The Minnehaha County Election Review Committee is uncovering ballot problems that should have advocates for ballot integrity (and that should be all of us) screaming:

[Committee chairman Bruce] Danielson had compiled information from the April 8, 2014, city election that showed 30 voters were checked in twice, generally a minute or two apart, and three voters appeared to have voted twice by going to different polling places [Jill Callison, "Election Review Board May Propose Legislation Changes," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.02.20].

Double voting? How on earth did that happen?

When the e-poll books were moved to alleviate the load at voting centers, it took time for those computers to upload all the current information so it could be synchronized with the system.

Without the correct procedures in place, two poll books could be side by side, but it would appear voters checked in at two separate locations, [election hardware/software hawker Brian] Mortimore said [Callison, 2015.02.20].

Poll books? Weren't those Republican former Secretary of State Jason Gant's brilliant innovation? Didn't he make sure he trained everyone properly and considered every contingency to ensure those gizmos didn't thwart the will of the electorate?

“We did a lot of training, and I’m not sure the SOS covered moving a poll book,” said Sioux Falls city clerk Lorie Hogstad, a committee member [Callison, 2015.02.20].

So just how extensive were the problems created by sloppy training and flawed equipment?

Committee member Sue Roust, former Minnehaha County auditor, worked at a polling place during that election. She said records indicated 3,200 people had actually voted when the true number was 4,200, making her wonder whether the machines are capable of keeping up [Callison, 2015.02.20].

1,000 mistakes out of 4,200 voters. The error rate for hand-counted ballots (which don't allow us to give juicy contracts to our friends in the election software business) runs between 0.5% and 2%. Roust is pointing to an election miscount worse than 20%.

The Republican spin machine, which freaks out over the possibility that Indians and poor people and other enemies of their corporate state might find it easy to vote once, let alone twice, is so far silent about the possibility that the election machine they themselves have purchased and promoted could so easily allow voter fraud and election error. This public silence reflects the non-response of the elected official who created them:

In his research on past elections, Danielson said, he had uncovered data that had been sloppily recorded. His attempts to inform the state were thwarted when no one from the Secretary of State’s office, then led by Jason Gant, would return his telephone calls [Callison, 2015.02.20].

The powers that be appear not to care that we can't trust the results of our elections:

That was the concern Brandon resident Joy Howe brought to the meeting, saying “the elephant in this whole discussion” is that ballots are being counted in secret without a public count.

Using machines to count ballots can allow someone to steal an election, she said.

“You stick them into a machine owned by a company with dubious ownership,” Howe said, her voice rising. “It is not a public count, and we are guaranteed a public count” [Callison, 2015.02.20].

The Minnehaha County election review committee continues to work on final recommendations for making our elections more reliable. All South Dakotans should be keenly interested in the results.

75 comments

Many South Dakota schools use digital learning platforms. The Regental institutions use Brightspace/D2L. The Spearfish School District uses Moodle (which is open source, bless you, Spearfish!). Digital learning platforms, also called virtual learning environments, extend the classroom to a safe, online space where students and teachers can create and share materials, converse, and take care of course administrative tasks.

Digital learning platforms must also be implanting liberal microchips in your kids, because Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City) is leading a group of conservatives in proposing House Bill 1184, which would regulate digital learning platforms and allow parents to opt their kids out of using these nefarious dens of digital iniquity.

Section 1 of HB 1184 defines "digital learning platform" as "an interactive digital platform that collects and records any personally identifiable student information." By that definition, Google Drive is an digital learning platform. Teachers use Google Drive all the time as a quick, easy solution for student collaboration and homework submission. It's interactive, students log in with distinct IDs, and they submit essays, slideshows, and other projects under their own names. Arguably, the Internet as a whole could be viewed as a digital learning platform, since websites collect data about the computers from which students log in, how long they visit, and which links they click, not to mention any data the students may enter as they interact with the websites.

