Tag Archives: Education

Links: The Charity-Industrial Complex, Anthony Weiner Exposed (so to speak), Conventional Wisdom Debunked, Vaccines, Work, the Workforce, and More!

* The charitable industrial complex; I find it revealing that so many people who view how charities work from the inside start to see why so much is amiss with them.

* “‘It’s a circle of hell there’s just no way out of,’ Schochet said. ‘I paid it as long as I could.’

* Why It’s Never Mattered That America’s Schools ‘Lag’ Behind Other Countries.

* We should be suing and charging parents who don’t vaccinate their kids.

* “Open All Night: America’s Car Factories,” with the most interesting quote from a grant writer’s perspective being this, about a plant in Toledo: “Of those who applied for the work, 70% were rejected, mostly because they couldn’t pass initial assessment tests, Mr. Pino said.” “Initial assessment tests” means basic reading and writing skills. Any nonprofit in Toledo that wants to run adult education or after school programs should use this quote.

* “Affordable Excellence. . . This book is a clear first choice on the Singapore health system and everyone interested in health care economics, or Singapore, should read it. It is short, clear, and to the point.” I am struck by how many people have strong opinions about healthcare without really understanding the system. Sloganeering is rampant and understanding scant. This is useful in conjunction with “The two most important numbers in American health care,” which points out that five percent of patients accounts for fifty percent of costs.

* “The U.S. patent system inhibits cancer vaccine development.”

* “Spy Kids,” and the fate of spy apparatuses that depend on cultural concepts long dead in most of American and Western life.

* “The Gender Wage Gap Lie: You know that “women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar” line you’ve heard a hundred times? It’s not true.” More conventional wisdom debunked. Is anyone surprised?

* “If it were cheaper to build apartments the rent would be lower.” This is obvious but bears repeating.

* “Guesses and Hype Give Way to Data in Study of Education.”

* The Turpentine Effect, a brilliant post with an unfortunate title that makes it less likely you’ll read.

* “An Aspiring Scientist’s Frustration with Modern-Day Academia: A Resignation.”

* “The Patriarchy Is Dead Feminists, accept it.”

* “How Anthony Weiner Exposed the Insecurities of the 1960s Generation: A half-century after the sexual revolution, the make-your-own-rules folks are no longer quite so sold on free love.” This has Camille Paglia-esque overtones.

* We are in denial about catastrophic risks.

* NASA’s Plutonium Problem Could End Deep-Space Exploration.

* A geek’s tour of Sigma’s Aizu lens factory: Precision production from the inside out.

Computers and education: An example of conventional wisdom being wrong

We’ve written innumerable proposals for programs to give students computers or access to computers. Some, like “Goals 2000,” have already been forgotten by anyone not named Seliger. Others, like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, continue to exist, although the original federal version got broken into state pass-through funds. All of them work on the presumption that giving students computers will improve education.

The problem is that, as we’ve written before, most research demonstrates that this isn’t true, even if it seems like it should be true. Another study, “Laptop multitasking hinders classroom learning for both users and nearby peers,” just came out against computers improving educational outcomes. Some news report have covered it too, including “Using Laptops In Classrooms Lowers Grades: Study” and one from the Times of India. But the important takeaway is simple: computer access in and of itself doesn’t appear to improve educational attainment.

That doesn’t really matter for the proposal world, in which the conventional wisdom is always right and where these studies can be used to make minor changes in program design to overcome the problem of distraction. But they’re interesting on a real world level, especially because they confirm what many of us know intuitively: that computers are great for wasting time.

I’d define “wasting time” as any time spent nominally doing a task that doesn’t result in some tangible product or change at the end of that task. Reading Slate instead of writing a novel, to use an example from close to home, is time wasted; reading Slate to relax isn’t. The danger with the Internet (and, for others, computer games) is that it can feel work-like without actually accomplishing any work in the process.

Personally, when I need to do serious writing that doesn’t require data research, I use the program Mac Freedom to turn off Internet access. I paid $10 to not be able to access the Internet. I know the Internet, like the Force, has a light side and a dark side. The light side is research, connection, learning, and human possibility. The dark side is an endless carnival of noise, blinking lights, and effervescent distraction. As Paul Graham wrote in “Disconnecting Distraction:”

Some days I’d wake up, get a cup of tea and check the news, then check email, then check the news again, then answer a few emails, then suddenly notice it was almost lunchtime and I hadn’t gotten any real work done. And this started to happen more and more often.

