Archive for ‘quick links’

July 31, 2013

Quick Links – Our best students compared against the world; gifted 29-year old can’t find a job; Detroit’s high illiteracy rate

by Grace

Our best and brightest students don’t shine so brightly when compared to their counterparts around the world.

Compared with big urban centers, America’s affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world—in Finland and Singapore—very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The problem America faces, then, is that its urban school districts perform inadequately compared with their suburban counterparts, and its suburban districts generally perform inadequately compared with their international counterparts. The domestic achievement gap means that the floor for student performance in America is too low, and the international achievement gap signals that the same is true of the ceiling. America’s weakest school districts are failing their students and the nation, and so are many of America’s strongest.

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“My child is gifted. He’s also 29, unemployed, and living in my basement”

This parent believes “the idea that a kid should be forced to ‘get a job’ is abhorrent” and thinks it’s “pointless” for his 29-year old college-educated son “to be out working in a retail store or some other menial job”.  Better for him to live at home for free while he waits “to get the job he deserves”.

I confess I’ve sometimes feared turning into this parent.

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 Among the 25 Facts About The Fall Of Detroit That Will Leave You Shaking Your Head

9) An astounding 47 percent of the residents of the city of Detroit are functionally illiterate.

July 24, 2013

Quick Links – Children need facts to learn; parents read more to girls; a new blog

by Grace

‘Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts’ (The Daily Telegraph)

The academics who criticised rote learning are wrong – it is at the heart of all knowledge

Author and journalist Harry Mount responds to the professors of education who oppose Britain’s new national curriculum.  They claim it will ‘will place an overemphasis on memorising “endless lists of spelling, facts and rules”’, thereby robbing children of the “ability to think”‘.

Those academics think knowledge and thought are at war with each other in a zero-sum game; that you can’t have one without destroying the other. They say that rote learning is less important than “cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity”. How wrong they are – and how depressingly keen on the dreary, Latinate jargon of academese. You can’t be critical or creative, or develop, without knowing anything. Knowledge and thought aren’t chickens and eggs: knowledge always comes before a decent thought. Brilliant thinkers invariably know lots of things; and people who don’t know anything are usually stupid, unless they have had the cruel misfortune to have their natural intelligence stunted by an education system that prizes ignorance.

Daniel Willingham would further argue that we need “inflexible” knowledge , which is “memorizing with meaning”.  Rote knowledge, which is memorizing without meaning, is typically a precursor to flexible knowledge.

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Why parents read more with their daughters

Girls get more reading time with their parents than boys do.

There Are Plenty of Reasons Why Parents May Read More With Their Daughters

One theory holds that girls might have a greater inclination toward such activities. (Theories suggesting innate differences between boys and girls and between men and women are hotly debated.) Another theory is that parents may be following cultural scripts and unconscious biases that suggest they should read with their daughters, and have active play with sons.

It is also possible, Baker says, that the costs of investing in cognitive activities is different when it comes to boys and girls. As an economist, he isn’t referring to cost in the sense of cash; he means cost in the sense of effort.

“It is just more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl because the boy doesn’t sit still, you know, doesn’t pay attention,” he says, “these sorts of things.”

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Check out a new blog.

My son recently launched a new blog.  Occam’s Razor Scooter “is dedicated to news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else the author finds interesting”.  Politics is a particular focus, with a regularly updated guide to next year’s US Senate elections.  And the blog’s “dog of the day” feature is worth checking just for a daily smile.


July 17, 2013

Quick Links — New York average college debt; black families denied student loans; summer intern fails big

by Grace

The average New York state college student debt load for a 2011 graduate is about $26,400.

That compares to a 2011 nationwide average student debt of $27,200, which includes loans for both state and private colleges.  The New York average seems high since their state schools are considered among the nation’s best values in public colleges.

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… the Obama administration has begun denying student loans to disproportionately large numbers of black parents because of blemished credit histories.

 United Negro College Fund President Michael Lomax calls  this a “a nasty surprise”.

In the past year, for historically black colleges and universities (HCBU), the Obama administration’s policies have led to a 36 percent drop in the volume of parent loans. That translated into an annual cut of more than $150 million. The reason, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, is to prevent parents from taking on too much debt — which is as patronizing as it is hypocritical. In April, Obama announced that he was pushing to make more home loans available to people with weak credit.

