aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Evolution opponent at the National Association of State Boards of Education
The NYTimes reports that Kenneth Willard, a member of the Kansas Board of Education who voted to rewrite public school standards there in order to teach intelligent design is now the only member running as president-elect for the National Association of State Boards of Education:
“Some people are mindless about their attacks on anyone questioning anything Darwin might have said,” Mr. Willard said.
Talk about mindless!!!
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. Courts have repeatedly ruled that creationism and intelligent design are religious doctrines, not scientific theories.
A possible alternative to Willard:
[Retired Cincinnati buinessman Sam] Schloemer, a Republican, said in a telephone interview that he had learned of Mr. Willard’s unopposed candidacy a few days before. He said he had no particular desire for the office, but added, “I would rather serve than see someone of his persuasion represent school boards across the country.” Mr. Willard, who is in his fourth year on the 16-member national board, said in a telephone interview yesterday that issues like the teaching of evolution were best left to the states.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Teens choose colleges from websites, not MySpace
The Chronicle (subscription):
Fewer than 10 percent of high-school students used MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube—three of the most popular networking sites—to gather information about colleges, according to the report, “College Search and the Millennial Generation,” which was produced by Eduventures Inc. The research-and-consulting company plans to release some of the findings this week.
Still, colleges and universities that find effective ways to convey information through those channels, as well as in blogs and chat rooms, could gain an edge in recruiting, the report says.
Its findings come from a national Web-based survey of 7,867 high-school juniors and seniors conducted this year. The report also draws on student feedback from 12 focus-group sessions held at schools in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Orlando, Fla.
Most students surveyed (84 percent) said they used colleges’ Web sites most heavily in their research, followed by personal recommendations (75 percent), campus visits (64 percent), and college viewbooks (64 percent).
Hardly even a tantalizing tidbit, I’d be curious to learn more from the report. Alas, I don’t expect much of it will be available for free.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Educators, Social Networks and “Mediated Publics”
danah boyd has posted an essay titled Social Network Sites: Public, Private, or What? It’s a wonderfully concise encapsulation of much of her thinking on teens and social networking sites. Here she discusses the distinguishing characteristics of these mediated publics:
Social network sites are the latest generation of ‘mediated publics’ - environments where people can gather publicly through mediating technology. In some senses, mediated publics are similar to the unmediated publics with which most people are familiar - parks, malls, parking lots, cafes, etc. Teens show up to connect with their friends...while mediated and unmediated publics play similar roles in people’s lives, the mediated publics have four properties that are quite unique to them.
1. Persistence. What you say sticks around. This is great for asynchronous communication, but it also means that what you said at 15 is still accessible when you are 30 and have purportedly outgrown those childish days.
2. Searchability. My mother would’ve loved the ability to scream “Find!” into the ether and determine where I was hanging out with my friends. She couldn’t, and I’m thankful. Today’s teens’ parents have found their hangouts with the flick of a few keystrokes.
3. Replicability. Digital bits are copyable; this means that you can copy a conversation from one place and paste it into another place. It also means that it’s difficult to determine if the content was doctored.
4. Invisible audiences. While it is common to face strangers in public life, our eyes provide a good sense of who can overhear our expressions. In mediated publics, not only are lurkers invisible, but persistence, searchability, and replicability introduce audiences that were never present at the time when the expression was created.
The last section, An Educator’s Role, is particularly valuable. In it she advocates education through conversation and engagement, finds that group settings are ideal and shares questions she’s asked to help young people examine their relationship with social technologies and mediated publics. Her four practical steps are an invaluable guide:
1) Create a profile on whatever sites are popular in your school. Learn the system and make a profile that represents you. Use your own profile and your own experiences to introduce conversations in the classroom - this way they will know that you are online and that you too find it weird figuring out what’s appropriate.
2) Keep your profile public and responsible, but not lame. Add your favourite song; add photos of your cat playing; write about your hobbies. Put blog entries up about these issues and your own experiences in handling them. Write them as personal reflections rather than lectures. Not all students are going to read your manifestos, but you will be setting a standard.
3) Do not go surfing for your students, but if they invite you to be Friends, say yes. This is a sign that they respect you. Write a kind comment back to them if appropriate and make certain to respond to comments that you receive. If something concerns you, privately ask why they chose to put a particular item up on their page, rather than criticise their profiles. Ask about their lives; don’t demand that they behave as you’d wish. Show that you care, not that you dictate.
