Education Politics and Policies

Bernie Sanders for President. “Sanders introduced legislation that calls for the federal government to dole out $47 billion per year to states that agree to eliminate undergraduate tuition and fees at their public colleges and universities,” reports Inside Higher Ed. “Bernie Sanders’s plan to have Wall Street pay for your college tuition, explained” via Vox’s Libby Nelson. (More from Nelson on Sanders here.)

In other Presidential candidate news: “Hillary Clinton Paid by Jeb Bush’s Education Company.”

The Department of Education is “poised to announce a limited exemption to the federal ban on prisoners receiving Pell Grants to attend college while they are incarcerated,” says Inside Higher Ed. Meanwhile a bill has also been introduced to Congress that would reinstate Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated college students.

“The California Department of Veterans Affairs is ordering a for-profit college company with 15 campuses in the state to stop enrolling new or returning students who plan to fund their educations with GI Bill benefits,” KPCC reports. The for-profit in question: ITT Educational Services.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has vetoed a bill that included a $400 million increase for the state’s schools, arguing that that increase was “inadequate to serve the needs of Minnesota schoolchildren” particularly in light of the state’s $1.9 billion budget surplus.

A bill to provide state oversight over the East Ramapo School District “faces an uncertain future,” The New York Times reports. A majority of the school district’s students are Black or Latino but the school board has been dominated by Orthodox Jews, who according to a state investigation “shown favoritism to Orthodox Jewish students who attend private schools in the area.” “Since 2005, the board has made severe cuts to public schools, eliminating 445 positions; reducing full-day kindergarten to a half-day; and dropping half the district's athletic programs and extracurricular activities, the state investigation found.”

Elections for LAUSD School Board saw two incumbents lose – “Tamar Galatzan in District 3 and Bennett Kayser in District 5. But each winner hews more closely to the views of the incumbent who lost in the other race, making the day’s results a political wash,” says LA School Report.

The Oregonian reports that “Sabin School’s principal violated a federal anti-discrimination law when he pulled students out of class in groups sorted by race to question them about a teacher’s missing purse, a U.S. Department of Education investigation found.”

According to Inside Higher Ed, “More than 60 Asian-American organizations on Friday filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department charging that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American applicants.”

Education in the Courts

The US Supreme Court has denied the appeal of New Orleans public school employees who say they were wrongly fired following Hurricane Katrina.

The AP reports that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that private colleges’ police departments are subject to the state’s open records laws because their personnel are state certified.

Via The Washington Post: “A nonprofit watchdog group filed a lawsuit in a Wisconsin circuit court against Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Tuesday, alleging that he is refusing to make public documents relating to an effort by his office to change the mission of the University of Wisconsin that is embedded in state law.”

Via Politico: “California teachers and students today are filing file a class-action lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court against the Compton Unified School District. They're arguing that the district is obligated to protect students who've been exposed to trauma and violence but is doing little to nothing to help students or curb the effects that violence has on academic success.”

Testing, Testing…

For the first time in 30 years, the Texas Education Agency has awarded its $280 million standardized testing contract to a company whose name isn’t Pearson. ETS won the bid to provide the STAAR tests for the next four years. Pearson will still get $60 million to develop a portion of the state’s assessments.

The New York Times examines the “Opt Out” movement in New York state. “At least 165,000 children, or one of every six eligible students, sat out at least one of the two standardized tests this year, more than double and possibly triple the number who did so in 2014.”

Florida’s end-of-course exams in biology, US History, and civics were interrupted by “hackers,” according to the state’s Department of Education.

PARCC plans to cut back on the length of its assessments. Currently, the tests run 10–11 hours, and the testing organization says it’s shaving off 90 whole minutes.

The Agony of Taking a Standardized Test on a Computer” by 11th grader Rebecca Castillo.

Sen. Rand Paul, Presidential Candidate, Not Opposed to National Testing.” (Just a “national curriculum,” I guess?)

The BBC explores the techniques schools are using to help make tests less stressful, including bouncy castles, micropigs, and knitting. Nothing against micropigs here, but maybe instead of these elaborate initiatives, schools could address some of the underlying issues of why students are so stressed?


California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom “faults insufficient outreach to faculty in push for online education.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education picks up Jen Ebbeler’s story about the development of the UT Austin class “Introduction to Ancient Rome”: “When Your Online Course Is Put Up for Adoption.”

Campus Technology says that edX and ASU will use “Software Secure’s RPNow to provide proctored assessments for students at any time and from any location. The cloud-based service uses a webcam to verify the student’s identity and to record the student throughout the assessment to ensure there are no violations.” (No mention of the recent controversy at Rutgers over similar software. Because churnalism.)

