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Posts tagged education

Some fascinating news out of the One Laptop Per Child project. Just given a box of these laptops, with no instructions, Ethiopian children discovered the device had a camera and figured out how to enable it.

MIT has installed memory cards that record how the devices are used and one of their founders reports:

We left the boxes in the village. Closed. Taped shut. No instruction, no human being. I thought, the kids will play with the boxes! Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, but found the on/off switch. He’d never seen an on/off switch. He powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs [in English] in the village. And within five months, they had hacked Android. Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera! And they figured out it had a camera, and they hacked Android.

Fascinating.

 

Good ol’ Krugman,  once again leaving out important facts in order to wiggle his way into finding some Republican fiscal responsibility for any and all messes.

In his usual way, Mr. Krugman gets straight to the point with this:

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

What he fails to point out is that the majority of the Texas budget is spent both on healthcare and education. How do I know this? Texas conveniently publishes a fact book that you can find here (2010). Page 33 is what you are wanting to read, of $77.6 billion in state revenue, 56.3% was spent on education and 22.8% on health and human services. That amounts to around $43.6 billion spent on education (higher education and public education) and $17.7 billion spent on health and human services. The next closest item on the budget is criminal justice and public safety, which received 9.4% of the state’s budget or $7.3 billion.

Krugman is insinuating that we do not spend enough and that budget cuts will have a deep impact across the state. There’s no doubt that there will be a hit on health and human services but I think the problem is how the funds are being spent within their different agencies, not in the amount the agencies have received before. A lot of mid-sized school districts are estimating $14 million to $20 million a year being cut from their budgets if the plan goes through. If 85% of a district’s money is being spent on personnel, I’d like to see who’s earning what. My money is on the admin side making a decent chunk of change. Maybe some cuts can be made in the admin buildings without making a dent in teacher numbers.

The Texas budget crisis is this, they could cut all other department funding completely and would still have to cut some out of education and health and human services. Tax revenue for the state has dropped to around 2006 levels, which begs the question, why can’t we return to 2006 spending levels? Technically we could, but it would still require personnel cuts in education. The real question is, would it have dire consequences on your children if their classroom size jumped to 30? The research says that the jury is still out on class size having anything to do with graduation rate. Krugman is simply echoing what school districts are screaming across the state which is, “Call your representative! Education is going to die in Texas!”. It’s a little extreme isn’t it? Especially since the estimated budgets for the schools would simply return to 2005 numbers. Have our graduation rates really gone up that much since then? No.

On the chopping block for education are a litany of programs, including parts of the TELPAS program, an assessment for English language learners. While I’m sure the motives behind the program were good, the program has grown to be a beast both in terms of money and in time. And it’s what we are doing with the information we glean from the assessment that is so worrisome. Rather than spending extra time specifically with students who are not English proficient, a lot of districts simply slow the entire class down, in order to avoid the student from feeling awkward. Education’s role is not keeping a student’s social life intact, it’s to educate them.

Another item that people keep insisting would help us is dipping into the state’s rainy day fund, which sits around $9.7 billion. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, knock down our deficit to $18 billion with our entire savings account, sounds like a stellar plan. Instead, let’s keep that money for a time when we really, really need it.

One of the things I am actually in agreement with Krugman on is the issue of taxes. Most of the state’s budget comes from sales tax and I would be alright with a 1% increase in the tax, taking the rate up to 9.25% (includes local and county collection). Before you tell me how I’m not conservative, let me just explain why this is an acceptable compromise. By raising the sales tax rate, you are not increasing franchise fees or “punishing” the poor, you are simply making it a little more expensive for people to consume. Since a lot of items are not taxable, people have the ability to avoid the taxes or significantly minimize them. The other plus is that sales tax is easy to roll back, while things like franchise taxes and property taxes have a nasty way of sticking around after being implemented.

In the end, something has to give. Either a slight tax increase, budget cuts, or a little bit of both is necessary to get this thing under control. Go to your school board meetings, look at their budget. If they are spending a lot more on administrators than on teachers, call it in to question. Maybe they can make cuts around your district without actually affecting the class room.

A quick thought for Tuesday. A lot of the hubbub over education involves funding, or the lack thereof. The notion that education is underfunded is not supported by fact, instead, the facts point the other direction, that federal education spending has seen enormous growth since the 1960s.

Maybe we should be looking at how money is spent rather than how much money is doled out. Being in the education field I can guarantee that there is a lot to learn.

In the web and software development world there has been a saying that the “tools don’t make the developer”, meaning the tools I use to write software do not affect the outcome as much as my abilities as a programmer. Over the years we have seen more and more technology pushed into the classroom under the camouflage of making life easier for teachers and improving student’s learning. I would submit that we’ve actually done the opposite, we have created a monster that requires technology to do the simplest of tasks. Education needs to learn from the software world and understand that the tools don’t make the student.

There are basic skills that students need to have to succeed in middle school and high school and if they choose, college. A lot of the skills have to do with fundamentals, basic math, reading, and writing. With the fundamentals in place, it is not hard to expand and continue the learning process. The issue facing schools now is wanting to expose students to technology and “easier” ways of completing tasks leading to a drop in the student’s ability to do such tasks without the technology. A basic example of this is calculators in elementary school. Why is that needed? If students are not able to do basic math without the use of a calculator, they need to retake the class. Using the excuse that a student is, “just not good at math”, is a terrible way to go forward. If that particular student does not learn how to do long division now how are they ever going to master geometry or calculus?

This is not a bashing of technology, it is simply a wakeup call. When I learned to create webpages I was using the most basic of tools, Windows Notepad. I struggled with aspects of the code, but the tool never helped me and because of that, I would argue I am a better developer.

I’m hoping this topic, Technology and Education, will become a regular one on the site.