Now, if people like Paul Graham (or me!) have trouble doing real work when the Internet black hole is available, what hope does the average 15-year-old have—especially given that Graham and I grew up in a world without iPhones and incessant text messages? This isn’t “Get these darn kids off my lawn” rant, but it is an important anecdotal point about the importance and danger of computers. Computers are essential to, say, computer programming, but they aren’t essential to reading, writing, or basic math.

I went to a law school for a year by accident (don’t ask), and everyone had a laptop. They were sometimes used for taking notes. More often they were used for messaging in class. Occasionally they were actually used for porn. These were 22 – 30-year-old proto lawyers. On one memorable occasion, a guy’s computer erupted with a sports ad that blanketed the room with the drums, trumpets, and deep-voiced announcer promising gladiatorial combat. Evidently he’d forgotten to turn sound off. The brightest students were highly disciplined in their computer usage, but many of us, like addicts, didn’t have that discipline. We were better off not sitting in the room with the coke.

To be sure, computers can be useful in class. My fiancée wrote her med school application essay in class, since she was forced, due to academic bureaucratic idiocy, to take basic cell bio after she’d taken advanced cell bio. The laptop helped her recover time that otherwise would’ve been wasted, but I suspect that she’s in the minority.

I get the impression that the average student has no problem learning to immerse themselves in buzzy online worlds, and the exceptional, Zuckerberg-like student has no problem using digital tools to build those online worlds. What we should really probably be doing is teaching students how to cultivate solitude and concentrate. That’s what we need to learn how to do, even if that isn’t a particular subject matter domain.

Finally, like a lot of ideas, computers in schools might be a bad idea right up to the point they’re not. Adaptive learning software may eventually make a tremendous difference in student learning. That just hasn’t happened yet, and the last 20 years demonstrate that it’s not going to happen by chucking computers at students and assuming that computers are magically going to provide education. They’re not. Computers are mirrors that reflect the desires already inside a person. For students, 1% will build the next Facebook, another 3% will write angsty blog posts and perhaps become writers more generally, and 100% will use it for porn and games.

EDIT 2015: I just wrote about Kentaro Toyama’s book Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change From the Cult of Technology, which describes… wait for it… why technology is not a panacea for education and may make it worse.

A few astute readers have also asked an important question: What could make or help technology improve education? I don’t have a good answer (if I did, I’d be starting the company that will deploy the answer). But I think we will see experimentation and slow, incremental steps. Many massive online courses (MOOCs), for example, started off as filmed lectures. Then they morphed towards having multiple camera angles and some quizzes. More recently, those classes shifted towards small, interactive chunks with quizzes that test comprehension interspersed among them. Each step improved comprehension, completion, and student engagement.

But MOOCs don’t seem to improve the ability to sustain concentration, be conscientious, or read in-depth. Without that last skill in particular, I’m not sure how much education of any kind can happen. Technology can give us the text, but it can’t make us read or comprehend the text or deal with it imaginatively.

Links: LED Bulbs, Condoms, Education, News is Bad For You, Marriage, Detroit, Foundations, Congress and ObamaCare, and More!

* Great news: we’re (slowly) moving toward a world where education looks at competency, not hours with ass-in-seat. This is flying under the radar of the national press but is hugely important, especially for nonprofits involved with education.

* Get LED lightbulbs. I use Switch LED bulbs, which are ludicrously expensive upfront but pay for themselves within a couple months.

* Possibly related to the above, Human extinction is an underrated threat.

* “News is bad for you [. . .] The real news consists of dull but informative reports circulated by consultancies giving in-depth insight into what’s going on. The sort of stuff you find digested in the inside pages of The Economist. All else is comics.”

* Last year we posted “Have you seen a Federal agency request a low-quality program?“, and this week we saw another example in HUD’s “Transformation Initiative: Sustainable Communities Research Grant Program,” which says that the NOFA offers “researchers the opportunity to submit grant applications to fund quality research under the broad subject area of sustainability.” This would be far more notable if the program offered money for low-quality research.