The New York Times investigates the digital diploma mill Axact, which makes tens of millions of dollars a year selling fake degrees.

Meanwhile on Campus

Remember the news a couple months ago about Uber’s partnership with Carnegie Mellon to create a lab to build robot-driven cars? Looks like it was really just an effort by Uber to poach AI folks from the university. “These guys, they took everybody.”

Two-thirds of college and university risk managers responding to a recent survey said they consider the risks associated with fraternities to be among the most significant risks facing higher education.” Congrats, bros. You’re a bigger risk than MOOCs.

Via Bloomberg: “Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation.”

Elsewhere in energy industry attempts to influence education: here’s a wonderfully uncritical piece of industry PR from Wyoming Public Radio: “Energy Companies Step In To Fund STEM Education.” The story opens with these sentences: “Many public high schools lack funding for STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – programs. Energy companies worried about finding future employees are donating to schools.” It then explores the ways in which students in Wyoming are getting special, spendy training in engineering, thanks to money from the natural gas industry. I’m pretty confused how Wyoming has no money for STEM as the state ranks near the top of per pupil spending in the country, due to the enormous tax revenues generated from the oil and gas industry (although perhaps here the issue is the $200,000 for this marvelous STEM curriculum). But hey, go ahead. Just rewrite industry PR: “industry is really leading the STEM charge.” ORLY.

In other Wyoming-related news: Parents in Cody are concerned about the reading curriculum and “don’t like the way some the reading materials address topics like war, slavery, global climate change and the treatment of indigenous people. In a local newspaper ad, Cody parents say the readings show ‘left-wing bias that criticizes, denigrates and demeans America’s history, accomplishments, and founding principles.’” One school board member says he’s concerned that students might learn about Cesar Chavez and Langston Hughes. OH GOD NO! NOT LANGSTON HUGHES! They’ll never get a job in Wyoming’s booming energy industry! … Oh wait. What’s that I hear? The Wyoming mining industry is no longer booming?

Cutting-edge new tracking software distributed to schools across the city on Tuesday will chart student and faculty performance with laser-like accuracy, the Daily News has learned.” LOL, okay Daily News.

From “Four Wagner High School students say they were suspended for a demonstration at a school-sponsored fashion show Thursday in which they carried signs donning phrases such as ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

“Campus Child Care, a ‘Critical Student Benefit,’ Is Disappearing,” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Via Inside Higher Ed: “Chinese applicants to the University of San Francisco need not submit a transcript or an SAT score under a newly announced pilot program. Rather, the private Jesuit institution plans to admit students based on their scores on the grueling, multiday Chinese university entrance exam, the gaokao, and their performance in an in-person interview in Beijing.”

Via the BBC: “Students at Oxford University are voting on whether or not they should continue being forced to wear special clothes to sit their exams. At the moment, students and examiners have to wear a gown over an outfit known as ‘sub fusc.’ The compulsory clothing includes a dark suit, black shoes, a plain white shirt or blouse with a bow tie, long tie or ribbon.”

The Economist reports that “As more firms have set up their own ‘corporate universities,’ they have become less willing to pay for their managers to go to business school.” Wait. So the choice is a corporate university or business school? Ew.


Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz graduated this week and walked across the stage with the mattress that has become the symbol of the school’s failure to address her alleged sexual assault. President Lee Bollinger turned his back on her – also pretty symbolic, eh? – refusing to shake her hand. Jezebel covers a harassment campaign against Sulkowicz, timed with commencement: large posters hung around campus featuring her photo and the words "Pretty Little Liar" and "#fakerape."

Go, School Sports Team!

The University of Louisville is expanding Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, thanks in part to a $3 million donation from the Sun Tan City chain of tanning salons, now the Official Tanning Center for the school (whose cheerleaders can tan there for free). Go team.

The University of Illinois’ women’s basketball program has been accused of player abuse, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Concussion Lawsuits Rankle School Groups” via The New York Times.

From the HR Department

Congratulations to Coursera CEO Richard Levin. The former President of Yale has received a $8.5 million payout from the university – “an unprecedented lump-sum payout highlighting the increasingly lucrative compensation for leaders at the nation's top universities,” says The Wall Street Journal. Perhaps it was recognition for his work on AllLearn? (Probably not.)

And speaking of MOOCs and college presidents, the UVA Board of Visitors has voted to extend Teresa Sullivan’s contract for two more years.

“Dean Dad” Matt Reed will have a new gig starting in July: “Vice President for Learning at Brookdale Community College.”

