Archive for ‘Education’

September 7, 2011

Falling Out of the Middle Class

by Vince

Ezra Klein finds an interesting study that gauges what factors contribute to men and women falling out of middle class society:

The big takeaway: Divorce and marriage matter, a lot. Education, or lack thereof, is pretty important, too. The picture gets blurrier with drug use: Men who use heroin are more likely to fall out of the middle class, but the effect is statistically insignificant for women. And crack use doesn’t make much of a difference for either gender.

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September 6, 2011

Unemployment’s Far-Reaching Effects

by Vince

Ezra Klein digs into a few studies that exposes the health and educational pains inflicted on pupils and families as a result of unemployment:

Last year, Mike Konczal flagged a 2009 study by Ann Huff Stevens and Jessamyn Schaller of UC-Davis that examined the relationship between parental job loss and children’s academic achievement, drawing on data about job loss and grade retention from 1996, 2001 and 2004 panels of the Survey of Income and Program Participation:

We find that a parental job loss increases the probability of children’s grade retention by 0.8 percentage points, or around 15 percent. After conditioning on child fixed effects, there is no evidence of significantly increased grade retention prior to the job loss, suggesting a causal link between the parental employment shock and children’s academic difficulties. These effects are concentrated among children whose parents have a high school education or less.

 

In the end, the researchers concluded, “one percentage point higher unemployment rate leads to a 0.3 percentage point increase in the probability that a child repeats a grade.” If this is true, Konczal points out, the cumulative impact of unemployment is staggering. “There are roughly 55 million students in K-12 in the country right now. If unemployment is 1% higher that means, roughly, 165,000 additional years of schooling will be repeated,” he writes.

But just as children are at higher risk of underachieving, education budgets are being slashed across the country as the economy remains anemic and the politics of austerity have taken hold. It’s a continuous pile-up that could have lasting damage that goes well beyond sheer employment numbers.

September 6, 2011

Robbie George on American Exceptionalism

by Vince


Robbie George, a political science professor at Princeton, says nothing groundbreaking in his 2 and a half minute snippet from the Republican debate in South Carolina. He does, however, speak on behalf of our inalienable rights with much ignorance to what we as a nation have intentionally done to institutionally make fellow Americans unequal. Are American’s of color today given the same rights to education or even the same slate as a white American when they are born? To me, pontificating about our equality in a hagiographic manner while we face a type of apartheid in our schools and neighborhoods is a sad side effect of privileged conditioning and possessing blinders to much of our America.

August 31, 2011

Match.com For College

by Vince

Considering college and want the best fit for you? Here is ConnectEDU:

This won’t just help the brightest, most driven kids. Bad matching is a problem throughout higher education, from top to bottom. Among all students who enroll in college, most will either transfer or drop out. For African American students and those whose parents never went to college, the transfer/dropout rate is closer to two-thirds. Most students don’t live in the resource-rich, intensely college-focused environment that upper-middle-class students take for granted. So they often default to whatever college is cheapest and closest to home. Tools like ConnectEDU will give them a way to find something better.

August 29, 2011

School superintendent gives up $800k in pay

by Vince

This guy’s story is amazing (the full article is worth reading):

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Some people give back to their community. Then there’s Fresno County School Superintendent Larry Powell, who’s really giving back. As in $800,000 — what would have been his compensation for the next three years.

Until his term expires in 2015, Powell will run 325 schools and 35 school districts with 195,000 students, all for less than a starting California teacher earns.

“How much do we need to keep accumulating?” asks Powell, 63. “There’s no reason for me to keep stockpiling money.”

(…)

Powell’s answer? Ask his board to allow him to return $288,241 in salary and benefits for the next three and a half years of his term. He technically retired, then agreed to be hired back to work for $31,000 a year — $10,000 less than a first-year teacher — and with no benefits.

“I thought it was so very generous on his part,” said school board member Sally Tannenbaum. “We get to keep him, but at a much lower rate.”

His move was so low-key, his manner so unassuming, that it took four days after the school board meeting for word of his act to get out to the community. There were no press releases or self-congratulatory pats on the back.

