Prison-Industrial Complex? Maybe It’s Time For A Schools-Industrial Complex

Prison-Industrial Complex? Maybe It’s
Time For A Schools-Industrial Complex

by Saki Knafo

California has built 23 prisons since 1980. In the same period, the University of California system has opened one new campus. And although California’s prison population has declined in recent years, the state’s spending per prisoner has increased five times faster than its spending per K-12 student in the last two decades.

California has more than 130,000 prisoners, a huge increase from the state’s 1980 prison population of about 25,000. Prisons cost California taxpayers close to $10 billion, compared with $604 million in 1980. While some say the additional spending is needed for rehabilitation services, they also note that the prisons are draining scarce funds from education and other key areas.

This week, Californians who hope to see the state scale down its prison spending were dismayed to learn that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wants to further expand the prison system, spending an additional $700 million on prisons over the next two years. Brown is trying to comply with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding by the end of this year: Despite the 21 new prisons built since 1980, construction hasn’t kept pace with the growth of the inmate population, and California’s prison system is one of the most crowded in the country.

But Brown’s fellow Democrats in the state Senate have thrown their support behind an alternate plan. The rival approach, proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, calls for the state to invest $200 million a year on counseling programs and other services aimed at keeping low-level drug offenders out of jail. To succeed, it will need to gain the approval of the panel of federal judges who ordered California to resolve the overcrowding problem in the first place, and it’s not at all clear that the judges will play along.

But if they do, the state could ultimately save millions in prison costs, Steinberg says.

Brown’s approach, by contrast, is an “expensive Band-Aid on a hemorrhage,” Steinberg said in statement Wednesday.

Brown is widely perceived as a strong supporter of public education, and he has introduced prison reforms that have helped bring down the state’s inmate count by about 25,000 since 2011.

But criminal-justice advocates say that the prison system is still way too big — and costly. And unless the state invests more in teaching people the skills they need to get by, they say, it isn’t likely to get a whole lot smaller.

UPDATE: Jeffrey Callison, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, stresses in an email that the governor’s plan to increase prison capacity is temporary.

“The Governor has made it very clear in public on numerous occasions that he wants California to spend less money on incarcerating people,” he writes. “His plan will secure enough time for the state to work on longer-term criminal justice reforms to bring down the population in the long term.”

Callison also stresses that one reason for the rising cost of incarceration in California is the “huge investment made by the state in improving medical, mental health and dental care.” And he notes that prisoners spend a lot more time in prisons than students spend in school. “All of their basic needs must be met, largely at taxpayer expense,” he writes.

Correction: California has opened 23 prisons since 1980, not 21: They include a woman’s prison that was deactivated in 2003 and a health care facility that opened in Stockton last month. Language has also been amended to indicate that the article is considering the University of California system, and not the California State University system.

The New High School Diploma

The New High School Diploma

By David Sirota

Whether or not President Obama’s recent education-themed speeches are in direct response to Matt Taibbi’s must-read Rolling Stone magazine article on the college loan crisis, it is great news that the White House is now taking the crisis more seriously. The credit bubble in college loans has ballooned into a systemic threat to the nation’s economy. Additionally, as Taibbi documents, economic and political trends are now forcing an entire generation into a truly no-win situation: Either don’t get a post-secondary education and harm your job prospects, or get a post-secondary education and condemn yourself to a lifetime of debt.

The economic trend fueling this perfect storm is about job credentials. Peruse employment data and you’ll see that the New York Times was right when it declared that “the college degree is becoming the new high school diploma: the new minimum requirement, albeit an expensive one, for getting even the lowest-level job.” Though the Times notes that the weak economy means the job outlook for college grads “is rather bleak,” it is even more bleak if you don’t have a post-secondary degree.

So, yes, some form of higher education is now increasingly as necessary as a high school diploma. Yet, in our financing models, America still isn’t treating it as such. Just consider the critical difference between how high school and college education programs are funded.

The former is funded by broad-based taxes and few would ever suggest changing it to an individual tuition system. Why? Because we’ve come to view access to high school as a right. This view is based not just on notions of morality but also on an economic calculation. Basically, we know we need a workforce with as many high school graduates as possible, and we’ve decided that forcing young people to go into crushing debt to get a high school degree would deter many from getting the degree.

Yet, even though we know that higher education is also increasingly an economic necessity, we do not have the same funding model or outlook for college. Instead, we still predicate access to higher education on a student’s wealth and/or their willingness to go into crushing debt.

This brings us to the political trend that is contributing to this perfect storm. Even though policymakers obviously know higher education is increasingly an economic necessity, financially speaking, they are still treating it as a luxury by predicating it on the user fee/tuition model.

