Several months ago I critiqued a report by Dr. Gordon Lafer that was published by In the Public Interest (ITPI), a think tank that has long been critical of charter schools and recently helped rally supporters of a five-year moratorium on new charters. Unfortunately, the report continues to inform policy deliberations in California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has tasked a commission to study charter school policy changes.
Lafer’s methodology, which has not been peer-reviewed, measures the budget impact of closing local charter schools on three hypothetical school district budgets. It makes several flawed assumptions that result in unsupported conclusions.
The study assumes that without charter schools, all the charter students within district boundaries would attend that district’s schools. Then it assumes that the district’s new tax revenue connected to those new students would exceed the cost of educating them, resulting in an improved financial picture for the district.
The questionable assumptions don’t end there.
Category Archives: Books
Education minister warns against “wrong Western values”
A Chinese newspaper has published an article by the country’s education minister in which he warns of textbooks with “wrong Western values” and claims college students and teachers are targets of infiltration by “hostile forces.”
Yuan Guiren’s article was carried by Monday’s edition of China Education Daily, which is affiliated to the Ministry of Education, and comes after Yuan told college officials last week to “never let textbooks promoting Western values appear in our classes” and asked them to have more oversight of textbooks and materials directly taken from Western countries.
Thousands of early English books released online to public by Bodleian Libraries and partners
Image of EEBO-TCP Michigan homepageFrom Shakespeare and Milton to little-known books about witchcraft, cookery and sword fighting, this rich data set comprises fully-searchable text files that can be read online or downloaded in a variety of formats.
This corpus of electronic texts has been created and released by the Early English Books Online Text Creation Partnership (EEBO-TCP), an international collaboration among universities, funders and ProQuest, an information company central to global research. Previously, the texts were only available to users at academic libraries involved in the partnership but the data was released into the public domain on 1 January.
‘We are opening up these fantastic books to people who wouldn’t normally be able to access them. I’m fascinated to see what people will do with them,’ said Michael Popham, Head of Digital Collections at the Bodleian Libraries.
Members of the public, teachers and researchers around the world can now have access to thousands of transcriptions of English texts published during the first two centuries of printing in England. The corpus includes important works by literary giants like Chaucer and Bacon, but also contains many rare and little-known materials that were previously only available to those with access to special collections at academic libraries.
The text-only files are a unique resource for members of the public to browse for curious and interesting topics and titles ranging from witchcraft and homeopathy to poetry and recipes. In addition to browsing and reading text-only versions of these early English books, users of EEBO-TCP can also search the entire corpus, which contains more than two million pages and nearly a billion words. The text has been encoded with Extensible Markup Language (XML), allowing individuals to search for keywords and themes across the entire collection of works, in individual books or even within specific sections of text such as stage directions or tables of contents.
Academics are campaigning to bring back so-called dead words, like ‘concinnity’ and ‘bloviate
Only two weeks after Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, announced that he’d discovered books (which, he told his thunderstruck acolytes, “allow you to fully explore a topic… in a deeper way than most media today” – you don’t say), and a new campaign started in the US for “slow reading”, in which adherents visit a café together, silence their mobile phones and read together quietly for a whole hour, now academics at Wayne State University in Michigan have discovered that lots of “Dead Words” exist. Words that define things still relevant to modern life, sound pretty good but have fallen out of usage.
They have recommended that students investigate their “glorious variety” – and have offered a Top 10 of favourite “lost words” to be resurrected in 2015: caterwaul, concinnity, knavery, mélange, rapscallion, opsimath, obambulate, philistine, flapdoodle and subtopia.
The Rising Costs of Youth Sports, in Money and Emotion
“What I hope parents understand is that there are some three million high school players and by the time they scale that down to the quarterback position there are a couple of hundred thousand starters,” he said. “Then you get to Division I and II, and there are 360 quarterbacks. When you get to the N.F.L. there are 64. When you think about the odds, that’s not very good odds.”
Even so, he said, football can provide children with opportunities they might not have had otherwise. Mr. Trombley agreed, saying he looked at baseball and football as sports that might get him into a better college than he would otherwise.
“There is no question that baseball got me into Duke University,” he said. “I think I lucked out making it a profession. It just kind of happened by accident. It wasn’t all or nothing. We stress that with our kids: It’s wonderful to play a sport, but it could go away.”
Yet today, Mr. Trombley, 47, a financial adviser in his hometown, Wilbraham, Mass., laments that the highest level of youth sports may be out of reach for many children. He said the farthest he ever traveled for a game was a couple of towns over, but recently his family drove hours to a weekend-long high school tournament in New Jersey.
Mark Hyman, an assistant professor at George Washington University who has written books on youth sports, said that parents whose goal is to give their children the best chance in life or to get them a scholarship to college were not looking at the statistics.
“Parents think these investments are justified; they think it will lead to a full ride to college,” he said. “That’s highly misinformed. The percentage of high school kids who go on to play in college is extremely small. In most sports it’s under 5 percent. And the number for kids getting school aid is even smaller — it’s 3 percent.”
His advice? “What I tell parents is if you want to get a scholarship for your kids, you’re better off investing in a biology tutor than a quarterback coach,” he said. “There’s much more school dollars for academics.”
92 Percent of College Students Prefer Reading Print Books to E-Readers
Readers have been dreading the rise of e-books since before the technology even existed. A 1991 New York Times piece predicting the imminent invention of the personal e-reader spurred angry and impassioned letters to the editor. One reader wrote in to express his worry that the new electronic books wouldn’t work in the bath.
Twenty-three years later, half of American adults own an e-reading device. A few years ago, Obama set a goal of getting e-textbooks into every classroom by 2017. Florida lawmakers have passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.
Despite the embrace of e-books in certain contexts, they remain controversial. Many people just don’t like them: They run out of battery, they hurt your eyes, they don’t work in the bath. After years of growth, sales are stagnating. In 2014, 65 percent of 6 to 17-year-old children said they would always want to read books in print—up from 60 percent two years earlier.
“an index card with 25 words on it.”
First, Hagel was lazy. This may seem harsh, but the Secretary did not adequately prepare for meetings. Not even close. The 4-5 page briefing papers that Gates devoured, or the two-page memos that satisfied Panetta’s intellectual cravings, were replaced by Hagel’s preferred briefing material: an index card with 25 words on it. Policy papers were still drafted, but Hagel’s inner circle repeatedly made it clear they would never be read. As one official said during a moment of frustration, “How can we prepare the secretary to speak on this complex issue with only a sentence fragment?” Hagel’s aversion to words was most noticeable during meetings with foreign counterparts and heads of state where his lack of preparation all but guaranteed that he would have little to contribute aside from pleasantries and small talk. After such engagements, foreign staffers often inquired why Hagel was angry or aloof — or even worse — had offended their president or minister by wasting their time. The standard response, “The secretary is not feeling well,” seldom proved adequate. Hagel didn’t just waste everyone’s time, he routinely missed opportunities to advance U.S. policy by learning how our partners viewed complex issues. He also failed to develop important personal relationships that might prove critical when serious problems emerged.
Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access publishers
This is a list of questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. We recommend that scholars read the available reviews, assessments and descriptions provided here, and then decide for themselves whether they want to submit articles, serve as editors or on editorial boards. The criteria for determining predatory publishers are here.
We hope that tenure and promotion committees can also decide for themselves how importantly or not to rate articles published in these journals in the context of their own institutional standards and/or geocultural locus. We emphasize that journal publishers and journals change in their business and editorial practices over time. This list is kept up-to-date to the best extent possible but may not reflect sudden, unreported, or unknown enhancements.
On Common Core Reading
All week we’ve been reporting on big changes in reading instruction brought on by the Common Core State Standards: a doubling-down on evidence-based reading, writing and speaking; increased use of nonfiction; and a big push to get kids reading more “complex texts.”
Whatever you think of these shifts, they’re meaningless ideas without a classroom and kids to make sense of them. That’s today’s story, as we round out our series on reading in the Core era.
It’s mid-morning at Watkins Elementary in Washington, D.C. From the fourth floor, Amy Wertheimer’s fifth-grade classroom looks out over a red-brick grid of rowhouses and, looming over it all, the U.S. Capitol. But every back is to the view as Ms. Wertheimer calls her kids to the reading rug.
Academics must question more: Romila
Historian Romila Thapar asked a full house of Delhi’s intelligentsia on Sunday why changes in syllabi and objections to books were not being challenged.
Prof. Thapar was delivering the third Nikhil Chakravartty Memorial Lecture here on Sunday, titled ‘To Question or not to Question: That is the Question.”
“There are more academics in existence than ever before but most prefer not to confront authority even if it debars the path of free thinking. Is this because they wish to pursue knowledge undisturbed or because they are ready to discard knowledge, should authority require them to do so,” the eminent historian asked.
Vatican Library Puts 4,000 Ancient Manuscripts Available Online For Free
The Vatican Apostolic Library is now digitising its valuable ancient religious manuscripts and putting them online via its website, available for the public to view for free, as well as turning to crowdfunding to help it complete its work.
The Vatican Library was founded in 1451 AD and holds over 80,000 manuscripts, prints, drawings, plates and incunabula (books printed prior to 1500 AD) written throughout history by people of different faiths from across the world.
Is E-Reading to Your Toddler Story Time, or Simply Screen Time?
Douglas Quenqua, via a kind reader:
Clifford the Big Red Dog looks fabulous on an iPad. He sounds good, too — tap the screen and hear him pant as a blue truck roars into the frame. “Go, truck, go!” cheers the narrator.
But does this count as story time? Or is it just screen time for babies?
It is a question that parents, pediatricians and researchers are struggling to answer as children’s books, just like all the other ones, migrate to digital media.
For years, child development experts have advised parents to read to their children early and often, citing studies showing its linguistic, verbal and social benefits. In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised doctors to remind parents at every visit that they should read to their children from birth, prescribing books as enthusiastically as vaccines and vegetables.
Anyone who frequents research libraries in Europe or North America will know that it is not unusual to encounter in them individuals who appear to be rather introverted and yet sport oddly ostentatious hairstyles, with unkempt shocks of hair sprouting with peculiar abandon from their pallid male scalps. You can still encounter the odd Yeatsian dandy, but the slightly disheveled Einsteinian archetype seems largely to have prevailed in the academy, just as the Beethovenian archetype has long prevailed in the world of music. This phenomenon alone, the slightly embarrassing aping of the superficial attributes of genius, reveals an ersatz quality to the idea of genius we have inherited; even in the most solemn temples to intellectual achievement the notion is awkwardly associated with a good deal that is theatrical, preposterous, ridiculous.
Darrin McMahon’s Divine Fury does not shy away from the preposterous and the ridiculous, or from the disturbing and dangerous. Many of us now use the term “genius” as a simple expression of wonder, referring to a person or an achievement that we find inexplicably brilliant. But as McMahon’s rich narrative shows, across its long history the term has accrued connotations that go far beyond this commonsense core, leading us into the realms of superstition, bad science, and subservience to questionable forms of authority. And yet his book ends on an unexpected note of regret that “genius” in the most extravagant sense of the term has given way to more trivial uses, to a culture in which everyone has a genius for something and where even infants might be “baby Einsteins.” The cult of the “great exception,” the unfathomably and inimitably great human being, he tells us, has justifiably waned. Nevertheless, McMahon’s closing words are elegiac, hinting that its loss might somehow diminish us.
