Thursday, April 17, 2014

Meanwhile, on the Saving the World Front

Joe Romm:

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its third of four planned reports. This one is on “mitigation” — “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.”

The first two reports laid out humanity’s choice as depicted in the figure above, which appeared in both reports. The first report warned that continued inaction would lead to 9°F warming (or higher) for most of the U.S. and Northern Hemisphere landmass, resulting in faster sea level rise, more extreme weather, and collapse of the permafrost sink, which would further accelerate warming. The second report warned that this in turn would lead to a “breakdown of food systems,” more violent conflicts, and ultimately threaten to make some currently habited and arable land virtually unlivable for parts of the year.

Now you might think it would be a no-brainer that humanity would be willing to pay a very high cost to avoid such catastrophes and achieve the low emission “2°C” (3.6°F) pathway in the left figure above (RCP2.6 — which is a total greenhouse gas level in 2100 equivalent to roughly 450 parts per million of CO2). But the third report finds that the “cost” of doing so is to reduce the median annual growth of consumption over this century by a mere 0.06%.

You read that right, the annual growth loss to preserve a livable climate is 0.06% — and that’s “relative to annualized consumption growth in the baseline that is between 1.6% and 3% per year.” So we’re talking annual growth of, say 2.24% rather than 2.30% to save billions and billions of people from needless suffering for decades if not centuries. As always, every word of the report was signed off on by every major government in the world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Getting Back to the Core of Common Core ELA

This is the generic form of the essay question in the new SAT:

Write an essay in which you explain how THE AUTHOR builds an argument to persuade his audience. In your essay, analyze how THE AUTHOR uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with THE AUTHOR'S claims, but rather explain how THE AUTHOR builds an argument to persuade his audience.

The "features in the box" might change, and of course the text will, but that's the prompt, full stop. One of the distinctive features of the Common Core is that essentially all the reading standards can be applied that way and turned into generic writing prompts that could be applied directly to arbitrary texts. This is a very unusual feature for a set of standards. It didn't happen accidentally.

On the other hand, Common Core implementation hasn't followed this path of least resistance, but its reappearance in the SAT indicates that it is a pattern David Coleman likes (or maybe we should credit The College Board, since that organization had a big footprint in the Common Core design process), and probably expected the Common Core to follow.

Uh... Yeah, I Can Think of How to Prep for This

The College Board:

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the redesigned SAT® embodies the College Board’s firm commitment to the idea that all students should be asked routinely to engage with texts worthy of close attention and careful analysis — works that explore challenging ideas, offer important insights, reveal new discoveries, and build deep knowledge in numerous disciplines. While this commitment is apparent throughout the whole exam — which calls on students to read and analyze rich texts in the fields of U.S. and world literature, history/social studies, and science and on career-related topics — nowhere is it more evident than in the Reading Test’s inclusion of U.S. founding documents and texts from the Great Global Conversation.

Over the centuries, the founding documents — a body of works that includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers — have moved, influenced, and inspired countless individuals and groups at home and abroad. The vital issues central to these documents — freedom, justice, and human dignity among them — have also motivated numerous people in the United States and around the globe to take up the pen to engage in an ongoing dialogue on these and similar matters. Those participating in this Great Global Conversation, including Edmund Burke, Henry David Thoreau, Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King Jr., are notable in part for the diversity of perspectives and life experiences they represent. Though their works inevitably reflect the particulars of the places and times in which they lived, these writers are united by their profound engagement with the issues and ideas that are at the heart of civic life. The texts they have produced — spanning many nations and years — have served to build on, broaden, and enrich the “conversation” that took place in the British American colonies and the early U.S. republic. ...

(example question) The stance Jordan takes in the passage is best described as that of

  • A) an idealist setting forth principles.
  • B) an advocate seeking a compromise position.
  • C) an observer striving for neutrality.
  • D) a scholar researching a historical controversy.

OK, this is just a draft, but once a kid recognizes that he or she is reading a Great Global Conversation text, that's going to eliminate a lot of potential answers. You should be able to guess the correct answer above based on no more than that meta-context.

Much Depends on the Efficacy of Slightly Elaborated Multiple Choice Questions

Caralee Adams:

The (new SAT) reading test drills down, more specifically, asking students to answer questions based on what is stated and implied in texts across a range of content areas and determine which portion of a text best supports the answer to a given question.

Let me just say that I totally get the genesis of the role of citing evidence in college preparedness. I took a number of literature courses with undergraduates at Brown, well, 15 years ago (not long at all!) while getting my MAT in English, thus while quite conscious of what was going on around me pedagogically, and YES! indeed, many of my professors would get quite peevish about constantly having to ask students to cite evidence for their opinions during a comparative literature seminar!

Yet, as our new deeply intertwined systems of curriculum, assessment and accountability roll out, it is hard not to feel like far too much is resting on the premise that adding a ubiquitous "determine which portion of a text best supports the answer to a given question" step to basically every reading task or test a student will undertake as a primary or secondary school student is going to trigger some sort of substantive improvement in American education.

That is, when this process started, I don't think reformers would have predicted that this particular point would be a centerpiece of their agenda, but from my perspective, it has turned out that way.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Efficiency For Whom

Paul Krugman points us to a short paper by Thomas Philippon, Finance vs. Wal-Mart: Why are Financial Services so Expensive? which I would recommend to anyone working in ed tech:

Historically, the unit cost of intermediation has been somewhere between 1.3% and 2.3% of assets. However, this unit cost has been trending upward since 1970 and is now significantly higher than in the past. In other words, the finance industry of 1900 was just as able as the finance industry of 2010 to produce loans, bonds and stocks, and it was certainly doing it more cheaply. This is counter-intuitive, to say the least. How is it possible for today's finance industry not to be significantly more efficient than the finance industry of John Pierpont Morgan?

