Lower Ed, Paying the Price, and Weapons of Math Destruction

Lower Ed shows exploitation of vulnerable. Paying the Price tells how we fail them. Weapons of Math Destruction outlines tools we made to do it.

Source: Kyle Johnson on Twitter

Indeed. These three great books provide a systems view of higher education and its intersections with tech and algorithms. Below, I excerpt from their introductions and book blurbs, provide chapter lists, and select a handful of tweets from authors Tressie McMillan CottomSara Goldrick-Rab, and Cathy O’Neil. They are all active on Twitter and well worth a follow.

Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

Years later, I would also realize how Jason could think that the Technical College was God’s will, as education gospels converge with our articles of faith in individual work ethic, self-sacrifice, and gendered norms about being the head of a household. A college education, whether it is a night class in auto mechanics or a graduate degree in physics, has become an individual good. This is in contrast to the way we once thought of higher (or post-secondary) education as a collective good, one that benefits society when people have the opportunity to develop their highest abilities through formal learning. Despite our shift to understanding higher education as a personal good, we have held on to the narrative of all education being inherently good and moral. Economists W. Norton Grubb and Marvin Lazerson call this the education gospel: our faith in education as moral, personally edifying, collectively beneficial, and a worthwhile investment no matter the cost, either individual or societal. Grubb and Lazerson aren’t the only ones to allude to education as a faith-based institution. All institutions require our collective faith in them for them to work. We call that legitimacy. But I like Grubb and Lazerson’s construction of the education gospel, in part because it speaks to the contradictions in that faith. The gospel was critical to higher education’s shift to its vocational promise. That is, the idea that higher education is a moral good is allowable only insofar as higher education serves market interests. Education is good because a good job is good. The faith breaks down when we divorce higher education from jobs. The contradiction is that we don’t like to talk about higher education in term of jobs, but rather in terms of citizenship and the public good, even when that isn’t the basis of our faith.

Based on the education gospel, we increasingly demand more personal sacrifice from those who would pursue higher education: more loans, fewer grants; more choices, fewer practical options; more possibilities, more risk of failing to attain any of them. We justify that demand by pointing to the significant return in higher wages that those with higher education credentials enjoy. And we imply that this wage premium will continue in the “knowledge economy,” where twenty-first-century jobs will require everyone to have some post-secondary education to do highly cognitive work. The gap between the education gospel and the real options available to people—those who need a priest but who instead get a televangelist—is how we end up with Lower Ed.

Lower Ed refers to credential expansion created by structural changes in how we work, unequal group access to favorable higher education schemes, and the risk shift of job training, from states and companies to individuals and families, exclusively for profit. Lower Ed is the subsector of high-risk post-secondary schools and colleges that are part of the same system as the most elite institutions. In fact, Lower Ed can exist precisely because elite Higher Ed does. The latter legitimizes the education gospel while the former absorbs all manner of vulnerable groups who believe in it: single mothers, downsized workers, veterans, people of color, and people transitioning from welfare to work. Lower Ed is, first and foremost, a set of institutions organized to commodify social inequalities (see Chapters 3 and 4) and make no social contributions beyond the assumed indirect effect of greater individual human capital. But Lower Ed is not just a collection of schools or set of institutional practices like profit taking and credential granting. Lower Ed encompasses all credential expansion that leverages our faith in education without challenging its market imperatives and that preserves the status quo of race, class, and gender inequalities in education and work. When we offer more credentials in lieu of a stronger social contract, it is Lower Ed. When we ask for social insurance and get workforce training, it is Lower Ed. When we ask for justice and get “opportunity,” it is Lower Ed.

Source: McMillan Cottom, Tressie. Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy (Kindle Locations 190-220). The New Press. Kindle Edition.

More than two million students are enrolled in for-profit colleges, from the small family-run operations to the behemoths brandished on billboards, subway ads, and late-night commercials. These schools have been around just as long as their bucolic not-for-profit counterparts, yet shockingly little is known about why they have expanded so rapidly in recent years-during the so-called Wall Street era of for-profit colleges.

In Lower Ed Tressie McMillan Cottom-a bold and rising public scholar, herself once a recruiter at two for-profit colleges-expertly parses the fraught dynamics of this big-money industry to show precisely how it is part and parcel of the growing inequality plaguing the country today. McMillan Cottom discloses the shrewd recruitment and marketing strategies that these schools deploy and explains how, despite the well-documented predatory practices of some and the campus closings of others, ending for-profit colleges won’t end the vulnerabilities that made them the fastest growing sector of higher education at the turn of the twenty-first century. And she doesn’t stop there.

With sharp insight and deliberate acumen, McMillan Cottom delivers a comprehensive view of postsecondary for-profit education by illuminating the experiences of the everyday people behind the shareholder earnings, congressional battles, and student debt disasters. The relatable human stories in Lower Ed-from mothers struggling to pay for beauty school to working class guys seeking “good jobs” to accomplished professionals pursuing doctoral degrees-illustrate that the growth of for-profit colleges is inextricably linked to larger questions of race, gender, work, and the promise of opportunity in America.

Drawing on more than one hundred interviews with students, employees, executives, and activists, Lower Ed tells the story of the benefits, pitfalls, and real costs of a for-profit education. It is a story about broken social contracts; about education transforming from a public interest to a private gain; and about all Americans and the challenges we face in our divided, unequal society.

