Saturday, September 20, 2014

Legitimate Policy, or Stupid One?

And is the punishment appropriate to the "crime" in this case?
An eighth grade student from Weaverville Elementary School got a detention slip for sharing his school prepared lunch Tuesday.

Kyle Bradford, 13, shared his chicken burrito with a friend who didn’t like the cheese sandwich he was given by the cafeteria.

Bradford didn’t see any problem with sharing his food.

"It seemed like he couldn't get a normal lunch so I just wanted to give mine to him because I wasn't really that hungry and it was just going to go in the garbage if I didn't eat it," said Bradford.

But the Trinity Alps Unified School District has regulations that prohibit students from sharing their meals.

The policies set by the district say that students can have allergies that another student may not be aware of.
An 8th grader should be aware of his/her own allergies, and probably is much more so than the cafeteria staff. What if they gave the child something to which he/she was allergic???

Tar Sands Messiah


In Loco Parentis

Colleges and universities used to act in loco parentis, in the place of a parent.  Even though the vast majority of college students are legal adults, they were treated as children in an idealized, extended adolescence.  Like everything else, I'm told this ended in the 1960s.

The philosophy has been brought back these days, but now it means the crazy parent.  Why on earth would a university ask incoming students such personal, prying questions about their sex lives?
As originally reported by Campus Reform, Clemson required its students to disclose personal information about drinking habits and their sex lives as part of an online Title IX training course, which required students’ IDs, names, addresses, and housing details in order to login. All students, faculty, and staff were required to complete the course by Nov. 1 or face disciplinary action.
My outrage prevents me even from forming logical questions about who was responsible, and why these types of questions should be asked of anyone.  Fortunately, sunlight, as they say, is an excellent disinfectant:
“Required Title IX online training has been suspended pending elimination of certain questions that were associated with a training module provided by a third-party vendor,” the email, sent at 11:42 p.m., said. “Clemson University will eliminate these questions. We apologize for any concern and inconvenience this has caused.”
But it's not a complete victory:
“It's a great first step forward, but not a complete victory since they're only planning on eliminating certain questions from the invasive program,” (student) Pendergist told Campus Reform. “We need to eliminate the entire ‘mandatory’ program altogether since there is nothing in the Campus SaVE Act that requires a mandatory program to be completed by all students and faculty, but rather it only requires that programs be available, not mandated, for faculty and new students.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Took My First Test In Discrete Optimization

Just got my exam score:  47/50.

Two of the missed points I need to figure out.  The third is kinda penny-ante, at least in my opinion, but I now know the standard.

Update:  I totally missed a constraint when writing a linear programming problem in matrix form.  Doh!  I'm still trying to figure out the other "legitimate" point missed.

Lest You Think I've Forgotten About Climate Change...

I have not:
We evil climate deniers often enjoy comparing the current uproar over the weather with Stalin’s misuse of science by Trofim Lysenko.  But I think the devotion to extreme climate, or whatever today’s catch phrase may be, is far more in the realm of magic and metaphysics than real physics — Lysenko was, after all, a genuine agronomist — and is much more akin to the story of Sabbatai Zevi, the 17th century Sephardic rabbi many Jews believed was  the long-awaited Messiah but who ended up ridiculing his supporters and converting to Islam.

Climate armageddon is a messianic cult based almost entirely on religion and faith and very little on science.  And, like the Sabbatean movement where many adherents remained devoted to Zevi no matter what he did or how he behaved,  it’s still thriving, somewhat, despite the many blows that it has taken lately — no warming in the last fifteen years, Antarctic ice cap bigger than ever, more polar bears than ever, all kinds of leaks of fraudulent figures and fudged graphs, etc., etc.   The list, available at www.wattsupwiththat.com by scrolling backwards, is almost comical in its extent.   It’s amusing to read the myriad theories for why the ice cap is bigger, motivated, for the most part, by panic on the part of the scientists involved that they might have their stipends cut.
I like the way Simon writes.  And I'll point out he's a former way-out-leftie :-)

Is Education In Finland All That and a Bag of Chips?