…  from Howard University in the District to Morehouse and Spelman colleges in Atlanta, enrollment at HBCUs is declining as the realities of Obama’s revamped loan policies make a mockery of his high-flung rhetoric.

“It is particularly ironic that at a time when this administration has set a goal to increase the nation’s college graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020, this policy shift occurs that will make reaching the goal impossible,” said Cheryl Smith, senior vice president for public policy and government at the United Negro College Fund. “The tougher credit criteria are having a disparate impact on underrepresented minority students, the very ones that stand to benefit the most from a college education.”

Stricter underwriting standards were added for Parent Plus loans in October 2011, but federal loans continue to have easier qualification requirements than private loans do.

According to Education Department standards, prospective borrowers can’t have any current accounts more than 90 days delinquent, or any foreclosures, bankruptcies, tax liens, wage garnishments or defaults within the past five years. But the department doesn’t look at prospective borrowers’ incomes or their current debt load, meaning that poor borrowers with little or no credit history can be approved.

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NTSB summer intern blamed for racist names

A NTSB summer intern “erroneously” confirmed bogus names of the pilots manning the Asiana flight that crashed in San Francisco last week.  The names, which included “Captain Sum Ting Wong”, were read on the air by a local news anchor.

I’m waiting to see if this intern’s name is released, and if he goes on to get his 15 minutes of “fame”.

One of the fake names provided was “Ho Lee Fuk”, which reminded me of the time my husband worked with a client whose name included Fuk.  Unsurprisingly, it caused a few laughs around the office.

June 26, 2013

Quick Links – Contranyms; affirmative action drama continues; boys problems

by Grace

TIL a word that can be its own antonym is called a contranym.

Also referred to as an auto-antonym or Janus word

Some examples from Daily Writing Tips:

  • Bolt: To secure, or to flee
  • Dust: To add fine particles, or to remove them
  • Flog: To promote persistently, or to criticize or beat
  • Sanction: To approve, or to boycott
  • Trim: To decorate, or to remove excess from

Here’s an example from contemporary slang:  …”bitch” can refer to someone who’s domineering or submissive.

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‘So the drama over affirmative action continues’.

From the WSJ:

The Supreme Court, in an anticlimax, sidestepped a sweeping ruling on affirmative action Monday, directing lower courts to re-examine whether a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin should survive constitutional scrutiny.

Summed up in a Chronicle of Higher Ed headline:

Supreme Court Puts New Pressure on Colleges to Justify Affirmative Action

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This might be an iconic photo, emblematic of the “boys problem” in our schools.


These young women are the senior class officers at a local public high school* that held graduation last week.  They look like a fine group of accomplished, motivated students.

* No, this is not an all-girls school.

June 19, 2013

Quick Links – College students seek mental health assistance; students not prepared for college writing; we need to ‘create education better’

by Grace

Almost 40% of Harvard students seek mental health treatment.

45.1% of females and 30.1% of males have sought mental health assistance while at Harvard, according to the Harvard Class of 2013 Senior Survey

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Graduates from low performing D.C high schools:  ‘Students almost universally said writing is a significant challenge when they get to college.’

… Darryl Robinson, a Georgetown student and 2011 graduate of Cesar Chavez, a D.C. charter school, said it was his first college writing assignment that taught him how much he had to learn.

Asked to analyze a memoir, Robinson wrote a simple plot summary. He hadn’t known how to develop an argument and back it up. His paper received a D-minus, as he recalled in an opinion piece he wrote for The Washington Post last year.

“Other Georgetown freshmen from better schools had been trained to form original, concise thoughts within a breath, to focus less on remembering every piece of information,” Robinson wrote. “My former teachers simply did not push me to think past a basic level, to apply concepts, to move beyond memorizing facts and figures.”

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America needs to “create education better“, according to the response Miss Utah gave to a question during the Miss USA pageant.

Of course this flub went viral.  Here’s the question Miss Utah was asked.

“A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men,  What does this say about society?”

I agree with Linda Holmes of NPR that this was a “simultaneously (1) dumb and (2) impossible to answer question”.  And it may have had another purpose.