No doubt, shifting our policies to treat post-secondary education as equally necessary as high school—and therefore worthy of similar fiscal treatment—requires a paradigm shift in thinking.

It requires us to see higher education as not just 4-year university programs, but also 2-year community college programs and vocational and technical education.

It also requires us to address the problems raised by Taibbi in his look at why college is so expensive.

But perhaps most important of all, it requires us to reject the assumption that it is impossible for the wealthiest country in the world to provide public higher education that doesn’t force students into debt. We—thankfully—don’t apply that assumption to high school education, and we should stop applying it to higher education.

Of course, universal free post-secondary education will not, unto itself, solve America’s economic problems. But that doesn’t mean access to higher education has nothing to do with a nation’s economic success. As the data prove, education is a factor.

America already knows and has built consensus around that truth when it comes to high school. Now it’s time to do the same for post-secondary education.


Does sending your kid to private school make you a scourge on society?

Does sending your kid to private
school make you a scourge on society?

by Carmel Lobello

In what could alternately be seen as a provocative argument or a master class in trolling, Allison Benedikt at Slate says you are a bad person if you send your kid to private school. If people who can afford private school just held their noses for a few generations and deigned to send their kids to crappy public schools, one of our nation’s most important institutions will improve, she says.

So, how would this work exactly? It’s simple! Everyone needs to be invested in our public schools in order for them to get better. Not just lip-service investment, or property tax investment, but real flesh-and-blood-offspring investment. Your local school stinks but you don’t send your child there? Then its badness is just something you deplore in the abstract. Your local school stinks and you do send your child there? I bet you are going to do everything within your power to make it better. 

The story was a hit, in internet terms — it has racked up over 5,000 comments, 19,000 Facebook likes, and 1,800 Tweets. And predictably, like moths to the flame, many couldn’t help blasting Benedikt’s article as absurd, even offensive.

“[T]he author’s Orwellian vision for a more equal and just society is, at the very least, wholly impractical,” says Daniel Doherty at .

“This is what the radical levellers want for us,” argues Rod Dreher at The American . “It is the educational equivalent of Soviet economics. All that matters is that we are united in the state, no matter how stupid, ignorant, and poor it makes us.”

Ross Douthat of the New York Times also got a big communism-y vibe:

Ross Douthat


“Everything for the state, nothing outside the state,
nothing against the state.” 

If You Send Your Kid to Private School,
You Are a Bad Person

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your…

Slate @Slate

John Carney at CNBC goes one step further, saying sending your kids to private school is actually really good for public school because it creates competition, which improves education for everyone: “Monopoly education would, like every monopoly known in the history of humanity, produce a poorer quality product at a greater cost.”

This isn’t something that’s even slightly controversial. The basic facts have been known for at least 20 years. In 1994, Harvard economist Caroline Minter Hoxby published the first empirical study looking into the effects of private competition on public schools. She found that public schools improved in almost every imaginable way. Graduation rates improve. Educational attainment rises. The post-graduation wages of public school students increases. Even teacher salaries rise when the public schools compete with private schools. What’s more, these improvements didn’t result from any significant increases in spending, which means public schools get these benefits more or less for free. 

Megan McArdle at Bloomberg is sympathetic to Benedikt’s premise. “If you’re an affluent upper-middle-class parent, your kids are probably going to be fine no matter what school you send them to,” she says. “And I am on the record as saying that if you oppose vouchers, you have a moral obligation to send your kids to public schools in a horrible urban school district, rather than ‘skimming the cream’ from said school district by decamping to the suburbs as soon as your spawn reach school age.”

But McArdle says Benedikt’s theory, in practice, would be a disaster:

I think that Benedikt isn’t thinking through what would actually happen if everyone felt a moral obligation to send their kids to public schools. What would actually happen is that Allison Benedikt wouldn’t live in Brooklyn, because New York, like most of the rest of the U.S.’s cities, would have lost all of its affluent families in the 1970s — the ones who stayed largely because private school, and a handful of magnet schools financed by the taxes of people who sent their kids to private school, allowed them to maintain residence without sending their kids into middle- and high-schools that had often become war zones. Anyone with any choices left that system, one way or another. But because New York had a robust system of private and parochial schools, they didn’t necessarily need to leave the city to leave the violence behind.

Program for forgiveness of loans not easy to use

Program for forgiveness of loans not easy to use

WASHINGTON — More than 33 million workers qualify to get their student loans forgiven because they work in schools, hospitals or city halls, but too few take advantage of the options because the programs are overly complicated and often confusing, the government’s consumer advocate said on Wednesday.

Roughly a quarter of the workforce could take advantage of federal rules that give favorable loan repayment options to those in public service fields, including the military, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The agency recommended Congress review the loan forgiveness programs and encouraged employers to make sure their workers know they are available.

