What’s wrong with Charter Schools?

The N&O is running a terrific series on charter schools in NC this week.  There are definitely a few models of charter schools that seem to have a real benefit (e.g., KIPP), especially for urban, at-risk kids.  There is a question of how scalable these are as many seem to be based on burning through young, idealistic teachers, but, they evidence suggests they really do work for many kids.  Also, they are not out to make people rich.  Alas, much of the boom in charter schools comes from for-profit companies and is just leading to further segregation.  A nice editorial summarizes the key points of the series:

▪ The early vision has expanded haphazardly. Charters work best if they remain laboratories – not, as some seem to believe, schools driven by a wish on the part of parents and founders to be independent of public education, though funded by the public. Or driven by the political views of those who support them.

▪ There have been some diversions from the original intent in the legislature’s endorsement. Charters 20 years ago were supposed to be racially and economically diverse. They’re not. Most are largely white or largely minority. And overall charters tend to be whiter and more affluent. [emphases mine] In the regular public schools, more than half of students are from low-income families. In charters, it’s one in three.

▪ The N&O series reports, because of sparse populations and lower incomes (charters aren’t required to provide transportation or meals), rural areas of the state have few charter options.

▪ The growth of charters encouraged by the Republicans in the General Assembly also has gotten the charters away from their home-grown, parent-driven beginnings. Now, for-profit companies headquartered elsewhere are getting millions in state funding for their charters. And those schools don’t perform any better overall than regular public schools

▪ The schools’ student performance, as measured alongside all other schools, seems about average.

Much to my dismay, a number of my “liberal” friends have pulled their kids out of their local, traditional schools that happen to be very diverse and do a fine job (I know, they are my kids’ schools) to go to largely white charters.  Again, these opportunities just are not realistic for many poorer families due to transportation and other logistical issues.  This article  looks at why NC Charters are richer and whiter.

I also found this article in the series about for-profit charters particularly disturbing.  Especially considering how much they are lobbying the legislature to insure their profits.  As you know, I’m not at all opposed to capitalism or free markets (where they make sense!).  Where it does not make sense is companies getting rich giving our kids an average (at best) and less diverse education.


Fake News– Finnish style

Loved this Samantha Bee segment on how Finland has actively tried to combat Russian-based fake news from infecting their politics.  America could learn a lot.  Ironically, of course, we have the experts over here.  Love that this piece features Political Scientist Adam Berinsky.

Just wrong

I’ve been following the UNC scandal reasonably closely– a lot of the excellent reporting on the matter was done by my beloved hometown N&O.  That said, I had not fully appreciated just how depraved was the legal defense that allowed UNC to escape any NCAA sanction for decades of fraudulent classes.  I understand that there’s a good argument to be made that we don’t want the NCAA meddlingin curriculum issues, but damn, was UNC breathtakingly disingenuous and intellectually dishonest in how they abused the process.  As a professor who cares about academic integrity, this is really depressing.  As a NC resident who cares about the academic reputation of our state’s University system it’s really depressing.  This nice N&O piece linked to a number of really good takes.

Dan Wetzel explains it nicely:

In perhaps the most outlandish defense in NCAA infractions history, the school acknowledged that the classes that were taken were essentially bankrupt of any kind of teaching, learning or supervision … but that was perfectly OK with them.

To defend the basketball team, the university had to claim it wasn’t really a university.

“With respect to paper courses, there is little dispute,” the NCAA report on the case states. “The classes did not meet. They rarely, if at all, directly involved a faculty member. They required the submission of a paper, occasionally two shorter papers. The papers were often graded by the secretary, who admitted she did not read every word and occasionally did not read every page. The papers consistently received high grades. At the hearing, UNC stood by its paper courses. UNC indicated that the work was assigned, completed, turned in and graded under the professor’s guidelines. UNC also asserted that the grades are recorded on the students’ transcripts and continue to count.” [emphases mine]

That isn’t a college class. That might not even count at the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility. Yet the University* of North Carolina is completely cool with that and continues to consider it worthy of full academic credit for not just basketball players, but all the other students who took it over nearly two decades.

Welcome to the Age of Tarkanianism, a complete rejection of the NCAA to the point where Carolina not only isn’t ashamed of academic fraud, it’s practically celebrating it.

By doing so, and since regular students also took the class, they didn’t violate NCAA rules. Sure, they took a shotgun to their academic credibility, but, hey, those championship banners get to stay. The truth is, alums probably care more about hoops anyway.