Millennials Are Better-Read, Vastly Superior to Rest of Population, Says Science
On Thursday, as A.O. Scott mourned the death of adulthood in American culture (R.I.P.), a new study by the Pew Research Center confirmed that it’s young adults who are keeping American (literary) culture alive. Contrary to reports that have questioned whether or not millennials read, younger Americans actually read more than their older counterparts: 88 percent of Americans younger than 30 reported having read a book in the past year, compared with 79 percent of those older than 30.
What’s more, libraries are not a cherished refuge of the old, but a destination for the young: In a September 2013 survey, 50 percent of respondents between the ages of 16 and 29 had used a library in the past year, compared with 47 percent of their older counterparts, and 36 percent of people under 30 had used a library website in that same time frame; compared with 28 percent of the over-30s. (Admittedly, the numbers for high school and college-aged respondents may actually seem surprisingly low, given their reliance on libraries and books for school research.)
Books That Have Stayed With Us
by Lada Adamic and Pinkesh Patel @ Facebook Data Science
Favorite books are something friends like to share and discuss. A Facebook meme facilitates this very interaction. You may have seen one of your friends post something like “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.” If not great works of literature, what are the books that have stayed with us?
The following analysis was conducted on anonymized, aggregate data.
To answer this question we gathered a de-identified sample of over 130,000 status updates matching “10 books” or “ten books” appearing in the last two weeks of August 2014 (although the meme has been active over at least a year). The demographics of those posting were as follows: 63.7% were in the US, followed by 9.3%in India, and 6.3% in the UK. Women outnumbered men 3.1:1. The average age was 37. We therefore expect the books chosen to be reflective of this subset of the population.
The History of Cartography – Free PDF version
cartography in prehistoric, ancient, and medieval europe and the mediterranean
Edited by J. B. Harley and David Woodward
Somewhat related: A history of Britain through time.
What Do Schools Risk By Going ‘Full Google’?
Kaitlin Morgan says, this year, her school district is going “full Google.”
Morgan teaches U.S. and world history and advises the yearbook at Woodlake Union High School in California’s Central Valley. At Woodlake, “full Google” means a plan to have one Google Chromebook for every two students by the spring, running Google Apps.
The Chromebook is a relatively cheap, stripped-down laptop. It’s become popular in the education world, with 85 percent of its U.S. sales last year going to the ed market.
And the Chromebook is just the beginning. Already, Google Apps for Education claims 30 million active users around the world. The free, Web-based software works on any device and allows teachers and students to use Gmail with their own .edu address.
It’s the beginning of what Google calls the “paperless classroom” — moving assignments, class discussions, feedback, tests and quizzes online.
Plutarch on Education
British Library Digitized Manuscripts:
Origin: Italy, N. (Venice).Provenance:Owned by the Church of San Francesco della Vigna, Venice.Acquired by Robert Curzon from a priest of the Church of San Francesco della Vigna, along with Add MS 39614 and Add MS 39615, in 1834: ownership inscription, Add MS 39614, f i recto. This note also records five more volumes of the same set as in the possession of the Rev. Walter Sneyd of Denton, Oxford (afterwards of Keele Hall), whose library was sold at Sotheby’s in December 1903: see lots 48, 52, 379, 380. Add MSS 39583-39671, along with Oriental MSS 8729-8855, were bequeathed to the British Museum by Darea Curzon, Baroness Zouche (d. 1917), having been part of the collection formed at Parham, Co. Sussex, by the Hon. Robert Curzon, afterwards 14th Baron Zouche, as the result of his travels in the Levant, etc., in 1833 and later. A copy of Robert Curzon’s Catalogue of Materials for Writing, … Rolls and other Manuscripts and Oriental Manuscript Books (1849), with manuscript additions, accompanied the gift, and is now Add MS 64098.
Math Reading Suggestions
1. Number: The Language of Science
“First published in 1930, this classic text traces the evolution of the concept of a number in clear, accessible prose. (None other than Albert Einstein sang its praises.) A Latvian mathematician who studied under Henri Poincare, Dantzig covers all the bases, from counting, negative numbers and fractions, to complex numbers, set theory, infinity and the link between math and time. Above all, he understood that the story of where mathematical ideas come from, how they relate to each other, and evolve over time, is key to a true appreciation of mathematics.”
Why textbooks cost so much
STUDENTS can learn a lot about economics when they buy Greg Mankiw’s “Principles of Economics”—even if they don’t read it. Like many popular textbooks, it is horribly expensive: $292.17 on Amazon. Indeed, the nominal price of textbooks has risen more than fifteenfold since 1970, three times the rate of inflation (see chart).
Like doctors prescribing drugs, professors assigning textbooks do not pay for the products themselves, so they have little incentive to pick cheap ones. Some assign books they have written themselves. The 20m post-secondary students in America often have little choice in the matter. Small wonder textbooks generate megabucks.
But hope is not lost for poor scholars. Foreign editions are easy to find online and often cheaper—sometimes by over 90%. Publishers can be litigious about this, but in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that Americans have the right to buy and resell copyrighted material obtained legally. Many university bookstores now let students rent books and return them. Publishers have begun to offer digital textbooks, which are cheaper but can’t be resold. And if all else fails, there is always the library.
Textbook Prices: Don’t Shop Online
Faculty members at George Washington University are once again free to tell students they can save money by buying their textbooks online, after the university initially urged professors to stop pointing students to sources other than the campus bookstore.
In a letter dated July 17, the university reminded faculty members of its “contractual obligation” with Follett, which runs the campus bookstore. Since the company has the “exclusive right” to provide textbooks and other course materials for all of the university’s courses, “alternative vendors may not be endorsed, licensed or otherwise approved or supported by the university or its faculty.”
The letter irked many faculty members — not only did it prevent them from helping students save some money on textbooks, but it also seemed to prohibit them from listing on their syllabuses open educational resources, online exercises and other content that could help students understand the material.
American Horror, Ivy League Edition
In 1911, the fictional Dink Stover arrived at Yale, “leisurely divested himself of his trim overcoat” and coolly strolled into campus life. “He had come to conquer,” writes Owen Johnson in the 1912 novel called Stover at Yale, “and zest was in his step.” Stover’s zest has little to do with intellectual inquest, as Johnson makes perfectly clear: “Four glorious years, good times, good fellows,” this was in store for Stover. Much of the novel is indeed concerned with Stover’s jockeying for social position, even if, by the end of the affair, he tires of the “unnecessary fetish” of the secret societies that defined life in New Haven for much of its tercentenary existence.
William Deresiewicz arrived at Yale nearly 90 years after Stover did, a real person who reveled in fictional things: an English professor. He taught in Yale’s vaunted English department for the next 10 years. In the half-decade since, he has been writing about higher education, most notably in The American Scholar, where two of his essays, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” and “Solitude and Leadership,” garnered the kind of attention that suggests that he’d hit not a raw nerve but a diseased organ. Now comes his book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, whose title makes crushingly clear just what Deresiewicz thinks of Johnny Harvard and his buddies in the Ancient Eight. To say the least, Stover’s “great university dedicated to liberty of thought and action” has become, in this telling, little more than a funnel into the junior ranks of Goldman Sachs. An excerpt from Deresiewicz’s book was recently a New Republic cover story, illustrated by a burning Harvard flag. “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” that cover said.
A review of William Deresiewicz’s book: Excellent Sheep.
Guest Post: Why Students Prefer Google, and Why They Should Favor Teacher-Librarians
Here at EasyBib, we research, discuss, and write a lot about how students conduct research in high school and college. We are constantly analyzing data from our 42 million users to see how they approach research, and using that data to improve our services.
Research shows that the overwhelming majority (96%) of students use Google in course-related contexts. Unfortunately, this is probably an unsurprising statistic for many of you. School and college librarians play an integral role in student academic success, yet students (and, from what we’ve heard, even some fellow faculty members!) don’t take fundamental research skills very seriously.
Here are just a few (out of many!) reasons why students should rely on their awesome teacher-librarians instead of the ubiquitous search engine, and consider basic information literacy skills and academic integrity as a natural part of their research, writing, and education.
Plagiarism goes beyond the classroom.
Through analyzing our user data, many of our student users are not even aware that they should cite paraphrased sources. Yikes! Students may not care about citing their sources now, because they believe that once they graduate, no one will care about whether or not they included a citation in their research papers, anyway. Explaining to students that plagiarism is a serious issue that has negatively impacted many professional lives can put the harsh consequences of plagiarism into a clear perspective.
We recently created a list on the EasyBib blog about celebrity plagiarism accusations. It’s likely that students have more interest in stories about rock stars and actors than, say, a politician dropping out of a Senate race. Placing plagiarism into a context that students can relate to can help them not only understand the consequences of committing plagiarism, but also see that acknowledging other people’s work is a lifelong practice.
The Harvard Classics: Download All 51 Volumes as Free eBooks
In addition to these options, Bartleby has digital texts of the entire collection of what they call “the most comprehensive and well-researched anthology of all time.” But wait, there’s more! Much more, in fact, since Eliot and his assistant William A. Neilson compiled an additional twenty volumes called the “Shelf of Fiction.” Read those twenty volumes—at fifteen minutes a day—starting with Henry Fielding and ending with Norwegian novelist Alexander Kielland at Bartleby.
What may strike modern readers of Eliot’s collection are precisely the “blind spots in Victorian notions of culture and progress” that it represents. For example, those three harbingers of doom for Victorian certitude—Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud—are nowhere to be seen. Omissions like this are quite telling, but, as Kirsch writes, we might not look at Eliot’s achievement as a relic of a naively optimistic age, but rather as “an inspiring testimony to his faith in the possibility of democratic education without the loss of high standards.” This was, and still remains, a noble ideal, if one that—like the utopian dreams of the Victorians—can sometimes seem frustratingly unattainable (or culturally imperialist). But the widespread availability of free online humanities certainly brings us closer than Eliot’s time could ever come.
The Lower Ambitions of Higher Education
Are you a HYPSter? That’s William Deresiewicz’s term, in his new book, for Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, though it seems more idiomatic to apply that acronym to these schools’ graduates. With HYPSters, and with the recent graduates of the tier of elite American colleges a rung or two below them, he is unimpressed.
Far too many are going into the same professions, notably finance or consulting. He detects a lack of curiosity, of interesting rebellion, of moral courage, of passionate weirdness. We’ve spawned a generation of polite, striving, praise-addicted, grade-grubbing nonentities — a legion of, as his title puts it, “Excellent Sheep.”
Books like this one, volumes that probe the sick soul of American higher education, come and go, more than a few of them hitting the long tail of the best-seller lists. As a class of books, they’re almost permanently interesting, at least if you work in or around education, or if you, like me, have kids who are starting to freak out about their SATs.
The Uses of Being Wrong
Confessions of wrongness in academic research should be unsurprising. (To be clear, being wrong in a prediction is different from making an error. Error, even if committed unknowingly, suggests sloppiness. That carries a more serious stigma than making a prediction that fails to come true.) Anyone who has a passing familiarity with the social sciences is aware that, by and large, we do not get an awful lot of things right. Unlike that of most physical and natural scientists, the ability of social scientists to conduct experiments or rely on high-quality data is often limited. In my field, international relations, even the most robust econometric analyses often explain a pathetically small amount of the data’s statistical variance. Indeed, from my first exposure to the philosopher of mathematics Imre Lakatos, I was taught that the goal of social science is falsification. By proving an existing theory wrong, we refine our understanding of what our models can and cannot explain.
