EppsNet Archive: Education

Making it Through High School Alive

10 Sep 2017 /

Baltimore schools spend a staggering $16,000 per student – the fourth-highest rate in the nation – and still an investigation by Fox45’s Project Baltimore revealed that at six city schools, not one student scored proficient on the statewide tests for English and math.

At West Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High, one of five high schools and one middle school where not one student scored a four or a five on the state test, only one out of 185 students who took the test last year scored a three, while 165 students scored a one, the lowest possible score.

Frederick Douglass

The schools are:

  • Booker T. Washington Middle School
  • Frederick Douglass High School
  • Achievement Academy at Harbor City
  • New Era Academy
  • Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High
  • New Hope Academy

It looks like if you live in Baltimore, you want to avoid sending your child to a school whose name includes the word “Academy” or the name of an eminent black American.

The mother of one Frederick Douglass student is quoted as saying, “That’s absurd to me. That’s your teacher’s report card, ultimately.”

In Irvine, CA, where I live, the school district spent $9,488 per student last year, so I think it’s fair to say that Baltimore parents are not getting good value for their education dollar, but I also think that Irvine parents would be much more likely to say that sub-par educational performance indicates a problem in the home rather than with the teachers.

Accentuating the positive: At Excel Academy, 300 seniors started the school year, 104 graduated and 5 were shot to death. In some towns, just making it through high school alive is an accomplishment.


To Young Women Considering a Career in Technology

30 Aug 2017 /

You’ve probably read a lot of articles about how sexist and awful the culture is for women in technology.

I think if anything deters young women from technology careers, it’s this glut of articles saying how sexist and awful the culture is.

Young female technologist

I’ve worked in software development for 30 years. In my experience — and feel free to discount this because I’m not a woman — the culture is not tough for women. If anything, men give women the benefit of the doubt because they’d like to have more women around.

As Holden Caulfield used to say, “I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something.”

Yes, I have seen bad things happen to women in tech, but I’ve seen bad things happen to men and I’ve had bad things happen to me. I’m also aware of bad things happening to women in other professions. We’ve all had our ups and downs.

How to explain this? Bad things happen to women because they’re women and bad things happen to men because — what? We deserve it?

You’ve probably also read a lot of articles about a “diversity chasm” in tech, usually written by women who work in tech and can’t understand why every young woman in America is not making the same career choices they themselves have made.

Women, like any group, are under-represented in some professions (like tech) and over-represented in other professions — education and health services, for example.

Is a software engineering career objectively better than being a nurse or a teacher or a therapist or any of the careers that women seem to prefer?

I’m happy to admit that I don’t know what the “right” male-female ratio is for any given profession and that I don’t know what other people should be doing with their lives.

Programming has been a pretty good career for me — I like to build things and I like to solve hard problems — but I’ve spent most of my life alone in a room or cubicle staring at a computer screen. It’s not for everyone. There are pros and cons like any other job.

I don’t have a daughter but my son never took an interest in programming and I never pushed him to do so. He graduated college with a degree in business. I have no reason to think his life will be less fulfilling because he’s not working in a technology job.

TL;DR:

  • Don’t pursue a technology career because someone else thinks you should.
  • Don’t pursue a technology career to make some point about gender roles in society.
  • Don’t be scared off by inaccurate (IMO) generalizations about anti-female culture.
  • Follow your heart.

Thus spoke The Programmer.