That type of question is meant to weed out the un-PC.

Here’s Miss Utah’s complete answer:

“I think we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive to figure out how to create jobs right now,’’ she replied at the pageant. “That’s the biggest problem and I think, especially the men are, um, seen as the leaders of this and so we need to try to figure out how to create education better so that we can solve this problem. Thank you.”

In her second try during an appearance on the Today Show, Miss Utah gave a revised answer.

“This is not OK,’’ she said. “It needs to be equal pay for equal work. It’s hard enough already to earn a living, and it shouldn’t be harder just because you’re a woman.”

Given my views on this touchy subject, I don’t care for either response.  But her second try was certainly a politically correct answer.

May 22, 2013

Quick Links – Weaker teachers assigned to struggling students; all jobs are temporary; average students should skip college

by Grace

Study finds that “high-achieving students tend to get the most experienced teachers”.

From an analysis of ‘teacher assignments in the nation’s fourth-largest school district, Miami-Dade County Public Schools’

Even within the same school, lower-achieving students often are taught by less-experienced teachers, as well as by teachers who received their degrees from less-competitive colleges, according to a new study by researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the World Bank. The study, using data from one of the nation’s largest school districts, also shows that student class assignments vary within schools by a teacher’s gender and race….

Previous research indicates that high-quality teachers can significantly improve education outcomes for students.  However, not all students have equal access to the best teachers.

The assignment of teachers to students is the result of a complex process, involving school leaders, teachers and parents. While principals are constrained by teachers’ qualifications – not all high school teachers, for instance, can teach physics – they also may use their authority to reward certain teachers with the more desirable assignments or to appease teachers who are instrumental to school operations.

Teachers with more power, due to experience or other factors, may be able to choose their preferred classes. Parents, particularly those with more resources, also may try to intervene in the process to ensure that their children are taught by certain teachers….

… certain teachers – those with less experience, those from less-competitive colleges, female teachers, and black and Hispanic teachers – are more likely to work with lower-achieving students than are other teachers in the same school.

Do AP teachers need to be the most knowledgeable?

 … Teachers from more competitive colleges may have deeper subject knowledge than their colleagues from less-competitive colleges, leading principals to assign them to more advanced courses, the researchers said.


‘There is no longer such a thing as a linear career path.’

Bloomberg Businessweek gives us the The New Rules for the Modern Workplace.  New college graduates probably understand these new rules better than older workers do.

The current state of our economy has transformed the workplace and how we manage our careers. There is no longer such a thing as a linear career path. A college degree doesn’t magically turn into a job and an MBA doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get a promotion. Even if you get a job, it’s not stable and you won’t be staying with the same employer for life….

Rule No. 1: Your job is temporary. Where you start isn’t where you’ll end up. Your job, company, and profession may completely change because of mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, outsourcing, automation, and various other factors that are outside your control. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American will have about nine jobs from the age of 18 to 32. The job you’re in now is just a stepping stone along your path.


New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg says average students should skip college.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has some advice for high-school students who are mediocre students: skip college and become plumbers. Bloomberg said on Friday that teenagers who aren’t in the upper echelon should learn how to be plumbers rather that envision a career starting at a prestigious university and obtaining a college degree:

“The people who are going to have the biggest problem are college graduates who aren’t rocket scientists, if you will, not at the top of their class. Compare a plumber to going to Harvard College — being a plumber, actually for the average person, probably would be a better deal. You don’t spend … four years spending $40,000, $50,000 in tuition without earning income.”

Mark Kantrowitz disagrees, believing that most students should attend college and pointing out that many colleges cost less than $50,000.

May 15, 2013

Quick Links – College grade inflation; understating federal cost of student loans; trends in physical education

by Grace

College grade inflation

Forty years ago, only 10 percent of grades awarded by Yale College were in the A-range. Last spring, that percentage was 62.

Yale is reviewing its grading policy.

“If B-plus is being kept for bad work, and virtually everyone is getting A or A-minus, this eliminates any genuine feedback,” Kagan said. “I’ve always thought this is a disservice to undergraduates.”


The federal government systematically undercounts the cost of student loans by ignoring market risk.