Yes, what he did was great and the money he kicks back these next three years will, as mentioned in the article, go to the S.D. However, don’t be fooled by this. He will still get a six-figure retirement that rises with cost of living. That reform may be beyond his own control but it is what it is.

(thanks V.S.!)

July 2, 2011

Miss USA 2011 on if Math should be taught in schools

by Vince

CPM – you should enjoy this one. Thanks, MacKenzie Fegan.

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July 2, 2011

The History of English

by Vince


First up, Anglo-Saxon. The rest of the series is here.

June 29, 2011

Chris Christie’s Gubernatorial Smackdown

by Vince

I just love this guys comments.

June 24, 2011

Picturing this School Scenario

by Vince

Imagine what a typical school district would look like with these budget cuts:

—140-plus staff members were furloughed.

—Dozens of staff members are being shuffled around the district to fill holes, which means many students will be meeting new faces.

—Nearly all special education and English Language Learner aides were furloughed, save for those required by law because of a student’s needs. ELL aides help students whose primary language is something other than English.

—The 3-year-old character education program was eliminated. The program’s creator earned national acclaim for her model of mentoring troubled students.

—Elementary guidance counselors, some secondary guidance counselors and an at-risk coordinator who helped students with issues at home were furloughed.

—The athletic teams remain intact, but the athletic budget was cut by $100,000. It is not yet clear how the department will make up for the lost revenue.

—The district’s security team was eliminated. The team helped monitor school activities and provide a buffer between students and police to reduce arrests and keep students safer. It was created two years ago.

—Students won’t have the use of library aides.

—At the elementary level, students won’t have music, physical education or art teachers. Their classroom teacher will be in charge of providing those subjects. The interim Superintendent says that elementary teachers all have certification to cover those areas.

—Students won’t have reading and math coaches around to add more individualized instruction.

—At the secondary level, the performing arts program that offered theater performances was eliminated.

—The high school pool, in dire need of repair, has been closed.

—Class sizes will increase, particularly at the secondary level. Some classes could be above 30-35 students, according to the district.

Now add to the equation that this is regarding the York City school district, a district much in need of smaller classes, classroom aides, extra curricular classes, and English language learning aides. Could these cuts, coupled with a 5% tax increase (that overrode the normal 3% max), happen in a suburban school without a national level uprising?

June 22, 2011

Miss USA 2011 on if Evolution should be taught in schools

by Vince

There is such a difference not only in substance but in attitude between contestants from blue and red states. Miss USA from Pennsylvania comes in at 11:27.

You can also view other questions that were asked on the right hand suggestions bar.

June 16, 2011

Tea Party Summer Camp

by Vince

And wasn’t there an uproar when kids were asked to sing a song about Barack Obama? Oh yeah, it is only indoctrination when it is something you don’t agree with. When it’s your own ideals, it’s “education”, “enlightenment”, and the like:

Here’s another option now that the kids are out of school: a weeklong seminar about our nation’s founding principles, courtesy of theTampa 912 Project.

The organization, which falls under the tea party umbrella, hopes to introduce kids ages 8 to 12 to principles that include “America is good,” “I believe in God,” and “I work hard for what I have and I will share it with who I want to. Government cannot force me to be charitable.”

Organized by conservative writer Jeff Lukens and staffed by volunteers from the 912 Project, Tampa Liberty School will meet every morning July 11-15 in borrowed space at the Paideia Christian school in Temple Terrace.

Tampa Liberty is modeled after vacation Bible schools, which use fun, hands-on activities to deliver Christian messages.

One example at Liberty: Children will win hard, wrapped candies to use as currency for a store, symbolizing the gold standard. On the second day, the “banker” will issue paper money instead. Over time, students will realize their paper money buys less and less, while the candies retain their value.

“Some of the kids will fall for it,” Lukens said. “Others kids will wise up.”

Another example: Starting in an austere room where they are made to sit quietly, symbolizing Europe, the children will pass through an obstacle course to arrive at a brightly decorated party room (the New World).

Red-white-and-blue confetti will be thrown. But afterward the kids will have to clean up the confetti, learning that with freedom comes responsibility.

