Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Educational Think Tank Topics for Radio Listeners and Online Readers

Welcome to our radio show, today's topic will be education and we will cover a number of side topics along the way. Just so you know the ground rules, and they are very simple; I talk and you listen. After 30 minutes I will open up the phone lines, or if you are reading this transcript online as an online article that you may leave a comment below for an upcoming future program. Okay so let's begin, as you know I don't like to waste time.
I guess it goes without saying that a nation is only as strong as its education system was 20 years prior. And that makes this topic very important, especially because it is now October 25, 2012 and we have an election coming up in only 10 days. Although both candidates are very strong for education, our path forward will be determined by the presidential leadership which follows. President Obama is very strong with his belief in the need for education, especially giving everyone a fair chance, regardless of ethnic background, or socioeconomic status. In fact, he himself could not have become president without his college education.
His opponent Governor Mitt Romney is also strong in education, in Massachusetts while he was governor they boosted their state to the number one slot, a remarkable achievement for any state. Further, both presidential candidates believe that we need ongoing research in our universities and colleges, and we must carefully focus on math and science for our technologically advanced future. Very few could deny those are good policies, but it won't be free. Local school districts and states have complained that the federal government all too often passes laws such as; NCLB - No Child Left behind Act, and similar mandates without funding them or sending money to the schools.
Most teachers unions claim that the heavy hand of the federal government is too much oversight and too restrictive for their teaching in the classroom, and they are afraid that too many teachers are teaching to the test to ensure that all the kids are able to read, and therefore it becomes more of a "no child allowed to advance" doctrine. Of course, those are hardly the only problems, as we see right now college tuition has gone through the roof, and the default on student loans is now at 10%. Regardless if you are a left-leaning socialist professional academic, you only have to look at that number to realize that it is; unsustainable. To borrow a trendy socialist term, now then, the let's go ahead and talk about what's going on with regards to these high tuition costs.
1.) Students Rally to Ensure That Budget Cuts Do Not Hurt the Community Colleges
There was an interesting article in the Los Angeles times on October 16, 2012 by Carla Riviera titled; "A Dash for Classes - Community College Students Are Commuting - By Bus, Car and Train - To Multiple Campuses Because of Severe Budget Cuts." This is simply because the community colleges have cut classes and the number of teachers out in California. Therefore the students have to go to two or three different community colleges to get the classes they need, and then merge the transcripts later so they can graduate. Interestingly enough this problem has been going on for decades and it was even a problem after I graduated high school from what I remember.
Now the teachers are gathering with the students in protest. They are telling the California legislature that they are angry, and if they don't get their money, they will show up en masse to vote against those that have cut, or will cut the community college budget in the future. There was another article a little over a week before on October 14, 2012 in the same newspaper titled; "Prop 30 Inspires Student Voter Drives - Gov. Jerry Brown's tax hike proposal is being touted as the only way to avoid tuition hikes," by Larry Gordon. So what we have now is the teachers union which is lobbying for more money, and the students who were going to vote to get more college at a lower cost.
Do you know what this means? It means that the taxpayer will now have to pay more to subsidize these college students, but I ask as a taxpayer; why it's my problem, I'm not going to school? Why should I have to subsidize someone else's education? There are student loans available, everyone else is getting student loans, and the community colleges don't cost that much anyway. Further, why don't some of these students go out and get a job? Well, it just so happens that there are not that many jobs available because our economy is in shambles, mostly because the economic stimulus didn't work, as the Obama Administration spent the money on things which did not drive employment numbers as was planned.
Another thing I find unfortunate is if these students get away with registering to vote in large numbers, then they will realize that the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and that socialism can work for at least them and as long as they continue to demand more things from the government in the future, having other people pay for it, that their protests and activism will help them over others. This is a bad message for our future. They are basically voting to raise taxes on everyone else so they can get lower costs for college for themselves. Do you see the problem with this?
In other words, what I'm saying to you is if I get a whole bunch of friends together, and we tell the government that we want free iPads and new Corvettes, and we will only vote for the politician that promises us these things so we can have them? No matter that everyone's taxes will be raised so me and my friend get what we want. You might think that that was an outlandish example, and I've taken this argument too far, but essentially it's the same thing isn't it?
Further, what bothers me about paying for everyone else's college, if these college students usually end up voting for left-leaning politicians, because many of the college professors and teachers vote that way, and therefore they are becoming indoctrinated to vote a democrat straight ticket, and that indoctrination I am paying for as a taxpayer as well.