4) The more present you are, the more opportunity you have to influence the norms. Social network sites are not classrooms and they should not be treated as such. The goal in being present on these sites is not to enforce rules, but to provide responsible models and simply be ‘eyes on the street’ (Jacobs 1961).
Mediated publics are here to stay; yet they are complicating many aspects of daily life. The role of an educator is not to condemn or dismiss youth practices, but to help youth understand how their practices fit into a broader societal context. These are exciting times; embracing societal change and influencing the norms can only help everyone involved.
I’ll be forwarding the document (available in MP3, Word, PDF or blog formats) to the local high school principal - with whom I’ve spoken about Social Networks at some length - and updating my Facebook profile.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Head of Education Dept Student-Aid Office resigns
The Chronicle (subscription):
Theresa S. Shaw, the Education Department’s chief operating officer in charge of federal student aid, is stepping down, effective June 1, the department announced on Tuesday.
Ms. Shaw has spent five years at the department, after a 20-year career at Sallie Mae, the nation’s largest student lender, and a few years at a start-up technology company.
The announcement of Ms. Shaw’s resignation comes two days before Education Secretary Margaret Spellings is scheduled to testify before Congress concerning recent entanglements and conflicts of interest in the $70-billion-a-year program that provides federally guaranteed loans to college students and their parents.
Ms. Spellings, in a written statement announcing the resignation, said Ms. Shaw “will be sorely missed.”
“As head of federal student aid, Terri has been a tireless advocate for students and families,” Ms. Spellings said.
Some critics, however, were less charitable, citing a series of instances in which the department may have failed to protect students and taxpayers from apparent corruption and corporate graft.
“Terri Shaw’s tenure has been characterized by lax oversight and negligent administration of the student-loan programs,” said Michael Dannenberg, director of education policy at the New America Foundation, a public-policy institute.
Her resignation comes as the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, continues a nationwide investigation that has exposed a series of financial links between lenders and administrators at colleges who recommend those lenders to their students.
Questions have been raised about financial relationships between student-loan companies and Education Department employees, including a senior official in Ms. Shaw’s division who was suspended last month.
The department has also been criticized for allowing lenders to retain federal loan subsidies that its Office of Inspector General had determined were improperly received. One lender, Nelnet, was allowed to keep $278-million (The Chronicle, January 22).
SEE ALSO: Whistle-Blower on Student Aid Is Vindicated from Monday in the New York Times.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Students & laptops
“After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement - none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”
Reads like job security for me!
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
The Times today looks at new research on Southern whites challenging long-held beliefs about the nation’s political realignment and the origins of modern conservatism:
Matthew D. Lassiter was motivated to research his own Southern roots. He found a gap between the history he had learned in school and his experience growing up in its wake in Sandy Springs, a white, middle-class suburb of Atlanta. “I was trying to find my own people, my parents and grandparents,” said Mr. Lassiter, 36, who wrote “The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South” (Princeton) published last year. “There were a few white Southerners who were liberals, a larger number throwing the rocks with the rioters and the vast group in the middle were left out of the story.”
As a graduate student at the University of Virginia, he taught undergraduates and assigned the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,Ã¢â‚¬Â� in which he wrote, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride towards freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than justice.”
Mr. Lassiter, who now teaches history at the University of Michigan, said: “Who are these moderates? They don’t seem to be participating, yet they’re completely complicit in the system of Jim Crow.”
Mr. Lassiter’s book looks at how the federal government subsidized white flight to the suburbs, where middle-class whites could embrace colorblind values but still maintain all-white enclaves and schools. “When you look at suburbs and middle class, then you start getting a national story,” he said. “White suburbs outside Charlotte are reacting the same as white suburbs outside Los Angeles or in New Jersey.”
I am fascinated and want to learn more. I am coming to see Southern whites as a convenient scapegoat, an excuse for our national inaction.
Yes, we can point with scorn to overt racism - and there is undoubtedly more of it here - but what are we doing to remedy the systemic racism that pervades our nation, keeps black men disproportionately imprisoned and city school systems disproportionately impoverished?
SEE ALSO: How personal responsibility helps lock in the status quo. I believe that dynamic is at work here as well.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
On Marilee Jones
I work in academia. With a Bachelor’s degree. My only options are to stay put and never rise, or go back to school for some higher credential. My life experience counts for something - I joke that had I done at Yahoo! what I did at Mediapolis I’d be a full professor with an honorary degree from an Ivy League school - but not much.