June 6, 2011

Evening Reads

by Vince
  1. Does serving as First Lady count as executive experience?
  2. Discerning the differences between loyalty, patriotism, and looking to transform your city or nation.
  3. Tired of hearing quasi-religious political platforms that serve the interests of “killing our enemies” or benefiting the filthy rich? Check these out.
  4. Refocusing the education reform discussion.
  5. A bipartisan discussion on the extension of the PATRIOT act.
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June 6, 2011

What the Money Spent on “Defense” Can Buy Us

by Vince

AllGov shows what domestic programs we could spend the $7.6 trillion defense budget since 2001 on:

Fill the Medicare Gap: If Congress redirected just one-fifth of the budget increases from 2000 to 2011 for defense spending, it would be enough to eliminate the long-term budget hole in the Medicare program.
 
Fund Head Start for 15 Years: Instead of 10 years of warfare in Afghanistan, the U.S. could have secured 15.6 years of early childhood education and support through Head Start for the same price.
 
Insure the Uninsured: Another way to spend the Afghanistan war chest would be on the uninsured. The budget for fighting the Taliban is enough to cover every American without health insurance for 1.7 years.
 
Help State Capitols: A total of 46 states are facing budget shortfalls this fiscal year. Collectively, they need about $130 billion. Ending the war in Afghanistan and getting entirely out of Iraq would save $170 billion—more than enough to wipe out the red ink from Albany to Sacramento.
 
Instead of Iraq…: Even with the end of combat operations in Iraq, the U.S. is still spending $50 billion annually to maintain a large contingent of troops in the country. For this same amount of money, Washington could ensure a year’s worth of health care for 24.3 million poor children, or salaries for more than 725,000 elementary school teachers or nearly 830,000 firefighters.
June 6, 2011

Legislating Morality in Chambersburg

by Vince


Public Opinion columnist Matthew Major writes as if a moral and societal emergency is about to be upon Chambersburg residents. What is he writing about? Out of control yardsales. In his eyes, its worth raising taxes to enforce borough laws about yardsales.

Borough council will consider an ordinance June 13 that would limit residents to one yard sale per month, with a maximum of four per year. Each sale would be limited to three days’ duration, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. It would require “all evidence of yard sale activity” to be stored out of sight outside of permitted hours.

It strikes us as an aggressive, but necessary, crackdown on people who effectively run underground commercial operations out of their yards every day of the week. Greencastle, Mont Alto and Washington Township have also had to rein in yard sales with similar restrictions.

Underground commercial operations. Striking use of terms there. Now some more strikingly logical and deep reasoning behind the need to enforce yardsales:

People have always needed to get rid of unwanted stuff that somehow piles up in their homes. But cultural and economic trends have conspired to emphasize the deals over the house-clearing. For example, we now have numerous TV shows glorifying the nation’s pawn shops and junk circuits.

Major finishes with some final words:

And so with the inevitable overreach on the part of yard retailers comes the correction from the authorities. If people cannot conduct yard sales without becoming a nuisance to their neighbors, someone will have to do it for them.

It’s a shame to have to legislate proper behavior and consideration for others, but Chambersburg’s proposed yard sale restrictions should become law as soon as possible.

Is this more important than dealing with local poverty, local runaway educational costs, or local unemployment (which on a Pennsylvania county level, Franklin County is dead last)? Then again, these regulations would employ a few individuals (at the cost of higher taxes, mind you).

June 4, 2011

Charts on College

by Vince

Ezra Klein provides some points on the above and below:

The bottom line, however, is that fewer than 5 percent of workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher are unemployed, while more than 14 percent of those who haven’t finished high school are unemployed. You really want to bet that there’s nothing causal going on there?

I know of maybe one friend (and many more people I knew of in college) who shouldn’t have gone to college, but we should remember this:

This seems like evidence that students are being ill-served by the cultural stereotype of college as a period of enjoyment and exploration that precedes entry into the “real world.” College, rather, is a period of preparation for the real world, and if you don’t take it as such, the real world can make you pay and pay big.