And yet, the falsification enterprise is generally devoted to proving why other scholars are wrong. It’s rare for academics to publicly disavow their own theories and hypotheses. Indeed, a common lament in the social sciences is that negative findings—i.e., empirical tests that fail to support an author’s initial hypothesis—are never published.
Students paying extra for business skills they say they haven’t learned on campu
Ben Wei was already paying hefty tuition to earn a sociology degree from Bowdoin College, which charged nearly $57,000 at the time, but worried his classes weren’t teaching him skills he needed in the workplace.
So he gave up his winter break just a semester before graduating and paid another $3,000 to take a three-week business boot camp designed to teach him how to work a full-time job.
The course, offered by a company called Fullbridge, covered problem-solving, collaboration and communication—the kinds of skills employers say they want but aren’t getting from college grads.
“You can sit in a room and learn economic theory from a professor or a textbook, but at the end of the day, it’s still just theory,”said Wei, who now works as a data analyst. “They don’t really teach you how to apply that theory.”
Students Fail to Embrace Digital Textbooks
American students have yet to embrace digital textbooks in considerable numbers. Many of the top universities and colleges have a very slim minority that either use them exclusively or in parallel with print. A recent survey by Hewlett Packard illiminates the role digital is playing in the classroom.
HP conducted a survey last winter, talking to 527 students at San Jose State. 57% of the respondents said they prefer the standard textbook. A paltry 21% said they prefer the digital variant and 21% stated that they utilize both formats.
The preference for print was also much higher with ages 18 to 35 year-olds with 62%, which accounted for 75% of the respondents. Contrary to what most would expect, the younger and supposedly tech-savvy students are not all that into e-textbooks. The survey also reveals that Education and Library & Information Science students, representing 49% of the total respondents, used printed textbooks more than other majors, including Business and Science.
At Sea in a Deluge of Data
Alison J. Head and John Wihbey:
This spring, more college students than ever received baccalaureate degrees, and their career prospects are brighter than they were for last year’s graduates.
Employers responding to this year’s National Association of Colleges and Employers’ “Job Outlook 2014 Survey” said they planned to increase entry-level hiring by almost 8 percent. But what they may not realize is that these seemingly techno-savvy new hires could be missing some basic yet vital research skills.
It’s a problem that we found after interviewing 23 people in charge of hiring at leading employers like Microsoft, KPMG, Nationwide Insurance, the Smithsonian, and the FBI. This research was part of a federally funded study for Project Information Literacy, a national study about how today’s college students find and use information.
Nearly all of the employers said they expected candidates, whatever their field, to be able to search online, a given for a generation born into the Internet world. But they also expected job candidates to be patient and persistent researchers and to be able to retrieve information in a variety of formats, identify patterns within an array of sources, and dive deeply into source material.
How a Russian mathematician constructed a decision tree – by hand – to solve a medical problem
Here’s an excerpt from Love and Math, a book by Edward Frenkel. The author writes about mathematics and his career. One of the stories is about how during his studies in the 80s he built a decision tree to help with kidney transplants. There was no machine to learn from data so humans had to do the work.
The third, and last, medical project I worked on was the most interesting one for me. A young doctor, Sergei Arutyunyan – who also needed help to analyze his data for a thesis – and I had a great rapport. He was working with patients whose immune systems were rejecting transplanted kidneys. In such situation the doctor has to make a quick decision whether to fight for the kidney or remove it, with far-reaching consequences: if they kept the kidney, the patient could die, but if they removed it, the patient would need another one, which would be very difficult to find.
eBooks vs Paper
Choosing books to take on holiday has got more difficult in recent years. Now it is a question not just of what to read but how – on paper, tablet, e-reader, or perhaps even a phone – and people have strong opinions on which is best. But is there any more to the decision than cost and convenience? On this question, the answer suggested by numerous studies into the neuroscience and psychology of reading in different formats is an emphatic yes.
There is no shortage of people warning of the risks attendant on the rise of “screen culture”, as the neuroscientist Susan Greenfield calls it. Greenfield has repeatedly expressed concern that, as technology takes us into unknown territory, “the brain may be adapting in unprecedented ways”. Though she tends to stress that these changes might be good or bad, that hasn’t stopped her more negative speculations being picked up in the media and amplified in far more strident terms.
On the other side of the two cultures divide, the novelist and critic Will Self recently argued that the connectivity of the digital world was fatal for the serious novel, which requires all the reader’s attention. Looking ahead 20 years, he posed a question: “If you accept that by then the vast majority of text will be read in digital form on devices linked to the web, do you also believe that those readers will voluntarily choose to disable that connectivity? If your answer to this is no, then the death of the novel is sealed out of your own mouth.”
E-reading is certainly on the rise. The Pew Research Center reports that, as recently as 2010, hardly anyone in the US had an e-reader or tablet. Now half do. The proportion of the population who have read an ebook in the past year rose from 17 per cent in 2011 to 28 per cent just three years later. In the UK, figures from Nielsen, which monitors book sales, showed that one in four consumer titles bought in 2013 was an ebook, up from one in five a year earlier.
The Art of Data: Literary Cities
Nick Danforth & Evan Tachovsky
This map uses data provided by Google’s Ngram service to map the frequency with which the names of American cities appeared in print over the last two centuries. How surprising you find the results will depend on your preconceptions.
Las Vegas, it appears, carries less cultural weight than nearby Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Boston, having ceded its dominant role in American literary life nearly a century ago, continues to hold its own: with barely 300,000 people, it still looms larger in the language than LA. But more than anything, this map shows the enduring dominance of New York City, towering over the cultural landscape in a way that the map, with its pseudo-logarithmic scale can’t even do justice to. Were these letters written according to a more ordinary geometric scale (making Tucson visible to the naked eye) New York would blot out the entire Eastern Seaboard. And though it also proved impossible to show, for most of the 19th century Brooklyn appeared as often as Manhattan. That may in part have been on account of people simply referring to Manhattan as New York.
The map also reveals the unsurprising geography of America’s cultural development. New England had pride of place in the late 19th century, not only cities associated with the era’s high culture like Boston and Hartford (where Mark Twain moved in his later life) but also, say, Pittsburgh. Portland, Oregon’s prominence in this period is most likely the result of its post gold rush high, combined, one suspects, with the fact that its east coast eponym was also enjoying a period of maritime relevance at the time.
8 Education Technology Books Every Leader Should Read
Everyone has their own reading style. My long held reading rule is to have two books on the go. One trashy thriller to tune out the world with, and one “mind nourishing” non-fiction to make sure I am not letting life float by (it’s also a bit less embarrassing to pull out on the train). Luckily for you, this post will focus on the mind-nourishing half of my literature diet.
Over the past few years I have read a fair collection of winners, a fair collection of losers and far too many mediocre education technology books. The aim here is to share the ones that have been so highly recommended they are considered must reads. Each of these has been a recommendation from someone within my PLN and so comes from very good authority and credibility. And of course, to continue learning from this PLN please do add your own suggestions and must-reads in the comments below.
Grammar & Writing for Creators
The elementary, intermediate, and advanced rules and errors that matter most;
How to identify and fix the weaknesses in your writing;
More than a dozen techniques and instructions on how to write skillfully;
Specific techniques (including dozens of new ones) to write impressive and eloquent prose;
New techniques (inspired by Voltaire, Socrates, Dr. King, Bertrand Russell, and others) to write compelling essays and blog posts—alternatives for the worn-out five-paragraph essay(Jason Friedman);
Techniques for how to move and direct men’s and women’s feelings, including a new powerful figure of speech like the metaphor;
Don’t worry if you are not fluent in English. The book comes with a Primer, a separate booklet for non-native English speakers.
A ‘Wimpy’ Plan to Save the Physical Book
Jeff Kinney, the man behind the astonishingly powerful Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, is leading the revolution.
That’s been the theory behind the bestselling author’s just-announced plans to open up an indie bookstore in tiny Plainville, Massachusetts. It’s been framed as a call-to-arms against Amazon in the wake of its strong-arming tactics in negotiating with the big five publishing houses, starting with (fellow giant) Hachette.
Take back the power, fight the system, and all that, right?
If Kinney’s stoking a counterculture, it’s to harken back to the past. In his Plainville shop, he imagines a cozy, well-worn space with old tomes and tea, frequented by locals and writerly souls. “A physical book has a heft, a permanence that you don’t get digitally,” says Kinney in an interview. “So our hope is that the bookstore will remain a vital, important part of communities across the country and the world.”
He’s not the only author to venture into the territory; others include the renowned Ann Patchett, who owns Parnassus Books in Nashville.
But they are few, notably because most published authors know the bottom line: increasingly slim profit margins and shuttered doors mark publishing’s recent history, with the closing of Borders, several branches of Barnes & Nobles, and smaller brick-and-mortar stores nationwide
Frustrated Scholar Creates New Way to Fund and Publish Academic Work
In 2011, Tim Peterson was your archetypal frustrated academic. He’d just landed a paper in the journal Cell but had grown disillusioned with the publishing process after nine months of back-and-forth among his team, the reviewers, and the editors.
“I was just totally disgusted by the whole process,” says Mr. Peterson, now 37 and working as a postdoctoral fellow in biology at Harvard University. “I remember when I stood up and said I don’t want to be a part of this anymore.”
So Mr. Peterson began to think. Then he taught himself to code. And finally, on May 14, all that thinking and coding converged to form a website, Onarbor.
The site is intended as a publishing and funding platform for academics, kind of like a Kickstarter for scholarly work. Among its features is that it allows donors to support projects with either Bitcoin or Dogecoin, two popular cryptocurrencies.
Academic Journal on Publisher Price Gouging: Resignations threat over Taylor & Francis ‘censorship’
A journal’s editorial board has been left on the brink of resignation after an eight-month standoff with its publisher Taylor & Francis over the publication of a debate on academic publishing and the profits made by major firms.
The debate, in the journal Prometheus: Critical Studies in Innovation, was due to appear last September, but was delayed by Taylor & Francis and published only at the end of last month.
Its “proposition” paper, “Publisher, be damned! from price gouging to the open road”, by four academics from the University of Leicester’s School of Management, criticises the large profits made by commercial publishers on the back of academics’ labours, and the failure of the Finch report on open access to address them.
The paper compares academic publishing with the music industry, which, it says, has “booming” sales after lowering prices in the face of widespread piracy. It suggests that “doing nothing to prevent the trading of electronic copies of our academic work” could also force prices down in publishing.
Statistics Examinations reading list
We provide reading lists for each of the papers of our professional examinations, to assist candidates preparing for them. In some cases, there is one reading list that covers two papers.
The reading lists provide a choice of books and it is not suggested that you should buy all (or even most) of them. You might for example find that you can easily locate one or two books on a list in an academic library, or even a public library, and perhaps those books would suffice – or at least would give you an indication of other areas that you need to try to cover. Some of the lists are annotated with specific advice about particular books.
