Sam Biddle:

NEARLY 1,500 MILES from the Menlo Park headquarters of Facebook, at a company outpost in Austin, Texas, moderators toil around the clock to screen and scrub some the most gruesome, hateful, and heinous posts that make their way onto the social network and its photo-sharing subsidiary, Instagram. They are required to view as many as 800 pieces of disturbing content in a single shift, and routinely turn to on-site counselors to help cope with the procession of stomach-turning images, videos, and text. But some members of this invisible army have complained, in a statement widely circulated within Facebook, that the outsourcing giant that officially employs them, Accenture, has repeatedly attempted to violate the confidentiality of these therapy sessions.

The moderators work from within a special section for outsourced staffers at Facebook Austin. The Texas outpost is designed to mimic the look and feel of the company’s famously opulent Silicon Valley digs, but Accenture workers say they’re reminded daily of their secondary status and denied perks, prestige, and basic respect. This second-class tier at Facebook, a sort of international shadow workforce, has been well documented in the media, from Manila to Arizona, and it’s not clear whether the company has done anything to address it beyond issuing defensive PR statements. Moderators in Austin say their job is a brutalizing slog and that Facebook remains largely indifferent to their struggles. Access to on-site counseling is one of the few bright points for this workforce.

Commentary on Academic Rhetoric

Will Davis:

On a page dedicated to keeping up with classmates, I thought it was tacky to bring up politics, and I couldn’t keep my fingers shut. As comedian Ron White famously said, “I had the right to remain silent, but I did not have the ability.”

I pointed out to my fellow Dragons that former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential candidate Howard “The Scream” Dean is also an SG alum, and he offends ME greatly. Yet I don’t urge our school to banish him.

“If you want to send the message that SG is another liberal bastion that crushes dissent and anyone who thinks original thoughts,” I wrote, “this seems like a good way to do it.”

I went on to say that I’ve lived in Georgia for 27 years and had yet to meet anyone who advocates white supremacy.

My old chum Candace Gottschalk, who lives in New York City, would have none of it.

“I imagine it would be easy for you to agree that white supremacy isn’t a problem,” wrote Gottschalk. “You are a white male who included an image of the confederate flag on your senior page. Just last week, my husband, who is black, went to the farmer’s market and was asked by the vendor if he was looking for collard greens, because you know, black people only eat collard greens. Racism is everywhere. You do not see it because you are never the victim of it.”

Really? So now her husband is a victim of racism because they asked him if he wants collard greens? My gosh, I LOVE collard greens. Are we really sitting around waiting to be offended? Can you imagine growing up with people like this?

Hong Kong Protesters Are Worried About Facial Recognition Technology. But There Are Many Other Ways They’re Being Watched.

Rosalind Adams:

Beneath the neon lights of Causeway Bay’s shopping malls and restaurants, a man in a yellow hard hat and black shirt pressed his knee into the back of a protester who was pinned down by the police. With his cheek to the ground and his own blood pooling beneath his face, the protester pleaded for mercy.

“Even my front tooth is broken. I’m sorry,” he said, his body heaving as he cried.

The hard hat and black clothes have become the standard uniform of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, but the man who aided police in the arrest last Sunday was actually part of an undercover operation, the police department said in a press conference earlier this week. It was the first time that authorities had publicly confirmed using undercover officers. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said the operation was to target “core extreme protesters.”

Since the protests started in June over a controversial extradition bill, participants have routinely covered their faces, blocked or smashed closed-circuit television cameras, and communicated over encrypted apps to conceal their identities. But with the protests growing into a wider resistance movement, with police expanding their tactics and nearly 750 people arrested, protesters are increasingly paranoid about how the authorities are working to identify them — and who can be trusted.

One year ahead of funding deadline, Wisconsin schools continue finalizing safety, security plans

Briana Reilly:

As students in the Madison area prepare to head back to school this fall, they’ll find their buildings could include new state-of-the-art cameras, enhanced door locking technology and updated phone systems.

Those measures and others have been installed in schools throughout Wisconsin over the last year, as officials have sought and been awarded state funding to beef up security practices after lawmakers in 2018 created a new safety grant program.

Some of those changes were completed, or near completion, when students entered classrooms last fall, as schools worked tirelessly to begin implementing them ahead of the August 2020 deadline.

O Oberlin, My Oberlin I taught there for 18 years, but the details of its conduct as revealed in a recent lawsuit shocked even me

Abrahan Socher:



I went back to Oberlin on a Friday in June for the first time in a year or so. Even retired professors like me have to return books to the library (eventually). Driving off the Ohio-10 freeway, down East Lorain Street, past the organic George Jones Farm—named for a beloved botany professor, not the great country-and-western singer—I saw the first of several yard signs supporting Gibson’s Bakery in its lawsuit against Oberlin College and its dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, who is also vice president of the college. The previous day, a Lorain County jury had awarded Gibson’s an astounding $33 million in punitive damages in addition to the $11.2 million it had already assigned to the family business for compensatory damages.

The jury found that Oberlin College and its dean of students had maliciously libeled the Gibson family as racists and deliberately damaged their business by suspending and later cancelling its century-long business relationship with the bakery—all while unofficially encouraging a student boycott. And the jury found that the college had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the Gibsons themselves.

At least neither Dean Raimondo nor anyone in the Oberlin administration was found to have harmed the Gibson family dog. But someone did slash the tires of their employees’ cars; there were anonymous threats; and someone harassed the 90-year-old paterfamilias, Allyn W. Gibson, in the middle of the night, causing him to slip and crack three vertebrae. All because on November 9, 2016, his grandson and namesake, Allyn Gibson, who is white, had caught an underage African-American student named Jonathan Aladin first trying to buy and then trying to steal wine from the store with two college friends. When Gibson tried first to call the police and then to take a picture of Aladin with two bottles of wine under his shirt, Aladin slapped the phone out of his hands and ran out of the store. Gibson chased him across the street, tried to stop him, and was beaten up by Aladin and his friends. “I’m going to kill you,” Gibson reported Aladin saying. Aladin and his friends, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, were arrested. The Gibsons pressed charges against the students despite the college’s repeated demands that they drop them.

In court, Raimondo and other key players in the Oberlin administration were shown to have actively supported two days of student protests against Gibson’s after the arrests, cursed and derided the Gibson family and its supporters in emails and texts—“idiots” was among the milder epithets—and ignored those within the college who urged deliberation, compromise, and restraint. Oberlin President Marvin Krislov and others rejected the Gibson family’s repeated pleas to renounce the charge that they were racists, even when presented with strong statistical and anecdotal evidence that this was not the case.

In August 2017, nine months after his arrest, Jonathan Aladin pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of attempted theft, aggravated trespassing, and underage purchase of alcohol. His friends pled guilty to the first two charges. All three students read statements to the court acknowledging that Allyn Gibson had been within his rights to detain them and that his actions had not been racially motivated. On the sidelines of the court, the director of Oberlin’s Multicultural Resource Center and interim assistant dean of students, Antoinette Myers, texted her supervisor, Dean Raimondo. “After a year”—that is, after the students were eligible to have their criminal records expunged—“I hope we rain fire and brimstone on that store,” Myers wrote.

The fact that the students’ guilty plea was the result of a plea deal, as most criminal convictions are, and that the students’ allocution was compelled by the court (a feature of criminal justice with deep roots in common law) encouraged many students and faculty to believe that somehow this had still been a racist incident. How, exactly, was never made clear. What should Allyn Gibson have done with an underage customer who had just shown him a clearly fake I.D. and now had two bottles of wine under his shirt? Perhaps if Gibson had said something like “Come let us reason together: I can’t sell you wine, but I can share a nice cold Snapple with you while we discuss my family’s exceedingly thin profit margins and how we are both oppressed under neoliberalism,” things would have been different. They might even have found out that they had something in common, since Jonathan Aladin was the student treasurer at Oberlin, which also has thin margins.

McCready (D) Slams GOP Opponent for Not Believing in Public Schools, Sends Children to $18K Private School

Cameron Cawthorne:

Democratic congressional candidate Dan McCready (N.C.) on Sunday accused his Republican opponent Dan Bishop of not believing in public schools, despite sending his children to a private school that costs $18,000 a year.

McCready, who will be facing state Sen. Bishop in a September 10th special election for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, participated in the Fayetteville NAACP candidate forum, where he claimed Bishop’s policies hurt public school teachers.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Cost to Families for Health Coverage and Care Has Risen More Than 2X Faster Than Wages and 3X Faster Than Inflation Over the Last Decade

Kaiser Family Foundation:

A new KFF analysis that looked at both premiums and other out-of-pocket costs shows that families with coverage through a large employer paid 67 percent more for their health benefits and care in 2018 than a decade earlier.

In 2018, a typical family of four with large employer coverage spent $4,706 on their share of health premiums and $3,020 on cost sharing (such as deductibles, copayments and coinsurance) for a combined cost to the family of $7,726, the analysis finds. That was up from $2,838 in premiums and $1,779 in cost sharing in 2008, for a combined cost to the family of $4,617 a decade ago.

The rise in health costs borne directly by families outstripped the growth in wages (31%) and inflation (21%) over the 10-year period, according to the analysis. Over the same ten-year period, employers’ contributions toward their workers’ health insurance premiums increased 51 percent (from $10,008 to $15,159).

These New Facebook Ads From Chinese State Media Want You To Believe Xinjiang’s Muslim Internment Camps Are Just Great

Ryan Mac:

Extending the reach of its propaganda beyond its borders, Chinese state-owned media is running ads on Facebook seemingly designed to cast doubt on human rights violations occurring under the government’s mass incarceration of Muslim minorities in the country’s northwest Xinjiang region.

BuzzFeed News found three ads — two active and one inactive — within Facebook’s ad library extolling the alleged success stories of detainees at the camps and claiming that the detention centers were not meant to interfere with religious beliefs and practices. The two active ads had been placed in the last four days and were targeted to an audience in the United States and other countries.

Controlling the NARRATIVE: Hong Kong protest: What is mainland China hearing?


But access to Google is blocked in China, and if you look on Baidu, the filtered search engine mostly used on the mainland, you get “Hong Kong flights back to normal” followed by “what has happened in Hong Kong recently”. The results led on what China’s ambassador to the UK said on the issue recently and the losses protesters have caused by paralysing the airport.

Screengrab of Baidu search window
When the demonstrations first erupted on 9 June, China’s heavily controlled state media kept silent, except for reports on pro-government rallies and the foreign ministry’s condemnation of “foreign interference”. One headline in the nationalist Global Times read: “HK parents march against US meddling.”.

In early July, media published their first stories about the demonstrations after protesters broke in to the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s parliament. Xinhua, the state-run news agency, criticised “lawless acts that caused mass destruction, which was shocking, distressing and infuriating”, citing the Hong Kong Liaison Office of the central government.

A second round of coverage on the protest rolled out when the Liaison Office was besieged in late July.

I’ve heard taxpayer supported K-12 administrators discuss the importance of “controlling the narrative”.

Grafton appeals decision forcing it to pay $78,000-a-year private school tuition for student with learning disabilities

Annysa Johnson:

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee this week, argues that Judge Sally Pederson erred in July in finding that Grafton failed to provide a now 17-year-old student with the free and appropriate public education required by state and federal law.

Grafton Superintendent Jeff Nelson and the district’s attorney, Andrew Phillips, declined to discuss the case. But the attorney for the student and his mother called the appeal “foolish.”

“The judge wrote a sound decision,” said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, a longtime civil and disability rights attorney. “The law is very clear that courts must defer to special education administrative law judges. And this particular judge, to my knowledge, has never been overturned on appeal.”

The Federal Complaint.

-via Chan Stroman.

Sun Prairie School District soliciting suggestions for school names and mascots

Logan Wroge:

Community members have two weeks to offer suggestions on a new name for the district’s high school and the names and mascots for a planned second high school and the Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School.

A naming committee will then review the suggestions after the Aug. 30 submission deadline.

The district, though, is asking people to follow some guidelines.

Entries that will not be considered include naming schools after living people, duplicating school names or mascots that already exist in the district, Native American mascots, or suggesting another cardinal mascot since the brightly colored bird will remain the symbol of the current high school.

How Popular Discontent Is Reshaping Higher Education Law

Ben Trachtenberg:

Surveys taken since 2015 reveal that Americans exhibit stark partisan divisions in their opinions about colleges and universities, with recent shifts in attitudes driving changes to higher education law. In recent years, Democrats have become slightly more positive about higher education. Concurrently, Republicans have become extremely more negative, and a majority of Republicans now tells pollsters that colleges and universities have an overall negative effect on the country.

Particularly in legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, public and elite dissatisfaction with higher education has led to legal interventions into the governance of universities, with new laws related to faculty tenure, the treatment of undocumented immigrant students, the use of state funds for disfavored programs, the composition of university governing boards, and campus speech, among other topics. At the federal level, during the Obama Administration advocates persuaded the Department of Education to demand sweeping changes to how institutions adjudicate allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault. At the behest of different advocates and critics, Trump Administration officials have rescinded the prior guidance and are in the process of enacting new regulations on the same campus processes.

What European Countries Sacrifice for Free College

Jason Delisle and PRESTON Cooper:

The higher-education system in Finland is supposedly every American progressive’s dream. The Finnish government pays 96 percent of the total cost of providing young Finns with a college education; almost all domestic students at Finnish universities pay nothing in tuition. Indeed, Finland subsidizes its universities more than any other country in the developed world. American advocates of free college say that if Finland can do it, so can we. But there’s a catch to the Finnish model, and it’s not just higher taxes.

Finland offers a nice deal for students only if they are lucky and talented enough to get in. In 2016, Finnish institutions of higher education accepted just 33 percent of applicants. That’s the degree of selectivity we’d expect from an elite college in America, yet that is the admissions rate for Finland’s entire university system. There is a price to pay for that kind of selectivity: Finland ranks in the bottom third of developed countries for college-degree attainment. Meanwhile, the tuition-charging United States ranks in the top third, thanks to open-enrollment policies at many of our colleges and universities, along with private financing and plenty of spots offered through a diverse range of institutions.

