Wednesday, November 05, 2014
½ of a good book
Keeping with the education theme, I decide to read "Building a better teacher
", which ended up being half of a good book. The first portion was sad reading about the failed effort at Michigan State - heart wrenching knowing how much effort the well meaning parties had put into the effort. A specific example to make a general point - previous efforts at improving education had failed.
The second ½ was more of a "how to" book focusing on specific skills - The Discipline of discipline for example, so ended up leaving the book disjoint. Perhaps when this book is updated in a decade or so when some of the school improvement efforts have reached maturity, it will tell a better story.
So far, of the three education books that I've read, The Smartest Kids in the World is still the best book, evaluating the 3 on what makes a good book - good narrative arc, characters you can care about. The other books (also including Paying for the Party - by far the weakest of the three) are both well meaning, they both lacked the proper structure of what a good story should be, and even non-fiction title should ultimately tell a good story.
There are some common threads in the literature that I've read - teachers should be highly screened & continually trained....and highly paid. We've reached testing overkill in this country. Beyond that, not sure what common conclusions one could draw beyond, we've spent a ton of $$$ and resources that have gone to waste.
Monday, September 08, 2014
A book not to recommend
I read Crooked Timber's enthusiastic write-up of Paying for the Party
so decided to read it as part of my recent foray into education themed book (another blog also reviewed it positively - Hullabaloo?). To be honest, I could not flog myself through it - somewhere around chapter 3, i started skip/skimming chapters until the end. Unlike Smartest Kids in the World, where the author followed three students, so you had some sense of their character and travails, by contrast, the multitude of students followed in PftP were reduced to cultural stereotypes - Middle Class/under achiever/procreation. That last column description seemed odd to me - did all the women label procreation really get pregnant/have babies so soon? Or did marriage count as procreation. I never to get a sense that the authors thesis was correct - college reinforces inequality - though given that I only read perhaps 20%, maybe there was some basis.
In the end, it's still personal choice that matters. I had a friend who was also in engineering and had a good co-op job, but when his funding ran out, he dropped out of school & then lost his job. Later he found out that the school would have given him retroactive credit for the semester & if he had one more semester under his belt, he would have kept his job. Circumstances were against him, but his personal choices also mattered, so putting the blame on the college party/greek system lets the students off the hook.
Back to the general debate about education. Several themes are clear in most (all?) of the discussion that I've read.
- Too much testing. Obviously some benchmarking is needed, but with "No Child Left Behind" it reached an excessive level. (Personal note - since Taryl Jr is just starting 3rd grade, we haven't had any standardized testing to date).
- Teacher training. A critique from Smartest kids is that NCLB has the idea backwards. No screening of teachers, just toss them out if they're no good once they are in schools. To wit - product not process. This aspect is changing as the schools all have teacher development - especially our current charter school.
A couple of negative trends that I have witnessed are:
- Too long a school year - mid-June to mid-August is summer vacation now.
- Too much homework - who thinks homework in kindergarten is a good idea? Additionally, our local elementary school's principal forced the teachers to give homework the last week of class after the teachers had stopped. 1st grade teacher had an old teaching assistant, who gave ~45 minutes/day of homework. Have always believed that was so she would have something to do since she was physically unable to perform other classroom duties. Am happy that the current teacher subscribes to the "10 minutes per grade" (30 minutes for 3rd graders) rule of thumb this year.
Back to NYTimes
magazine section on education.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Reviewing the Smartest Kids in the World
Obviously a byproduct of having a school age child, so I've recently finished "The Smartest Kids in the World" and will read "Paying for the Party" next.
Ripley's key points:
- Finns have the smartest kids in the world because their teachers are the best - highly selective to become one.
- She critiques No Child Left Behind for focusing on getting rid of existing bad teachers, but no effort on improving the screening for incoming quality (in my profession it would be called "inspecting quality in" or "product not process").
- Tracking is bad. Hadn't thought about the issue as I never noticed tracking to much of a degree when growing up - obviously that could be because I was tracked into a better track or path (e.g. magnet high school) - and hear I agree with her point. If you tell/imply/infer to a group that they are inferior, they will live down to your expectations.
- S. Korea produces smart kids because of a national mania for meritocracy. Do not recall a single example of any good comments about the Korean schools & Ripley notes that she saw a kid full R.E.M. sleeping in class. By contrast, the kids all cram post-school to achieve high test scores.
- Don't really remember much about Poland or why it was really included.
- PISA test tells whether you're the smartest kid in the world or not. Recall NAEP being mentioned a time or two (did not keep book, so cannot footnote as one critic did); PIRLS not even once; TIMSS, I did not recall, but per the harsh critic, it did come up when discussing Minnesota.
- Too much emphasis on sports in the US.
- There's a negative correlation between high tech aids and scholastic achievement.
Personal observations on tests and schooling:
Since my son is currently about to enter third grade, I haven't had any experience with the four standardized tests mentioned above - given that I scored well on the PSAT, SAT, GRE, and GMAT, I expect that my son will score well on them as well - will be curious to see the results. I recall taking standardized tests in elementary school - for one of them, I was bused to my brother's more well to do private school to take one of the tests since my school was not quite a "one room schoolhouse" but reasonably close - 3rd, 4th, and 5th grader shared a class.