Finns beat U.S. with low-tech take on school
At the start of morning assembly in the state-of-the-art Viikki School here, students’ smartphones disappear. In math class, the teacher shuts off the Smartboard and begins drafting perfect circles on a chalkboard. The students — some of the highest-achieving in the world — cut up graphing paper while solving equations using their clunky plastic calculators.
Finnish students and teachers didn’t need laptops and iPads to get to the top of international education rankings, said Krista Kiuru, minister of education and science at the Finnish Parliament. And officials say they aren’t interested in using them to stay there.
Teacher content knowledge surely trumps tech gizmos and endless grant driven schemes.
You’re probably using the wrong dictionary
The way I thought you used a dictionary was that you looked up words you’ve never heard of, or whose sense you’re unsure of. You would never look up an ordinary word — like example, or sport, or magic — because all you’ll learn is what it means, and that you already know.
Indeed, if you look up those particular words in the dictionary that comes with your computer — on my Mac, it’s the New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd Edition — you’ll be rewarded with… well, there won’t be any reward. The entries are pedestrian:
example /igˈzampəl/, n. a thing characteristic of its kind or illustrating a general rule.
UK Book Rhetoric
THE John Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men, and other American classics including Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible and the Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird, have been dropped from new English literature GCSEs after Michael Gove, the education secretary, insisted teenagers had to study works by British writers.
Three-quarters of the books on the governmentdirected GCSEs, which will be unveiled this week, are by British authors and most are pre-20th century.
“Of Mice and Men, which Michael Gove really dislikes, will not be included. It was studied by 90% of teenagers taking English literature GCSE in the past,” said OCR, one of Britain’s biggest exam boards. “Michael Gove said that was a really disappointing statistic.”
On the other hand.
Scathing report could shut UK Muslim school for promoting Salafi beliefs
Ofsted inspectors have harshly criticised an independent Muslim school for promoting Salafi fundamentalist beliefs and rated the school as inadequate, in a possible prelude to it being closed or taken over by the Department for Education.
In their unpublished draft report, the inspectors said the school – the Olive Tree primary school in Luton – fails to prepare its pupils “for life in modern Britain, as opposed to life in a Muslim state”, and that its library contains books that are “abhorrent to British society” in their depiction of punishments under sharia law.
“Some books in the children’s library contain fundamentalist Islamic beliefs (Salafi) or are set firmly within a Saudi Arabian socio-religious context. Some of the views promoted by these books, for example about stoning women, have no place in British society,” the report argues.
How Academia and Publishing are Destroying Scientific Innovation: A Conversation with Sydney Brenner
I recently had the privilege of speaking with Professor Sydney Brenner, a professor of Genetic medicine at the University of Cambridge and Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. My original intention was to ask him about Professor Frederick Sanger, the two-time Nobel Prize winner famous for his discovery of the structure of proteins and his development of DNA sequencing methods, who passed away in November. I wanted to do the classic tribute by exploring his scientific contributions and getting a first hand account of what it was like to work with him at Cambridge’s Medical Research Council’s (MRC) Laboratory for Molecular Biology (LMB) and at King’s College where they were both fellows. What transpired instead was a fascinating account of the LMB’s quest to unlock the genetic code and a critical commentary on why our current scientific research environment makes this kind of breakthrough unlikely today.
It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of Professor Brenner and his colleagues’ contributions to biology. Brenner won the Nobel Prize for establishing Caenorhabditis elegans, a type of roundworm, as the model organism for cellular and developmental biological research, which led to discoveries in organ development and programmed cell death. He made his breakthroughs at the LMB, where beginning in the 1950s, an extraordinary number of successive innovations elucidated our understanding of the genetic code. This code is the process by which cells in our body translate information stored in our DNA into proteins, vital molecules important to the structure and functioning of cells. It was here that James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the double-helical structure of DNA. Brenner was one of the first scientists to see this ground-breaking model, driving from Oxford, where he was working at the time in the Department of Chemistry, to Cambridge to witness this breakthrough. This young group of scientists, considered renegades at the time, made a series of successive revolutionary discoveries that ultimately led to the creation of a new field called molecular biology.
To begin our interview, I asked Professor Brenner to speak about Professor Sanger and what led him to his Nobel Prize winning discoveries.
6 Disturbing Things I Learned Writing Your Textbooks
J.F. Sargent, T.K. Pennywhistle:
Academic textbooks are wildly overpriced. We can pretty much all agree on that. If you’ve ever spent rent money on the required reading materials for your class on the socioeconomic impact of ALF, you know the pain of which I speak. But what most of you probably never imagined is how misinformed, lazy, and opportunist many textbook companies are. I’ve written textbooks for two years. I’ve covered every subject, and I’m here to tell you that …
#6. The Writers Are Unqualified and Probably Have No Interest in the Topic
Ahh, academia — the land of rigorous research standards and carefully thought-out conclusions. Surely this is where our knowledge comes from, handed down on high from those who have spent countless hours with their noses buried in books instead of coke and the genitals of strippers, and who have thus achieved the highest academic accolades. Right?
Aspen to Students: Your Property Book is Not Your Property
EFF has been fighting for years for the principle that if you bought it, you own it. The first sale doctrine – the law that allows you to resell books and that protects libraries from claims of copyright infringement – is crucial to consumers. Unfortunately, first sale has been under threat in the digital realm, as copyright holders increasingly insist on saddling “sales” with onerous restrictions. You may think you are buying a product (like software, music and ebooks), but as far as they are concerned, you are just renting it, on their terms, whether you know it or not.
The latest attack on first sale comes from Aspen Publishers, and the target is the lucrative textbook market. Aspen is insisting that students who are assigned and purchase physical textbooks Aspen published cannot resell those books to recoup some of the expense.
Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say
Claire Handscombe has a commitment problem online. Like a lot of Web surfers, she clicks on links posted on social networks, reads a few sentences, looks for exciting words, and then grows restless, scampering off to the next page she probably won’t commit to.
“I give it a few seconds — not even minutes — and then I’m moving again,” says Handscombe, a 35-year-old graduate student in creative writing at American University.
But it’s not just online anymore. She finds herself behaving the same way with a novel.
“It’s like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say,” she confessed. “When I realize what’s happening, I have to go back and read again and again.”
What impact did Hans Christian Andersen have on children’s literature?
An extract from the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature, available on Oxford Reference.
Although Andersen considered himself a novelist and playwright, his novels, dramas, and comedies are almost forgotten today, while his unquestionable fame is based on his fairy tales. He published four collections: Eventyr, fortalte for børn (Fairy Tales, Told for Children, 1835–1842), Nye eventyr (New Fairy Tales, 1844–1848), Historier (Stories, 1852–1855), and Nye eventyr og historier (New Fairy Tales and Stories, 1858–1872), which were an immediate, unprecedented success and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. Yet only a handful of his fairy tales and stories are widely read today.
Sources of his stories: from folklore to literature
Although Andersen could have read Grimms’ fairy tales, the sources of his stories were mostly Danish folk tales, collected and retold by his immediate predecessors J. M. Thiele, Adam Oehlenschlæger, and Bernhard Ingemann. Unlike the collectors, whose aim was to preserve and sometimes to classify and study folktales, Andersen was primarily a writer, and his objective was to create new literary works based on folklore, although some of his fairy tales have their origins in ancient poetry (“The Naughty Boy”) or medieval European literature (“The Emperor’s New Clothes”). He also found inspiration in the literary fairy tales by the German Romantics such as Heinrich Hoffmann and Adelbert von Chamisso.
How to get British kids reading
Pavan’s favourite activity is playing football outdoors. His second favourite is playing football indoors, and in third place is practising football skills against the sofa. Reading – the pursuit that Francis Bacon claimed “maketh a full man” – comes further down the eight-year-old’s list, behind school, going to discos, buying stuff, chatting to people, watching TV and playing on his Xbox games console.
Would he ever pick up a book for pleasure? “No,” Pavan shoots back jovially. “If I’m bored, I will ask my mum if I can play on her phone.” By this point, I am relieved that Michael Gove is not part of our conversation at a homework club in Harlesden Library, north London.
The UK education secretary has long feared that British children are “just not reading enough”. The same concern has been raised by publishers and literacy charities, which worry that new distractions – computer games, online videos, social networking – are pushing books off the shelf. More than 60 per cent of 18-to-30-year-olds now prefer watching television or DVDs to reading, according to a survey for the charity Booktrust. A similar proportion of young people think the internet and computers will replace books in the next 20 years.
The literacy debate received fresh impetus last October when a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggested that vast numbers of young people were leaving school without the ability to read well. Of the 24 industrialised countries covered by the research, England was the only one that went backwards, with literacy and numeracy skills lower among the young – those aged 16 to 24 – than the old. (The results were little better in Northern Ireland; Scotland and Wales were not included in the study.)
Yes, Private Schools Beat Public Schools
How can researchers publish a book concluding that government schools are outperforming private schools despite all the evidence to the contrary? By ignoring all the evidence to the contrary, of course.
Writing at Education Next, Patrick Wolf casts a gimlet eye on the claims of Sarah and Chris Lubienski in their book, The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools:
Research on this question goes back some 30 years. From James Coleman’s early observational studies of high schools to the experimental voucher evaluations of the past 15 years, researchers have routinely found that similar students do at least as well and, at times, better academically in private schools than in public schools. How have the Lubienskis come up with this surprising finding?
Paying for the Party
The authors lived for a year in a “party” dorm in a large midwestern flagship public university (not mine) and kept up with the women in the dorm till after they had graduated college. The thesis of the book is that the university essentially facilitates (seemingly knowingly, and in some aspects strategically) a party pathway through college, which works reasonably well for students who come from very privileged backgrounds. The facilitatory methods include: reasonably scrupulous enforcement of alcohol bans in the dorms (thus enhancing the capacity of the fraternities to monopolize control of illegal drinking and, incidentally, forcing women to drink in environments where they are more vulnerable to sexual assault); providing easy majors which affluent students can take which won’t interfere with their partying, and which will lead to jobs for them, because they have connections in the media or the leisure industries that will enable them to get jobs without good credentials; and assigning students to dorms based on choice (my students confirm that dorms have reputations as party, or nerdy, or whatever, dorms that ensure that they retain their character over time, despite 100% turnover in residents every year).
The problem is that other students (all their subjects are women), who do not have the resources to get jobs in the industries to which the easy majors orient them, and who lack the wealth to keep up with the party scene, and who simply cannot afford to have the low gpas that would be barriers to their future employment, but which are fine for affluent women, get caught up in the scene. They are, in addition, more vulnerable to sexual assault, and less insulated (because they lack family money) against the serious risks associated with really screwing up. The authors tell stories of students seeking upward social mobility switching their majors from sensible professional majors to easy majors that lead to jobs available only through family contacts, not through credentials. Nobody is alerting these students to the risks they are taking. So the class inequalities at entry are exacerbated by the process. Furthermore, the non-party women on the party floor are, although reasonably numerous, individually isolated—they feel like losers, not being able to keep up with the heavy demands of the party scene. The authors document that the working class students who thrive are those who transfer to regional colleges near their birth homes.
Tiger Couple Gets It Wrong on Immigrant Success
The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
The tiger couple is chasing its own tail, which is to say, they are stuck in circular reasoning. In their new book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua, author of the best-selling Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, and Jed Rubenfeld tackle the question of why certain groups are overrepresented in the pantheon of success. They postulate the reason for their success is that these groups are endowed with “the triple package”: a superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control. The skeptic asks, “How do we know that?” To which they respond: “They’re successful, aren’t they?”