Section 2 is where that broad definition gets sticky. HB 1184 would require schools to provide adult students and parents of minor students "a formal written explanation of the goals and capabilities" of any digital learning platform intended for classroom use, "including of any software, whether the software is loaded onto the platform or hosted externally by a third party." Specifically, schools must detail the following:

  1. How the platform works and the platform's principal purpose or purposes;
  2. The title and business address of the school official who is responsible for the platform, and the name and business address of any contractor or outside party maintaining the platform for or on behalf of the school;
  3. The information the software is designed to collect from any student or capture and record about any student, including any data matches with other personally identifiable student information;
  4. Every element of data that the platform or software will collect or record about any student, including personal psychological characteristics; noncognitive attributes or skills such as collaboration, resilience, and perseverance; and physiological measurements;
  5. The purpose of collecting and recording the data;
  6. Every contemplated use or disclosure of the data, the categories of recipients, and the purpose of any use or disclosure;
  7. A full explanation of the privacy policy maintained by the digital-learning provider; and
  8. The policies and practices of the school regarding storage, retrievability, access controls, retention, and disposal of the records collected and recorded by the platform [House Bill 1184, original text, posted 2015.01.30].

There goes my innovation in the classroom. Suppose I find a quick and easy classroom wiki that looks like a good fit for a new assignment I'm doing this month with my students. I have no idea if I'll want to use the wiki in the future; I'd just like to test drive it, see if it's student-friendly. Under HB 1184, I need to research and write-up that eight-point analysis (which, if I responsibly fulfill HB 1184, should run several pages) and send it to the parent/guardian of every student in the school (the bill does not limit notifications for course-specific implementations to students in that course). Never mind—we'll just make posters with construction paper.

Section 3 says any digital learning platform must include "a portal or other mechanism allowing parents access to the platform and to all the content available to the students using the platform." Sure, no problem: I love having parents visit my classroom to see what students are learning and creating. I like students to know that their work could be seen by members of the public, not just by me.

But let's play lawyer: HB 1184 says "all the content available to the students." It doesn't say, "parents may access all content available to their child or children." My casual legal reading says HB 1184 lets me demand access not just to my child's homework submissions but to every other child's classroom work products. If your school runs a secure site like D2L, where grades and comments from instructors are available to students, HB 1184 gives parents access to everyone's grades and comments. (Rep. DiSanto, really, why don't you call me before you post language like this?)

HB 1184 throws our aspirations to 21st-century online learning into complete chaos with Section 4, the opt-out clause:

Unless a school accredited by the state certifies that the platform is essential to the school's educational mission and provides an explanation for the basis of that certification, a student who has reached the age of eighteen, or the parent or guardian of a minor student, may opt out of the use of any digital-learning platform [HB 1184].

Essential? I like to say I can teach anything with chalk and good shoes, but Socrates, the archetype for great teaching, walked around the agora barefoot and didn't write anything down. The Internet could blow up tomorrow, and while my heart would ache, I could still ask kids provocative questions and help them become intelligent citizens. No digital learning platform is "essential" to a school's mission. Thus, under HB 1184, any student can opt out of the use of any digital learning platform, and my plan to turn all South Dakota students into responsible online citizen journalists is foiled. Curses!

Maybe the hearing on House Bill 1184 in House Education will clarify Rep. DiSanto's privacy concerns. But trust me, Rep. DiSanto: I can corrupt your youth whether or not I can require them to log in to Moodle. Perhaps you should drop HB 1184 and turn your intense concerns about privacy to warrantless searches, the burdensome documentation requirements for drivers licenses, and—oh yeah!—your fellow Republican Senator Corey Brown's conversion of petition reform into an invasion of unfortunate political candidates' medical privacy (see Senate Bill 69, Section 19).