… the federal government’s accounting practices systematically understate the cost of student loans by failing to account for market risk. A superior method called “fair value accounting,” which is the strong preference of academic economists and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would show considerably greater costs due to the risk associated with expecting loan repayments….

However, almost all economists believe that the way the federal government accounts for student loan costs is simply wrong. Under the principles of “fair value” accounting, which the CBO endorses, the discount rate applied to the revenue from students’ repayments should be much higher than the rate on U.S. Treasuries. A higher discount rate would reduce the present value of those repayments, thus increasing the cost of the student loan program to the government.

The reason the discount rate is higher is because it incorporates the price of market risk into cost estimates, while current accounting practices ignore that risk. Students might pay back what the government predicts they will, but taxpayers must cover the full cost of the loan regardless. Since defaults tend to occur when the economy is weak, taxpayers face the risk of losing expected funds at a time when budgets are least flexible.

Thus, the government’s budgetary estimate reflects only part of the fair value cost of offering a student loan. Additional cost comes from the risk that loan repayments will be lower than expected.[6] The federal government should use a higher discount rate to reflect the risk that expected loan repayments will not materialize.[7]

This reminds me of how state governments consistently underfund pension obligations, inflating discount rates to hide true taxpayer liability.


High school PE classes focus more on activities that will continue through to adulthood, including work-outs at fitness centers.

High schools are installing gyms for PE.

Forget dodge ball, squat thrusts and being picked last for the team. Today’s high-schoolers are more likely to get a workout in what’s becoming a must-have tool in physical education: a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Less focus on team sports and more emphasis on developing fitness habits that will last a lifetime

“There’s a lot of people who aren’t on the Scarsdale High School football team, and yet they want to be healthy,” he said. “I would anticipate using the treadmill and the machines for gaining muscles.”

There’s a new crop of physical education teachers coming out of college who are preparing to reach students, such as Gale, who don’t just want to learn to play a sport, said Robert Schmidlein, a professor of physical education at Manhattanville College.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” Schmidlein said. “People don’t play team sports when they get older. Less than 1 percent of the adult population plays team sports. Seventy percent of kids drop out of youth sports by age 13. No one should be teaching team sports at the high school.”

“Fit for Life”
Our local high school offers PE students a choice between two options for each class unit, with one usually involving a team sport and the other involving a fitness activity like yoga or running.  While we don’t have a Scarsdale-level fitness center, we do have a small selection of treadmills and elliptical machines.

May 1, 2013

Quick Links – Best and worst areas for job growth; women have a duty to keep working; Cooper Union will charge tuition

by Grace

Best and worst metropolitan areas for 2012 job growth

The South seems to be enjoying better job growth.

Top five metro areas for job growth, showing number of jobs:


Bottom five:


Check out the complete list.


Female Ivy League graduates have a duty to stay in the workforce

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a full-time mother, but you don’t need an elite degree to do it

I am not someone who believes that every woman should be made to feel as though they must choose between being committed to their children or committed to the sisterhood of women’s advancement. But I do consider any Harvard Law School degree obtained by a woman who then chooses not to use it in any sort of professional capacity throughout most of her life a wasted opportunity. That degree could have gone to a woman who does want to spend her entire life using it to advance the cause of women – or others in need of advancement – not simply advancing the lives of her own family at home, which is a noble cause, but not one requiring an elite degree….

… There’s nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

The author of this commentary is Keli Goff, a 33-year-old political commentator and former Democratic strategist.


Cooper Union to Start Charging Tuition in Fall 2014

Cooper Union only admits 7% of applicants, but that low admission rate may rise after it starts charging tuition.

Cooper Union said Tuesday it could no longer afford to foot the tuition bills for its entire student body, closing a wrenching year-and-a-half-long debate about how to balance economic woes against the school’s core mission to provide a top-notch higher education to talented students, no matter the cost.

The entering class of 2014 will be offered half scholarships to enroll in its prestigious program, putting the price of attendance at just under $20,000 a year….

Cooper Union — named after founder and industrialist Peter Cooper — was established in 1859 as a school for low-income students, offering access to the higher education necessary to participate in shaping public life. Since then, the promise of free education has been as central to the school’s identity as its rigorous programs in architecture, engineering, and the arts, as well as its motley collection of academic buildings — architectural marvels suggestive of the talent of the students inside.

