Archive for January, 2016

An Under-Reported Statistic: Spending on Education Declined for 4 Straight Years

January 27, 2016 Comments off

To read reports in the media, one would surmise that school budgets have risen uncontrollably over the years and are higher now than they’ve ever been. I was therefore surprised to read in the Politico education blog that school spending had declined for the previous four years… and the decline was substantial! Here’s a paste from the post that was sent to my email address:

National spending on public school students has fallen for the fourth straight year in a row, but decreases in per student spending are starting to slow down, according to two new school finance reports from the National Center for Education Statistics. That means education spending in the U.S. is starting to get a boost from the gradual economic recovery, said Stephen Cornman, author of the reports. Nationally, spending per student increased steadily each year between 2003-04 and 2007-08, peaking in 2008-09 at $11,621 per student. While it has decreased each year since then, it only decreased by a marginal 0.6 percent between FY 2012 and FY 2013. “I think it’s possible that expenditures per pupil will increase in the next fiscal year we report, which is 2014, just because this trend of decreases has been dwindling down,” Cornman said. National spending per public school student was $10,763 in FY 2013, ranging from $6,432 per student in Utah to $20,530 per student in D.C. All 50 states and D.C. reported more than $603 billion collected in total funding for public education in 2013, 91 percent of which came from state and local governments.

That works out to being roughly 8% less spending over a four year period, a time when both political parties have been paying lip service to the need for more Pre-school programs, better results from public schools, and the need for us to upgrade our schools to compete globally. The NCES study also indicated how the funding is disparate based on the location of the schools:

Nationally, and without any geographic cost adjustment, median spending per student was $9,353 in cities, $11,041 in suburbs, $9,214 in towns and $10,347 in rural areas.

These figures undercut the claim that money doesn’t matter. When suburban schools spend nearly $1700 more per student than urban schools is it any surprise that they get higher test scores? Higher per pupil spending translates to higher salaries, lower class sizes, better facilities, and more access to technology and materials of instruction. Any one of those items would make a difference… but taken together they illustrate the inequities that exist in public education funding today.


Emotionally Intelligent Robots Teaching PreSchoolers in Europe and Turkey

January 26, 2016 Comments off

The heading for this post is not based on an article from The Onion but rather based on a recent post from Atlantic by Jacek Krywko titled “When Class is Run by a Robot“. In the article Krywko describes ongoing research in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands where scientists are “currently working on language-teaching machines” that ” help students learn basic vocabulary and simple stories, using microphones to listen, cameras to watch, and artificial neural networks that will analyze all the information that’s collected.

The article is simultaneously fascinating and chilling as it describes how technology can read the faces of individuals to determine if they are bored, confused, engaged, or flummoxed and adjust the way content is presented accordingly. It is perversely heartening to read that the researchers biggest challenge is dealing with day dreamers and disrupters… but the dystopian side of my personality leads me to fear that the ultimate solution for “those kinds of kids”will come from the pharmaceutical industry.

The net impact of the article is to pose the ultimate question about scientific progress: is it always beneficial to seek efficiency through the use of technology? If not, where should the lie be drawn and who gets to decide where to draw that line?

Is Our Obsession with College Wrongheaded? Australian Employers Think So

January 26, 2016 Comments off

A recent post by Liz Burke in with the provocative title “University Degrees Irrelevant to Big Employers” offers evidence that several major employers in that country are no longer requiring a college degree of applicants. Why?

Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive officer Kate Carnell said employers found 20-somethings were more qualified than ever before. Graduates were showing up to work with degrees from universities but were “disconnected with the workforce”, she said.

“A number of our members consistently tell us they’re seeing students come out of university or training programs and they might have the academic or theoretical skills, but no skills to work at all. It makes them really hard to employ,” she said.

“General issues are not understanding that a job is about turning up on time every day, not just when you feel like, that it’s about taking direction, and basic things like you’ve got to be well presented and you’ve got to be pleasant.”

After reading Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz I am not surprised by this finding. Students who slavishly work to build a resume to get into the best colleges are often following an algorithm to seek a means to an end without determining the end they want to seek. And in many cases these resume builders have never held a part-time job or figured out what job they want. They possess “…the academic or theoretical skills, but no skills to work at all.” 

I also know many people who have a single minded passion for their work, lack college degrees, and have solid social skills that make them excellent employees and could ultimately land them promotions to leadership positions…. and national “celebrity” CEOs like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and the late Steve Jobs are all examples on non-degreed individuals who experienced wild success in the technology fields.

When i first clicked on this article I thought it would focus on outliers like Gates, Zuckerberg, and Jobs… but it seems the trend in turning away from college grads is substantial in Australia:

The 2015 Graduate Careers Australia survey showed more than a quarter of bachelor degree graduates had failed to find work within four months of completing their studies. The money they’re being paid is on the slide, too, with university graduate salaries going down.

Meanwhile, soft skills, such as being personable, adaptable, possessing strong digital skills, and adept at time management are being increasingly valued.

This could be a signal that employers’ are racing to the bottom on wages and no longer showing preference for college grads who are seeking employment as, say, baristas at a coffee shop… but it could also be a signal to public high schools that their relentless emphasis on college prep courses neglects the soft skills employers value most… maybe being “ready to work” requires an opportunity to actually BE in the work force.