But Chua and Rubenfeld proffer no facts to show that their exemplars of ethnic success—Jewish Nobel Prize winners, Mormon business magnates, Cuban exiles, Indian and Chinese super-achievers—actually possess this triple package. Or that possessing these traits is what explains their disproportionate success. For that matter, they do not demonstrate that possessing the triple package is connected, through the mystical cord of history, to Jewish sages, Confucian precepts, or Mormon dogma. Perhaps, as critics of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism have contended, success came first and only later was wrapped in the cloth of religion. In other words, like elites throughout history, Chua and Rubenfeld’s exemplars enshroud their success in whatever system of cultural tropes was available, whether in the Talmud, Confucianism, Mormonism, or the idolatry of White Supremacy. The common thread that runs through these myths of success is that they provide indispensable legitimacy for social class hierarchy.
Library of Congress Scans Old Books, Read for Free
Turn the pages to explore bygone eras, time-honored tales and historical narratives. Adventure awaits in these classic books online.
Teenage angst in a digital world
It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by Danah Boyd, Yale, RRP£17.99/RRP$25, 296 pages
The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World, by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, Yale, RRP£16.99/$25, 256 pages
The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?, by Patrick Tucker, Current, RRP$27.95, 288 pages
Before social media platforms became the most public chronicles of teenage angst, that honour belonged to The Catcher in the Rye.
In among all the angsting, the narrator of JD Salinger’s classic coming-of-age novel frets over a once-common dilemma involving telephones and parents: “I couldn’t take a chance on giving [my sister] a buzz, because she was only a little kid and she wouldn’t have been up, let alone anywhere near the phone. I thought of maybe hanging up if my parents answered, but that wouldn’t’ve worked, either. They’d know it was me. My mother always knows it’s me. She’s psychic.”
Completion Rates – A False Trail to Measuring Course Quality? Let’s Call in the HEROEs Instead
Alastair Creelman & Linda Reneland-Forsman:
Statistics are often used to reveal significant differences between online and campus-based education. The existence of online courses with low completion rates is often used to justify the inherent inferiority of online education compared to traditional classroom teaching. Our study revealed that this type of conclusion has little substance. We have performed three closely linked analyses of empirical data from Linnaeus University aimed at reaching a better understanding of completion rates. Differences in completion rates revealed themselves to be more substantial between faculties than between distribution forms. The key-factor lies in design. Courses with the highest completion rates had three things in common; active discussion forums, complementing media and collaborative activities. We believe that the time has come to move away from theoretical models of learning where web-based learning/distance learning/e-learning are seen as simply emphasizing the separation of teacher and students. Low completion rates should instead be addressed as a lack of insight and respect for the consequences of online pedagogical practice and its prerequisites.
Poverty Can Trump a Winning Hand of Genes
Changes in our environment can actually transform the relation between our traits and the outside world.
We all notice that some people are smarter than others. You might naturally wonder how much these differences in intelligence depend on genes or upbringing. But that question, it turns out, is impossible to answer. That’s because changes in our environment can actually transform the relationship among our traits, our upbringing and our genes.
The textbook illustration of this is a dreadful disease called PKU. Some babies have a genetic mutation that makes them unable to process an amino acid in their food, and it leads to severe mental retardation. For centuries, PKU was incurable. Genetics determined whether someone suffered from the syndrome, which gave them a low IQ. Then scientists discovered how PKU works. Now, we can immediately put babies with the mutation on a special diet. Whether a baby with PKU has a low IQ is now determined by the food they eat–by their environment.
We humans can figure out how our environment works and act to change it, as we did with PKU. So if you’re trying to measure the relative influence of human nature and nurture, you have to consider not just the current environment but also all the possible environments that we can create. This doesn’t just apply to obscure diseases. In the latest issue of Psychological Science, Timothy C. Bates of the University of Edinburgh and colleagues report a study of the relationship among genes, SES (socio-economic status, or how rich and educated you are) and IQ. They used statistics to analyze the differences between identical twins, who share all DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only some.
When psychologists first started studying twins, they found identical twins much more likely to have similar IQs than fraternal ones. They concluded that IQ was highly “heritable”–that is, due to genetic differences. But those were all high SES twins. Erik Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and his colleagues discovered that the picture was very different for poor, low-SES twins. For these children, there was very little difference between identical and fraternal twins: IQ was hardly heritable at all. Differences in the environment, like whether you lucked out with a good teacher, seemed to be much more important.
In the new study, the Bates team found this was even true when those children grew up. IQ was much less heritable for people who had grown up poor. This might seem paradoxical: After all, your DNA stays the same no matter how you are raised. The explanation is that IQ is influenced by education. Historically, absolute IQ scores have risen substantially as we’ve changed our environment so that more people go to school longer.
Richer children have similarly good educational opportunities, so genetic differences among them become more apparent. And since richer children have more educational choice, they (or their parents) can choose environments that accentuate and amplify their particular skills. A child who has genetic abilities that make her just slightly better at math may be more likely to take a math class, so she becomes even better at math.
But for poor children, haphazard differences in educational opportunity swamp genetic differences. Ending up in a terrible school or one a bit better can make a big difference. And poor children have fewer opportunities to tailor their education to their particular strengths. How your genes shape your intelligence depends on whether you live in a world with no schooling at all, a world where you need good luck to get a good education or a world with rich educational possibilities. If we could change the world for the PKU babies, we can change it for the next generation of poor children, too.
The Country That Stopped Reading
Earlier this week, I spotted, among the job listings in the newspaper Reforma, an ad from a restaurant in Mexico City looking to hire dishwashers. The requirement: a secondary school diploma.
Years ago, school was not for everyone. Classrooms were places for discipline, study. Teachers were respected figures. Parents actually gave them permission to punish their children by slapping them or tugging their ears. But at least in those days, schools aimed to offer a more dignified life.
Nowadays more children attend school than ever before, but they learn much less. They learn almost nothing. The proportion of the Mexican population that is literate is going up, but in absolute numbers, there are more illiterate people in Mexico now than there were 12 years ago. Even if baseline literacy, the ability to read a street sign or news bulletin, is rising, the practice of reading an actual book is not. Once a reasonably well-educated country, Mexico took the penultimate spot, out of 108 countries, in a Unesco assessment of reading habits a few years ago.
One cannot help but ask the Mexican educational system, “How is it possible that I hand over a child for six hours every day, five days a week, and you give me back someone who is basically illiterate?”
This is not just about better funding. Mexico spends more than 5 percent of its gross domestic product on education — about the same percentage as the United States. And it’s not about pedagogical theories and new techniques that look for shortcuts. The educational machine does not need fine-tuning; it needs a complete change of direction. It needs to make students read, read and read.
But perhaps the Mexican government is not ready for its people to be truly educated. We know that books give people ambitions, expectations, a sense of dignity. If tomorrow we were to wake up as educated as the Finnish people, the streets would be filled with indignant citizens and our frightened government would be asking itself where these people got more than a dishwasher’s training.
Paper Gestalt: Automating The Peer Review Process for Conference Papers
Peer reviews of conference paper submissions is an integral part of the research cycle, though it has unknown origins. For the computer vision community, this process has become significantly more difficult in recent years due to the volume of submissions. For example, the number of submissions to the CVPR conference has tripled in the last ten years. For this reason, the community has been forced to reach out to a less than ideal pool of reviewers, which unfortunately includes uninformed junior graduate students, disgruntled senior graduate students, and tenured faculty. In this work we take the simple intuition that the quality of a paper can be estimated by merely glancing through the general layout, and use this intuition to build a system that employs basic computer vision techniques to predict if the paper should be accepted or rejected. This system can then be used as a first cascade layer during the review pro- cess. Our results show that while rejecting 15% of “good papers”, we can cut down the number of “bad papers” by more than 50%, saving valuable time of reviewers. Finally, we fed this very paper into our system and are happy to report that it received a posterior probability of 88.4% of being “good”.
Peer reviews of conference paper submissions is an in- tegral part of the research cycle, though it has unknown origins. For the computer vision community, this process has become significantly more difficult in recent years due to the volume of submissions. For example, the number of submission to the CVPR conference has tripled in the last ten years1 (see Fig. 1). For this reason, the commu- nity has been forced to reach out to a less than ideal pool of reviewers, which unfortunately includes uninformed ju- nior graduate students, disgruntled senior graduate students,
Why Pay for Intro Textbooks?
If ramen noodle sales spike at the start of every semester, here’s one possible reason: textbooks can cost as much as a class itself; materials for an introductory physics course can easily top $300.
Cost-conscious students can of course save money with used or online books and recoup some of their cash come buyback time. Still, it’s a steep price for most 18-year-olds.
But soon, introductory physics texts will have a new competitor, developed at Rice University. A free online physics book, peer-reviewed and designed to compete with major publishers’ offerings, will debut next month through the non-profit publisher OpenStax College.
Madison Read Your Heart Out Day set for Feb. 10
Research supports parental involvement as a viable means of enhancing children’s academic success. Once again, Michelle Belnavis, a cultural relevance instructional resource teacher (K-5) for MMSD, has organized an event that brings African American community leaders, families, staff, students, and neighborhood organizations together to provide inspiration and information to schools and neighborhoods in honor of National African American Parent Involvement Day.
“We have been doing a lot of research in looking at the effect of having parents’ actively involved in their children’s education and a big part is that relationship-building,” Belnavis tells The Madison Times. “This gives an opportunity for teachers and families and parents to come together for the purpose of celebrating unity. I think a lot of times when parents come into school there’s a feeling like, ‘I don’t really belong here’ or ‘My children go to school here but I don’t really have a connection with the teacher.’
Scientific publishing: The price of information
SOMETIMES it takes but a single pebble to start an avalanche. On January 21st Timothy Gowers, a mathematician at Cambridge University, wrote a blog post outlining the reasons for his longstanding boycott of research journals published by Elsevier. This firm, which is based in the Netherlands, owns more than 2,000 journals, including such top-ranking titles as Cell and the Lancet. However Dr Gowers, who won the Fields medal, mathematics’s equivalent of a Nobel prize, in 1998, is not happy with it, and he hoped his post might embolden others to do something similar.
It did. More than 2,700 researchers from around the world have so far signed an online pledge set up by Tyler Neylon, a fellow-mathematician who was inspired by Dr Gowers’s post, promising not to submit their work to Elsevier’s journals, or to referee or edit papers appearing in them. That number seems, to borrow a mathematical term, to be growing exponentially. If it really takes off, established academic publishers might find they have a revolution on their hands.
Challenge to schools: Embracing digital textbooks
Are hardbound textbooks going the way of slide rules and typewriters in schools?
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski on Wednesday challenged schools and companies to get digital textbooks in students’ hands within five years. The Obama administration’s push comes two weeks after Apple Inc. announced it would start to sell electronic versions of a few standard high-school books for use on its iPad tablet.
Digital books are viewed as a way to provide interactive learning, potentially save money and get updated material faster to students.
D.C. is ranked the most literate city in the U.S.
For the second consecutive year, Washington, D.C. , is ranked as the most literate city in the country, according to an annual statistical survey to be released today.