Finland's is often held up as an exemplar of an exceptional school system because its students do so well on international tests.  One author says, not so fast:
Two out of every three schoolchildren in Finland are being let down by an outdated system and uninspiring teaching.

That is one of the claims made in a provocative new book by primary-school teacher Maarit Korhonen, which challenges the widely-held belief that the Finnish education system is among the best in the world.

In Herää, koulu! (“Wake up, school”), Korhonen argues that Finland’s consistently high performance in international PISA rankings, a test of problem-solving skills among 15-year-olds, has led to complacency among Finland’s educational establishment, and has blinded teachers and decision-makers to the reality of teaching today.

“What we are studying, it’s so old fashioned,” Korhonen says. “We have the same chapters in the science book that I used to have in the '60s. Same subjects in the same order. Nobody changes anything, but something has to change.”
Thrown-away children

After 30 years in the classroom, Korhonen’s central argument is that education is “throwing away” the roughly two-thirds of schoolchildren who are not academically minded, or who do not learn from sitting down and reading a book, or who do not perform well in exams.

As a result, she claims, thousands of pupils are led to believe that they are not good at learning, putting them at risk of becoming marginalised and encountering serious problems later in life.

If You Want To Work In Tech, What School Should You Attend

According to people who actually work in tech, Stanford, MIT, and CalTech are the top three.  That should surprise no one.  Which are numbers 7 and 8 in the Top 10?  Why, that would be the US Naval Academy and the US Military Academy!

You Have To Wonder Who It Was Who Lost Their Mind

My suburban Sacramento school district doesn't even have its own police force.  I used to work in another district that does, and that police force has been the source of voluminous bad press for that district.  Imagine all that, times ten:
Just last week, MuckRock posted on its site about a FOIA request from California, detailing the military equipment given to school police forces. Just the fact that any military equipment is being given to school police should raise some serious questions, but the one that really stood out was that the LA School Police had been given three grenade launchers, along with 61 assault rifles and one MRAP (mine resistant vehicle -- the big scary looking armored vehicles that have become one of the key symbols of police militarization). Asked to explain itself, the LA School police chief, Steve Zipperman, claimed that the district had actually received the grenade launchers and the rifles all the way back in 2001 (though the MRAP is brand-spanking-new). But, he claimed, we shouldn't worry too much, because the police didn't think of them as "grenade launchers," but rather "ammunition launchers," and they were mainly kept around in case other police needed them...
It really is time to demilitarize all of our police forces.  Seriously.  Especially the school cops.

Beauty in Mathematics

I, of course, find plenty of beauty in mathematics, but I'm not sure that seeking it out is the right way to teach mathematics.  Since the beauty is not in a linear, sequential, one-step-build-on-the-last process, trying to teach it that way would make math into an unrelated hodgepodge that nobody but the naturally gifted would be able to see past.  Great, people would understand fractals, but would they understand fractions?  If you wanted "the masses" to know one or the other, wouldn't you choose the latter?

My view is not universally accepted:
Math has a bad rap, writes math professor Manil Suri in a recent New York Times op-ed, and would be better geared to students as a playful and stimulating subject of ideas. Unfortunately, that’s not at all what our culture currently embraces...

Cornell Math Professor and New York Times columnist Steven Strogatz, author of The Joy of x, said much of middle and high school math curriculum (which covers not basic arithmetic, but higher math) doesn’t appeal to students’ hearts, instead offering answers to questions that kids would never ask — which he calls “the definition of boredom.”

“When people want to learn about music, they’ve reacted to it, they love it and naturally want to learn more about it. They have their own questions,” Strogatz said. When introducing higher math to a group of curious young students, he suggests first “showing them math’s greatest hits” and allowing them to become fascinated; students then naturally come up with their own questions. Suri was on the right track, Strogatz said, when he suggested students learn something like the origin of numbers — because the first step is falling in love with the mathematical ideas behind the formulas and procedures.