“Teachers, soldiers, firefighters, policemen — public sector careers invariably involve some effort, some inconvenience or some sacrifice. People give up higher incomes to serve their city, their state or their country,” said Richard Cordray, bureau director. “We believe that people who contribute part of their talents, part of the benefits of their education, to society as a whole should not be mired in debt because they stir themselves to the calling of public service.”

Student loan debt has topped $1 trillion, the consumer advocate estimates, and has been a drag on the economy as recent graduates are forced to choose between paying down their loans and buying a house or a car. That sends millions of dollars to lenders instead of keeping that cash in the local communities.

For many graduates, there are multiple programs in place to ease the financial burden of taking lower-paying jobs to help their communities. But the system is fraught with complications, and a firm number of how many graduates could benefit is hard to come by.

“The data is quite weak in this area. We don’t have a sense of how much money is left on the table,” said Rohit Chopra, the bureau’s student loan ombudsman. “But we suspect it’s a substantial sum.”

Advice From Teachers to Parents

Advice From Teachers to Parents

by Pete Mason

Like many teachers, I have a good relationship with the parents of my students. I have been both a general education teacher (social studies and math) and a special education teacher, and found both ups and downs working with a variety of parents. I spoke to colleagues from across my teaching career and asked them what they would say to parents of their students, to provide perspective towards the workload that teachers have on their plate for 180 days of the year, plus professional development, planning, research and coordinating with fellow teachers on interdisciplinary curriculums. Our combined input has led to the following pieces of advice that hopefully sheds some light on this side of the teacher-parent relationship and encourages open communication for the benefit of students. After all, that’s why we’re here, right?

Mind you, these are not a list of gripes, or an unfiltered telling off of parents. Quite the contrary. Below you will find constructive thoughts that veteran teachers shared with me, as a way to improve the educational impact a child has throughout the course of their schooling. This is not, of course, teachers advising you on how to raise your child. We aren’t doing that. We are simply offering ways to improve your child’s education in the time they are both in and not in school, in a manner than benefits both the family and the student.

– Teach your children to be prepared; it’s not just for the Boy Scouts.

– Education that stops when the school day ends is an incomplete education. Kids who do not continue their school work and learning outside of school — including reading, reviewing the days work and talking with their parents about what they learned that day, leads to a lack of retention by the students and an under-appreciation for what was taught to them that given day.

– On that note, the earlier this reinforcement of a student’s education becomes part of a student’s life, there is a greater degree to which students will get used to talking about what they learned, engage in conversation and later, debate. This firmly entrenches what they learned — math, english, science, social studies and the arts — into their brains for longer learning retention.

– Think of a child’s day in this manner: a 24 hour day can be broken down like this — eight hours of school, including commute to and from, eight hours at home and eight hours of sleep, give or take an hour here and there. The eight hours at school and the eight hours at home need to be chock full of learning so that while sleeping, the thoughts are processed and organized and problems solved, making the students stronger learned in the long run.

While a short nap can help that, a good night’s sleep is important too. Video games, latchkey kids and parents who do not engage their children outside of school with educational reinforcement can harm their kids education and their future

– Keep your kids aware of current events and make it a point to watch the news together, so that students may tie things learned in school to current events and contemporary issues. TV isn’t always a bad thing; it is still an incredible learning tool when utilized properly.

– Ask your child each night “what did you learn in school?” and have a conversation about their education. Show them it is important to you.

– Have a problem with something a teacher taught, or a grade your child got on a test? Go direct to the teacher; we can work it out with you. If you don’t agree with us after talking, feel free to ask our supervisor, but don’t jump to the supervisor without talking to us first. We’re paid to communicate with parents and expect parents to reach out if they disagree with us.

– Make sure your child comes to school on time. Don’t drop your child off habitually late. They will learn that this is a proper habit for the future and guess who will show up late to a job in a few years?

– We can tell when a kid isn’t getting love, food or attention at home. Do your job as parents and we will do ours as teachers. Together, we will raise and teach your child to make this a better world.

– Don’t try to get kids out of detention or punishment. Allow your child to learn to accept consequences for their actions/inactions. On that note, don’t make excuses for your children. They’ll learn their parents will bail them out when needed, a habit that will follow them into high school and beyond.

– Implement a consistent homework routine that focuses on relearning what was taught that day, as well as staying up-to-date on longer projects. This will make students more effective employees down the road and keep them from working low wage jobs where these skills aren’t needed. Parents, you want your kids to be successful, right? Then that process starts when a child is enrolled in school.

– Don’t send your child to school when they are sick. They won’t gain anything while sick, they’ll just make other kids and teachers sick. This leads to a decrease in productivity and grades, cutting back on the learning for all. Keep sick kids home until they are symptom free.

