Wandering Eye: Charter school funding formula criticized, 'When Big Data Becomes Bad Data,' and more

You are probably being discriminated against, and don't know it. This according to ProPublica, which took a look at the algorithms governing various commercial websites. In "When Big Data Becomes Bad Data," the news nonprofit says these invisible computer programs could run afoul of U.S. law concerning discrimination if they have a "disparate impact" on protected groups. Since 1971 the disparate impact test has given plaintiffs a cause of action even if the discrimination was not intentional. "Some legal scholars (including the University of Maryland's Danielle Keats Citron and Frank Pasquale) argue for the creation of new regulations or even regulatory bodies to govern the algorithms that make increasingly important decisions in our lives," ProPublica notes. But if new laws sound good, read this blog post by Nicolas Kayser-Bril, CEO of a data journalism company called Journalism++. Surveying the legal landscape in Europe, Kayser-Bril notes the many court restrictions on the computer algorithms created by journalists and designed to hold public officials and other powerful people and institutions accountable. The rulings affect data-dumps (when reporters put big caches of documents online), and "screen-scraping," which involves making a program to grab publicly-available data from a website automatically. "Databases and algorithms grow in importance by the day and journalists keep up by adapting their tools and techniques," Kayser-Bril writes. "Lawmakers need to urgently change their definition of journalism. Algorithms play a vital role in our lives, from deciding whose friends you can read updates from to finding a dating partner and detecting terrorism suspects from their browsing history. To check that these algorithms do not misbehave, journalists need to code their own." The one law that is always in effect, it seems, is the law of unintended consequences. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


So here is a thing that exists: a ranking of gyms based on how beautiful they are. And looky here, Baltimore's own MV Fitness was named one of the most attractive workout facilities by Vanity Fair France, according to this post by The Sun. "The article cites the gym's historic building and chandeliers among its beautiful qualities." Because nothing is going to help you get in shape more than chandeliers and fancy plasterwork. (Brandon Weigel)


Charter schools in the city are none too pleased with a new funding formula being considered by Baltimore City Public Schools. The Maryland Alliance for Public Charter Schools "said the formula hoards millions at central headquarters instead of in schools, and threatens the existence of more than one dozen schools that would struggle to buy books and teachers," according to a report in The Sun. Erica Green breaks down the numbers: Last year, charters got $9,387 per pupil, because the formula gives cash in lieu of services from the central office for schools. "The district funds traditional schools similarly, but after central office costs are deducted they receive a little more than $5,000 per-pupil. Non-charter schools also receive additional funding for certain populations, like special education and low-performing students." (Brandon Weigel)

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