(The first rule of journal club is…)
If you have some time to read over the weekend, I highly recommend this series of articles:
The “RYSK” label on that blog stands for “Research You Should Know”. There are six articles there currently, with the possibility of more appearing, each of which goes in depth on a particular piece of research. All of it is math-related, but should also be applicable to many science-oriented fields.
If you have any favorite pieces of education research, feel free to add them in the comments. I’m always interested in hearing more.
This was originally going to be a single post, but it was large enough that I split it up. Today’s post is about intellectual property law in general; Monday’s post is specifically about copyright, with a focus on educational situations.
When I was at WRPI, and when I was writing some of my books, I learned a good amount about copyright and trademark law. I’ve run into some persistent confusion and uncertainty about that in my time in high school and higher ed, so I wanted to make a few remarks on the topic here.
To define some terms:
- Trademarks are words, designs, and logos that are part of a particular company’s or product’s identity. The raised TM or circled R are both trademark indicators (the latter is a “registered trademark”). Trademarks and patents are overseen by the US Patent and Trademark Office.You have to apply for a registered trademark, but you can get a regular trademark just by claiming it (marking it with TM) and defending it. Trademarks last as long as they are maintained and defended – that is, you use them, and you actively work to keep other people from using them. If some granny in her basement started making a soda and naming it Coca-Cola, you can bet that Coke would go after her legally. If they didn’t, anyone else could then start to name their soda Coca-Cola too. The trademark would be gone. Them’s the laws. Trademarks almost never come into education discussions, but I mention them here because people confuse the concepts.
- Patents are legal recognition and protection for a “new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof.” You can also get Design Patents for “new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture”, and Plant Patents for “any distinct and new variety of plant.” Sort of a blast from the past, that last one.You have to apply for a patent. Patents are expensive enough that the average person would think twice, but not so expensive that companies can’t snatch them up by the dozens. They last for a specific amount of time, which is renewable a certain number of times at increasing cost. There is no obligation to defend a patent; you don’t lose your right to sue if you wait for a year while someone else uses a method that you patented. This is a common method for “patent trolls” – patent something, wait until someone else is really entrenched in using it, and then sue them. Again, patents don’t come up much in education, but some of the concepts seep into discussions when people don’t know the difference.
- Copyright is, fairly literally, the right to make and display copies of something. It applies to creative and technical endeavors of all kinds, including writing, artwork, music, computer code, and more. Copyright is overseen by the US Copyright Office.Copyright is different. Copyright does not have to be defended, and does not have to be applied for.
Every work created in the USA (and most other nations) is protected by copyright automatically, the instant it is created. There is no registration process, you do not have to apply, you do not even have to state “all rights reserved” or use the circled C mark.
Furthermore, copyright never has to be defended. The original author/artist/programmer can allow others to use the work as they see fit, and can pursue lawsuits against some offenders but not others without weakening the copyright. When lawsuits are pursued, the general principle that is considered is whether the defendant is damaging the author’s ability to make money off his or her work.
Copyright also lasts a long time – an uncomfortably long time, for those of us who believe in the value of the public domain. The shortest amount of time that copyright lasts is the life of the author plus 70 years. Depending on how long the author lives, work created by a corporation can be protected even longer. Don’t talk to a public domain maven about Mickey Mouse unless you want to hear a diatribe.
When it comes to education, copyright is the most important and most commonly discussed item. Teachers using materials in their classrooms, textbook companies looking for pictures or diagrams, and students creating papers all fall under slightly different rules. It can get confusing.
On Monday I’ll try to untangle what can get used where, and why.
Here’s a link to part 1.
So what exactly is the US Department of Education? It doesn’t directly set or enforce policies, so it’s actually rather dissimilar to many other federal agencies. It’s much more like an advisory body, except that it also hands out money in fairly specific directions.
The largest amount of the ED’s money, from what I can tell, goes towards people who might not otherwise get an education. Students with disabilities. Students with significant financial needs. Career and technical education. Programs with names like “Ensuring Equity.”
I think it’s important to do that. I don’t know whether there needs to be a full Department for that purpose. I’m not saying that in the way that some peoples’ “I don’t know” is really a “clearly not,” I’m genuinely saying “I don’t know.” Right now President Obama is asking for the authority to combine some federal agencies in much the same way that Homeland Security was created out of the Coast Guard, TSA, FEMA, and so forth. No matter how I might dislike Homeland Security these days, the combination was a great idea. Maybe Education could get combined with Labor, Health & Human Services, the NEA and NEH into some general “quality of life” bureau.