– Please respond to our emails and phone calls. We know you are busy (we’re busy too!) but show us you are concerned for your child’s education as we are.

– Similarly, call and email us without us reaching out first. If you have a concern, talk to us! Just remember that most teachers have between 30-100 students and have a lot to juggle, just like you. We will make the effort if you do!

– Advocate for your kids, but if they get a bad grade because they didn’t do the work, don’t ask us to give them extra chances or to raise their grade. This isn’t how the real world works. You don’t do your work, you lose out. There’s a lesson to be learned here, not one to be bargained with.

– Advocate for teachers. We invest our time to educate your kids, so please invest some time to support teachers who make a difference. All we want is what everyone wants — better working standards, smaller classroom sizes, and better pay, all of which benefit students in the long run.

– When your child struggles with a subject, don’t balk because you don’t know the content or don’t find it interesting. This is particularly true with math, as many find this topic difficult compared to other subjects. If you find it difficult, children will learn to have struggles in these subjects, because their parents avoided helping them because they don’t understand it. Instead, push yourself to help them even when the material may be tough. Giving up is a learned trait, but so is perseverance.

– Talk positively about the gateways that education opens up, including college, careers and how much money one makes the more education they have. Avoid talking negatively about school, as it doesn’t help them to succeed.

– There are bad presidents, bad lawyers, bad chefs, bad engineers, bad CEOs and bad teachers. Don’t let the few bad reflect on the good ones. We’re not all perfect, but we are all striving for the same goal — a better world through education.

We Need More EdTech, But Less Technology In The Classroom

We Need More EdTech, But Less Technology In The Classroom

by Jordan Shapiro

Technology plays a primary role in my teaching, but I rarely turn on the computer that makes the classroom “smart.”

Occasionally, I project the class tweet stream. I am an advocate of Twitter for higher ed. But generally, during class time, I try to avoid mediating my connection with students through technology. Face-to-face time is reserved for facilitating old fashioned conversation and discussion. Outside of class, however, my students are bombarded with digital learning resources.

In Temple University’s Intellectual Heritage Department, I teach Mosaic 1 & 2: a two semester sequence that’s required core curriculum for every Temple University student. These are courses that focus on interpretive reading, critical thinking, and persuasive writing–a course designed to “introduce students to foundational texts from cultural and intellectual traditions worldwide.” It is standard liberal arts fare, what David Brooks referred to in his recent New York Times Op-Ed:“The Humanist Vocation.”

I’ve taught in this department for about two years and now I take on the role of “Digital Learning Coordinator.” On a resume it looks great: I’m a young instructor responsible not only for the online sections of a large university’s core curriculum, but also for overseeing a digital strategy for the brick and mortar sections. However, it turns out this job is not as simple as just picking software and giving talks on how to use Blackboard. It also requires a lot of thinking about tough questions; how do I make sure that digital learning resources remain tools–like a whiteboard or a pencil–things that simply aid in a time-tested process of teaching critical thinking? It is not easy. I’m still figuring it out.

My trajectory into the edtech aspect of this job started about a year ago, when I was still a severely underpaid adjunct instructor. The head of our department announced an initiative to develop an online version of the Intellectual Heritage sequence. I applied. Honestly, I did it because there was a stipend involved–for the money. I wasn’t a big fan of the idea of online classes. The idea of teaching liberal arts online scared me.

It wasn’t the typical fears of online socialization that gave me anxiety. I’m not concerned that relating online cannot replace real in-person connection. That’s obvious and not so scary. Likewise, in-person connection cannot replace the clarity and efficiency of writing online. (There’s a reason I’ve replace the majority of conversations I used to have on the phone with a quick text message or an email: it works better). Instead, what terrifies me is that online learning might privilege particular kinds of knowledge. It might overlook some of the very reasons we teach humanities in the first place: to encourage a multiplicity of perspectives, the foundation of social and imaginative empathy.

At the risk of over generalizing, I’ll name two kinds of knowledge that seem more easily and efficiently disseminated using online tools. I’ll term them “edutainment” and “data-fiables.”

Usually, the term “edutainment” refers to content that’s meant to both educate and entertain. But I use the term differently (if you think every professor isn’t trying to both educate and entertain, you’re kidding yourself. Nobody wants to deliver a boring lecture). I use “edutainment” to refer to the kind of knowledge that is both deliverable and consumable. Powerpoint presentations, Ted talks, and even the old fashioned university lecture would all be included in this category. This is the kind of knowledge that is objectified. This is what we get when we imagine the instructor as an expert, a vessel who fills up his students with facts and statistics, as if their brains were empty chalices (to borrow an analogy from Heidegger). In this kind of thinking, ideas are objects; knowledge is objective. Within this construction, my job is to transfer my knowledge to my students. My brain tantamount to a hard drive, the classroom is like file sharing: bittorrent in the flesh.

