Education And Recidivism

A Rand 2018 study found that inmates in correctional facilities who participated in educational programs were 28% less likely to recidivate. In addition the United States Sentencing Commission found that inmates with less than a high school diploma were 60% more likely to be subject to recidivism  and those with a college degree had  only a 19% chance to relapse into criminal behavior. Several recent studies have pointed out the importance of education for inmates and the Rand analysis states “Every dollar invested in correctional education saves nearly five in re incarceration costs over three years.”  As a result of such studies a bipartisan bill is being proposed in Congress. It would reinstate Pell Grants for inmates and thus acquires added importance. The Vera Institute of Justice and the Georgetown Center for Poverty and inequality showed that restoring Pell Grants for inmates would not only increase their employment, in this case by 10%, but increase their collective earning in the first year by $45 million. Obviously if it passes, the bill which would affect 463,000 prisoners, would improve their lives after incarceration, and therefore benefit all of us.  It is equally worth noting that not only is this bill a bipartisan effort in super partisan times, it also recognizes the importance of education in correctional facilities—something that’s been forgotten!

Self-Driving Cars And Racist Technology

Like many I’m waiting for self-driving cars, but I’m also increasingly concerned about how safe they will be. Now there’s another issue. The technology working on those safety issues looks to be programmed to be racist. It identifies white faces but the darker someone is the harder it is for the machine to identify it as a person, in the case of self-driving cars, pedestrians. Researchers from Georgia Tech found that machines consistently failed at recognizing darker skin tones. It’s actually not only self-driving cars, AI in Google image recognition system couldn’t recognize black people, and couldn’t tell the difference between them and an a dark ape. The researchers called such finding alarming, as I hope you will too. There are apparently radars which can better differentiate skin tones, but these are very expensive and to include them in cars would make them very expensive.

It seems to me that since the machines were once programmed by humans and that since the algorithm they function on were devised by humans that the time has come to change the algorithm. That should be the responsibility of the researchers who erred in the first place by revealing their own view of race. So my message to the companies developing AI for self-driving cars is, correct the AI race biases the original engineers programmed in before you even think of cost.

OPMs And Higher Education

We all are aware of the increasing costs of a college education, of the pressure of admissions and the role money continues to play, and in a recent article Kevin Carey tries to explain why this has happened.  He writes universities had a choice and when they were at a crossroads they chose the way of profits. When online education took off, and some universities signed on, it was, he says an opportunity for education costs to be lowered, particularly benefiting low income and others who couldn’t afford the costs of elite institutions and receive an education regardless of their financial status. But that is, he describes in some details, not what happened. OPMs happened instead. They are online  program managers, sometimes called enrollment managers, people  and organizations which begun as start-ups  helping students with tests like the SATs and were so successful they  branched out to eventually be partners in offering online degrees. Some are now also publicly traded and have been able to show a large profit for themselves as well as for the universities they partner with, showing profits of about 42% roughly half for them and half for the universities. They tend to have strong marketing and operate much the same way as for profit colleges do and did, and some of the same people are involved. The Education Department  divisions which  had tried to change the rules to protect students against for profit colleges practices are now apparently rather secretly rewriting these rules  and the author points  out that it looks like OPMs will be able to do whatever they see fit to make as much money as they can. While some view the role of enrollment managers as being more benign and as being of use to universities, what I find distressing is how academic institutions which are meant to guide people to uphold the values that make us an open society, have allowed themselves to be led by profit motives. And even more distressing in the case of their involvement with OPMs they have done so in a way that does not benefit the current and future students who need help.

Vaccination And Public Safety

First it was an outbreak in California, then one in Washington State, now one in New York State. Measles outbreaks are becoming more frequent and for me they stand as a symbol of a troubling trend in society, the masking of social responsibility. As a young girl I attended a French Lycee and we were schooled in the responsibilities of being citizens. We read excerpts from Rousseau and discussed the Social Contract. In the UK children are more prone to discuss Hobbes and Locke who similarly believed in social responsibility.  True, in the US those philosophers seem outdated and do not appeal to national pride. Still the idea of social responsibility is part of US culture.  Yet somewhere in the curricula of our schools, somewhere in the practice of our values perhaps we have lost it. When I first came to the United States It seemed to me that American teenagers were much more interested in conforming that we had been. As teenagers our emphasis was to put the stamp of individuality upon who we were. Being distinct individuals with our own views, beliefs, interpretations and preferences was very important. Perhaps it was the aftermath of experiencing WWII but while we were taught that individual rights are constrained when it comes to the public good, neither we, nor our elders for that matter, had discernible difficulties being both individuals and responsible citizens. I know many people who do not believe in vaccination and some of them are people I love, so I am well aware of their arguments. The fact remains however that when the exercise of individual rights interfere with public safety, I can’t help believe that public responsibility ought to come first. It may not be universally approved of, certainly to those who are against vaccines, but as far as I know public responsibility does not need to meet the test of universal approval.