* “The Shadowy Residents of One Hyde Park—And How the Super-Wealthy Are Hiding Their Money.” I don’t think I’d want to live in a $5M+ apartment even if I had the money for it.

* How marriage changes relationships and gender dynamics (maybe); actual title includes the phrase “the boob test.”

* Seattle Needs to Welcome Growth and Get Over Itself.

* Detroit locals unhappy about the manager who is supposed to clean up the mess made by politicians elected by Detroit locals.

* What are foundations for? A theoretical discussion of problems many of you experience on a daily basis.

* “A Childless Bystander’s Baffled Hymn;” sample: “Why all the choices — ‘What would you like to wear?’— and all the negotiating and the painstakingly calibrated diplomacy? They’re toddlers, not Pakistan.”

* Austin gets Google Fiber, becomes a more attractive place to live.

* American Indians move to cities and face new challenges.

* Women and the crab basket effect.

* “New Publisher Authors Trust: Themselves.” File this under “Calling Captain Obvious.”

* The future of U.S. space policy, a topic that is under-discussed yet very important. This might be related to “News is bad for you,” above.

* Is China covering up another flu pandemic?

* “Will Congress exempt itself from ACA exchanges?” If so, this tells you more about the exchanges aspect of ObamaCare than any statement on the part of Congresspeople could.

* “One look at why income inequality is growing,” hat tip and headline tip Tyler Cowen.

* “Why still so few use condoms;” spoiler: because it doesn’t feel as good.

* “Topless Jihad: Why Femen Is Right.”

* “Nobody Walks in L.A.: The Rise of Cars and the Monorails That Never Were” but should have been.

* “Who Killed The Deep Space Climate Observatory?” This story, along with pathetic “Superconducting Super Collider” debacle, is the sort of thing that, if the U.S. really does take an intellectual and cultural backseat to the rest of the world, will be cited by future historians as examples of how the U.S. turned away from the very traits and behaviors that made it successful in the first place. “Who Killed the Deep Space Climate Observatory?” is also an example of how the real news is very seldom the news you read in the headlines.

* “Documentary ‘Aroused’ explores what makes women turn to porn careers.”

* David Brooks: “Engaged or detached?” “Writers who are at the classic engaged position believe that social change is usually initiated by political parties [. . .] the detached writer wants to be a few steps away from the partisans. [. . . ] She fears the team mentality will blinker her views.” Read the whole thing because the context is important, but as a writer I lean heavily towards the “detached” point of view.

* “[A]rtists and writers love to cast gigantic stores as misbegotten cathedrals.” I’m guilty as charged.

December Links: Dubious Education Policies, FEMA, Writing, School Reform, Manufacturers, Quiet, Dan Savage, the Security Ratchet, and More!

* This is not an Onion story: “Florida’s plan to measure students by race riles education experts.”

* From an interview with Michael Bloomberg:

If every time you want to do something, they demand the final results, when you’re just sort of feeling your way and trying to evolve, it’s hard to govern. When we live in a world — in medicine, or in science, you go down a path and it turns out to be a dead end, you really made a contribution, because we know we don’t have to go down that path again. In the press, they call it failure. And so people are unwilling to innovate, unwilling to take risks in government.

Your nonprofit or public agency is subject to the same forces. Don’t be seduced by a program or RFP’s stated desire for innovation: in the vast majority of federal and state grant programs, the funding agency expects you to do exactly what everyone else is doing (remember: grant writing is about “thinking inside the box“). We’re not endorsing these perverse incentives, but we are noticing them. Our post “What to do When Research Indicates Your Approach is Unlikely to Succeed: Part I of a Case Study on the Community-Based Abstinence Education Program RFP” also discusses these issues.

* The Joy of Quiet, which I often seek and too little find.

* How manufacturers and community colleges are teaming up, German-style, to create high-paying factory jobs. Good! We’ve pretty clearly got a problem with the way we treat college education in the United States.

* SAMHSA finally discovers Grants.gov, about eight years late.

* Obama phones? That, at least, is what they’re called in the community.

