Solzhenitsyn and the Economic Lesson of Soviet Gulags

Joshua Hofford:

From its inception, the Gulag was meant to have a significant impact in the life of the Soviet economy. The Stalinist Gulag prison system of the 1930s aided in the construction of the ill-fated White Sea Canal, which was too narrow and too shallow for maritime or commercial transportation traffic. Begun in the last half of 1930, the canal was built in two years and swallowed up an estimated 100,000 gulag prisoners. Under the control of the NKVD, the canal’s construction was hasty and used very little engineering in its planning or construction.

Many private colleges remain in danger

Clayton M. Christensen and Michael B. Horn:

The average tuition discount rate at private colleges was a whopping 49.9 percent for first-time, full-time freshmen in 2017-18, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. That means that students are paying roughly half of what colleges and universities say they charge. A tuition discount rate above 35 percent puts a college in a danger zone, particularly when it is heavily dependent on tuition. Many institutions have discount rates far above that now.

Fund-raising and endowments don’t offer much hope to bring in the necessary amount of revenue for most schools, either.

Although the total amount of alumni giving to universities is up — it ticked in at $11.37 billion in 2017, which was up 14.5 percent from the year prior — the number of alumni who give has actually fallen. Fewer younger donors give. Only 5 percent of alumni from public universities donate, and just 18 percent of private university alumni give.

What that means is fewer people are giving bigger gifts. And, with certain exceptions from which it’s dangerous to extrapolate, most of those gifts are going to the well-off elite institutions that are not at risk.

On top of that, just 11 percent of colleges and universities hold roughly 75 percent of the $500 billion in endowment wealth in the United States. That means most institutions don’t have substantial endowments that can support their costs over time — and many endowments have significant donor restrictions on how they can be used. In other words, the limited dollars in many endowments may not be able to support a college’s most urgent needs.

Silence + Conformity = Complicity — reflections on university life in China today

Geremie R. Barme:

On 30 March 2019 we received the text of a powerful article by an academic at Tsinghua University written in support of Professor Xu Zhangrun. We believed we had a clear understanding that China Heritage had permission to publish that text in translation. We were mistaken. Subsequent to publication, we were belatedly informed that the essay was, in fact, not intended for circulation outside the People’s Republic, nor indeed did the author want its existence to be reported. We were baffled by this surprising information, however, given the nature, and delicacy, of the situation, we are hardly in a position to protest ourselves, after all, it was impossible to determine what, if any, exogenous factors may have contributed to this untoward development.

We would reason that, the very existence of such a considered, quasi-public expression of support for a leading academic involved in an incident of major pubic debate in China and widespread discussion internationally merit the publication of that essay. It would also seem to make it inevitable that the author’s argument (one that is essentially a warning to students in the People’s Republic), or at least the gist of it, would become known over time. Nonetheless, we defer to the express wishes of the author and hereby unreservedly offer our apologies for any misunderstanding or offense that we may have unwittingly caused.

The Corporations Devouring American Colleges

Kevin Carey:

The colleges would have you believe that none of this is their fault. They would point out that public schools took a huge financial hit during the recession when states slashed their education budgets. This is true, but that hardly explains the size and pace of the price hikes or the fact that tuition at private schools has exploded, too. [1]

It also doesn’t explain why colleges have failed to take advantage of the best opportunity to radically drop the price of a good degree that I’ve seen in 15 years of watching and reporting on the industry. This opportunity doesn’t have the daunting price tag of worthy proposals like “free college.” It doesn’t require any action from Congress at all.

The answer is online learning. When online degrees started proliferating 20 years ago, they earned their reputation for being second-rate or just plain scammy. Many were little more than jumped-up correspondence courses offered by for-profit colleges out to make a quick buck, and they were particularly ineffective for low-income students.

But there have been remarkable advances in online learning in the last decade. Nearly every prestigious college and university now offers multiple online degrees taught by skilled professors. And many of the courses are really good—engaging, rigorous, truly interactive. They are also a lot cheaper for universities to run. There are no buildings to maintain, no lawns to mow, no juice bars and lazy rivers to lure new students. While traditional courses are limited by the size of a lecture hall, online courses can accommodate thousands of people at a time.

This is how universities could break the tuition cost curve—by making the price of online degrees proportional to what colleges actually spend to operate the courses. So far, colleges have been more aggressive in launching online graduate programs. But there’s huge potential for undergraduate education, too, including hybrid programs that combine the best of in-person and virtual learning. And yet nearly every academic institution, from the Ivies to state university systems to liberal arts schools, has refused to pass even the tiniest fraction of the savings on to students. They charge online students the same astronomical prices they levy for the on-campus experience.