Strogatz acknowledges that grasping the concepts of higher math can pave the way to many wonderful careers — many in the popular and highly needed STEM fields. But rationalizing to students that math improves reasoning skills or that “you’ll need it in the real world” are two strategies doomed to fail, he said, because they not-so-subtly suggest that math isn’t worth learning for its own sake, but parallels something more akin to “mental push-ups.”
K-12 math isn't the place for "following your bliss", but that's just my opinion. I think mental push-ups are a good idea for any number of reasons.
Grabbing students’ hearts, however, is only the first step to falling in love with math. High school math teacher Dan Meyer realized his algebra classes needed a makeover, the subject of an inspiring TED talk in which Meyer takes a larger look at how math is taught. “We have defined math rather narrowly in the U.S. to mean memorizing procedures and performing them accurately and quickly,” he said. “Those are certainly important parts of mathematics, but they aren’t the only parts, or even the most important parts. We need to define math to include skills like prediction, argumentation, and systematic thinking. These are important skills to have whether you go into a STEM field or not.”
Meyer has done interesting work in his classes, but I disagree with his diagnosis.  Math, if taught poorly, is about "memorizing procedures and performing them accurately and quickly".  I deny that that's how I teach math, and I resent any implication that I should change how I teach because some do teach poorly.

But again, that's just me.

Standards, Good and Bad

I'm one who believes that the Common Core state standards represent a step down from California's previous standards, at least for math.  Yes, the old ones could have been improved upon, but the Common Core standards are not that improvement.

Today we had a professional development powwow on writing "learning targets", what students are supposed to be able to do after each lesson.  How these differ from "goals" or "objectives" is just an exercise in semantic masturbation to me, but whatever, that's what our professional development was about today.

A few of us math teachers were tasked to "deconstruct" a particular calculus standard, breaking it down into what students should know, what they should be able to do with that knowledge, etc.  It's a new taxonomy but you get the idea.  Start with what they should be able to "recall" or "regurgitate" and work your way up to developing a cure for cancer, or something.

Before I continue, let me say that, despite my sarcasm, there's nothing inherently wrong with doing this.  It's a good thing for teachers to do if they haven't really thought before about why they're teaching some point, or how what they're teaching fits into a grand whole.  I just don't think that the time spent doing this for every lesson is going to reap rewards in student learning.  I accept that I could be wrong about this, but it hasn't been proven to me yet.

So anyway, we were talking about some of the mathematical standards in Common Core.  In some cases we were trying to figure out what, exactly, they mean.  Whether you liked the old California standards or not, you cannot deny they were worded in such a way as to be crystal clear in intent.  My favorite (I don't have the manual here at home from which to quote others, I apologize) was a 3rd grade standard:  "students will know the multiplication tables up to 10x10 to automaticity."  If that isn't an exact quote, it's darned close.  Is there any doubt what is expected?

After trying to "deconstruct" a couple of the Common Core standards, this is what one of our members came up with:  a bad standard is one that needs to be interpreted.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Love These Kinds of Messages

This evening I received a message from a student I had in statistics last year.  He gave me credit for his acing his first statistics exam in college.

I love it when they do well.  I really do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

BC Teachers Strike Almost Over?

Teachers must still ratify the tentative agreement:
The B.C. Teachers' Federation is recommending its members accept the tentative six-year deal which B.C. Premier Christy Clark is calling "historic." A deal of that length has never been reached with teachers before in the province.

"We have … reached an historic six-year agreement with teachers," Clark said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. "This has never been been done before in British Columbia's history. That means five years of labour peace ahead of us"...

The deal to settle the months-long B.C. public school teachers' strike could have students back in class by Monday, said Clark. Teachers are expected to vote on whether to accept the package Thursday...

Clark said  the deal is a real "game changer" that settles the outstanding grievances from the B.C. Supreme Court decision that ruled in the teachers' favour on class size and composition...

However, the province is still appealing the court ruling and the contract includes a "reopener clause," which in the event of a court decision in the province's favour would allow it to revisit some of those issues.

The deal also includes $100 million more to address class size and composition. The government had been offering to set aside $300 million for a learning improvement fund for teachers but increased it to $400 million in the final deal.

Once the details of the deal are finalized by the bargaining teams, the province's 41,000 public school teachers will have to vote on it before classes can resume.
If they're anything like the teachers in my district, even if the agreement calls for ritual scourging the teachers will vote for it 95%-5%.  Heck, were elections in the Soviet Union even that lopsided?

