Life in the Classroom

What is the purpose of school? An article today from NPR on the fading away of “Home Ec” classes, combined with another article about LA Unified establishing the goal of preparing every grad for CSU or UC, got me thinking: Should we be preparing students for college, or for life? I think both, m’self.

When I was back in Junior High (and yes, we called it that), there were still shop classes for boys — wood, metalworking, electrical, drafting — and home ec — sewing, cooking — for girls. By the time I was in high school, the classes were still there but mixed sexes, plus there was auto shop and photography. We also had courses available in Driver Education and what was called “Health”, but it was really Sex Ed and teaching you what drugs were on the street.

Today that has changed, and there appear to be courses called life skills, but based on the NPR article, I’m not sure they are teaching the right stuff, however. I believe, that by the time you get out of high school, you should know the following life skills:

  • Basic cooking
  • Basic clothing repairs and sewing
  • Basic electrical and plumbing
  • Basic wall repair and painting
  • Basic car repair
  • Basic financial skills: balancing a checkbook, what a loan is, how interest works, what impacts your credit score, what insurance is and how it works
  • Basic legal skills: how to read a loan contract, how to read a rental contract
  • Basic driver education

In general, you should come out of high school with sufficient skills to “adult” on your own. But that’s not enough.

I agree that schools should prepare you for college. That doesn’t mean you should go, but they should not preclude the option beforehand. This goes well beyond the academic course prerequisites that UC or CSU require. It also includes “collegeing” skills — which are appropriate even for those going the vocational route. These include:

  • How to manage your time
  • How to write papers with convincing arguments
  • How to get up and speak and present findings
  • How to think critically, examine issues critically, and argue issues.
  • How to navigate the academic process: not only financial, but exploring the wide variety of post-high school education options

We’re just now seeing the impact of a generation that cannot critically think. It occupies an office that is neither rectilinear nor circular, but something that has two focii.


An Alphabet of Chum: From A to Almost Z

userpic=masters-voiceOur life is a litany of interesting news articles, of news chum, ripe for the discussion. Shall I enumerate? I shall.



Teach Your Children Well

userpic=ucla-csunToday’s lunchtime news chum brings together a collection of articles related to education:

  • The Middle “R”: The Ventura County Star has an interesting article on California’s writing standards: particularly, the standard that requires cursive to be taught. It’s an interesting debate: in this era where “typing”  (or is that “keyboarding”) is a required skill (when I grew up, it was optional), is there a need for two styles of writing: block and cursive? Is block sufficient? In particular, is block sufficient to provide a unique written signature upon which we still depend? As for me, I know my normal writing style is a mix of block and cursive, with a signature that doesn’t match either. But what about you? Do you still use cursive?
  • GPAs above 4.0. When I went to school, back in the dark ages, the best grade you could get was a 4.0; perhaps a 4.2 if you got an A+. Nowadays, AP classes permit even higher grades, and students are going to college with a whole portfolio of AP classes. Universities are fighting back. Here’s an example: Darthmouth has announced they will no longer accept AP credit. The concern is that AP courses do not resemble actual college courses in any way–for one thing, they are “teach to the standard test”.
  • Community Colleges. Community colleges are in trouble; in fact, the community college in San Francisco is on accreditation-watch and may close. So Gov. Brown is trying to rescue the institution (which is vitally important to the middle-and-lower tier HS students — it is a way to get the education HS didn’t provide and get the associates degree — a vital stepping stone to CSU or UC). Brown’s goal is to keep community colleges affordable, keep classes accessible and move students faster through the system to allow them to graduate or transfer to a four-year university at higher rates. His plan is to limit the number of credits students can accumulate, with a cap on state-subsidized classes at 90 units. Students who exceed that to pay the full cost of instruction, about $190 per semester unit versus $46 per unit. He would also change the funding formula to reflect students who complete the class, not students enrolled at the 3rd-week.
  • Online Courses. The Internet (founded, I should note, at my alma-mater UCLA) has revolutionized education. Earlier this week my daughter posted about the distance between two courses, noting that the second course (which was a 700 person Astronomy lecture) had a webcast that the professor was encouraging students to watch instead of attending†. The impact of the Internet is also seen in funding — based on direction from Gov. Brown, the UC Regents are exploring expanding online courses, although they are not sure whether they will make or save any money.  I think online courses can work if done right — in particular, they need the equivalent of face-to-face small sections to encourage student discussion and critical thinking on the topic. These sections could also be online, but if the online course is lecture only, it won’t be successful.
    [†: PS to my daughter if you are reading this: I encourage you to go the lectures anyway. Not only are you likely to meet interesting people outside of your discipline (History ≠ Astronomy), but you are likely to be able to see the board better, and being at the lecture will eliminate distractions.]
  • Paying for College. There were all sorts of things hidden in the fiscal cliff legislation — that probably doesn’t surprise you. Providing goodies to congresscritters (or there constituencies) is a way to get a bill through. I’ve previously mentioned the commuter benefit. Here’s another. The bill extended the American Opportunity Tax Credit. This credit “allows students and their parents to claim up to $2,500 a year for college expenses, (which) benefits 9 million families a year.” It also extended a few more tax deductions and credits until the end of 2013 and gave permanent status for employer-provided education expenses, the Student Loan Interest Deduction and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. I know that these will affect us — both the credit and the interest deduction (we are paying the interest on our daughter’s loans until she graduates). Alas, there may be some cuts to Federal Work Study programs.