Related: Ivy League Summary: Tax Break Subsidies And Government Payments

The Lottery That’s Revolutionizing D.C. Schools

Thomas Toch:

Public school choice has expanded steadily in the nation’s cities since the first magnet schools emerged nearly five decades ago as a way to desegregate public school systems voluntarily, and especially since the start of charter schooling in the early 1990s. But in Washington and the rest of the country, taking advantage of expanding school options traditionally meant navigating myriad application timelines and deadlines without information to make clear comparisons. It meant oversubscribed schools pulling names out of paper bags, families pitching tents on sidewalks — or paying others to camp out for them — to get to the front of wait-list lines, and schools cherry-picking applicants to get the most attractive students: a system favoring the well-educated, the wealthy and the well-connected.

For schools, the system made planning almost impossible. Many students were admitted to multiple schools but didn’t let schools know their plans — causing thousands of wait-listed students to change schools through September and early October, leaving schools guessing about revenue and staffing, and disrupting instruction. Now, the Johnsons and the Golidays were following a very different route. Since the 2014-15 school year, the District’s 93,000 public school students have selected traditional public schools and charters through a single centralized application process powered by a computer program that matches as many students as possible to their top choices.

Speaking Up for a Man Who Dared to Speak Out

China Heritage:

At a moment of public concern and outrage over the fate of Professor Xu Zhangrun 許章潤 and other academics in China, we would recall that administrators at Tsinghua University played a key role in the high-education Thought Re-education Campaign in the early 1950s which devastated China’s intellectual and pedagogical worlds. It was also at the forefront of the rabble-rousing zealotry, as well as the bloody violence, of the Cultural Revolution.

Although the contemporary university touts itself as something of a modern-day incarnation of Chen Yinque’s praise for ‘A Spirit Independent and a Mind Unfettered’ 獨立之精神, 自由之思想 in 1930, in reality, since 1989 at least, Tsinghua University can at best only claim a mixed — and at times markedly indifferent — record of achievement.

Following the online release of this Open Letter/ Petition on 31 March, the number of signatories increased exponentially. The response of the country’s ‘brittle political superego’ was relatively swift: within two days, evidence of the petition had been eliminated.

Against metrics: how measuring performance by numbers backfires

Jerry Muller:

More and more companies, government agencies, educational institutions and philanthropic organisations are today in the grip of a new phenomenon. I’ve termed it ‘metric fixation’. The key components of metric fixation are the belief that it is possible – and desirable – to replace professional judgment (acquired through personal experience and talent) with numerical indicators of comparative performance based upon standardised data (metrics); and that the best way to motivate people within these organisations is by attaching rewards and penalties to their measured performance.

Austin is training staff to help parents find affordable housing so that kids don’t have to switch schools

Erin Richards:

Almost one in five students in Austin switch schools in the middle of the year, state figures show. Worse, most of the churn is happening at schools that are already struggling. Research shows the instability also harms the progress of kids who stay put, likely because teachers must repeat material.

This pattern plays out in urban districts across the nation, especially in cities with high poverty, a high cost of living or lots of school choice — or some combination of all three.

But Austin is one of the nation’s only districts employing a comprehensive approach to stemming turnover. In the past two years, the district has trained key staff members at all schools on how to help parents search for nearby affordable housing so that a residential move doesn’t also become a school switch in the middle of the academic year.

“This is a way to provide more stability for our families,” said Austin Superintendent Paul Cruz. “We’re not sending parents to multiple places for housing information. It’s basically, we’ll help you locate a place and say how much it’s going to cost you and this is what the deposit is — it’s almost like a prescreening.”

My sixth-grader’s teacher puts her in charge of the difficult boys. What should I do?

by Matthew Dicks, Cassy Sarnell, and Katie Holbrook, via a kind message:

My daughter’s sixth-grade elective teacher recently called me to tell me that my daughter is a great student, eager to learn, and very fun to have in class. Sounds great, right? But he also mentioned that he often asks her to partner with difficult students in class. When I asked my daughter about this, she said that these difficult students are often boys that don’t pay attention and don’t really want to be in the class. I let my daughter know I thought she was a good classmate, but the more I think about it, I feel like it isn’t my daughter’s responsibility to manage these boys in class, and that this is part of how girls get taught to be responsible for boys and their behavior—and likewise how boys learn that they aren’t responsible for their behavior. Is it worth going back to the teacher to have a discussion with him about this? Or should I just let it go because it is one semester of sixth-grade mythology? How should I talk with my daughter about it?