Odd Dreams

Now that work has started up again I don't do anything new or unique--which means I have nothing exciting to write to my son about.  Accordingly, I've switched from letters to cards and post cards, which he's still thankful to receive in Basic Training.

I had a very strange dream a night or two ago, and it reminded me of another strange one I had months or perhaps a year ago.  I'll start with the older one first.

I was a cadet at West Point.  In some of my dreams I'm a cadet "again" even though I'm my current age and recognize that I've already graduated, but I don't think that was the case in this dream.  I think I was a cadet of "cadet age".  I was either a junior or a senior.  Either way, I was very unhappy and, after long deliberations, decided to resign.

So resign I did.

No longer subject to the stresses that had put me under so much pressure, I thought I'd be happy, but I wasn't.  I started to second guess myself and decided that perhaps I'd acted too hastily.  I talked to some officers there and, after an absence of only a couple weeks, I got reinstated.

It didn't take long to realize, though, that going back was a mistake, so I resigned again.  I must have been a senior in this dream because I recall that I wasn't so far from graduation, perhaps a semester or so.  But I was so sure this time, West Point wasn't for me, and even though I regretted not finishing my degree there, I left again, this time for good.

I feel so many strange emotions when I remember that dream, almost as if part of it were real or something.  What is it in my subconscious that would fabricate such a story--about a place I haven't attended in over 25 years?  It's all so very odd.

So a couple nights ago I dreamed that I was my current age and status but for some reason was compelled to go back into the army, but instead of being an officer I was going to be enlisted.  I remember thinking, Is Austin (my son) going to outrank me?  Then I was relieved to realize I'd be a sergeant, while Austin is still a private.

And that was the end of the dream.

Are these weird, or what?

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Free Night

Today I took the first of (I think) six tests in my discrete optimization course.  I studied out the ying-yang, and the test certainly wasn't as hard as the one I studied for!  That doesn't mean I aced it, of course, just that it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be.  I'm convinced I didn't make any egregious "strategic" errors; any mistakes had to be of the "silly" or "bad calculation" variety.

I usually devote 2 hours each night to my master's program, but not after a test.  I take the test and then take the rest of the evening off.  Watch out, single people, I'm free tonight!

(OK, so I'm headed to Walmart to get some groceries.  Whatever.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

From California's Flagship University

The author of this post isn't enamored of a particular calculus course offered at UC Berkeley:
This year, I encountered the world’s worst calculus class, a mutant-frog specimen of undergraduate mathematics: UC Berkeley’s Math 16B. It’s an exercise in cynicism; a master-class in spite; a sordid and cautionary tale of everything that can go wrong in curriculum design.
The author then proceeds to justify those statements, and justify them well.

It's a funny read.

Must Everything Be Political?

The September 13th issue of The Economist has an article on "Voting with your wallet":
Puritanism, wrote H. L. Mencken, is "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy." Half a century later, the prissiest Americans are haunted by a different fear: that they  may buy cheese made by someone whose opinions they do not share.  To help people avoid this calamity, a new app called BuyPartisan reveals whether any given product is made by Republicans or Democrats.

Using an iPhone's camera, it scans the barcode and reports back on the ideology (as measured by donations to political parties) of the directors and staff of the company in question.  Obsessive partisans can then demonstrate their commitment to diversity by boycotting firms with which they disagree.  "We vote every day with our wallets," trills an advert.
I echo The Economist's mockery.  I'm not all that interested in where people or corporations spend their legitimately-earned money--unless, and this is my caveat, they try to strengthen their brand or appeal to a specific political group by touting those donations.  I've never bought a Ben and Jerry's ice cream because their blatant anti-military stance when I was in the military told me they didn't want my business.  I'm hard pressed to think of any other company whose products I do or don't buy out of political considerations.  Didn't Michael Jordan once refuse to discuss his political views because "Republicans buy shoes, too"?  That seems eminently reasonable to me from a business point of view.