Source: Lower Ed | The New Press


  • Introduction: The Education Gospel
  • The Real
  • The Beauty College and the Technical College
  • Jesus Is My Backup Plan
  • When Higher Education Makes Cents
  • Where Credit Is Due
  • Credentials, Jobs, and the New Economy


Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream

There is a new economics of college in America. In the past, students and families who worked hard stood a real chance of attaining a college degree, a ticket to the good life. But then the world shifted. Today, the promise of a college degree in exchange for hard work and dedication no longer holds true. Instead, students encounter a price so high that it has changed what it means to attend college.

Unfortunately, many people don’t know this. Millions enroll in higher education with plans to work, borrow, and save, only to find that their funds still fall short. Even living on ramen, doubling up with roommates, and working a part-time job isn’t enough to make ends meet. Many who start college can’t afford to complete their degrees. Others take on huge debt that either they cannot repay or limits their future opportunities. And this is occurring at a time when diplomas matter more than ever.

What happened? Just as Americans decided that college was essential, states began spending less on public higher education and the price of college rose. At the same time, the financial aid system, long intended to make college affordable, failed to keep up with growing student and family need. Student loans became the stopgap. And, to make matters worse, for nearly 80 percent of the public, family income declined.

What does this mean for students facing the new economics in public colleges and universities? How are they managing to make it through higher education today, and where are they falling short? This book is the result of my six-year-long effort to find out. As you will see, the statistics and stories make one thing quite clear: college students are paying a hefty price.

Source: Goldrick-Rab, Sara. Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream (Kindle Locations 53-65). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.

If you are a young person, and you work hard enough, you can get a college degree and set yourself on the path to a good life, right?

Not necessarily, says Sara Goldrick-Rab, and with Paying the Price, she shows in damning detail exactly why. Quite simply, college is far too expensive for many people today, and the confusing mix of federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid leaves countless students without the resources they need to pay for it.

Source: Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream, Goldrick-Rab


  • Introduction
  • Possible Lives
  • The Cost and Price of a College Education
  • Who Gets Pell?
  • Making Ends Meet
  • On Their Own
  • Family Matters
  • Making the Grade
  • City of Broken Dreams
  • Getting to Graduation
  • Making College Affordable


Weapons of Math Destruction: How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy

And then I made a big change. I quit my job and went to work as a quant for D. E. Shaw, a leading hedge fund. In leaving academia for finance, I carried mathematics from abstract theory into practice. The operations we performed on numbers translated into trillions of dollars sloshing from one account to another. At first I was excited and amazed by working in this new laboratory, the global economy. But in the autumn of 2008, after I’d been there for a bit more than a year, it came crashing down.

The crash made it all too clear that mathematics, once my refuge, was not only deeply entangled in the world’s problems but also fueling many of them. The housing crisis, the collapse of major financial institutions, the rise of unemployment— all had been aided and abetted by mathematicians wielding magic formulas. What’s more, thanks to the extraordinary powers that I loved so much, math was able to combine with technology to multiply the chaos and misfortune, adding efficiency and scale to systems that I now recognized as flawed.

If we had been clear-headed, we all would have taken a step back at this point to figure out how math had been misused and how we could prevent a similar catastrophe in the future. But instead, in the wake of the crisis, new mathematical techniques were hotter than ever, and expanding into still more domains. They churned 24/ 7 through petabytes of information, much of it scraped from social media or e-commerce websites. And increasingly they focused not on the movements of global financial markets but on human beings, on us. Mathematicians and statisticians were studying our desires, movements, and spending power. They were predicting our trustworthiness and calculating our potential as students, workers, lovers, criminals.

This was the Big Data economy, and it promised spectacular gains. A computer program could speed through thousands of résumés or loan applications in a second or two and sort them into neat lists, with the most promising candidates on top. This not only saved time but also was marketed as fair and objective.

Yet I saw trouble. The math-powered applications powering the data economy were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Some of these choices were no doubt made with the best intentions. Nevertheless, many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer.

I came up with a name for these harmful kinds of models: Weapons of Math Destruction, or WMDs for short.

Equally important, statistical systems require feedback— something to tell them when they’re off track. Statisticians use errors to train their models and make them smarter. If Amazon. ​ com, through a faulty correlation, started recommending lawn care books to teenage girls, the clicks would plummet, and the algorithm would be tweaked until it got it right. Without feedback, however, a statistical engine can continue spinning out faulty and damaging analysis while never learning from its mistakes.

Many of the WMDs I’ll be discussing in this book, including the Washington school district’s value-added model, behave like that. They define their own reality and use it to justify their results. This type of model is self-perpetuating, highly destructive— and very common.

In WMDs, many poisonous assumptions are camouflaged by math and go largely untested and unquestioned.

This underscores another common feature of WMDs. They tend to punish the poor. This is, in part, because they are engineered to evaluate large numbers of people. They specialize in bulk, and they’re cheap. That’s part of their appeal. The wealthy, by contrast, often benefit from personal input. A white-shoe law firm or an exclusive prep school will lean far more on recommendations and face-to-face interviews than will a fast-food chain or a cash-strapped urban school district. The privileged, we’ll see time and again, are processed more by people, the masses by machines.

