Tag Archives: education

This is the American Way¡

I recently heard that the inverted exclamation point is used to denote irony which is why I used it in the title of this post – This is the American Way¡ – and after reading the following you’ll hopefully agree that it’s appropriate. Dateline New York:

PS 120 in Flushing held a carnival for its students Thursday, but kids whose parents did not pay $10 were forced to sit in the auditorium while their classmates had a blast.

Close to 900 kids went to the Queens schoolyard affair, with pre-K to fifth-grade classes taking turns, each spending 45 minutes outside. The kids enjoyed inflatable slides, a bouncing room and a twirly teacup ride. They devoured popcorn and flavored ices. DJs blasted party tunes.

But more than 100 disappointed kids were herded into the darkened auditorium to just sit or watch an old Disney movie while aides supervised — the music, shouts and laughter outside still audible…

Principal Joan Monroe tacked up a list of the number of students per class: “How many attending, Paid,” and “How many not attending, Not paid.”

On Thursday morning, Monroe used the school loudspeaker to remind teachers to send in a list of kids who did not pay.

While teachers were handed a bag of little stuffed animals to give kids who paid for the carnival, one withheld them until she could add her own gifts for the half-dozen or so kids in her class who didn’t go.

She may not have meant it, but I’d say the principal gave her students a real life lesson in how things work in the world beyond the walls of PS 120. Of course if the kids whose parents didn’t pay had been allowed to attend then I know a few people who would say, “Well, they’re getting a good lesson in how our entitlement society works.” Still, I can’t imagine anyone thinking this is the right approach to take with these kids. If it’s an event taking place after school hours at which admission is tied to the money paid then at least the kids whose parents didn’t/couldn’t pay aren’t confronted with the sight of their classmates participating while they can’t, but doing this during the school day when they can’t help but wonder why they’re being “punished”? That’s just stupid.

That Degree in English Might Finally Get Some Respect

I might need to dust off the old resume, because apparently my English degree makes me a hot commodity:

…the skills you develop as an English major are the skills American business always says it needs more of: critical thinking, analytical ability, and the ability to communicate clearly. That was true 32 years ago and it remains true today. Those skills will prepare you for jobs that don’t even exist yet. I know that’s true because they did for me.

In fact, American business’s global competitors are finding they need the same skills, and that their job-focused college educations aren’t providing the people they need who have those skills. So they’re retooling their higher education along the U.S.’s traditional liberal-arts model.

And if you don’t believe Lex, well then check out this piece from American Express that he linked to. The article outlines some of the skills that employers are looking for that English majors have in spades; communication, writing, researching, critical thinking and empathy. That’s all great and good, but if you really want to be a stud you still might need to add a specific area of expertise to those broad skills:

The Association of American Colleges and Universities conducted a recent survey of what employers want from new hires. Its survey report, It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success, shows that more than half of business executives want college graduates to have not only field-specific knowledge and skills, but a broad range of skills and knowledge. They place less value on the undergraduate major and more on a capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems. In an interview, Debra Humphreys, vice president at The AACU, said that the economic downturn has “put a premium on college graduates who are really multifaceted … people who have both broad knowledge and skills, as well as field-specific skills.” According to Humphreys, this concern has intensified over the years.

So if I dust of that resume I might want to consider adding a line to the education section. As an English major I’m sure I’d find a second degree, perhaps in nuclear engineering, to be a piece of cake.

West Forsyth High School Receives Accolades

The high school that all three of my kids attended (youngest is about to graduate) is one of the best in NC and in the top 400 in the nation according to US News & World Report:

West Forsyth High School ranks #2 and Lucy Ragsdale High ranks #6 in North Carolina, according to the publication.

In the 2014 rankings, 34 North Carolina schools received silver medals and 61 received bronze medals. The only two schools that earned gold medals were Green Hope High in Cary and West Forsyth High in Clemmons.