Mom Ignores Doctor When Her Sick 2-Year-Old Starts Feeling Better, Child Services Send a SWAT Team

Lenore Skenazy:

Chandler, Arizona, cops broke through the door of a family’s home in the middle of the night, stormed in, pointed their guns, handcuffed the father, and watched as the state’s Department of Child Safety (DCS) took custody of the parents’ three kids—all because mom had decided her toddler’s fever was not serious enough to merit a trip to the hospital.

It was dinnertime on February 25 when the pregnant mother took her 2-year-old to the doctor with a fever of over 100. The doctor told her to take him to the emergency room, fearing that because the boy was unvaccinated, perhaps he had meningitis—a life-threatening disease.

The doctor called the hospital to alert them. But by the time the mother and child left his office, the boy was “laughing and playing with his siblings,” according to this excellent piece by Dianna M. Nanez in The Arizona Republic. Mom took his temperature again, and it was almost normal. So instead of going to the emergency room, the family went home. The mom called the doctor to say her boy’s fever had broken and she wasn’t going to the emergency room. The doctor told her she should go anyway, so she agreed she would—but then she didn’t.

School Probes Thesis ‘Copying’ Confidential Research Funding Bid

Li You:

A prestigious university in central China’s Hunan province said Thursday it had launched an investigation following allegations that a student thesis plagiarized a confidential proposal for research funding from a national science organization.

In a post on microblogging platform Weibo, the graduate school of Hunan University wrote that a special working group had been established to verify claims of academic misconduct lodged against former graduate student Liu Mengjie. The announcement came just one day after a post from a Weibo user accused Liu’s 2018 graduate thesis of plagiarizing an earlier research proposal the user had written for national science funding.

The Weibo user, who has claimed to be a teacher at Yunnan University of Finance and Economics, said that proposal — titled “Research on the Impact and Effect of Corruption on Company Tax Evasion” — had been submitted in 2017 to the National Natural Science Foundation of China, which allocates resources from the country’s National Natural Science Fund. The user said that after the proposal was rejected, she continued researching the same topic for her doctoral dissertation, using much of the proposal’s text.

But the user said that in March of this year, she ran her completed dissertation through a plagiarism detection tool that matches inputs against already published documents, only to find that her work was highly similar to Liu’s graduate thesis from 2018, titled “Research on the Impact of Corruption on Company Tax Evasion.”

Robert A. Caro on L.B.J., Understanding Power and Nearing Completion

David Marchese:

One of the criticisms your books have gotten is that, in the case of Johnson, the depiction of him is too Manichean, too black-and-white. I’m wondering if the boiling down you’re describing might result in your portraying Johnson in a way that lends itself to being boiled down. I don’t think it’s Manichean at all. To oversimplify ridiculously, Lyndon Johnson wanted to create social justice, and because of his incredible capacity for turning compassion into governmental action, he had an unrivaled capacity to do that. But on the other hand, there was the Vietnam War. There were 58,000 Americans killed in that war. Over two million total killed — I can’t even get the total number. I will get the number. But to what extent does Johnson’s personality play into the incredible escalation of Vietnam? You said, “Oh, that’s a guy that’s Manichean.” But it isn’t black or white. It’s all the same personality. It’s the same character.

Milan Kundera Warned Us About Historical Amnesia. Now It’s Happening Again

Ewan Morrison:

Milan Kundera is 90-years old on April 1, 2019 and his central subject—The Power of Forgetting, or historical amnesia—could not be more relevant. Kundera’s great theme emerged from his experience of the annexation of his former homeland Czechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1948 and the process of deliberate historical erasure imposed by the communist regime on the Czechs.

As Kundera said:

The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long that nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster.

I first read Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979) back in 1987, when I was a member of the British Communist Party. The book shook my beliefs and Kundera’s writing became a part of a process of truth-speaking that shook the USSR to the ground in 1989.

In the 90s we believed we were living in a “post-mortem” era in which all the hidden graves of the 20th century would be exposed, the atrocities analyzed, the lessons learned. Lest we forget. We also thought we’d entered a time in which the Silicon Valley dream of digitizing all knowledge from the entire history of the printed and spoken word would lead us towards the infinite free library, the glass house of truth and the global village of free information flow. The future would be a time of endless remembrance and of great learning.

The government is now a check-writing, wealth-redistribution machine that costs trillions

John Merline:

What is the government’s primary function? If you look at the debates that rage each year when the president’s budget comes out, you’d think it was defense spending. Or food stamps. Or cancer research. Or student loans.