The Finnish example reveals a reality often glossed over by politicians and activists who advocate mimicking European-style free-college regimes in the United States: government budgets are finite, even when taxes are high. If a government elects to pay for a greater share of each student’s college education, something else has to give. Perhaps the university system will accept fewer applicants and produce fewer graduates, as is the case in Finland. Or maybe it will spend fewer resources per student, potentially lowering the quality of education. Finland is evidence that such tradeoffs are not mere theory or a false choice manufactured by miserly conservatives. Nor is Finland the only country where such stark tradeoffs are on display.

America Has a Digital Skills Gap. Libraries Can Help Fix It.

The Atlantic & Grow with Google:

When Calvester Sanders was promoted to head of housekeeping at the Redmont Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2016, she felt conflicted. On the one hand, she was excited about the greater responsibility and better pay. On the other, the thought of managing her staff’s schedules through the hotel’s computer system made her anxious. “I literally didn’t know how to turn it on,” she says.

It was Sanders’s manager who pointed her to the free introductory computer classes at Birmingham Public Library’s Central Branch. Despite her nerves, Sanders started attending about twice a week. Within a month, she’d learned enough to feel confident on the job. “I don’t know why I was afraid of coming into the computer world,” she says. “Now I love it.”

The tools of the digital age—computers, the internet, online training programs—are sometimes branded as a threat to the public library’s relevance. But that argument ignores people like Sanders, who value their local branches precisely because of the access they provide to those tools and to educators who know how to use them. Talk to Marijke Visser, associate director and senior policy advocate at the American Library Association, and you’ll hear story after story of patrons accessing libraries in ways that could only happen in the 21st century: ranchers in rural Nebraska bidding virtually at bull auctions; farmers in Iowa using a 3-D printer to create missing tractor pieces; veterans in Kentucky using teleconferencing to connect with their doctors. “If they aren’t library users, people may have a nostalgic view of libraries from when they were kids,” Visser says. “I think people have to experience [today’s libraries] to kind of shake that historical view.”

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Professors

James Freeman:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) likes to talk a lot about an affordability crisis in higher education. Fortunately for Ms. Warren and her husband, there’s no crisis at all for the people who work there.

This week Forbes magazine estimates the net worth of various 2020 presidential candidates. While it’s no surprise that a number of former business and finance executives come to the campaign with sizable fortunes, what’s remarkable is how much wealth is now attainable for those in the allegedly non-profit sector of the U.S economy.

Dan Alexander, Chase Peterson-Withorn and Michela Tindera of Forbes estimate that Sen. Warren and her husband enjoy a net worth of $12 million. According to Forbes:

Teachers aren’t paid so poorly after all—at least not Harvard professors. Warren and her husband, Bruce Mann, both longtime instructors at the university, have built up a small fortune through years of teaching, writing and consulting. Their largest holdings include TIAA and CREF accounts—available to educators and nonprofit employees—worth more than $4 million. One of their best investments has been their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, purchased in 1995 for $447,000. It’s now worth an estimated $3 million.
The couple purchased the home around the time that Ms. Warren stopped listing herself as a “minority” in the Association of American Law Schools directory. By that time she had won a contested tenure vote from the Harvard Law School faculty and as far as this column can tell she never again called herself “American Indian” in registering with a state bar association. In the years that followed Ms. Warren and her husband achieved healthy levels of wealth and income. According to Forbes, it’s possible that the Warren/Mann household is now worth even more than $12 million:

No one, not even the Democrats who spend the most time bashing Trump for his financial dealings, were willing to release full tax returns, file financial disclosures and answer all of Forbes’ questions about their personal finances. Elizabeth Warren, for example… wouldn’t give guidance on the true value of her husband’s investments, listed on her disclosures with a vague value of “over $1 million.”
Nobody is claiming that any of the current crop of presidential candidates is as good as the Clintons when it comes to monetizing political power. But some voters may be surprised at how well educators at non-profit, tax-advantaged institutions are compensated, particularly when university schedules allow them to supplement their incomes with outside projects. In April of this year, Matt Murphy reported for the State House News Service in Massachusetts:

The Lonely Burden of Today’s Teenage Girls

Mary Pipher and Sara Pipher Gilliam:

“I have friends with debilitating problems like cutting and OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder],” a girl named Jordan recently told us. “It’s frustrating because I can’t help them. I mean, I’m only 14 myself.”

Young Americans have become unwitting guinea pigs in today’s huge, unplanned experiment with social media, and teenage girls like Jordan are bearing much of the brunt. In conversation after conversation, adolescent girls describe themselves as particularly vulnerable to the banes of our increasingly digital culture, with many of them struggling to manage the constant connectedness of social media, their rising levels of anxiety and the intense emotions that have always been central to adolescence.

Girls in 2019 tend to be risk-averse, focused on their studies and fond of their families. They are also experiencing high levels of depression and loneliness. A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 36% of girls report being extremely anxious every day. They are particularly worried about school shootings, melting polar ice and their ability to afford college.

Math in Data Science


Math is like an octopus: it has tentacles that can reach out and touch just about every subject. And while some subjects only get a light brush, others get wrapped up like a clam in the tentacles’ vice-like grip. Data science falls into the latter category. If you want to do data science, you’re going to have to deal with math. If you’ve completed a math degree or some other degree that provides an emphasis on quantitative skills, you’re probably wondering if everything you learned to get your degree was necessary. I know I did. And if you don’t have that background, you’re probably wondering: how much math is really needed to do data science? In this post, we’re going to explore what it means to do data science and talk about just how much math you need to know to get started. Let’s start with what “data science” actually means. You probably could ask a dozen people and get a dozen different answers! Here at Dataquest, we define data science as the discipline of using data and advanced statistics to make predictions. It’s a professional discipline that’s focused on creating understanding from sometimes-messy and disparate data (although precisely what a data scientist is tackling will vary by employer). Statistics is the only mathematical discipline we mentioned in that definition, but data science also regularly involves other fields within math. Learning statistics is a great start, but data science also uses algorithms to make predictions. These algorithms are called machine learning algorithms and there are literally hundreds of them. Covering how much math is needed for every type of algorithm in depth is not within the scope of this post, I will discuss how much math you need to know for each of the following commonly-used algorithms:

The Techlash Is Only Making Facebook Stronger

Sarah Frier:

When Facebook Inc. agreed to settle a privacy complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for $5 billion last month, both parties acted like the news was a big deal. The FTC noted it was a record federal penalty, while the company released a video of Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg solemnly telling employees a new era of regulatory compliance was at hand. Leaving aside that the fine was hardly a serious blow—last year alone, Facebook’s profit topped $22 billion—the settlement is great news for Zuckerberg in another way. The fine print will likely help Facebook cement its dominant position in social media advertising, just as the FTC begins an antitrust investigation of the company.

Facebook’s most valuable resource is its data. Every click, comment, and even scroll from its 2.5 billion users is incorporated into its ideas about what people like and want. The company combines that knowledge with information from outside sources, tracking people as they browse the open web and offline through their credit card purchases and phone GPS signals, then uses that data to precisely target ads for Facebook and its other apps: Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. This unimaginable mountain of information is the bedrock of Facebook’s $70-billion-a-year ad business.

Civics: Manhattan DA Made Google Give Up Information on Everyone in Area as They Hunted for Antifa

Albert Fox Cahn:

When Gavin McInnes—founder of the violent, far-right group The Proud Boys—spoke to a Manhattan Republican club last October, the neighborhood response was less than welcoming. Protesters took to the normally sedate Upper East Side block with chants and spray paint. The Proud Boys responded with fists and kicks. Nearly a year later, as the assault and riot charges against four Proud Boys go to trial, prosecutors revealed that they had turned to an alarming new surveillance tool in this case: a reverse search warrant.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office admitted it demanded Google hand over account information for all devices used in parts of the Upper East Side. They didn’t do this to find the Proud Boys; they did it to find Antifa members.

Reverse search warrants have been used in other parts of the country, but this is the first time one was disclosed in New York. Unlike a traditional warrant, where law enforcement officials request information on a specific phone or individual, reverse warrants allow law enforcement to target an entire neighborhood. Police and prosecutors create a “geofence”—a map area—and demand information on anyone standing in the zone. This flips the logic of search warrants on its head. Rather than telling service providers the name or phone number of a suspect, reverse search warrants start with the location and work backwards.

Teen Hacks his School Software and Exposes the Data of Millions of Students

Guilo Saggon:

A teenager has uncovered numerous flaws, including SQL injection and XML inclusion vulnerabilities, within software used in his school.

18-year-old Bill Demirkapi discovered flaws in, among others, Follett’s Student Information System and Blackboard’s Community Engagement software, when he was 16, and continued his research right up to his graduation this spring.

Hacking Blackboard’s Community Engagement gave Demirkapi access to the records – from phone numbers to discipline records, bus routes and class schedules – of more than 5,000 schools and around five million students, while Follett’s Student Information System included student passwords that were unencrypted and in fully readable form.

According to Demirkapi, who gave a presentation at the DEF CON 27 conference in Las Vegas, there was nothing high tech about his way of accessing the data: “My method of finding vulnerabilities was … really inadequate and non-professional. It was just looking at pages and trying to mess with the parameters. The state of cybersecurity in education software is really bad, and not enough people are paying attention to it.”

Among what Demirkapi discovered was a local file inclusion flaw that redirected users to a servlet called when they downloaded their report card or schedule.

Google’s “Originality Reports”

Brian Hendricks:

That’s why Google is introducing originality reports. This new feature—with several reports included free in every course—will be part of Classroom and Assignments, which was also announced today. We create originality reports by scanning student work for matched phrases across hundreds of billions of web pages and tens of millions of books.

When assigning work in Classroom and Assignments, instructors will have the option to enable originality reports. Students will then be able to run up to three originality reports on documents they attach to the assignment before submitting their work. This heads-up gives students an opportunity to proactively improve their work, and also saves time for instructors.

After submission, a fresh originality report will automatically be available to instructors when grading the assignment. These reports will flag text that has missed citations and has high similarity with text on the web or in books.

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school districts use Google services, including Madison.

Notes and links on student privacy and Google’s data mining practices.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Milwaukee’s Pension Assumptions (!) and Expense

Alison Dirr:

A Mcouple of factors have contributed to the pending increase, Barrett said: Police and fire budgets and a drop in the anticipated earnings on the city’s pension fund from 8% to 7.5%.

Police and fire pensions

The city’s fire and police sworn personnel make up about 80% of the total pension costs.

Barrett said the city is looking at the structure of the pension system for all other police officers and firefighters throughout Wisconsin as a potential template for the city’s package for those departments.

Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are separate from the state’s retirement system.

The city is interested in having parity with the Wisconsin retirement system, Barrett said.

“We are faced with the notion of having a dramatic increase in the pension payment on the horizon, (and) a law that does not allow us to renegotiate this unless we do it through collective bargaining,” Barrett said.

Shawn Lauda, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, said he believes the parity is already there. He said the union has made concessions.

“I think we’re absolutely paying our fair share if not more so than some,” he said.

Mike Bongiorno, president of Local 215 of the Milwaukee Professional Fire Fighters, said both sides do significant research before bargaining to ensure the city retains good employees and is comparable to the rest of the state and cities of the same size.

He said Local 215 understands the financial challenges facing the city and said it’s necessary to find ways to help fund not just the pension system but the entire city.

“We understand the financial challenges that the city faces, and we’re here to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he said.

Drop in assumed rate of return

In addition, starting in 2023, the city will be contending with a 0.5% drop in its anticipated earnings on its pension fund, from 8% to 7.5%.

Milwaukee County Pension Scandal Primer.”>Pension Scandal Primer.

Moody’s Madison School District bond ratings. More.

Property taxes stunt Chicago’s house price growth.

Madison has long spent far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts. Yet, we’ve long tolerated disastrous reading results.

Accountability? School’s continued failure likely to trigger sanctions for HOuston School District (!)

Jacob Carpenter:

Houston ISD moved a major step closer to temporarily losing local control over its school board Thursday, as long-awaited state academic accountability ratings showed one of the district’s longest-struggling campuses received its seventh consecutive failing grade, triggering a Texas law requiring harsh sanctions.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

No, But Seriously, How Are the Children?

Chris Stewart:

Last week I made what I thought was a simple request: for all of us to prioritize the question “how are the children?” as if our nation depends on it. This week I want to offer an example of why that request isn’t so simple after all.

It started as it often does in my world, with a tweet from a teacher who sees education reform as the enemy, and its advocates as a direct threat to teachers. Fighting for better student achievement is comparable to attacking teachers.

In this case, it was Gary Rubinstein, a New York City teacher who had all his buttons pushed when Teach For America tweeted a story in The 74 about a new PDK poll that shows declining morale among America’s teachers.

His response was to claim that a “big part of low teacher morale is anti-teacher propaganda by [The 74] and spread by TFA,” he said. I challenged that claim as “silly” to which he said, “Sorry you feel left out. Education Post also contributed to teacher morale crisis, but not as much as The 74.”

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts – between $18.5k and 20k per student, depending on the district documents reviewed.

The Problem With Chinese Universities? Not Enough Dropouts

Zhang Duanhong:

China’s education system is well-known for its extreme workloads and merciless, test-centric approach to weeding out students. Beginning as early as elementary school, young Chinese find themselves caught up in a cutthroat competition for a precious spot at one of the country’s top universities. Those that succeed are rewarded with what amounts to a vacation: China’s undergraduate programs are notorious for low standards and easy classes — and once you’re in, you’re practically guaranteed a degree.

The fat years may finally be over, however. Last year, Chen Baosheng — China’s Minister of Education — proposed an end to the “exhausting high school, carefree university” paradigm, in which university life is treated as a reward for making it through the rigors of the country’s college entrance exam, or gaokao. In a speech, Chen called on the country’s universities to push students by raising workloads and standards.

It’s a long-overdue move. Although, generally speaking, China has made considerable progress in improving its undergraduate education programs, there is still a significant quality gap between its tertiary education system and those of countries like the United States or the United Kingdom. To close this gap, China must ask more of both its students and its universities. That means higher standards and stricter graduation requirements, as well as a better system for dealing with students who can’t make the grade.

Young Americans are less trusting of other people – and key institutions – than their elders

John Gramlach:

Americans believe trust has declined in their country, whether it involves their fellow citizens’ faith in each other or their confidence in the federal government, according to a wide-ranging new Pew Research Center survey. And adults ages 18 to 29 stand out for their comparatively low levels of trust in a number of these areas.