Well as you can see, we just can't get away from the politics of education, and the lines to the politics are everywhere aren't they? Right now the unions are lining up to support the Democrats, and the taxpayers are getting tired of paying for underfunded pensions, Cadillac health care benefits or government employees, and the demands of some of these unions. It's almost an outright street brawl, and in some places it's already come to blows. At some point we have to realize that it's not about the teachers unions, or the voters, it's about a good healthy education system to propel this great nation forward.
2.) Why Don't We Teach Kids Economics in High School, and Make Sure They Can Balance a Checkbook before Graduating?
Have you ever considered that perhaps we could have foregone the real estate debacle if people had just understood simple interest, and amortized loans? What if people knew how to make a family budget, knew how to do their own taxes without taking them to a tax preparer, or had better understood business cycles and economics? If so, fewer people would've engaged in liar loans, or no doc loans, to buy homes they would've realized that when you borrow money, you have to pay it back. If you lie about how much money you make, and take the loan anyway, that you will not be able to repay it.
Worse, many folks took out ARM loans, this is where the payments start out low, and increase after a few years. Those type of loans are really good for commercial construction because companies can build a building such as a carwash, restaurant, or some other commercial building and make lower payments until they get the business occupied, and up and running and making money. There are lots of good reasons for these types of loans, but they aren't so good for single-family dwellings, especially to low income people, or people who could barely qualify anyway.
Some of the people who bought homes on these ARM Loans didn't even have enough money to buy a chicken coop for $1400 much less a $400,000 home. However, with loans easy to get, and so many people willing to take those loans thinking they could flip those homes and sell them for more as the market kept pushing prices up - you can see why that was unsustainable, even if Wall Street found a way to repackage those loans which were not worth the paper they were printed on to sell them as investment vehicles.
The whole thing was bound to crash, and even Alan Greenspan mentioned; "I can't believe bankers would act like that," and yes, neither can I except; those bankers only held those mortgages for a very short amount of time before they were bundled and sold again. Of course, this also gets back to personal responsibility, financial management, and an understanding the value of money. One could ask what on earth are we teaching in the schools, and why did people take those loans out in the first place?
Well, there was an interesting article the Wall Street Journal on October 20, 2012 by Matthew Dolan which was titled; "Teaching the ABCs of College Costs - As Rising Tuition Puts More Students Deeper in Debt, Schools Offer Courses to Explain Their Budgets, Financial-Aid Plans." Well, that's good isn't it? Why do I say that? It's because I see a bubble brewing with college tuition and the trillion dollars of student debt which is now outstanding, 10% of that is in default. That means $100 billion, and this is the start of the big bubble burst.
All the while, these kids are getting out of college sometimes with $100,000 worth of student loans, but no jobs. Next, we have the Obama Administration telling everyone they need to go to college, and that all of our high schools need to prepare kids to go to college. Why I ask? If there are no jobs when they get out, we've essentially put them into economic enslavement, and they will not be able to pay their student loans. There is no honor in recommending that to the next generation of kids coming up.
Further, where it is good that some of these colleges are doing this and offering these courses, any prudent, reasonable, and responsible consumer, college student, or parent should have already considered all this. Are people really that dumb, that they can't figure this out without someone teaching a class to explain it to them? I find that rather unfortunate. After all, the same people are voters, which might make sense now seeing as half of our population are busy voting for socialists who are promising them things which will never occur at the time when we are approaching a financial debt cliff. Do you see my point yet?
4.) Politicians and Sociologists Tell Us That the Path to Success Is Going to College and We Must Not Deny Immigrants or Minorities the Opportunity
But again, I ask; is going to college really an opportunity? Or is it just an opportunity to enter economic enslavement? There was an interesting article in the LA times on 10-14-2012 which was titled; "Some Are in Denial About Precarious State of Schools - rate readers blame illegal immigrants, union, officials and more. But if prop 30 and 38 fail, the situation will be dire," by Steve Lopez. Nevertheless, why should taxpayers give more money to an unsustainable situation? It's not working as it is, why throw more money at it? And realize this is out here in California, but the same issue are going on across the nation.
The presidential candidates seem to think that the federal government can help out? But in the last four years the Obama Administration has already been deficit spending by $1 trillion per year. The federal government can't even bail itself out, how is it supposed to bail out our schools unless our economy gets back on its feet? And how can our government get back on its feet if everyone keeps voting for socialist type initiatives, getting free stuff, more social programs, all paid by the government? Who's paying for that? If we keep raising taxes, people will have fewer dollars to spend on goods and services therefore there will be fewer people employed making those goods or providing service.
