Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

More bad news on the education front

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Kellie sent me a few links from the Upstate on the worsening financial situation in our colleges.

So, some colleges are cutting staff.  One school is cutting salaries 10%.  Clemson’s people face mandatory furloughs.

Something is rotten in the state of South Carolina.

One final point.  Here’s a quote from one of the links above:

The state’s technical colleges served about 39,000 full-time equivalent students and got $171 million from the state in 2000, compared to 53,623 full-time equivalent students and $154 million from the state in 2008 before the budget cuts, Booth said.

So, we have more full-time students than ever in the technical college system, and we have to serve them with less money than we had eight years ago.  Now, of course, we’re meant to serve them with much less money.  The $154 million figure was pre-cut.

If you happen to be a student at one of South Carolina’s technical colleges and you wonder why your teachers might look a bit hurried … well that’s why.

Death of a thousand cuts

Monday, November 17th, 2008

If you’re a South Carolinian, you should be aware of just how royally the budget for your state govenrment is screwed.

Since I work at one of the state’s technical colleges, here’s the bit that I want to emphasize:

The cuts have also affected colleges and universities. Officials at the University of South Carolina say they expect to have a plan next month on how to handle $36.9 million in cuts, but there are no plans for mandatory, systemwide furloughs, spokeswoman Margaret Lamb said.

USC’s not forcing folks to sit home without pay, but Clemson has.  But you know who’s really screwed?  The technical college system.  We can’t raise tuition mid-year like the large schools can.  We don’t have many fees that can be increased to make up for yet another round of budget cuts.

So if you care about having a workforce that can attract new jobs to replace those at plants who are closing their doors during this recession, ask your state representative what he’s doing to ensure that your local technical college remains open.

The four day week

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I saw this article a few days ago, but (since this is finals week) haven’t had much chance to blog.  It’s about schools trying to cut expenses by going to a four-day week:

Cutting out one day of school has been the key to preserving educational programs and staff in parts of Kentucky, New Mexico and Minnesota, outweighing some parents’ concerns about finding day-care for the day off.

One school district saved $65,000 in transportation costs alone.  (Average annual teacher saqlary is under $50,000.)  And there’s additional energy to be saved by turning stuff off in the unused buildings on Fridays.

The article’s about K-12 schools, and there’s a legitimate argument against moving to a four day week there:  What about parents who have to work five days a week and who suddenly have to find – and pay for – child care for their kids on Friday?  This isn’t an unsolvable problem (as the article notes), but there is a better place for a four day school week:  community colleges.

The typical community college student drives to class each day – sometimes a hour each way.  That’s a lot of driving time for classes that meet 5 days a week.  With the advent of $4 per gallon gas, it’s also expensive. Not to the school itself, but to the students – who already have to put up with soaring textbook prices and rising tuition.

My college seems to be ready to experiment with the four-day week, although it remains to be seen if they’ll want faculty members and staff to come out to the campus to sit behind a desk on Fridays.

Students already love the four-day week idea.  Who wants to be in class on Friday, anyway? 🙂

It’s a start

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Until now, I’ve not blogged about John Freshwater.  He’s the Ohio fundamentalist who’s been busted for forcing his religion onto students in his public school classroom.

But as someone who teaches, I have to say something.  I teach adults (usually) instead of children, but I often teach in a laboratory environment.  My top priority in a lab situation is to keep my students safe.  I don’t want my students burning themselves, spilling chemicals on themselves, cutting themselves with broken glassware, or accidentally stumbling onto any of the other ways to get hurt in the chemistry lab.  I want them to learn something and to have fun, but I want them leaving in at least as good a condition as they were in when they arrived.

With that in mind, I just read that the Mount Vernon school board has planned to fire John Freshwater.  Good.  It’s a start.  He has no business in a classroom.

And, though I admit that I have little patience with fundamentalist loons like Freshwater, I don’t think his religion is his real problem.  Sure, he should be fired for pushing his religion in science class.  You’re not allowed to do that on the taxpayer’s dime.  But let’s remember what else went on:

Freshwater burned crosses onto the arms of some of his students and told them that gays are sinners, the school board said in a resolution the five members passed unanimously yesterday after meeting privately to discuss the results of an investigation.

Firing him is letting him off too easy.  This clown is supposed to be a science teacher – someone who inspires his young students with a love of science while ensuring they stay safe – and he’s deliberately injuring them?  He should be prosecuted and jailed if found guilty.  After being fired, of course …

Not just Visa

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

The New York Times reports that students who choose to attend our two-year colleges are going to have a tougher time finding financial aid:

Some of the nation’s biggest banks have closed their doors to students at community colleges, for-profit universities and other less competitive institutions, even as they continue to extend federally backed loans to students at the nation’s top universities.

The article goes on to mention that Citibank, among others, has dropped many two-year colleges.  Why?

Mark C. Rodgers, a spokesman for Citibank, which lends through its Student Loan Corporation unit, said the bank had “temporarily suspended lending at schools which tend to have loans with lower balances and shorter periods over which we earn interest.”

We’re talking about student loans, here – government subsidized and guaranteed.  Citibank is whining, apparently, that two-year students are just too good at repaying their loans (“shorter periods”), so Citibank doesn’t make quite as much easy money off them.