“The NCAA defers to academies on matters of academic fraud,” the NCAA conceded. “As institutions of higher education, the NCAA membership trusts fellow members to hold themselves accountable in matters of academic integrity.”

UNC was playing chess against the NCAA’s checkers. That was damn impressive, true Tark-level trolling.

Carolina even changed its argument for the NCAA. When the school was in front of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits it as an actual university, it declared that no-show, no-professor, no-work classes were wrong.

“UNC reported to its accreditor that what occurred for nearly 18 years on its campus was academic fraud,” the NCAA report stated. ” … Specifically, UNC admitted [it] demonstrated that, ‘the academic fraud was long-standing.’”

Now, though, the classes weren’t fraud. They were fine. The NCAA was astounded. The Committee on Infractions asked how this was possible.

And Yahoo’s Pat Forde:

NCAA bylaws basically say that if you’ve got a sham degree program available to the general student population at your school, and it just so happens that a high percentage of athletes are in that program, that’s your issue and not ours. As it clearly signaled it would last spring, North Carolina exploited that loophole. And as Sankey noted on the NCAA conference call to discuss the ruling Friday, UNC assailed the accuracy of the Cadwallader report its own school signed off on, which “troubled” the COI but proved persuasive.

Those strategies paid off.

“The panel is in no way supporting what happened,” Sankey said. “What happened is troubling. But the panel applied the membership’s bylaws to the facts.”

And the bylaws say that the NCAA isn’t in the business of legislating curriculum.

“The NCAA is a red herring in a lot of ways,” Yeager said. “The NCAA is not going to go in and say, ‘At Syracuse this qualifies but at Springfield College it doesn’t.’ You’re not getting into something where you’re wading in and saying, ‘The quality of your coursework sucks.’”

Meanwhile, Jason Kirk’s cynical take is absolutely correct:

Two more things that are true, based on the NCAA’s self-assigned role in college sports:

  1. If the University of North Carolina wants to offer an automatic A to anyone in the student body for a class that involves no meetings, little faculty oversight, and grading by the secretary, that’s not the NCAA’s jurisdiction. It is the jurisdiction of accreditation agencies, though, and UNC was placed on probation.
  2. If such a class were only offered to athletes, it would be the NCAA’s jurisdiction…

What’s stopping a school from setting up a similar “paper course” and making sure it’s open to all students, then sending athletes through it?

UNC did it for 18 years, winning national titles in multiple sports that sent athletes through the class, and is now off accreditation probation. Throughout this seven-year NCAA ordeal, the only actual dings it suffered were to its football program, and those were for dealings with agents and ineligible players taking the field, not for this course. The Heels took a recruiting dip, due to NCAA uncertainty, but that’s over now — and they’re the reigning March Madness champs anyway.

Yep.  I’m a college sports fan, but I hate that it is a disgusting cesspit of corruption.  To see it so totally corrode that academic mission of a premier public university is beyond depressing.

Photo of the day

From a recent Atlantic photos of the week gallery.  Wow.

A jaguar ambushes a giant yacare caiman on the shore of the Three Brothers River in the Pantanal, in Mato Grosso, Brazil. The cat wrestled with the reptile for over 20 minutes in a death struggle witnessed by photographer Chris Brunskill on September 26, 2017. Caimans form a large part of the jaguar’s diet in the Pantanal, but battles such as this are very rarely observed and seldom photographed. 

Chris Brunskill Ltd / Getty

American Kakistoracy

Been a fan of Norm Ornstein for a long time (he was the first big speaker the NCSU PS Department brought in in my time here), but he’s been even better and more important in the age of Trump.  And with this latest column, I even learned a new word that should gain much wider currency in the Trump era: Kakistocracy– government by the worst people.  Damn is that sadly apt.  Ornstein:

Kakistocracy is a term that was first used in the 17th century; derived from a Greek word, it means, literally, government by the worst and most unscrupulous people among us. More broadly, it can mean the most inept and cringeworthy kind of government. The term fell into disuse over the past century or more, and most highly informed people have never heard it before (but to kids familiar with the word “kaka” it might resonate).