That means all the people getting out of school won't have jobs, they will not be available, but those kids will still have $100,000 in student tuition debt. Can anyone see this isn't working? Do you know why? It's because socialism doesn't work, and we need to get the federal government out of our schools, but because this is such a serious issue. Since parents and communities aren't getting satisfaction locally, they are looking for the federal government to step in. But may I ask; when has the federal government ever done anything right in any program they've ever done nationwide?
That giant blob of bureaucracy can't run our schools, nor should we wish them to try from a centralized point out of Washington DC. All they give us is mandates, and they don't fund them to our satisfaction, which is provides more bureaucracy in our schools, and that means less teaching. Why would anyone agree to that? There has to be a better way? So I ask; can technology fix these challenges?
5.) What about More Technology in the Classroom, Coupled with More Online Learning?
There was an interesting article on October 21, 2012 in my local paper; the Desert Sun. The article was titled "Teaching with Technology - Schools look to boost use of computers, other gadgets without breaking the budget," by Michele Mitchell. Could a combination of teachers and technology allow for these larger class sizes with more learning outside the classrooms? What about more online videos, using those same technologies? What if those kids could take home those iPads, tablets, and laptops? What if they use their own personal tech devices on their own time, and come to school less often?
Is there a way to do more online supervised learning, is that the answer? Can our students learn faster, in such accelerated programs? The smart kids often say that school is boring, that they are slowed down by kids that don't learn as fast or maybe don't even speak English that well because they are ESL or "English as a Second Language". Is technology really the way out? In my area some of the school districts are asking for a vote on what they call; "Measure X" which would provide for "a $41 million bond for improving the district's high-speed Internet service and infrastructure, also to purchase teacher laptops and an iPad for every student."
Still, is floating a bond and borrowing more money really the way to go? When you borrow money you have to pay it back, and the bondholders are guaranteed a return on their investment. The problem is that many of these school districts are already laden with legacy cost, underfunded pensions, and budgets which are not only unsustainable, they aren't working right now. Improving Internet service, and purchasing more computer infrastructure, or even buying laptops which will be obsolete in two years. Or purchasing iPads which will get destroyed, broken, and also be obsolete, or be riddled with hacking challenges could turn out to be a waste of $41 million couldn't it?
What about higher education? There seems to be a revolution going on with online lectures, and online teaching. Another interesting article to read was written by L. Rafael Reif titled; "What Campuses Can Learn from Online Teaching," published on October 3, 2012 which noted; "searching for that sweet spot where cyber students around the world pay a small fee that helps make the residential college more affordable." In other words, universities and colleges can subsidize some of their costs by selling inexpensive online education lectures and courses to people in other countries, or folks that can't afford to go to college, but need that information to put on their resume so they can get a job, or advancement at their current employment. That's interesting concept isn't it?
6.) Special Education Case Law Is Also Challenging the Budgets of School Districts
The rate of autism in children is skyrocketing and this is putting a huge burden on our K-12 schools. The question now is; what is appropriate education, and can those school districts afford one-on-one instruction? Many parents of autistic children say that's the only way to do it, if they are to get it right. Parents of regular students say that their students also deserve one-on-one education especially when it comes to computer skills. Who's right and who's wrong? Well, they're both right, the problem is we can't afford it. What's the answer?
It appears that technology might be the answer, and one-on-one instruction for autistic children could be done with avatars. In fact, some autistic children learn quicker this way, and the avatar draws them out of themselves and helps them with their socialization, making learning much easier. What about for regular kids learning on the computer? Well, artificial intelligent avatar instruction is getting better at answering questions, even anticipating the questions that the student might have, helping them along making sure they understand everything as they go.
Perhaps you doubt that the technology and artificial intelligence has come this far, well then, I suggest that you read a very interesting article in Smithsonian Magazine July-August 2012 issue by Bryan Christian which was titled; "Rise of the Chat Bots - Could You Be Fooled by a Computer Pretending to Be a Human? Probably."
There was an interesting article, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on September 10, 2012; "More Isn't Better for Special Ed," which stated; "a new study shows how school districts can get better results," meaning there are other ways to get all this done, but often it's difficult when the parents are arguing, the school district is bathed in bureaucracy, and there is case law, lawyers, and federal mandates that are unworkable for any individual given student, teacher, parent, or school district. Do you see my point?
7.) Is the Old Way of Teaching Going to Work in the New Paradigm of the Information Age?
If you ask me, and I know you didn't, but I'd say that the old way of teaching where kids sit in rows of desks facing forward looking at the back of a teacher writing on a chalkboard is simply not going to cut it in the future. These kids want to be entertained, and their attention span has dropped due to video games, TV, and computers. With all these electronic toys, gadgets, and mobile phones, they need constant stimulus. Not boring lectures, monotone speeches, or the old theory of depositing information into the brains of little humans through rote memorization, and constant testing. That isn't working, and we all know it.
