Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Shift Happens" Comment

I originally posted this as a comment at another site. They wanted to kow what people thought about the "Shift happens" slideshow by Karl Fisch. I thought I'd repost it here...

I’ve seen the slideshow a couple of times. I guess I’m a skeptic at heart, because when the statistics start coming at me as fast as Fisch throws them, my gut instinct is to hit pause and go check things. You can do that sitting at a computer; you can’t do it when the slides are on a big screen and you’re sitting with a bunch of other teachers in an auditorium…

There are two versions of Shift Happens now. The original and Shift Happens 2.0

In the original there are some stats I question, and some use of stats I thought were problematic.

Slides #4-10 in the original 67 slide version: “The 25% of the population in China with the highest IQ’s is greater than the total population of North America… In India it’s 28%.” That series seems to me to have some math problems. It starts off by implying that there are 1.3 billion people in China and 1.1 billion in India. Twenty-five percent of 1.3 billion is 325 million. Twenty-eight percent of 1.1 billion is only 305 million. For the two to be equal you’d need about 29.5% of the India figure. The population of North America is about 518 million - closer to 485 million if you exclude the Caribbean nations. To get the figure of around 325 million, you have to confine yourself to Canada and the US. This section is gone from the updated 2.0 version.

Then there’s slide 12: “China will soon become the number one English speaking country in the world.” The most obvious possible meaning for the statement is that soon there will be more people in China that “speak English” than there are in the United States (or any other country). I suppose that’s a matter of definition: what do you mean by “speak English?”

It reminded me of a blog post I wrote last year for a site focused on China. I had a link to a picture of a sign in Shanghai. The sign said “No Entrance to Greenland.” It was supposed to say “Keep off the Grass.” I don’t believe there will be more people in China than in the US in the near future with native speaker proficiency in English, capable of using and understanding the language’s idioms and figures of speech. One day, maybe; but not in the next few years. So define “soon…”

Then comes the two slides about shipping all US jobs to China, and how after we did that China would still have a labor surplus. That might have been true for a few minutes in 2006 if manpower alone were the only consideration. But the labor surplus that exists in China is spread across huge areas of rural land; could we take the US’s urban jobs and spread the out over the villages of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guanxi? The answer doesn’t matter because China’s hot economy is actually projected to be on its way to a labor shortage within a year or two.

The practice of China bashing in the US made me wonder whether the last two examples were meant to convey information or emotion.

Further into the video there’s the bit about “broadband internet penetration” – percentage of homes in a country with broadband Internet access. America was 20th when the original presentation was made. But that’s a percentage ranking. We had then and we have now more broadband users than any other country on Earth. The source for those figures now places us 25th.

The problem is that it ranks Hong Kong third and Macau ninth, even though I’m pretty sure that neither of those are countries. Of the eight actual countries in the top 10, only two have populations of more and 10 million – the Netherlands (16 million, in 6th pace) and South Korea (about 50 million, in 1st place). America may rank behind Guernsey (about 65,000, 15th) in the English Channel; but is that a meaningful comparison? Surely not. And the slides on this got dropped from the 2.0 version, too…

The 106 million MySpace users was another interesting stat. How many of those 106 users are abandoned ID’s? Or people with three ID’s because they forgot the password to their first two? One source I looked at concluded that over half of MySpace’s ID’s were not in use. See this site...

That would make MySpace the 29th largest country on Earth – bigger than Sudan but smaller than South Africa.

The presentation seems to have two major points. One is that the information age is upon us, and the nature of work is changing as a result. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked for my current employer for less than five years. In the last decade I’ve worked for two school systems, two colleges, one local government agency, and four publishers of various stripes - and at times I’ve had as many as three jobs at once. The advent of the information age is changing our lives.

The other major point seems to be that globalization is changing our place in the world as Americans. And the nature of that message is more ambiguous. Sometimes I think that message is designed to scare me. Sometimes I think it’s designed to motivate me, maybe engender some sort of patriotic spirit of competition in the face of a world that wants to dislodge my country from its place at the top of the heap. And when the presentation is over, I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to take away from the globalization message in this presentation.

Finally, because the globalization message comes first, I’m not sure which one of these two messages is the main emphasis. If the message is that the information age is going to require us to education kids differently, the globalization portion of this presentation clouds that message, in my opinion.

A final thought… the idea that someday we might change the way we think of time, and that I could have to tell people that I was born in 36 B.G. (Before Google), - I found that offensive, frankly. I don’t expect Google to become quite that important in the near future, and I expect the company to die a natural death in a few decades, chopped up and eaten perhaps by a private equity firm during a time of fiscal weakness, or maybe bought out by China’s sovereign wealth fund, the China Investment Corp.

