Monday, January 30, 2006

Distracted in Rome ...

Last week I highlighted school-stories from Utica. This week Rome has stolen the education spotlight.

Lab, RCS partner on cyber security. This is pretty interesting. In a partnership between AFRL, Syracuse U and Rome Catholic School, a course will be offered at RCS in cyber security as a "technical" elective. I feel a bit uncomfortable when K-12 curriculum gets tailored around the needs of particular industry, particularly when it sounds like recruiting before students know enough to lock into a career choice. Is such highly specialized fare appropriate for high school when the subject matter may be irrelevant by the time the student enters the work place? The shelf life for software is pretty short. In this age of Windows XP (soon to be supplanted by Vista), is training in MS-DOS still useful? Maybe this is OK for students who plan to immediately enter the job market on high school graduation -- and no one is forced to take it because it is an elective. However, I think students continuing their education might be better served by something more general that would provide a better foundation for specialization LATER in life.

In Rome students to get leg up on fun workout we find out about climbing walls being installed in 8 elementary schools. This just could be the cure for the obese "couch-potatoes" we've been told we are raising! I only hope that (1) the kids are supervised while using the walls, (2) there is a school nurse in the house, and (3) the schools are ready for a lawsuit when someone gets hurt.

In School program focuses on distracted driving, we are treated to students with faces painted white and going to class escorted by the "Grim Reaper" -- all to remind students of the highway deaths caused by distracted drivers. More events are planned throughout the year. Well, what about the DISTRACTION FROM EDUCATION that this entails? This involves someone getting a grant (the typical underlying factor) to infringe on valuable school time to advance a particular cause. It seems like every special interest group or teacher or principal with a pet interest is vying for airtime with the kids. No wonder we have so many functional illiterates. No one denies the problem with distracted driving -- but if this is such a problem among young people, then target the effort where it will do the most good: Driver's Ed and the DMV manuals and testing. Walking around school in costume is nonsense.

Technorati Tags:

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Urban Sprawl: The bill becomes due! Now ... Who pays?

A few days ago the Observer-Dispatch treated us to the story of the Road to growth , which tantalized us with visions of new stores, homes and a business park. The prospects generated buzz and more buzz. I previously noted that this so-called "growth" is really "sprawl" because our region's population is not growing, and that it would ultimately result in increased costs.

Well ... It looks like the first bill for our "growth" just came due. State: Sewage overflow into Mohawk must stop. It seems that a "spate of recent development" (note the term "growth" isn't used) has overloaded the Sauquoit Creek sewer line to the point where raw sewage is spilling into the Mohawk River. The state wants it stopped. The study alone to solve the problem is estimated at $3-5 million. Supervisor Shannon does not see it as a Whitestown problem. Note that no comment apparently was sought from New Hartford's supervisor.

While some development in Whitestown has occurred and more is planned, everyone knows that most of the "spate of recent development" has actually occurred in the Town of New Hartford. New Hartford encouraged this "growth" to expand ITS tax base. Unless New Hartford now wants to share the benefits of its expanded tax base with the other communities comprising Greater Utica, it seems only fitting that New Hartford should bear the FULL COST of what it caused.

Hopefully the costs of the "growth" will not be "regionalized" without also regionalizing the benefits.

Technorati Tags:

Monday, January 23, 2006

How to Get More Math and Science Teachers . . . and Engineers ...

A proposed scholarship program to solve the shortage in Math/Science teachers is again in the news -- this time in the Rome Sentinel article How to get more math and science teachers. The article also expresses concern that the number of engineering graduates has decreased 20% since 1985 while the demand is increasing. As usual, the response is to throw money at problems, avoiding the causes. Here are three possible causes of students staying away from math, science and engineering:

(1) Students do not have an adequate foundation to be successful. When you don't know the basics, its hard to understand higher level math and science classes in school, or engineering courses in college. This makes these subjects "too difficult" to be interesting or enjoyable, or impossible to master.

(2) Time is wasted in activities with other students. Students these days are often required to spend their time with other students working on projects to "construct" their own knowledge rather than being directly instructed by the teacher. An example of this approach is spending four weeks studying and designing the soles of sneakers, so students can discover how "science is used to solve real-world problems." I could not imagine either being a student in such a class, or teaching it. Boredom and drudgery is a sure-fire way to drive students and teachers alike from math and science.