10 Reasons That NY Times Chart Might Not Mean What You Think It Means

14 Aug 2017 /

From the New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/07/opinion/leonhardt-income-inequality.html
  1. Money is not the only metric for measuring life outcomes. Charts and articles like this seem to reflect an inappropriate obsession with narrowly materialist values.
  2. If you do want to measure your life with money, it looks like the 99th percentile is where you want to be. Why aren’t you there? Why aren’t you a CEO? Why aren’t you making a million a year? If you can’t figure out how to get there, don’t begrudge the people who did figure it out. If you don’t have the education, motivation, intelligence or skills to get there, don’t begrudge those who do.
  3. The amount of wealth is not a fixed amount. It’s not a zero-sum game. If it were, it would be concerning that a few people are very wealthy. But it isn’t.
  4. The distribution of income has to be skewed to the right because income is bounded on the low end by zero but not limited on the upside.
  5. If you can’t imagine why income inequality exists, consider that 25 percent of Americans think the sun goes around the earth.
  6. If you can’t imagine why income inequality exists, consider that half the residents of Detroit can’t read.
  7. People who get upset at the realization that some other people have more than they do make excellent targets for politicians who promise, in return for your vote, to rob the people you envy.
  8. Winners may have more money but losers get more hugs.
  9. I see a lot of articles about income inequality but I don’t meet a lot of ordinary Americans who are concerned about it.
  10. There seems to be a confusion of cause and effect. Did income rise the fastest for people in the top one percent or did people get into the top one percent because their income rose the fastest? If that isn’t clear, consider an example: Did Mark Zuckerberg’s income go way up because he was on the right side of that chart or is he on the right side of the chart because his income went way up?

Why Are Black Americans Against School Choice?

10 May 2017 /

Most or all of the people booing Betsy DeVos know little or nothing about her except that they’re expected to dislike her for reasons that they may know are related to her views on public schools and school choice.

But why are black Americans against school choice?

I don’t want to overgeneralize — my son went to public schools and got a good education — but it’s all on the kids and their families to make it happen. Without school choice, public schools don’t have the right incentives.

People running public schools aren’t paid by customers who voluntarily send their kids to those schools and who could choose to send their kids to another school if they wanted to.

Public schools are paid for by taxing citizens who may or may not have kids in the schools and regardless of how well the schools actually perform. The funding is independent of customer choice. Each child is assigned to a particular school.

So where is the incentive to provide good education?


Strong Opinions on Betsy DeVos

18 Jan 2017 /

I’m seeing on Facebook that a lot of people have strong (negative) opinions today about Betsy DeVos, who has been nominated as Secretary of Education, despite the fact that 99.9 percent of them had never heard of Betsy DeVos until about five minutes ago.

Why do people suddenly have a strong opinion about someone they’ve never heard of? How is this possible?

Because they’ve been instructed to have a strong opinion about Betsy DeVos in order to be consistent with the image that they have of themselves and the groups they want to fit in with.

BTW I have no opinion about Betsy DeVos at the moment because I had never heard of her until about five minutes ago . . .

Betsy DeVos


It Never Ends

10 Dec 2016 /

I just received an email alerting me that the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s annual fundraising campaign ends December 31.

Let me guess, the next annual fundraising campaign starts on January 1.


Shake it Off (aka Haters Gonna Hate)

6 Oct 2016 /

A Chinese woman tells me that being around white guys inhibits her ability to make edgy (i.e., racist) comments about white guys . . .

I reply, “White guys didn’t get to be what we are by peeing in our pants and crying for our mamas every time someone calls us a name. Haters gonna hate. That has been amply demonstrated. We’re just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake it off.”

 

Some people are offended by absolutely everything, some people are offended by nothing, and everyone else is somewhere in between.

The people at the easily offended end of the spectrum get most of the attention. People who hear a trigger word or a dog whistle that wouldn’t bother a normal person and they’re bleeding out all over the place like hemophiliacs. That’s where most of the focus is, it seems to me. It’s a distorted view of reality.

My son went to college at Berkeley. I’ve been there a lot and I can tell you that if 100 people are blocking Sather Gate to protest a microaggression, when you watch the news that night, you see the 100 people, as though that’s the totality of what was happening.

If you weren’t there, you might think “Wow, the whole campus is in an uproar!” but what you don’t see are 25,000 other people ignoring the 100 protestors, going to class and trying to get on with their day.

If you weren’t there, what you see is not really what was happening.

Sather Gate protest

 

Ten years ago, my son’s junior high school had a co-ed pickleball tournament. The results were posted on the school web site. If a team name contained any sort of cultural reference, the P.E. teacher in charge of the tournament wouldn’t put the name on the web site without deliberately misspelling some of the words.

For example, 3 White Guys and a Hindu became 3 Wite Gus and a Hidu, because identifying someone as white, male or Hindu would be unacceptable.

The team name 3 Blondes and a Brunette came through untouched for some reason. Why people allowed to self-identify as white girls (i.e., blondes), but not as white guys or Hindus I don’t know.