Perhaps Congress should step in and make it so that banks either lend to all eligible students, or they get to lend to none of them.  Why should we taxpayers take on risk for Citibank and then allow them to cherry-pick loans for maximum profit?

Full disclosure: I teach at a two-year college.

Dumbest thing I’ve read this week

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

I didn’t see this commentary at first because, well, I don’t make it a point to pay a lot of attemtion to CNN gasbag Glenn Beck. But sometimes, you’ve got to call out stupidity when you see it:

The Gates Foundation is working to cure malaria, develop new tuberculosis vaccines, and stop the spread of AIDS. Most of our colleges and universities are only working to spread the radical political views of some of their professors.

Really, Glenn? You think that’s all that our colleges are doing? Laughable.

It’s true that some colleges have different missions. Research universities focus a lot of their resources on … research. (Where does Glenn think that lots of this AIDS research is done, anyway?) Two-year colleges focus more on job-related education, etc. But colleges that exist “only to spread the radical political views of some of their professors”? I can’t say that I’ve run into too many of those.

Super-Size SC

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

A bill aimed at removing junk food like sodas and high-calorie snack food from South Carolina public school vending machines was recently rejected.  Our schoolchildren are among the most obese in the nation, so why did this happen?

“We support the intention of the legislation (to improve students’ eating habits),” said Scott Price of the School Boards Association. “But the local boards and communities should be making those decisions for themselves.”

Looking a little deeper, though, we can get a glimpse of the real reason the bill was opposed.

Some Greenville high schools earn as much as $70,000 annually from vending machine sales, said Quentin Cavanagh, marketing and training specialist for Greenville County schools. “None of (the principals) want to sell this stuff. But they need the revenue,” Cavanagh told the House panel.


But the bottled water and granola bars that replaced the Cokes and Snickers candy bars were not as popular with students. As a result, some high schools [who removed junk food] suffered big cuts in vending machine revenue for student activities.

We’ve got to ask ourselves a question. If schools are so desperate for funds that they’re terrified of putting less junk food in their vending machines because it might lower sales, then aren’t we underfunding our schools?

The importance of a good start

Friday, February 8th, 2008

If you’re a college student and you’re reading my blog right now, here’s something for you to think about: How important is it, really, to do well on the first test in a course?

You can always go back and catch up on the beginning stuff any time during the semester- and a semester is a long time. Also, there are usually several other grades that can pull up a bad first test. So how bad can bombing the first test possibly be?

Here’s a chart showing a comparison between students’ grades on their first test and their final course grades. There are about 90 students plotted. Students who withdrew from the course were not included since they had no final course grade to plot.

[Final grades vs. Test 1 grades, 450px]

The yellow box shows all students who both “bombed” their first test with a score of 60 or below and brought their grade back up to make at lease a “C” in the course. Notice how few students appear in that box: three.

So yes, it is pretty important to do well on the first test. Passing the first test doesn’t guarantee success in a course, but failing it almost always leads to failing the course. Think about that before you head out to another late-night party the night before your test!

Studying really DOES work!

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

Since I teach at a college, I get a fair amount of junk mail from publishers’ representatives wanting to sell me … or force me to make my students buy … their educational doo-dads. Here’s one from my inbox this morning.

Dear Professor […]:

In a recent message to you, we noted that in a general chemistry class recently taught at the University of North Texas, students who completed more than 90% of the OWL problems assigned earned an average grade of 89.3%—while students who did not follow the assignments earned an average grade of 66.3%. With results like these, it’s no wonder OWL [Online Web-based Learning] is the most popular chemistry learning system in use today.

They’re trying to sell me an “online homework” system. I’ve been incorporating web content into my courses for a decade now, and one thing that my students have always had trouble with was web-based chemistry problem sets. Chemistry problems just don’t lend themselves easily to input into a computer – for instructors or for students.

(And besides, I already have plenty of online content for my courses, all free to my students…)

But the real reason this e-mail caught my eye is the sales pitch [emphasis mine]:

[…] students who completed more than 90% of the OWL problems assigned earned an average grade of 89.3%—while students who did not follow the assignments earned an average grade of 66.3%.

You don’t say! Students who complete nearly all of their practice assignments actually make better grades? There’s a shocker.

But why should this revelation make me want to force this product onto my students? I observe the same sort of pattern whether I have assignments on the web or on paper. The students who make higher grades generally spend more time with the material and complete more of their practice assignments.

The problem is getting students to spend time with the material.  I somehow doubt that this product runs on an Xbox 360!

Too much information?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

For a while, I’ve maintained a website for the students in my chemistry classes. I put study guides, notes, solutions to quizzes and tests, schedules, and various other things on the site.

Shortly after redesigning the web site to use WordPress, I received this handwritten comment from a student on my instructor evaluations:

I feel that the students should get study guides to study with for the tests.

Where were the study guides?


I’ve deleted the address of the site, since it’s a school site just for students. But if you’re familiar with how WordPress organizes things, you’ll notice that the page containing all the course study guides was the second page I ever posted to the site. (It was also the second link from the top of the page, just under the link to the course syllabus.)

By the time the class got to their first test, I’d added more pages. So I wonder – did this student just see the list of resources available for the course and just decide that there was too much stuff to bother with? What amount of resources is too much? What amount is too little?