And from a consumer's point of view, who really has time for the hassle?  The Economist quotes a "mother with a baby strapped to her chest in a Safeway supermarket":
The idea of scanning every sausage or toilet roll for its political affiliation is "just crazy, she says.  "If I want to eat gummy bears, I will eat gummy bears.  I don't care if they're Republican."
In general, I just want to live my life and be comfortable.  I don't want to have to spar with the liberals in every single arena, my time is too valuable for that.

US an Oligarchy?

I saw this article linked on Facebook and decided to give it a read:
A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn't a democracy any more. And they've found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military.
Usually when I think of an oligarchy I think of a relatively small group of people, but if the US is one it actually consists of a huge group.  Does that make a difference?  

I was taken aback, though, when I read this:
While there are some limitations to their data set, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez constructed income statistics based on IRS data that go back to 1913. They found that the gap between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us is much bigger than you would think, as mapped by these graphs from the Center On Budget and Policy Priorities...
Piketty.  Piketty.  I've heard that name before. Ah yes, Thomas Piketty:
Financial Times economics editor Chris Giles says French economist Thomas Piketty's best-selling "Capitalism in the 21st Century," about rising inequality in the West, contains serious errors that undermine his conclusion that wealth distributions are widening.

Giles says there are clear examples of some "fat finger" mistranscriptions and compares the situation to omissions found in Reinhart's and Rogoff's data on debt levels and growth.

But while the two Harvard professors' errors seemed to have been unintended, Giles levels a more serious critique: that Piketty actively manipulated his data.
and
Given the excitement that Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has stirred up within the political left, the French economist probably should have titled it Fifty Shades of Inequality.

In Capital, Piketty presents a painstakingly researched case for doing what progressives ranging from Paul Krugman to Barack Obama want to do anyway, which is to raise taxes and expand the power and reach of government. Unfortunately for liberals, Piketty gets almost everything wrong, starting with the numbers.
http://www.forbes.com/sites/louiswoodhill/2014/05/06/thomas-piketty-gets-the-numbers-wrong/
Any article or study relying on Piketty would thus, in my opinion, be immediately suspect.

The good news, though, is that the authors of the Princeton study didn't mention Piketty's work; it seems that the author of the first linked article tried to buttress his story with other references and opted to choose an extremely bad one.  Also, the word "oligarchy" is mentioned in the Princeton paper only twice.

It makes for an interesting read and one could certainly recoil in horror at the paper's conclusions.  I wonder, though, even if they're right, what an appropriate solution would be to the "problem".

Update:  Perhaps these are some of our oligarchs:
Special interest money and super-wealthy individuals are two of the most prominent features of today’s bourgeois liberalism. The unions, the foundations, the colleges, the liberal-leaning or rent-seeking corporations, the residents of Manhattan and Silicon Valley and Beverly Hills and Ward 3, Warren Buffett, George Soros, Tom Steyer, Marc Lasry, Steve Mostyn, Michael Bloomberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chris Hughes—these groups, these men, they are not misshapen appendages of the Democratic Party. They are its innards. Its guts.

How Much Will College Students Pay For This Textbook?

This falls into that "funny but oops" category:
How can you tell what the perky teacher in that photo is really teaching her students?
It turns out a Thai publisher accidentally put a Japanese porn star on the cover of a math textbook.
As Rocket News 24 reports, the MuangThai Book Center had distributed over 3,000 copies of its latest math textbook before realizing its mistake.

The cover originally featured a bright young schoolteacher on a cute and colorful cover...
The article goes on to show some other pictures of that "teacher" from the same photoshoot. 

The ending of the article is great:
Let's hope Thai students find what's inside the book as exciting as the outside.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Taking Tests

Is flunking good for the soul as well as for the grade?
This is the idea behind pretesting, one of the most exciting developments in learning-­science. Across a variety of experiments, psychologists have found that, in some circumstances, wrong answers on a pretest aren’t merely useless guesses. Rather, the attempts themselves change how we think about and store the information contained in the questions. On some kinds of tests, particularly multiple-choice, we benefit from answering incorrectly by, in effect, priming our brain for what’s coming later.

That is: The (bombed) pretest drives home the information in a way that studying as usual does not. We fail, but we fail forward...