The weirdest one to me was 4 Asians and an Idiot, which came out as 4 Ans and an Idiot.

I asked my son, “Who’s the idiot?”

“Some white guy,” he said.

“Why is it okay to call someone an idiot but not an Asian?”

“It’s not racial.”

True . . . there are idiots of all races.

 

Those kids are all in their early 20s now. They’re just coming into the real world, the next generation, and I’m optimistic about the fact that despite schools and others telling them that they should be offended by absolutely everything, they’re not offended by anything.

They have a sense of perspective, a sense of humor, and I think they’re going to be okay.


Teen Solicits Clown to Kill Teacher

4 Oct 2016 /

Originally she just wanted a pie in the face but the clown upsold her.

“For another $50 I can use a FROZEN pie and kill her!”


Good News (for Teachers), Bad News (for Students)

22 Aug 2016 /


The People v. O.J. Simpson

31 Jan 2016 /
O.J. Simpson

There’s a miniseries coming out called The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. I’m not going to watch it, not for any singular reason — I don’t watch other TV shows either — but I don’t remember the Simpson trial having a great deal of entertainment value.

  1. The trial proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Simpson was guilty, even though a guilty verdict was not returned.
  2. Eight of the 12 trial jurors were black women. The prosecution believed that the jurors would identify with the female victim. The defense team believed that the jurors would identify with the black murderer. The defense was right.
  3. Conventional wisdom says that anyone who can’t get out of a lengthy term of jury service is not very bright. Only two of the Simpson jurors had a college degree. One never finished high school. The prosecution bored and confused them with DNA evidence. The defense gave them a nursery rhyme. You know the result.

Are You Smarter Than a Common Core Algebra Student?

1 Dec 2015 /

You can test your Common Core algebra skills against a 5-question sample test courtesy of the the New York Times. For all the controversy about Common Core, the questions seem pretty basic even for a person with an aging brain (I frigging CRUSHED it with a perfect 5 out of 5), the one exception being a graphing problem that should separate the mathematicians from the wannabes.

How hard is New York's high school algebra exam? 5 questions to test your math skills.

Posted by The New York Times on Monday, November 30, 2015


The Ceiling Seems Very Low

10 Sep 2015 /

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/09/10/codeorg-hadi-partovi-computer-science-back--school-kids-teachers-women-minorities/71905738/

I don’t know if this is good news or bad news. It would help to know what “trains” means but I read the article and it doesn’t say. Reporters need to be more inquisitive.

Can someone with no knowledge of computer science or programming be “trained” to teach computer science or programming? What would that entail? How long would it take?

Can someone who’s never played an instrument or listened to a piece of music be “trained” to teach a music class?

Can someone who’s never picked up a drawing pencil or visited a museum be “trained” to teach an art class?

Can someone who doesn’t speak Spanish be “trained” to teach a Spanish class?

The ceiling on any of these approaches seems very low compared to hiring actual programmers, musicians, artists and Spanish speakers . . .

Thus spoke The Programmer.


The Bamboo Ceiling

7 Jun 2015 /

Michael Wang had a 4.67 GPA and a perfect ACT score. He placed first in the state of California at the AMC 12 – a nationwide mathematics competition. He performed with the San Francisco opera company, and sang in a choir that performed at Barack Obama’s first inauguration. He volunteered his free time to tutor underprivileged children.

He applied to seven Ivy League schools and was rejected by all seven.

I saw recently that a local kid from Fullerton High School here in Orange County was accepted at all eight Ivy League Schools. His name is Fernando Rojas.

Fernando Rojas

Here’s another young man, Harold Ekeh, who was also accepted at all eight Ivy League schools:

Harold Ekeh

Last year, Kwasi Enin was accepted at all eight Ivy League schools:

Kwasi Enin

A study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade examined applicants to top colleges from 1997, when the maximum SAT score was 1600 (today it’s 2400). Espenshade found that Asian-Americans needed a 1550 SAT to have an equal chance of getting into an elite college as white students with a 1410 or black students with an 1100. I suspect that disparity has, if anything, widened.