As for the advisory part of the ED’s job, I’m clearly biased. I think that education, being most of our lives from age 5 to age 21, is an incredibly big deal, and that there should be someone in the president’s cabinet who brings those matters up. Getting rid of the Department of Education entirely, without folding it into some other group, seems like it would remove a voice for 20-25% of our life experience.
I do believe that states need more ability to work independently. The ED’s current approach encourages grants applications to be written in very specific ways, effectively creating direction without creating policy. I’d rather that they consider grant applications on the basis of potential merit rather than on the basis of alignment with current departmental goals. I’m aware of how tough it is to define “potential merit,” but education is tough in general and we shouldn’t shy away from such approaches just because they’re difficult. If we need to do more research on what “potential merit” means in education, so much the better.
More than just state-level independence, however, I think that individual schools need the opportunity to try new things. Most of the opposition to that comes from the states themselves, not from the federal government. I don’t think that getting rid of the ED would free up individual schools at all.
So that’s where I am right now regarding the Department of Education. I think it does many worthwhile things, but that we might do well to combine it with another couple agencies and focus it away from broad trends and toward individual excellence.
I recently received a challenge from a friend of mine to write a post about the U.S. Department of Education – their policies and general existence. Since I should really know more about said department, I set about working to… uh, educate myself.
One of the problems I ran into quickly was that there is essentially no non-biased information available on the ED (ED = Education Department; DoE = Dept. of Energy). Nearly everyone who writes about education is fairly biased, as you may have garnered from my own work here. Most of the stuff I read was either very pro, very anti, or very bland. Even things like the General Accounting Office’s report on the ED get criticized, and the criticism gets taken apart, and the whole thing is a giant cluster where you can’t tell who’s being honest and who’s running for office or protecting their cash cow. So a lot of what I say here will be matters of general principle rather than responding to what the Department does right now.
One of the major arguments against the ED is that it is inefficient, either by its very existence or internally. Arguments go both ways here; the department itself claims to give 99 cents on the dollar to its beneficiaries, while the aforementioned GAO study claims that there are serious inefficiencies when it comes to the student loan program.
Several GOP candidates this year have talked about “giving the money directly to the states,” thus cutting out the ED as a middleman. However, the ED doesn’t give public schools that much money overall. According to the department itself, “the Federal contribution to elementary and secondary education is about 10.8 percent” and “89.2 percent of the funds will come from non-Federal sources” for elementary and secondary education. So it’s a fairly small amount, percentage-wise. In terms of the department’s overall discretionary budget, “Title I Grants” (which are for local educational agencies, be they state departments of ed or regional school boards) take up about 21%, and IDEA grants (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, given to states) are another 17%. Those two large programs account for about $26 billion. Given the department’s own figures, a total of about $122 billion is contributed to local education by the federal government. Since I can’t find that in the ED’s discretionary budget (which is only about half that), the rest of it must either be coming from other departments (NSA, DoE, DoD) or from mandatory rather than discretionary funds.
The ED also gives a large amount of its budget directly to students: Pell Grants are another third of the ED’s budget at $23 billion or so. Student loans are not part of the budget, exactly; they make money when things are working right.
The Department of Education does not set curricula or develop standards; however, they do give money to local education agencies for such purposes. Because part of the ED’s mandate is to “identify the major issues and problems in education and focus national attention on them,” they are a major policy-driver through indirect means. The department’s choice of what a “major issue” is naturally shapes how states will write applications for Title I grants.
At this point in my research, I think this needs to be a two-part post. I don’t want to shortchange it, but I think there’s enough here to chew on (mentally speaking) for a day or two.
- What does the ED actually do? From their own website. (Hint: click on item #4)
- What do they spend money on? Also from their website.
- An overview of educational spending, slightly out of date.
- The Death And Taxes poster, an infographic of the federal budget. If you’ve never seen it, you need to go take a look.
Are you an expert on a particular type of alternative education? Did you attend a Waldorf school? Do you homeschool your child? Do you work at a Montessori school? If so:
One of my goals for this blog is to have articles about different types of school (and non-schools). However, I’m not an expert in every type of education. If you’re interested in writing an article about your area of expertise, let me know in the comments here and I’ll be glad to post it for you.
Here are the guidelines:
- You should present the core ideas or methods of this approach.
- You can talk about details, but please don’t go over 1000 words.
- Being pro-your-school in your discussion is ok, but no gushing. Try to be more informational.
- You should provide links to more information. These should present both “pro” and “con” responses. Bonus points for scholarly articles.
- Schools and school systems outside the US are definitely of interest.
I intend to write articles on traditional boarding schools, the Hyde School model, and the Sudbury Valley model myself, but if you’d like to contribute to those, that would be cool.