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Category: education

Author Greg Mortenson settles, will pay charity $1 million

Gregmortenson_army

An investigation of "Three Cups of Tea" author Greg Mortenson and his charity the Central Asia Institute over its administration was settled Thursday. According to the terms of the agreement, Mortenson will stay with the charity and has three years to pay it $1 million of his own money as compensation for using charitable funds to promote and buy his books.

The investigation was spearheaded by authorities in Montana, where the Central Asia Institute is registered. The settlement will allow Mortenson's charity to continue its work building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, albeit with major structural changes -- and Mortenson's repayment plan.

Mortenson has already paid back about half the funds, says Anne Beyersdorfer, the interim executive director. Mortenson stepped down as executive director and has left the board, but will remain an employee of the organization.

Mortenson made bestseller lists with "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones into Schools," his tales of mountaineering and school building in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was a popular speaker who spent much of his time -- and, it turned out, charitable funds -- touring the country talking about his books and work.

According to the Montana Attorney General's office, since 2006 the charity spent $4.9 million advertising Mortenson's two books and $4 million buying copies of them to give away to schools and libraries.

The reports about possible improprieties was brought to light by writer Jon Krakauer in April 2011. Krakauer's contentions about goings-on at the Central Asia Institute were broadcast on "60 Minutes" and caused a sensation. They were immediately followed by "Three Cups of Deceit," a 75-page story by Krakauer that launched the Byliner original e-book shorts for the Kindle; it quickly became a bestseller in its own right. Krakauer, the author of "Into Thin Air" and other bestsellers, also questioned the veracity of some of Mortenson's mountaineering stories. He visited remote locations where schools built by the charity stood empty, with no furniture or books.

The Central Asia Institute's board was made up of just three people -- Mortenson and two others. Boards of charities are meant to provide arms-length supervision of day-to-day activities, which the institute's apparently did not. The two other board members are reportedly to depart within a year and be replaced by a seven-member board.

The arrangement that allows the Central Asia Institute to continue its mission of building schools in remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan is probably a wise one. Despite the controversy, readers who responded to Mortenson's story voiced support for the author and his work. With more formal administration, that work may be done more effectively, so donors' funds are put to best use.

Update April 23, 2:15pm: A previous version of this post said that Mortenson's settlement was the result of a lawsuit. There was no lawsuit; the settlement agreement was reached after an investigation.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Greg Mortenson with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the opening of Pushghar Village Girls School, 60 miles north of Kabul in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan, in 2009. Credit: Department of Defense / Associated Press

Encyclopaedia Britannica pulls the print plug

Encyclopaediabritannica
Encyclopaedia Britannica will cease print publication, it announced Tuesday. The 244-year-old publication will continue to publish an online edition and provide educational materials for schools.

The media landscape has changed considerably in the Encyclopaedia Britannica's 2-1/2 centuries of publication, but nothing has had as great an effect as Wikipedia. The 11-year-old crowd-sourced encylopedia is online, and it's free. Encyclopaedia Britannica's most recent edition sells for $1,395.

What does Wikipedia have to say about it?

The Britannica was the oldest English-language encyclopaedia in production. It was first published between 1768 and 1771 in Edinburgh, Scotland, as three volumes. The encyclopaedia grew in size, and by its fourth edition (1801–1809) it had expanded to a well known 20-volume set. Its rising stature helped recruit eminent contributors, and the 9th edition (1875–1889) and the 11th edition (1911) are landmark encyclopaedias for scholarship and literary style. Beginning with the 11th edition, the Britannica shortened and simplified articles to broaden its appeal in the North American market. In 1933, the Britannica became the first encyclopaedia to adopt "continuous revision", in which the encyclopaedia is continually reprinted and every article updated on a schedule....

The Britannica has had difficulty remaining profitable. Some articles in earlier editions have been criticised for inaccuracy, bias, or unqualified contributors. The accuracy in parts of the present edition has likewise been questioned, although criticisms have been challenged by Britannica's management. On 13 March 2012, it was announced that Encyclopædia Britannica would no longer publish a print edition, instead focusing on its online version.[1]

That snippet shows both the pros and cons of Wikipedia. It's accessible -- I didn't have to move from my computer to look it up -- and its historical facts are laid out clearly. However, the lower paragraph has at least two assertions that call for footnotes. If "some articles" had been criticized, what were they, in what context, and by whom? The same questions arise for the assertion about the accuracy of the current edition. Wikipedia is a go-to source, but it may not always be the most authoritative one.

Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., told the New York Times, “We have very different value propositions,” referring to Wikipedia. “Britannica is going to be smaller. We cannot deal with every single cartoon character, we cannot deal with every love life of every celebrity. But we need to have an alternative where facts really matter. Britannica won’t be able to be as large, but it will always be factually correct.”

Vintage print editions of Encyclopaedia Britannica are available on Ebay. 1970 is currently $71; 1910 is $150; and 1959 is $188 -- that might be the edition Don Draper turned to. But to look up Don Draper, readers should probably to turn to Wikipedia.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Credit: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Reports say Apple will announce 'Garage Band for ebooks'

Ipad2_viewing
The website ArsTechnica writes that its sources know what Apple is working on and will announce Thursday: "Garage Band for eBooks," a program or app that will allow users to create interactive e-books at home as simply as they can now make a home recording. If that's the case, just about anybody will be able to make the e-book equivalent of a not-good song set to the canned rhythms that come with the program; those with skills in visuals and interactive design may have a new tool they'll really make sing. 

But "simple" and "easy" aren't actually words that apply well to the practice of designing e-books. The variety of devices and companies involved in the production and delivery of e-books means that there is not yet a universally acceptable formatting standard. Remember when websites had to be built differently to work in different browsers? Trust me, it used to drive designers batty; e-books are in the midst of a standards melee. ArsTechnica explains:

So far, Apple has largely embraced the ePub 2 standard for its iBooks platform, though it has added a number of HTML5-based extensions to enable the inclusion of video and audio for some limited interaction. The recently-updated ePub 3 standard obviates the need for these proprietary extensions, which in some cases make iBook-formatted e-books incompatible with other e-reader platforms. Apple is expected to announce support for the ePub 3 standard for iBooks going forward.

At the same time, however, authoring standards-compliant e-books (despite some promises to the contrary) is not as simple as running a Word document of a manuscript through a filter. The current state of software tools continues to frustrate authors and publishers alike, with several authors telling Ars that they wish Apple or some other vendor would make a simple app that makes the process as easy as creating a song in GarageBand.

Our sources say Apple will announce such a tool on Thursday.

Previous speculation about Thursday's announcement had put together talk of education and e-books to conclude that e-textbooks would be on Apple's agenda. The evidence includes what Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson for his biography, texbook publisher McGraw-Hill being a partner and Apple's own invitation to Thursday's "education announcement." Ars Technica puts all the pieces together, asserting that the new program/app will " 'digitally destroy' textbook publishing."

But just as e-book standards are thorny and complex, so is the world of textbook publishing, which faces different challenges at different levels. Academic books for university students are expensive, enormous, and the business is partially built around full-priced updated editions every few years. While updating e-books might become cheaper for the end user, it might not be such good news for publishers.

Meanwhile, textbooks for elementary and high schools must be vetted by state and local officials, an entirely different challenge. Arizona, for example, has banned ethnic studies classes statewide; this week, to remain in complaince and receive millions of dollars in funding, Tucson schools removed a number of now-banned books, including "Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement" by Arturo Rosales and William Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Does Apple really want to jump into the middle of that?

We'll find out for sure on Thursday.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Top photo: Media members look at Apple's iPad 2 after its unveiling at an event in San Francisco on March 2, 2011. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg

100 years of UCLA on your coffee table

UCLA in 1929
Of the many photographs in a new history of UCLA, one is especially arresting. The photo, from April 1929, shows the school’s first four buildings on its soon-to-open Westwood campus with little else around for miles but rolling hills and a few  houses. “The campus is so far out in the country that it’s obvious only farmers will ever be the students’ neighbors,” the caption reads, quoting a not-particularly-far-sighted journalist at the time.

Clearly, the growth of UCLA and surrounding Westside neighborhoods was never a given. The school’s unusual journey to academic prominence -- with political intrigue and student unrest along the way -- is the basic narrative of “UCLA: The First Century,” a lavish 360-page coffee table book by Marina Dundjerski. (Truth in advertising, the actual centennial doesn't really come around until 2019.)

Pushing against the Berkeley-centric education establishment, Southern Californians undertook much politicking for the state to finally authorize in 1919 “the Southern Branch” of UC on the site now occupied by Los Angeles City College in East Hollywood. The move 10 miles west a decade later was followed by the Depression’s austerities, the Red Scare’s challenge to academic freedom, the Baby Boom’s construction frenzy, the Vietnam War protests, affirmative action debates and the current budget crises. 