Yet another species of exam collapse is far more common. These are the cases in which we open the test and see familiar questions on material we’ve studied, perhaps even stuff we’ve highlighted with yellow marker: names, ideas, formulas we could recite easily only yesterday. And still we lay an egg, scoring average or worse.

Why does this happen? Psychologists have studied learning long enough to have an answer, and typically it’s not a lack of effort (or of some elusive test-taking gene). The problem is that we have misjudged the depth of what we know. We are duped by a misperception of “fluency,” believing that because facts or formulas or arguments are easy to remember right now, they will remain that way tomorrow or the next day. This fluency illusion is so strong that, once we feel we have some topic or assignment down, we assume that further study won’t strengthen our memory of the material. We move on, forgetting that we forget.

Often our study “aids” simply create fluency illusions — including, yes, highlighting — as do chapter outlines provided by a teacher or a textbook.
Sounds to me like justifications for homework or weekly quizzes.   But it's not, not quite.  Pretesting is really what's key:
Bjork’s experiment suggests that pretesting serves to prime the brain, predisposing it to absorb new information. Scientists have several theories as to how this happens. One is fairly obvious: Students get a glimpse from a pretest of the teacher’s hand, of what they’ll be up against. That’s in the interest of not just students but of teachers, too. You can teach facts and concepts all you want, but what’s most important in the end is how students think about that material: How they incorporate all those definitions into a working narrative about a topic that gives them confidence in judging what’s important and what’s less so. These are not easy things to communicate, even for the best teachers. You can’t download such critical thinking quickly, hard as you might try. But you can easily give a test with questions that themselves force that kind of hierarchical thinking. “Taking a practice test and getting wrong answers seems to improve subsequent study, because the test adjusts our thinking in some way to the kind of material we need to know,” Bjork said.
And there might even be a place for the much-maligned multiple-choice test!
A second possibility has to do with the concept of fluency. Wrong guesses expose our fluency illusions, our false impression that we “know” the capital of Eritrea because we just saw it or once studied it. A test, if multiple-choice, forces us to select the correct answer from a number of possibilities that also look plausible. “Let’s say you’re pretty sure that Australia’s capital is Canberra,” Robert A. Bjork, Elizabeth Ligon Bjork’s husband and a leading learning scientist, said. “O.K., that seems easy enough. But when the exam question appears, you see all sorts of other possibilities — Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide — and suddenly you’re not so sure. If you’re studying just the correct answer, you don’t appreciate all the other possible answers that could come to mind or appear on the test.” Pretesting operates as a sort of fluency vaccine.
I like the conclusion:
Many teachers complain that a focus on testing limits their ability to fully explore subjects with their students. Others attack tests as woefully incomplete measures of learning, blind to all varieties of creative thinking.

But the emerging study of pretesting flips that logic on its head. “Teaching to the test” becomes “learning to understand the pretest,” whichever one the teacher chooses to devise. The test, that is, becomes an introduction to what students should learn, rather than a final judgment on what they did not.
Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs for the article link.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Teachers Strike in British Columbia Continues

What good does a strike do if the government can just legislate a settlement compel everyone back to work?
Efforts to restart negotiations in the B.C. teachers' strike that were made Thursday have yet to yield any concrete results, increasing speculation the government has other plans to get the teachers back to work...

[O]n Friday morning, there was no sign from either side that a new round of actual negotiations has been scheduled.

Meanwhile, there are more signs government plans to legislate the teachers back to work if a deal is not reached by Oct. 6 when the legislature resumes sitting...

One former Liberal education minister says a legislated settlement is looking more and more likely.

The government and union have a long history of struggle over control of educational policy, with the union striking more than 50 times in the past 40 years and at least three settlements imposed by government.
The union last struck in 2012.  Clearly there's a hostile relationship between the union and the government.  That's never a recipe for a good outcome.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Less Take-Home Pay

No pay raise.  Union dues are up.  Retirement costs are up:
Resounding applause is in order for enactment of this plan to fully fund the Defined Benefit Program in a manner consistent with sound actuarial and accounting practices,” said CalSTRS Chief Executive Officer Jack Ehnes. “This historic legislation alleviates the risk of a looming liability for the world’s largest educator-only pension fund and sets a course for its long-term viability. We believe this plan achieves the right balance of time, commitment and completeness.”