June 2, 2011

Fearing Saul Alinsky

by Vince

It is almost a daily occurrence that Glenn Beck pontificates about the downfall of the world and how Saul Alinsky is partly behind it. Steven Taylor did some digging in a handful of academic online databases and found the following:

I tried the flagship journal of the discipline, the American Political Science Review for articles, full text, and “Alinksy” and got back 3 results (1946, 1968 and 1969).  Keep in mind the APSR is indexed back over a century on JSTOR.

Other major journals that I bothered with:

American Journal of Political Science: 1 (from 2002).

Perspective on Politics:  2 (2004 and 2006).

Journal of Politics:  2 (form 1974 and 1975).

If you search all 116 political science titles for “Alinsky” (without checking to see if they refer to Saul Alinsky specifically) one gets a whopping 55 article.  A search of “Saul Alinsky” in full-text article for the 116 journals in question gives me 38 hits, while “Alinsky, Saul” gives me 7.

Towering figure, indeed.

And this is the guy who supposedly is the kingmaker for indoctrinating the liberal intelligentsia at our universities and urban centers?

May 31, 2011

Summer Reading

by Vince

As they say, with the passing of Memorial Day weekend, we now enter summer. With that, here are some books mostly geared towards education and information. I have churned through a few fiction (Ordinary People) and nonfiction (Underboss, the History of God, which I am only 70 pages in) lately and am on the lookout for some others for the summer.

6. THE FILTER BUBBLE

We live in a culture that puts a premium on customization, but this ultra-personalization has its price when it comes to the information we’re being served. That’s exactly what Eli Pariser, founder of public policy advocacy group MoveOn.org, explores in his fascinating and, depending on where you fall on the privacy spectrum, potentially unsettling new book, The Filter Bubble — a compelling deep-dive into the invisible algorithmic editing on the web, a world where we’re being shown more of what algorithms think we want to see and less of what we should see. (Did you know that Google takes into account 57 individual data points before serving you the results you searched for?) Implicitly, the book raises some pivotal questions about the future of the information economy and the balance between algorithm and curator — something I feel particularly strongly about.

May 31, 2011

A Prison Nation

by Vince

KT provides some interesting points for those willing to discuss America’s prison system:

In the twenty-seven nations of the European Union, whose combined population exceeds ours by nearly two hundred million, the total prison population for all crimes combined is around six hundred thousand.  In the US, we’ve got almost that number of people – five hundred thousand to be precise — in prison for drug related crimes alone.  And many of these crimes involve no violence whatsoever.

Even the racial aspects of incarceration are striking:

African Americans make up roughly twelve percent of our total population, but they make up over forty percent of the prison population.  Latinos make up thirteen percent of the population, but twenty percent of prison inmates.  The prison system is one of the epicenters of racial inequality in America.   If current trends continue, one-third of all black males and one-sixth of all Latino males will go to prison during their lives, as opposed to one in seventeen white males.

As easy as it is to say “fix the broken system!” it is harder than many can fathom. Just spending one day in an in-school suspension room at a middle school will give you a taste of what reformers are up against. We cannot talk to these detained students, yet (healthy) attention is most likely just what they need. We cannot really help them with their work and are to encourage them to figure it out on their own (because they ruined their chance in class to be taught), yet patient help is what they do need.

This may take me off of the original topic, but it has me questioning aspects of the public school system (which I have been for a few months). The system is very much assembly-line-esque with almost a one size fits all approach. The outlier pupils – most notably those who cannot sit still due to ADHD, anxiety, etc. – are disciplined. From my first hand experience, the students I had who exhibited ADHD or anxiety symptoms had issues stemming from their parents (or lack of parental presence). Some of these students became hyper-active due to these home issues and others reticent to the point that I unfortunately might not even notice them on a day to day basis.

I hope this all can emphasize a few things. One, family (supportive, loving, present, active) really does matter. Two, support systems (teachers, tutors, clubs, teams, religious institutions, et al) are strong supplemental systems that in some cases are even the primary support for our younger generation. Third and finally, having the first and second aforementioned points as positive presences in a students life are just what they (and we all) need to move along through the ups and downs in life (whether through discipline issues at school, a lost job, or a string of incarcerations).