Dundjerski, a 1994 graduate of UCLA and a former campus correspondent for The Times, researched that history for eight years, conducting more than 200 interviews and searching through archives for documents and historical photographs. She came away impressed, she said, about “how much risk everybody took in building UCLA to become the institution it is today.”

The book was commissioned by alumni leaders in advance of the centennial and the research was funded with grants from two alumni organizations and the Ahmanson Foundation. It is being published by Third Millennium Publishing Limited of Britain in conjunction with UCLA History Project/UCLA Alumni Association, and officially hits shelves in March; the UCLA bookstore already has it in stock, and Amazon is taking pre-orders.

Continue reading »

New online journal hopes to make literature real to kids

Litforlife_mtg
As the warm Sunday afternoon turned into a cool December evening, writers, artists and their supporters gathered in Altadena for a red-beans-and-rice showdown. The cookoff was between Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold and New Orleans-born author Jervey Tervalon. The judges -- who weren't particularly interested in casting judgment, after all -- were there for a fundraiser to support the upcoming launch of Literature for Life, an ambitious and multifaceted literary journal.

Spearheaded by Tervalon and run with the support of USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative, Literature for Life will be, on the surface, an online literary journal like many others that includes fiction, poetry, nonfiction and art. Authors whose work will be found there include mystery writers Gary Phillips and Naomi Hirahara, novelist Janet Fitch (all of whom were in attendance) and USC alumna Susan Straight. The e-journal will have a clean, visually engaging, magazine-style look.

Multitalented Kenneth Kouot, who studied critical theory in USC's English department and is quick to say that learning programming languages is easy (it's not, for most people), showed attendees a preview of the website, which is expected to debut in January at LiteratureForLife.net.

Literature for Life has a layer beyond the magazine: It will connect the stories in its issues to schoolteachers, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas of Los Angeles, to help expand and deepen their efforts of teaching literature. Often the materials available to teachers have little connection to the world their students know -- Literature for Life will focus on stories of Los Angeles and of people with diverse cultural backgrounds to help make students understand literature's relevance.

USC's Neighborhood Academic Initiative is a rigorous six-year pre-college enrichment program that helps low-income students in Los Angeles prepare for college; those who meet the program's requirements receive scholarships to attend USC upon completion. With its support and a USC Neighborhood Outreach grant, Literature for Life is parsing curriculum requirements and preparing materials for teachers.

Earlier this year, Literature for Life sponsored the first USC Young Writers conference, connecting high school students with professional writers. "We want to encourage the young people of South L.A. and beyond to recognize themselves in authentic literature," Tervalon explained in April, "and thus begin to better see themselves as empowered readers and writers." Those voices may find a place in the Literature for Life magazine, next to established writers.

Its creators hope that as an online publication, Literature for Life will be a free, frequently updated resource that can step in to supplement the textbooks that strapped classrooms use. The fledgling nonprofit is accepting donations.

As for the red beans and rice? Tervalon's spicy version with cheap Bar S hot links was New Orleans authentic, but Jonathan Gold's dish, famed for using duck, goose and pork fat, was just as tasty.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Jervey Tervalon, left, and Kim Thomas-Barrios look on as Kenneth Kouot pulls up a preview of the Literature for Life website. Credit: Carolyn Kellogg / Los Angeles Times

Microsoft's Bill Gates turns to book reviewing

Bill Gates has put his talents to book reviewing
Billionaire Bill Gates, who remains chairman and chief software architect of his company, Microsoft, has put his talents to book reviewing. On Wednesday, he posted his review of "Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines" by Vaclac Smil (MIT University Press) on his personal website, Gates Notes:

As a history buff, I appreciate books that give you a sense of the people behind important inventions and the sweeping impact they have had on society. Often -– as in the case of the diesel engine and the gas turbine -– incremental advances obscure the profound impact of technology. In Prime Movers, Smil focuses in on a slice of 20th century technological innovation and shows the phenomenal impact it has had on international trade and travel.

To put the significance of the diesel engine and the gas turbine in perspective, Smil points out that until coal-powered steam engines came along a few hundred years ago, animals and human muscle were the “prime movers” of manufacturing, and wind and sails the prime movers of international travel and trade. The steam engine was an important underpinning of the industrial revolution. But its impact pales in comparison to the diesel engine and the gas turbine. ...