Around three-quarters (73%) of U.S. adults under 30 believe people “just look out for themselves” most of the time. A similar share (71%) say most people “would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance,” and six-in-ten say most people “can’t be trusted.” Across all three of these questions, adults under 30 are significantly more likely than their older counterparts to take a pessimistic view of their fellow Americans.

Commentary on Virginia Tech Freshman Orientation

Penny Nancy:

Are taxpayers funding academic institutions to indoctrinate our kids? That disturbing and irresistible question plagued me during the long drive home last week from college orientation. I doubt I am alone in this wake-up call.

Like many other women, I just sent my youngest child to college. I am so proud of him and his decision to join the Army ROTC and study engineering. He will be attending a revered Virginia institution known for its military Corps of Cadets program.

The Schoolteacher and the Genocide

Saraj Topol:

When he was in primary school, Futhu read a story about a girl who named her flowers. She wrote their names in a diary, logged when she planted and watered them and charted how they grew. The story was in a book Futhu’s uncle brought to their village in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State from across the border in Bangladesh — the words in English and in Bengali. Futhu was the first in his extended family to attend school — the first of 22 uncles, countless aunts and cousins — and though he excelled at Burmese and English class, he could not really understand the book on his own. His father was himself illiterate, as were most people in their community. So Futhu asked a village trader who often visited their home to read him the stories in the book, one by one.

Imagine Growing up Ashamed of Your Mind

Children of the Code:

According to the U.S. Department of Education more than 60% of all K-12 students are reading below the level of proficiency required for the brain-work of reading to be transparent to the mind-work of learning at the grade level they are in.

Obviously, reading is the skill that matters most to success in school and children who fall behind in reading are in great academic danger. But it is not just the lack of reading skills that most endangers these children. It’s the collateral damage to their faith in their ability to learn – it’s the MIND-SHAME.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

Under qualified Germans

Roger Graves:

Another reason for the lack of skilled labour in Germany is the reluctance of school-leavers to take advantage of the admirable dual-education system, and instead enroll at a university (“Opening up a crack”, May 18th). The problem is that every pupil who has passed the school-leaving exam, the Abitur, has the constitutional right to a place at university, even if he or she has to wait some semesters and has no real academic inclinations or talents. The result is a proliferation of abstruse and socially irrelevant courses, a drop-out rate of about 30% (a shocking waste of human and financial resources) and the lack of skilled workers you mentioned.
Having spent 20 years as a lecturer, I can testify to the often poor quality of students at hopelessly overcrowded public universities and the high quality of those at private institutions, which have strict admission requirements. But in our modern, democratic society everybody is at least a manager and selection is frowned upon. That attitude is leading to big problems for the German economy.

Major breach found in biometrics system used by banks, UK police and defence firms

Josh Taylor:

The fingerprints of over 1 million people, as well as facial recognition information, unencrypted usernames and passwords, and personal information of employees, was discovered on a publicly accessible database for a company used by the likes of the UK Metropolitan police, defence contractors and banks.

Suprema is the security company responsible for the web-based Biostar 2 biometrics lock system that allows centralised control for access to secure facilities like warehouses or office buildings. Biostar 2 uses fingerprints and facial recognition as part of its means of identifying people attempting to gain access to buildings.

Last month, Suprema announced its Biostar 2 platform was integrated into another access control system – AEOS. AEOS is used by 5,700 organisations in 83 countries, including governments, banks and the UK Metropolitan police.

Student Frustration With the Flawed Textbook Market Is Justified

Peyton Lofton:

On Monday, dozens of student government executives wrote a letter urging the Department of Labor to block a merger between two giants of the textbook industry. In May, McGraw-Hill and Cengage announced they would be pursuing a merger. As two of the five major textbook publishers that currently have 80 percent of the market, this merger would form the second-largest textbook publisher in the US.

Students are reasonably frustrated with the textbook market. Students spend an average of $1,200 a year on books and access codes to online course materials. That number has risen by over 1,000 percent since 1977. Textbook prices are so high that students often sacrifice their grades to avoid paying them. A 2014 study from the US Public Interest Research Group found that nearly two-thirds of students decided against buying a textbook because it was too expensive. Textbook prices are hindering the education of America’s students.

The Techlash Is Only Making Facebook Stronger

Sarah Frier:

When Facebook Inc. agreed to settle a privacy complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for $5 billion last month, both parties acted like the news was a big deal. The FTC noted it was a record federal penalty, while the company released a video of Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg solemnly telling employees a new era of regulatory compliance was at hand. Leaving aside that the fine was hardly a serious blow—last year alone, Facebook’s profit topped $22 billion—the settlement is great news for Zuckerberg in another way. The fine print will likely help Facebook cement its dominant position in social media advertising, just as the FTC begins an antitrust investigation of the company.

Facebook’s most valuable resource is its data. Every click, comment, and even scroll from its 2.5 billion users is incorporated into its ideas about what people like and want. The company combines that knowledge with information from outside sources, tracking people as they browse the open web and offline through their credit card purchases and phone GPS signals, then uses that data to precisely target ads for Facebook and its other apps: Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp. This unimaginable mountain of information is the bedrock of Facebook’s $70-billion-a-year ad business.

“ School is a place where students are taught knowledge and skills so they can decide what their future looks like rather than have a decision thrust upon them because they can’t read” —- Madison…

Jasmine Lane:

School is a place of preparation, a place where you learn the codes of the mainstream not necessarily because the mainstream is better, as I believed, but because if you want to make significant changes to any systems, you have to be able to first get in by the gatekeepers’ standards. We can disrupt traditional notions of reading and math all we want, but this does not mean that out students are exempt from the dominant structures of society. To paraphrase Lisa Delpit, to pretend that the mainstream does not exist is to ensure students do not pass into it. The fact of the matter is some stuff is going to matter more than others.

This is not a personal attack.

This is not teacher bashing.

This is a recognition of what we’ve been taught to expect and accept from poor students and students of color in the name of “progressivism”. Knowledge won’t exempt my students from racism, knowledge won’t “save” anyone, but it’s the one thing that I directly have control of in my classroom in preparing my students for futures as citizens who can understand how reminiscent the speech of Donald Trump is to a fascist uprising. They will understand this not because I have told them what to believe, but because they have the knowledge base to be able to draw the comparisons themselves.

So we can continue to ask ourselves “who decides?” and “whose knowledge?” and all of the other rhetorical questions, but we already know the answer. Really the question we need to ask ourselves as a profession, as schools, as departments is what we want our students to be able to do and become when they leave our classrooms– Do we want them to bang upon the walls of Troy for 10,000 years or enter as the Trojan horse?

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”

The Promise of classic Liberalism Is Alive in the Streets of Hong Kong

Noah Rathman:

Thirty years ago, defying Mao Zedong’s invasive gaze, pro-democracy demonstrators armed with foam and paper-mâché cobbled together an icon. Combining the aesthetics of Soviet statuary with Western classicism, the 33-foot Goddess of Democracy was not intended to evoke the Statue of Liberty. Indeed, the student protesters who designed it were self-conscious about the comparison between their idol and the colossus in New York’s harbor, but the ideals and emotions the two sculptures invoke are so universal that their distinguishing cosmetic features were inconsequential. It could not be allowed to stand, and it was destroyed after just five days, along with China’s student-led democracy movement, by the People’s Liberation Army.

The Goddess of Democracy was born again in Hong Kong by a new generation of democratic activists who are far less concerned with offending the sensibilities of Beijing’s elite. Replicas of the famous statue have become objects of renewed veneration and antipathy as anti-government protests enter their 10th week. But the citizens who have taken to the streets to protest Beijing’s encroachment into China’s bastion of political liberalism are far less shy about conveying pro-American sentiments. Demonstrators have been seen flying U.S. flags, singing the American national anthem, and demanding civil liberties akin to those enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Sadly, the affection the people of Hong Kong have shown Americans is not entirely reciprocal.

Why Parents Are Turning to a Controversial Treatment for Food Allergies

Esther Landhuis:

For families with food allergies, micro-managing daily life to avoid accidentally consuming the wrong food can be a huge burden. They scour labels. They avoid restaurants. They ban their kids from birthday parties, or refuse to enter sports stadiums, worrying that peanut shells littering the ground could trigger life-ending anaphylaxis.

Parents want “to do something rather than nothing,” Bales said — even when a treatment carries a risk of unpleasant side effects.

The resulting angst has driven some families and physicians to try a therapy that has done well in early studies but has unclear long-term effects and is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The controversial treatment is called oral immunotherapy (OIT). Conceptually, the method works like allergy shots, which for 100 years have reliably treated pollen and other environmental allergies by desensitizing the immune response to these triggers. Instead of injecting allergens through the skin, OIT involves consuming a bit of the forbidden food each day, at gradually increasing doses, so the immune system can learn to put up less of a fight.

Over the past decade, the number of OIT providers has grown from just a handful of doctors nationwide to a small, influential cohort of more than a hundred today. Thousands of food allergy patients who have tried oral immunotherapy in the United States and abroad swear by the treatment, often calling the results life-changing. And with an FDA decision expected by early 2020 for Aimmune Therapeutics’ “peanut capsules,” OIT could soon go mainstream.

Worst Cities to Raise Children

Samuel Stebbins:

Perhaps the most important environmental factor to a child’s development is the home — and conditions at home are largely up to the parents. There are, however, many other factors in a child’s surroundings that can be critical to healthy development that are largely outside of parental control.

A child’s physical and mental well-being and overall chances for success later in life can all be influenced by conditions in the broader community. Such factors include school quality, access to preschool, proximity to parks and places for recreation, and the presence of crime. In areas that lag in these measures, children can be at a considerable disadvantage.

Using data from a range of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau and the FBI, 24/7 Wall St. created an index of four measures — preschool enrollment, high school graduation, property crime, and access to places for physical activity — to identify the worst cities in which to raise children.

Though median income and other measures of financial security and well-being were not included in our index, the cities on this list tend to have larger than typical shares of poor residents. Of the 25 worst cities to raise children, 21 have a higher poverty rate than the national rate of 13.4%. Many of these cities also rank among the poorest cities in America. Here is a full list of the cities with the highest poverty rates.

Low incomes in the cities on this list may have a negative effect on school quality as nearly half of all public school funding in the United States comes from local sources like property taxes. While the relationship between school spending and student outcomes is complicated, a weaker tax base may partially explain the low graduation rates in many of these cities.

Commentary on Rhetoric: Departing Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham

David Blaska:

The news media loves to imagine itself as the afflicter of the comfortable, David with his slingshot v. Goliath. “J’accuse!” in 96-point bodoni bold type. Edward R. Murrow starring down Tailgunner Joe. Bogart starting the presses in Deadline USA. Woodward and Bernstein.

In Madison, too many news media “gatekeepers” just want to be invited to the cocktail party. The editor of The Capital Times was invited to the cocktail party. Paul Fanlund expresses his gratitude this way:

The setting was the ornate Roosevelt room at the Madison Club, where assorted community leaders were gathered for a reception to thank and send off Jennifer Cheatham six years after she arrived from Chicago to lead Madison’s public schools as its superintendent.

Neil Heinen of Madison Magazine and WISC TV-3 is also a member of the In Crowd. He penned “An appreciation for Jen Cheatham” much in the manner of Ode to a Grecian Urn.

Her Strategic Framework — that’s right “her” Strategic Framework — for the success of every child, was the most comprehensive. It was the most research-grounded blueprint for district-wide excellence I’ve encountered in more than 40 years of writing about Madison schools.

Neil is not alone in his hero worship. He name-drops an A-list of Madison movers and shakers with whom he rubs elbows in the same Group-thinking bubble:

Cheatham enjoyed the support and affection of a remarkable group of civic leaders. Centro Hispano Executive Director Karen Menendez Coller, Urban League of Greater Madison President and CEO Ruben Anthony, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce President Zach Brandon, United Way of Dane County President and CEO Renee Moe, Madison College President Jack E. Daniels, 100 Black Men of Madison President Floyd Rose and Bishop Harold Rayford.

Oh, sure, “Cheatham is criticized for top-down management,” Neil huffs. But …

Related: 2013: What will be different, this time? 2019: Jennifer Cheatham and the Madison Experience.

Why U.S. Schools Don’t Produce Adults

Annie Holmquist:

One of the hallmarks of modern America is the tendency toward prolonged childhood. While it used to be the norm to enter the adult working world by one’s mid-to-late teens, students now extend their preparation for career well into their twenties (and sometimes beyond), enabled by parents who act as their caretakers, education experts who insist that they get as much classroom education as possible, and a government that encourages them to stay on the family health plan until age 26.

Many Americans seem tired of this prolonged childhood and are longing for the days when young people were ready and willing to provide for themselves by the time they finished high school. The question is, how can American young people break out of this mold?

One solution that seems to be simmering beneath the surface is the rising interest in allowing teens to work in various job settings for high school credit. As a recent article in The Hechinger Report explains, that option is one which is being expanded in Vermont high schools.

The interesting thing about Vermont’s work-based learning program is that the high school credit it offers isn’t just for fluff experiences like basket-weaving, nor are the job settings limited to those in traditional manufacturing trades. Instead, they provide math and science credits to students working with engineers, economics credits to those working in the financial sector, and English credits to those writing under the supervision of music critics:

Class dismissed: Surge in arrests of foreign teachers in China

Cate Cadell:

Four law firms told Reuters that requests for representation involving foreign teachers had surged in the past six months by between four and tenfold, while teachers and schools confirmed arrests and temporary detentions for minor crimes had become commonplace.

Switzerland-based Education First (EF), which runs 300 schools across 50 Chinese cities, has seen a “significant” increase in detentions in China for alleged offences including drugs, fighting and cybersecurity violations, according to a June 27 internal notice sent to employees and seen by Reuters.

It said EF staff had been “picked up by police at their home and work as well as in bars and nightclubs and have been questioned and brought in for drug testing”. The notice said the school had also received warnings from embassies about the rise in arrests.

A spokeswoman for EF declined to comment on the content of the notices but said the company “values our close collaboration with the Chinese authorities,” adding that it “regularly reminds staff of important regulatory and compliance policies.”

An international school in Beijing and a teaching agency in Shanghai separately confirmed arrests had risen sharply.