Any proposed changes to those programs make headlines. Just as President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget did. It would, we were told, “slash domestic spending,” “cut science and medical research,” and “eliminate funding for arts,” while boosting defense spending.

But if you look beyond the headlines at the actual budget document, you learn that those are all squabbles over crumbs. Today, the one thing the federal government does above all else is write checks. Lots of checks. Nearly $3.2 trillion worth of checks. Each and every year.

Buried in a separate volume of the annual budget are “Historical Tables,” which provide rich detail on how the government has spent taxpayers’ money going back as far as 1789. Three of these tables track “payment for individuals,” defined as “federal government spending programs designed to transfer income (in cash or in kind) to individuals or families.” It doesn’t include things like salaries paid to federal workers or services rendered.

How Rich Chinese Parents Get Their Kids Into U.S. Colleges

Amy Hawkins:

That’s a familiar story for Chinese. There have been numerous reported cases of students caught cheating the system. Last week, five California residents were arrested on charges of helping more than 40 Chinese nationals obtain student visas by taking their English tests for them, using fake passports in the process. The scheme was allegedly masterminded by 23-year-old Liu Cai, an international student at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2018, professors at the University of California, Santa Barbara, complained that many Chinese students lacked adequate English language proficiency, and it’s common for international students who have been coached into U.S. universities to struggle to keep up.

The man at the center of the U.S. scandal was William Singer, founder of a college-preparatory business known as The Key. He told a federal court in Boston that he created a “side door” of admissions that guaranteed access to top institutions. That was an alternative to the “front door of getting in, where a student just does it on their own,” and the “back door,” where people “make large donations, but they’re not guaranteed in.”

2019 Madison School Board election Commentary

Seat 3: Caire vs. Carusi
Logan Wroge:

“There’s no one in the history of Madison schools that has my professional record,” he said.

Carusi has reviewed budgets and policies during 12 years of attending School Board meetings and has actively served in parent leadership roles, which puts her in a “unique position of someone who’s not been on the board but really has been watching the board and knows what’s going on.”

The district needs to explore new teaching methods and school models, such as a school dedicated to performing arts, Caire said, along with increasing access to early childhood education and making the district attractive to retain families and draw in new ones.

“I also want (students) to have the type of education that’s going to prepare them to be problem-solvers in the future,” he said. “I don’t think any of our kids are getting that by a large measure, white kids, black kids. It’s the same old 13 years of liberal arts education that’s boring.”

Seat 4: Blaska vs. Muldrow:

Logan Wroge:

In the most ideologically divided Madison School Board race this year, David Blaska and Ali Muldrow offer stark contrasts for voters when they decide April 2 who takes over Seat 4.

Muldrow said the achievement gap is “what defines our community.” She wants to include information on “medically accurate, inclusive human growth and development” throughout the K-12 curriculum to teach children about anatomy, stages of development and how to better understand their emotions. She said a priority is having arts every day.

“More dance, more music, more theater, more planning time and smaller classrooms are things I care about,” said Muldrow, co-executive director of GSAFE, the Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools. “My opponent and I are really different people who have really different values and bring different priorities to the table.”

Blaska, a former Dane County supervisor and conservative blogger, argues the district is obsessed with “identity politics” and said correcting bad behaviors has become administratively burdensome. He wants teachers to be in charge of classrooms and principals in charge of schools. His priorities would be “discipline, discipline, discipline.”

“I’m very much a political realist. I’m doing this because it needs to be said, and because I know it will get a receptive audience,” Blaska said. Muldrow, he said, “is wedded to identity politics, and for her, everything is race and not behavior.”

In February, Muldrow won 56 percent of the vote in a four-way primary followed by Blaska with 23 percent.

Muldrow lost the 2017 race for Seat 6, and Blaska has not run for School Board previously.

Seat 5: Mertz vs Mirilli
Logan Wroge:

Six years ago TJ Mertz and Ananda Mirilli appeared on a primary ballot that resulted in Mirilli placing third behind another candidate (Sarah Manski) who dropped out after the primary, all-but ensuring Mertz’s victory. Now the two are finally going head-to-head April 2 for Seat 5.

Logan Wroge:

Seat 4
Ali Muldrow took in $14,144 this reporting cycle — with more than $5,500 coming from other fundraising committees — versus the $6,605 raised by David Blaska, a former Dane County Board supervisor and conservative blogger. Muldrow received $4,500 from MTI.

Muldrow, co-executive director of GSAFE, ended the reporting period with $14,241 in cash available. Blaska had a cash balance of $2,635.

