A history of standardized testing in Texas, where the accountability movement began:
"Like Jihad and skateboarding and small furry animals, high-stakes testing has given rise to a new genre of YouTube video, a kind of inspirational training film meant to be viewed just before the testing season begins. Some are slickly produced, while others are clearly homemade, though they all tend to share some common tropes: students imitating rappers, teachers gamely chiming in, a dance beat pumping while kids chant 'Rock this test!' and other mantras. Children are shown marching into class, poring over work sheets, learning 'strategies' to beat the test makers, rallying in the gym, and so forth. The songs are upbeat and the kids, especially the third graders, are cute. But after watching a dozen of these clips, the relentless support-building becomes a little disturbing. You begin to feel as if you’ve fallen asleep in the first act of To Sir, With Love and awoken in some kind of Maoist reeducation camp."
PUBLISHED: May 1, 2013
LENGTH: 25 minutes (6474 words)
How Copeland went from European basketball unknown to 29-year-old rookie for the New York Knicks:
"You are never fully at ease, but you begin to transition. Maybe you date a local girl, or even marry her. You begin to buy tighter jeans, learn some of the language and before you can blink, you are in the twilight of your career. Eventually, you do move back home and tell anyone that will listen that you did, in fact, play pro basketball. You try to find a 9-to-5 job while fighting off the inevitable depression that comes from losing the only thing you’ve ever truly loved, and, over time, you forget you ever had a dream in the first place. It’s a good life, at times an amazing life, filled with peaks and valleys higher and lower than you could ever imagine. And then, it’s over.
"For Copeland, however, there remained a gnawing inside his gut. No matter how well he did, it wasn’t quite enough. 'I was feeling sad even though I was having a lot of success. In my head,' he said. 'I just still believed I could do better. I knew if I didn’t make it, I’d look back with a lot of regrets.'"
PUBLISHED: April 12, 2013
LENGTH: 24 minutes (6198 words)
A high school in Oakland, Calif. is reducing its numbers of suspensions by embracing new attempts to reach out to students:
"In the 2011-12 school year, African-Americans made up 32 percent of Oakland's students but 63 percent of the students suspended. In middle schools, principals suspended about 1 out of 3 black boys.
"The US Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights investigated whether the discipline was discriminatory. Before making a legal finding, OCR collaborated with the district last fall on a five-year voluntary resolution plan to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and the racial disparity.
"'We have been working really hard to basically move away from a zero-tolerance strategy ... [and create a] culture that is about healing from harm and restoring a sense of relationship,' said Tony Smith, OUSD superintendent, at a press conference announcing the plan. 'There have been deep and long-term structural reasons ... that have excluded and pushed out boys of color, and most often ... our African-American boys. The waste of so much human potential is not only unacceptable in Oakland, but across the country.'"
PUBLISHED: March 31, 2013
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2406 words)
Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs are currently being heralded as the future of affordable education. But what kind of education will it actually provide?
"Everybody loves the idea of lowering the barriers of entry to education; it's the easiest sell in the world, and Khan Academy, a nonprofit, pushes all the right buttons. Khan's success thus paved the way for MOOC providers to employ a rhetoric of inclusiveness, simplicity, low cost, and metrics, metrics, metrics: the same reasoning that today drives everything from 'philanthrocapitalist' foundation spending to high-stakes standardized testing.
"But the shortcomings of the Khan approach will be evident to anyone who cares to have a go at 'US History Overview 1: Jamestown to the Civil War,' the 18:28 minute video-with-voiceover class I chose at random from the Khan website. Within the first two minutes Khan has disposed of over a century, blowing past Jamestown ('a kind of commercial settlement') and Plymouth Rock ('we always learned this in school, you know, the Pilgrims on the Mayflower sailing the oceans blue and all the rest') and 'fast-forwarding' to 1754. It's not even a flashcard approach; it's a series of lacunae, startlingly free of insight or context, mentioning not one single book or author, and only one political or religious figure (George Washington) in the nine minutes I watched. I've seen more informative cereal boxes."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 31, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4608 words)
[Fiction] From Simon Rich's serialized novella for The New Yorker: A pickler strikes out on his own:
"Simon refills his coffee vat and smirks.
"'Who’s going to hire you? You’ve got no education, no experience, no skills.'
"'Simon,' Claire says. 'That’s rude.'
"'It’s not rude,' he says. 'It’s realistic. I mean, for God’s sake, Hersch, you barely even know how to speak English.'