A Connecticut Girl Challenges Male Domination of Female Sports

Madeleine Kearns:

As a star high-school athlete, Selina Soule doesn’t shrink from the spotlight—but she never planned to gain it in the manner she has. This year the 16-year-old has appeared on Fox News more than once to express her opposition to the transgender policy of her state’s athletic conference. Since 2017, Connecticut schools have allowed young men to displace Ms. Soule and other girls in sports competitions. Across the country, controversies around women’s sports have become one of the sharpest fault lines in the national debate about transgender issues.

Last month Alliance Defending Freedom filed a civil-rights complaint with the Education Department on behalf of Ms. Soule and two other Connecticut girls. They argue that allowing boys to compete in the female category denies girls “opportunities for participation, recruitment, and scholarships,” contravening Title IX’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex.

Presumably, the legislators who passed Title IX in 1972 understood sex to be anatomical. But today its text poses an unforeseen challenge to administrators. They must decide whether the definition of sex includes “gender identity”—one’s sense of being male, female or neither. Connecticut’s is one of 19 state athletic conferences that allow athletes to compete based solely on their expressed gender identity. In contrast, both the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association require male-to-female transgender athletes to take testosterone-suppressing drugs to compete in the women’s category.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Illinois Is the Canary in the Pension Coal Mine

Mike Riggs:

Illinois is running out of time to fix its public sector pension problem. A new report from Moody’s Investors Service identified the Prairie State as one of the two most likely to suffer during an economic downturn. Illinois towns and cities are already paring back government services to pay for generous benefits packages for retirees, and Chicago’s pension debt alone is larger than that of 41 states. That arrangement can’t last forever.

“The worst-case scenario is there’s another national recession, which would cause our pension funds to lose a bunch of their assets again,” says Adam Schuster of the Illinois Policy Institute. “As the assets shrink, the pension funds go into a financial death spiral. We might end up with some kind of Puerto Rico–style pseudo-bankruptcy or federal bailout. Everybody in the nation is now on the hook for Illinois politicians’ irresponsible decisions.”

The best-case scenario would involve repealing an automatic 3 percent raise that pensioners receive each year of their retirement and requiring workers to pay more into their own plans. Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker would prefer to scrap Illinois’ flat income tax and replace it with a progressive tax scheme, which could cause even more people to flee the state. In May, Schuster spoke to Reason’s Mike Riggs about the pension conundrum.

Privacy Gadgets

Joel Stein:

As the spy gear piles up on my desk, my 10-year-old son asks me what my mission is. “I’m hiding,” I whisper, pointing in the direction I think is north, which is something I should probably know as a spy. “From Silicon Valley.”

It isn’t going to be easy. I use Google, Facebook, Amazon, Lyft, Uber, Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. I have two Amazon Echos, a Google Home, an iPhone, a MacBook Air, a Nest thermostat, a Fitbit, and a Roku. I shared the secrets of my genetic makeup by spitting in one vial for 23andMe, another for an ancestry site affiliated with National Geographic, and a third to test my athletic potential. A few months ago, I was leaving my house in Los Angeles for a hike when I heard my Ring speaker say, “Where are you going, Joel?” in my wife’s voice. She was at a pottery class, but the smart doorbell sent her an alert when it detected me heading outside.

Hong Kong, mainland Chinese tensions flare again at New Zealand university

Linda Lew:

Tensions between different groups of New Zealand’s Chinese community flared again on Tuesday during a rally organised in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong.

About 100 people, including opposition MP David Seymour, attended the two-hour rally at the University of Auckland. The event was organised by students opposing the now-suspended extradition bill, legislation that would allow suspects of serious crimes to be sent from Hong Kong to other jurisdictions, including mainland China.

The largely peaceful rally was briefly interrupted by an unidentified pro-Beijing supporter, who held up a placard that read: “Hong Kong independence mob”. He left after a confrontation with one of the rally-goers, which was filmed by other attendees.

“I can feel there is increasing tension,” Serena Lee, from rally organiser the We Are Hong Konger group, said in a video of the event on the group’s Facebook page. “We’re actually opposing the extradition bill. But they [mainland students] see this as an action to oppose the Chinese government.”

Russia tells Google not to advertise “illegal” events after election protests


Russia’s state communications watchdog has asked Google to stop advertising “illegal mass events” on its YouTube video platform, it said on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of Russians staged what observers called the country’s biggest political protest for eight years on Saturday, defying a crackdown to demand free elections to Moscow’s city legislature. Multiple YouTube channels broadcast the event live.

The watchdog, Roscomnadzor, said some entities had been buying advertising tools from YouTube, such as push notifications, in order to spread information about illegal mass protests, including those aimed at disrupting elections.

It said Russia would consider a failure by Google to respond to the request as “interference in its sovereign affairs” and “hostile influence (over) and obstruction of democratic elections in Russia”.

If the company does not take measures to prevent events from being promoted on its platforms, Russia reserves the right to respond accordingly, Roscomnadzor said, without giving details.

Over the past five years, Russia has introduced tougher laws requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and social networks to store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country.

A Google spokesperson in Russia declined to comment on Sunday.

Many taxpayer supported K-12 School
districts use Google services, including Madison.

Radical Indoctrination: Coming to a Public School Near You

Gilbert Sewall:

Last week, the Hoover Institution’s Williamson Evers admirably aired in the Wall Street Journal a disturbing Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum proposed by the California Department of Education and its Instructional Quality Commission, now under view. “It is difficult to comprehend the depth and breadth of the ideological bias and misrepresentations without reading the whole curriculum—something few will want to do,” Evers concluded.

Americans should, even so, since curriculum projects such as these are sensitive zeitgeist barometers. Focused on the model curriculum’s blatant anti-capitalism, the Journal did not add that California is getting ready to mandate an unprecedented ethnic studies requirement for high school graduation based on this extraordinary syllabus. It reflects a revolutionary storm sweeping through educational leadership in the nation’s legislatures and metro school districts.

That means that to get a high school diploma, starting in 2024, California students by law will have to complete three courses in English and social studies, two in math and science, and one in arts or world languages. A bill adds to these core requirements “a one-semester course in ethnic studies based on the model curriculum.” Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, Stockton, and other minority-rich school districts in the state have already established Ethnic Studies graduation requirements or programs.

According to the model’s overview, Ethnic Studies is the “disciplinary, loving, and critical praxis of holistic humanity.” It is the study of “intersectional and ancestral roots, coloniality, hegemony and a dignified world where many worlds fit.” It “critically grapples with the various power structures and forms of oppression, including, but not limited to, white supremacy, race and racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, islamophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia.” The overview promises that the course of study will:

The Techlash Has Come to Stanford

Aril Glaser:

The dream of starting a company in your dorm room to solve the world’s problems and make billions in the process is still thriving on campus. But a competing dream, perhaps just as old, appears to be growing in fervor now, too: to use technical skills as an insurance policy against dystopia. Students have not failed to notice the unflattering headlines that have dogged Silicon Valley over the past several years—the seemingly unending scandals in which the biggest technology companies in the world have mishandled user data, facilitated the spread of misinformation, and sold software to the agencies enforcing the Trump administration’s harsh immigration agenda. All of this has sparked new conversations inside and outside the classroom, and there are signs that the once-reliable pipeline between Stanford and Silicon Valley is narrowing—at least a tiny bit.

This can be seen across universities: Recruiters at Facebook have reportedly clocked a dramatic decrease in the acceptance of job offers among top-ranked schools for tech talent. In May, CNBC found that the acceptance rate for full-time positions at Facebook from recent graduates of top-tier schools had fallen between 35 and 55 percent as of last December, down from an 85 percent acceptance rate for the 2017–18 school year. “Students don’t feel that [working at Facebook] has the same cachet,” a San Francisco–based tech recruiter with 15 years of experience (who asked not to be named because Facebook is currently one of his clients) told me in an interview. “It doesn’t seem like the kind of name that students want to have on their résumé for their first go, and because they have optionality, there becomes very few reasons to go to Facebook, especially feeling like that brand is a little tarnished right now.” After all, he added, students are getting very attractive compensation packages elsewhere from other multibillion-dollar tech firms that aren’t courting such negative headlines.

I Immigrated to the US to Pursue the American Dream, Not to Pay for Your College Degree

Jen Sidorova:

Candidates were back at it last week, competing to see who could present the best student loan forgiveness plan. Sure, that might appeal to some of the party’s base and America’s cash-strapped millennials. But for roughly 46 million immigrants like me, the idea that the government should forgive student loans is totally unfair. After all, when we came here, our idea of the American Dream was to work hard for a brighter future—not for the government to pick our pockets.

I understand the motivation behind these proposals; alleviating student debt sounds ideal. I came from Russia to attend grad school in the US, so I know just how expensive tuition can be. But when I got my degree from Stony Brook University in New York, I did so without taking out a single loan. And it wasn’t because I was Hawkings-brilliant or Gates-wealthy. I planned meticulously, made sacrifices, and worked hard. This, I believed, was the way Americans did things and got what they wanted.

Legal Immigration

Affording US tuition wasn’t easy for my lower-middle-class family, even at America’s cheapest schools. So, to earn the scholarships I had to have, I went above and beyond. While others partied, I spent my weekends studying and engaging in extracurricular activities that would boost my resume. When I didn’t understand a subject, my parents hired tutors with the little savings they had. While most of my classmates enjoyed their summers off, I was working at a department store six days a week from seven in the morning to 11 at night, building up savings for graduate school.

As a result, I was offered a tuition waiver and a graduate assistantship, which included a stipend and health care benefits. I had to work as a teaching assistant and later a research assistant for next to minimum wage. Even with this financial package, there were times when I couldn’t even afford so much as a cup of coffee with my classmates, which made it more difficult to socialize and fit in.

How a State Plans to Turn Coal Country Into Coding Country

Dana Goldstein:

There is little evidence that public school computer science lessons can drive economic change. But those who see them as fundamental to understanding today’s world say the grand promises from politicians do not matter. Nationwide, most students never have the opportunity to take a coding course. Now Wyoming’s 48 school districts have until the 2022-23 school year to begin teaching computer science at every grade level.

“I’m comfortable with the economic argument happening because a side effect of that is tens of thousands of fifth graders learning programming who otherwise wouldn’t have had that opportunity,” said David Weintrop, a professor at the University of Maryland and an expert on how computer science is taught.

Full of coal mines, vast cattle ranches and snow-capped peaks, Wyoming is perhaps an unlikely leader in a drive to bring coding into the classroom. Computer programming and software development account for fewer than two jobs per 1,000 here, compared with 19 per 1,000 in Washington State, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A student attended a protest at an Australian uni. Days later Chinese officials visited his family

Fergus Hunter:

Chinese authorities approached the family of an international student who participated in high-profile protests at an Australian university and warned his parents of the potential consequences of political dissent.

The apparent intimidation tactics suggest the Chinese government was monitoring the demonstration at the University of Queensland to record who attended, in a development one influential Liberal MP said was alarming.

22 percent of millennials say they have “no friends”

Brian Resnick:

Furthermore, 22 percent of millennials in the poll said they had zero friends. Twenty-seven percent said they had “no close friends,” 30 percent said they have “no best friends,” and 25 percent said they have no acquaintances. (I wonder if the poll respondents have differing thoughts on what “acquaintance” means; I take it to mean “people you interact with now and then.”)

In comparison, just 16 percent of Gen Xers and 9 percent of baby boomers say they have no friends.

What’s the difference between statistics and machine learning?

Jonathan Bartlett:

This post is certainly not going to tell you what the difference machine learning and statistics is. Rather I hope that it spurs readers of the post to help me understand their differences.

Historically I think it’s the case that machine learning algorithms were developed in computer science departments of universities, whereas statistics was developed within mathematics or statistics departments. But this is merely about the historical origins, rather than any fundamental distinction.

Machine learning (about which I know a lot less) tends I think to focus on algorithms, and a subset of these has as their objective to prediction some outcome based on a set of inputs (or predictors as we might call them in statistics). In contrast to parametric statistical models, these algorithms typically do not make rigid assumptions about the relationships between the inputs and the outcome, and therefore can perform well then the dependence of the outcome on the predictors is complex or non-linear. The potential to capture such complex relationships is however not unique to machine learning – within statistical models we have flexible parametric / semiparametric, and even non-parametric methods such as non-parametric regression.

Civics: Google Heavily Favors CNN and Left Media in Mass Shooting Coverage


To conduct the audit, AllSides searched 10 terms related to the weekend’s tragedies in an incognito Google Chrome browser. Each term was searched six times at 30 minute intervals on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons (EST) for a total of 7.5 hours. AllSides only recorded news stories that appeared as the top three results in Google’s “Top Stories” section for each search query, and noted each source’s AllSides Media Bias Rating. Across each of the 174 queries, AllSides revealed significant Google bias toward prominent left-leaning media outlets. View the raw data here.

This analysis does not show any direct evidence that Google is intentionally suppressing voices from the right in relation to the shootings. It may be that a lack of right-leaning news media overall accounts for the huge difference between left and right-leaning appearances in Google News, or is perhaps an unintended consequence of Google’s algorithm.

This audit had a small sample size, yet tracks closely with prior data on Google bias. Last year, AllSides released a 39-page report on Google News bias that revealed Google News is 65% biased toward sources with a left-wing media bias. In addition, a lengthy audit conducted by researchers at Northwestern University also found Google’s “Top Stories” section favors Left media outlets.

AllSides reviewed 70 news sources on the right, and most of them did cover the weekend’s news along with left-wing media. Yet Fox News (16 times), National Review (2) and the Washington Examiner (1) were the only right-wing media sources that appeared in any of the 174 search queries performed by AllSides — and only for the very general query “Trump.”

Many taxpayer supported K-12 school districts use Google services, including Madison.

Hamilton County Schools (TN) calls concerns about ‘white privilege’ slides a ‘misrepresentation’

Meghan Mangrum:

Some community members are calling a training session that included conversations about racism, white privilege and equity attended by Hamilton County teachers Friday inappropriate.

Dozens of teachers in Hamilton County’s Opportunity Zone, which consists of the district’s 12 highest-needs, lowest-performing schools, were gathered for the third annual Urban Education Institute on Friday as they prepared to welcome their students back to school next week.

Former NFL player Robert Jackson served as the guest speaker for the event.

Jackson also presented at the district’s second Urban Education Institute held in January, where teachers learned about how trauma at home could affect students’ performance in the classroom.

On Friday, Jackson led the teachers through what the district said was a presentation about “how adverse childhood experiences can impact behavior in the classroom and methods to have effective classroom management.”