* If “The Bipartisan Security Ratchet” doesn’t scare you, it should:

The United States government, under two opposed increasingly indistinguishable political parties, asserts the right to kill anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror. It asserts the right to detain anyone on the face of the earth in the name of the War on Terror, and to do so based on undisclosed facts applied to undisclosed standards in undisclosed locations under undisclosed conditions for however long it wants, all without judicial review.

* Anti-poverty volunteer keeps profit from homeless New Jersey man’s house sale.

* A couple years ago, we almost worked for these guys, who are now, unfortunately, declaring bankruptcy. At the time we had too many other clients to accept their assignment.

* “Why school reform is impossible.” Maybe.

* “As we watch computing become a central part of the language of science, communication, and even the arts and humanities, we will realize that students need to learn to read and write code because — without that skill — they are left out of the future.

* “How American Health Care Killed My Father,” and what to do about it. Unfortunately, we haven’t done the things we should have done and should be doing, as discussed in the article.

* “Write My Essay, Please! These days, students can hire online companies to do all their coursework, from papers to final exams. Is this ethical, or even legal?” This supports Bryan Caplan’s theory that much of education is about signaling.

* It was only a matter of time: Tuition by Major.

* “You Should Repeatedly Read Cochrane’s ‘After the ACA.’

* “Dan Savage: The Gay Man Who Teaches Straight People How to Have Sex.”

* “Another ex-chairman rebuffs CalOptima’s demand for money” shows how corruption can work in nonprofits; the more interesting question is why and how the story ended up in The Orange County Register. That story can often be as interesting as the corruption story itself, but it isn’t told here.

* “Overall, I am for betting because I am against bullshit. Bullshit is polluting our discourse and drowning the facts. A bet costs the bullshitter more than the non-bullshitter so the willingness to bet signals honest belief.” That’s from Tyler Cowen, “A Bet is a Tax on Bullshit.”

* The FEMA office in Jersey City was closed because of the storm.

* Ian McEwan: “Some Notes on the Novella.” Wow. Sample: “How often one reads a contemporary full-length novel and thinks quietly, mutinously, that it would have worked out better at half or a third the length. I suspect that many novelists clock up sixty thousand words after a year’s work and believe (wearily, perhaps) that they are only half way there. They are slaves to the giant, instead of masters of the form.” Yes.

The Bizarre RTTT-D RFP Competition Lurches to the Finish

Feeling like exhausted runners at the finish of the now-cancelled New York City Marathon, we recently met the then-deadline for a couple of Department of Education Race to the Top-District (RTTT-D) proposals we’ve been slaving over for the last few weeks. To say this RFP was complex is to not do justice to the word, as it consisted of the 101-page Notice from the Federal Register, as well as the 116-page Application Guidelines, the 33-page FAQ file, and nested Excel budget worksheets.

It is a seldom equaled collection of educatorese, bureaucratese, embedded forms, contradictory directions, and plain stupidity. I’m not sure I’ve seen the like of it in 40 years of grant writing and 20 years at the helm of the good ship Seliger + Associates, and I’ve seen a lot. But, like Phidippides at the first Marathon, we made it to the finish line.

Perhaps the strangest aspect of this oddball RFP process were the submission requirements. For reasons obscured by the fog of government ineptitude, the Department of Education chose not to use its G5 system, which recently replaced their “eGrants” digital submission portal, or our old pal, grants.gov.

Instead, we were suddenly back in 1997, with a requirement for an original and two hard copies, along with the proposal files on a CD! I guess the Department of Education has not read the digital memo about saving paper. One proposal we completed was 270 pages, with appendices. Another was 170 pages.

The 270 page Sumo-sized proposal was so fat that we couldn’t find big enough binder clips and had to roll with gigantic rubber bands for fasteners. In the 250 pages of assorted directions, including detailed directions for burning the CD, they forgot to say where the appendix file was supposed to go. Plus, the final document was supposed to be submitted in Adobe Acrobat, be “readable,” and be paginated. We are pretty handy with Acrobat, know how to do this manipulation, and have the hardware horsepower to handle and print massive files (try spooling a 270 page print file with dozens of embedded images or knitting together 25 Acrobat files into a single 33-meg file), so we figured out a workable approach.