6 comments

Sorry, Jeff Barth: your lawsuit is already too late to stop the state from destroying some EB-5 evidence. Seth Tupper finds the state deleted Richard Benda's e-mails just weeks after he jumped the ship of state with his half-million-dollar life preserver from Mike Rounds... in accordance with state policy:

The policy says that when employees delete an individual email, that deleted email is retained by the system no longer than 37 days; when an employee leaves state government, the employee’s entire email account is deleted as soon as 30 days later.

So last spring, when investigators were examining records from Benda’s final days in office for evidence of criminal activity, there was no state email account of his to comb through. Investigators obtained and re-created some emails through other investigative means, according to state Attorney General Marty Jackley, who acknowledged the task was made more difficult because of the deletion of Benda’s email account [Seth Tupper, "SD Email Policy: Don't Ask, Don't Keep," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.28].

Governor Dennis Daugaard sends his poor spokesman Tony Venhuizen out to say silly things about how hard it is to store e-mail:

Venhuizen said the state’s current email system comprises 11 terabytes of storage.

“That’s large, and for that reason, backing up the older messages is kept to a minimum to keep down the expense of storing multiple copies,” he said [Tupper, 2014.09.28].

Tupper snorts milk onto his notepad and points out that one can buy a 12-terabyte external storage unit for $2,200. But always buy for the storage you'll need later, not the storage you need now. For $2,200 we can get order one Western Digital 12-TB unit for the current e-mail system for $650 and a Buffalo 16-TB unit for the next five years of e-mail for $1,317, have someone swing by Best Buy and grab three 1-TB portable drives for $62 a pop, and still have $47 left to take our tech guy out to Red Rossa.

The technological and financial difficulty of storing state e-mails for investigative and historical purposes is trivial. Using those portable drives, we can get a terabyte of storage for $62. Try storing that much information on paper, at two kilobytes per typed page (remember, kilo- means thousands; tera- means trillion), and you'll need one million reams of paper, which at a dollar a ream would cost one million dollars. Multiply that by the 31 terabytes of storage I just priced for the state at Amazon and Best Buy, and we're going to need 64 more EB-5 investors to turn Northern Beef Packers into Northern Leaf Papers.

Archiving the state's e-mails is no big deal. Appropriations, move a decimal point somewhere and buy the governor some hard drives.

p.s.: Seth Tupper appears to be back in his element. After a few months as publisher at the Mitchell Daily Republic, he's back in the game writing political stories for the Rapid City Journal. Maybe I'm just optimistically imagining things, but I sense a certain pent-up enthusiasm unleashed in his hefty report on the state's memory-hole correspondence policy. Perhaps Tupper realized about himself and journalism what I know about myself and teaching: offer me a promotion to principal or superintendent, and I will say no thank you. Some of us are born for the front line.

37 comments

Ah, the Tuesday after Labor Day, when the reality of September hits us full force, and when school starts in a humane and moral society.

As I take my little one to her first day of school and then zoom across town to my first day in my new classroom (Bonjour, mes amis!), I read with relish this review of Garret Keizer's new book on the over-quantified state of American education. Keizer returned to the classroom after fourteen years and found some significant changes among the kids and his colleagues. Among the most appalling:

Besides the teacher who delivers pizza, there’s one who proclaims proudly: “We’ve just about eliminated class discussions.” Instead of conversing, his students record their comments using an app and vote in class polls with their phones [Nick Romeo, "A Teacher Returns to the Classroom and Gets Schooled," The Daily Beast, 2014.09.01].

Keizer suspects a vicious profiteering cycle in the technologization of classrooms:

Just as the economy profits from both the causes and cures of some health problems—smoking and chemotherapy, sugary sodas and diabetes medicine—schools sometimes pay companies for technologies that compound the very problems they pay other companies to solve. “We make kids illiterate by shrinking and/or wiring their libraries; then we build wired support centers to teach the illiterates how to read” [Romeo, 2014.09.01].

He recognizes my fundamental beef with Common Core and other reforms that take me away from students for the sake of codifying and quantifying our art:

The constant streams of evaluative data that teachers must generate present a similar irony. Every minute spent assigning numbers to student performance is time not spent imparting knowledge that could improve the skills the data is ostensibly measuring [Romeo, 2014.09.01].