"My face begins suddenly to burn. It is painful to hear my great-great-grandson say these things. I know I am not so clever. I did not go to kindergarten like a fancy man. But I have always worked my best. I am not as worthless as he says."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4383 words)
A writer is stalked by his former M.F.A. student:
"Soon after that first volley, Janice (my agent) called, sounding upset. For several days, she had been receiving strange e-mails about me from Nasreen, and she was concerned for her safety. The e-mails contained the same baseless accusations of plagiarism, accompanied by threats of 'hell to pay' if Janice and I connived to 'steal' any more of Nasreen's work. Later that day, Nasreen began threatening Paula, the editor to whom Janice had introduced Nasreen.
"'You all play a part in unleashing the fury,' Nasreen wrote. Soon after, with this 'fury' now apparently reaching for terms strong enough to account for its own escalating intensity, Nasreen brought on one of those words that scorch everything they come near. The word was 'rape,' and even though she used it figuratively rather than literally, I felt immediately the potency of its touch, as if I'd been splashed with acid: 'I say if I can't write my book and get emotionally and verbally raped by James Lasdun, a Jew disguising himself as an English-American, well then, the Holocaust Industry Books should all be banned as should the films.'"
PUBLISHED: Jan. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5252 words)
Why do we treat student differently than other debt? An argument that it is "a form of social control":
"As states disinvest from public higher education and compel students to take on ever-increasing debt loads to fund their studies, the experience and purpose of higher education is transformed. The pursuit of a college diploma becomes an entrepreneurial activity, a species of personal investment and risk-taking that places the attainment of future returns above all other concerns. By integrating higher education into the circuits of financial capitalism, the state encourages debtors to look to the market for self-improvement and personal security. Like the subprime mortgage borrower or the worker with a 401(k) plan, the indebted student is taught to view access to credit and the financial markets as the golden ticket to prosperity and security.
"Student debt subjects the borrower to a distinctly capitalist pedagogy, transforming higher education into an increasingly expensive commodity that is bought and sold on the market. But as the legions of student loan debtors can attest, investment in a college education is no longer a guarantee of remunerative employment or personal financial security. It is an increasingly risky investment that can bring the student debtor into severe financial distress, and in the worst cases, to the door of the bankruptcy court to seek relief."
PUBLISHED: Jan. 14, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3707 words)
How California's public university system went from "Master Plan" to "no plan," and how it is now incentivized to favor out-of-state students over in-state students:
"When we talk about the decline of public higher education systems such as California’s, however, rising tuition is only part of the story, and maybe not the most important part. Along with pushing instructional costs onto students, for example, the state of California has made it easier for state universities to balance their budgets by accepting more out-of-state students (and thus, fewer and fewer Californian students). Out-of-state students pay much higher tuition rates, but under the Master Plan, state funding was contingent on enrolling a minimum number of in-state students. As the state has withdrawn its commitment to fully fund its universities, it has progressively detached what funding remains from these kinds of commitments. Governor Jerry Brown may have put the final nail in the coffin when, in June, he vetoed specific enrollment targets for the UC from the annual budget. Moreover, since 2007, the extra $20,000 in tuition money that out-of-state students pay has gone directly to the schools enrolling these students—rather than reverting to the UC as a whole—perversely incentivizing each campus to take on fewer California students.
"This gradual retreat from enrollment quotas only adds to a problem that has plagued the California system since its inception: too many applicants and too little space. Over the last three decades, the state has given up on increasing the total institutional capacity—the classrooms, dorms, and new campuses—that a continuously growing university-age population requires. This shortfall is not as immediately visible as red lines in planning documents, as politically explosive as enrollment targets, or as sharply felt by stretched family budgets. But the fact that the state has stopped keeping up with the demand for more higher education points to a slow but fundamental structural change underway in higher education as a whole."
PUBLISHED: Oct. 22, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4436 words)
A unique community experiment: What happens when a group of anonymous donors offers to pay for the college education for every child in Kalamazoo, Michigan?
"From the very beginning, Brown, the only person in town who communicates directly with the Promise donors, has suggested that the program is supposed to do more than just pay college bills. It’s primarily meant to boost Kalamazoo’s economy. The few restrictions — among them, children must reside in the Kalamazoo public-school district and graduate from one of its high schools — seem designed to encourage families to stay and work in the region for a long time. The program tests how place-based development might work when education is the first investment.
"'Other communities invest in things like arenas or offer tax incentives for businesses or revitalize their waterfronts,' says Michelle Miller-Adams, a political scientist at the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, which is located in the city. 'The Kalamazoo Promise tries to develop the local economy with a long-term investment in human capital that is intended to change the town from the bottom up.'"
PUBLISHED: Sept. 13, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4374 words)