Some of the slides included in Jackson’s presentation provided as examples of white privilege that white people are less likely to be followed, interrogated or searched by law enforcement; their skin tone will not affect their credit or financial responsibility; when accused of a crime, white people are portrayed as good people; and they don’t lose opportunities when mistakes are made.

Western Academia Helps Build China’s Automated Racism

Charles Rollet:

Last summer, a respected U.S. academic journal about data mining published a study titled “Facial feature discovery for ethnicity recognition”, authored by four professors in China and one in Australia. The study found that an effective way to automatically predict the ethnicity of minorities in China was for facial recognition systems to focus on specific, T-shaped regions of their faces. In order to reach this conclusion, over 7,000 photographs were taken of 300 Uyghur, Tibetan, and Korean students at Dalian Minzu University in northeastern China.

The study, which received funding from Chinese government foundations, attracted little attention when it was published, but went viral at the end of May when PhD student Os Keyes tweeted out its abstract, writing: “TIL [today I learned] there’s a shitton of computer vision literature in 2017-2018 that COINCIDENTALLY tries to build facial recognition for Uyghur people. How. Curious.” Keyes’ post was retweeted over 500 times.

One is Chinese. One is American. How a journalist discovered and reunited identical twins

Barbara Demick:

In 2009, as a Beijing-based correspondent, I traveled the backwaters of central China to learn more about the origins of the more than 80,000 girls who had been adopted in the United States…

One of the families I met in a village wedged between rice paddies in Hunan province had lost one of their twin daughters. Twins are normally permitted, but this family already had two older daughters…

I had envisioned tears, hugs, perhaps somebody fainting or even collapsing. That’s what happened when I covered a reunion of a birth family and adoptee years earlier. But histrionics were not in the style of the Zeng family…

Marsha gave the speech that she had in effect practiced for nearly 10 years, ever since she found out Esther had been stolen from her family. “Esther’s name means star. She has been a bright star in my life,” she began. “But I would never have adopted her if I knew she was stolen from you. It gives me pain knowing that my gain was your loss.”

Mental Health and Social Media

The Economist:

FACEBOOK users in America spend about 42 minutes a day on the social-media platform, according to eMarketer, a research firm. If Josh Hawley has his way, this figure will be capped at 30 minutes. On July 30th the junior senator from Missouri unveiled the “Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act”, or SMART Act. The bill would limit social-media usage to half an hour a day (users would be able to bypass the limit by adjusting their app settings). It would also ban addictive features, such as “infinite scroll” (when a user’s entire feed can be seen in one visit) and “autoplay” (when online videos load automatically one after another).

Mr Hawley’s proposal may not go down well with his constituents. A survey in January and February 2019 from the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, found that 69% of American adults use Facebook; of these users, more than half visit the site “several times a day”. YouTube is even more popular, with 73% of adults saying they watch videos on the platform. For those aged 18 to 24, the figure is 90%. Instagram, a photo-sharing app, is used by 37% of adults. When Pew first conducted the survey in 2012, only a slim majority of Americans used Facebook. Fewer than one in ten had an Instagram account.

An Obama-era regulation is likely to establish unconstitutional racial quotas

Lucas VebberWilliam D. Flanders:

The Fordham Institute’s recent survey of teachers has brought the issue of discipline reform back to the forefront. But even as teachers say that discipline policies are leading to unsafe educational environments, a new federal rule threatens to further exacerbate the issue.

In the final month of the Obama Administration, the Department of Education (ED) created a new rule regarding minority students with disabilities in the United States that puts districts in a lose-lose situation. To address “significant disproportionality” in the rates of identification of disabilities and discipline policies for these students, ED required states to establish risk ratio thresholds (RRTs), a number above which a district would be found to have significant disproportionality. RRTs compare the rate of identification or discipline for minority students with disabilities with the rates for the rest of the disabled population. An RRT of 4 for suspensions, for example, would mean that disabled students in a particular racial group were four times as likely as students in all other groups of disabled students to be suspended. An RTT of 4 for identification would mean that students from a particular minority group are four times as likely to be identified as having a disability relative to other students. The consequence for a district deemed disproportionate is a loss of some federal education dollars. Under the Trump Administration, ED attempted to delay this rule to allow time to properly consider the concerns that the underlying regulation could set up an unconstitutional system of racial quotas.

The Education Department’s attempt to delay the regulation was borne out of concerns that the rule itself was unconstitutional. This is because racial quotas are unconstitutional. Thus, to the extent that the IDEA regulation creates a de facto racial quota system, it would be unconstitutional. Such quotas force exactly what the law requires them to prevent: either over-identification of one racial group or under-identification of another. Quotas rest on the assumption that differences in disciplinary outcomes for certain groups of students are based largely on racism on the part of school officials rather than recognizing the possibility that real differences in behavior may exist. The fear by many critics of the underlying “significant disproportionality” regulation is that by requiring states to establish RRTs to set specific numerical thresholds, they will incentivize those states to adopt de facto racial quota systems, as schools will need to stay under the RRT number or those states will risk losing federal education funding.

Prisons are packed because prosecutors are coercing plea deals. And, yes, it’s totally legal.

Clark Neily:

America is the most prosperous country in the history of the world. We excel at innovation and mass production — and nowhere is that more true today than our criminal justice system, which features a streamlined process for transforming millions of suspects into convicted criminals quickly, efficiently and without the hassle of a constitutionally prescribed jury trial.

It’s called coercive plea bargaining, and it’s the secret sauce that helps us maintain the world’s highest incarceration rate.

According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, of the roughly 80,000 federal prosecutions initiated in 2018, just two percent went to trial. More than 97 percent of federal criminal convictions are obtained through plea bargains, and the states are not far behind at 94 percent. Why are people so eager to confess their guilt instead of challenging the government to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to the satisfaction of a unanimous jury?


Brian Barrett:

FOR SEVERAL DECADES, textbook publishers followed the same basic model: Pitch a hefty tome of knowledge to faculty for inclusion in lesson plans; charge students an equally hefty sum; revise and update its content as needed every few years. Repeat. But the last several years have seen a shift at colleges and universities—one that has more recently turned tectonic.

In a way, the evolution of the textbook has mirrored that in every other industry. Ownership has given way to rentals, and analog to digital. Within the broad strokes of that transition, though, lie divergent ideas about not just what learning should look like in the 21st century but how affordable to make it.



The ruling in Patel v. Facebook affirms the district court’s certification of a class of Facebook users in Illinois who have alleged that the company violated their rights under their state’s Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). The Illinois statute imposes protections against companies collecting and storing biometric information, including using face recognition technology, without the user’s knowledge and consent. The suit alleges that Facebook’s practice of using face recognition technology to identify users in digital images uploaded to the site without disclosing its use of face recognition or obtaining consent violates state law.

“This decision is a strong recognition of the dangers of unfettered use of face surveillance technology,” said Nathan Freed Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “The capability to instantaneously identify and track people based on their faces raises chilling potential for privacy violations at an unprecedented scale. Both corporations and the government are now on notice that this technology poses unique risks to people’s privacy and safety.”

Why Public Schools Can’t Have Nice Values

Neal McCluskey:

It’s nearing back-to-school time, and that means in addition to lots of yellow buses, we’ll be seeing the annual spate of education polls. The first one just came out—the 2019 Phi Delta Kappa poll—and it furnishes some interesting information illustrating why it’s so hard for public schools to inculcate values. Short answer: we just don’t agree on them, and a lot of people fear what their kids might be taught.

This edition of the survey—PDK, by the way, is an organization of professional educators—has a special focus on teaching religion, civics, and other values-based subjects, as well as presenting regular fare such as grades for public schools and lists of perceived “biggest problems.” Taken as a whole, it reveals that most people want values taught, but there is major disagreement about what values specifically, and the possible consequences of teaching them. It’s what we see play out in districts nationwide on Cato’s Public Schooling Battle Map, and no doubt in many places not on the Map because conflicts and concerns don’t make it onto reporters’ radars.

Start with civics. A central promise since the earliest days of American public schooling advocacy was that “common” schools would form good citizens. But to the extent that involves things like teaching how government works, it’s not happening. One reason may be that while those who are supposed to govern public schools—“the people”—overwhelmingly agree that civics should be taught, they don’t think it is nearly as important as other things. When asked what “the main goal of a public school education” should be, only 25 percent of respondents replied “to prepare students to be good citizens.” 21 percent said “to prepare students for work” and 53 percent “to prepare students academically.” The results specifically for parents, in the chart below, were similar.

Genetic Endowments and Wealth Inequality

Daniel Barth, Nicholas W. Papageorge and Kevin Thom:

Our use of the EA score as a measure of biological traits linked to human capital is related to previous attempts in the literature to measure ability through the use of tests scores such as IQ or the AFQT…We note two important differences between the EA score and a measure like IQ that make it valuable to study polygenic scores. First, a polygenic score like the EA score can overcome some interpretational challenges related to IQ and other cognitive test scores. Environmental factors have been found to influence intelligence test results and to moderate genetic influences on IQ (Tucker-Drob and Bates, 2015). It is true that differences in the EA score may reflect differences in environments or investments because parents with high EA scores may also be more likely to invest in their children. However, the EA score is fixed at conception, which means that post-birth investments cannot causally change the value of the score. A measure like IQ suffers from both of these interpretational challenges. High IQ parents might have high IQ children because of the genes that they pass on, but also because of the positive investments that they make…Compared to a cognitive test score like IQ, the EA score may also measure a wider variety of relevant endowments. This is especially important given research, including relatively recent papers in economics, emphasizing the importance of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills in shaping life-cycle outcomes (Heckman and Rubinstein, 2001). Existing evidence suggests a correlation of approximately 0.20 between a cognitive test score available for HRS respondents and the EA score (Papageorge and Thom, 2016). This relatively modest correlation could arise if both variables measure the same underlying cognitive traits with error, or if they measure different traits. However, Papageorge and Thom (2016) find that the relationship between the EA score and income differs substantially from the relationship between later-life cognition scores and income, suggesting that the EA score contains unique information…

…we interpret the EA score as measuring a basket of genetic factors that influence traits relevant for human capital accumulation.

The Death of Social Reciprocity in the Era of Digital Distraction

Brian Solis:

You’re walking along the street, and bump into a friend. After a quick hello, this friend compliments you. What do you do in response? Most likely, offer a compliment in return. Or, at the least, say thank you.
A few steps further down the street, you see someone drop a wallet. You pick it up and hand it to them. They say thank you. Your response: “You’re welcome.”
For most of us, interactions throughout each day are filled with social reciprocity. It’s instantaneous and second nature. Even chimps have been shown to engage in it. It can be a very good thing. But in recent years, digital distraction has turned it into a problem.

‘Once Their Mental State Is Healthy, They Will Be Able to Live Happily in Society’

Timothy Grose:

As such, we should pause before impetuously tracing the practice of describing Islam as an illness, disease, or even cancer to “Western” politicians. While the United States-led “War on Terror” and subsequent global anxieties over Islam have undeniably emboldened the C.C.P. to act with impudence toward Turkic Muslim populations, we must also recognize a history of C.C.P. attempts to pathologize any culture that poses a political threat.

Indeed, the Party has applied the language of pathology—and to great utility—to theorize state violence towards non-Han cultures. The application of this language in official discourse taps into a long history of what anthropologist Stevan Harrell called China’s “civilizing project,” treating people on China’s geographic and cultural periphery as inferior and therefore deserving of the colonial predation visited upon them. The pathology metaphor dwells outside the spotlights that beam down on colorful exhibits of ethnic minority cultures. “Sick” minorities cannot lure tourists or sell souvenir trinkets, so this imagery rarely appears in popular media. Yet, the C.C.P. has routinely portrayed religious and ethnic minorities as sickly patients and desperate addicts in need of the state’s salvation. As early as 1942, Mao expressed that “our object in exposing errors and criticizing shortcoming is like that of a doctor curing a disease.” Oftentimes, officials identify these “shortcomings” when examining ethnic and religious cultures, which the C.C.P. and mainstream Han society consider “backward” and in need of rectification. For example, “unscientific” Tibetan medicine was the target of Mao-era campaigns that sought to promote specifically Chinese treatments. In one poster from this era, visibly Han doctors in lab coats are treating chupa-wearing Tibetan patients on the steppe. More recently, Falun Gong practitioners have been described as “addicts” who can only be redeemed through psychiatric rehabilitation. Although disparate in time and place, these examples betray an evolution of the C.C.P.’s approach towards non-mainstream cultures: Collective impatience at “backward” ethnic and religious minorities’ failure to conform gives permission to officials to administer aggressive treatment.

A high-ranking official during the crackdown on the Falun Gong “outbreak” in the 1990s-2000s, Chen Quanguo has now emerged as the chief surgeon in Xinjiang. Under Chen’s rule, C.C.P. officials in the region have extended the lexicon of pathology to its recent efforts to incarcerate scores of Turkic Muslims, especially Uighurs and Kazakhs. The Party’s use of phrases such as “contracting illness” (ganran bingdu), “penetrate like an intravenous needle” (guanchuan diandi), and “cure” or “reform through criticism” exposes an escalation of the C.C.P.’s rhetoric: Turkic Muslims must be treated as patients. Indeed, the C.C.P.’s Islamophobia and strategies to deal with “extremism” were not “made in the West.” Rather, the Party has adapted and expanded its usage of the Mao-era term “targeted population” (zhongdian renkou) to Xinjiang’s Turkic Muslims, whom officials consider to be existential threats to P.R.C. sovereignty and roadblocks to realizing its Belt and Road Initiative. This decision effectively squeezes these ethno-religious groups in the same socio-political and criminal category as individuals convicted of violent crime, drug addicts, political activists, and mental health patients. Using the pathology metaphor within the context of the “targeted population” label, the C.C.P. can simultaneously justify repression (i.e. provide a cure), apply this repression to large segments of society (i.e. treat an outbreak), and deflect blame from its own policies (i.e. offer an index case to an epidemiology that originates outside China).

The Knowledge Gap

Greg Ashman:

Let me lead you through a portal created in the basement of some secretive and sinister government laboratory and into the Educational Upside Down.