According to the publication, at West Forsyth High School “students have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement® course work and exams. The AP participation rate at West Forsyth High is 61 percent. The student body makeup is 51 percent male and 49 percent female, and the total minority enrollment is 32 percent. West Forsyth High is 1 of 15 high schools in the Forsyth County Schools.”

A Teacher Walks Away

Man, this is some incredible writing:

I resigned from my middle school job last month. Looking back, the only thing more difficult than leaving my students was the job itself. On my first day of teaching – an exhilarating, uplifting nine-hour whirlwind of joy – I wondered where this job had been all my life. On my last day, I sat fell into my chair wondering how I lasted so long…

When people asked me what I did for a living I gave them what they wanted to hear: “I’m a teacher,” I’d say.

What I wanted to say is, “What do I do for a living? Every day I walk into a classroom and discover worlds I never knew existed.”

Like CJ’s world, in which his mother keeps him home whenever she’s feeling lonely and depressed. Like Remy’s world, in which he came to this country after watching a warlord shoot his father to death back in Africa. Like Tyra’s world, in which she writes letters every week in class to her father in jail. She’s still waiting on him to write back. Like Angel’s world, in which he has a perfect attendance and regularly stays after school for tutoring – if only to escape going home to Mom and Dad’s arguing. Like Justin’s world, in which he and his two brothers and cousin take turns sleeping on a single bed each night.

A teacher is more than just someone who fills your child with knowledge and makes them “globally competitive,” whatever in the hell that means. They make many of their students happy, well-adjusted human beings and instill in them the audacity to believe they can be more then what they ever dreamed they could be.

Maya Angelou, whose stories we read in class this year, once wrote “of all the needs a lonely child has … the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God.”

I’ll count those 19 months in a classroom a success if just one of my students thought I was their Kingdom Come.

Poorly Educated Poor White Women Dying Young

From a story in The American Prospect:

Everything about Crystal’s life was ordinary, except for her death. She is one of a demographic—white women who don’t graduate from high school—whose life expectancy has declined dramatically over the past 18 years. These women can now expect to die five years earlier than the generation before them. It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. Throughout history, technological and scientific innovation have put death off longer and longer, but the benefits of those advances have not been shared equally, especially across the race and class divides that characterize 21st–century America. Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.

The journal Health Affairs reported the five-year drop in August. The article’s lead author, Jay Olshansky, who studies human longevity at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a team of researchers looked at death rates for different groups from 1990 to 2008. White men without high-school diplomas had lost three years of life expectancy, but it was the decline for women like Crystal that made the study news. Previous studies had shown that the least-educated whites began dying younger in the 2000s, but only by about a year. Olshansky and his colleagues did something the other studies hadn’t: They isolated high-school dropouts and measured their outcomes instead of lumping them in with high-school graduates who did not go to college.

The last time researchers found a change of this magnitude, Russian men had lost seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when they began drinking more and taking on other risky behaviors. Although women generally outlive men in the U.S., such a large decline in the average age of death, from almost 79 to a little more than 73, suggests that an increasing number of women are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. “We actually don’t know the exact reasons why it’s happened,” Olshansky says. “I wish we did.”…

Researchers have long known that high-school dropouts like Crystal are unlikely to live as long as people who have gone to college. But why would they be slipping behind the generation before them? James Jackson, a public-health researcher at the University of Michigan, believes it’s because life became more difficult for the least-educated in the 1990s and 2000s. Broad-scale shifts in society increasingly isolate those who don’t finish high school from good jobs, marriageable partners, and healthier communities. “Hope is lowered. If you drop out of school, say, in the last 20 years or so, you just had less hope for ever making it and being anything,” Jackson says. “The opportunities available to you are very different than what they were 20 or 30 years ago. What kind of job are you going to get if you drop out at 16? No job.”

If you were to poll folks here in the Piedmont of North Carolina you would find a lot of people who agree with this premise. We're in the midst of a tectonic shift from a manufacturing-based economy to a knowledge-based economy and there are a lot of people who once made a good living with their high school (or less) education who are now struggling to keep their heads above water. Scary, scary stuff.