Here is the top 10 for 2011, as ranked by Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller, based on data that includes number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and Internet resources:
High Schools Are Step One Of Two
MG Siegler in his latest TechCrunch article posits that although Apple’s new iBooks strategy is admirable in its effort to fix problems in public high schools, that it’s not realistic and that their market strategy should revolve around colleges and college textbooks.
On the surface, which seems logical enough, his argument is sound. But It ignores the one, HUGE driving force in education: money.
Nearly all high schools are public, or receive public funding in one way or another and help to satisfy the law which states that students of high school age must attend school. Textbooks are merely a means of teaching these students topics which help these schools qualify for their funding.
Matthew Battles: It doesn’t take Cupertino to make textbooks interactive
Absent the glamour of the black mock turtleneck, Apple’s Thursday event, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, still came bearing flowers of rhetoric, lovingly transplanted from their native soil in Cupertino’s sunny clime. One such rhetorical staple, the feature checklist, made its appearance about nine minutes in. Usually, the checklist is used to contrast Apple’s latest magical object with the feature set of lesser smartphones or other misbegotten tech tchotchkes; it was more than a little eye-popping to see the same rhetoric of invidious comparison used against the book in full — that gadget which, as senior VP Phil Schiller reminded us, was invented (in its print incarnation) back at the end of the Hundred Years’ War.
Why Education Publishing Is Big Business
On the heels of Apple’s big education and iBooks event, it’s worth taking a quick snapshot of the education publishing industry as it stands today.
Not because the tools announced today will inevitably transform the future of education the way iTunes and the iPhone did the music and smartphone industries — however fun that may be to imagine.
Rather, you simply can’t understand Apple’s interest in breaking into the education market without at least a little understanding of that market’s scope. And you can’t understand why Apple’s adopted the approach that it has without understanding that market’s connection to our wider media ecosystem.
Apple’s Electronic Textbook/Book Event
Apple’s controversial license terms are discussed here.
Apple to announce tools, platform to “digitally destroy” textbook publishing
Apple is slated to announce the fruits of its labor on improving the use of technology in education at its special media event on Thursday, January 19. While speculation has so far centered on digital textbooks, sources close to the matter have confirmed to Ars that Apple will announce tools to help create interactive e-books–the “GarageBand for e-books,” so to speak–and expand its current platform to distribute them to iPhone and iPad users.
Along with the details we were able to gather from our sources, we also spoke to two experts in the field of digital publishing to get a clearer picture of the significance of what Apple is planning to announce.
So far, Apple has largely embraced the ePub 2 standard for its iBooks platform, though it has added a number of HTML5-based extensions to enable the inclusion of video and audio for some limited interaction. The recently-updated ePub 3 standard obviates the need for these proprietary extensions, which in some cases make iBook-formatted e-books incompatible with other e-reader platforms. Apple is expected to announce support for the ePub 3 standard for iBooks going forward.
Wisconsin Read to Lead Report Released
Wisconsin Read to Lead Final Report (PDF), via several readers. Mary Newton kindly provided this summary:
Summary of the Wisconsin Read to Lead Task Force Recommendations, January, 2012
Teacher Preparation and Professional Development
All teachers and administrators should receive more instruction in reading pedagogy that focuses on evidence-based practices and the five components of reading as defined by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension).
- There must be more accountability at the state level and a commitment by institutions of higher education to improving teacher preparation.
Licensure requirements should be strengthened to include the Massachusetts Foundations of Reading exam by 2013.
Teacher preparation programs should expand partnerships with local school districts and early childhood programs.
Information on the performance of graduates of teacher preparation programs should be available to the public.
A professional development conference should be convened for reading specialists and elementary school principals.
DPI should make high quality, science-based, online professional development in reading available to all teachers.
Professional development plans for all initial educators should include a component on instructional strategies for reading and writing.
Professional development in reading instruction should be required for all teachers whose students continually show low levels of achievement and/or growth in reading.
- Screening, Assessment, and Intervention
Wisconsin should use a universal statewide screening tool in pre-kindergarten through second grade to ensure that struggling readers are identified as early as possible.
Proper accommodations should be given to English language learners and special education students.
Formal assessments should not replace informal assessments, and schools should assess for formative and summative purposes.
Educators should be given the knowledge to interpret assessments in a way that guides instruction.
Student data should be shared among early childhood programs, K-12 schools, teachers, parents, reading specialists, and administrators.
Wisconsin should explore the creation of a program similar to the Minnesota Reading Corps in 2013.
- Early Childhood
DPI and the Department of Children and Families should work together to share data, allowing for evaluation of early childhood practices.
All 4K programs should have an adequate literacy component.
DPI will update the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards to ensure accuracy and alignment with the Common Core State Standards, and place more emphasis on fidelity of implementation of the WMELS.
The YoungStar rating system for early childhood programs should include more specific early literacy criteria.
The Educator Effectiveness Design Team should consider reading outcomes in its evaluation systems.
The Wisconsin School Accountability Design Team should emphasize early reading proficiency as a key measure for schools and districts. Struggling schools and districts should be given ongoing quality professional development and required to implement scientific research-based screening, assessment, curriculum, and intervention.
Educators and administrators should receive training on best practices in order to provide effective instruction for struggling readers.
The state should enforce the federal definition for scientific research-based practices, encourage the use of What Works Clearinghouse, and facilitate communication about effective strategies.
In addition to effective intervention throughout the school year, Wisconsin should consider mandatory evidence-based summer school programs for struggling readers, especially in the lower grades, and hold the programs accountable for results.
- Family Involvement
Support should be given to programs such as Reach Out and Read that reach low-income families in settings that are well-attended by parents, provide books to low-income children, and encourage adults to read to children.
The state should support programs that show families and caregivers how to foster oral language and reading skill development in children.
Adult literacy agencies and K-12 schools should collaborate at the community level so that parents can improve their own literacy skills.
Related: Erin Richards’ summary (and Google News aggregation) and many SIS links.
An Exemplary Historian: An interview with Will Fitzhugh Publisher of The Concord Review
What inspired you to start The Concord Review?
Diane Ravitch, an American historian of education, wrote a col- umn in The New York Times in 1985 about the ignorance of his- tory among 17-year-olds in the United States, based on a study of 7,000 students. As a history teacher myself at the time, I was interested to see that what concerned me was a national problem, and I began to think about these issues. It occurred to me that if I had one or two very good students writing his- tory papers for me and perhaps my colleagues had one or two, then in 20,000 United States high schools (and more overseas) there must be a large number of high school students doing exemplary history research papers. So in1987, I established The Concord Review to provide a journal for such good work in his- tory. I sent a four-page brochure calling for papers to every high school in the United States, 3,500 high schools in Canada, and 1,500 schools overseas. The papers started coming in, and in the fall of 1988, I was able to publish the first issue of The Concord Review. Since then, we have published 89 issues.
Madison School District Technology Acquisition Plan and iPad Learning Initiative
Bill Smojver, Director of Technical Services:
Madison Metropolitan School District was provided an award from the Microsoft Cy Pres settlement in the Fall of 2009. Since that time the district has utilized many of these funds to prorate projects across the district in order to free up budgeted funds and to provide for more flexibility. The plan and process for these funds liquidates the General Purpose portion of the Microsoft Cy Pres funds, provides an equitable allocation per pupil to each school, and is aimed at increasing the amount of technology within our schools.
The total allocation remaining from Cy Pres revenues totals $2,755,463.11, which was the target for the technology acquisition plan. Two things happened prior to allocating funds to schools: first was to hold back $442,000 for the future purchase of iPads for our schools (at $479 per iPad this equates to a 923 iPads), and second was to hold back $200,000 necessary for increased server capacity to deal with the increase in different types of technology.
The final step was to allocate the remaining funding ($2,113,463.11) out to the schools on a per pupil basis. This was calculated at $85.09 per pupil across all schools within the district.
I found the device distribution to be quite interesting. The iPad revolution is well underway. Technology’s role in schools continues to be a worthwhile discussion topic.
Our Enemy, the Book
Fellow members of the Electronic Educational Entertainment Association. My remarks will be brief, as I realize you all have texts to read, messages to tweet, and you will of course want to take photos of those around you to post on your blog.
I only want to remind you that the book is our enemy. Every minute a student spends reading a book is time taken away from purchasing and using the software and hardware the sale of which we depend on for our livelihoods.
You should keep in mind the story C.S. Lewis told of Wormwood, the sales rep for his uncle Screwtape, a district manager Below, who was panicked when his target client joined a church. What was he to do? Did this mean a lost account? Screwtape reassured him with a story from his own early days. One of his accounts went into a library, and Screwtape was not worried, but then the client picked up a book and began reading. However, then he began to think! And, in an instant, the Enemy Above was at his elbow. But Screwtape did not panic–fortunately it was lunchtime, and he managed to get his prospect up and at the door of the library. There was traffic and busyiness, and the client thought to himself, “This is real life!” And Screwtape was able to close the account.
In the early days, Progressive Educators would sometimes say to students, in effect, “step away from those books and no one gets hurt!” because they wanted students to put down their books, go out, work for social justice, and otherwise take part in “real life” rather than get into those dangerous books and start thinking for themselves, for goodness’ sake!
But now we have more effective means of keeping our children in school and at home away from those books. We have Grand Theft Auto and hundreds of other games for them to play at escaping all moral codes. We have smartphones, with which they can while away the hours and the days texting and talking about themselves with their friends.
We even have “educational software” and lots of gear, like video recorders, so that students can maintain their focus on themselves, and stay away from the risks posed by books, which could very possibly lead them to think about something besides themselves. And remember, people who read books and think about something besides themselves do not make good customers. And more than anything, we want and need good customers, young people who buy our hardware and software, and who can be encouraged to stay away from the books in libraries, which are not only free, for goodness’s sake, but may even lead them to think. And that will be no help at all to our bottom line. Andrew Carnegie may have been a philanthropist, but by providing free libraries he did nothing to help us sell electronic entertainment products. We must never let down our guard or reduce our advertising. Just remember every young person reading a book is a lost customer! Verbum Sap.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review 
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes 
National Writing Board 
TCR Institute 
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
What Kids Demand in a Novel
Sometimes you find yourself part of a trend accidentally: Some old, beloved jacket in your closet becomes fashionable, or your private, favorite novel is discovered by the world. Having written four books of fiction for adults, I wrote a novel for kids, and looked up from the first draft to find that other writers were doing the same thing–and adults were reading the books.
My plunge into the world of children’s publishing surprised my friends as much as it surprised me. One asked, “How did you make the change? Did you have some kind of magical elixir?” I did, if you consider that magical elixirs are slow and difficult and sometimes frustrating to make, and involve wrong turns and unexpected discoveries. But here’s the basic recipe:
1. Don’t worry about what category the book belongs in. I thought I was writing a young adult novel and discovered that there was a type of book called “middle reader” only when my publishers told me I’d written one. I worked in a state of utter naïveté about what the rules are for writing children’s books, which was liberating.
Royal Society journal archive made permanently free to access
The Royal Society continues to support scientific discovery by allowing free access to more than 250 years of leading research.
From October 2011, our world-famous journal archive – comprising more than 69,000 articles – will be opened up and all articles more than 70 years old will be made permanently free to access.