In my job I have had the opportunity to serve on search committees. I have given voice to the notion that maybe, just maybe, we should consider hiring someone from outside of the academy. That was shot right down. I can make an argument for alternative credentialing. I might make it one day here but in the context of my job I wouldn’t even bother. It’s crystal clear that would never fly.
Marilee was good in her job. Kevin Drum even ventured that maybe “this didn’t necessarily require the death penalty. Surely there was something MIT could have done to demonstrate it took this seriously without also losing a valued and high performing member of its administration?” He was shot down in comments and quickly took it back.
The lie is a problem, no getting around that. But credentialism is a problem too. I haven’t seen much commentary examining that. Saul Levmore at the University of Chicago comes closest:
It is tempting to say that the fact of the dishonesty is reason enough to demand resignation. But in many situations we regard dishonesty as but a small flaw when it is not shown to have “caused” a significant harm. A baseball pitcher might lie about his age; a spouse might lie about something in the family background; an employee might lie about fluency in a foreign language. In all these cases, if the party who was miseld discovers the dishonesty rather quickly we are comfortable with a decision to break a contract. Age discrimination law aside, the baseball player’s chance of injury and improved performance are related to age. A spouse might not only be uncomfortable with a partner who hides unpleasant things but also might regard family background as important in the choice of a partner. But my sense is that if, instead, there were a twenty-eight year period of great success in these relationships, as there was at MIT, we would think it odd if the original dishonesty were not forgiven or even regarded as fortuitously unknown. To be sure, the employer or spouse might want to send a message to future applicants that signals are serious business, but at some point the reality of performance overcomes this systemic call for integrity and efficiency in the screening process.
Consider, for example, those cases where an applicant for insurance lies about preexisting conditions. We normally ask for causation. If Y lies and says that the premises have a burglar alarm when they do not, and the premises are destroyed by an otherwise covered natural disaster, we regard the insured as deserving of the agreed-upon payments, even though there was an “unrelated” dishonesty in the application process. There remains some deterrent to dishonesty, as there is in the employment context, because the employer might discover the wrong soon after employment (and the insurer might investigate after a burglary to see whether there was indeed an alarm). It is tempting to suggest that there ought to be a norm akin to a statute of limitations in these matters, except that rÃƒÂ©sumÃƒÂ© fraud usually requires ongoing misstatements (or republication of the offending document). If the admissions dean had lied to the employer about drug use thirty years earlier, I do not think that new information, coming to light so much later, would lead to a dismissal or resignation. It is hard to believe that the difference between the cases is that one requires repeated misstatement. Nor is it obvious that the difference is that the employer regards the academic credential as especially central to its mission. Non-university employers also regard such fraud as career-ending. Perhaps employers recognize that if they do not take credentialing fraud seriously, no one else will - while drug use has other crusaders and deterrents.
Finally, there is something interesting about the all-or-nothing quality of the dishonesty’s treatment. MIT has just as much incentive to regard plagiarism or other academic dishonesty as a serious offense. But in these cases, a penalty is rarely career ending. One who has cheated on a single exam or paper is, in most universities, likely to be readmitted after some penalty period. Yet that wrong also goes to the core of what the university is about, it is unlikely to be policed by other authorities, and it can be understood to say something about the person.
I don’t lie on my resume. I was once named to a congressperson’s advisory committee; somewhere I have the letter that welcomed me (if I can’t find it I can call up and get another). In three years we never met. Do I put that on my resume? If I do, is it then padded?
Remember this from a couple weeks ago, “one lender sampled 100 stated-income loan applicants and found that 90 had exaggerated take-home pay by 5 percent or more and that nearly 60 inflated their pay by more than 50 percent.”
Padding is rampant. Lately I’ve been wondering about awards, too; does anyone doubt that award systems can be worked? I even worked it once, winning a number of awards for a student film. Later, busy doing good work, I stopped working the award system. My bad. Marilee will probably be okay. She’ll write a book and go on Oprah and be interviewed by Diane Sawyer. But I don’t expect we’ll learn anything from it.
I am a fan of those hive-mind, wisdom-of-crowds theories. I like to think that our credentialism is the best we can do with the technology we have. And that maybe one day we’ll be able to more accurately measure skills and accomplishment without as much reliance on degrees and resumes. Of course, then we’d have to take care of the flip side, too, and value everyone, if not equally, at least adequately.
A man can dream can’t he?
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Are historically Black colleges good for Black students?
Steven D. Levitt summarizes research by Roland Fryer - “his life’s mission to understand every aspect of the economic life of Blacks in America” - and Michael Greenstone on the issues of who attends historically Black colleges and whether it helps:
Here are their key conclusions:
1) In the 1970s going to a historically Black institution was associated with higher wages and higher graduation rates than going to a traditionally White institution.