May 27, 2011

Libraries Crumble

by Vince

Charles Simic laments:

All across the United States, large and small cities are closing public libraries or curtailing their hours of operations. Detroit, I read a few days ago, may close all of its branches and Denver half of its own: decisions that will undoubtedly put hundreds of its employees out of work. When you count the families all over this country who don’t have computers or can’t afford Internet connections and rely on the ones in libraries to look for jobs, the consequences will be even more dire. People everywhere are unhappy about these closings, and so are mayors making the hard decisions. But with roads and streets left in disrepair, teachers, policemen and firemen being laid off, and politicians in both parties pledging never to raise taxes, no matter what happens to our quality of life, the outlook is bleak. “The greatest nation on earth,” as we still call ourselves, no longer has the political will to arrest its visible and precipitous decline and save the institutions on which the workings of our democracy depend.

I see this when I am at the library in York. Scores of grown adults and kids do not have computers at home and rely strongly on their 2 hours allotted to them a day to look for jobs, work on schoolwork, and yes a fair amount of time set aside to watch YouTube videos.

Once I started to enjoy reading, libraries became my new toy store. Free books, so many services and resources at your fingertips (secondary language services, such as Rosetta Stone, are there to use and others are available to check out) and more all there and paid for by our tax dollars.

Simic makes a few more points worth noting:

This was just the start. Over the years I thoroughly explored many libraries, big and small, discovering numerous writers and individual books I never knew existed, a number of them completely unknown, forgotten, and still very much worth reading. No class I attended at the university could ever match that. Even libraries in overseas army bases and in small, impoverished factory towns in New England had their treasures, like long-out of print works of avant-garde literature and hard-boiled detective stories of near-genius.

Wherever I found a library, I immediately felt at home. Empty or full, it pleased me just as much. A boy and a girl doing their homework and flirting; an old woman in obvious need of a pair of glasses squinting at a dog-eared issue of The New Yorker; a prematurely gray-haired man writing furiously on a yellow pad surrounded by pages of notes and several open books with some kind of graphs in them; and, the oddest among the lot, a balding elderly man in an elegant blue pinstripe suit with a carefully tied red bow tie, holding up and perusing a slim, antique-looking volume with black covers that could have been poetry, a religious tract, or something having to do with the occult. It’s the certainty that such mysteries lie in wait beyond its doors that still draws me to every library I come across.

Pictured: a library established by Andrew Carnegie.

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May 27, 2011

The American School System

by Vince

Joel Kline has an excellent article on the current state of American schools. You cannot mention American schools without including it’s unions. He delves into that subject and exposes some hard truths that even I as a certified teacher am alarmed to hear.

As we all hear day in and day out, America is falling behind when it comes to equipping our upcoming generations with the skills they need to get quality jobs and ultimately compete in the global market (the part about the global market always makes me chuckle. Can you imagine this being ingrained into teachers heads as they work with elementary and middle school teachers?)

now our technological progress is advancing more rapidly than our educational attainment. From 1960 to 1980, our supply of college graduates increased at almost 4 percent a year; since then, the increase has been about half as fast. The net effect is that we’re rapidly moving toward two Americas—a wealthy elite, and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.

This division tears at the very fabric of our society. Nevertheless, there’s little national urgency to fix its underlying causes. Unlike a bad economy, poor educational achievement creeps up on us. Right now, if you were running for office, would you be more concerned with unemployment or education? Also, unlike terrorism, an educational crisis has a different impact on the powerful than it does on most of society. Their children, who are in private schools or elite public schools, receive a decent education, so it’s hard to get them fully engaged in the broader national debate. Plus, unlike in health care, for example, where we perceive the quality of care to be good and worry instead about controlling costs and covering the uninsured, in education, despite massive increases in expenditure, we don’t see improved results. That leads too many people to suspect that poverty is destiny, that schools can make only a small difference, and that therefore we’re unable to fix this problem, regardless of its seriousness. So why try?

This, along with some other common gripes, Klein digs into.

One of the general threads in this article is the type of career many teachers want and how far removed their desires are from other normal jobs:

The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.