Music: I Can Get It For You Wholesale (Original Broadway Cast): “The Sound of Money”


Campus News Chum

Sometime, lunchtime news chum themes just jell. Today’s is a good example: we have a collection of lunchtime stories related to college:

  • Automating Your Room. A UC Berkeley freshman has completely automated his dorm room in Unit 2 at UCB (presumably, in the high-rise tower; I can’t see this in a mini-suite). There’s an even more detailed article in the Daily Cal. Features of the room include a strobe light, a black light, a laser light and a disco ball, all of which can be turned on with buttons throughout the room, as well as with voice recognition software on his computer or an i-Phone app. The voice commands also activate different modes such as a party mode, which syncs dance music to green lasers that begin to flash at the press of a emergency red button. Did he get in trouble? According to the Daily Cal article,the residence hall policy states “misuse or tampering with fire safety equipment including, but not limited to, removal of doors, door closures, and unapproved posting is prohibited.” Because the student had various extension cords and light fixtures affixed throughout the room, a UCB electrician was sent Wednesday afternoon to assess the space, but nothing deserving of a violation was found.Despite the creative measures he took, residence hall officials have asked the student to appear at a judicial hearing this week because he is allegedly in violation of housing policies, and the room is a potential fire hazard.
  • Commencement Speeches. An interesting article in the WSJ looks at things they won’t tell you in your college commencement speech. Examples: #1 “Your time in fraternity basements was well spent”; #2 “Some of your worst days lie ahead”; #7 “Your parents don’t want what is best for you” (they want what is good for you, which is a different thing); and #8 “Don’t model your life after a circus animal”. Well worth reading for the explanations.
  • Community College Transfers. A common tactic here in California is for students to go to community colleges and then transfer to a UC. This saves a lot of money. But… it may not always work. UCSD has joined UCB and UCLA in no longer guaranteeing acceptance to community college transfers.
  • Loan Hostages. Lastly, student loans have been in the news of late. Here’s an interesting aspect that hasn’t been covered as much: Colleges often hold transcripts hostage when loans are unpaid. This can be a big deal if you need that transcript to get a job or apply to graduate school. Colleges don’t even need to do this, as they have already gotten the money.

Colleges have been on my mind of late as we prepare Erin for UC Berkeley. I don’t know if she’s excited to go; right now, she’s pissed that she didn’t get into her first choice schools (in particular, Reed in Portland OR). I do think Berkeley will be the best place for her given her quirkyness and variety of interests, but she doesn’t see that yet. I’m not sure when she will get excited about the school; I’m hoping it will be as we visit it a few times over the summer and after orientation.

Music: Rock & Roll With It (Billy Burnette): Keep On Keeping On


Deaths of Interest: Actual, Imagined, or Anticipated

A number of deaths have come across my desk in the last few days:

  • Gene Spafford. Gene Spafford has died. Well, actually, he hasn’t, but he has written his obituary in advance. You should read it–it’s a hoot! It truly reflects Gene’s unique sense of humor. We’ll miss him.
  • Hybrid Roses.  Earlier this year I got the urge to plant bare-root roses. I went over to Lowes… and there was nothing of interest. I remember the days when I’d visit Green Arrow Nurseries, and there would be loads and loads of varieties. Today,  it is harder and harder to find interesting hybrids and varieties, grandifloras and such. There’s a reason: Varietal roses have gone out of style: rose breeders have gone bankrupt, and in this economy, people are more interested in hardier landscape roses.
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. The print edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica is dead. I remember growing up in a world of encyclopedias. We had the World Book at home, with yearbooks added regularly. We also had Funk & Wagnalls. Today, everyone believes that well-known bastion of knowledge: Wikipedia and Google. Yet another sign of the devaluation of learning in our society today (if you need another example of the devaluation of learning, just look at the Republican Presidential campaign).
  • Education in California. Steve Lopez has an excellent piece in the Los Angeles Times about how, at every level from public K-12 to universities, California has gone from an educational giant to a laughingstock. I touched upon this a few days ago. I, too, am a proud product of California education: Los Angeles Unified (Palisades HS) and the University of California (UCLA). My wife is also California-educated (Chatsworth HS and CSUN). Yet our daughter is escaping LAUSD just in time (she’s a senior), and hopefully she’ll be able to go to a good school out of state (because we’re not sure if we could afford state schools). It is just sad to see this.