Source: O’Neil, Cathy. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (pp. 2-3, pp. 6-8). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

A former Wall Street quant sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life – and threaten to rip apart our social fabric

We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives-where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance-are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: Everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.

But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: If a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.

Tracing the arc of a person’s life, O’Neil exposes the black box models that shape our future, both as individuals and as a society. These “weapons of math destruction” score teachers and students, sort résumés, grant (or deny) loans, evaluate workers, target voters, set parole, and monitor our health.

O’Neil calls on modelers to take more responsibility for their algorithms and on policy makers to regulate their use. But in the end, it’s up to us to become more savvy about the models that govern our lives. This important book empowers us to ask the tough questions, uncover the truth, and demand change.

Source: Weapons of Math Destruction


  • Introduction
  • BOMB PARTS: What Is a Model?
  • SHELL SHOCKED: My Journey of Disillusionment
  • ARMS RACE: Going to College
  • PROPAGANDA MACHINE: Online Advertising
  • CIVILIAN CASUALTIES: Justice in the Age of Big Data
  • INELIGIBLE TO SERVE: Getting a Job
  • COLLATERAL DAMAGE: Landing Credit
  • NO SAFE ZONE: Getting Insurance


Unqualified for Tech, STEAM > STEM, and Tech Ethics

The #UnqualifiedForTech discussion is an important one. In response to the Equifax CSO being ridiculed for having a music degree instead of a tech degree, many tech workers pointed out that they too don’t have tech degrees, or degrees at all.

There are many aspects to this discussion. There is plenty of straight up misogyny.

There’s privilege.

There’s disdain for the liberal arts—degrees that are more necessary than ever.

There’s academic treadmill thinking reinforced by deficit model capitalism.

And there’s misunderstanding about how tech hires.

The academic treadmill to a BS in CS is not the only entry into tech. To hire strictly from credentialist pipelines is bad for your company, bad for society, and just bad ethics. During my career, I’ve coded alongside people with music degrees. I’ve coded alongside the gamut of liberal arts degrees. I’ve coded alongside those with no degrees, those who stepped off a treadmill that often goes nowhere to avoid student loan debt and deficit model pathologies. I’ve coded alongside great people who would never have gotten into tech if we all hired strictly from credentialist pipelines and demanded technical degrees.

We shouldn’t want only those with technical degrees making software. Such gatekeeping is harmful, misguided, and out-of-touch. We need liberal arts majors writing code, and we need every tech worker with a tech degree to get a better liberal arts education than they’re currently getting. We need the arts and humanities throughout the ranks of tech.

Much too belatedly, we in tech are realizing how much we need soft skills and non-technical backgrounds in order to build good teams, design for the diverse actuality of humanity, and be ethical. Over and over again, we demonstrate poor ethics and a stunted understanding of people and society. We need historians, anthropologists, and sociologists in design and decision making processes. Hire these folks, now.

We also need to get over our STEM preoccupation in education. This fascination has been at the expense of liberal arts education. We should emphasize STEAM over STEM. Instead, we’re devaluing liberal arts and pushing people away from the very necessary humanities. Restore the Arts. We need that A in STEAM.

We need it because tech is in structural and ethical crisis.

We don’t hire enough people, and those we do hire are pretty homogenous.

Instead of criticizing tech workers with music degrees, accelerate hiring from the arts and humanities. Open our pipelines. We need more people. We need more perspectives. We need more humanity.

Cultures that embrace inclusion, compassion, soft skills, and the social model are more productive and humane. We’re better at everything when we hire inclusively and hold the arts and humanities close.

How Nadella turned things around comes back to the book he had his top lieutenants read, and the culture that took hold from there. He has inspired the company’s 124,000 employees to embrace what he calls “learn-it-all” curiosity (as opposed to what he describes as Microsoft’s historical know-it-all bent) that in turn has inspired developers and customers-and investors-to engage with the company in new, more modern ways. Nadella is a contemporary CEO able to emphasize the kinds of soft skills that are often derided in the cutthroat world of corporate politics but are, in today’s fast-moving marketplace, increasingly essential to outsize performance.

Nadella’s approach is gentler. He believes human beings are wired to have empathy, and that’s essential not only for creating harmony at work but also for making products that will resonate. “You have to be able to say, ‘Where is this person coming from?'” he says. “‘What makes them tick? Why are they excited or frustrated by something that is happening, whether it’s about computing or beyond computing?'”

His philosophy stems from one of the principal events of his personal life. In 1996, his first child, Zain, was born with severe cerebral palsy, permanently altering what had been a pretty carefree lifestyle for him and his wife, Anu. For two or three years, Nadella felt sorry for himself. And then-nudged along by Anu, who had given up her career as an architect to care for Zain-his perspective changed. “If anything,” he remembers thinking, “I should be doing everything to put myself in [Zain’s] shoes, given the privilege I have to be able to help him.” Nadella says that this empathy-though he cautions that the word is sometimes overused-“is a massive part of who I am today. . . . I distinctly remember who I was as a person before and after,” he says. “I won’t say I was narrow or selfish or anything, but there was something that was missing.”