2) By the 1990s, however, the return to graduating from a historically Black institution fell by 20% relative to a traditionally White school, so that in the 1990s there was a premium associated with going to the traditionally White school.
3) The answer to that reversal does not appear to be due to a change in the mix of students attending the two types of schools, or to differences in expenditure per student.
4) Rather, it appears that the traditionally White institutions have evolved to better serve the needs of Black students.
Monday, April 16, 2007
In memory of the VA Tech victims
in memory of the victims of the va tech shooting
Originally uploaded by Joits.
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Researcher seeks rural gay volunteers
Anne Foster writes that she is a student in Northern Ireland doing a thesis on homophobia. She’s looking for volunteers and has asked that I post the following email:
My name is Anne and I’m a mature student undertaking a research project on Homophobia in a rural part of northern Ireland. I would be grateful to hear any feedback from GLBTI community members regarding their experiences of heterosexist discrimination in day to day life, the difference between urban and rural existence reflecting on the localized community settings in rural areas and also on the more metropolitan aspect of the city existence. I am interested to see if the experience is comparable and / or what are the differences.
In Northern Ireland at present, we have some legislation to protect equality in that we have Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act which protects against discrimination based on nine specifications such as sexual orientation. We also have anti discrimination legislation for employment and also are implementing a Single Equality Bill. Civil recognition for same sex partnerships has been introduced etc. So on face value we have quite a bit of statute to protect against institutionalized heterosexist discrimination. However there is a large lobby (predominantly religious and on the grounds of sinfulness and abnormality) about same sex relationships, rights to marriage or civil recognition and also regarding parental rights. Most recently there has been debate on whether to allow for equality of access to services infringes on the rights of Christian citizens who feel that they have more legal rights to equality and / or representation.
Basically folks I am looking for a selection of feedback on any issues you think relevant in a democratic society regarding your rights, equality etc. and if heterosexism or homo negativity affects your day to day lives. I have a specified time limit for receiving information and would appreciate that you understand the mail address given is set up to maintain your confidentiality and to adhere to solid ethical practice. You can contact me with any comments here. I’d appreciate if you can just send your comments as succinctly and concise as possible to allow for me to process the information. Any rural dwellers that feel being GLBTI in a smaller community setting has particular relevance to your lifestyle, image or family situations, please feel free to write conversational style etc. Also on a sensitive issue for some, if there are any individuals who are living a cloaked existence due to a formal heterosexual relationship eg, please take a moment to forward some feedback as it is relevant to some of the research reached locally here in Northern Ireland.
I appreciate your time in contributing to this and thank Joe sincerely for all his support to date.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Facemash -> Facebook
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is profiled in Fast Company:
[I]t was old-fashioned breaking-and-entering hacking that spawned Facebook--and Zuckerberg was the culprit. Zuckerberg grew up in the well-to-do New York suburb of Dobbs Ferry, the second of four kids and the only son of a dentist (he has no cavities) and a psychiatrist (insert your own mental-health joke here). He began messing around with computers early on, teaching himself how to program. As a high school senior, at Phillips Exeter Academy, he and D’Angelo built a plug-in for the MP3 player Winamp that would learn your music listening habits, then create a playlist to meet your taste. They posted it as a free download and major companies, including AOL (NYSE:TWX) and Microsoft, came calling. “It was basically, like, ‘You can come work for us, and, oh, we’ll also take this thing that you made,’” Zuckerberg recalls. The two decided to go to college instead, D’Angelo to Caltech and Zuckerberg to Harvard.
That’s where the hacking episode occurred. Harvard didn’t offer a student directory with photos and basic information, known at most schools as a face book. Zuckerberg wanted to build an online version for Harvard, but the school “kept on saying that there were all these reasons why they couldn’t aggregate this information,” he says. “I just wanted to show that it could be done.” So one night early in his sophomore year, he hacked into Harvard’s student records. He then threw up a basic site called Facemash, which randomly paired photos of undergraduates and invited visitors to determine which one was “hotter” (not unlike the Web site Hot or Not). Four hours, 450 visitors, and 22,000 photo views later, Harvard yanked Zuckerberg’s Internet connection. After a dressing-down from the administration and an uproar on campus chronicled by The Harvard Crimson, Zuckerberg politely apologized to his fellow students. But he remained convinced he’d done the right thing: “I thought that the information should be available.” (Harvard declined to comment on the episode.)