But this would have been daunting or virtually impossible for the average civilian grant submitter. Of course, most of this folderol was completely unnecessary, but where’s the fun in a simple and straightforward RFP process to the Philosopher Kings at the Department of Education. Oh, but it does keep us in business, so I guess I should be grateful for endemic (free proposal word here) bureaucratic myopia.

As we were finishing these proposals, it because clear that Hurricane Sandy was going to hit the Northeast. Even though Washington is nowhere near the coast, the feds shut down last Monday, October 29, and Tuesday, October 30—the day of the original RTTT-D deadline. The brave GS-11s and 12s at the Department of Education quickly flung out an email extending the deadline, as they raced back to their cozy burrows. Even though we correctly guessed that the deadline would be extended, we prudently acted as if it wouldn’t be (this is always a good idea in grant writing), and our proposals were winging their way to D.C. via FedEx by the time the extension was announced (Jake wrote more about this and the other strange effects in “Hurricane Sandy and the Election Combine to Blow Away the RFPs.”

After a cocktail or three to contemplate RTTT-D, it was time to sweep up the shop floor and tackle our next set of deadlines. Such is the life of grant writing consultants. Our road always brings us forward and seldom leaves us much time to reflect.

Pros don’t fear competition — they are the competition

In Joe McNally’s book The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light In Small Places, he describes how, in 1981, he went to shoot a space shuttle launch—but, as McNally says, “I had no idea how to do it” (he sounds like an amateur grant writer pressed into service). Neither did the other photographers. Instead, they went to lunch with Ralph Morse, who’d covered Mercury 7 and other space-related events. Although Morse was working for another magazine, he “sat down and told us how to do it. Every step. Held nothing back. Gave us what for and the how to of photographing a launch.” Better yet:

He was comfortable doing that, because he was so confident in his own abilities that he could tell us exactly what to do and still go out there and kick our butt. Which he did.

You may notice that, despite innumerable cookbooks, restaurants continue to thrive. Despite innumerable programming books, programming consultants continue to thrive. Despite many car repair books, repair shops continue to thrive. These days it’s not just books, either: websites and experts proliferate.

The same is true of grant writing. Though there are few if any books about grant writing that are actually worth reading—and we’re not likely to add to that list, at least in the near future—whatever books do exist have not dampened the need for expert grant writers, and those books aren’t likely to. Like any other skill, including photography, grant writing expertise is hard-earned, and most people aren’t going to do it overnight. The real challenge isn’t in reading the book (or blog). It’s in the experience that only comes from doing. Books only supplement the action.

I suspect most people who write how-to books are doing it for themselves as much as anyone else. In writing about something you already know, you come to know it better. That’s one reason you face so many writing assignments in school. It’s also why so many experts are moved to write on their subject.

McNally goes on to say that, in the course of his career, “Knowledge was shared and passed on. I was mentored, instructed, coached, screamed at, cajoled, ridiculed, pushed, and edited by peerless professionals, both on the shooting side and the editing side.” That’s how he learned. The basic learning process remains the same regardless of the field to which that process is applied. The basic role of books is also the same, and the importance of reading widely remains the same. He’s giving back through writing The Hot Shoe Diaries—which was in fact quite useful.* In our own very small way, we’re giving back through this blog, and the information we offer and stories we tell don’t make us fear potential competitors.

The real challenge is going through that process and coming out the other side. Actually, that isn’t a great way of phrasing it: the people who are really great never stop learning. They never “come out.” They just keep going, following the rabbit hole as deeply as it goes, until they go. **


* Unfortunately, it also demonstrates that one needs a pair of flashes, a radio transmitter, gels, and some other nifty but expensive stuff if you want to take the “best” pictures, as opposed to ones that are merely “good” or “better.”

** The Department of Education rabbit hole is particularly deep and surreal.

California’s Supplemental Education Services (SES): What Gives?

California’s Supplemental Educational Services program looks a bit curious when you first study it: the grant-like program isn’t really a grant program, per se. It’s a competition designed to, as we said in the Seliger Funding Report:

apply for state approval of the applicant’s capability to provide before- and after-school tutoring to remedy academic deficiencies in low-income and at-risk youth. Once approved, the applicant can receive contracts from CA LEAs to provide such tutoring services. The SES program is a federal pass-through program and is available in all states.