As I wrote my new book with E.J. Dionne and Tom Mann, One Nation Under Trump, I kept returning to the term. Kakistocracy is back, and we are experiencing it firsthand in America. The unscrupulous element has come into sharp focus in recent weeks as a string of Trump Cabinet members and White House staffers have been caught spending staggering sums of taxpayer dollars to charter jets, at times to go small distances where cheap commercial transportation was readily available, at times to conveniently visit home areas or have lunch with family members. While Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after his serial abuse, others—including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, remain in place…

Awful as the grifterish mentality and behavior may be, worse is the other part of kakistocracy—inept, corrupt, and disruptive governance. Impulsive, stream-of-consciousness communications from the president by tweet are one thing. Examples like a budget that aims to knock out our weather satellites and cut our ability to respond to a pandemic, along with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) removing from its website information about the disastrous conditions in Puerto Rico while pumping up the good news, are another…

Donald Trump campaigned by promising to run government like a business. Unfortunately, that business is Trump University. [Ohhh, snap!] There are 602 key policy positions in the executive requiring Senate confirmation. Almost nine months into the Trump presidency, only 142—less than a quarter—have been filled, and nearly half, 289, have not even had a nominee chosen…

Then there is the ineptitude of the policy process in Congress. Despite Speaker Ryan’s boast that this could be the most productive presidency and Congress in our lifetime, the record of Congress in its first nine months is abysmal. Not one of the big goals set by the president or majority congressional leaders—health repeal and replace, infrastructure, a wall on the border with Mexico, major tax reform—has been achieved. While the number of bills enacted is about average for new presidents, the number of significant bills is extremely low, especially compared to George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Except for a series of narrow measures to roll back Obama regulations and a bill to increase sanctions on Russia, most of the enactments are minor…

“Can’t anybody here play this game?” was Casey Stengel’s famous lament about his inept 1962 New York Mets. The same lament could apply to the Trump administration and its majority team in Congress—but the problem is deeper and worse when ineptitude joins with venality and recklessness, and when the stakes are far more than baseball pennants.

“The Best People.”

How the abnormal becomes normal. And what to do about it

Terrific piece at NewYorker.com by Maria Konnikova about how politicial elites are able to change norms.  And what we can do to fight back against us.  Really good stuff:

The voice of authority speaks not for the one but for the many; authority figures have a strong and rapid effect on social norms in part because they change our assumptions about what other people think.  [emphases mine] In the United States, one way to study that effect is to examine the decisions of the Supreme Court, a universally acknowledged source of authority. In a study in the September, 2017, issue of Psychological Science, Paluck and Margaret Tankard, of the randCorporation, look at the change in American attitudes toward same-sex marriage before and after the Supreme Court decision that established it as a constitutional right, in June, 2015. In the months before the decision, Paluck and Tankard surveyed people in cities all over the country; they then repeated the survey after the decision was announced. They found that, while personal opinions on same-sex marriage hadn’t shifted in the wake of the ruling, people’s perception of others’ opinions had changed almost immediately. Americans, whether liberal or conservative, thought that their fellow-citizens now supported same-sex marriage more than before, even though, in reality, the only thing that had changed was the ruling of a public institution. The impression created by the ruling was that “more Americans currently support same-sex marriage, and that even more will support it in the future,” Paluck said…

What can we do to counteract the rise of violent and hateful new norms? The social psychologist Bibb Latané argues that norms are more readily transmitted when the person modelling them has a high degree of personal influence and is physically close by the person absorbing them; a student, for example, is more likely to be affected by her professor than by a fellow-student or a professor at another school. One possibility, therefore, is to call upon influential people in small communities to fight the perceived consensus created by larger authority figures. If the President suggests that some neo-Nazis are “very fine people,” but those in positions of power closer to you—such as a pastor, principal, or governor—speak out against him, you’ll be more likely to call into question the new normal that the President has modelled. The new behavior will look more like an outlier than like a norm…

The lesson, Paluck believes, is that influence must spread from all relevant communities to be effective. In middle-school terms, you need both “the kids who are really popular in marching band” and “the leader of the goths” to help change norms. This insight has implications for those of us who want to push back against the Trump Administration’s new normal—the use of emotionally riling speech and epithets, threats of media bans, and so on. Hand-wringing and anger from within “the resistance” is of limited value. The middle-school approach requires participation from every political group. Democrats, therefore, must reach out to leaders in the Republican community and ask them to model a different sort of norm. Moderate Republicans must reach out to sympathetic but less vocal colleagues. “Implore your Republican neighbors to get their formal or informal leaders to speak out,” Paluck said. A broad-based, authoritative counterbalance may well have an impact.

The beauty of norms is that, unlike ingrained hatreds, they are flexible. They shift quickly; with the right pressure from the right people, they can shift back. But the response, crucially, must be broad, and it must come from sources of authority across the political spectrum. Otherwise, behaviors we think of as socially stable may prove to be far more fragile than we’d like to believe.