A Freakonomics quiz @ Blog U: on beer & violence
Some academics (at most one out of the three is an economist) in the United Kingdom recently published a paper in a journal called Applied Economics claiming that a 1 percent increase in the price of beer in the U.K. leads to a 2 percent decline in violent crime. I don’t know how to link directly to the paper, but if you go to this Cardiff University website and scroll down, you will find a link called “Violence-related injury and the price of beer in England and Wales.” That link will take you to the paper.
The paper has sensible theory behind it, is well written, and has seemingly careful econometrics. As I read the paper, however, I had the sort of uneasy feeling that Malcolm Gladwell, in the first chapter of Blink, describes some experts having when viewing a supposedly ancient sculpture that turned out to be a fake. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with the paper and went on to something else. But I was so bothered by it that I went and read it again. I think on that second reading I found the fundamental flaw in the paper.
So, here is a different kind of quiz. The first one to identify the problem I have in mind wins a signed copy of Freakonomics, a Freakonomics t-shirt if the new batch really exists, and also a Freakonomics yo-yo if those are ready. If they are so inclined, I further encourage the winner to try to get the original data, test my/his/her hypothesis and send a short comment to the journal.
Hint: there may be many other problems with the paper, but my concern is very specific and easily testable.
I’ve never been good with riddles.... I read the comments!
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Stein’s not giving Stanford any money
In a December 2001 Stanford Magazine profile, Joel Stein said of his alma mater: “Stanford already got a whole wad of Stein money. Outside of organized crime, it’s not traditional to charge someone for a service and then ask for more later.”
On Marketplace last Friday, he played out that theme:
Stanford is always just asking for money - which I find odd, since I already paid them a lot. My latest letter says the school is trying to raise $4.3 billion by 2011 as part of the Stanford Challenge.
These are challenging people who aren’t afraid to ask for challenging donations from people who still haven’t paid off their student loans.
For those of you who have never been to the 8,000-acre Stanford campus, it’s very dissimilar to most places begging for charity. Darfur, for instance, doesn’t have its own new rubgy stadium. AIDS hospitals rarely have as many tennis courts.
Stanford, which raised nearly $1 billion in donations just last year - a record for a university - has an endowment of more than $14 billion. That’s more than the Gross Domestic Product of Belize or Sierra Leone - which has diamonds. [...]
Stanford could stop charging undergrads the $43,361 for tuition, room and board and call it an accounting error on its interest. It makes more sense for Rupert Murdoch to ask me for charity money. At least I still use his products.
I understand that rich people like to give money to organizations that make them look good. They want a powerful alma mater, a nice opera house, a buoyant Venice and a tidy stretch of road for Bette Midler to drive on. But they shouldn’t be able to write these donations off as tax-deductible charities… So save your stamps, Stanford. I’m not giving you any money.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
No tolerance for gay-tolerant teacher
WOODBURN, Ind. School district officials have suspended the journalism teacher at a Fort Wayne-area high school two months after the student newspaper published a sophomore’s editorial advocating tolerance for homosexuals.
Woodlan Junior-Senior High School teacher Amy Sorrell says she was told yesterday that she had been placed on paid leave while East Allen County School officials review whether her contract should be terminated.
After the editorial ran in the Woodlan Tomahawk’s January 19 issue, school district officials told Sorrell and the newspaper’s staff that Principal Ed Yoder would need to approve all content before future issues were printed. Yoder also gave Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and failing to carry out her responsibilities as a teacher.
In recent weeks, the school corporation has tweaked its student newspaper policy to clarify that the principal of a building is to serve as the publisher of the newspaper and should be familiar with its content before distribution.
The change was primarily in the wording of the policy and does not change the intent, Melin said.
“The principal has the ultimate obligation to know what the content is,” he said. “We’re holding everyone accountable for what’s occurring with student publications. We’re not saying it’s all on the adviser or the students. The principal has the ultimate responsibility, but it’s a shared responsibility of the adviser and principal. That’s why it’s critical that they work together.”
Advance Indians says, “The problem here is the students are actually better informed, more mature and apparently more educated than the people trying to run the school. How sad.”