Source: Satya Nadella Rewrites Microsoft’s Code

Compassion is not coddling. Design for real life.

Compassion is an essential tech skill that needs to be taught as an integral part of tech education.

Source: Get Ready for the Future – JavaScript Scene – Medium

People often mistake compassion for “being nice,” but it’s not. At A List Apart, the editorial team still says no when a submission isn’t a good fit. At MailChimp, Kiefer Lee’s colleagues are still quick to tell spammers, even the unintentional ones, that they can’t send more email.

The point of compassion isn’t to soften bad news or stressful situations with niceties. It’s to come from a place of kindness and understanding, rather than a place of judgment. It’s to tell the truth in such a way that you’re allowing others to tell their truths, too.

Source: Design for Real Life

I recommend the book Design for Real Life to anyone making things for and with other humans. That’s pretty much all of us. Educators, for example, are always designing, particularly forms. Learn how to make compassionate forms that avoid inadvertent cruelty and exclusion.

A big part of compassionate design is recognizing stress cases. To design for inclusion and real life, look to the stress cases. They “put our design and content choices to the test of real life”.

Real life is complicated. It’s full of joy and excitement, sure, but also stress, anxiety, fear, shame, and crisis. We might experience harassment or abuse, lose a loved one, become chronically ill, get into an accident, have a financial emergency, or simply be vulnerable for not fitting into society’s expectations.

None of these circumstances is ideal, but all of them are part of life-and, odds are, your site or product has plenty of users in these moments, whether you’ve ever thought about them or not.

Our industry tends to call these edge cases-things that affect an insignificant number of users. But the term itself is telling, as information designer and programmer Evan Hensleigh puts it: “Edge cases define the boundaries of who and what you care about” (http://bkaprt.com/dfrl/00-01/). They demarcate the border between the people you’re willing to help and the ones you’re comfortable marginalizing.

That’s why we’ve chosen to look at these not as edge cases, but as stress cases: the moments that put our design and content choices to the test of real life.

It’s a test we haven’t passed yet. When faced with users in distress or crisis, too many of the experiences we build fall apart in ways large and small.

Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Source: Design for Real Life

The products we create can make someone’s day—or leave them feeling alienated, marginalized, hurt, or angry. It’s all depends on whether we design for real life: for people with complex emotions, stressed-out scenarios, or simply identities that are different from our own.

Source: Sara Wachter-Boettcher – Design for Real Life (video)

Design for Real Life and the pathways principle from The End of Average will make you reconsider what you call an edge case.

Normative thinking— the belief there is one normal pathway— has fooled scientists in many fields.

The fact that there is not a single, normal pathway for any type of human development— biological, mental, moral, or professional— forms the basis of the third principle of individuality, the pathways principle. This principle makes two important affirmations. First, in all aspects of our lives and for any given goal, there are many, equally valid ways to reach the same outcome; and, second, the particular pathway that is optimal for you depends on your own individuality.

The first point is rooted in a powerful concept from the mathematics of complex systems called equifinality. According to equifinality, in any multidimensional system that involves changes over time— like a person interacting with the world— there are always multiple ways to get from point A to point B. The second point is derived from the science of the individual, which tells us that, because of the jaggedness and context principles, individuals vary naturally in the pace of their progress, and the sequences they take to reach an outcome. It is in understanding the why that we discover how to leverage the pathways principle to work for us as individuals and as a society.

Source: Rose, Todd. The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (p. 129). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Design for Real Life is informed by and compatible with neurodiversity, the social model of disability, and structural ideology. I have more on developing compassion for the perspectives and stress cases of neurodiversity and disability communities in my primer on the social model for minds and bodies. Social model understanding is essential to every designer’s and maker’s education and work. The social model is essential to informed compassion. When we design from a social model mindset, we build pluralism into the world. When we design for stress cases and the margins, we build better things and benefit everyone.

See also,


The Double Empathy Problem: Developing Empathy and Reciprocity in Neurotypical Adults

The title of this post flips the focus of the diagnostic lens from neurodivergent students to neurotypical adults. Let’s take a look at the neurotypical mind using the pathologizing language of disorder.

Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterised by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority, and obsession with conformity. There is no known cure.

Source: NeuroTribes by Steve Silberman review – an enlightened take on autism and difference

Perhaps the most obvious giveaway is an NT’s tendency to make “small talk” or to want to “chat” with you. While small talk appears to be nonfunctional, for NTs it serves a very specific purpose. It’s a good idea to humor them and participate to whatever degree you can tolerate. If you’re patient with them, many NTs will soon feel comfortable enough to move from small talk to more interesting, in-depth conversations.

Source: What is neurotypical?

My oldest is autistic. He attended elementary school until a few years ago, when we started unschooling. He has an incredible memory that provides gritty texture to his stories of his time there. Stories about forced neurotypicalization, lack of empathy and understanding, and color-coded behaviorism. Stories about the pathologizing of his wonderful mind that killed confidence, making room for shame to unfurl. Such stories are common in deficit and medical model cultures, which is why we need a social model awakening.

A pernicious stereotype about autism is that autistic people lack empathy. To be openly autistic is to encounter and endure this supremely harmful trope. One of the cruel ironies of autistic life is that autistic folks are likely to be hyper-empathic. Another irony is that neurotypicals and NT society are really, really bad at empathy and reciprocity. When your neurotype is the default, you have little motivation to grow critical capacity. Marginalization develops critical distance and empathic imagination.