Increases in pension contributions for all parties take effect July 1, 2014, and will be phased in over the next several fiscal years. Contributions rates for all CalSTRS members will increase from 8 percent of payroll to 8.15 percent of payroll in the first fiscal year.

CalSTRS members hired prior to January 1, 2013, not subject to provisions of the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, will see their contributions increase by a total of 2.25 percent of payroll phased in over the next three fiscal years. Contribution increases for CalSTRS members hired after January 1, 2013, who are subject to the provisions of PEPRA, will be phased in over three years with their total increases capped at 1.205 percent.

CalSTRS members who were actively working on or after January 1, 2014, will receive a guarantee of the existing 2 percent Annual Benefit Adjustment, also referred to as the improvement factor, in exchange for their contribution increases. For members who retired prior to January 1, 2014, no change in benefits will occur.

Employer contributions currently at 8.25 percent will increase gradually by an additional 10.85 percent phased in over the next seven years, for an eventual total of 19.1 percent. State contribution rates, which are currently 5.541 percent, when the contributions for purchasing power protection are included, will increase over the next three years to a total of 8.828 percent by fiscal year 2016-17.

Other highlights of the new legislation include granting the Teachers’ Retirement Board limited rate-setting authority for contributions. Member rates remain fixed in statute. CalSTRS will also be required to submit a funding status report to the Legislature every five years to ensure the plan continues to sustain an appropriately funded benefit program.
As much as I don't like having even less money in my wallet, I can't help but think this is a good thing--and I've long railed against the problem on this blog.  The California State Teachers Retirement System was racing towards insolvency, and the only way to save it was to increase contributions or to decrease benefits.  Since decreasing benefits would be severely unpopular, more money has to be pumped into the system by teachers, school districts, and the state.  This, then, means school districts will have less money available with which to offer pay raises.  Scylla and Charybdis.

What A Lousy Excuse

It's entirely possible she got a lousy education as a child, but that doesn't excuse her becoming a teacher.  She knew she couldn't spell, she knew that her own grammar was lacking, she shares a large portion of the blame for her becoming a teacher.

How many people failed in her story?  Certainly she did, as seemingly did her K-12 teachers and university professors.  Whatever England's system is for credentialing teachers, it certainly let an elephant slip through the cracks.

I'm not able to say who owns exactly what percentage of the fault for this woman's becoming a teacher, but I can't help but find her sorta-mea-culpa in the linked column to be one big, lousy, attention-grabbing excuse.

I Can't Believe It's Gotten This Far

Back when Gray Davis was fighting to maintain the governorship of California against a recall vote, I didn't think there was any chance he'd be removed from office.  The polls tightened in the weeks leading up to the election, and when the voting was done and the dust settled, Arnold Schwarzenegger had been elected governor and the Democratic governor of a deep blue state had been swept aside.

The only information I've been getting about the upcoming vote on Scottish independence came from The Economist, which for weeks intimated that this wasn't really a contest.  Yes, the polls were tightening, but there was no way the Scots were going to break away from the United Kingdom.  It just wasn't going to happen.  In the last issue the articles and authors seemed not so sure of the outcome.

The impossible is now almost a reality:
One week from now, it’s entirely possible that the United Kingdom will, in effect, no longer exist in its current form. Next Thursday the people of Scotland will vote Yes or No on the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” — and according to recent polls, an increasing number of Scots are ready to end the 307-year union between their country and the rest of Britain. If the decision is indeed Yes, then the details will take a year or so to thrash out, but a political earthquake will be triggered that will shake Britain to its foundations, with the shockwaves felt across Europe and much of the world.

Calls for a vote on independence have been growing since a Scottish Parliament, with powers devolved from Westminster, was created in 1998. For much of the time since the independence referendum was announced at the end of last year, the No campaign had held a comfortable majority in the region of 60 percent to 40 percent; however, the polls have narrowed in recent weeks, and last week the Yes campaign took the lead in a poll for the first time.