Keizer knows that all this data we are gathering will be long forgotten when we and our students still remember those chance encounters.

There’s not an easy way to quantify the value of a conversation with a sophomore who has just decided to share her first poems with her English teacher. The poems were not mandatory, and the conversation occurs after class, so the event falls into a netherworld that the educational bureaucracy doesn’t recognize. But these are the moments that matter most to teachers and students long after the course material is forgotten [Romeo, 2014.09.01].

Good teaching is good conversation. Discuss. (You will be engaged and challenged, but you will not be graded.)

8 comments

The bad news: the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday threw out evidence that helped convict a gang member and a drug dealer.

The good news: the Court ruled that police must get a search warrant to riffle through your cell phone. The enormous amount of personal data available through even the most basic cell phone deserves some protection from search and seizure, says the Court.

The bonus good news: The Court's ruling in Riley v. California recognizes that the absence of "precise guidance from the founding era" requires judges to think hard about new technology and new situations that Jefferson, Adams, et al. never conceived. Chief Justice John Roberts demonstrates that, in this case, our Justices are up to the task:

These cases require us to decide how the search incident to arrest doctrine applies to modern cell phones, which are now such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy [Chief Justice John Roberts, Riley v. California, 2014.06.25, p. 9].

The United States asserts that a search of all data stored on a cell phone is “materially indistinguishable” from searches of these sorts of physical items. Brief for United States in No. 13–212, p. 26. That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together. Modern cell phones, as a category, implicate privacy concerns far beyond those implicated by the search of a cigarette pack, a wallet, or a purse...

Cell phones differ in both a quantitative and a qualita- tive sense from other objects that might be kept on an arrestee’s person. The term “cell phone” is itself misleading shorthand; many of these devices are in fact minicomputers that also happen to have the capacity to be used as a telephone. They could just as easily be called cameras, video players, rolodexes, calendars, tape recorders, libraries, diaries, albums, televisions, maps, or newspapers.

...Most people cannot lug around every piece of mail they have received for the past several months, every picture they have taken, or every book or article they have read—nor would they have any reason to attempt to do so. And if they did, they would have to drag behind them a trunk of the sort held to require a search warrant in Chadwick, supra, rather than a container the size of the cigarette package in Robinson [Riley v. California, pp. 16–17].

In 1926, Learned Hand observed (in an opinion later quoted in Chimel) that it is “a totally different thing to search a man’s pockets and use against him what they contain, from ransacking his house for everything which may incriminate him.” United States v. Kirschenblatt, 16 F. 2d 202, 203 (CA2). If his pockets contain a cell phone, however, that is no longer true. Indeed, a cell phone search would typically expose to the government far more than the most exhaustive search of a house: A phone not only contains in digital form many sensitive records previously found in the home; it also contains a broad array of private information never found in a home in any form—unless the phone is [Riley v. California, pp. 21–22].

The Court says case law offers two justifications for searching an arrestee's person and immediate surroundings: protecting the arresting officers and preventing destruction of evidence. Roberts writes that neither the phone nor the digital data it can access pose a threat to police. Arresting officers can secure any potential digital data mostly by handcuffing the suspect and setting the phone out of reach. The Court recognizes that digital data is still subject to encryption or remote wiping, but granting warrantless search authority does little to prevent those risks:

...the opportunities for officers to search a password-protected phone before data becomes encrypted are quite limited. Law enforcement officers are very unlikely to come upon such a phone in an unlocked state because most phones lock at the touch of a button or, as a default, after some very short period of inactivity. See, e.g., iPhone User Guide for iOS 7.1 Software 10 (2014) (default lock after about one minute). This may explain why the encryption argument was not made until the merits stage in this Court, and has never been considered by the Courts of Appeals.