Much more on the April 2, 2019 Madison School Board election, here.

Student demand for computer science straining UW-Madison department resources

Kelly Meyerhofer:

The challenges facing UW-Madison’s computer science department aren’t unique. Across the country, computer science departments are grappling with a surge in students and not enough faculty to teach them.

UW-Madison’s department thought long and hard about whether to limit the program’s size.

Other universities such as the University of Washington have established a cap, accepting only the best and brightest students into the program. Swarthmore College, a private school in Pennsylvania, holds lotteries to select students into computing courses. Some institutions do not offer computer science courses to non-majors. Others make it nearly impossible for students to transfer into the program.

UW-Madison’s computer science faculty took a vote in 2016 and unanimously agreed to not place restrictions on the program.

“We felt a mission to educate as many people as possible,” Arpaci-Dusseau said, invoking the Wisconsin Idea, the longstanding belief that the university should address the needs of all Wisconsin residents.

Students clamor to get into computer science classes for the high salaries and job security that come with the skill set. They can go on to work in fields as varied as biology, banking, agriculture or insurance.

Hiwassee College to close after 170 years due to financial reasons

Monica Kast:

Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tennessee, will close at the end of its spring semester on May 10.

On Thursday, the college’s board of trustees voted for the closure.

The school is closing for “financial reasons,” according to Rev. Tim Jones, director of communications for the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Hiwassee College was founded in 1849 and is affiliated with the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church. Jones said he could not elaborate further at this time.

“Growing marketplace trends including substantially discounted or highly subsidized public education, changes in demographics, our rural location, and declining enrollment have combined to produce an unsustainable economic mode,” a release from the college read.

There are currently 225 students enrolled at Hiwassee College, and 33 students will graduate at the end of the spring semester, according to the release.

Jones said there will be meetings in the future to help determine a plan for students who will not graduate by the time the college closes.


Will Flanders:

First, it is important to note that spending on school choice represents a minuscule share of the state’s education spending. For fiscal year 18-19, Wisconsin spent $5,899,757,400 in aid to local school districts according to LFB. Spending on school choice was $192 million, or about three percent of that total. To make the claim that school choice is undermining public school spending is one of the biggest fallacies regularly repeated by choice opponents.

Perhaps the most misleading aspect of Pope’s summary of the information is in the $42 million reduction that is attributed to Milwaukee. Pope presents this as if this is continual reduction that requires Evers’ extremist position of capping enrollment in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to address.

In reality, this reduction is already disappearing over time. Indeed, quoting Pope’s own LFB memo “Under Provisions of 2013 Act 20, (the percentage of this aid reduction) will be reduced by 3.2 percentage points each year, until no aid reduction is made beginning in 2024-25.” In other words, the legislature has already taken steps to reduce by $42 million the aid reduction that Pope is discussing, yet this appears nowhere in her press release.

That aid reductions should occur for students that a district is no longer educating seems to be common sense. Districts that have students whose families make the decision to attend a private school that works better for them should not still see the school they left rewarded with tax dollars earmarked for that student. As we have noted on several occasions, Pick and Save does not continue to receive money from you if you choose to shop at Aldi. Pope believes public schools should be exempt from the performance-improving benefits of competition. We do not. Moreover, districts have the ability to raise property taxes to make up for the loss of state aid, and many do, for better or worse.

Also neglected from Pope’s press release is the reality that school choice saves Wisconsin money overall. Students in independent charter schools and those using a voucher are funded at a substantially lower level than students in traditional public schools throughout the state. Independent charter schools receive $8,619 per student and voucher students receive $7,754 (K8) or $8,400 (9-12) per student. Public school students are funded at a rate more than $2,000 higher on average throughout Wisconsin. According to recent research from EdChoice, this leads to a savings of $800-1,200 per student in the choice program. Over the lifetime of the programs, Wisconsin has realized a benefit of more than $345 million from school choice. I’d wager some of that boon was poured back in to the public school system.

613,000 in Japan aged 40 to 64 are recluses, says first government survey of hikikomori


About 613,000 people aged 40 to 64 are believed to fall into the category of recluses, who hide themselves away in their homes without working, the government’s first survey on the age group showed Friday.

The estimated number of recluses, known as hikikomori, in that age group is higher than those age 15 to 39. There are an estimated 541,000 recluses that fall into the younger age bracket, a Cabinet Office survey in 2015 showed.

The total number of social recluses in Japan is thought to be over 1 million, an official said.

“Adult hikikomori is a new social issue,” said welfare minister Takumi Nemoto. “It should be addressed appropriately by conducting studies and analyses.”