The Educational Upside Down is a parallel dimension where elementary school children are captivated by street signs and bored rigid by myths and tales of heroes. It is a dimension where early readers work out the relationships between the sounds of English and the letters that represent these sounds largely by being immersed in anodyne, specially written story books. Yet, weirdly, it is also a dimension where children have to be explicitly taught ‘comprehension strategies’ to understand what they read, such as activating their prior knowledge or deciding which sentence is the most important, and then must practice these strategies for the greater part of the school day. This is a dimension where knowledge of the world—that same prior knowledge that needs activating—is the last thing that it would occur to anyone to actually teach children in schools.

The Educational Upside Down is frightening and surreal, not merely because it denies all common sense, but because it embraces the precise opposite of what the available scientific evidence shows to be effective teaching. Although some fortunate children will pick up letter-sound relationships through immersion, most do need to be explicitly taught. In contrast, comprehension is chiefly a natural process. Once the squiggles on the page have been decoded, the most important factor in understanding them is the vocabulary and background knowledge a child possesses. Comprehension strategies can provide a limited boost, but they will never make up for a lack of knowledge and they do not need endless, repetitive, monotonous, soul-destroying practice.

I would like to be able to claim this dimension is a mirror image of the world we live in, but according to Natalie Wexler it is the world we live in. Or at least it is the reality of American classrooms today; a reality that, through America’s vast soft power, leaches out into every corner of the globe. Wexler’s new book, The Knowledge Gap: The hidden causes of America’s broken education system—and how to fix it, charts its strange landscape, animating it with stories from classrooms that Wexler visited while trying to diagnose the cause of this topsy-turvy state of affairs.

Wexler gathers together the usual suspects—standardised tests, politicians, hubristic billionaires and education faculties—and demonstrates that they all shoulder some of the responsibility.

Civics: Is Google Evil?

Unix Sheikh:

First of all, why do we accept that the main access to information on the Internet is controlled by big corporate search engines like Google and Bing? Why have governments and independent organizations around the world not created independent search engines for the public to use? Is it because governments are just as interested in spying on people as big corporations are?

Imagine that our public libraries around the world suddenly became controlled by big corporations who would control what books you can read and when you can read them. Well, this is how most of the Internet is run today, and it’s getting much worse.

When you search on Google, the results are not independent or free, rather the results are controlled and limited. Limited by location, time, IP address, browser fingerprint and other stuff and this is not good. No corporation should have the power to control what information we – the people – have access to on the Internet.

Google is a company, not a government or an independent organization. Google makes most of its money using people’s data for targeted advertising. People get to use Googles products for free and in return the company gets access to the users personal information to better place ads. And this is how Google makes most of its money and Google very clearly describes the way they do business in their privacy policy, and if you don’t like the way they do business, then don’t use Googles services. But is it really that simple?

No, it’s not that simple because nobody has provided people with independent privacy respecting search engines or other ways to access the content on the Internet. Sure, a few alternative search engines exist like Duckduckgo, but even though these search engines are really good, they still cannot quite measure up to the quality of Googles search results, at least not yet, and they are not really independent – meaning they still rely on collection search results from the big corporate search engines.

Many taxpayer supported school districts, including Madison, use Google services.

American Graduates Of China’s Yenching Academy Are Being Questioned By The FBI

Emily Yang:

A sudden knock at one’s door. An unexpected call to meet off campus. Surreptitious visits to family members.

American graduates of the prestigious Yenching Academy, a one- to two-year master’s degree program housed at Beijing’s elite Peking University, are being approached and questioned by the FBI about the time they spent in China. In the last two years, at least five Yenching graduates have been approached by agents to gather intelligence on the program and to ascertain whether they have been co-opted by Chinese espionage efforts.

Brian Kim is one of them. Five months ago, Kim received a call from an unfamiliar number. “It was a person who claimed to be an FBI agent, and I immediately thought it was a scam call,” Kim recalls.

Now beginning his second year at Yale Law School, Kim was able to verify the agent’s identity with the local FBI office in New Haven, Conn., the next day. He arranged for two FBI agents to meet him at a coffee shop near Yale’s campus, where, over the next hour, they grilled him on his personal and academic history.

Civics: Amazon Is Coaching Cops on How to Obtain Surveillance Footage Without a Warrant

Caroline Haskins:

Emails obtained from police department in Maywood, NJ—and emails from the police department of Bloomfield, NJ, which were also posted by Wired—show that Ring coaches police on how to obtain footage. The company provides cops with templates for requesting footage, which they do not need a court warrant to do. Ring suggests cops post often on Neighbors, Ring’s free “neighborhood watch” app, where Ring camera owners have the option of sharing their camera footage.

“I have noticed you have been posting alerts and receiving feedback from the community,” a Ring representative told Bloomfield police. “You are doing a great job interacting with them and that will be critical in increasing the opt-in rate.”

“The more users you have, the more useful the information you can collect,” the representative added.

“Seems like you wasted no time sending out your video Request out to Ring Users which is awesome!!” a Ring “Partner Success Associate” told Maywood police.

As reported by GovTech on Friday, police can request Ring camera footage directly from Amazon, even if a Ring customer denies to provide police with the footage. It’s a workaround that allows police to essentially “subpoena” anything captured on Ring cameras.

Texas Education AGency (DPI) investigative report cites (open Meetings) misconduct, recommends replacement of HISD board

Jacob Carpenter:

Texas Education Agency officials have recommended that a state-appointed governing team replace Houston ISD’s locally elected school board after a six-month investigation found several instances of alleged misconduct by some trustees, including violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, inappropriate influencing of vendor contracts and making false statements to investigators.

The recommendation and findings, issued by TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt, will not become final until HISD officials have had an opportunity to respond. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who leads the agency, ultimately will decide whether to oust HISD’s school board. HISD officials have until Aug. 15 to respond, and Morath likely would issue a final decision in the following weeks.

In his recommendation, Hewitt wrote that HISD trustees should be replaced by a state-appointed board due to their “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.”

The Chronicle reviewed a copy of the report Wednesday. It is not a public document.

Questions have been raised regarding the taxpayer supported Madison School Board’s compliance with open records and meeting laws.


Through interviews and a review of text messages, state investigators determined the five trustees — Board President Diana Dávila, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Sergio Lira, Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung — secretly met with former HISD superintendent Abelardo Saavedra in two separate groups to coordinate ousting Lathan and installing him as interim superintendent. The meetings took place at a Houston restaurant on the same day in October 2018, the report said. Investigators determined that arrangement constituted a “walking quorum,” in violation of state law that requires trustees to conduct district business in public.

Three days later, the five trustees voted to replace Lathan with Saavedra, offering no advance warning to the public or the other four board members about the move. Trustees reinstated Lathan within a week of the vote following intense public backlash. Lathan remains the district’s indefinite leader.

TEA officials interviewed trustees as part of their investigation, ultimately determining that Dávila and Lira falsely claimed in interviews with investigators that they only met one-on-one with Saavedra. In separate interviews, Saavedra and Flynn Vilaseca placed Dávila and Lira at the restaurant meetings, the report states.

In an interview Wednesday, Dávila said she provided her best recollection of meeting Saavedra to TEA investigators, and denied that she attempted to mislead state officials.

U.S. Teachers and Firefighters Are Funding Rise of China Tech Firms

Shelly Banjo, Lulu Yilun Chen, Janet Lorin and Adrian Leung:

The growing tension between China and the U.S. over trade and technological dominance is shining a spotlight on the billions of dollars that U.S. pension funds and college endowments have channeled into Chinese technology companies in search of investment returns.

China has become a rising power in technologies like artificial intelligence and facial-recognition software, helping fuel a trade dispute with the U.S. that escalated again over the past week with tit-for-tat measures from Washington and Beijing. Yet a large chunk of the capital behind China’s success can be traced back to U.S. funds that manage money for Texas teachers, San Francisco firefighters, Minnesota policemen and Louisiana judges.

It works like this: Pension funds from California to New Jersey and college endowments pour money into venture capital and private equity firms, which scour the globe for the best investment opportunities. In recent years, many of these firms have turned to China, helping fuel the success of global giants such as Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and rising stars like drone-maker DJI and artificial-intelligence pioneer SenseTime Group Ltd. Pension and endowment fund managers may recognize such investments could become politically unacceptable, but they also have a fiduciary responsibility to pursue lucrative returns for their clients.

Facebook and the News

Michael Nunez:

Illustration for article titled Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News
Several former Facebook “news curators,” as they were known internally, also told Gizmodo that they were instructed to artificially “inject” selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion—or in some cases weren’t trending at all. The former curators, all of whom worked as contractors, also said they were directed not to include news about Facebook itself in the trending module.

In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing—but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists “topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.”

These new allegations emerged after Gizmodo last week revealed details about the inner workings of Facebook’s trending news team—a small group of young journalists, primarily educated at Ivy League or private East Coast universities, who curate the “trending” module on the upper-right-hand corner of the site. As we reported last week, curators have access to a ranked list of trending topics surfaced by Facebook’s algorithm, which prioritizes the stories that should be shown to Facebook users in the trending section. The curators write headlines and summaries of each topic, and include links to news sites. The section, which launched in 2014, constitutes some of the most powerful real estate on the internet and helps dictate what news Facebook’s users—167 million in the US alone—are reading at any given moment.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,” said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. “I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Throwing cold water on extreme heat hype

Joel Myers:

New York City has not had a daily high temperature above 100 degrees since 2012, and it has had only five such days since 2002. However, in a previous 18-year span from 1984 through 2001, New York City had nine days at 100 degrees or higher. When the power went out in New York City earlier this month, the temperature didn’t even get to 100 degrees – it was 95, which is not extreme. For comparison, there were 12 days at 95 degrees or higher in 1999 alone.
Kansas City, Missouri, for example, experienced an average of 18.7 days a year at 100 degrees or higher during the 1930s, compared to just 5.5 a year over the last 10 years. And over the last 30 years, Kansas City has averaged only 4.8 days a year at 100 degrees or higher, which is only one-quarter of the frequency of days at 100 degrees or higher in the 1930s.
Here is a fact rarely, if ever, mentioned: 26 of the 50 states set their all-time high temperature records during the 1930s that still stand (some have since been tied). And an additional 11 state all-time high temperature records were set before 1930 and only two states have all-time record high temperatures that were set in the 21st century (South Dakota and South Carolina).
So 37 of the 50 states have an all-time high temperature record not exceeded for more than 75 years. Given these numbers and the decreased frequency of days of 100 degrees or higher, it cannot be said that either the frequency or magnitude of heat waves is more common today.

A new perspective on memorization practices among East Asian students based on PISA 2012

Yi-Jhen Wu, Claus H. Carstensen & Jihyun Lee:

This study examined learning strategy use in mathematics among East Asian students in East Asian educational systems. By employing latent class analysis on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2012 data, we found four classes of learning strategy types, namely memorization with metacognitive strategies (17.49%), metacognitive strategies with memorization (50.70%), elaboration only (10.33%), and metacognitive strategies with elaboration (16.47%). The results showed that the majority of the students in all seven East Asian educational systems belonged to the ‘metacognitive strategies with memorization’ class, and most students adopted more than one type of learning strategy when learning mathematics. Additionally, students who reported the use of metacognitive strategies along with either memorization or elaboration showed higher mathematics achievement. We conclude that the cognitive processes employed by students of East Asian backgrounds are more complex and nuanced than the previous perception that they relied heavily on memorization.

The regression of America’s big progressive cities

Joel Kotkin:

Take tech rich San Francisco, where decades of tolerance for even extreme deviant behavior has helped create a city with more drug addicts than high school students, and so much feces on the street that one website has created a “poop map.” In Southern California’s far more proletarian city of Los Angeles, we have a downtown filled with overbuilt, overpriced apartments and is, like Baltimore, being overrun with rats. A UN official last year compared conditions on the city’s Skid Row to those of Syrian refugee camps.

One would think such nasty problems would spark something of a political rebellion, as seen in previous decades with the rise of successful, pragmatic mayors — Bob Lanier and Bill White in Houston, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg in New York, and Richard Riordan in Los Angeles. But so far, at least, many of today’s big city mayors seem more interested in bolstering their “resistance” bona fides than governing effectively.

Los Angeles’ Eric Garcetti, for example, speaks enthusiastically about his own “green new deal” and turning the city into a transit Valhalla even as blight and homelessness expand inexorably. The mayor is less rhapsodic about practical things that people actually need, such as decent roads, reliable water supply or electricity.

Economic growth generally is not much of a priority for the woke urban political class. In New York, Rep. Ocasio Alexandria Cortez’s allies succeeded in driving Amazon’s new headquarters out of her district. Meanwhile her socialist comrades in Seattle have helped persuade the on-line giant to relocate more of its employees out to a massive new building in the suburb of Bellevue while the Emerald City hosts a rising homeless population.

Mortality Change Among Less Educated Americans

Paul Novosad and Charlie Rafkin:

Chanting mortality rates among less educated Americans are difficult to interpret because the least educated groups (e.g. dropouts) become smaller and more negatively selected over time. New partial identification methods let us calculate mortality changes at constant education percentiles from 1992–2015. We find that middle-age mortality increases among non-Hispanic whites are driven almost entirely by changes in the bottom 10% of the education distribution. Drivers of mortality change differ substantially across groups. Deaths of despair explain a large share of mortality change among young non-Hispanic whites, but a small share among older whites and almost none among non-Hispanic blacks.

Western Academia Helps Build China’s Automated Racism

Charles Rollet:

Last summer, a respected U.S. academic journal about data mining published a study titled “Facial feature discovery for ethnicity recognition”, authored by four professors in China and one in Australia. The study found that an effective way to automatically predict the ethnicity of minorities in China was for facial recognition systems to focus on specific, T-shaped regions of their faces. In order to reach this conclusion, over 7,000 photographs were taken of 300 Uyghur, Tibetan, and Korean students at Dalian Minzu University in northeastern China.

The study, which received funding from Chinese government foundations, attracted little attention when it was published, but went viral at the end of May when PhD student Os Keyes tweeted out its abstract, writing: “TIL [today I learned] there’s a shitton of computer vision literature in 2017-2018 that COINCIDENTALLY tries to build facial recognition for Uyghur people. How. Curious.” Keyes’ post was retweeted over 500 times.