There are a lot of fascinating historical points and statistics in Smil’s book that make it an interesting read, but what most fascinated me was learning about the incredible impact these two innovations have had on so many aspects of our lives.

It turns out that Gates has been reviewing books on the site every few weeks since March. His recent reads include "Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools" by Steven Brill, "Getting Better: Why Global Development is Succeeding" by Charles Kenny, and "Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation" by Steven Johnson.

His first posted book review was back in February 2010, of Steven Levitt's and Stephen Dubner's "SuperFreakonomics"; frankly, it wasn't much. "I had a chance to read a prepublication copy of SuperFreakonomics before it was officially released," it began. "I really liked Freakonomics and I think SuperFreakonomics is even better." If one of my freshman writing students had turned that in, it wouldn't have gotten a B-minus.

Since then, Gates has much improved as a book reviewer. He often uses a personal take, explaining why he's interested in this topic, and sometimes comes with a critical eye. He picked up Johnson's book "with a little bit of skepticism," he wrote. "Lots of books have been written about innovation -– what it is, the most innovative companies, how you measure it. The subject can seem a little faddish," he said, but he found Johnson's book to be a cut above.

Most of the books Gates writes about fall into the line with his philanthropic pursuits with the Gates Foundation: education, healthcare, technology and the underlying processes affecting those systems. It makes sense that he's reading about them -- but few billionaires take the time to write up their thoughts and share them as a book reviews.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Bill Gates, left, with Warren Buffett in 2007. Credit: Nati Harnik / Associated Press

Steven Brill brings 'Class Warfare' to school

School-lunch-apple 
As teachers across the nation are returning to their classrooms, Steven Brill is drawing a lot of attention -- and a lot of flak -- for the provocative portraits of educators and U.S. education in his new book "Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools." You may have even heard  him on CNN, CSPAN, NPR and plenty of other media outlets in the last two weeks, talking about his book's prescription for alleviating the system's problems. 

The founder of CourtTV and The American Lawyer magazine (among other things), Brill asks why, in chronicling the efforts of administrators, educators and reformers across the nation, has the U.S. education system turned into an "obstacle to the American dream rather than the enabler"?

Among the answers his book offers is this: There are plenty of exceptional teachers, but plenty more who fall well below the mark and are protected by "the most lavishly funded and entrenched bureaucracies in America (fourteen thousand school districts) supported by an interest group -- the teachers' unions -- [with]...money and playbooks every bit as effective in thwarting public interest as Big Oil, the NRA or Big Tobacco."  

It's enough to make you nervous as you meet your child's teacher on the first day -- is my child getting one of the good ones? -- but Brill's approach is bound to make readers anxious for a different reason. The problem with any book that indicts an entire system, whether you're talking about education or human rights or cancer research, is that it's bound to overlook many bright spots and individual success stories that are out there.

Continue reading »

Sherlock Holmes book banned in Albemarle County, Virginia

Astudyinscarlet Once, Virginia's Albemarle County School District was a standout: One of its middle schools was so good that educators from around the state would come to check it out. How do I know? Because suited people would suddenly appear when, say, we were mid-frog dissection, or running around the track in our green and yellow gym uniforms. I was a student in Albemarle County: I went to Jack Jouett Middle SchooI in Charlottesville, Va., for the seventh grade. The middle school included, as some do, sixth, seventh and eighth grade.

If I were there today, the sixth-graders I passed in the halls would be banned from reading the Sherlock Holmes mystery "A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle.

A parents at one of the other middle schools in the district objected to "A Study In Scarlet," first published in 1887, on the grounds that it portrays Mormons in a negative light. According to the Daily Progress, Brette Stevenson said, "This is our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion."

USA Today found what it believes must be an objectionable passage:

(John Ferrier) had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in the Land of the Saints.

One ninth-grader at the Virginia hearing Thursday told the school board she objected to banning the book. "I was capable of reading it in sixth grade," said Quinn Legallo-Malone. "I think it was a good challenge. I’m upset that they’re removing it."

Nonetheless, the board decided to remove the book.

I've tried to remember what I read in my Albemarle County English classes, and I admit, it's a little hazy. I remember my math teacher Mrs. Necessary, who took off points if we spelled her name wrong on our tests and quizzes (ensuring that today I can spell "necessary" without error). I remember science labs. I remember the very shiny green and yellow outfits of the marching band. But the assigned reading for English -- it falls into a fog.

