National News

The new digital classroom, brought to you by SXSW

Marketplace - American Public Media - Thu, 2015-03-12 02:04

Before the techies and music lovers descend on Austin for South by Southwest, or SXSW, there’s SXSWedu.

Senior reporter Adriene Hill, and the LearningCurve edtech team have been at the education conference all week. Adriene spoke with Marketplace host, Kai Ryssdal, about which new technologies were grabbing the attention of educators. 

Tom Leonard, superintendent of Eanes Independent School District in Austin, says introducing laptops and tablets into classrooms has been hard at times, and teachers took some time to get on board, but there's no going back. 

“Technology in schools right now is like the infancy of the automobile,” he says. “For a while when the automobile was just starting, the horse was more effective, it really was. But we knew we were going in the direction of the car, so we had to get there. And right now I think that’s what’s happening in classrooms. You are seeing teachers struggle with that, but good school districts know we need to get there.” 

And tech entrepreneurs want to get there right along with them. Billions of dollars are pouring into edtech as software makers, among others, vie for a place in the classroom.

One area that's getting a lot of attention is "making."  The “Playground” area of SXSWedu was full of products focused on kids building things, using 3D doodlers and Lego robots. 

There’s also a big focus on coding. “Coding is now pushing down into the lower grades, we’re talking kindergarten level,” says Claire Novy, a teacher from Miami. Get ready for second-graders to be showcasing their work in the app store. 

Along with all the tech talk, there has been a growing discussion about what's called social and emotional learning, or SEL. It focuses on kids' views of themselves as learners, and how their perceptions can help — or hinder — their ability to learn. Expect to hear more in the future about student emotional health.

Superintendent Leonard says he expects to see more entrepreneurial programs in schools, aimed at teaching kids how to create their own jobs in the future. 

Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County public schools, is looking forward to new organizational tools that will bring much of a school's data together.

"Usually school systems have about five different systems they operate from,” he says. “Your learning management system can be one, your grade book’s another, your student information system’s one, you may have a data dashboard or a warehouse somewhere else. We are creating [a database] which will be a one stop shop for everyone.”

That includes parents, who may have an easier time in the future keeping up with their childrens' educational lives.

A Child Of Slavery Who Taught A Generation

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 00:56

Anna J. Cooper was a remarkable student and, later, a legendary teacher and principal of the Dunbar School.

» E-Mail This

Plans To Explore For Oil Offshore Worry East Coast Residents

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 00:28

With memories of the massive BP spill still fresh, residents are hoping to stop offshore drilling and underwater seismic testing. Industry leaders say they follow rules meant to protect wildlife.

» E-Mail This

When Life Overwhelms, This Group Lends A Healthy Hand

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 00:26

Health care should go beyond a doctor's office, the creators of this program say. Students work as health advocates, helping patients find affordable housing, fresh food and social services as needed.

» E-Mail This

Drawn-Out Syrian Civil War Spawns A Literal Dark Age

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 00:25

Once, Syria was a modern nation. Today, after five years of brutal conflict, 83 percent of the country's lights are out and life expectancies are 20 years shorter.

» E-Mail This

Researchers Think There's A Warm Ocean On Enceladus

NPR News - Thu, 2015-03-12 00:24

A new analysis of particles believed to be from the bottom of oceans inside Enceladus suggest the moon is toasty warm.

» E-Mail This

2 Police Officers Shot Outside Ferguson Police Department

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 23:14

The incident occurred during a protest outside Ferguson police headquarters and comes less than 24 hours after the resignation of the city's chief of police.

» E-Mail This

Report: 2 Officers Shot Outside Ferguson Police Department

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 22:06

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports two police officers have been shot outside the Ferguson Police Department. The extent of any injuries isn't known.

» E-Mail This

Feds Prepared To Reopen All Superstorm Sandy Insurance Claims

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 18:46

FEMA's move comes after months of questions about whether insurance companies shortchanged homeowners.

» E-Mail This

Police Chief Is Latest Ferguson, Mo., Official To Resign

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 18:40

An assistant chief will replace Tom Jackson; a Justice Department probe following the shooting death of Michael Brown had found serious problems in how the department operated.

» E-Mail This

Filmmaker Richard Glatzer, Who Wrote, Directed 'Still Alice,' Dies At 63

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 15:50

The cause was complications of ALS. He is survived by his husband, Wash Westmoreland, who co-wrote and co-directed Still Alice. They are also known for their 2006 film Quinceanera.

» E-Mail This

Report: Secret Service Agents Drove Car Into White House Barricades After Drinking

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 14:34

The story, first reported by The Washington Post, is the latest scandal at the presidential protective service. A spokesman said the agency is aware of the allegations, which are being investigated.

» E-Mail This

Results Of Many Clinical Trials Not Being Reported

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 13:41

Federal law requires publicly-funded medical researchers to promptly report the results of many experimental treatments. But few are doing so, a review shows, and patients may be hurt.

» E-Mail This

Would A Pill To Protect Teens From HIV Make Them Feel Invincible?