(The link is ours, naturally.)

If you’re “funded”—although “selected” is a more appropriate verb here—you’ll be able to seek contracts with school districts throughout the state. Those contracts can be very lucrative. If you want to apply, however, you’ve got to do a two-step dance, and the application we link to in the first sentence is the first step.

Behind the Article: Las Vegas’s Clark County and Race To The Top—District (RTTT-D)

In a press release masquerading as a news article, The Las Vegas Sun claims that the Clark County School District—the big one that covers Vegas—doesn’t want to apply for Race To The Top—District funds because they have “too many strings attached.” The strings aren’t that different from those that come with any very large grant program. And most of those strings are imaginary anyway.

Which means there’s something else going on.

The reporter, Paul Takahashi, writes, “There is also an expectation that school districts scale up these innovations after the Race to the Top pilot program ends, said Kimberly Wooden, chief student services officer.” Notice the weasel words: “There is also an expectation.” An expectation from who? How? In another choice quote, Takahashi writes:

“It’s a great idea, but in order to bring it to scale in a district our size, it may require technology,” Wooden said, adding there may be additional costs incurred to the School District to implement this technology.

Getting a grant that “may require technology”—whatever that means—sounds like a tremendous trial. This is the second example of weasel words I’ve quoted, and there are others.

It’s highly likely that there’s something else going on behind the scenes. Here are some possibilities:

  • The school district actually wants to apply, but it doesn’t like some aspect of the competition and wants a waiver or exception. As such, it’s threatening to take its ball and go home if the Department of Education doesn’t play by its rules. This kind of article might help get that exception. The district might be looking for a signal or reassurance from the feds.
  • As an addendum to the bullet above, the school district might already be negotiating with the Department of Education, and this kind of public statement is part of the negotiation process.
  • The district thinks it doesn’t have a real shot at the grant and wants to preemptively cover its ass by announcing that it doesn’t want the grant anyway. This yields a story to tell reporters and angry parents at school board meetings.
  • The district has already screwed up something we don’t know about.
  • There is some political reason the district, the teachers union, the city counsel, the mayor, the governor, or another political entity doesn’t want the district to apply (this is an election year, too, and RTTT-D is one of the rare Federal programs that generates mainstream media coverage; in addition, although presidential politics might not be the driving force, Slate.com’s John Dickerson thinks Obama has a shot in Nevada). Perhaps there’s already a deal in place to offer more or less restricted money.

It’s possible that the district’s story as presented by Takahashi is true. It’s just highly unlikely. The political people and grant writers at the district know or should know the difference between the proposal world and the real world. They know that you have to apply to get the money (one of the school board members says as much). They know there’s a fair amount of money available, and that it would be a handy PR win if the district got the reward, and, moreover, most people and institutions like money. Given those facts, the stated reason for not applying—which amounts to, “it’s too hard”—doesn’t pass the smell test.

This kind of speculation only makes sense in the context of a district large enough to generate political gravity. Smaller districts that claim they don’t want to apply are probably simply telling the truth, or don’t have the political will to apply. For a very large district, like this one, which has access to grant writers or funds for grant writing consultants, something else is almost certainly going on, and the Las Vegas Sun is only being used as a messenger.

Upward Bound means more narrative confusion

The Upward Bound deadline passed, but the RFP lingers on in my mind like a foul meal.

The RFP was an extraordinary work of indirection, with 130-something pages of instructions supporting a 72-page narrative (counting “Competitive Priorities”). Upward Bound is one of the Department of Education’s “TRIO” programs—there used to be three: Upward Bound, Educational Opportunity Centers, and Student Supportive Services, but now there are five or six. Another TRIO program, Educational Opportunity Centers (“EOC”), was released last May, and that RFP is particularly close to my heart because I used its “Plan of operation” section to teach my University of Arizona students technical writing. The EOC RFP was also overly long and overly verbose, but its similarity to Upward Bound meant that looking at that proposal would help me with the new one.