The Royal Society is the world’s oldest scientific publisher and, as such, our archive is the most comprehensive in science. Treasures in the archive include Isaac Newton’s first published scientific paper, geological work by a young Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Franklin’s celebrated account of his electrical kite experiment. Readers willing to delve a little deeper may find some undiscovered gems from the dawn of the scientific revolution – including Robert Boyle’s account of monstrous calves, grisly tales of students being struck by lightning, and early experiments on to how to cool drinks ‘without the Help of Snow, Ice, Haile, Wind or Niter, and That at Any Time of the Year.’
Economics in One Lesson
The first edition of this book appeared in 1946. Eight translations were made of it, and there were numerous paperback editions. In a paperback of 1961, a new chapter was added on rent control, which had not been specifically considered in the first edition apart from government price-fixing in general. A few statistics and illustrative references were brought up to date.
Otherwise no changes were made until now. The chief reason was that they were not thought necessary. My book was written to emphasize general economic principles, and the penalties of ignoring them-not the harm done by any specific piece of legislation. While my illustrations were based mainly on American experience, the kind of government interventions I deplored had become so internationalized that I seemed to many foreign readers to be particularly describing the economic policies of their own countries.
Nevertheless, the passage of thirty-two years now seems to me to call for extensive revision. In addition to bringing all illustrations and statistics up to date, I have written an entirely new chapter on rent control; the 1961 discussion now seems inadequate. And I have added a new final chapter, “The Lesson After Thirty Years,” to show why that lesson is today more desperately needed than ever.
Change.edu: Rebooting for the New Talent Economy
“The next twenty-five years offer an opportunity to transform the way students have learned for centuries. We will be able to deliver education to students where they are, based on their specific needs, desires, and backgrounds.”–Andrew S. Rosen
Imagine a university where programs are tailored to the needs of each student, the best professors are available to everyone, curriculum is relevant to the workplace – and the value of the education is demonstrable. In Change.edu, Andrew S. Rosen shows how that future is possible but in danger of being stifled by a system of incentives that emphasize prestige and tradition, rather than access and outcomes.
The U.S. higher education system has historically been considered one of the best in the world. This thought-provoking story presents the imperative for transforming that system for the 21st century and beyond. Rosen takes on the sacred cows of traditional higher education models, and calls on the country to demand the changes we need to build a qualified workforce and compete in a global economy. Change.edu is sure to open minds — and open doors to a wealth of opportunities.
“Unlimited Distribution” Michael Hart, father of e-books and founder of Project Gutenberg, died on September 6th, aged 64
AMONG the episodes in his life that didn’t last, that were over almost before they began, including a spell in the army and a try at marriage, Michael Hart was a street musician in San Francisco. He made no money at it, but then he never bought into the money system much–garage-sale T-shirts, canned beans for supper, were his sort of thing. He gave the music away for nothing because he believed it should be as freely available as the air you breathed, or as the wild blackberries and raspberries he used to gorge on, growing up, in the woods near Tacoma in Washington state. All good things should be abundant, and they should be free.
He came to apply that principle to books, too. Everyone should have access to the great works of the world, whether heavy (Shakespeare, “Moby-Dick”, pi to 1m places), or light (Peter Pan, Sherlock Holmes, the “Kama Sutra”). Everyone should have a free library of their own, the whole Library of Congress if they wanted, or some esoteric little subset; he liked Romanian poetry himself, and Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha”. The joy of e-books, which he invented, was that anyone could read those books anywhere, free, on any device, and every text could be replicated millions of times over. He dreamed that by 2021 he would have provided a million e-books each, a petabyte of information that could probably be held in one hand, to a billion people all over the globe–a quadrillion books, just given away. As powerful as the Bomb, but beneficial.
Project Gutenberg offers over 36,000 free ebooks to download to your PC, Kindle, Android, iOS or other portable device. Choose between ePub, Kindle, HTML and simple text formats.
We carry high quality ebooks: All our ebooks were previously published by bona fide publishers. We digitized and diligently proofed them with the help of thousands of volunteers.
No fee or registration is required, but if you find Project Gutenberg useful, we kindly ask you to donate a small amount so we can buy and digitize more books. Other ways to help include digitizing more books, recording audio books, or reporting errors.
Online textbooks moving into Washington area schools
Emma Brown, via a kind James Dias email:
Seventh-grade history teacher Mark Stevens bellowed a set of 21st-century instructions as students streamed into class one recent Friday at Fairfax County’s Glasgow Middle School.
“Get a computer, please! Log on,” he said, “and go to your textbook.”
Electronic books, having changed the way many people read for pleasure, are now seeping into schools. Starting this fall, almost all Fairfax middle and high school students began using online books in social studies, jettisoning the tomes that have weighed down backpacks for decades.
It is the Washington area’s most extensive foray into online textbooks, putting Fairfax at the leading edge of a digital movement that publishers and educators say inevitably will sweep schools nationwide.
But questions remain about whether the least-privileged children will have equal access to required texts. Many don’t have computers at home, or reliable Internet service, and the school system is not giving a laptop or e-reader to every student.
America’s revolution in business school education
Business schools are under the microscope again, their relevance and value questioned in many quarters. The financial crisis has triggered a self-examination of their raison d’etre.
However, before we can decide whether and how business schools need to change, it is worth pausing to consider how and why business schools have evolved as they have.
A new book, “The Roots, Rituals and Rhetorics of Change: North American Business Schools After the Second World War,” describes the revolution in business education that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. The book was published by Stanford University Press.
Writers on Writing
In honor of the National Book Festival, running Sept. 24 – 25 on the National Mall, we asked some of the authors participating to share their thoughts on a few writerly subjects.
What do writers think about writing? Here’s a small selection of what they had to say.
THE THING I’M HAPPIEST ABOUT IN MY WRITING CAREER IS . . .
That rarest of occurrences: being able to finance my writing life with the writing itself.
— Russell Banks
The sound of my father’s voice on the telephone when I told him that I had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. That the book, “Thomas and Beulah,” dealt with my home town and was about my maternal grandparents made the announcement that much sweeter.
You are Not a Tinker Toy: Libraries and Reorganization
When I read “Library Limbo,” a news story about library staff members being laid off the University of San Diego, I had to resist adding a comment because I needed what preschools sometimes call a “time out.” My first responses were strong, but not measured, and in stories like this there are always layers of complexity that the best journalist in the world cannot represent. Rarely are personnel decisions of any kind easy to describe, and some of the key information is usually not publicly available. Often what is described as the elimination of a position becomes suddenly not discussable because it’s a personnel matter. A personnel matter that can’t be discussed is not about a change in a position but about the performance of the person in the position, which is a different . . . hang on, I apparently need to go sit quietly in the corner for a few more minutes . . .
Okay. So let’s not talk about that particular situation at the University of San Diego because I don’t know enough about it to comment meaningfully. Instead I want to propose a few general things about libraries, change, and organizations.
School Libraries Struggle with E-Book Loans
Just as many predicted, sales figures show that more people are opting to buy e-books rather than printed copies. Sales of e-books rose 167 percent in June, reports Publishers Weekly, with sales totaling $473.8 million for the first half of the year. But sales of print books — both paperbacks and hardcovers — continue to decline.
It isn’t just publishers that are scrambling to adjust their business models to the growing demand for e-books; so too are libraries having to reconsider how they will provide content for their patrons.
Even though there’s keen interest on the part of library patrons to check out e-books, making a move to digital loans is not going to be easy. That’s true for all libraries, but it’s especially true for school libraries, many of which already face budget woes, and as such, have to weigh carefully how to invest in new books to stock the shelves.
Book Review: School Blues
THOMAS NAGEL, an American philosopher, wants to know what it is like for a bat to be a bat. Ian Anderson, a Scot who performs with the band Jethro Tull, sang of a slightly less intractable difficulty: “wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.” In “School Blues” Daniel Pennac, a prize-winning French writer, describes what faces a school dunce when the teacher before him cannot recall what it felt like to be ignorant.
Mr Pennac was once such a child (he uses the French cancre, as in Cancer, the crab: a creature that scuttles sideways instead of advancing forwards). But despite becoming a teacher, he can remember what it was like not to understand lessons. The voices in his head remind him of it. They taunt him throughout his semi-autobiographical novel, which partially traces his sorry academic career as the child of high-achieving parents whose three older brothers excelled at school. Luckily for him, his parents did not let him flee the system but instead persisted in finding a teacher who would help him to succeed. The breakthrough came aged 14 when his latest tutor–“no doubt amazed by my increasingly inventive excuses as to why I hadn’t done my homework”–commissioned him to write essays and then a novel.
Evolution Honored as the best Canadian Science Book for Young Readers
Daniel Loxton via a kind Larry Winkler email:
Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be took home the national Lane Anderson Award as the best Canadian science book for young readers at an award dinner in Toronto last night. The win was reported today by the National Post, the Vancouver Sun, Quill & Quire, the Canadian Children’s Book Center and other media. It was published by Canadian publisher Kids Can Press. But it’s not for lack of trying that a Canadian publisher rather than American publisher issued this book.
According to author Daniel Loxton, US publishers wouldn’t touch it.
“It’s important to realize that most of the publishing professionals I dealt with in the US were lovely and encouraging. They all said “no,” but some recommended smaller, artier presses they felt might consider Evolution…. [S]ome of America’s top children’s publishing professionals rejected Evolution, some citing concerns that it was too controversial, too much of “a tough sell,” or (“in today’s climate”) too likely to find needed distribution channels closed…. It was certainly frustrating to knock on cold doors, but I am sympathetic to publishers. [I]t’s a tough time for book producers, and they need to work hard to mitigate risk. Publishers face the on the ground reality that almost half of American adults–many of them reviewers, librarians, booksellers, or teachers–believe that evolution did not happen at all.
why do people still buy books?
there’s been a lot going on recently with books. i’ve been watching eric ries and i’m blown away by how successful he’s been at promoting his book the lean startup. i saw that @dharmesh wrote about it at onstartups.com, and tweeting out small agreeable little tidbits from the book is genius–i don’t know whether this was intentional or not, but that’s an awesome idea.
i met noah kagan last friday to catch up over drinks at showdown in sf, and i met someone interesting there: laura roeder. i usually meet people who claim to be “social media experts” (as every hacker reading this rolls their eyes) but this woman actually had a significant following and presence on twitter and facebook, and not one of those fake “follow me and i’ll auto-follow you back” type of things. i dropped in on a small video conference she was doing today corresponding to her book launch, which i had not realized she was working on (for some reason, she didn’t mention it when we met, even though i had mentioned startups open sourced was paying my rent at this point).
Visualizing the uneven geographies of knowledge production and circulation
As noted in a previous entry (‘Visualizing the globalization of higher education and research‘), we’ve been keen to both develop and promote high quality visualizations associated with the globalization of higher education and research. On this note, the wonderful Floating Sheep collective recently informed me about some new graphics that will be published in:
Graham, M., Hale, S. A., and Stephens, M. (2011) Geographies of the World’s Knowledge, London, Convoco! Edition.
50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice
April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. Celebrations, readings, and toasts are being held, and a commemorative edition has been released.
I won’t be celebrating.
The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students’ grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.
The authors won’t be hurt by these critical remarks. They are long dead. William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte’s Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately. After Strunk’s death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.