With the term “data-fiable,” I refer to something I only barely understand. This is the kind of knowledge that algorithmic geeks excel with, the stuff that’s easily understood as data. Not only the facts that can be Googled, but also the things that Google GOOG +0.26%’s back end evaluates using analytics and metrics. This is the kind of knowledge that lends itself to algorithms. This includes ways of knowing that can be automated and quantified. This is what we measure with standardized tests. This is the kind of knowledge that technocrats would have us believe to be unbiasedly objective. And it may be objective. But remember from the prior example that a world of objective knowledge is also a world of “edutainment.”

Instead, the humanities classroom is the place where I facilitate Socratic dialogue, imagination, emotional connection, and metaphor’s ability to bring forth meaning through poesis. These things are not edutainment nor datafiable. Counter intuitively, however, these things ARE related to technology. The philosopher Martin Heidegger explained that the word technology

“stems from the Greek. Technikon means that which belongs to techné. We must observe two things with respect to the meaning of this word. One is that techné is the name not only for the activities and skills of the craftsman, but also for the arts of the mind and the fine arts. Techné belongs to bringing-forth, to poiésis; it is something poietic.

In other words, humanist critics of edtech should remember that technology is itself poetic. Heidegger continues, “From the earliest times until Plato, techné is linked with word episteme. Both words are names for knowing in the widest sense.” However, it requires the humanities to interpret the metaphors of technology, to be able to see that technological ways of knowing, technological ways of bringing forth, are deliverable, consumable, and quantifiable. Heidegger called this way of knowing “enframing.”

From my perspective as a teacher, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We need to resist the urge to be oppositional. Instead, we need to learn to embrace edtech for what it strengthens and rise up with empathetic excellence where it falls short. Just as Google’s predictive dialogue box has forced me to reconsider the essence of human intuition (after all, according to ordinary definitions, Google has better intuition than any human), so technological ways of knowing have forced me to reconsider the essence of teaching.

As a result, I’ve flipped, or blended, my university classroom. I’ve moved everything that can be more efficiently disseminated through smart phones, tablets, and personal computers to the digital realm. Rather than lecture, I make videos and podcasts. Rather than wasting face-to-face time with slideshows full of bullet points of facts, I email the Powerpoints. If it is “content”–that is, if it can be poured from chalice to vessel, if it can be contained–it has no place in the classroom.

The classroom is not where my students listen (or consume what I deliver). Rather, in the classroom I become a sherpa. I guide them on the journey of their choosing. My job is to know where the treasures are, that all paths lead to jewels of critical thinking. This happens through nuanced conversation, through discussion, through debate and interaction.

Of course, the hardest part is convincing my students. Years of education has taught them to expect a hierarchical relationship between vessel and chalice.

The fact is that education has already been automated. Tests, quizzes, textbooks, and Powerpoints are all products of a technological way of knowing the world. They are all ways of objectifying knowledge. My enthusiasm for edtech stems from a hope that it will teach us to handle technological ways of knowing more efficiently and interactively, using gadgets and devices. However, this is only an advantage if it means that teachers can get back to what they do best: educating instead of disseminating and assessing.

Can teachers do this online? I hope so. There are plenty of social tools that enable real communication through the web, albeit asynchronous. I’m working hard to figure out how to use these tools for interaction. Online, I certainly can’t teach students to verbally articulate complex arguments. Nor can I teach them through conversational debate. But I can teach them to think critically about online texts and to express themselves articulately in writing. Preferably, they’ll learn to do it using the conventional online mediums. After all, the blog and the email are sure to be more useful in their professional lives than the five paragraph expository essay. The rhetorical skills are ancient, they need to be taught. Formats go in and out of fashion.

Say it ain’t so. NY sues Trump University

Say it ain’t so. NY sues Trump University

By Jazz Shaw

Who could have imagined that a state Attorney General who once solicited contributions from the rich and powerful Donald Trump could turn around and launch an investigation into his affairs? Who could have dreamed that one of the most successful businessmen in the Big Apple might be questioned about the success of one of his operations? Who might have guessed that the State of New York would sue “Trump University” for essentially running a phony educational enterprise?

Wait a minute… Trump has a university?

ALBANY, N.Y. — New York’s attorney general sued Donald Trump for $40 million Saturday, saying the real estate mogul helped run a phony “Trump University” that promised to make students rich but instead steered them into expensive and mostly useless seminars, and even failed to deliver promised apprenticeships.

“Trump University engaged in deception at every stage of consumers’ advancement through costly programs and caused real financial harm,” Schneiderman said. “Trump University, with Donald Trump’s knowledge and participation, relied on Trump’s name recognition and celebrity status to take advantage of consumers who believed in the Trump brand.”

I’ll confess, I was unaware that The Donald was running a university for aspiring real estate and investment moguls. For a bargain basement price ranging from around $1,500 up to $35,000 you could be entered into a series of seminars and workshops which should lead to profitable business ventures and / or professional positions setting your feet on the ladder of success. Unfortunately, according to the complaint, many students didn’t even get to meet Trump, but rather wound having their picture taken in front of a life-size picture of “The Apprentice” TV star.

Further, they claim that Trump had been the subject of scrutiny for a few years already for even calling the enterprise a “university.”

State Education Department officials had told Trump to change the name of his enterprise years ago, saying it lacked a license and didn’t meet the legal definitions of a university. In 2011 it was renamed the Trump Entrepreneur Institute, but it has been dogged since by complaints from consumers and a few isolated civil lawsuits claiming it didn’t fulfill its advertised claims.

If the state of New York succeeds in getting the $40M out of Trump, the stated purpose is to reimburse the students who paid for these services. (Of course, being New York, we should wait to believe that until the checks actually clear in people’s accounts.) But can you sue a school over the fact that students didn’t land a particular job or kick off a real estate deal upon completion? It seems as if there would be some sort of built in caveat emptor when enrolling in this sort of professional advancement course. Offering somebody the tools for success does not, after all, assure that they will succeed. Then again… welcome to New York. Anything is possible, particularly if it comes to suing somebody.

Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet

Top 10 Ways to Make This School
  Year Your Most Productive Yet

The summer is drawing to a close and school is here once again. Instead of dreading your return, start preparing now for your most productive semester yet. Here are 10 tricks for doing just that.


10. Start Off on the Right Foot


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


Transitioning your brain from “summer fun” mode to “productive work” mode can seem like a daunting task. If you want to set the stage for a good semester, though, you need to start off on the right foot: hit the ground running on day one (or even before). Get good rest, eat right, but most importantly, get to your classes early and plan your week before the year kicks off. The more organized you are on day one, the better off you’ll be the rest of the semester. 


9. Stock Up on (Quality) Supplies


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


August is the best time to stock up on school supplies, but what do you really need? Check out Lifehacker‘s guide to tech essentials for your first year, Gizmodo’s back-to-school list of gear and apps, and the Wirecutter’s extremely detailed guide on the best supplies in every single category. Also: know what you need to buy now, and what you can wait for (when prices drop or after you take stock of what you need). You’ll be a lot better off if you do.


8. Use Your Student Discounts


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


As you stock up for the year, whether it be on tech, school supplies, or software, remember to use those student discounts. Often, the best discounts come straight from your student union, but you can get a ton of things cheaply with a .EDU email address too (including some web services).


7. Prepare for Dorm Life


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


If you’re headed off to college or boarding school, you’ve got more than just school to worry about: you’ve got the dorms as well. Luckily, living in the dorms isn’t bad as long as you know how to manage it. Make sure you’re using your space well, especially when it comes to your cramped desk. Learn the art of being a good roommate (and, if you have a horrible roommate, learn how to deal with them effectively). Make good use of your RA (seriously, you hear it a lot but it’s totally true) and—perhaps most importantly of all—master the art of low-effort cooking for those late-night study sessions. 


6. Master the Art of Speed Reading


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


You’re going to have a lot of reading to do this year, and the faster you can absorb that information, the more efficiently you can study. If you want to read faster, stop saying the words in your head as you read and focus on the words in the middle of sentences. (Some prefer using the third word rule or clustering words together—find what works for you). If you want a bit of extra practice, try using an app like Speed Reader Enhanced or ZAP Reader.


5. Perfect Your Note-Taking Techniques


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet

Now that you’ve sped up your reading, it’s time to brush up on some of those must-have productivity skills. In school, it all comes down to note taking. You may have worked out a perfect system over the past few years, or your notes may have slowly gotten more convoluted, disorganized, or (in worst cases) non-existent. Check out our back to basics guide on how to take effective notes before the school year starts and be ready for any lecture. 


4. Create a To-Do List That Actually Works


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


Is your to-do list a collection of scribbled notes on Post-Its, notebooks, and three different smartphone apps? Start with a clean slate this semester and make your to-do list doable. Pick the right medium and stick with it, make your tasks simple but actionable, and make sure you actually get stuff done every day. If you follow one method and stick to it, it matters less what that method is—if you deviate too often, no method will be useful to you. 


3. Kick Distractions to the Curb


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


When you’re trying to study, anything can be a distraction—from your friends playing foosball down the hall to Facebook beckoning you to waste time. If you struggle with distractions when you work, it’s time to take some more drastic measures. Audit your time and see where you’re wasting it, and tackle the problem at the source. Friends constantly bugging you? Put on some big headphones and tell them not to distract you. Facebook calling your name? Block time-wasting web sites during study hours. I’ve also found that it helps to program my day with breaks in them—that way, those breaks (and the studying) become habit over time. 