So, the NeverTrumpers like David Frum and Evan McMullin are doing important and heroic work.  As for the Paul Ryan’s and Mitch McConnell’s of this world?  They are simply and damnably complicit.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Vox’s Julia Belluz on Trump’s absurd anti birth control argument, “The Trump administration’s case against birth control is a stunning distortion of science:

As to why the White House is ignoring the evidence, we have some clues. One of the architects behind the new birth control rules is reportedly Matthew Bowman, a lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services who worked for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal advocacy (and anti-choice) group. Another top Trump adviser on health care is Katy Talento, an anti-abortionist who has claimed that side effects of hormonal birth include cancer and miscarriages. Trump put Teresa Manning, another anti-abortion lawyer who once said giving people easy access to the morning-after pill was “medically irresponsible” and “anti-family,” in charge of Title X, HHS’s federal family planning program. Trump’s positions on abortion have been wishy-washy, but it’s well known that Vice President Mike Pence has been crusading against reproductive rights for years.

2) The NYT’s [post-Trump] Republican’s guide to Presidential etiquette is terrific.

3) “Christian” women gather on the National Mall to criticize feminism.  And they’re pathetic:

For Linda Shebesta of Burleson, Tex., it was a day to pray alongside the family members of three generations who traveled to Washington with her. “We believe our nation was founded as a Christian nation. The enemy is trying to take it in another direction, not Christianity,” she said. She saw lots of proof of Satan at work during the Obama administration, especially the Supreme Court’s ruling authorizing same-sex marriage nationwide, she said. She’s relieved to see the Trump administration undoing many of Obama’s policies.

“We believe God put Donald Trump in,” Shebesta said.

Damn, God must have one hell of a sense of humor.

4) And the Onion nails it again, “EPA To Drop ‘E,’ ‘P’ From Name.”

5) Very nice TPM piece on how Russian propaganda exploits America’s prejudices.

6) Drum on Trump’s attempt to destroy the healthcare marketplace.  This is not hyperbole:

We’ve never before had a president who used millions of the poor and sick as pawns like this. It’s just plain evil.

7) Apparently, rather than relying on common sense, many in Silicon Valley are over-reacting to sexual harassment in the workplace in ways that are also harmful to women.

8) Sad story of an escaped Circus tiger.  I love the amazing exploits of humans in the circus.  I hate that the circus engages in horrible animal abuse while they are at it.

9) Why is Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate so high?  Because they are disturbingly, inhumanely, punitive about drug crimes.

10) Interesting to see how American sports fandom has changed over the past 5 years.  Yeah, professional soccer!

11) Interesting column on how the mistreatment of returning Vietnam Veterans is almost completely false and very persistent myth.

12) Seth Masket on the silliness of blaming Democrats for Harvey Weinstein’s behavior:

Harvey Weinstein’s support for Democrats, however, is highly unusual as political scandal material. His reprehensible and likely criminal alleged behavior has only become widely known in the past few weeks — nearly a year after the 2016 presidential election. To be sure, quite a few people in the entertainment industry seem to have known about the behavior he’s accused of for years to one extent or another. But it strains credulity to suggest that Clinton and Obama (whose teenage daughter interned for Weinstein last summer) knew the extent of Weinstein’s predatory tendencies in the past.

In sum, Clinton, Obama, and other Democrats are being blamed for having taken money in the past from someone who has recently been widely accused of being a sexual predator. It is akin to holding fans of the 1970s Buffalo Bills and the 1978 film Capricorn One accountable for O.J. Simpson’s behavior in 1994.

This sort of scandal coverage may be useful in the long run by promoting a discussion about the obligations candidates have to their donors and about the campaign finance system in general. But the idea that a recipient is somehow culpable for the later-disclosed criminal activity of a donor seems rather thin gruel.

13) Love Drum on the rage of rural voters:

The two big explanations for the rise of this rural anger (and the rise of Trump) revolve around economics and race. The modern economy has screwed these folks over and they’re tired of it. Or: they’re badly threatened by the growth of the nonwhite population. Which is it? Almost certainly both, and in any case it doesn’t matter much: both of these things are likely to get worse from their point of view. The nonwhite population share is obviously going to keep growing, and the economy of the future is only going to become ever more tilted toward the highly educated. If working-class whites really are enraged by either or both of these things, they’re only going to get more enraged as time goes by.