The younger kids will learn faster if they are involved, for instance I'd like to recommend an article in the July-August issue of Smithsonian Magazine 2012 which was titled "Why Play Is Serious" by Allison Gopnic which stated "a leading researcher in the field of cognitive development says when children pretend, they're not just being silly - they are doing science," it also had a famous quote from Edmund Burke "The first and simplest emotion we discover in the human mind is; Curiosity." And so, once again I'd like to point to technology to solve that problem.
Engaging these children in virtual-reality should be the future of teaching. Not so much a participatory augmented reality gaming center at the school, but rather an immersion scenario while learning. Okay, but now we're getting back to costs aren't we? We already noted before that one school district, near me was floating a $41 million bond just to speed up the Internet service and provide iPads for the kids. Now I'm suggesting a full on virtual-reality in the classroom, is that right? Yes, that's true. Now then, first we are going to have to address the legacy costs.
8.) More Money for Schools Will Not Necessarily End Up in the Classroom My Friend
What a lot of people don't understand is that a good portion of the money spent in our schools does not go into the classroom. It goes for administrative costs, school bus fuel, transportation budgets, new buildings, air-conditioning, school meals, campus maintenance, and the biggest cost seems to be paying for all the teacher benefits, and legacy costs. Still, if we set up a virtual reality system, we could cut teacher costs and the cost for teacher aides.
In colleges there's no reason that those classrooms could not run 17 hours per day. At night they could be used to show movies like an IMAX, and during weekends they could be used for conferences. These classrooms could also be used for simulated training by corporations which were also school sponsors. They can also be used for research. We have to do something with the costs in our colleges.
There was an interesting article in the USA Today on October 24, 2012 which was titled "College Costs Up - At Slower Rate," by Mary Beth Marklein. The article had a graph which showed that college tuition costs were up by 6.5% in 2008-2009, 7% in 2009-2010, 8% in 2010-2011, 8.4% in 2011-2012, but only by 4.8% for this current school year 2012-2013. Still, this current school year we are at 4.8% in increased tuition costs, and that means we are right at 7% on average over that span between 2008 and now. That's still too high, and it's unsustainable.
Okay so, let me ask you; "why do we need a professor" one who is giving the same lecture 2-times each year, that he'd given for the last 10-years? Why not just use a professor who is a hologram, pre-taped? And why not rent out that hologram to people at home in their living room virtual-reality gaming center? And wouldn't it cost a lot less to set up a virtual reality gaming center in your own home, then it would be to send your kid off to college knowing that when they came back they'd be in debt for $100,000, or you'd be out that amount of money if you had to pay?
Seriously, maybe we need to rethink the whole thing? Not only that but the students can learn at their own pace, if they wanted to do a marathon of lectures, they might be able to finish an entire course in a week. You might be laughing when I tell you that, but I can tell you when I was in college I did 33 credits in one semester, I went to two different colleges to merge the transcripts so they'd sync up. Today, I studied just as hard as I did when I was back in school, even though today I am retired. It's not impossible, and our students and young people need to take responsibility for their future.
Those who work harder will finish quicker and they will have the knowledge, education, and even feel as if they have the job skills because they learned in a virtual reality environment. What more do they need? Are we sending kids to school just to have a good time, keep them out of the job market, and spend money - propping up an old antiquated education institutional system which is no longer working for us, or are we going to get busy and get on with the 21st century? If something isn't working, and you continue to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, we all know that to be the definition of insanity.
Do you know what's even more insane? $1 trillion in accumulated student debt in our society, kids graduating with $100,000 worth of student loans but no job, and no way to pay that money back, and rising tuition costs of over 7% per year. Folks that's not working, it's a bad joke. It's one we need to take care of and do something about. These students don't need more debt, they need more options, and we need to leverage our technology to make this happen. If we truly want to prepare our students for the future, we don't need to educate them in the past, doing things the old way.
Well, apparently my 30 minutes are up now (minus commercial breaks), and I'm done talking as we are at the top of the hour, and now it's time for you to chime in, to bring some intellectual discourse to these arguments, and your educated opinion into this ongoing discourse.
The rules as you know are quite simple; no preaching to the choir and no obvious talking points of opposition. In other words I don't wish to rehash old arguments; we already know what they are. Rather, I wish to focus on fresh ideas. That's your mission if you choose to accept it, now I will open up the call lines. If you are reading this radio show transcript in an online article you may post your comments and questions below.
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