(3) Textbooks (when they are used) are uninteresting. I remember my Earth Science textbook back in 1962: colorful, easy to read and understand. The book (plus a really great teacher) made what I expected to be a boring subject interesting, and led to my majoring in it in college. My child's recent Earth Science textbook, however, was all black-and-white and "business." It was difficult to understand and had things in it that were far too advanced, such as phase diagrams of rock composition (something I did not encounter until I took a graduate level course in petrology.) The book was a real "turn off."

If we want more math and science teachers, and more engineers, let's fix the things that drive away potential candidates.

Technorati Tags

Sunday, January 15, 2006

In the MoVa?

Down in Amsterdam, Dan has no confusion over where he lives: Why, in the MOHAWK VALLEY, of course!

But up HERE at the western terminus of that valley, we seem to be going through an "Identity Crisis" of sorts. We don't know what to call ourselves. Are we Western Mohawk Valley? Upper Mohawk Valley? Greater Utica? Utica-Rome? Rome-Utica? Utica-Rome Metro ? The Utica-Rome Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area? . . . .

This is no trivial matter. It is particularly distressing for marketing purposes. People need to know where you are if you want them to find you. Stewart Airport finds itself in a similar situation, just to show you how important this is.

Utica-Rome or Utica-Rome Metro are the most accurate (to include both cities and surrounding suburbs into Herkimer County and to place the names in order of historical prominance) and are easily found on a map. "Utica-Rome" however, seems to have fallen out of favor, though it was commonly heard in the 70s. There seems to be a desire to eliminate the "Utica" portion of the designation, in spite of its long and prominant history. "Upper Mohawk Valley" replaced the "Utica" in the Water Board -- and then all that recently morphed into the "Mohawk Valley" Water Authority even though it serves no further east than Schuyler. The Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce has nonsensically rebranded itself as the "Mohawk Valley" chamber even though it is primarily Utica area businesses and is "bookended" by the Rome and Herkimer chambers. (If New Hartfordites are behind this, they should just forget it. We don't need to be confused with a city in Connecticut.)

While the president of the "Mohawk Valley" Chamber is correct when he says that the "Mohawk Valley" is "a name that's been developed and people take pride in" he doesn't realize that he's talking about people from Schenectady to St. Johnsville! [If our Chamber is supposed to be the local expert in marketing, are we in trouble!]

I wonder what people like Dan think of all this?

Technorati Tags:

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ooooommmm-my! Schools are in the News

Lots of news about schools this past week.

The Lines Are Drawn in Fight to Add Charter Schools according to the NY Times. The State Senate panel urged to create math/science-focused schools according to the Albany Business Journal. And our illustrious Board of Regents may drop school age to 5 according to the Rochester D&C.

All these recommendations reflect a recognition that our SCHOOLS JUST AREN'T "CUTTING IT."

All these recommendations reflect the usual NY response to a problem: THROW MORE MONEY AT IT -- and by all means DO NOT LOOK FOR THE CAUSE -- it just might require finding fault.

Well, we're not called "Fault Lines" for nothing . . . .

Here's an example of what is wrong: OOOOOooooooommmmm! YOGA !!! ...

The Utica newspaper this past Sunday had an article about the weekly yoga classes being taught at Kernan Elementary by a social worker. [Why is a social worker teaching? And what are the students' teachers (who are paid to teach) doing while the kids are in yoga?] This is nothing against Yoga -- it is very relaxing ... but why are teachers or principals allowed to take up a period a week on a non-academic subject while our graduates can't make change?

We don't need more charter schools, specialized schools or more time in school. We need the schools we already have to focus on their task.

To get to the point: Schools waste time on irrelevant material, group projects, and ineffective/inefficient teaching methods -- resulting in graduates who are functionally illiterate and too much money out of our pockets. See the latest George Will spin on this.

SCHOOLS HAVE CREATED THEIR OWN NEED for smaller classes, teacher aides/assistants, more special education, more outside tutoring, etc. Since schools seem to get REWARDED with more resources when they do bad, there is no incentive for them to do good.

In the weeks ahead I will return to this topic as illustrative news stories pop-up ...

We have a real problem on our hands that will NOT be resolved by giving more to those in charge.

Happy New Year!

Technorati Tags:
Update 1/15/06: RomeHater comments on John Stossel's report about education in America. (A great show in case you missed it).