Pam has the full text of the student editorial.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Intellectual diversity, Georgia style
So we got us a bill here in the Georgia House - House Bill 154 the “Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education Act” - that sets out to authoritatively define just exactly what diversity means:
the bill states that “Teachers should not take unfair advantage of the immaturity of students by indoctrinating them with their own opinions before the students have had an opportunity to examine other opinions.” This presupposes that the ideas of teachers, most of whom have post-graduate degrees, are uninformed by their years of study and that students should regard those ideas with suspicion. It presupposes that a geneticist does not know more about the genome than his students, and it encourages his students to take what he tells them as simply his opinion. It presupposes that an ecologist does not know more about climate change than her students. For a teacher to impart what he or she thinks is not to “take unfair advantage of the immaturity of students.” It is to empower students to develop their own good judgment on the basis of sound knowledge about the world.
From the Georgia constitution:
(b) The board of regents shall have the exclusive authority to create new public colleges, junior colleges, and universities in the State of Georgia, subject to approval by majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Such vote shall not be required to change the status of a college, institution or university existing on the effective date of this Constitution. The government, control, and management of the University System of Georgia and all of the institutions in said system shall be vested in the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. (Article VIII , Section IV(b))
Via Jim’s blog, “So, how does all this legislation fit within a conservative philosophy of government?”
Sunday, February 11, 2007
One can only hope that the Times report today on just how awful The University of Phoenix actually is might save some from throwing away their good money:
The university says that its graduation rate, using the federal standard, is 16 percent, which is among the nation’s lowest, according to Department of Education data. But the university has dozens of campuses, and at many, the rate is even lower. [...]
[M]any students say they have had infuriating experiences at the university before dropping out, contributing to the poor graduation rate. In recent interviews, current and former students in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington who studied at University of Phoenix campuses in those states or online complained of instructional shortcuts, unqualified professors and recruiting abuses. Many of their comments echoed experiences reported by thousands of other students on consumer Web sites.
The complaints have built through months of turmoil. The president resigned, as did the chief executive and other top officers at the Apollo Group, the university’s parent corporation. A federal court reinstated a lawsuit accusing the university of fraudulently obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid. The university denies wrongdoing. Apollo stock fell so far that in November, CNBC featured it on a “Biggest Losers” segment. The stock has since gained back some ground. In November, the Intel Corporation excluded the university from its tuition reimbursement program, saying it lacked top-notch accreditation.
It adds up to a damaging turnaround for an institution that rocketed from makeshift origins here in 1976 to become the nation’s largest private university, with 300,000 students on campuses in 39 states and online. Its fortunes are closely watched because it is the giant of for-profit postsecondary education; it received $1.8 billion in federal student aid in 2004-5.
Today’s story details the poor quality - faculty is 95% part-time and spends half the time with students as at a traditional university, cookie-cutter courses cram a semester into five or six four-hour sessions and are crafted at headquarters, student complaints that they’re learning too little and paying too much - and emphasizes profit pressure as the culprit. Me, I look back to a Times story from last March:
It took just a few paragraphs in a budget bill for Congress to open a new frontier in education: Colleges will no longer be required to deliver at least half their courses on a campus instead of online to qualify for federal student aid.
That change is expected to be of enormous value to the commercial education industry. [...]
The provision is just one sign of how an industry that once had a dubious reputation has gained new influence, with well-connected friends in the government and many Congressional Republicans sympathetic to their entrepreneurial ethic.
The Times opens today’s story saying, “The University of Phoenix became the nation’s largest private university by delivering...a solid, albeit low-overhead, education to midcareer workers seeking college degrees.”
It looks more like the rise had little to do with education but was instead aided and abetted by politics from the start. Again, from last March:
Sally L. Stroup, the assistant secretary of education who is the top regulator overseeing higher education, is a former lobbyist for the University of Phoenix, the nation’s largest for-profit college, with some 300,000 students.
Two of the industry’s closest allies in Congress are Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, who just became House majority leader, and Representative Howard P. McKeon, Republican of California, who is replacing Mr. Boehner as chairman of the House education committee.
And the industry has hired well-connected lobbyists like A. Bradford Card, the brother of the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr.
Both Republican allies are still there. Boehner now serves as House Minority Leader; McKeon as Ranking Member of the House Committee on Education and Labor. And Sally Stroup‘s still at education; Bradford Card‘s still lobbying. While I don’t spot Apollo among his latest registrations, education remains in his portfolio and there’s little doubt he’ll be hired in as needed.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Princeton joins Google Book Search
The University Library and Google have agreed on a six-year contract to make the full text of about one million books from the library available online through Google Book Search.
The partnership, which has been in development for about 18 months, is led by University Librarian Karin Trainer, Deputy University Librarian Marvin Bielawski and University Provost Christopher Eisgruber ‘83. Google has agreed to scan only books from the Princeton collection that are no longer under copyright. [...]