The study sparked concern for good reason. China’s government is waging a well-documented mass surveillance and internment campaign against the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim people in the country’s far western region of Xinjiang, where around one million of them have been detained in “re-education” camps. From facial recognition cameras in mosques to mass DNA collection and iris scans, biometrics are being deployed in Xinjiang to track Uyghurs and other minorities on an unprecedented scale. Most of China’s billion-dollar facial recognition startups now sell ethnicity analytics software for police to automatically distinguish Uyghurs from others.

Despite this, academic papers that refine facial recognition techniques to identify Uyghurs are being published in U.S. and European academic journals and presented at international computer science conferences. China’s largest biometrics research conference, last held in Xinjiang in 2018, included prominent U.S. artificial intelligence (AI) researchers as keynote speakers, including one from Microsoft. One paper at the conference, co-authored by local police, discussed ways to find “terrorism” and “extreme religion” content in Uyghur script.

Separately, Imperial College London is hosting an open facial recognition competition where one of the sponsors is a Chinese AI startup called DeepGlint which advertises its Uyghur ethnicity recognition capabilities to police on its Chinese website, where it boasts of several Xinjiang security projects. The competition’s organizer stated he was not aware of DeepGlint’s role tracking Uyghurs and said he wouldn’t accept funding from DeepGlint in the future.

How Ferguson, Mo., now could help reform public education funding

Aaron Garth Smith:

Historically, the Ferguson-Florissant School District has underperformed. In fact, in the school-year before Dr. Joseph Davis took over as superintendent in 2015, a paltry 16 students took Advancement Placement exams, which help prepare students for college. Although the district has shown signs of improvement, many of its 10,000 students – 83 percent of whom are black – still fall short of meeting the state’s academic standards. For example, just 27 percent of the district’s third-graders are proficient in English language arts, compared to about 73 percent for the nearby School District of Clayton, a predominantly white school district.

Only 10 miles separate the two districts’ offices, yet in 2017-18, Clayton’s received an additional 53 percent in state and local operating revenue. Clayton got $19,513 per average daily attendance (ADA) compared to just $12,755 for Ferguson. This disparity is consistent with the overall funding picture among St. Louis County’s 22 traditional school districts: students in communities with greater proportions of black and low-income students tend to be shortchanged relative to their more affluent neighbors.

The school districts with the highest proportion of black students – Riverview and Jennings – both rank near the bottom in per-pupil revenue and take in less than half of the county’s highest-spending district, Brentwood. Astoundingly, Brentwood generated more than $21,000 per ADA in 2017-18.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts – between $18.5k and 20k per student, depending on the district documents reviewed.

No Experts Need Apply

Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters (170-171), via Will Fitzhugh:


In 2002, a distinguished historian wrote that the widely told tales of “No Irish Need Apply” signs in late nineteenth-century America were myths. The University of Illinois professor Richard Jensen said that such signs were inventions, “myths of victimization,” passed down from Irish immigrants to their children until they reached the unassailable status of urban legends. For over a decade, most historians accepted Jensen’s scholarship on the matter. Opponents of Jensen’s thesis were dismissed—sometimes by Jensen himself—as Irish-American loyalists.

In a 2015 story that seemed to encapsulate the death of expertise, an eighth grader named Rebecca Fried claimed that Jensen was wrong, not least because of research she did on Google. She was respectful, but determined. “He has been doing scholarly work for decades before I was born, and the last thing I want to do was show disrespect for him and his work,” she said later. It all seemed to be just another case of a precocious child telling an experienced teacher—an emeritus professor of history, no less—that he had not done his homework. As it turns out, she was right and he was wrong. Such signs existed, and they weren’t that hard to find. For years, other scholars had wrestled with Jensen’s claims, but they fought with his work inside the thicket of professional historiography. Meanwhile, outside the academy, Jensen’s assertion was quickly accepted and trumpeted as a case of an imagined grievance among Irish-Americans. (Vox, of course, loved the original Jensen piece.)

Young Rebecca, however, did what a sensible person would: she started looking through databases of old newspapers. She found the signs, as the Daily Beast later reported, “collecting a handful of examples, then dozens, then more. She went to as many newspaper databases as she could. Then she thought, somebody had to have done this before, right?” As it turned out, neither Jensen nor anyone else had apparently bothered to do this basic fact-checking. Jensen later fired back, trying to rebut the work of a grade-schooler by claiming that he was right but that he could have been more accurate in his claims. Debate over his thesis, as the Smithsonian magazine later put it, “may still be raging in the comments section” of various Internet lists, but Fried’s work proves “that anyone with a curious mind and a nose for research can challenge the historical status quo.” Miss Fried, for her part, has now entered high school with a published piece in the Journal of Social History.

Mckenna Kohlenberg: Why transparency is needed in Madison’s superintendent hiring process, and how to do it

Mckenna Kohlenberg:

My concern stems from recent Board actions that I find concerning enough to warrant this stern message. As local press has noted (here too), the Board’s recent activities suggest a troublesome pattern of skirting, if not outright violating, open meetings and public records laws.

Wisconsin law requires school boards, like other local public bodies, to: a) hold their meetings publicly, hold them in reasonably accessible places, and open them to all citizens; b) have a quorum of members (usually a majority or more) before taking official actions; and c) precede each meeting with public notice, which includes to news outlets that have filed a written request for such notice.

There are narrow exemptions to the state’s open meetings laws. For example, if a school board is to vote on a motion related to considering an employee’s employment, they may be exempt and may move to convene in a closed session instead. Motions to convene in closed session can be adopted only if the body’s authority announces to those in attendance the nature of the business to be considered at such closed session (i.e. the reason the meeting should be exempt from the open meetings law); further, this information, in addition to the vote of each member of the body, must be recorded in the meeting’s records.

Two recent official actions by the Board leave me particularly wary. First, the hiring of an interim superintendent. Following Dr. Cheatham’s resignation announcement to the Board during a closed session meeting on May 6, the Board held five additional closed session meetings at which the hiring of her replacement was on the agenda.

Only after The Cap Times reported that the Board was seriously considering Nancy Hanks for the interim position did the Board hold two open “workshop” sessions, though no votes were officially taken during these sessions. And when local reporters submitted multiple open records requests related to the Board’s hiring process, including for its list of top choices and its list of all possible choices, MMSD legal counsel stated that no such records existed.

Further, in response to the reporters’ additional open records request for meeting minutes from five of the Board’s closed sessions spanning May 30 to June 17, the Board’s secretary stated that the minutes hadn’t been transcribed yet.

Second, and similarly unsettling, was the Board’s official action on July 22 — a vote — to fill the seat left vacant by Mary Burke with Savion Castro. The vote occurred during an open session workshop during which no public comment was permitted. The open session workshop immediately followed a closed session meeting (the posted agenda for the closed meeting stated its purpose was to address a teacher discipline matter).

I’ve heard local education experts, attorneys, and parents call the open workshop “choreographed” and “a performance.”

Did the Board really narrow the pool of applicants from 29 to 1 — unanimously — in a matter of 75 minutes? Or was the decision made ahead of time, during closed session meetings for which no records exist — or at least for which no records are publicly accessible, in violation of the closed session requirement that votes be kept as part of meeting records? Alternatively, and perhaps even more troublesome, was the decision the result of conversations tantamount to walking quorums?

So why hold open sessions at all? What purpose can they possibly serve you in making decisions, Board, if they’re not actually a forum for decision-making?

Related: Transparency, and Accountability, an Example: The MMSD Interim Superintendent Search Process by TJ Mertz.

Notes and links on the taxpayer supported Madison School Board’s Superintendent search expedition, and “what will be different, this time (2013)?”

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts – between $18.5k and 20k per student, depending on the district documents reviewed.

The City University of New York moves to eliminate objective testing—reversing the very reforms that had pulled it out of a long decline

Bob McManus:

The City University of New York has announced plans to eliminate objective testing intended to determine which of its incoming students can do college-level work and which require remediation. Politico reports that CUNY chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez plans to move the university “away from high-stakes testing” while “reducing its reliance on placement tests students must take to determine whether they need remedial interventions.”

CUNY has been here once before—and the results nearly killed the university. Adjusted for euphemism, the decision points toward a reversal of 1990s-era reforms that pulled the university out of a long period of stagnation and decline. Abandoning testing would represent an effective return to so-called open-admissions policies from the 1960s and 1970s. Those allowed virtually anybody who could stumble through CUNY’s front door to enroll. Eventually, the university’s classrooms filled up with unqualified students, severely degraded the quality of education, and reduced the once-great university to a national laughingstock. CUNY’s rescue, a joint venture of then-governor George Pataki, then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, and others, was not easily achieved—and it will doubtless take some time for the university’s new admissions policy to start showing damaging effects. But that’s just a matter of time.

The new policy is a huge win for teachers’ unions and unaccountable bureaucrats because it greatly relieves pressure on New York City’s public schools to do better. It was achieved with the silent acquiescence of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the only politician in the state who could have stopped it. Back in 2012, Cuomo declared himself the chief lobbyist for New York’s public school students, and for a while, he really was—promoting and protecting charter schools, strengthening accountability for teachers and school administrators, and—critically—supporting student-performance benchmarks. In recent years, though, he’s been silent, standing aside as the Albany legislature refused to allow New York City’s astonishingly effective charter school movement to expand; as hard-won teacher-accountability reforms were peeled away and discarded; and as the state Board of Regents moved to abandon its 150-year-old practice of proficiency testing of high school students statewide. And now CUNY is following suit, embracing a new open-admissions era.

More On A Dean’s Perspective On Diversity, Socioeconomics, The LSAT, And The U.S. News Law School Rankings

Paul Caron:

The chart shows that Caucasian and Asian applicants are over-represented (compared to their share of the applicant pool) in the top 160-180 LSAT band (Caucasians comprise 57% of total applicants, and 68% of the top LSAT band; Asians: 10%, 15%), and African-Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are under-represented in the top LSAT band (African-Americans: 13%, 3%; Hispanic/Latinos: 12%, 7%). In terms of raw numbers, only 590 African-Americans in the applicant pool scored at least 160 on the LSAT. African-Americans and Hispanic/Latinos are over-represented in the bottom 120-149 LSAT band (African-American: 13%, 27%; Hispanic/Latinos: 12%, 17%).

How ‘elite overproduction’ and ‘lawyer glut’ could ruin the U.S.

Peter Turchin:

Complex human societies, including our own, are fragile. They are held together by an invisible web of mutual trust and social cooperation. This web can fray easily, resulting in a wave of political instability, internal conflict and, sometimes, outright social collapse.

Analysis of past societies shows that these destabilizing historical trends develop slowly, last many decades, and are slow to subside. The Roman Empire, Imperial China and medieval and early-modern England and France suffered such cycles, to cite a few examples. In the U.S., the last long period of instability began in the 1850s and lasted through the Gilded Age and the “violent 1910s.”

We now see the same forces in the contemporary U.S. Of about 30 detailed indicators I developed for tracing these historical cycles (reflecting popular well-being, inequality, social cooperation and its inverse, polarization and conflict), almost all have been moving in the wrong direction in the last three decades.

Every year U.S. law schools churn out about 25,000 “surplus” lawyers, many of whom are in debt. A large number hope to enter politics.
The roots of the current American predicament go back to the 1970s, when wages of workers stopped keeping pace with their productivity. The two curves diverged: Productivity continued to rise, as wages stagnated. The “great divergence” between the fortunes of the top 1 percent and the other 99 percent is much discussed, yet its implications for long-term political disorder are underappreciated. Battles such as the recent government shutdown are only one manifestation of what is likely to be a decade-long period.

How does growing economic inequality lead to political instability? Partly this correlation reflects a direct, causal connection. High inequality is corrosive of social cooperation and willingness to compromise, and waning cooperation means more discord and political infighting. Perhaps more important, economic inequality is also a symptom of deeper social changes, which have gone largely unnoticed.

Civics: THE METADATA TRAP: The Trump Administration Is Using the Full Power of the U.S. Surveillance State Against Whistleblowers

Micah Lee:

Most people aren’t very aware of it, but we’re all under surveillance. Telecom companies and tech giants have access to nearly all of our private data, from our exact physical locations at any given time to the content of our text messages and emails. Even when our private data doesn’t get sent directly to tech companies, our devices are still recording it locally. Do you know exactly what you were doing on your computer two months ago today at 3:05 p.m.? Your web browser probably does.

Yet while we all live under extensive surveillance, for government employees and contractors — especially those with a security clearance — privacy is virtually nonexistent. Everything they do on their work computers is monitored. Every time they search a database, their search term and the exact moment they searched for it is logged and associated with them personally. The same is true when they access a secret document, or when they print anything, or when they plug a USB stick into their work computer. There might be logs of exactly when an employee takes screenshots or copies and pastes something. Even when they try to outsmart their work computer by taking photos directly of their screen, video cameras in their workplace might be recording their every move.

Why we shouldn’t take peer review as the ‘gold standard’

Paul D. Thacker and Jon Tennant:

Researchers commonly refer to peer review as the “gold standard,” which makes it seem as if a peer-reviewed paper — one sent by journal editors to experts in the field who assess and critique it before publication — must be legitimate, and one that’s not reviewed must be untrustworthy. But peer review, a practice dating to the 17th century, is neither golden nor standardized. Studies have shown that journal editors prefer reviewers of the same gender, that women are underrepresented in the peer review process, and that reviewers tend to be influenced by demographic factors like the author’s gender or institutional affiliation. Shoddy work often makes it past peer reviewers, while excellent research has been shot down. Peer reviewers often fail to detect bad research, conflicts of interest and corporate ghostwriting.

Meanwhile, bad actors exploit the process for professional or financial gain, leveraging peer review to mislead decision-makers. For instance, the National Football League used the words “peer review” to fend off criticism of studies by the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, a task force the league founded in 1994, which found little long-term harm from sport-induced brain injuries in players. But the New York Times later discovered that the scientists involved had omitted more than 100 diagnosed concussions from their studies. What’s more, the NFL’s claim that the research had been rigorously vetted ignored that the process was incredibly contentious: Some reviewers were adamant that the papers should not have been published at all.

Alabama sPends about 50% of Madison Per Student, compare NAEP

Trisha Powell Crain:

One surprising finding in the school-level spending numbers was that spending is actually higher in schools with higher levels of poverty, generally speaking, even after federal dollars—which are typically higher at schools with more students in poverty—are removed.

“You can’t draw many conclusions,” said Alabama Superintendent Eric Mackey directly from the spending data. While some want to look for correlations between high amounts of spending and high student outcomes, he said, it’s just not that easy.

