December 31, 2003

Again, wireless

A little more time with this wireless device (the Alphasmart Dana) is teaching me humility in technology, once again. I suspect that the key is finding something simple (like the Eudora browser I'm using currently) and then sticking with what works. We'll see what happens as I try to extend this over the next week or so! (Yes, I'm looking for a Palm-based Blogger API client to upload entries a bit more efficiently.)

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Posted in Random comments at 2:02 PM (Permalink) |

Main job this morning

Time to get a few loose ends tied up from the fall. A student who had a car accident right before the final is taking a make-up this morning, and I need to grade a few papers that came in late, get some stuff to student groups from my undergrad course, and then move on to set up a few things for the spring. The syllabi are set, so it's time to set up the first week's on-line assignments.

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Posted in Teaching at 10:28 AM (Permalink) |

December 30, 2003


At the office today—what I thought would be only this morning. So much for efficiency! I did get one syllabus printed and stuff ready to go be copied, and I did talk with two graduate students and a colleague, and I just have to remind myself that "inefficiency" often leads to a better work environment. That, and I'll just have to wait for next week before contacting the preferred funding agency for a project. Sheesh! What does it say about a place that it actually gives everyone a few days off? (Yes, I have my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.)

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Posted in Random comments at 2:40 PM (Permalink) |

Chipping away

I've been chastened by the news today, Book Worm Crushed (will open new window). Time to clean my office!

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Posted in Random comments at 10:16 AM (Permalink) |

December 29, 2003

More on proposals

Now that the syllabi for the spring are done, it's time to concentrate on some proposals. Yes, I'll get to the H-Education reviews, but I hope to concentrate on the partly-done proposals sometime today. Two are related to the academic-freedom project on my plate (one the sabbatical proposal, the other a proposal for an outside grant), but there's also the student net flow calculations that I tapped out a few things on while in California.

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Posted in Writing and editing at 11:51 AM (Permalink) |

December 28, 2003

Poking away

Sometimes there are huge strides or finishing points in projects, and at other times just wading and getting some work done is important. Today is one of those days: a Sunday, when there are loads of other things going on. So I'm poking away at various things, from syllabi to a proposal to a recommendation letter to burning CDs from conference sessions (long time, that one!). And, now, off to Borders and a skate session. (Hey, the category is "Random comments".)

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Posted in Random comments at 2:37 PM (Permalink) |

December 27, 2003

Editing reviews

I've finally had a chance to go back to several in-pipeline reviews for the H-Net history of education e-mail list. It's not a mess, but the project got the short end of this semester, combined with some difficulties during the semester in the review process itself.

I twice got detoured during the semester by formatting issues on individual reviews (a problem when the pipeline for a review includes the reviewer, me as editor, a copyeditor, me again as editor, and then the list editor), and the time it took me then to get nowhere made me put off spending more hours until the point in the semester when everything piled up even more than it had been piling up earlier. So there are a rough half-dozen copyedited reviews that I need to sort through and send on their way, as well as several other reviews I need to send to the copyeditors (or check on). Having a back-end support for the reviews helps but is no cure-all. Editing is still a project that involves hands-on time, even with a small number of reviews.

So, to deal with what's in the pipeline, see where due reviews are, and then solicit more reviewers, books to review, and match up the two sets...

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Posted in Writing and editing at 5:56 PM (Permalink) |


I am both a technology user and a technology skeptic. I've just created my fourth (or maybe fifth?) weblog/journal (this here thing), imported entries from my prior work journals, and am likely to buy the nifty quasi-laptop I'm evaluating when the month is over.

But I am rarely among the early adopters in any technology "wave," and I am very aware of Larry Cuban's cautions about technology use in the classroom. So when is it worth it, and when does one throw in the towel? I generally wait until I can see one or two shrewd uses for something before I try it. So I waited a few years until I thought of how to use Movable Type before taking the several-hours' effort today (or yesterday and this morning) to install it and configure it to my satisfaction. I don't use a digital camera to take pictures of students (something I have to do to learn names); I use a tiny Polaroid camera that the company developed to find a niche with teens. Didn't Shakespeare writes something in Hamlet, "The use—the use's the thing wherein we'll catch the image of the thingamabob"? Uh, maybe not. But if it'll work for something I can use, I'll take it and run with it, and ignore the fancy stuff that's on sale somewhere in my metropolitan area.

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Posted in Random comments at 1:28 AM (Permalink) |

December 26, 2003

Sabbatical proposal

Over the rest of break, I'll be writing a sabbatical proposal for a book on academic freedom, using USF's controversy over the firing of Sami Al-Arian as one of several cases of academic-freedom controversies since September 11, 2001.