The Yes campaign’s message is that it’s time for Scotland to strike out on its own, and that the country can achieve more as an independent nation than as part of the UK. Its leaders envision the country as a Scandinavian-style land of plenty along the lines of Norway and Sweden, economically prosperous but with a generous welfare state funded by income from North Sea oil and gas — 90 percent of the UK’s oil reserves lie in what would likely become Scottish waters in the event of a Yes vote.
This is potentially a seismic event.

I've heard it said that without the Scots, there won't be a Labour government in Britain for a generation.  To give a US example, it would be as if the Northeast and Pacific Coast states seceded (there wouldn't be a Democratic-controlled US government in a generation) or if the South seceded (there wouldn't be a Republican-controlled US government in forever).

When we look at the NATO alliance and our closest allies, this really is a BFD.

What's next?  Do the Basque, and Catalan, break away from Spain?  Do the Quebecois give it another try?  Does this justify Russian expansion into Ukraine?  Does Iraq divide itself?

As Instapundit might say, I guess it's a good thing we have Smart Diplomacy® on the case.

How Much Does That Free Health Insurance Cost?

To the surprise of no one but rabid socialists, Americans are paying more for health insurance under Obamacare then they were prior:
Supporters of Obamacare took a victory lap when the first premium numbers were released for 2015 and the increases weren’t quite so “scary” as first thought. But there’s a reason for that. As USA Today reports, premiums aren’t going up so much because policyholders are seeing big hikes to out-of-pocket expenses...
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of economics knew that this would be the only possible result.

We now cut to a clip of Will and Grace:
 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Are You Surprised?

I took an internet survey (a rather good one, actually, given the questions and the options) and it turns out I'd make a good Republican :)

I side with Republicans on most political issues.
Parties you side with...

89%
Republicans

on social, environmental, domestic policy, foreign policy, immigration, economic, and education issues.


87%
Conservative Party

on social, environmental, domestic policy, foreign policy, immigration, and economic issues.


86%
Constitution Party

on social, environmental, domestic policy, foreign policy, and economic issues.


75%
Libertarians

on domestic policy, healthcare, immigration, economic, and 2014 ballot issues.


34%
Democrats

on foreign policy issues.

Cell Phones In Class

When one school district in the greater Washington D.C. area decided to get more relaxed about cell phones, it apparently went all the way – not only allowing their use in the hallways and cafeteria, but the classroom too.

But using smartphones in the classroom doesn’t mean students will be able text, surf, talk or access media, as most teens do for much of their waking hours. Instead, the district is joining a growing wave of schools using wireless devices -- in particular, phones -- as teaching and learning tools.  link
Seriously, how does a cell phone help in a math class?

Maybe I’m just lucky and have all the technology I need, but I’m just not seeing it. And if you think kids *will* stay on task if the teacher just dances around and is entertaining enough, you’re clearly not spending enough time with teenagers. If you think they can be *taught* appropriate manners, remember that they’ll be taught these manners by the same people who tune out with their phones during faculty meetings.

Do You Ever Just Feel Angry?

Today I'm angry, and I don't even know why.

It's not like I didn't get enough sleep.  I was asleep by 9 last night!

It's not really my students.  For the most part I like them, they seem like a nice bunch of people.  Sure, I don't like all the whining--can I have more time for my test?--but that just stirred up the anger, it wasn't the cause of it.

Our idiot of a president is probably going to explain tonight why we have to fight IS/ISIL/ISIS in Iraq and/or Syria, but will conveniently leave out that he is the reason we left Iraq early (President Bush explained what would happen if we did that) and he'll also leave out why it was so important for us to intervene in Egypt and Libya but not in Syria.  That brings my anger to a boil, but what causes the anger in the first place?

Getting 10 more students didn't help.  Having to go back to school tonight (for Back To School Night!) isn't the cause.

I have a friend who sometimes, for no apparent reason, goes into what he calls a "blue funk".  He just feels somewhat depressed, and after a day or two, he feels fine again.  Maybe instead of getting depressed I just get angry.  I don't know.

Whatever it is, I sure don't like it.