 billion distributed to school districts in the 2017-19 cycle, is similar to what the Legislature agreed to more than two decades ago, McCarthy said.

Molly Beck:

Britt Cudaback, spokeswoman for the Evers campaign, did not say how Evers would pay for the increase if elected governor, but indicated he would make education funding a priority.

“Budgets are about priorities. If we can find $4.5 billion for a foreign corporation, we can make the investments needed in our students,” Cudaback said, referring to incentives passed for Foxconn to build $10 billion worth of facilities in Wisconsin. “Tony’s priority is to fully fund our schools which can be done without increasing property taxes or forcing over a million taxpayers to go to referenda to pick up the tab. Tony is prepared to make tough decisions as governor and will do whatever is necessary to ensure we’re doing what’s best for our kids.”

Walker, a Republican, and Evers, the only Democrat leading a major state agency, have been at odds for years over how much funding to provide schools and where to spend it.

In the current state budget, Walker adopted much of Evers’ budget request, which included $649 million in new funding — a plan similar to requests that had been rejected by Walker previously.

Walker spokesman Brian Reisinger didn’t release details of the governor’s plans for school spending in the 2019-’21 state budget, but signaled that he also would continue to make K-12 education spending a priority.

“Scott Walker made record actual-dollar investments in our schools, the most in state history, in what Tony Evers himself called a ‘pro-kid budget,’ ” Reisinger said, referring to Evers’ remarks when the current budget was passed. “He will continue to make historic investments in schools without raising taxes on hard-working families and seniors to do it.”

The amounts noted above exclude substantial local taxpayer property taxes, redistributed federal taxpayer dollars and various grants.

Madison has benefited substantially from a $38B+ federal taxpayer electronic medical record subsidy.

Madison spends far more than most, nearly $20k per student.

Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), lead for years by Mr. Evers, has killed our one (!) attempt to follow Massachusetts’ successful teacher content knowledge requirement(s) – MTEL.

The DPI has granted thousands of annual waivers for the elementary teacher reading content knowledge exam: Foundations of Reading.

An emphasis on adult employment (2009).

Asian Americans for Education Letter to Carol Christ / University of California

Yukong Zhao:

On behalf of the Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE), an alliance of over 100 Asian- American organizations in advancing the cause of equal education rights, I am writing to express our outrage at your statement on steering your university toward becoming a Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) during your welcome address on August 20. On account of lack of constitutionality and legality inherent in promoting such a goal of racial quotas, AACE strongly requests the Office of the Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley to retract this statement:

1. Drafting your institution’s strategic plan to become a HSI directly translates into a 25% Hispanic quota in your student population, which is in clear violation of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke which ruled specific racial quotas as impermissible. Reiterated in the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, this rule states that: “a race-conscious admissions program cannot use a quota system –it cannot ‘insult[e] each category of applicants with certain desired qualifications from competition with all other applicants.’”

2. Fulfilling requirements of a HSI breaches the California Constitution, of which Section I, Article 31(a) states that, “The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” This provision was added to the California Constitution via the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996.

I don’t know

Matthew Backus, Andrew Little:

Experts with reputational concerns, even good ones, are averse to admitting what they don’t know. This diminishes our trust in experts and, in turn, the role of science in society. We model the strategic communication of uncertainty, allowing for the salient reality that some questions are ill-posed or unanswerable. Combined with a new use of Markov sequential equilibrium, our model sheds new light on old results about the challenge of getting experts to admit uncertainty – even when it is possible to check predictive success. Moreover, we identify a novel solution: checking features of the problem itself that only good experts will infer – in particular, whether the problem is answerable – allows for equilibria where uninformed experts do say “I Don’t Know.”

“Post-Truth” Schooling and Marketized Education: Explaining the Decline in Sweden’s School Quality

Magnus Henrekson and Johan Wennström:

Swedish school system suffers from profound problems with teacher recruitment and retention, knowledge decline, and grade inflation. Absenteeism is high, and psychiatric disorders have risen sharply among Swedish pupils in the last ten years. In this pioneering analysis of the consequences of combining institutionalized social constructivism with extensive marketization of education, we suggest that these problems regarding school quality are to no small extent a result of the Swedish school system’s unlikely combination of a postmodern view of truth and knowledge, the ensuing pedagogy of child-centered discovery, and market principles. Our study adds to the findings from previous attempts to study the effects of social-constructivist pedagogy in nonmarket contexts and yields the implication that caution is necessary for countries, notably the U.S., that have a tradition of social-constructivist practices in their education systems and are considering implementing or expanding market-based school reforms.

More, from Tyler Cowen:

Some parts of this paper seem a priori implausible to me, and I don’t think the abstract puts the best foot forward for the paper, but these are such important issues I wanted to pass along the new piece by Magnus Henrekson and Johan Wennström. Here is the opener:

Who’s to blame when a machine botches your surgery?

Robert David Hart:

Medicine is an imprecise art, and medical error, whether through negligence or honest mistake, is shockingly common. Some experts believe it to be the third-biggest killer in the US. In the UK, as many as one in six patients receive an incorrect diagnosis from the National Health Service.

One of the great promises of artificial intelligence is to drastically reduce the number of mistakes made in the world of health care. For some conditions, the technology is already approaching—and in some cases matching and even exceeding—the success rates of the best specialists. Researchers at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, for instance, claim to have developed an AI system capable of outperforming cardiologists in identifying heart-attack risk by examining chest scans. The results of the study have yet to be published, but if the AI is indeed successful, the technology will be offered, for free, to NHS hospitals all over the UK. And this is just one of the latest in a string of successful medical image-reading AIs, including one that can diagnose skin cancer, another that can identify an eye condition responsible for around 10% of global childhood vision-loss, and a third that can recognize certain kinds of lung cancer.

That’s all great, but even if an AI is amazing, it will still fail sometimes. When the mistake is caused by a machine or an algorithm instead of a human, who is to blame?

This is not an abstract discussion. Defining both ethical and legal responsibility in the world of medical care is vital for building patients’ trust in the profession and its standards. It’s also essential in determining how to compensate individuals who fall victim to medical errors, and ensuring high-quality care. “Liability is supposed to discourage people from doing things they shouldn’t do,” says Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami.

Long-buried report concluded Chicago school principal ignored warnings in horrific sexual abuse case

David Jackson, Gary Marx, Jennifer Smith Richards and Juan Perez Jr.:

The potentially explosive findings have been hidden from public view for 16 years in large part because the inspector general who reviewed the report rejected its conclusions and closed the case as “unsubstantiated.” Tyson, who adamantly denied to investigators and to the Tribune that she knew Lovett had abused children, was not disciplined and retired in 2004.

For more than two months, CPS denied Tribune requests for any records about the Lovett case. Reporters found a copy of the investigative report in a court filing from one of the lawsuits filed by Lovett’s alleged victims. It was attached as an exhibit to a motion submitted in that suit. Then on Friday, after the Tribune told CPS it was preparing to publish a story, district officials released a copy of the report with many names blacked out, as well as hundreds of pages of related records.

The Lovett case has fresh significance as CPS works to implement reforms in response to the Tribune’s ongoing “Betrayed” investigation, which revealed systemic failures of child protection and showed police had investigated 523 cases of sexual violence against students inside Chicago public schools since 2008.