Those Bright Lonely People

An interesting observation about really smart people:

One downfall of being particularly bright is that you are often lonely.  You see and think of stuff that most other people don’t see or understand, so it can be hard to feel a genuine connection with most others.  What is really exciting to you goes right over the heads of most others.  As you get older this gets to be easier to solve by finding your flock, but I think loneliness in the formative years always sticks to you.  

Another downfall is that exceptionally bright people have a high drop-out rate from school, particularly high school. It seems counterintuitive until you spend a day in our public school system.  Bright kids see school as not providing any useful information and find it creates a lot of boring busy work.  On that note, a really great topic for you to explore is the economic impact of the teacher’s union’s stronghold on the American public education system. 

As the parent of children much brighter than myself I'm inclined to agree that it's often hard to understand them, but luckily I haven't seen them exhibit much loneliness. As for the teacher's union, that would be a question worth exploring.

Importance of Being an Information Omnivore

How much time do you spend at work looking at information that would be classified as outside the realm of your expertise or not part of your core job description? If your answer is "very little" then you could be setting yourself up for eventual failure or at a minimum unnecessarily limiting your ability to succeed. Why? Because you need to understand not just your world, but the universe in which your world exists.

If you need an example you need look no further than what has happened to many people in the newspaper industry. 15 years ago many newspapers were riding high, boasting fat profit margins and enjoying monopolies in their markets. Then they were blindsided by what the internet represented – a distributed network of information sharing that pushed them from the center of the daily information ecosystem. Should the folks working in the newspaper industry have seen it coming? In retrospect it's easy to say yes, but at the time the vast majority of them had not an inkling of what the internet/web was about and so could not conceive how they might be able to utilize it to beat their competition, much less prevent it from decimating their entire business.

But what if some of the senior newspaper execs had spent the late '80s or early '90s looking at the larger universe of information distribution, looking at their circulation operations as one form of information distribution and figuring out how these new forms of distribution could change their business? It's quite likely that some did, and surely there are publishers out there who can point back to efforts at starting fax-based updates, email alerts, etc. But how many truly took the time to understand the underlying shift in information flow, to grasp how the new technology would be adopted by their customers and how they might shift to meet those changing consumption patterns? It's pretty plain by the state of the industry today that not many succeeded if they tried.

Over the last few years the big shift for many industries has been the rapidly expanding adoption of smartphones (over 50% of the US market now uses smartphones), but anyone who's been paying attention has seen it coming and hopefully has been adjusting to address this new reality. But what's next? What's the next big shift in how we do business going to be? It could be something related to Bitcoin, and the why is explained by venture capitalist Fred Wilson in a blog post he wrote to explain his firm's investment in a company called Coinbase:

We believe that Bitcoin represents something fundamental and powerful, an open and distributed Internet peer to peer protocol for transferring purchasing power. It reminds us of SMTP, HTTP, RSS, and BitTorrent in its architecture and openness. Like what happened with those other low level protocols, entrepreneurs and developers are now building technology on top of Bitcoin to make it more useful, more accessible, and more secure.

This has the smell of something important because it could potentially change how companies exchange services for compensation. What's more fundamental to a business than that? More importantly, how much could something like that change your business? Well, how much did the wide adoption of credit cards change business 30+ years ago? But that only offers part of the answer since this feels like something that eases transactions like credit cards did, but expands the market like the web did.  And who could this new development threaten? The banks are a good bet.

So who thinks that bankers truly understand what this could represent? Sure, they see it and they think about it, but how many truly understand the tectonic shift going on beneath the surface. Probably not many, because you can bet there probably aren't many bankers who have stopped counting their money long enough to try and understand this "Bitcoin World" and they could suffer the fate that many newspapers have over the last ten years.