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 13:32

Trials are underway to see how effective a pill approved for HIV prevention in adults may be for teenagers. But some worry Truvada could end up encouraging reckless sexual behavior among young people.

» E-Mail This

Why Some Schools Serve Local Food And Others Can't (Or Won't)

NPR News - Wed, 2015-03-11 13:31

A survey found that 36 percent of U.S. public schools bought food from local farmers during two recent school years. But a slightly greater number of schools served no local food at all.

» E-Mail This

Behind the scenes at a budget hedge-fund start-up

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-03-11 13:03

"Hedge fund manager." The words might conjure up an image of a gray-haired man in a tailored suit, standing in a room full of dark wood, making billions of dollars by boldly gambling with other billionaires' money. But add to that Howard Wang, a 29-year-old in sweatpants, sitting at a desk next to his bed, scrolling through hundreds of ticker symbols on a spreadsheet.

"Every single one is a position that we hold," he says. "For example, Apple. And Amazon."

The spreadsheet represents millions of dollars in stocks, bonds, commodities, futures and currencies from every corner of the world, invested according to algorithms created and calibrated by Wang and his partner Robert Wu — both alums of the high-flying Bridgewater hedge fund — and run out of Wang's apartment. 

"That is literally the hedge fund," says Wang of the positions on his computer screen. 

"Hedge fund is like the nickname," says Steve Nadel, a lawyer at Seward & Kissel who helps set up hedge funds. "I think you could just as easily call it a 'private investor fund' in that it's privately offered and you don't advertise to bring in investors."

Hedge funds are no longer distinguished by a "hedging" strategy, but by their legal and regulatory status. They employ one of two exemptions to minimize oversight and regulation in exchange for being open to only the wealthiest individual or institutional investors.

Traditionally, hedge-fund managers have also shared a method of charging those investors: A management fee of two cents of every dollar invested, and a performance fee of 20 cents of every dollar gained.

But that's changed since the financial crisis. 

"You go back to pre-2008, about every hedge fund had a management fee around 2 percent," says Nadel. "Right now the rate is around 1.7 percent."

Wang's fund, Convoy Investments, is going even lower, to 1.25 percent and discounts for early investors.

"And no performance fees," Wang says. 

Does it pay the rent? 

"Yeah," he says. "I mean, of course, it depends on how much money we're managing. Right now, it does not pay the rent. For the last few years, I've been basically working out of my own savings." 

This thrifty approach is meant to appeal to investors fed up not just with hedge funds' high fees, but the lackluster returns many have been getting in exchange.

"When speaking about returns, one word that I've heard a lot is, you know, mediocre," says Melissa Santaniello, founder of the Alignment of Interests Association, a group of several hundred hedge fund investors. Last year, her group put out a kind of aspirational "Hedge Fund Investing Principles." Among the suggestions were ways of making fees drop in years when returns are lousy. "It's just aligning their interests. It's just making it a bit more fair," she says.

Last year, while individual hedge funds performed well, the average hedge fund made just one or two percent; simply investing in the S&P 500 would have returned 11.4 percent. California's massive pension fund, CalPERS, cuts its hedge fund investments entirely, citing high costs among other factors. And more hedge funds have simply shut down than any year since 2009.

The drumbeat of news adds to an argument advanced by Simon Lack, author of The Hedge Fund Mirage, that the industry has gotten too big to reliably deliver on its promises. In the 1990s, he says hedge funds as a class were a good investment, but as the industry has ballooned to nearly $3 trillion, the number of potential profit-making opportunities hasn't kept up.

"Below $1 trillion in assets hedge funds were able to generate reasonably good returns, and as they went above a trillion dollars, that turned out to be too much money for the available opportunity set," says Lack. 

Since 2002, Lack finds that a standard, boring portfolio of cheap index funds, made up of 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds, beat hedge funds not just over the 13-year period, but every single year. That's before, during and after the financial crisis, in good stock market years as well as the bad years when hedge funds are thought to be a particularly valuable form of portfolio diversification. 

"It really sort of undercuts the whole rationale for having hedge funds in the portfolio," says Lack. "I mean, if they're always going to underperform — always — what's the point?"

But for Howard Wang, bad news for hedge funds is reinforcement to his pitch. In a Skype call with a potential investor in Louisiana, he sounds less like a hedge-fund manager than an index fund rep, as he repeats a number of seemingly self-deprecating claims: He will not be a genius manager who beats the market day to day. He will not be making predictions about the future. Instead, his strategy is mostly passive, mostly automated, and mostly transparent. 

"I'm basically just the guy who's going out and executing on this strategy for you," he says. 

It's a modest pitch, but it works with this investor. He agrees to invest $500,000, putting Wang's fund at around $18 million. It's a small fund, and the discounted fees that he and his partner earns are made smaller still by auditors, lawyers and taxes.

"It may come out to be maybe 40k per person that we can take home, 30k," Wang says. 

Not exactly what you think of as a "hedge-fund manager" salary. 

"Right, right," he agrees. "But we're OK with that."

He says it's worth it to run a hedge fund of his own, and to run it a little bit differently.

Pages