This paper in particular gives you something to throw in the face of anyone -- particularly in finance -- who brings up the old trope about every industry in the country but education having been transformed by technology.

The Wal-Mart vs. banks comparison is particularly nuts. For all the many, many important and well documented downsides of Wal-Mart, they do at the end of the day deliver everyday low prices, whereas our financiers can't even do that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Little Context on the OpenSSL and GnuTLS Bugs

If I'm getting confused, you probably are too, so for a little historical perspective, here's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols from last month:

According to some reports you'd think the security sky was falling. Yes, GnuTLS, an open-source "secure" communications library that implements \Secure-Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS), has serious flaws. The good news? Almost no one uses it. OpenSSL has long been everyone's favorite open-source security library of choice.

Red Hat discovered the latest in a long-series of GnuTLS bugs .

Latest? Yes, latest.

You see, GnuTLS has long been regarded as being a poor SSL/TLS security library. A 2008 message on the OpenLDAP mailing list had "GnuTLS considered harmful" as its subject — which summed it up nicely. 

In it, Howard Chu, chief architect for the OpenLDAP, the open-source implementation of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), wrote, "In short, the code is fundamentally broken; most of its external and internal APIs are incapable of passing binary data without mangling it. The code is completely unsafe for handling binary data, and yet the nature of TLS processing is almost entirely dependent on secure handling of binary data. I strongly recommend that GnuTLS not be used. All of its APIs would need to be overhauled to correct its flaws and it's clear that the developers there are too naive and inexperienced to even understand that it's broken." 

With GnuTLS's most recent and perhaps biggest failure to date, Red Hat found that GnuTLS, when shown a specially rigged kind of bogus SSL certificate, would fail to see that the certificate was a fake.

What we learned this week is that OpenSSL had a vastly worse vulnerability, known as Heartbleed.

So... well, one thing is for sure, if two gaping holes in the security backbone of the open source internet architecture had come out six months after The Cathedral and Bazaar was published, we might be living in a completely different, even more proprietary technological world where, say, your Sun Microsystems stock might be worth something. At this point, the overall role of open source processes is well established, and it is clear that switching to proprietary security software isn't going to protect us from prying eyes. Still, what happened to the open source mantra that "with enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow?" Well, as Timothy B. Lee put it:

The Heartbleed story highlights just how central to online security the OpenSSL library has become. Thousands of organizations use it to protect the privacy of millions of users. Yet the software is developed by a small, volunteer-driven organization. The project lists just 15 developers as responsible for maintaining the software. As one security expert puts it, the team does "a hard job with essentially no pay."

With so many organizations depending on a small, under-resourced project, mistakes were inevitable. It will cost companies and governments millions of dollars to clean up the mess created by Heartbleed. It would be good if some of those deep-pocketed organizations invested resources in helping to improve the OpenSSL code so it's less likely to happen again.

Unfortunately, there's a huge collective action problem. The risk of any specific company or policymaker being blamed for a security breach is low, so everyone assumes that someone else will do something about it.

Right now, we have a "National Security Agency" dedicated to making the internet insecure. We need the opposite.

Perhaps I Should Write an Op-Ed Demanding an End to Tenure for NY Times Reporters

Andrew O'Hehir:

There were plenty of signs of trouble, too: Blair had been in rehab for cocaine and alcohol abuse, and well before the plagiarism scandal broke, his work was often seen as dubious and full of mistakes. The number of corrections his stories required was three times higher than average; he had received a strongly negative performance review, and one mid-level editor had written a stern memo urging that “we have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times.” In Grant’s film, Howell Raines says the memo never reached his desk, and other editors say that a combination of complacency and bureaucracy kept Blair on the staff, rather than any desire to protect one of the paper’s few African-American reporters.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

This is Certainly the Way I Look at Living in Elmwood

Daniel Jose Older:

The dominant narrative of the endangered white person barely making it out of the hood alive is, of course, a myth. No one is safer in communities of color than white folks. White privilege provides an invisible force field around them, powered by the historically grounded assurance that the state and media will prosecute any untoward event they may face.

Monday, April 07, 2014

I'd Like to See these Numbers for Rhode Island

Doug Livingston:

Ohio’s public school buses are traveling farther each year to pick up fewer kids, and it’s costing taxpayers more money.

It’s an unintended consequence of school choice. State officials have forced traditional public schools to crisscross their cities to pick up and deliver children to privately run charter schools, often while cutting transportation to their own kids.

The cost for the door-to-door service is significant: About 44 percent more per child, according to an analysis of statewide data.

A child attending a traditional public school and transported on a district bus cost on average $4.30 per day in 2012. The average cost for a charter-school student: $6.18, or $1.88 more per day.

Since then, 22,000 more children have enrolled in charter schools, the state has stopped helping school districts buy new buses and other state transportation assistance has failed to keep pace with costs.

The Most Depressing Thing I've Read in a While

Dan Alexander:

In the two days since he hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s meeting with several possible 2016 Republican candidates at his Venetian Resort and Hotel, Adelson personally made $2.1 billion — 21 times the $100 million he reported giving away during the 2012 presidential election.