We have an empathy problem, and it’s not one confined to autistic people. It’s a double empathy problem.

The ‘double empathy problem’ refers to the mutual incomprehension that occurs between people of different dispositional outlooks and personal conceptual understandings when attempts are made to communicate meaning.

Source: From finding a voice to being understood: exploring the double empathy problem

Neurodivergent people are forced to attempt understanding of neurotypical people and society. We are constantly judged and assessed by neurotypical standards. We must analyze and interpret in order to conform and pass so that we can get the sticker, the “cool kid cash”, and the promotion. There is almost no reciprocity in return. Let’s change that. Turn the diagnostic lens upon yourself. Question assumptions, learn about other matrices of sociality, and reciprocate.

Empathy and communication go two ways, and neurotypical folks haven’t shown much interest in meeting neurodivergent folks halfway. Reciprocity is a basic tenet of social skills, and neurotypicals are often incapable of reciprocity outside of their usual scripts. We autistics are called mind-blind by folks who have made zero effort to understand and empathize with neurodivergent minds, who are utterly ignorant of alternative matrices of sociality.

Source: Autistic Empathy – Ryan Boren

In that post on autistic empathy are many resources to help neurotypical folks develop empathy for neurodivergent perspectives. My school district’s work on in-class inclusion of neurodivergent and disabled students is a great and wonderful relief. Segregation is always lesser and wrong. Let’s continue that progress toward social model understanding with attention to the mutual incomprehension of the double empathy problem. “When the adults change, everything changes.”

“Empathy is not an autistic problem, it’s a human problem, it’s a deficit in imagination.” We can’t truly step into another neurotype, but we can seek story and perspective. I’ll leave you with this video offering a taste what it is like to endure the daily gauntlet of neurotypical questioning. To not respond to questions is to be called rude. To not respond will get you publicly color-coded as an orange or red and denied perks that the compliant NT kids get. To not exchange this disposable social styrofoam is to be a problem. Make it stop. Empathize with what it is like to navigate these interactions while dealing with the sensory overwhelm of raucous environments not designed for you.

Letter to My Representatives on Graham-Cassidy

Graham-Cassidy is a Medicaid abolition bill. It destroys Medicaid as we know it. It cuts up the safety net into 50 pieces and distributes those shreds to the states. The tatters get smaller and smaller each year until there is nothing left. Nothing left for my children or my grandchildren. Nothing.

Capping Medicaid hurts children with disabilities (such as my own), seniors, Medicaid expansion states, and even victims of natural disasters such as those affected by Harvey in our very own state. What does this preoccupation with destroying Medicaid have to do with stabilizing insurance markets?

This bill upends the bipartisan progress of the past couple weeks. The ACA should be stabilized with a transparent process through regular order. Join the process led by Senators Alexander and Murray. Reject Graham-Cassidy if it comes to a vote.

Letter to My Representatives on HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act

I am writing in opposition to HR620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. HR620 further shifts the burden of compliance from businesses to disabled people. We disabled folks are expected to be civil rights lawyers laboriously advancing the public interest, whereas businesses and even public education are excused again and again for thoughtless non-compliance.

The ADA has been the law of the land for three decades, yet most businesses are still inaccessible. Even those that claim accessibility have done a half-assed job. They fail to meet the lowest bars of empathy and compassion. There is absolutely no excuse for this. None. Accessibility is not that hard. After 30 years, those still running inaccessible businesses do not deserve any more time or benefit of the doubt. Hold them accountable, and stop putting legal obstacles in the way of disabled folks trying to create a more inclusive society. We face enough obstacles at businesses and public spaces that have decided 20% of the population doesn’t matter.

My money and time are where my mouth is. Over the past twelve years, my company has grown from four to over six hundred people. We are committed to accessibility in our products and facilities. Thoughtful, accessible design benefits our employees and our customers. We should be designing for real life instead of excusing exclusion. Everyone doing business is responsible for doing so inclusively.

The social model of disability is essential knowledge for anyone providing goods and services to other people. This is basic business ethics. HR620 is ethical erosion in an environment of already poor business ethics. This is a bad signal to business owners. We’ve had decades to get our act together and have largely failed to do so.

The politics of resentment have turned the ADA into a means of vilifying marginalized people instead of promoting the accessibility that has brought us the biological pluralism of curb cuts, family bathrooms, and accessible public transportation. HR620 is more resentment. Oppose it. Instead, embrace the social model for both minds and bodies. It is good for business and society. An accessible society is more productive, resilient, joyful, and humane. The investments required of each business are trivial compared to the benefits.

Reading Logs and Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivators don’t work very well, especially when they are mandatory. Intrinsic motivators like autonomy, mastery, and purpose are far more effective.

Reading logs are extrinsic motivators. They are almost always presented as mandatory, going so far as to require parent signatures. This reduction of autonomy undermines intrinsic motivation and diminishes interest in recreational reading.

Pursuits that are mandatory and tracked are not fun. Removing autonomy turns reading into a chore. To nurture a love a reading, stop the logging. Reading is an end in itself. Punctuating a reading session with the surveillance of logging replaces a pleasurable ending with a forced one. Logging reading sessions makes logging the purpose and the ending, not reading.