One of the world’s oldest publishing companies brought in a ringer to revolutionize the way the company does business. The result? The first fully-interactive textbook
Nature Publishing Group, which publishes several highly regarded scientific journals and textbooks, was founded in England in 1869, eight years before electric lights illuminated the streets of London. Now, 140 years later, with the help of Harvard Classics scholar Vikram Savkar, the company is beginning to disrupt the traditional textbook model that it helped to create. This month at California State University, the company released Principles of Biology, an interactive, constantly updating biology textbook that retails for less than $50. Like most digital textbooks, the software is accessible on laptops and tablets, but unlike most digital textbooks, it’s not just a scan of a .pdf. The company calls it a “digital reinvention of the textbook,” meaning that students can interact with the material; they can literally match amino acids and corresponding DNA with their fingers. Inc.com’s Eric Markowitz spoke with Vikram Savkar about what it takes to create a culture of innovation in an old-school company.
Connecticut Education reform group presents proposals to state board
A group of business and philanthropic leaders appointed by Governor Dannel P. Malloy presented their education reform proposals to the state Board of Education Wednesday, pitching changes to teacher certification requirements, preparation programs and evaluations to help close Connecticut’s dramatic achievement gap.
Members of the Connecticut Council on Education Reform said they considered the timing appropriate, coming as Malloy introduced his new education commissioner and reiterated that education will be a priority in next year’s legislative session.
“We think next year could be the lynchpin,” said Steve Simmons, vice chair of the council and CEO of Simmons/Patriot Media and Communications. “The governor has said that this first year was focused on the budget crisis and the second year was going to be education reform. I think we have a great chance here over this next nine or ten month period to really push for change.”
Colorado’s Story: A key narrative in Steven Brill’s Class Warfare
While they say that all politics is local, Colorado seems to be national news, yet again. Our state is featured prominently in Steven Brill’s new book, Class Warfare, which is receiving a lot of press from national news outlets.
Weaving a narrative around the passage of Senate Bill 10-191 in Colorado, Brill tells a good story, replete with heroic figures like Senator Mike Johnston. I worked closely on SB 191 from its inception to passage, I can tell you that the on the ground details of its success are even more interesting than what’s depicted in Brill’s account.
Please see DFER’s case study on SB 191 here for a close examination of the strategy, the broad coalition, and the bipartisan champions that helped make SB 191 a reality. Without the active support of the sophisticated coalition of political leaders on both sides of the aisle, including House sponsors Rep. Christine Scanlan and Rep. Carole Murray, non-profit organizations such as Stand for Children Colorado, civil rights groups, and business leaders that worked with the media, spoke with legislators, and reached out to their communities, the bill would not have passed. For further reading, Van Schoales, a DFER-CO Advisory Committee member, has written a review of Class Warfare: available here.
Copernicus: the man who changed the world
Nicolaus Copernicus, the man credited with turning our perception of the cosmos inside out, was born in the city of Torun, part of “Old Prussia” in the Kingdom of Poland, at 4:48 on Friday afternoon, February 19 1473. By the time his horoscope for that auspicious moment was created – at the end of the astronomer’s life – his contemporaries already knew that he had fathered an alternative universe: that he had defied common sense and received wisdom to place the Sun at the centre of the heavens, then set the Earth in motion around it.
Copernicus grew up Niklas Koppernigk, the second son and youngest of four children of a merchant family. He was raised in Torun, in a tall brick house that is now a museum to the memory of the town’s famous son. From here, he and his brother, Andrei, could walk to classes at the parish school of St. John’s Church or to the family warehouse near the river Vistula. When Niklas was 10, his father died, and he and his siblings came under the care of their maternal uncle, Lukasz Watzenrode, a minor cleric, or “canon”, in a nearby diocese. He arranged a marriage contract for one niece and consigned the other to a convent, but his nephews he supported at school, until they were ready to attend his alma mater, the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. By then, Uncle Lukasz had risen to become Bishop of Varmia.
Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?
The beginning of a freshman’s college experience is an exciting time. Dining halls! No bedtime! Taunting your RA! Exorbitantly expensive textbooks!
Wait, that last one is no fun at all. It’s hard to make that first trip to the college bookstore for required texts without leaving with a bit of sticker shock. Why are textbooks so astonishingly expensive? Let’s take a look.
Publishers would explain that textbooks are really expensive to make. Dropping over a hundred bucks for a textbook seems like an outrage when you’re used to shelling out $10 or $25 for a novel, but textbooks aren’t made on the same budget. Those hundreds of glossy colorful pages, complete with charts, graphs, and illustrations, cost more than putting black words on regular old white paper. The National Association of College Stores has said that roughly 33 cents of every textbook dollar goes to this sort of production cost, with another 11.8 cents of every dollar going to author royalties. Making a textbook isn’t cheap.
There’s certainly some validity to this explanation. Yes, those charts and diagrams are expensive to produce, and the relatively small print runs of textbooks keep publishers from enjoying the kind of economies of scale they get on a bestselling popular novel. Any economist who has a pulse (and probably some who don’t) could poke holes in this argument pretty quickly, though.
“A New York Times Reporter Tips His Hand”
That’s the title of a post from Heather Mac Donald (Secular Right); here’s an excerpt, though you should read the whole post:
In the course of a column blasting media entrepreneur Steven Brill’s new book on the school reform movement, New York Times reporter Michael Winerip inadvertently sets out his economic assumptions. A revelation of an entire world view does not get any more crystalline than this. (Regarding education, Winerip almost equally tellingly criticises Brill for not showing enough respect to teachers and teachers unions.)
Winerip lists several of Brill’s sources — the “millionaires and billionaires who attack the unions and steered the Democratic Party to their cause” — then adds:
7 in 10 Students Have Skipped Buying a Textbook Because of Its Cost, Survey Finds
For many students and their families, scraping together the money to pay for college is a big enough hurdle on its own. But a new survey has found that, once on a campus, many students are unwilling or unable to come up with more money to buy books–one of the very things that helps turn tuition dollars into academic success.
In the survey, released on Tuesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy organization, seven in 10 college students said they had not purchased a textbook at least once because they had found the price too high. Many more respondents said they had purchased a book whose price was driven up by common textbook-publishing practices, such as frequent new editions or bundling with other products.
“Students recognize that textbooks are essential to their education but have been pushed to the breaking point by skyrocketing costs,” said Rich Williams, a higher-education advocate with the group, known as U.S. PIRG. “The alarming result of this survey underscores the urgent need for affordable solutions.”
iPad, I Saw, I Waited: The State of E-Textbooks
If you’re looking for a textbook example of technology obstruction by the media industry, look no further than e-textbooks.
“About 90 percent of the time, the cheapest option is still to buy a used book and then resell that book,” says Jonathan Robinson, founder of FreeTextbooks.com, an online retailer of discount books. “That is really an obstacle for widespread adoption [of e-textbooks], because smarter consumers realize that and are not going to leap into the digital movement until the pricing evens out.”
That’s sad news for students headed back to college this fall. IPads, Kindles and even HP’s doomed TouchPad tablet are literally flying off the shelves, and many students wouldn’t be caught dead on campus without one.
Meanwhile, e-textbook sales at the nation’s universities are stuck in single digits, with little hope of escape before 2013. According to Simba Information , in the next two years e-textbook revenue will reach just $585.4 million and account for just over 11 percent of all higher education and career-oriented textbook sales — a notable but not yet predominant force in the marketplace.
Related: e-textbook readers compared.
New Site Brazenly Trades Pirated E-Textbooks
Textbook pirates have struck again. Nearly three years after publishers shut down a large Web site devoted to illegally trading e-textbooks, a copycat site has sprung up–with its leaders arguing that it is operating overseas in a way that will be more difficult to stop.
The new site, LibraryPirate, quietly started operating last year, but it began a public-relations blitz last week, sending letters to the editor to several news sites, including The Chronicle, in which it called on students to make digital scans of their printed textbooks and post them to the site for free online.
Such online trading violates copyright law, but some people have apparently been adding pirated versions of e-textbooks to the site’s directory. The site now boasts 1,700 textbooks, organized and searchable. Downloading the textbooks requires a peer-to-peer system called BitTorrent, and the LibraryPirate site hosts a step-by-step guide to using it.
Not by The Book
Apply. Visit campus. Complete the financial aid form. Get four years of free textbooks.
First-year University of Dayton students can receive up to $4,000 over four years for textbooks by completing three steps of the fall 2012 application process by March 1.
“We want to help parents and students understand that from the very first day, a University of Dayton education is very rewarding,” said Kathy McEuen Harmon, assistant vice president and dean of admission and financial aid.
“Through this initiative, we want to underscore that a University of Dayton education is affordable and we are committed to helping families in very tangible ways,” she said.
With the economy still difficult, Harmon said the free textbook program will bring families clarity and certainty about one piece of the financial puzzle.
Leadership begins with School Board
Leadership in any organization comes from the top. No, the superintendent is not “the top” of a school district organization. The top spot is held by the School Board, seven elected individuals who work together to implement policies and practices to meet the changing needs of students and families, all within the limited resources, financial and otherwise, that are available.
I have been fortunate during my first two years as superintendent to work with a dedicated and hard-working School Board. Being a board member requires the commitment of endless hours of time and effort, and is frequently somewhat thankless as there are very few decisions made in a large school district that will be welcomed by all. The service and support of our current board is appreciated.
Recently the School Board met in a retreat to review the best practices of high-performing boards and evaluate what changes they can implement to improve not only the functioning of the School Board, but ultimately the effectiveness and efficiency of the school district. I commend our board for this undertaking as it is a great modeling and example of the culture we are seeking to develop in the South Washington County Schools of continuous improvement and performance excellence. While the School Board generally functions very well, there is always room for improvement and this board is committed to such evaluation, assessment and improvement of their performance.
Open Source E-Reader
Akademos, Inc., a leading provider of integrated online bookstores and marketplaces to educational institutions, announced today that it has launched a digital reader that will allow its member institutions to access electronic content from traditional publishers and from open resources, such as the Connexions Consortium, World Public Library, the Guttenberg Project, and many others.
The company also announced its first major Open Educational Resources (OER) partnership with publisher Flat World Knowledge, which is providing the company with its full catalog of over 40 high-quality textbooks covering major subject areas for introductory general education colleges courses.
Education in South Korea: Books overboard
WHEN school textbooks make the headlines in East Asia, they are usually cast as bystanders to some intractable old dispute, and related demands that children be taught “correct” history. Thankfully though, future-minded officials in South Korea have given cause for this correspondent to write about something altogether different: by 2015, all of the country’s dead-tree textbooks will be phased out, in favour of learning materials carried on tablet computers and other devices.
The cost of setting up the network will be $2.1 billion. It is hoped that cutting out printing costs will go some way towards compensating for this expenditure. Environmentalists will of course be pleased, regardless. A cloud network will be set up to host digital copies of all existing textbooks, and to give students the (possibly unwelcome) ability to access materials at any time, via iPads, smartphones, netbooks, and even Stone-Age PCs. Kids will need to come up with a new range of excuses for not doing their homework: the family dog cannot be blamed for eating a computer, nor can a file hosted on a cloud network be left behind on a bus.
Words to the wise: the art of reading to toddlers
Alice Wong considered herself an avid reader, but it didn’t occur to her that she might have to learn how to read to her two young children. She was even less aware that courses were available to teach this skill.
“I never used to understand the power of reading,” says Wong, who has a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.