Moreover, in situations in which an arrest might trigger a remote-wipe attempt or an officer discovers an unlocked phone, it is not clear that the ability to conduct a warrantless search would make much of a difference. The need to effect the arrest, secure the scene, and tend to other pressing matters means that law enforcement officers may well not be able to turn their attention to a cell phone right away. See Tr. of Oral Arg. in No. 13–132, at 50; see also Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae in No. 13–132, at 19. Cell phone data would be vulnerable to remote wiping from the time an individual anticipates arrest to the time any eventual search of the phone is completed, which might be at the station house hours later. Likewise, an officer who seizes a phone in an unlocked state might not be able to begin his search in the short time remaining before the phone locks and data becomes encrypted [Riley v. California, pp. 13–14].

The Court says that if cops are still worried about the remote chance of remote wiping, they have much simpler options than breaching the Fourth Amendment, like turning the phone off, removing the battery, or putting it in a Faraday bag (hey! I just learned something from the Supreme Court!).

As far removed from 1789 as our cell phones are, the Court still manages to put the question of digital data search and seizure into the Founders' context:

Our cases have recognized that the Fourth Amendment was the founding generation’s response to the reviled “general warrants” and “writs of assistance” of the colonial era, which allowed British officers to rummage through homes in an unrestrained search for evidence of criminal activity. Opposition to such searches was in fact one of the driving forces behind the Revolution itself. In 1761, the patriot James Otis delivered a speech in Boston denounc- ing the use of writs of assistance. A young John Adams was there, and he would later write that “[e]very man of a crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.” 10 Works of John Adams 247–248 (C. Adams ed. 1856). According to Adams, Otis’s speech was “the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born.” Id., at 248 (quoted in Boyd v. United States, 116 U. S. 616, 625 (1886)).

Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans “the privacies of life,” Boyd, supra, at 630. The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple—get a warrant [Riley v. California, pp. 27–28].

It's still pretty easy for post-September 11 authorities to get a warrant (15 minutes via iPad, says Chief Justice Roberts on page 26 of the ruling) or to declare the "exigent circumstances" that obviate a warrant. But Riley v. California is a small victory against the police state.

13 comments

Last week my friend and Democratic District 33 Senate candidate Robin Page voiced her displeasure at the removal of cursive handwriting from the Rapid City School District curriculum. Blame that on Common Core: the new mostly nationwide education standards tell teachers to work on handwriting with kindergartners and first-graders, then focus on keyboarding.

And as much as I love computers, handing kids keyboards instead of pencils and pens may mean they they learn less:

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier” [Maria Konnikova, "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades," New York Times, 2014.06.02].

An example of the benefits of handwriting appears in note-taking:

Cursive or not, the benefits of writing by hand extend beyond childhood. For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information. Not only do we learn letters better when we commit them to memory through writing, memory and learning ability in general may benefit.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding [Konnikova, 2014.06.02].

Permit me to contribute my anecdotal experience to the empirical data: I've seen the same effect in my own note-taking. I can type faster than I can write longhand. But whether I'm in class or interviewing someone for the blog, I feel as if I process and recall information better when I write it by hand. (I haven't noticed a difference yet between writing with pen on paper and writing with stylus on electronic tablet.)

Common Core opponents, you can keep arguing about the arcanities of government databases and Soviet-style homogenization. But if you really want to fight Common Core standards, I humbly suggest that a nuts-and-bolts research-based argument that dropping handwriting weakens kids' ability to learn will get ten times the traction for your cause.

Related: Diane Ravitch contends that Bill Gates should face Congressional hearings for short-circuiting federalism and buying the education system to promote Common Core.

26 comments

The Sioux Falls School District used children as unpaid guinea pigs this spring in its field test of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the new statewide, online standardized test our children will take to measure their fulfillment of the Common Core standards. Some computers crashed on both the student side and the testmaker side, but the District reports that its "technology and infrastructure performed better than expected." Sigh.