Tracking and obedience create resentful readers, not motivated ones. Let reading become an escape once again, one where time loses meaning, clocks aren’t watched, and compliance isn’t logged and signed.

The goal of these logs is to promote the habit of recreational reading, or at least to create the appearance of it. The basic idea seems to be this: If kids who read regularly gain significant benefits, then it should be mandated that all students read regularly so they, too, can enjoy those benefits.

Unfortunately, this well-intentioned strategy may have serious pitfalls.

As a psychologist (and a parent), I have long opposed reading logs because of abundant research on the negative effects of external controls (such as rewards, deadlines, and assigned goals) on intrinsic motivation. In other words, when motivation to do an activity comes from outside, via rewards or mandates, it tends to undermine people’s interest in doing that activity for its own sake. This decline in motivation ultimately affects enjoyment, creativity, and even performance.

This research would suggest that reading logs have a similar effect on children’s reading habits, especially their desire to read for fun, making reading less of a pleasure and more of a chore. Imagine telling your child that she must draw pictures for at least 20 minutes daily-and also record how much time she spent drawing and how many different colors she used.

Students assigned the mandatory log showed diminished interest in recreational reading and also more negative attitudes toward reading after the study concluded. In contrast, the voluntary group showed an increase in both interest and positive attitudes. Although this study wasn’t exhaustive, it suggests that reading logs may undermine their intended goals.

“When reading is portrayed as something one has to be forced to do,” the authors write, “students may draw the conclusion that it is not the kind of activity they want to engage in when given free time.”

“Reading logs ruined my reader. [My daughter] used to love reading but when it became something she had to do, she stopped doing it for fun and only read as much as the teacher required.”

Source: How Reading Logs Can Ruin Kids’ Pleasure for Books – The Atlantic

Although lack of autonomy undermines intrinsic motivation (Lepper, Greene, & Nisbett, 1973), no study has examined the effect of logs. Second and third-grade students (N=112) were assigned either a mandatory or voluntary log and surveyed about their motivation to read at baseline and after two months. Students with mandatory logs expressed declines in both interest and attitudes towards recreational reading in comparison to peers with voluntary logs, and attitudes towards academic reading decreased significantly from pre to post test across conditions. Future research should explore alternate ways to promote reading.

Reading logs are designed to encourage reading by assigning daily reading homework for a minimum number of minutes and are popular in many elementary schools. Although research has shown that diminished autonomy, defined as the ability to choose one’s own actions, undermines intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000), no research thus far has investigated how mandatory reading assignments, like reading logs, affect children’s intrinsic motivation to read. In an effort to fill this gap, the current experiment examined the effect of mandatory reading logs on children’s motivation to read.

The long term effect of reading logs may, however, be a decline in student motivation to read, and the logs ultimately may lead students to spend less time reading. Research has established that there are two distinct kinds of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic. Individuals are intrinsically motivated when they pursue an activity as an end in itself, without external motivators (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Considerable research evidence shows that the introduction of external controls such as assigned goals, evaluation, deadlines, and surveillance can undermine intrinsic motivation (e.g., Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 2001; Deci & Ryan, 1985). Moreover, the undermining of intrinsic motivation is associated with serious costs, including showing less interest in and having more negative attitudes towards the activity, producing lower-quality work, and being less creative (e.g., Cordova & Lepper, 1996; Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

With regard to reading, studies have shown that individuals who are not intrinsically motivated read for shorter periods of time and are less likely to choose reading as a recreational activity than extrinsically motivated readers (e.g., Baker & Wigfield, 1999; Paris & Oka, 1986; 253 Journal of Research in Education Volume 22, Number 1 Wigfield & Guthrie, 1997). Research has found that positive attitudes towards reading are the strongest correlate of reported time spent on recreational reading (Allen, Cipielewski, & Stanovich, 1992; Greaney & Hegarty, 1987; Scales & Glenn, 1984) and therefore can serve as an estimate of time spent in the activity.

A more recent meta-analysis of the use of tangible and verbal rewards concluded that children appear to be particularly sensitive not just to rewards, but to an array of controlling tactics, such as imposed goals, deadlines, and surveillance, and that this result is especially true for children of elementary age (Deci, et al., 1999).

Source: The Effect of Mandatory Reading Logs on Children’s Motivation to Read

So, just to be clear, the reading logs that return from my house, faithfully filled out each week or month – those reading logs are big fat lies.

My older daughter (unlike my little one) started kindergarten as a fluent reader, who had already moved on to reading simple chapter books (Magic Tree House, Beverly Cleary, etc.). More importantly, she started kindergarten as a lover of books. My biggest concern (and oh-how-I-wish-my-mom-was-here-to-laugh-as-I-finally-emphathized-with-her-experience-with-me) was how to pry her away from books. But within weeks, the reading log began to change all of that: “Mom, am I done with my fifteen minutes yet?” “Mom, why do I have to write this?” “Mom, I don’t know what to say.” And worst of all: “Do I HAVE TO read?” This, from my voracious reader. This, when previously my bigger concern had been prying books out of her hands: “Stop reading! Go outside and play with your friends!”