But, like colleges and universities across the country, the college has hit hard financial times in recent years. While the school has relied largely on rent income from land beneath the Chrysler Building to fund its scholarships, that source has not kept pace with inflation rates, Epstein said in his statement.

April 24, 2013

Quick Links – Online learning similar to charter schools; financial literacy instruction doesn’t help much; high school grads avoiding college

by Grace

‘ Online learning faces many of the same obstacles that charter schools do.’

… It also has to overcome the same legitimate concerns about how to assess quality of a product offered by largely untested companies. Skeptics are right to note that many, perhaps most, of the online education providers out there won’t survive the decade—competition is intense, the technologies are new and changing rapidly, and not everyone can be a winner. Someone will be the of the ed-tech boom. That prospect is alarming to the traditional school bureaucracy, which tends to make contracts with vendors that span years or decades. They’re not set up to contract with firms offering services for a monthly fee that can be canceled at any time. And parents are rightly concerned about the long-term value of a degree from

In a perfect world, both online learning and charter schools would only be imposed on our children after rigorous testing and screening to be assured of their efficacy.  But in the real world, repeated unproven “innovations” are inflicted on students – No Child Left Behind being one of the latest examples.  So it is inevitable that some lucky students will continue to reap the benefits from the best of education’s innovations (think Amazon) and some unfortunate ones will suffer from the worst (think


Financial literacy education doesn’t seem to work.

U.S. students who’d taken personal finance or money management courses weren’t more financially savvy than those who hadn’t, according to a study by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

Maybe innumeracy is part of the problem, and schools should focus more on better math education.

New York State requires some personal finance instruction as part of its Economics, the Enterprise System, and Finance, a half-semester high school course taken senior year.  It uses course content from the Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.


Smaller Share of High School Grads Going to College

The college enrollment rate — the share of recent U.S. high-school graduates enrolling in college or a university in the same year — dropped in 2012 to 66.2%, the lowest level since 2006, the Labor Department said in a report on Wednesday. For 2012 graduates, the rate dropped for both men and women, to 61.3% from 64.6% in 2011, and 71.3% from 72.3%, respectively.

The findings suggest some high-school graduates are becoming more confident about their job prospects after years of hiding out by going to college. When the economy sank into recession between 2007 and 2009, the college enrollment rate rose steadily to a record high of 70.1%. The implosion of America’s construction industry, for example, meant fewer jobs for young men looking for work right out of high school. Now it appears some of these young graduates are going on the job market again.

Of course, finding a job isn’t that much easier. America’s job-market recovery remains uneven: The unemployment rate is still unusually high at 7.6%, and the economy added only 88,000 jobs last month — the weakest job gains since June 2012.

Perhaps the rising cost of higher education is a factor.

April 17, 2013

Quick Links – Women avoid science careers; electronic portfolios; Wisconsin’s ‘post-union era’

by Grace

‘Women With Both High Math and Verbal Ability Appear Less Likely to Choose Science Careers Because Their Dual Skills Confer More Career Options’ (University of Pittsburgh)

Study also finds that women with high math skills and only moderate verbal ability are the ones who appear more likely to choose STEM careers

Why are women with more options turning away from STEM careers?  Are they being steered away from these careers, or are they making choices based on their own interests?


Electronic portfolios are becoming more accepted by employers.

Job seekers are increasingly using electronic portfolios as a way to:

  • showcase achievement
  • demonstrate learning and experience
  • give and receive peer feedback (privately or publicly)
  • achieve promotion, and much more.

Some universities host e-portfolios for their students, or other sites and resources can be used.  Clemson University has an ePortfolio Program with a gallery of  examples.


In a ‘post-union era’, Wisconsin aims to reward ‘hard-working, high-achieving, and outstanding’ state employees.

After the “virtual elimination of collective bargaining and automatic dues collections” invalidated union contracts for Wisconsin state employees, the compensation system has changed from one that mandated automatic pay raises for all employees.

Bigger raises for fewer people

Under the discretionary merit pay program, fewer  employees received raises compared to the old collective bargaining agreement; the average raise was more money.

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