Here are some reasons from the District's report to be annoyed that we are trundling mindlessly along into another cycle of fruitless education reform churn:

  1. "Each classroom test administrator set aside from three to ten hours to read documents and view Smarter Balanced required test administration modules/videos." Up to ten hours: that's two full days of classroom instruction lost to learning how to administer someone else's test.
  2. The Smarter Balanced Assessment is two to two and a half hours longer than the Dakota Step test it replaces. Two and a half hours: that's as much as three class periods that each student misses to sit and answer questions instead of learning.
  3. Twelve parents asked the Sioux Falls School District to excuse their students from the SBA. The District told them state law and rules require all students to take the SBA. Then the District apparently kept tabs on those students during the tests; the District report says teachers observed five of those students "randomly answering questions or choosing the same answer and completing the test in half the time of the other students." The report offers no count of other kids blowing off the test. So try to opt out of an oppressive and wasteful testing regimen, and the Sioux Falls Schol District will single your kids out for special surveillance.
  4. Some kids knew their stuff but had trouble banging out answers fast enough on the computer keyboard. The report's response: we need to keep pushing keyboard and mouse skills. This is teaching to the test at its most offensive, not even teaching subject matter, but teaching specific technology skills that will let kids take tests about subject matter.

What does the report recommend the school board do? "Acknowledge the review of the Smarter Balanced Assessment administration 2013-14 school year."

Acknowledged. Ack!

17 comments

Brookings native Scott Meyer, a brilliant and energetic entrepreneur with the world at his feet, came back to South Dakota in 2009 to build his future. He came in part because he saw the Internet leveling the playing field for rural places like South Dakota:

With equal access to the world’s knowledge thanks to the Internet, South Dakota again looked like the prairie of my great-great grandparents. I could:

  • Access the world’s knowledge on the Internet and sites like Wikipedia
  • Educate myself with online classes and videos
  • Sell products anywhere in the world thanks to sites like Amazon
  • Produce products in my home thanks to 3D printing technology

With equal access to these resources, I wouldn’t have to leave. I could share my brain instead of draining it away. Combined with the knowledge of everyone, everywhere, I could create almost anything [Scott Meyer, "Why the FCC Hates South Dakota," 9Clouds: Digital Homesteading, 2014.04.27].

Meyer sees the FCC's proposed unraveling of net neutrality, allowing the richest corporations to purchase fast lanes on the Internet to make their content more easily accessible than that of small businesses and regular citizens, as a recipe for recharging rural brain drain:

ISPs are excited by the chance to make more money with these special deals, but for businesses in South Dakota or anywhere else in the world trying to get started, this is the same old story.

  • If our website is slower than the larger competitor who can pay for fast access, who will visit our store?
  • If our new song or video can’t load on a mobile phone because we haven’t paid for fast access, who will listen or watch?
  • If our non-profit wants to raise money, but our tear-jerking video doesn’t load fast enough, how will it survive?

An open Internet provides a lifeline to rural communities and businesses. Any entrepreneur can create the next Facebook, the saying goes. They won’t be able to in a world without equal access to all content, a concept known as net neutrality [Meyer, 2014.04.27].

Net neutrality is good for small business and free speech. It is especially good for business and speech in South Dakota.

Eleven U.S. Senators wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler this week calling on the FCC to remove "fast lanes" and protect net neutrality. Our neighbor Senator Al Franken from Minnesota signed that letter. South Dakota's Senators Thune and Johnson did not. Senator Thune cheered a court reversal of FCC net neutrality protections last winter He seems more interested in posturing about over-regulation than protecting the real South Dakota interests Meyer identifies. Thune has voted against net neutrality; Johnson has voted to protect it.

Add net neutrality to the list of questions for our U.S. Senate candidates (Thursday, May 15, 8 p.m., SDPB): as you seek to replace Senator Tim Johnson, would you continue his defense of net neutrality, or would you throw South Dakota entrepreneurs like Meyer to the rich ISP wolves?

22 comments

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