It also included a trap, because the Department of Education made subtle but real changes between the way they phrased requirements from one program to the other. For example, under “Project Need” in EOC, the first two major headers said something like, “Low-incomes in the target area” and “High percentage of target area residents with education completion levels below the baccalaureate level.” The UB RFP says, “The income level of families in the target area is low” and “The education attainment level of adults in the target area is low.” So an applicant who applies for both EOC and UB can reuse data—but a straight copy-paste will result in the Department of Education knowing that you’ve done so. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Department of Education does this intentionally, like Van Halen and their legendary M&M Rider:

The rider’s “Munchies” section was where the group made its candy-with-a-caveat request: “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).” While the underlined rider entry has often been described as an example of rock excess, the outlandish demand of multimillionaires, the group has said the M&M provision was included to make sure that promoters had actually read its lengthy rider. If brown M&M’s were in the backstage candy bowl, Van Halen surmised that more important aspects of a performance–lighting, staging, security, ticketing–may have been botched by an inattentive promoter.

Van Halen uses brow M&M’s as a signal, and the Department of Education is using section headers the same way. If your section headers are identical to the EOC section heads, your proposal will be thrown out altogether, or at least have its points lowered.

There are other perils stashed in this RFP, too: its writers practically hide the location of the material you’re supposed to respond to. The RFP directs you to page 102, but the actual narrative requirement in the form of the “selection criteria” to which you’re supposed to respond starts on page 70 (of a 132-page RFP). And the narrative section lists “Objectives” on page 71, but you have to be cognizant enough to know that you have to copy the objectives listed on page 93.

Read and tread carefully when preparing to write a grant proposal.

EDIT: A former Department of Education reviewer wrote us to say:

I read with interest your article on Upward Bound grants in which you spoke of “traps” by the Department of Education. You clearly are experienced and are doing a great service for fledgling grants writers. However, I have served as a reader for several TRIO programs, and my experience is that the Department of Education NEVER puts traps in their RFPs. They work very hard to see that readers are fair and generally positive about the grant process. Of course, they also want consistency to keep down on appeals. The reason that I am writing is that you are doing your readers a disservice by making them think that there is a “magic phrase” that might result in acceptance for funding or rejection of a grant. The Department of Education wants writers to address the problems in a straightforward manner and teachers readers to reward clear writing.

September 2011 Links: Understanding Expenses, the Freelance Revolution, Skirt Length, College Life, Schools, Software, and More

* The Tyranny of Silly Expense Control Rules; notice the comment from yours truly.

* The Freelance Surge Is the Industrial Revolution of Our Time. People are, in other words, repurposing their jobs. A lot of academics in the humanities appear to be completely missing this. In addition, you might want to emphasize this fact in your job training proposals, much like social media.

* Speaking of college life: “Smart Girls Wear Short Skirts, Too: Stop Complaining About College Students.”

* The FDA should be limited to establishing safety, which I find convincing for reasons demonstrated by Cowen and Grove.

* The Real Problem With College Admissions: It’s Not the Rankings. Notice especially the graph.

* I don’t often agree with the Wall Street Journal’s editorial line, but “The Latest Crime Wave: Sending Your Child to a Better School” has it about right:

In case you needed further proof of the American education system’s failings, especially in poor and minority communities, consider the latest crime to spread across the country: educational theft. That’s the charge that has landed several parents, such as Ohio’s Kelley Williams-Bolar, in jail this year.

An African-American mother of two, Ms. Williams-Bolar last year used her father’s address to enroll her two daughters in a better public school outside of their neighborhood. After spending nine days behind bars charged with grand theft, the single mother was convicted of two felony counts. Not only did this stain her spotless record, but it threatened her ability to earn the teacher’s license she had been working on. [. . .]

Only in a world where irony is dead could people not marvel at concerned parents being prosecuted for stealing a free public education for their children.

I knew some kids in high school who used this trick; one day, I gave a guy a ride home after working on the school newspaper and was surprised at how far he lived from campus. He told me that his parents used his uncle’s address to smuggle him in.

* Is barefoot running (using shoes like the “Vibram Five-Fingers” I wear) “better” for you? Yes, if you land on your forefoot. If you still land on your heel, however, they’re probably worse. This, however, would be pretty damn unnatural.

* My job is to watch dreams die. My job is to make dreams live; I think it works out better for me.

* One Path to Better Jobs: More Density in Cities.