I discovered that I didn’t care in the least if the reading log was accurate or not, because I knew that she was doing far more reading – with far more joy – on her own than the reading log required. Accurate logging was sucking the joy out of reading. It was like my billable hours requirement. For first graders. As a lawyer, tracking my time at work is a necessary evil. But I’m in my forties. My daughter is nine.

Teachers, my kid doesn’t want to constantly track, track, track. And my kid doesn’t want to constantly be tracked, tracked, tracked. My kid wants to escape into the world of fiction, where time loses its meaning as she inhabits its characters. My kid wants to read last thing in bed at night, and first thing when she wakes up in the morning, and in the bathtub. She wants to bring her “emergency pack” of books to her little sister’s family picnic for school, and she doesn’t complain when she doesn’t see the iPad for weeks on end, because she has her books.

Source: Reading Log Revolt | parentingthecore

On the other hand, what teachers clearly have the ability to do with respect to students’ motivation is kill it. That’s not just a theoretical possibility; it’s taking place right this minute in too many classrooms to count. So, still mindful of the imperative to “write the other way,” I’d like to be more specific about how a perversely inclined teacher might effectively destroy students’ interest in reading and writing.

Nothing contributes to a student’s interest in (and proficiency at) reading more than the opportunity to read books that he or she has chosen. But it’s easy to undermine the benefits of free reading. All you need to do is stipulate that students must read a certain number of pages, or for a certain number of minutes, each evening. When they’re told how much to read, they tend to just “turn the pages” and “read to an assigned page number and stop,” says Christopher Ward Ellsasser, a California high school teacher. And when they’re told how long to read – a practice more common with teachers of younger students – the results are not much better. As Julie King, a parent, reports, “Our children are now expected to read 20 minutes a night, and record such on their homework sheet. What parents are discovering (surprise) is that those kids who used to sit down and read for pleasure – the kids who would get lost in a book and have to be told to put it down to eat/play/whatever – are now setting the timer…and stopping when the timer dings. . . . Reading has become a chore, like brushing your teeth.”

Jim DeLuca, a middle school teacher, summed it up: “The best way to make students hate reading is to make them prove to you that they have read. Some teachers use log sheets on which the students record their starting and finishing page for their reading time. Other teachers use book reports or other projects, which are all easily faked and require almost no reading at all. In many cases, such assignments make the students hate the book they have just read, no matter how they felt about it before the project.”

Source: How to Create Nonreaders (#) – Alfie Kohn

Unfortunately though, with a teacher’s good intentions notwithstanding, forcing a person to complete a reading log can actually do the opposite of what it is intended to do. I actually explain this to my children’s teachers and exempt my kids from doing a reading log if it is assigned. Reading logs can make children want to stop reading. Here’s why.

There’s this phenomenon that happens in a person’s mind called counterwill. Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank first coined this term, but Gordon Neufeld, PhDhas normalized this word in parenting education circles to explain what happens when you perceive that someone is trying to coerce you into doing something. Children who are “misbehaving” or “strong-willed” are usually experiencing counterwill.

When children are told how much to read, they sometimes zip through the pages, not really absorbing the story or information just so they can get to the assigned page number to end at so they can stop. Forcing a child to read can stir counterwill, which instinctually will tell them not to.

Source: How Reading Logs Can Kill The Love of Reading | HuffPost

Who came up with the idea of reading logs? I’d like to know, because I’d like to tell that person what he or she can do with their joy killer. What were they thinking? And how did they go about marketing the idea to schools and teachers so effectively that there may not be a single classroom below the high school level in the United States of America that doesn’t utilize reading logs nowadays?

What is the point of reading logs, anyway? Teachers want kids to read – I get that. But a reading log says, “I don’t trust you to read, so you must prove to me that you actually read for the prescribed number of minutes by writing down what you read and for how long you read. And even then, I won’t take your word for it, so have your mom or dad sign the reading log as a witness that you actually did said reading, because you cannot be trusted.”

And frankly, I resent being expected to sign these silly logs. Take my kid’s word for it, okay? Is she doing okay in class with reading materials? If so, then leave her alone with the stupid reading logs. If she’s struggling with reading, can’t we come up with a better plan of action to get her reading than demanding that she read for twenty or thirty or however many minutes per day and then provide an accounting of it?

Here’s what reading logs actually do: they turn reading into a chore. They teach kids that time spent matters more than content or understanding of content. Reading logs tell kids that they are untrustworthy and must continually prove themselves. They send the message that kids cannot be independent learners – they must rely on Mom and Dad to back them up.

This is not learning – it’s obedience.

Source: The Reading Log: The Quickest, Most Effective Method of Killing a Love of Reading | Hometown Homework Chronicles

To all my fellow educators, especially those who are in leadership positions and/or the teachers of reading, literacy, ELA (or whatever it’s called today), please take note that some of the practices we are employing in our schools, specifically as they relate to student reading, are actually killing the love of reading in our kids. It’s true – in our effort to “educate” kids and to make sure they are “college and career ready,” we may be indirectly killing the love of reading that many of our children come to school having nurtured (with the help of family members, other readers, etc.) through their own book readings and explorations.