Supplementing the larger examination of national issues by the American Association of University Professors, this project will focus on the issues raised by specific cases:

  1. How have attitudes towards Islam shaped academic-freedom cases since 9/11?
  2. How has media attention (and university responses to media attention) shaped academic-freedom cases since 9/11?
  3. How have the changing structure of American universities shaped academic-freedom cases since 9/11?
  4. How has the changing politics of higher education shaped academic-freedom cases since 9/11?

Each core case involves attitudes towards Islam and provoked considerable media attention. With institutions ranging from a community college to one of the most famous public research universities in the country and from several regions of the country, the academic-freedom controversies since 9/11 can tell us much about the changing structure and politics of higher education.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 2:12 PM (Permalink) |


And here we go with a bit of blogging as professional communication. In large part, I'll experiment with this interface as a way to establish a research community.

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Posted in Random comments at 12:12 PM (Permalink) |

December 16, 2003

Great ideas, no time

A week ago, more or less, I had one of the clearest epiphanies I’ve ever had in academe, right in the middle of finals week. Do I have time to work on this right now? No! Sheesh. But I can describe it, and it’ll sit until I do have time, or I’ll peck away at it. Here’s the gist:

Dropout and graduation rates are notoriously unreliable. There are decent measures of graduation, if you use population-based data from the Census Bureau (for the U.S.), but numbers from school systems are awful. Part of the reason why they’re bad is because counting dropouts relies on accurate identification of school-leavers as dropouts (as opposed to transferees), something that’s tough even when there isn’t evidence of intentional fraud. Part of the reason is because students transfer between schools at such a high rate that looking at raw numbers longitudinally is seriously problematic. Part of the problem is relying on information by grade when that number is fuzzy as you get to secondary school and when you never know how long someone can stay in a grade, especially with what Robert Hauser has called an epidemic of grade retention (PDF file—look at the figures starting on p. 55 of the file). Demographers like to work with age, because you can generally rely on someone’s age going up by one year for every year of time. (There’s a phenomenon of misestimation called age heaping, but I’ll ignore that for the moment, and it’s considerably less evident at younger ages and in countries where knowing your birthday is common.) But school systems do not publish information by student age.

So here’s my epiphany, inspired by some wonderful work by demographers Sam Preston, Ansley Coale, and Ken Hill: one version of the demographic balancing equation is that the rate of growth in any population is equal to the birth rate minus the death rate plus the net migration rate. That’s pretty simple. Here’s a corollary: if you take any age x, the rate of growth in any population for that age up (from x to infinity) is equal to the “birthday rate” at age x (the rate at which birthday x is happening in the population) minus the death rate for the population from x on up plus the net migration rate for the population from age x on up. Most demographers don’t use this, because you can get good estimates of mortality and fertility directly from birth and death registration systems combined with census figures (estimated or actual full census).

But here’s the application to school systems. For any grade x, the growth rate for students grade x and up is equal to the “first time in grade” rate for grade x minus the graduation rate plus a residual “net flow” rate that includes transfers in and out, student deaths, dropping out, and returning to school. You can calculate all of that for a single year just by knowing the enrollment counts by grade for two successful years (or any two points in time), the number of graduations between the two points in time, and the retention rate for each grade. Or, rather, by a bit of algebraic magic, from that data one can directly calculate the growth rate, the first-time-in-grade rate, and the graduation rate, allowing one to infer the net flow rate.

And if you can calculate the net flow rate for grade x on up for every grade, then you can get the net flow rate grade by grade. Since children of school age move around at a fairly-even rate across the age span, you can take the average net-flow rate for the earlier grades (grades 2-7 look pretty good) and then calculate an adjusted net-flow rate that should be pretty close to the sum of student bodies flowing in and out of schools because of deaths (pretty small), in- and out-flows that are for specific grades (most commonly flowing to public schools in 9th grade), and dropping out.

I’ve done this tentatively for Massachusetts 1996-2001 (skipping 1998) and for Texas for 2000-2001, since the states post grade-by-grade retention rates. But it was pretty simple, there’s a clear dip in the 10th grade net-flow rate for Mass. in the last year that might be attributable to the MCAS graduation requirement, and I can easily imagine how to write grants for this for NICHD and NSF (with an extension to analyzing retention in higher ed). Now, if only I didn’t already have the following on my plate:

  • two edited book projects that are in process
  • Some papers I’m committed to working on as a fellow of ASU’s Ed Policy Studies Unit
  • a book on academic freedom that I should write, given events at USF and my knowledge of them
  • an historiography book tied to the history of education
  • everything else academics typically do

So it’ll sit there until I can figure out how to carve out time. Ideas are welcome!

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Posted in Research at 9:08 AM (Permalink) |