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Anyone remember the Stamp Act? In 1765, the British passed a law making it illegal to publish anything on paper that lacked a stamp from the government; naturally, the stamp had to be bought. It was meant to raise revenue and tamp down on those pesky pamphleteers who kept making trouble. It did not end well.

I was reminded of that in reading about a new bill proposed in Florida that would require bloggers to register with the state and pay a monthly fee if they ever mention the governor, lieutenant governor, any cabinet officials or any members of the Legislature in a post. Subsequent mentions require more payments. Failure to register or pay in a timely manner will result in fines in the thousands of dollars per offense.

In other words, bloggers would have to buy a virtual stamp anytime they’d like to write about a government official.

Oddly, the law distinguishes “bloggers” from people writing in “newspapers or similar publications,” whatever that means. If I’m writing a blog for Inside Higher Ed, does calling it a column instead give it immunity? Is Inside Higher Ed more like a newspaper or a blog? According to what criteria?

On the merits, it’s cartoonishly absurd. Political speech has long been given the highest degree of deference in First Amendment law; banning any mention of public officials would hollow out the category of political speech pretty fast. “Free” speech is supposed to be exactly that. The entire concept of a “public figure” rests on the fact that they’re commonly discussed.

As trolling, it’s pretty amateurish. Surely Ron DeSantis knows that blogs written by people in other states are accessible to Floridians, and that they aren’t subject to Florida’s jurisdiction. If he or State Senator Jason Brodeur, the bill’s sponsor, want to go after writers in other states, they’ll quickly discover that they have no jurisdiction.

As a serious proposal, it’s quackery. But as a view into a mind-set, it’s terrifying. I hope my Floridian counterparts aren’t cowed into silence. Instead, I hope that anyone who cares about freedom of speech takes notice and acts accordingly.

Readers had some fascinating feedback this week both on assessment and on student loans.

I was struck by how many readers responded to my summary of the point of outcomes assessment by calling it “naïve” or “idealistic.” They referred to assessment using terms like “exercise in box-checking.” (Some terms were a bit saltier, but you get the idea.)

To the extent that’s accurate—and I don’t doubt that many believe that—it points to a much larger problem.

My own sense is that assessment works best when it’s relatively simple. Get too detailed, and it starts to fall prey to false precision. Yes, I have worked with people who believe that if a 10-question rubric is good, a 30-question rubric is better. It isn’t. When the form gets so long and complicated that people start filling it out fictitiously just to get it done—what I’ve seen called “malicious compliance”—then the point is lost. Sometimes less is more.

It’s worth getting right because the theory behind assessment—gradual improvement over time by noting what is and isn’t working—makes sense. If methods have overwhelmed the purpose, then it’s time to rethink the methods. The purpose is worthy.

On the proposal to cancel the interest on student loans, a few folks wrote in to object that a zero-interest loan is, in fact, effectively subsidized after inflation. That’s true, but it’s a feature, not a bug. Abrupt forgiveness offends many people’s moral sensibilities in a way that a gradual after-inflation cut doesn’t. It’s likely to be more sustainable politically. It’s not free, but that’s sort of the point; it’s a way to help borrowers without creating a political quagmire.

My thanks to everyone who wrote in. Nobody has to, but many take the time. It means a lot.

Next week is one of the busiest in a long time, so the blog (column?) will take a one-week spring break, returning for Monday the 13th.

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