This post is not directed at any specific teacher, school or leader because I know everyone is working hard and that most are doing what they think is best for kids. This post is not an attack on ELA or reading teachers because I know they are trying to help kids grow as readers. Instead, this post is a plea from me, Tony the dad, who has watched his son’s love of reading be pushed to the brink of extinction.

But as he progressed in school, that love for reading started to change. Yes, at some point he did receive his first iPad and iPhone and those screens pulled him away from his books but the battle to read started when reading was associated with an activity/assignment/expectation that was being done to meet someone else’s reading expectations – not his own. Some of those activities included…

  1. Reading logs… ugh… the dreadful reading logs that we would eventually just signed off on even if Paul hadn’t read because they become more of a chore than anything else;

Source: Leading Motivated Learners: Let’s Not Kill The Love Of Reading

I regret assigning reading logs as a teacher.

 A recent study by Scholastic found that fewer children are reading for fun these days. In fact, out of the kids in the study, only 31% of kids say they have ever read a book for fun. I think that’s sad. Research shows that the more kids read, the better they do in school. That’s the theory behind the reading log assignments. However, a study by Princeton University found that when kids are forced to use a reading log, overall interest in reading and motivation to read declines.

There will be no reading log in my classroom when I go back as a teacher.  I now see that they cause more pain than reward. Reading should be a wonderful experience, not a horrible chore.

Source: Ditch the Reading Log – Whimsicle

When you read for pleasure do you record the date and pages read on a worksheet? How does this activity make reading more enjoyable?

On this relaxing afternoon, sharing a hammock and a love of reading with my youngest daughter, neither of us paused to think, “I better write this down on my reading log.” That just isn’t something real readers do; it’s unnatural.

When I read a book that I really enjoy, I want to share it with others. I do not show them my reading log and say, “Hey you should read this, it’s really good.” I want them to read it too, so that we can talk about it.

So I had to ask myself, “Why exactly do I assign students to record pages, titles, summaries, and minutes of reading on a worksheet?” I want them to read, but how is this table with parent signatures making them want to read? It may be enforcing some sort of accountability, but it doesn’t foster a love of reading. But if you can make them read, won’t they eventually see how great reading is and learn to love it? Are you a parent? If so, when was the last time you “forced” your child to do something and they decided you were right and they loved it?

Why not ditch the reading log for a method of accountability that encourages sharing your love of a book with others?

Source: Ten Ways to Ditch That Reading Log – The Teachers Blog – Middle School Minds

“We are breeding a new generation of kids who are well trained to be reward and recognition torpedoes,” Berkowitz writes.

But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behavior is not only futile but harmful. In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pinkidentifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards: they cripple intrinsic motivation, limit performance, squash creativity, stifle good conduct, promote cheating, can become habit-forming, and spur a short-term mindset. Giving prizes for routine and mindless tasks can be moderately effective, Pink writes. But offering rewards for those tasks that are “inherently interesting, creative, or noble…is a very dangerous game.” When it comes to promoting good behavior, extrinsic rewards are “the worstineffective character education practice used by educators,” Berkowitz writes.

Source: How Ending Behavior Rewards Helped One School Focus on Student Motivation and Character | MindShift | KQED News

Many contemporary writers on psychology – specifically the psychologies of work, business, and economics – have written about the value of intrinsic motivation. First observed by researchers in the 1950s, and built upon in the 1970s, intrinsic motivation is often contrasted with extrinsic motivation. The latter is akin to “the carrot and the stick,” while intrinsic motivation originates from internal drives to be good at things and to enjoy them – drives that seemingly have very little to do with carrots and sticks.

People who write about business psychology agree that, in our current economy, fostering intrinsic motivation in workers creates the best outcomes for businesses. Some businesses (and business gurus) call that sort of motivation “happiness.” Others focus on “culture” to foster motivation. But what keeps coming up again and again across all of the business psych books and articles I’ve read (none of which I endorse as products, by the way) are three main concepts that work together as a coherent motivational entity: agency, mastery, and legacy.

Typically, you have to have agency in order to acquire mastery. And you have to have mastery in order to leave a legacy.

Ph.D.s leave academe in search of opportunities for – you guessed it – agency. Then mastery. And then, hopefully, legacy.

Source: Leaving a Legacy Off the Tenure Track | ChronicleVitae

The author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Pink has studied findings in psychology and economics, as well as practices in the business world, and identifies three factors as particularly conducive to performance and personal satisfaction:

  • autonomy, which he defines as “our desire to be self-directed, to direct our own lives”;
  • mastery, or “our urge to get better at stuff”; and
  • purpose, the drive to contribute to making something better.

How can we maximize learning? By respecting individuals, by letting their innate curiosity and intense drive to explore and master things do its job. As Sir Ken Robinson and James Marcus Bach have both argued, human development is incompatible with industrial, assembly-line thinking. A far more accurate and helpful metaphor comes from traditional agriculture, where success follows from supporting natural growth processes without attempting to control them.

Source: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose – Alpine Valley School

Intrinsic motivators are drivers like autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

We’ve built most of our learning environments with sticks and carrots.

We’ve negated the power of choice and the power of letting folks craft an education that is grounded in their aspirations, their vision for themselves.

How do we build learning environments that embrace intrinsic motivation? Autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Source: The Gift: LD/ADHD Reframed