Princeton is the 12th library to open its collection to Google. The libraries of Stanford and the University of Michigan, the alma maters of the company’s two founders, are already being scanned for Google Book Search. Google CEO Eric Schmidt ‘76 is a member of the University Board of Trustees.
Book digitization at Princeton will take place over the next six years.
Monday, February 05, 2007
The Machine is Us
A video on the evolution of text and the web and its impact on on us - “we’ll need to rethink a few things” - by Michael Wesch, Assistant professor of Cultural Anthropology, Kansas State University.
Via The Last Minute.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Keeping for-profit student lenders happy
In its report on the House passing a student loan interest rate reduction last week, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted Barmak Nassirian, an official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers:
“It’s a significant shift ... to see that Congress is, for a change, going to think about the intended beneficiaries of the program, who are the students,” he said, adding that hasn’t always been the case.
Over the last decade, Nassirian said, congressional discussions about student lending have focused on making private mega-lenders Sallie Mae or Nelnet (National Education Loan Network) happy rather than helping students lessen their debt.
Today we learn from The Chronicle (subscription) that the practice of keeping private lenders happy is ongoing:
The U.S. Department of Education will not require the National Education Loan Network, a major for-profit student-loan provider based in Nebraska, to return hundreds of millions of dollars in excess government subsidies, but it will cut off the payments as of July 1, 2006, the department announced on Friday.
The department will also stop paying lenders at the highest subsidy rate until they can prove, via audit, that they qualify for it.
Under the terms of the settlement, Nelnet will be allowed to keep $278-million in payments that the department’s Office of Inspector General says it improperly received from January 2003 through June 2005. It could lose out on an estimated $882-million in future federal subsidies.[...]
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress have said they will step up oversight of the lending industry in the coming year. Democrats have accused the administration of being too soft on the student-loan industry, in part because it is a major donor to Republican campaigns. Among lenders, no company has been more generous than Nelnet, which gave $153,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the first three-quarters of 2006, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (The Chronicle, November 7, 2006).
In a statement issued on Friday, Rep. George Miller, the California Democrat who is chairman of the education committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, said his panel would review the Nelnet settlement, along with the federal student-loan programs “to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and effectively.”
Here’s the Dept of Ed Press Release on the settlement. See if you can decipher what it’s saying.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
MTV buys RateMyProfessors.com
Today’s Chronicle (subscription) reports:
MTVu, the campus closed-circuit outlet of the music-television network MTV, announced on Wednesday that it planned to buy RateMyProfessors.com, one of the largest online forums for students to anonymously review the teaching abilities of faculty members.
The move, to be made early this year, is part of an expansion of MTVu, which also owns College Publisher, a network that hosts the Web sites of more than 500 student newspapers.
Stephen Friedman, executive vice president of MTVu, would not say how much it would pay for the popular rating site.
“It seemed like a nice fit for our audience where we want to connect,” he said, adding that RateMyProfessors.com was “a site almost all our students recognized and used.”
They say they may expand it to includes students rating restaurants, music and “anything else they think is important.” I’m with the cynics:
Jeff Chester, executive director of the advocacy group Center for Digital Democracy and author of the recent book Digital Destiny, is more skeptical of MTVu’s motives.
“What most people don’t recognize is that the dominant media shaping digital culture is advertising,” he said. The most valuable part of the latest deal for MTVu, he added, would be access to the personal information of the site’s users.
Advertisers are desperate to win the loyalty of 18- to 34-year-olds, Mr. Chester said, and owning RateMyProfessors.com will give MTVu and its parent company, Viacom Inc., access to valuable data.
“It’s all about monetizing these college eyeballs,” he said. “You’re going to see it change over time to push Viacom brands.”
There’s no easy fix to our industrial food production system - and it does need fixing - but there’s reason for optimism. The organic movement grew to $23 billion in sales by 2002 with no government or industry support. We care about what we eat. And we care about where it comes from.
Today Salon looks at The Challenge Facing Local Food:
In the past year, the “local” ethos has overtaken even organics as the gourmet cause célèbre—And eat-local challenges have begun sprouting up all over the place. Large food service providers like Sodexho and Aramark, having already introduced organic products, are now experimenting with local sourcing. At Yale, Stanford, Berkeley and other universities, students can eat meals prepared with fresh local produce grown on or just off campus.