In Alabama, the average amount spent per student was $9,425, but spending ranged from $726 per student in Limestone County’s Virtual School Center to $131,305 per student at Shelby County’s Linda Nolen Learning Center, which served 49 students with unique emotional, academic and medical needs.

When federal dollars are removed from the mix, the average amount drops to $7,787 statewide, and spending at the school level ranges from $637 per student at Decatur High’s Developmental school to $116,240 at Tuscaloosa City School’s Oak Hill School. Both of those schools serve students with special needs.

Madison taxpayers spend between $18.5k to 20K per student, depending on the District documents reviewed.
Visit the Nation’s Report Card to compare academic results.

When worse is better….

Susan Pal:

Decision Problem
Let me begin this post with a puzzle.

Alex and Bob work as financial advisers for the same company. They receive equal salaries from the company. They behave well at office. Both work on similar assignments. Each assignment required a yes-no decision. The company uses the decisions made by them to make profits.

After the recession hit the company very badly, they have to fire one of them. Both Alex and Bob have worked on almost the same number of assignments in the last ten years. Alex has been consistently taking about 80% decisions correctly every year. Bob, on the other hand, has been taking only about 5% correct decisions every year.

The company decides to keep Bob and fire Alex. Why?

Academia: An Outsider’s Perspective

Daniel Gross:

Why does academia move slowly? I spent some time talking to researchers about the current system. Below are the notes of an outsider peering in, trying to decipher why things are broken and how one might help fix it:

A conservative cultural feedback loop. People optimize the cultural reward system they’re in. This is one of the reasons why Nigeria doesn’t have 10X more successful startups. It isn’t that they lack the IQ; it’s that when you grow up in Africa you’re told the best thing you can do is provide sustenance for your family. Not start the next Google. “Winning” means something relatively modest by global standards. You move at the cultural cadence set by your peers. And the academic cadence is (a) just not as speedy as Xiaomi’s (b) very conservative. Over time, this becomes particularly pernicious with adverse selection. Anyone seriously adventurous just pursues another path.

It’s bad practice to be openly ambitious. Californian startup culture rewards big thinking. Academia penalizes it. Publicly declaring a big bold goal (“We’ll be the most prolific, hardest working cancer research lab in the world”) is seen as wrong, especially for a young upstart. This isn’t new. Even in industry, the patriarchy often rejects the bold, challenging generation. The difference is the reward function and feedback loop.

In Wisconsin Even Dyslexia Is Political

Mark Seidenberg

Wisconsin legislators are considering an important issue: how to help dyslexic children who struggle to read. You might think that helping poor readers is something everyone could get behind, but no.

Dyslexia was identified in the 1920s and has been studied all over the world. It affects about 15% of all children, runs in families, varies in severity, and often co-occurs with conditions such as ADHD and math disability. For many dyslexics, early, appropriate intervention is highly effective. For others, dyslexia is a life-long struggle that limits education, employment, and quality of life.

Wisconsin is one of only 7 states that don’t already have dyslexia legislation. In 2018 a legislative study committee headed by Rep. Bob Kulp met to consider the options. They heard testimony from dyslexia advocacy groups, parents of dyslexics, clinicians who work with dyslexics, teachers, and a reading scientist—me.

The committee proposed two bills. One would create a dyslexia specialist position in the DPI. That was sent back to the education committee for “further study.” The other bill authorizes the creation of a dyslexia guidebook. It passed in the Assembly and awaits a Senate vote. A guidebook might be helpful for some, and it would provide validation for dyslexics and their families who have to battle for recognition and help. But, the guidebook will be for information purposes only; it won’t have enforceable policies or practices.

Why such a feeble response to such an important concern? According to Rep. Kulp, it’s because there was so much debate about dyslexia and the causes of poor reading. Both bills were opposed by the Wisconsin State Reading Association (WSRA), a teacher organization. There are over 60,000 teachers in K-12 schools and over 100,000 employees including staff and administrators. Opposing them is politically risky, especially for Democrats for whom they are part of the traditional base.

Teachers are experts about many things, but not dyslexia. They don’t get a chance to learn about it, because in Wisconsin and most of the US, courses on the cognitive and neurobiological bases of dyslexia are missing from teacher training programs. Instead, they are told they can ignore dyslexia because it’s not a real condition. Prof. Richard Allington, an influential reading education guru, says that dyslexia and ADHD were invented by educators as excuses for poor teaching.

If there were such a thing as educational malpractice, Prof. Allington would qualify for his canard about the origins of dyslexia. He then blames teachers for failing to succeed with children who have a condition they were encouraged to ignore. It’s also unfair to teachers, dyslexics, and other children in the classroom to expect teachers to provide time-consuming individualized help amid their many other responsibilities.

The WSRA’s opposition to dyslexia legislation reflects this lack of knowledge. They complained that dyslexia doesn’t have a clear definition, but over thirty states have based legislation on the one provided by the International Dyslexia Association. Echoing Allington, they stated that dyslexia “may not exist”–but if it does, it is a medical problem not an educational one. Dyslexia has a neurobiological basis but that doesn’t make it a “medical” problem: there’s no vaccine to protect against it or medication to treat it.

WSRA is also against “privileging” dyslexia over reading difficulties that have other causes, such as poverty. This creates a bogus competition between children who struggle in school for different reasons. If a child isn’t reading because they are homeless and not attending school regularly, that condition demands a solution. It has no bearing on addressing the needs of another child who is dyslexic. Worse, the lack of a coherent plan for addressing dyslexia discriminates against lower income families. Dyslexia occurs at all income levels. Parents who can afford it can send their children to tutors, reading specialists and commercial learning centers for help; poorer families cannot. DPI has outsourced the management of dyslexia, illustrating how educational policies can magnify the impact of income inequality.

Rep. Kulp and his committee heard two opposing viewpoints about dyslexia, couldn’t decide which was correct, and came up with a compromise that does little for struggling readers. The legislatures of forty-three other states have managed to do more.

Could we do better next time? It would help if people—especially Democrats—would recognize that what is “progressive” is creating conditions that allow teachers and students to succeed. That means supporting more rigorous teacher education programs, filling gaps in teachers’ knowledge, and providing timely, effective intervention for dyslexics. It would also help if people—especially Republicans—realized that capable individuals will not enter the field if teachers are demonized as “part-time” workers whose health benefits and pensions are unearned and whose working conditions are often chaotic.

Dyslexia isn’t a life sentence; how it affects a child depends on other factors, especially education. We can do better.

Related: Wisconsin Reading Coalition:

“Too often, according to Mark Seidenberg’s important, alarming new book, “Language at the Speed of Sight,” Johnny can’t read because schools of education didn’t give Johnny’s teachers the proper tools to show him how”

A Capitol Conversation.

Foundations of Reading.

“The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”.

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

Education, literacy and the 2020 campaign; Madison….

Casey Mindlin:

Thomas Jefferson said that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free… it expects what never was and never will be.” And Abraham Lincoln called education “the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” If we are to preserve the American experiment, it won’t be done in the halls of Congress, it will be done in our classrooms.

First, we must understand that an educated citizenry cannot exist without a literate citizenry — and the data on literacy should shock Americans as much or more than the next news update telling us that July beat June as the hottest month ever recorded:

More than 30 million adults in the U.S. can’t read or write above a 3rd grade level;

50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an 8th grade level.

The long-term consequences of these numbers are clear:

43 percent of adults who read below the 5th grade level live in poverty;

70 percent of adult welfare recipients have low literacy skills;

75 percent of state prison inmates can be classified as low literate;

Children whose parents have low literacy levels have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.
This represents a crisis because it’s now evident that inadequacies in American education have greatly exacerbated almost every other problem we face. The less educated we are, the harder it is to improve health outcomes, combat climate change, reduce poverty, fight bigotry, and galvanize civic participation.

Madison has long tolerated disastrous reading results, despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts – between $18.5k and 20k per student, depending on the district documents reviewed.

Meet the people working to kick Chicago out of Illinois

Cindy Dampier:

But the current us versus them drive to “divorce” Chicago from the rest of Illinois, while it shares elements with earlier efforts, comes in an era of heightened political conversation in America. More importantly, it’s a direct outgrowth of the stubborn urban-rural divide that underlies many of today’s most divisive social and economic issues. “It’s really important to note that this has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican,” says Merritt. “It has to do with urban, rural and suburban. The economies and cultures and needs and interests of non-urban areas are different from those of a big city like Chicago. The problem is, in our state government we have a one-size-fits-all approach and things are foisted on the other parts of the state.”

Nationwide, the urban-rural conflict percolated into prominence in the 2016 election, and has continued to boil over. The New Illinoisans have company in the state separation business: both New York and California are currently facing their own state split movements.

most books published in the US before 1964 are in the public domain

Secretly Public Domain: “Fun facts” are, sadly, often less than fun. But here’s a genuinely fun fact: most books published in the US before 1964 are in the public domain! Back then, you had to send in a form to get a second 28-year copyright term, and most people didn’t bother.

This is how Project Gutenberg is able to publish all these science fiction stories from the 50s and 60s. Those stories were published in issues of magazines that didn’t send in the renewal form. But up til now this hasn’t been a big factor, because 1) the big publishers generally made sure to send in their renewals, and 2) it’s been impossible to check renewal status in bulk.

Up through the 1970s, the Library of Congress published a huge series of books listing all the registrations and the renewals. All these tomes have been scanned — Internet Archive has the registration books—but only the renewal information was machine-readable. Checking renewal status for a given book was a tedious job, involving flipping back and forth between a bunch of books in a federal depository library or, more recently, a bunch of browser tabs. Checking the status for all books was impossible, because the list of registrations was not machine-readable.

But! A recent NYPL project has paid for the already-digitized registration records to be marked up as XML. (I was not involved, BTW, apart from saying “yes, this would work” four years ago.) Now for anything that’s unambiguously a “book”, we have a parseable record of its pre-1964 interactions with the Copyright Office: the initial registration and any potential renewal.

The two datasets are in different formats, but a little elbow grease will mesh them up. It turns out that eighty percent of 1924-1963 books never had their copyright renewed. More importantly, with a couple caveats about foreign publication and such, we now know which 80%.

Why Kids Invent Imaginary Friends

Allie Volpe:

On a recent Monday morning, the 10-year-old Sasha told her mother about the current drama between her two best friends. Tentacles, a giant Pacific octopus, had told Sasha that he was in love with Coral, who is also an octopus, but who has “one extra tentacle that she’s learning how to use,” per Sasha. Coral was unaware of Tentacles’ infatuation, but had relayed a similar message to Sasha: She had strong feelings for Tentacles but was too shy to tell him. Sasha was stuck in the middle.

This romantic drama was news to Sasha’s mom, Charli Espinoza. “Oh my gosh, Sasha!” Espinoza, 39, said. “I didn’t know.”

Talk of Tentacles and Coral is common in Espinoza’s central-California home, from their intergalactic adventures to their love lives. Though the octopuses live with Espinoza, Sasha, and her 12-year-old sister, Emily, only Sasha knows what they look like. They are, in Sasha’s terms, “creatures of imagination,” or imaginary friends.

Sasha’s coterie of creatures of imagination also includes Cherry the reindeer, Vanity the manatee, and Toua the therapy mosquito, who stops the spread of malaria. Tentacles is the crew’s ringleader and was Sasha’s first imaginary friend, who came to life after tentacle-like shadows danced across Sasha’s bedroom wall one night when she was 6, Espinoza says.

Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Excellence

Bret Stephens:

The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.

But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”

It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” may remind some students of slavery. What it really means is a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.

What’s happening on campuses today isn’t a reaction to Trump or some alleged systemic injustice, at least not really. Fundamentally, Kronman argues, it’s a reaction against this aristocratic spirit — of being, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “beyond responsibility to the general masses of men, and hence superior to both their degraded longings and their no less degraded aversions.” It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.

“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.

The Great Wave: what Hokusai’s masterpiece tells us about museums, copyright and online collections today


During the lifetime of Hokusai, copyright legislation did not exist in Japan. Some anti-piracy measures were in place, however.

Honyo nakama (bookshop guilds) were created in Edo, Kyoto and Osaka during the 18th century, with nakami ginmi (guild examiners) capable of police and prosecuting unauthorised reproductions of printed works. Their aim was to regulate works’ manufacture and dissemination – not to safeguard creators’ rights.

John Fiorillo explains:

‘Publishers (hanmoto) or publisher-booksellers (honya) owned woodblocks, not artists, and so the publishers could do as they pleased with the blocks without any involvement of the artist… this principle of ownership was called zôhan (possession of blocks), which implied copyright, ownership of the blocks, and the legal right to publish images or texts from the blocks.’

Great Waves around the world

Today, print impressions of ‘The Great Wave’, each one subtly different in colour and tone, can be found in museum collections around the world (in fact, some institutions have several).

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Families Go Deep in Debt to Stay in the Middle Class

AnnaMaria Andriotis, Ken Brown and Shane Shifflett:

The American middle class is falling deeper into debt to maintain a middle-class lifestyle.

Cars, college, houses and medical care have become steadily more costly, but incomes have been largely stagnant for two decades, despite a recent uptick. Filling the gap between earning and spending is an explosion of finance into nearly every corner of the consumer economy.

Consumer debt, not counting mortgages, has climbed to $4 trillion—higher than it has ever been even after adjusting for inflation. Mortgage debt slid after the financial crisis a decade ago but is rebounding.

Student debt totaled about $1.5 trillion last year, exceeding all other forms of consumer debt except mortgages.

Auto debt is up nearly 40% adjusting for inflation in the last decade to $1.3 trillion. And the average loan for new cars is up an inflation-adjusted 11% in a decade, to $32,187, according to an analysis of data from credit-reporting firm Experian.

Unsecured personal loans are back in vogue, the result of competition between technology-savvy lenders and big banks for borrowers and loan volume.

The debt surge is partly by design, a byproduct of low borrowing costs the Federal Reserve engineered after the financial crisis to get the economy moving. It has reshaped both borrowers and lenders. Consumers increasingly need it, companies increasingly can’t sell their goods without it, and the economy, which counts on consumer spending for more than two-thirds of GDP, would struggle without a plentiful supply of credit.

Madison Has long tolerated disastrous reading results. This despite spending far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts.