Accountability without autonomy is tyranny

When educational research reaches the public through the corporate media, the consequences are often dire, explains P.L. Thomas for the Daily Kos. Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff released “The Long-Term Impacts of Teachers: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood” and immediately The New York Times pronounced in “Big Study Links Good Teachers to Lasting Gains”. The simplistic and idealistic headline reflects the central failure of the media in the education reform debate…

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Aiming to learn as we do, a machine teaches itself

Researchers are fine-tuning a computer system that is trying to master semantics by learning more like a human, reports the New York Times. Give a computer a task that can be crisply defined—win at chess, predict the weather—and the machine bests humans nearly every time. Yet when problems are nuanced or ambiguous, or require combining varied sources of information, computers are no match for human intelligence. Few challenges in computing loom larger than unraveling semantics, or understanding the meaning of language. One reason is that the meaning of words and phrases hinges not only on their context, but also on background knowledge that humans learn over years, day after day. Now, a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University—supported by grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Google, and tapping into a supercomputing cluster provided by Yahoo—is trying to change that. The researchers’ computer was primed with some basic knowledge in various categories and set loose on the web with a mission to teach itself. The Never-Ending Language Learning system, or NELL, has made an impressive showing so far. NELL scans hundreds of millions of web pages for text patterns that it uses to learn facts—390,000 to date—with an estimated accuracy of 87 percent. These facts are grouped into semantic categories: cities, companies, sports teams, actors, universities, plants, and 274 others. NELL also learns facts that are relations between members of two categories…

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Wisconsin agency aims to transform education’s core

A group of 45 Wisconsin superintendents hopes to transform the state's educational practices.
A group of 45 Wisconsin superintendents hopes to transform their educational practices.

With support from all of its 45 superintendents, a Wisconsin regional service agency is determined to reinvent the very nature of public education so that all students are equipped with the 21st-century skills necessary to compete and succeed in a global workplace.

Among its many innovative strategies for transforming teaching and learning, the service agency is moving from age-based groups of students to progress-based groupings; dropping standardized practices in favor of customized learning plans; phasing out print textbooks in favor of dynamic digital resources; and shifting from teacher-led instruction to a blend of face-to-face and online approaches.

Southeastern Wisconsin’s Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) No. 1 is one of 12 state regional service agencies and covers 45 school districts encompassing about a third of the state’s student population. It includes Milwaukee Public Schools, the largest urban district in the state, as well as the smallest K-12 schools.…Read More