Now to the unions. The American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association have roughly 4.7 million members. That is a lot of money and pull. As the union connects to their political counterparts, one of their goals is to keep the union members happy:

And what do the members want? Employees understandably want lifetime job security (tenure), better pay regardless of performance (seniority pay), less work (short days, long holidays, lots of sick days), and the opportunity to retire early (at, say, 55) with a good lifetime pension and full health benefits; for their part, the retirees want to make sure their benefits keep coming and grow through cost-of-living increases. The result: whether you work hard or don’t, get good results with kids or don’t, teach in a shortage area like math or special education or don’t, or in a hard-to-staff school in a poor community or not, you get paid the same, unless you’ve been around for another year, in which case you get more. Not bad for the adults.

Also worth noting, the legal process is equal to jumping through hundreds of hoops just to fire a teacher.

Klein also digs into the pension system that really hits many districts hard:

None of these pay increases makes sense. Why pay someone more for simply working another year or for taking a few courses? Starting last year, Mayor Bloomberg refused to give teachers in New York a raise, because he was facing budget cuts. But the overall pay for teachers still went up nearly 3.5 percent automatically, simply for longevity and college credits. (According to a Department of Education internal analysis, the average NYC teacher works fewer than seven hours a day for 185 days and costs the city $110,000—$71,000 in salary, $23,000 in pensions, and $16,000 in health and other benefits.) And why give all teachers making $80,000, or more, a 10 percent raise? They’re not going to leave, since they’re close to vesting their lifetime pensions. By contrast, increasing starting salaries by $8,000 (rather than $4,000) would help attract and retain better new teachers. But because of seniority, we can’t do it that way.

Consequently, elected officials have had every incentive to make extraordinarily optimistic assumptions about the pension plan—or to simply underfund it—so they can put as little as possible into the reserve. Unfortunately, but predictably, that’s exactly what has happened: most states “assumed” they would get an average 8 percent return on their pension reserves, when in fact they were getting significantly less. Over the past 10 years, for example, New York City’s pension funds earned an average of just 2.5 percent. Now virtually every pension plan in America that covers teachers has huge unfunded liabilities. A recent study by the Manhattan Institute estimated the total current shortfall at close to $1 trillion. There’s only one way to pay for that: take the money from current and future operating budgets, robbing today’s children to pay tomorrow’s pensions. In NYC, for example, the portion of the overall budget set aside for education pensions went from $455 million in 2002 to $2.6 billion in 2011, most of it for teachers. Not surprisingly, retirees remain politically vigilant, and vote at much higher levels than active teachers in union elections (50 percent versus 24 percent in New York’s last UFT election).

Klein also compares schools lack of incentive to make their product (education) better to their practical monopoly-like strangle hold on their niche (which also keeps many charter schools from starting up):

Accountability, in most industries or professions, usually takes two forms. First and foremost, markets impose accountability: if people don’t choose the goods or services you’re offering, you go out of business. Second, high-performing companies develop internal accountability requirements keyed to market-based demands.

Public education lacks both kinds of accountability. It is essentially a government-run monopoly. Whether a school does well or poorly, it will get the students it needs to stay in business, because most kids have no other choice. And that, in turn, creates no incentive for better performance, greater efficiency, or more innovation—all things as necessary in public education as they are in any other field.

Klein had a few good takeaway points:

…we unions talk reform, but firing incompetent teachers will never be a real part of that.

Change is possible. In New York City, it took a mayor willing to assume control over the system and risk significant political capital. It required time—Mayor Bloomberg and I had more than eight years together, while most urban superintendents serve for about three and a half years. It required taking risks, knowing that not every change will work out and that your critics will focus mercilessly on those that don’t. But most of all, it required building community and political support.

McKinsey estimates that the benefits of bringing our educational levels up to those of the highest-performing countries would have raised our gross domestic product by about $2 trillion in 2008.

Finally, Al Shanker spoke in 1993 about the school system:

 We are at the point that the auto industry was at a few years ago. They could see they were losing market share every year and still not believe that it really had anything to do with the quality of the product I think we will get—and deserve—the end of public education through some sort of privatization scheme if we don’t behave differently. Unfortunately, very few people really believe that yet. They talk about it, and they don’t like it, but they’re not ready to change and stop doing the things that brought us to this point.

Paul Farhi offers a contrarian (but much shorter) opinion.