That's where the title of this post comes into play. It is vitally important for all of us to be information omnivores, because you must understand the larger context in which you're working and living. While you don't need to understand all the technology that underlies what we do, just like you don't have to know how an internal combustion engine works to understand the affect of cars, you do need to understand how their application and adoption will affect your business or your life. How do you do this? Simply by being curious. Watch TED talks, read articles in trade magazines from industries that aren't your own, read the blogs of experts in other fields, take a class at a local community college or take a free class from one of the online programs like Coursera. The possibilities are almost endless and even if you never apply the information you glean to your day job you'll know something you wouldn't have otherwise. Worst case scenario you'll probably get better at Trivial Pursuit and you'll be able to wow people at dinner parties with your amazing grasp of (seemingly) worthless knowledge. More likely you'll find that your newfound knowledge will come in handy in ways you never anticipated.

Student Privacy Concerns Raised for Tech Project Tied to Guilford County Schools

inBloom is a tech project funded largely by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation that is seeking to improve education through data.  One of the school districts participating in the project is Guilford County Schools.  The inBloom initiative was announced about two months ago by what was then called the Social Learning Collaborative. Now that inBloom has been out there a while it's starting to get some attention from parents and advocates, and they aren't real keen on what they're finding as it relates to their children's privacy. There's some noise being made by some folks in New York (more about that below), but so far it doesn't seem to be of concern to anyone in Guilford County. 

Before we get to the privacy issue let's look at what inBloom is trying to do. Here's what you find on the inBloom "Vision" page of its website:

inBloom is dedicated to bringing together the data, content and tools educators need to make personalized learning a reality for every student. To achieve this vision, inBloom:

  • Offers states and districts a secure technology infrastructure to integrate data, services and applications that work together to support personalized learning.
  • Partners with education technology companies, content providers and developers to support the creation of products compatible with this infrastructure.
  • Works with states and districts to help them use this infrastructure to support educators and students.

Seems like a worthy pursuit and they go on to stress on the same webpage that "We recognize the sensitivity of storing student data and place the utmost importance on the privacy and security of that data." They have a full page dedicated to their privacy commitment.

Well as mentioned above some folks in New York aren't satisfied with inBlooms assurances. From the Village Voice:

Parents and advocates opposed to the new initiative believe it will put sensitive student information at risk and allow companies to capitalize on data that parents never consented to release.

The New York State Education Department says that districts have been sharing this kind of information for nearly a decade, and that the new initiative simply enables that data to be shared in a safer, more efficient fashion…

Disciplinary records, attendance records, special-needs records, testing records, addresses, phones numbers, email-addresses and birth-dates are among some of the data that can be shared with the third-party vendors contracting with state and city districts.

Opponents of inBloom are outraged by the prospect of corporations profiting from student information that parents never consented to release…

NYSED has a different take.
"I'm not sure there's consent involved. This is regular student information that when parents register a child for school. They give up," Tom Dunn, spokesman for NYSED tells the Voice.  

New things are always scary, especially to parents. Most parents understand that to a degree their childrens' information is "public" as soon as they enter the school system, but they also are accustomed to getting those release forms from school that say it's okay to use their childrens' images from a school event on the website, or if a reporter is going to be at the school for an event the parents get a form asking for permission for their child's name to be used. Thus it is entirely reasonable for parents to be upset if they find out after the fact that their childrens' personal info is being used without them proactively giving their permission.

It's also reasonable for parents to be worried because there are private, third-party vendors involved. Given the raft of data breaches at credit card companies, banks, governmental agencies and other entities entrusted with our personal info you can understand how parents might feel their children are being made vulnerable by this kind of program.

Even if the goal of the program is noble, and the intent pure, it would behoove the participating school districts to aggressively inform the parents and public of what they're doing with the students' information even if they aren't required to by law. That would go a long way towards a successful implementation of the program, and quite frankly it might be critical to the success of the program. If parents don't buy in, or actively try to opt out on behalf of their children, then the program's doomed to failure anyway so the schools might as well get buy in from the get-go.