If you’re Asian and applying to Ivy League schools, don’t hesitate to check the box next to “Black” or “Hispanic.” Or Eskimo. Eskimos are kind of Asian-looking.


If Math Was Taught Like Science

4 Jun 2015 /


Now What?

15 May 2015 /
Sather Tower (the Campanile) looking out over ...

We’re in Berkeley for Casey’s graduation tomorrow . . . we got a text from him earlier this week saying “I just took my last two college exams.” Thus ends a journey that began 17 years ago on the first day of kindergarten, which I feel like I remember too vividly for it to have been 17 years ago, but it was.

Now what? I don’t mean for him . . . he’s got a job lined up in San Francisco. I mean for me. I’ve had the milestone birthdays — the ones where your age ends in zero — that seem to depress a lot of people . . . they didn’t bother me at all. But my boy becoming an independent person in the world is really disorienting me . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Ask More Questions

20 Apr 2015 /
Primary School in "open air"...

English: Primary School in “open air”, in Bucharest, around 1842. Wood engraving, 11x22cm

You need to ask more questions. I think there’s a general fear about asking questions. There’s a risk of looking foolish in front of the whole group when it turns out that everyone else already knows the answer.

It’s actually very unusual for someone to ask a question to which everyone else knows the answer. If you find it happens to you a lot, you probably want to get that checked out, but normally it’s very unusual.

Another scenario: Somebody, maybe a teacher, says something and you think “That doesn’t make sense. I wonder if it makes sense to everyone else. Rather than risk looking foolish in front of the whole group, I’ll wait and see if someone else asks a question.”

So you wait for someone to ask a question and no one asks a question. Why? Because they’re all waiting for someone to ask a question.

Many people, including teachers, are not good at organizing their thoughts and articulating them with precision and that’s why you can’t understand what they’re saying. Don’t assume that it’s a problem with you. You need to move people to a position of clarity by asking questions.

Also, people love the person who’s willing to ask questions because it relieves them of the need to ask questions.

Education, like everything else, you get out of it what you put into it. Don’t sit in a class with unanswered questions in your head and let everything wash over you like a tidal wave.

My own kid, even in a good school district, I don’t feel like he got a good education because of good teachers, I feel like he got a good education in spite of bad teachers. He got a good education because he put a lot into it and he got a lot out of it. And his classmates who got a good education did so because they put a lot into it and they got a lot out of it.

All of which is a long way of saying “ask more questions.”

Any questions?


Teaching Computer Science: Combating Procrastination

6 Apr 2015 /

Students had a project due last week and I got a lot of messages and emails asking for help. Of course, when we handed out the assignment two months ago, we advised students not to wait till the last minute to work on it. Teachers and parents saying “Don’t wait till the last minute” is just an understood part of the process. It’s something that gets said but it’s background noise.

A couple of alternatives occur to me:

  1. Reverse psychology. Say “My advice is to start as late as possible. Try to do two months of work in the last week, or better yet, the last night.” This seems too easy to see through and therefore unlikely to work.
  2. Hand out the 20-page spec and tell the students that it’s due tomorrow. WHAT!? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! NOBODY COULD DO THIS IN ONE DAY! “You’re right. It’s actually due in two months. But now that we’ve agreed that it can’t be done in one day, I don’t want to see anyone working on it at the last minute.”

Teaching Computer Science: The Last Minute

1 Apr 2015 /

“Reminder that your projects are due tomorrow so don’t wait till the last minute. Oh wait, this is the last minute.”

Deadlines can be fun when they apply to other people . . .


Teaching Computer Science: Incentives (or Lack Thereof)

22 Mar 2015 /

According to this article on TechCrunch, “Every California high school must establish computer science courses as part of its core curriculum.” From the same article: “Most California teachers have little or no training to teach computer science.”

Do you see the problem there?

I’ve been a programmer for many years . . . I’d be glad to teach computer science to students, teachers or anyone who wants to learn it if there were even a modest incentive to do so. Which there isn’t.

One way to measure how much people want something is how much they’re willing to pay for it. There’s no shortage of people talking about teaching programming and computer science, which is free (the talking, that is), but without the incentives ($$$) very little is going to actually happen.


Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”


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