Now, some of these deaths are inescapable: I don’t think there is any way to save Britannica. Some are imaginary: I hope Gene continues to be around and enlighten our industry for years to come (although I’m not sure his grad students feel the same way). But the rest we can do something about: We can demand good varietal roses. We can demand the California stop decimating education in favor of prisons. We can elect politicians who want to save education — at the state and the local level. It is up to us to prevent unavoidable deaths.

Music: Aspects of Love (1989 Original London Cast): ‘She’d be Far Better Off With You’


The Naming of Schools

If you’ve ever wondered why I do the highway pages, here’s an answer: I love numbering systems and the story behind them. I loved maps and was curious about how state highways got their numbers, and the interest just grew from there. I mention this because the NY Times has a really neat article on how they number their schools. New York is pretty unique: their schools have numbers, not names, and they are well know by those numbers. We’ve heard those numbers as well, as in P.S. 42. But the problem is the numbers are not unique: there are actually four P.S. 1s in New York (Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Statten Island). There are three P.S. 2s, three P.S. 3s, and four P.S. 4s. This is because there is no requirement that the number be unique; when the school systems of different boroughs were combined, schools often kept their old number.

Other places do it differently. The article notes: “Atlanta and Washington use names, not numbers. Schools in Baltimore are numbered, but people generally say their children attend Westside Elementary, not P.S. 24. And the only numbered schools in Los Angeles are the ones labeled for the streets they are on, like the 28th Street School — something that helps alleviate confusion.”

Actually, there is a naming standard for schools in Los Angeles Unified:

  1. Elementary schools shall be names after the streets on which they are located, the street designated by the mailing address being the most appropriate. However, other streets bordering the school site, which are well know in the community, may be chosen. In instances where there is a local entity typifying the area served by the school and such name is appropriate, the school may be so named, particularly if community interest is expressed and the name will not duplicate the name of an existing school (Board Rule 1004.).
  2. Senior high schools shall be named in honor of deceased Presidents of the United States and other nationally/internationally famous men and women (Board Rule 1003).
  3. Middle schools shall be named after prominent men and women who have made a contribution to mankind generally deemed to be of permanent significance in the field of fine arts, letters, sciences, social sciences, and industry (Board Rule 1003).
  4. Whenever possible, the name of a secondary school should have some pertinence to California. Where there is a well-established community, a secondary school may also bear the name of the community, provided that it does not conflict with any other school named for the same community (Board Rule 1003).
  5. Schools serving a specialized purpose, such as schools for children in special education programs, may be named in accordance with the policy for naming regular schools or may be named after men and women who have made outstanding contributions in the specialized field of service for which the school is established (Board Rule 1005).
  6. Fields and buildings may be named after employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District only if an appropriate period of time has elapsed since their relationship with the school has been severed by retirement of death.
    Fields and buildings of a school may also be named after students of that school who have died during their enrollment, as well as community persons or benefactors of the school (Board Rule 1008).

  7. The use of the following terms are restricted:
    1. Learning Center—Schools that do not have the traditional configuration of K-5, 6-8 or 9-12
    2. Primary Center—Schools that have grades K-2 only
    3. Academy—Schools that have a specialized educational program, e.g., music, law or art
    4. Complex—Sites that have more than one school on the campus

There are some exceptions, it appears, for schools named after communities. For example, there is both Van Nuys High School and Van Nuys Middle School. Some seemingly conflict but don’t, such as “Northridge Middle School” and “Northridge Academy High School”.

So how are schools named in your community?


Budget Rant #2: The State Morass

One additional lunchtime article talked about a state senate hearing on the state budget, and the potential of closing down one or more UC campusses. It’s about time that this question was raised.

I’ve been wondering to myself for a while whether we have overexpanded the UC and CSU system. Simply cutting the pay of the large staff isn’t enough. Mothballing campuses wholesale might be, but there are the tenure contracts that get in the way. At least it is worth discussing. But an even better idea is in the article: “Mac Taylor, the legislative analyst, told the panel that they might also consider transforming some UC campuses into liberal arts schools while concentrating research efforts at other locations.”