Upgrades and Downgrades

“Academic, library and technology organizations are denouncing a new sharing and hosting policy adopted last month by publisher Elsevier, saying it undermines open-access policies at colleges and universities and prevents authors from sharing their work,” reports Inside Higher Ed, which has more details on the 21 organizations who issued a statement asking Elsevier to reconsider its policy.

The public beta of LibraryBox v2.1 is now available. Details via Jason Griffey.

The headline on the press release reads: “ Harvard Graduate School of Education and Expeditionary Learning Launch Largest Online Library of Exemplary K–12 Student Work.”

Artisanal pencil shop opens in Lower Manhattan.” plus the College Board: because everyone needs to learn to code and then hand over money to the College Board for an AP test on the subject.

The Economic Times reports that “Infosys co-founder and billionaire Nandan Nilekani, who spearheaded [India’s] massive unique identification project, is gearing up for an equally ambitious project – to help elementary school children across the country improve their reading and arithmetic skills using low-end tablets and smartphones.”

Via Apple Insider: Gartner says that Google is selling its Chromebooks primarily to schools (72% of sales go to the education sector). And gee, you know things aren't looking good for Apple when Apple Insider covers Chromebooks.

Funding and Acquisitions (and Bankruptcy)

The investment firm Sandbox Partners has acquired Pearson’s Family Education Network. Terms were not disclosed.

The Learning House has acquired Carnegie Mellon University spinoff Acatar, reports Inside Higher Ed. No details about the terms of the deal.

Automattic, the company that runs WordPress, has acquired WooThemes, one of the oldest providers of WordPress themes. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. The acquisition has prompted Edukwest’s Kirsten Winkler to ask, “Is WordPress the next major Online Education Platform?”

Zaption, which makes “online interactive videos,” has raised $1.5 million from NewSchools Venture Fund, Redcrest Enterprises, and Telegraph Hill Capital.

MeetUniv, “an Indian platform for finding universities and colleges abroad,” has raised $1 million from Peesh Venture Capital.

Via The New York Times: “A United States bankruptcy judge on Wednesday cleared the way for RadioShack to sell its brand name and customer data to a Standard General affiliate for about $26 million.”

Data, Privacy, and Surveillance

From the Pew Internet Center: “Americans' Attitudes About Privacy, Security and Surveillance.” “93% of adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important; 74% feel this is ‘very important,’ while 19% say it is ‘somewhat important.’”

But it’s “privacy for me, but not for thee,” I guess. Parents who want implants in children. “Mark Zuckerberg just dropped another $100M to protect his privacy.” Etc.

“Wherefore Art Thou, Google Apps For Edu Terms of Service?” asks Funnymonkey’s Bill Fitzgerald.

The Internet of Things for poor people. Gee, what could possibly go wrong.

Via The Reporter: “An 18-year-old Dixon High School student was arrested Thursday on suspicion of altering a computer data system, a felony, in connection with more than 200 grade changes for more than 30 students at the school.” From the Office of Inadequate Security: “So does it concern anyone else that had a teacher not noticed a change, the district’s system didn't detect any unusual or questionable activity – given that the changes were being made from an IP outside of the district? Yes, teachers can work from home, but what controls did this district have in place? And if the student could access the electronic gradebook, what else could potentially be accessed of a sensitive nature?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The New York Times reports that “Hackers from China infiltrated the computer systems of Pennsylvania State University’s College of Engineering, gaining usernames and passwords in what investigators described as a sophisticated cyberattack that lasted more than two years.”

Data and “Research”

According to a study published in The Journal of Adolescent Health, “18.6 percent of women at a university in upstate New York who started there in 2010 experienced either rape or attempted rape in their freshman year.”

Buzzfeed’s Molly Hensley-Clancy looks at recent research that examines “How Public Universities Shortchange Poor And Minority Students.”

Research published last year in Science that purported to show that short conversations with canvassers going door-to-door could change people opinions about same-sex marriage. Turns out the data was faked by a UCLA grad student, something discovered when two UC Berkeley grad students tried to replicate the findings. Here’s This American Life’s follow-up on the story. (The radio show was one of many many many news organizations that covered the original study.)

I haven’t read this study closely, but here’s the headline in The Guardian’s coverage: “Schools that ban mobile phones see better academic results.”

Further demonstrating my contention that the phrase “blended learning” is utterly meaningless, the Education Technology Industry Network of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) says that according to a study it conducted, the definition of “online course” now means “blended learning.”

Consulting firm predicts the global market for ed-tech hardware will grow. News at 11.

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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