The eat-local movement owes no small measure of its success to recent exposés of the organic industry. As huge corporate farms have moved into the sector, the media has been abuzz with the transformation of organics into business as usual—with Whole Foods catering to the upscale consumer and Wal-Mart aiming for the fat middle demographic. The question is: will big business’s discovery of “local” food eventually undercut the positive effects the movement may have on the environment, small farmers and taste? Advocates of eating local say no. Their singular hope is to foment a revolution that starts on the farm and ends on our plates.
The article looks at Bon AppÃƒÂ©tit Management Co. (BAMCO) - “BAMCO believes even lowly college mess halls can be brought into the culinary vanguard” - a food services company for the upper-crust; Georgetown Law, Oracle and Yahoo, the Guthrie and the Getty. Sit through the ad and read it.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Conservatives on campus
Also from today’s Chronicle [subscription], another non-surprise, Conservative student groups proliferate on campuses. Liberal bloggers have been aware for a while of how they’ve done it:
Mr. [Morton C.] Blackwell, a former executive director of the College Republican National Committee, began the Campus Leadership Program as a pilot effort in 1997, dispatching one representative to recruit on campuses in the Washington area. As a recruitment aid, he designed a simple poster with pictures of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and the word “Yes” at the top, and pictures of Hillary Clinton and Fidel Castro and the word “No” at the bottom. The field rep started 43 groups in seven mid-Atlantic and Southern states.
By 2005 the program had grown to 27 recruiters and 738 groups. This past fall its size more than doubled, to 60 recruiters, thanks to a $1-million gift from an anonymous source and bequests from longtime donors. The recruiters, who work for 10 weeks during each semester, each receive a laptop, a $1,000 food stipend, and $500 for each group or publication they create. The program reimburses them for travel, lodging, and cellphone costs.
In choosing recruiters, Mr. Blackwell says, the program looks for young people who are solidly conservative and were politically active in college.
They’ve aped tried and true liberal publicity stunts to good effect (a Social Security bake sale that charges different prices based on age echoes the affirmative-action bake sale that charged different prices based on race).
I am not the first to wish that liberals might mimic Mr. Blackwell’s successful effort to establish a beachhead on every college campus in America. We’re losing:
According to a 2006 study by the University of Maryland’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 26 percent of students now describe themselves as conservative, compared with 24 percent who describe themselves as liberal. Four years ago, those percentages were 21 and 36, respectively.
Conservatives estimate they spend $40-million on their campus program; dwarfing the $1.5-million budget of the single liberal program, Campus Progress.
Be skeptical of industry-funded nutrition research
The Chronicle (subscription):
Some of the same biases that appear to occur in research paid for by pharmaceutical companies also appear in industry-supported research on commonly consumed beverages, according to an analysis published on Monday in the journal PLoS Medicine.
The article’s authors found that studies on the health benefits of juice, milk, and soft drinks were four to eight times more likely to be favorable to the financial interests of the sponsors when they were paid for with industry money than were studies with no industry-related sponsorship.
They also found that in industry-financed “interventional” studies—those in which subjects consumed the beverages, or researchers tested the effects of the beverages on human tissue—no negative findings were reported. By contrast, for interventional studies in which no industry money was involved, results were about evenly split between unfavorable and favorable or neutral.
The studies authors were surprised at the findings. Someone please explain to me why?
Here‘s the PLoS Medicine analysis.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Reinventing research journals
Despite the arrival of the internet and multimedia, the scientific paper looks remarkably like it did 50 years ago. My thesis is that despite most journals having an electronic version, the information age is yet to hit journals in a major way. We are still at the beginning of transformation of medical journals; and yet, I believe, they cry out to be transformed. [...]
First, I don’t think that it makes any sense to continue with paper copies of research articles. Instead of the “quasi-legal” document that is the current scientific article, we should be moving to full data being available on the web together with the software that might have been used to manipulate the data, as well as multimedia presentations to back up the data. [...]
If an absence of peer review (or post-publication review, as I call it) is a step too far, then we should have an author (or rather funder) pays model. These fees could support a peer review mechanism, which should be open in that both authors and readers would know who was reviewing studies. It’s ethically unacceptable that such important judgements should be made an unidentified judge. [...]
At present credit comes from publishing in prestigious journals. Often the impact factor of the journal (a dubious and manipulated statistic) is allocated to the paper, which is wholly unscientific because there is little correlation between the citations to studies and the impact factor of the journals in which they are published, because the impact factor of a journal is driven by a small number of highly cited studies (Seglen, 1997). In the new world I’m imagining, credit would come from the buzz from researchers and hits on the study. These hits can be disclosed in real time, unlike citations, which come years after studies are published.
Via IFTF’s Future Now.