2. Save Money on Textbooks


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet


Student discounts may not help you a ton when it comes to textbooks—one of the more expensive supplies—but we’ve got some tricks up our sleeves for those too. Whether you’re buying new, used, or renting textbooks for the semester, check out Lifehacker’s complete guide to saving money on textbooks for some handy tricks. You might also want to check out the five best online stores for cheap textbooks, too.


1. Gather Up the Best Free Software for Students


Top 10 Ways to Make This School Year Your Most Productive Yet

Your productivity is all about you, but sometimes the right tools can make things a lot easier—especially if you don’t have to spend time finding them. So, as you prepare all your physical necessities, be sure to check out Lifehacker’s Pack for students—they’ve got one for Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS. Inside you’ll find Lifehacker’s favorite apps for taking notes, managing your to-dos, doing research, and more.

Data Drunk — Let’s Take the Ass Out of Assessment

Data Drunk — Let’s Take the Ass Out of Assessment

by Larry Strauss

Truth — or the passionate pursuit of truth — should always be a guiding principle in the educating of our children. So we ought never delude ourselves about whether we are effectively teaching our students.

Without some means of measurement, a belief in our effectiveness can too easily be manufactured. Those of us concerned with teaching our students to think and helping them develop the skills and appreciation for pursuing truth would therefore be hypocrites to disdain data as a valid tool.

But many of us have come to be wary of the manner in which a certain kind of mass-produced data gets presented — worshiped even — as truth.

Not all data is equal. Not even close. The poorest performing Mutual Funds can find a 6- or 12-month period in which it showed phenomenal growth.

I have worked at a school that looked awful on paper but did great work luring young men and women out of gangs and despair and into the world of ideas. I still hear from many of those students thanking me and my colleagues for saving their lives.

I’ve also worked at a school that looked great on paper but wasn’t doing nearly as much for its students as it should have.

At that under-performing model school, the principal retired and a few of the teachers were invited to be part of interviews for prospective replacements. Almost all the candidates expressed admiration for our school, based entirely on our API and other hard numbers and said they would keep us on the same course and that future goals would be to continue to raise those numbers.

What an incredible lack of vision. What a complete lack of imagination or understanding about what makes a school worthwhile.

Understandable, I suppose, to be so infatuated with hard data — since their administrative superiors have apparently made that a requirement. Seems like everyone who doesn’t actually work with children is prone to that infatuation.

Reminds me of one of my first jobs as a teenager working in the mail room in the headquarters of the Motel 6 Corporation. I remember the reverence with which we were expected to treat the weekly vacancy reports. We fed them into the photocopier, stapled the copies, and then neatly stacked them for distribution at the executive meeting. Each of us had signed a pledge promising we wouldn’t smuggle copies out and show them to anyone. Each week we would shred the old reports so that, God forbid, the competition would never see the numbers. I remember at the time thinking I couldn’t imagine anything less inspiring than page after page of numbers representing how many motel rooms didn’t get rented — but I understood the urgency. What could be more important to the Motel 6 Corporation? Empty rooms didn’t pay my salary or anyone else’s.

Those responsible for the quality of instruction inside our classrooms and those responsible for the quality of entire schools and school districts also need objective numbers to guide them and I suppose that the totality of all these numbers might have some meaning. They might help us understand which districts and schools and teachers are effective and which are not.

But measuring student learning isn’t like measuring the vacancy rate of a motel — or the gross sales of a retailer or the degree to which productivity in a factory is affected by a new policy. In education, the infatuation with data tends to produce expedient and pedantic solutions to often complex challenges.

2013-08-23-holy_grail_0.jpgMultiple choice tests reduce education to a guessing game about a narrow set of facts and ideas. And, by the way, multiple choice tests are not always right. They are sometimes factually incorrect (I’ve seen it) and they are sometimes so reductionist that they insult the intelligence of our brightest students and even tend to penalize the most analytic thinkers.

These tests celebrate a kind of mediocrity, the mediocrity of the correct and the incorrect. The very belief in a a single right answer — in that narrow idea about knowledge and understanding — is a bad habit of which I try hard to break my students. In that sense, the multiple-choice tests themselves are anti-educational. A necessary evil, at best.

But where we really get stupid about this — where we really put the ASS in assessment — is insisting that teachers need such test results in order to provide quality instruction for our students.

I am not suggesting that we ought not assess our students’ abilities and then consider their weaknesses and the gaps in their knowledge when we organize and plan our lessons. Of course we should. But that is what effective teachers have been doing for generations.

We know how to do that — we assess our students all the time — and any teacher who does not, or cannot figure it out, needs to be taught how. But effective teaching doesn’t stop there. It barely begins there.

Motivate students and they will learn. Inspire them and they will go further than expected and ultimately take an active role in their intellectual lives. I have seen that happen for more than twenty years and I am talking about children growing up in the inner-city with all the challenges that means.

Stop treating our students like statistics and stop treating their minds like generators of data and they can become so much more.

Illustration by Carly Strauss.

32 Extremely Upsetting Facts About The Class Of 2017

32 Extremely Upsetting Facts About The Class Of 2017
In a few short weeks, kids all over the country will be starting their first year of high school. These kids were by and large born in 1999, so it's safe to assume that their high school experience will be different than yours. Here's how...
by Dave Stopera

In a few short weeks, kids all over the country will be starting their first year of high school. These kids were by and large born in 1999, so it’s safe to assume that their high school experience will be different than yours. Here’s how…

1. They have never lived in a world with monthly texting limits.

They have never lived in a world with monthly texting limits.

2. Or in a world where they’ve had to look up directions and print them out.

Or in a world where they've had to look up directions and print them out.

3. Or where they weren’t able to skip through commercials.

Or where they weren't able to skip through commercials.

4. Justin Timberlake was never this guy:

Justin Timberlake was never this guy:

In fact, a lot of them have no idea who NSYNC were:

In fact, a lot of them have no idea who NSYNC were:

They are the same age as all these movies:

They are the same age as all these movies:

And the same age as Family Guy.

And the same age as Family Guy .

6. The Backstreet Boys have been a band longer than they’ve been alive.

The Backstreet Boys have been a band longer than they've been alive.

7. They probably have no idea what’s going on in this picture:

They probably have no idea what's going on in this picture:
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

8. Or what this thing is:

Or what this thing is:

9. Or what this artifact is:

Or what this artifact is:

10. And the N64 is three years older than they are.

And the N64 is three years older than they are.

11. Destiny’s Child never had four members to them.

Destiny's Child never had four members to them.

12. They’ve never had the paralyzing fear
that comes with picking the perfect away message.

They've never had the paralyzing fear that comes with picking the perfect away message.

Or the paralyzing fear that comes with picking the perfect top 8.

Or the paralyzing fear that comes with picking the perfect top 8.

You can say with some confidence that you have MP3s older than they are.

You can say with some confidence that you have MP3s older than they are.

14. For them, Star Wars has never been a trilogy.

15. They’ve never lived in a world without the “Thong Song.”

They've never lived in a world without the "Thong Song."

16. If you say “you sound like a broken record,”
chances are they won’t understand you.

If you say "you sound like a broken record," chances are they won't understand you.

17. Leonardo DiCaprio has never looked like the guy in this picture.

Leonardo DiCaprio has never looked like the guy in this picture.

Which might be the reason why tweets like these exist:

Which might be the reason why tweets like these exist:

Eminem is old enough to be their dad.

Eminem is old enough to be their dad.

And Curly Sue could be their mom.

And Curly Sue could be their mom.

This sound means nothing to them.

They most likely have never been able to drink

these sweet, sweet beverages (and never will):

They most likely have never been able to drink these sweet, sweet beverages (and never will):

These foods too:

These foods too:

They have never received advice from Mr. Feeny.

They have never received advice from Mr. Feeny.

22. Steve was never ever the guy on the left:

Steve was never ever the guy on the left:

23. They live in a world where
Nirvana can be considered classic rock.

They live in a world where Nirvana can be considered classic rock.

24. The cell phone you had when
you were their age is now in a museum:

The cell phone you had when you were their age is now in a museum:

25. They have never lived in a world without SpongeBob.

They have never lived in a world without SpongeBob.

And, speaking of which, they are about
the same age as the Krusty Krab Pizza episode.

And, speaking of which, they are about the same age as the Krusty Krab Pizza episode.

26. This building holds no significance to them.

This building holds no significance to them.

And this mountain too:

And this mountain too:

27. There have always been over 151 Pokemon to them.

There have always been over 151 Pokemon to them.

28. These people were never “teens”:

These people were never "teens":

They have also never lived in a world without the Furby.

30. They can measure how old they
are by saying they’re “four Shrek movies old.”

They can measure how old they are by saying they're "four Shrek movies old."

Or by saying they’re “about two and a half Lindsay Lohan mug shots old.”

Or by saying they're "about two and a half Lindsay Lohan mug shots old."

Speaking of which, they never knew this young lady:

Speaking of which, they never knew this young lady:

31. They have never gone down a Discovery Zone slide.

They have never gone down a Discovery Zone slide.

Finally, this looks like something out of a fantasy novel to them:

Finally, this looks like something out of a fantasy novel to them:

Though, to be honest, it looks like that to me too.