* File this under “no shit:”

But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

This conundrum calls into question one of the most significant contemporary educational movements.

Remember: there is no silver bullet for education.

* The New Pants Revue, by Bruce Sterling: “Since I’m a blogger and therefore a modern thought-leader type, my favorite maker of pants sent me some new-model pants in the mail:”

I should explain now why I have been wearing “5.11 Tactical” trousers for a decade. It’s pretty simple: before that time, I wore commonplace black jeans, for two decades. Jeans and tactical pants are the same school of garment. They’re both repurposed American Western gear. I’m an American and it’s common for us to re-adapt our frontier inventions.”

(Hat tip Charlie Stross.)

* The most important post you haven’t read and probably won’t read: Great Stagnation…or Great Relocation?:

Suppose all of those people had the same purchasing power. If you were a factory owner, and you wanted to minimize transport costs, where would you put your factories? The answer is a no-brainer: China and India. Some others in Europe, Japan, and Indonesia. Perhaps a couple on the U.S. East Coast. But for the most part, you’d laugh in the face of any consultant who told you to put a factory in the U.S. The place looks like one giant farm!

It may be that American manufacturing strength was due to a historical accident. Here is the story I’m thinking of. First, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, our proximity to Europe – at that time the only agglomerated Core in the world – allowed us to serve as a low-cost manufacturing base. Then, after World War 2, the U.S. was the only rich capitalist economy not in ruins, so we became the new Core. But as Europe and Japan recovered, our lack of population density made our manufacturing dominance short-lived.

Now, with China finally free of its communist constraints, economic activity is reverting to where it ought to be. More and more, you hear about companies relocating to China not for the cheap labor, but because of the huge domestic market. This is exactly the New Economic Geography in action.

* California or Bust. Isaac may also write a post on this.

* Student choice, employment skills, and grade inflation.

* People respond to incentives, example #14,893:

Top officials [in the Social Security Administration], in a bid to meet goals to win promotions or thousands of dollars in bonuses, directed many employees to refrain from issuing decisions on cases until next week, according to judges and union officials. This likely would delay benefits paid to thousands of Americans with pending applications, many of whom are financially needy and have waited for a government decision for more than a year.

* Demand for software developers is still high.

* Two thousand years in one chart, or, “we make a lot of stuff these days.”

* This is how you catch someone’s attention with the lead: “I became a feminist the day my sixth-grade math teacher dismembered and spit on a white rose, telling us, ‘This is you after you have sex.’

* How Suburban Sprawl Works Like a Ponzi Scheme.

* Hiring Locally for Farm Work Is No Cure-All.

* “The Numbers Behind What’s Your Number?: How many sex partners has the average American woman had—and does anyone still care?” My guess tends towards “no,” and that the number of think “no” increases with age.

* Why Businessmen Wear Black Hats in the Movies:

Why don’t the movies have plausible, real world villains anymore? One reason is that a plethora of stereotype-sensitive advocacy groups, representing everyone from hyphenated ethnic minorities and physically handicapped people to Army and CIA veterans, now maintain a liaison in Hollywood to protect their image. The studios themselves often have an “outreach program” in which executives are assigned to review scripts and characters with representatives from these groups, evaluate their complaints, and attempt to avoid potential brouhahas.

Finding evil villains is not as easy as it was in the days when a director could choose among Nazis, Communists, KGB, and Mafiosos.

This has the unfortunate side effect of decreasing realism and / or pandering to obviousness; no one is going to argue Nazis aren’t bad guys.

* For the performing arts, this is the moment where recession turns into depression. See data at the link.

* Filed under “duh:” “The e-book marketplace is redefining what people expect to pay for books.”

* “[T]he broader point really is the cliche: this is what it looks like when “the terrorists win” and we lose the long-term struggle to protect a free society.” From James Fallows.

* Awesome: NASA revealed on Wednesday a design for its next colossal rocket that is to serve as the backbone for exploration of the solar system for the coming decades.

* Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit.

* Better Business Bureau (BBB) accreditation appears to be bullshit, since the organization will rescind accreditation if you criticize it.

* Finally, for those of you who made it to the end: “Steve Jobs passes and the Internet speaks.”