Where does the money go? I keep reading that overall amounts of money for education have increased, but the first public school T attended, only had a PE teacher because the parents paid his salary. There was 1½ janitors for a school of 400 kids, so one of the dads donated a vacuum and vacuumed the rug in the kindergarten - another kindergarten teacher borrowed the vacuum one time for her room.
The fund raising seemed relentless - a dad at my work said "just tell me how much money you want, but stop nagging me & coming up with fund raisers."
Overall I would give the neighborhood school a B-. If I compared it to my "one room schoolhouse", it had an outside play area, a library, and a garden, so certainly better facilities. We actually used to walk 2½ blocks over to a French Quarter playground, and periodically we would walk to a public library in Faubourg-Marigny (long gone & replaced by a nursing home). There were definitely some negatives; very cliquish and the B- was really their max.
Current school is a new bi-lingual charter school borrowing part of a facility, but despite that handicap (and the loss of facilities is a loss), I would still give them a B with upside. The jury will remain out on the upside until they move to their final campus two years from now, but it has a better feel than the neighborhood school - yes, that is difficult to quantify.
The focus on a longer school year & homework is horrible. 45 minutes of homework in first grade (believe that was because the teaching assistant was an old lady who used a cane, so could do little beyond producing dull homework and grading it). Why cheat the children of a good break? Believe that both of these trends are a result of the "our children are falling behind the smartest kids in the world mantra."
Teacher continuing education/workshops/training. Did not exist in my day. Do not recall a single early day or school days off for seminars (obviously memories are flawed & i was in elementary school well nigh 50 years ago), but would recall if there were multiple days off. A nice bennie for the teachers, but does it really improve them or is it more a morale boast? Will say that the jury is still out, and it's past 11 so time to post.
Sunday, February 02, 2014
Finally had to give up watching Treme
A bit curious how it all ended - did the 'Bama gal make a success at her second attempt at running a restaurant? Did the ne're-do-well ever produce an album? Not sure how much I cared about the rest. But i felt like watching was a civic obligation due to being a New Orleans ex-pat, but I just wanted to get it over with. By contrast, I've really enjoyed binge watching Orange is new Black, and look forward to seeing the rest of the season. Final verdict - too many characters; too little feel for the area; too little reason to care.
Sunday, June 02, 2013
Engineering Education needs to arrive in the 21st century
My nephew is in town for a co-op summer at an engineering firm and he mentioned taking 5 math classes (3 calculus plus differential equations and linear algebra). Did not hit me until later how outmoded that curriculum is. I also took 5 semesters of math (3 calculus, 1 differential equations, and a grab bag course - Fourier analysis & Laplace transform & pde).
Based on what I've seen at work for the past 25 years, the courses that are needed by engineers now are intermediate stats, DoE, and tech writing. Obviously being a Quality Engineer shades my judgement, but knowing the U & H distributions, being introduced to the log-normal and Weibull, learning that Purpose comes before procedure and parallelism are far more needed for most engineers than DifEQ.
Curious what courses other engineers believe are lacking in college engineering courses from engineers working in other disciplines.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
Predictions for January 2017
Had friendly facebook argument with old co-worker on what would happen before the end of Obama's term. My predictions were sort of fun house mirror of his. Four months old now, but easier for me to track here instead of on Facebook - believe my predictions have held up well for the past ~4 months:
1 The national debt will add roughly $1 trillion/annum.
2. Given how bad the multiple rating agencies were pre-crash, why should we care about them.
3. Gold will breach $1250 per ounce before dropping again.
4. Official unemployment will continue to creep down ever so slowly and go below 7 percent before the next recession.
5. Folks will still be on food stamps.
6. Core inflation will average less than 4% per annum.
7. Top marginal federal tax rates will stay where it is - most recent bill.
8. Gas prices on Avalon will continue exceed $6 per gallon and even hit $8/gallon.
9. capital will have some form of control
10. There will be no food lines in the US.
11. There will be no major terrorist attack will occur on U.S. soil. There will of course be underwear bombers or shoe bombers or LAX shooters or...
12. The U.S. military will be involved throughout the African continent as it already is.
13. There will be NO form of gun confiscation .
14. The National Guard troops will not be sent to several major metropolitan areas to quell rioting.
15. Non-weaponized drones over American cities will become commonplace.
16. Every form of personal communication will be recorded, stored, and processed, with persons of interest having dossiers compiled.
17. Republicans will blame Democrats; Democrats will reciprocate. Nothing will be accomplished, but despite that we'll still muddle through somehow.
18. Hillary Clinton will never become president.
Saturday, April 13, 2013
The Ginger haired yank has produced spending most of the summer in staycation mode, so decided to make a scavenger list of potential staycation activities:
New items for me:
New items for progeny:
Not new, but haven't been for a long time:
For a first cut, those are the ones that come to mind. Suggestions from others somewhat new to the area?
Update: 2nd cut adding 2 more museums