That’s especially true if they keep voting for Republicans, who will actively make these things worse while skillfully laying off the blame on “elites” and “Hollywood liberals.” Keeping the rage machine going is their ticket to political power.

How do we prick this bubble? Obama tried to give them cheap health care, and it enraged them. He passed stricter regulation on the Wall Street financiers who brought us the Great Recession, and they didn’t care. He fought to reduce their payroll taxes and fund infrastructure to help the economy get back on track, and they sneered that it was just a lot of wasted money that ballooned the national debt.

14) Tom Ricks with a great personal essay on the importance of a good editor.

15) Dana Milbank: the Bible according to Trump.  Good stuff.

16) Loved this post from Dan Kennedy on journalists’ obsessive needs for “both sides!” when it comes to the political parties.  No, it’s not both sides:

Washington Post columnist Dan Balz, who epitomizes establishment thinking as David Broder once did, went out of his way to balance the Democrats’ “leftward movement” with the Republicans’ “rightward shift” and warned that Democrats “must find a way to harness the movement into a political vision that is attractive to voters beyond the Democratic base.”

The problem is that no reasonable comparison can be made between the two parties’ ideological shifts. Long before the age of Trump, the Republicans established themselves as the party of no. A Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was impeached because of a personal scandal that would have — should have — remained a secret but that was revealed through a partisan Republican investigation. The filibuster became routine under Republican rule, making it impossible to conduct the business of the Senate. The Republicans refuse to talk about gun control or climate change. The party hit bottom by refusing even to consider Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee — a deeply transgressive breach of longstanding norms on the part of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. And all of this was before the race-baiting, white-supremacist-coddling Donald Trump became president…

The institutional desire for evenhandedness, though, is so deeply ingrained that journalists struggle to move beyond it. New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has called this the “production of innocence,” meaning that the press reflexively adopts equivalence between the two major parties as its default position even when the facts scream out against balance. “The conceit is that you can report and comment on politics truthfully while always and forever splitting the difference between the two sides so as to advertise your own status as perpetually non-aligned,” Rosen wrote. “What if that is not even possible? What if you have to risk the appearance of being partisan in order to describe accurately what is going on in a hyper-partisan situation?”

On a related note, so excited to be bringing Jay Rosen to NCSU in 10 days.


17) Digging around in SlateStarCodex the other day and really liked this post about adult developmental milestones.  Of course, I particularly liked it because I think I (and any decent social scientist, and many others, of course), have all of these.  And, because I think these are super-important.

Here are some other mental operations which seem to me to rise to the level of developmental milestones:

1. Ability to distinguish “the things my brain tells me” from “reality” – maybe this is better phrased as “not immediately trusting my system 1 judgments”. This is a big part of cognitive therapy – building the understanding that just because your brain makes assessments like “I will definitely fail at this” or “I’m the worst person in the world” doesn’t mean that you have to believe them. As Ozy points out, this one can be easier for people with serious psychiatric problems who have a lot of experience with their brain’s snap assessments being really off, as opposed to everyone else who has to piece the insight together from a bunch of subtle failures.

2. Ability to model other people as having really different mind-designs from theirs; for example, the person who thinks that someone with depression is just “being lazy” or needs to “snap out of it”. This is one of the most important factors in determining whether I get along with somebody – people who don’t have this insight tend not to respect boundaries/preferences very much simply because they can’t believe they exist, and to simultaneously get angry when other people violate their supposedly-obvious-and-universal boundaries and preferences.

3. Ability to think probabilistically and tolerate uncertainty. My thoughts on this were mostly inspired by another of David Chapman’s posts, which I’m starting to think might not be a coincidence.

4. Understanding the idea of trade-offs; things like “the higher the threshold value of this medical test, the more likely we’ll catch real cases but also the more likely we’ll get false positives” or “the lower the burden of proof for people accused of crimes, the more likely we’ll get real criminals but also the more likely we’ll encourage false accusations”. When I hear people discuss these cases in real life, they’re almost never able to maintain this tension and almost always collapse it to their preferred plan having no downside.

18) Finally saw Blade Runner 2049Vox a few days ago.  Loved the visuals, the general story, and the themes.  That said, a good example of more is less.  This would have been a much better 2 hour movie than the 2:45 it was.  Also, I was really disappointed in the score as I so love Vangelis’ score for the original and here the composers seemed to want to make up for lack of melody with loudness.  Appreciated Alyssa Wilkonson’s review for also pointing out these flaws.



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