My classmates and I did read a lot, however. What we read was decidedly off-syllabus. A worn copy of "Flowers in the Attic" by V.C. Andrews, full of child imprisonment and sibling incest, was passed between students at lunch, as were its sequels. So was "Audrey Rose" by Frank De Felitta, a reincarnation psychodrama that centered on a girl's burning to death in a car. At lunch, I read the dirtiest pages of Judy Blume's book "Wifey," which described actual sex in more vivid terms than we were learning in biology class.

All those books, good or bad, were shared and dog-eared because they were exactly what we weren't supposed to be reading. Those books were forbidden in school, but they were shared with whispers at lunch, passed from hand to hand when no teachers were looking.

Sure, Albemarle County can tell some of its kids they can't read "A Study in Scarlet." But that doesn't mean Holmes won't join the ranks of whatever salacious, forbidden works students are sharing at school these days.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, in a 1922 photo. Credit: Associated Press

School named for Sandra Cisneros to open in Echo Park

Sandracisneros
This fall, elementary and middle school students will walk through the doors of the brand new Sandra Cisneros Learning Academy in Echo Park. Although it's not the first school in the Los Angeles Unified School District to be named for an author, the honor is rare.

When it comes to school names in LAUSD, there is a preponderance of places -- Canoga Park, City Terrace, Corona Avenue are elementaries. And there are plenty of presidents -- John Adams, James Madison and William Jefferson Clinton are all middle schools; high schools are named for John F. Kennedy and Ulysses S. Grant. Some schools have names that are eminently plainspoken: Magnolia Science Academy 5, say, not to be confused with Magnolia Science Academy 4 or Magnolia Science Academy 6.

Other notables also have been given naming honors: There are schools named for boxer Oscar de la Hoya, Beethoven, Florence Nightingale, Jackie Robinson, John A. Sutter of the Gold Rrush era Sutter's Mill, lawyer Johnnie Cochran, flier Orville Wright and activists César Chávez and Rosa Parks.

Although LAUSD officials were unable to provide a list of schools named after authors, out of more than 200 in the district, we found five. There is Washington Irving Middle School -- Irving wrote "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle." There are middle schools named for Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Frost and transcendentalist essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. An elementary school is named for children's book author and illustrator Maurice "Where the Wild Things Are" Sendak. And some students attend Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School, named for the author of "Treasure Island" and, um, "Kidnapped."

Cisneros is the author of "Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories" and "The House on Mango Street." Her family migrated from Mexico to Chicago, where she was born in 1954. Cisneros was awarded a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship in 1995. She lives in Texas and is involved in two foundations that foster creative writing.

Parents and administrators involved in the Camino Nuevo charter school, which is part of the L.A. school district, put forward her name for the new K-8 academy slated to open in September. This month, the LAUSD Board of Education decided to change the name of Central Region Elementary School No. 14 to Sandra Cisneros Learning Academy.

The school will be located near Sunset and Alvarado in Echo Park.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Sandra Cisneros in 2002. Credit: Tommy Hultgren / For The Times

A 'disgraceful' challenge of L.A.'s school librarians

Lausdprotest
With layoffs looming at the L.A. Unified School District as state budget cuts come down the pike, school librarians are coming under fire. Those facing dismissal must prove that in addition to running their school library, they must be able to teach in the classroom -- something all middle school and high school libarians are qualified for, because they hold both teaching and librarian credentials. But a regulation requiring that must have taught in a classroom in the last five years is complicating matters.

LAUSD attorneys have been interviewing librarians about their qualifications in a court-like setting in downtown Los Angeles. Hector Tobar reports:

"When was the last time you taught a course for which your librarian credential was not required?" an LAUSD attorney asked Laura Graff, the librarian at Sun Valley High School, at a court session on Monday.

"I'm not sure what you're asking," Graff said. "I teach all subjects, all day. In the library."

"Do you take attendance?" the attorney insisted. "Do you issue grades?"

I've seen a lot of strange things in two decades as a reporter, but nothing quite as disgraceful and weird as this inquisition the LAUSD is inflicting upon more than 80 school librarians.

Sitting in during two court sessions this week, I felt bad for everyone present, including the LAUSD attorneys....

To get the librarians off the payroll, the district's attorneys need to prove to an administrative law judge that the librarians don't have that recent teaching experience. To try to prove that they do teach, the librarians, in turn, come to their hearings with copies of lesson plans they've prepared and reading groups they've organized.

Read Tobar's full report here, and learn more about California's educators rallying against state budget cuts.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Teachers and their supporters rally in downtown Los Angeles on Friday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

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