Now that’s a great notion and thought. Ignoring UCSF here, why must every UC be a full general purpose campus? Why can’t we have some that specialize in engineering whereas others have other specialities? This is what companies do: they realign facilities to eliminate duplication of effort. Perhaps such a realignment could permit UC to serve the same number of students at lower cost through more focused upper-division and graduate offerings (I recognize the lower-division courses would need to be the same at both). The same could be done for the CSU system.

Yes, I know this is a radical idea. But it is intriguing none-the-less. What do you think?


News Chum: Education on the Brain (so to speak)

In looking over my collected articles for lunchtime news chum, there seems to be a theme in some: education, at various levels. So let’s run with that…

University and College Planning

As you may know, this summer I’ll be doing a college roadtrip with my daughter to the southeast. The current plan is to visit four schools: Tulane, in New Orleans; Emory, in Atlanta (replacing Rhodes in Memphis, as my daughter didn’t think it was a good fit after reading material the school sent); Bellarmine in Louisville; and Washington University, in St. Louis. This means I’ve got planning for college in my head. Here are some articles that caught my eye:

  • From US News and World Report: Which Colleges Claim To Meet Full Financial Need? A major concern is how to pay for college — yes, my salary is decent, but I’m also in a very high cost of living city. Thus, I’m pleased to see a number of our potentials are on the list: Emory, Washington University, and Reed, to name a few.
  • From the Wall Street Journal: Tips from Financial Advisors to those Choosing a College. Basic words of advice, such as (1) Encourage your child to select a career first, and then a school; (2) Don’t promise your child you’ll pay the entire tuition; (3) When deciding between schools, make your child responsible for at least some of the costs of choosing the more expensive option; (4) Make a deal with your child: Underperform and you’re out; and (5) Help children protect their health and finances from uncertainty and risk.
  • From the LA Times: In Paying for College, Better to be Lucky than Smart. In other words, it is not only what you socked away, but where you socked it away and (more importantly) when. Some hit the jackpot. Some get lemons.

K-12 Education

A few articles related to K-12 education:

  • Risks from the School Band. The LA Times looked into the cleanliness of school musical instruments, and found them teeming with bacteria. Researchers from Oklahoma State examined 13 instruments that belonged to a high school band. Six of the instruments had been played the previous week and seven hadn’t been played in a month. Swabs were taken of 117 different sites on the instruments, including the mouthpieces, internal chambers and even the carrying cases. They found 442 different bacteria, 58 types of mold and 19 types of yeast. Many of the bacteria were species of Staphylococcus, which can cause staph infection. Most of the bacteria can cause illness. Mold spores can contribute to the development of asthma. Even the instruments that had not been played recently harbored germs galore. Quite a scary study.
  • Fighting Over a Valley High School. Well, the battle is over: the LAUSD School Board decided to award “Hospital High” (New Valley Regional High School #4) to the teacher-led team from District 1 that wants to create a Performing Arts High School. This goes with the recommendation of the LAUSD Superintendent (the board ignored a number of other recommendations), and probably pissed off the team from Granada Hills Charter High School, which wanted to operate the new school. Of course, GHCHS has only themselves to blame, given the tactics they did during the vote. From the League of Women Voter’s report:
    • The large high school student turn-out was augmented by students voting from a list provided by Granada Hills Charter School.
    • Granada Hills Charter High School sponsored buses that traveled back and forth between the charter school and voting center in 30-minute cycles during both voting sessions. The bus was transporting students, parents, family members and friends to the voting site.
    • An email complaint was received by the League that students from Nobel Middle School were allegedly being called to vote for the Granada Hills Charter school plan.
    • A parent from Granada Hills Charter High School stated students were being offered “10 hours of detention removed” if they voted.
    • The League was given a ticket from a parent who claimed they were given a chance to enter into a raffle if they could submit “proof of voting” for a “charter high school”.

    Those are just some examples. Of course, I have problems with the District 1 LAUSD group as well—primarily, that they forget there is already a Performing Arts Magnet High School in the Valley that gets little support (at Van Nuys HS). My fear is that the new Performing Arts HS will simply kill the VNHS program, which isn’t a good thing. Still, I’m glad that GHCHS didn’t win the vote, for I’m not in favor of charter school dynasties. If GHCHS wants to do anything to help students and the community, they should become a charter complex of elementary, middle, and the high school, just as Palisades has done with their Charter Complex.