I didn’t know before looking at this that Scott McLeod was involved in this presentation. I was a guest blogger at his site during the first week of February…

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Open Letter to the Tazewell County School Board

Members of the Tazewell County School Board:

I write this letter to suggest to you that your authority to close Pocahontas High School is limited. As I read the code, you may only close the school if doing so increases the efficiency of the county school system in some significant way. That has yet to be demonstrated in any convincing manner. More important than the issue of whether closing PHS will improve efficiency, I believe that you owe it to the county to have an coherent policy that is open and transparent on when school closures and consolidations are to take place - a policy that can be applied county wide at the conclusion of this current process.

School Board Chairman Mike Dennis opened the public hearing on March 3rd by referring to a passage of code that gives the school board the authority to close a school. The key concept seemed to be “efficiency.” And I think the section was #4 22.1-79 of the Virginia Code.
A school board shall:

4. Provide for the consolidation of schools or redistricting of school boundaries or adopt pupil assignment plans whenever such procedure will contribute to the efficiency of the school division;
As I understood what was read from the code, the Board has the authority to close a school IF closing that school makes the county school system more efficient. And as a corollary, that authority does not exist if you fail to show improved efficiency.

As I listened to that section of code being read on March 3rd at the public hearing, it struck me that closing Pocahontas High School is not a simple matter of the Board’s discretion. It seems you have to justify (and, by inference, document) how the closure will make the county more efficient. The purpose of a public hearing is NOT to convince you, the Board, to do one thing or another; instead the hearing provides information that may help you as board members decide whether or not closing the school will improve the efficiency of the school system. But at the end of the day, you as Board members (not the public) have the burden of being persuasive.

meNationally, school closures usually relate to one of three issues. Either a school is closed because the facility is in decline; or because the academic health of the school seems beyond repair (that reason rarely stands alone, since changing the personnel at a school can often solve that problem); or because running that school is an expensive burden that can be alleviated through consolidation.

The facilities at PHS are not in decline. The school’s SOL scores are higher than the SOL scores are Tazewell High School. This is especially true for children with disabilities. Anyone can compare the two school by looking here at Pocahontas High data and at Tazewell High data.

That leaves finances. Before voting on the closure of any school, I think your Board is obligated (ethically, at least) to produce a comprehensive analysis of the financial impact of closing that school. How many teaching positions will be eliminated in order to save money? Will new positions have to be created elsewhere? How will transportation costs change? How will utility costs change at schools accepting students from the school being closed? And so forth…

How you could vote on the issue without such a document to inform your decision is beyond me. Such a document should be produced and released to the public, and the public should be allowed to comment on that document before there is a vote. If you vote without such a document, you will be simply closing your eyes, gritting your teeth and saying “I don’t know why, but this seems good to me…”

At the end of this process, whether PHS is closed or not, I think you have a responsibility (now that this can of worms is open) to produce something like a policy or a set of guidelines for making these decisions. If PHS is closed for financial reasons, we need to be able to say unequivocally that you could NOT have saved more money by closing Raven Elementary or Springville Elementary. Reading programs under No Child Left Behind focus on grades K-3; and yet in the Bluefield area the third grade at Graham Intermediate is physically separated from grades K-2 at Dudley Primary. Is there money to be saved by consolidating those two schools into a single elementary school?

There needs to be some rational, objective, measurable process for determining when a school needs to be closed. Student population will decline and facilities will age over the next decade or so. You need to be able to point to a process that you can use to determine which school is closed next - sacrificed to efficiency. If you can’t justify the decision to close PHS in a publicly available document on finances, facilities, or academics, I’d suspect that closing the school violates the state code Mike read at the beginning of the March 3rd public hearing – and that you could possibly be in some way liable.

Greg Cruey

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Home... And Georgia License

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup

I got back today from the WV Reading Research Symposium. There are a number of posts about the Symposium here...

Macy was glad to see me after two days gone. I think that's like a week and a half in dog time. Cheryl and I ate at Big Daddy's.

My Georgia Educator Certificate came while I was in Charleston. Tomorrow I'll take it in and see what I need to do with it to transfer the certifications to WV.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Tennessee Basketball: Who's the Champ?

Lady Vols Coach Pat SummittIt doesn't really matter whether you're talking men's or women's basketball this year, tennessee is the SEC champ...

I watched the Lady Vols tonight in a rematch with LSU. They won, 61-55. The Lady Vols lost during the regular season in Knoxville to LSU. That led to Sylvia Fowles from LSU being named SEC player of the year over tennessee star Candice Parker. But tonight Parker scored 28 points compared with Fowles' 19.

Vols Basketball Coach Bruce PearlThe men won the SEC title outright last week by beating Florida. It was the first time the men had been undisputed SEC champs since 1969.

Hopefully both teams will go on to be number one seeds in the NCAA tournements.

And hopefully the success will somehow carry over into football in August...

Reading Research Symposium

Note: Visit my education blog, The Green Cup

I'm leaving today for the Reading Research Symposium in Charleston, WV. I get back Tuesday night.

We have snow on the ground (maybe an inch), but the bad weather is over and it should warm up a little today.