Saturday, March 17, 2012

A short, visual update of the past few weeks

Grandpa Perkes turned 80, they have a sugar drawer, which is awesome 
A couple weeks ago was international pancake day.  I made that

I bought a scooter.  It's sort of incredible.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

And now for something completely different:

I put a lot of thought and time into this paper  Sadly I didn't put a lot of time in the actual writing, I managed to put it off, literally until the 11th hour (I started at 11, it was due at 1)  so there are likely some mistakes, but it's an interesting topic.  For the sake of conciseness and having a solid and permissibly biased argument, I didn't spend a ton of time on the studies that back up vouchers, but there's substantial (albeit contradictory) information about the success of vouchers in a few places.  It's worth reading about, if you're into that sort of thing.

The Race for the Finnish: Why Vouchers Won't Solve American Education
American education is broken. America, which once led the world in education, has fallen far behind other developed countries, now ranking around 20th worldwide. As a solution, some suggest a voucher program as a way to let the invisible hand of the free market create better schools. This idea is flawed. In practice vouchers are not an easy, catch-all solution, and could perhaps make things even worse. What is needed is a greater paradigm shift in the way we approach education.
First of all, what is the purpose of education? Some see education in a utilitarian view as a means to stimulate the economy and domestic prosperity. Others see it in terms of egalitarianism: that education is the cure for the inequality in our society, the means whereby the poor can rise up out of poverty and achieve success. In either case, there is little conclusive evidence that vouchers work. Private school students, when adjusted for income, perform essentially the same as public school students, or in some cases worse. The greatest determination in educational achievement is not schooling or race but economic conditions. In general, the rich do well wherever they are, the poor do poorly. Thus private systems, already driven by free market principles, have yet to outperform the public schools in a significant way. From an egalitarian perspective, vouchers are plainly ill equipped for equality. In a free market the richest will always be able afford the best and the poorest will be forced to settle for the worst. This is how schools are now; the rich can afford to live in areas with good public schools and choose between public and private, and the poor are stuck with their ineffective local public schools. In this sense vouchers probably could not make things much worse, but equality has never been the goal or the product of capitalism.
Logistically alone vouchers are problematic. Typically the proposed vouchers would cover around $3,000. Let us be generous and say it was $5,000. The average cost of private school is over $10,000. It is lower at religious schools, which are often non-profit models.   At non-affiliated, assumably more capitalistic institutions, the average cost is over $16,000. The cost of educating a public school student is $10,000. Even accounting for the supposed greater efficiency of private institutions, it is difficult to imagine that a voucher would provide better choices, when there is little incentive for a private entity to seek out the business of losing money while educating.
Even for conservatives there are important considerations for vouchers. It is still a government imposed redistribution of wealth. The rich are still paying more in taxes to fund the education of the poor. Those without children are paying for the education of those with children, assuming they do not get their money back. In addition, since private schools would be receiving government funds, the government would undoubtably want some control over how that money is spent. In many ways, vouchers would destroy many of the supposed advantages of private schools. A better option for conservatives who do not want to be paying for other children would be to simply reduce taxes and cut government spending on education, but this is harder to sell to the public.
The argument for vouchers invokes the mystical free market which unavoidably solves all these problems. There would be no great costs, because supply and demand would ensure competitive rates. Private schools would be so effective that the cost of educating a student would drop dramatically, allowing for even lower costs. Institutional structures could be established to ensure that problems of unfairness were taken care of (although this in itself is a step back from the free market that would supposedly fix everything). Even public schools, forced to compete with private schools, would perform better as the monopoly of socialist education was eliminated. To be fair, these are valid arguments, and there is evidence for them. Several studies of voucher programs have shown some success, even improvement for the public schools nearby. However, it is hardly conclusive. One of the longest and most complete experiments in free market schooling occurred in Chile, which for over a decade implemented the voucher system under the guidance of Chicago economists. What happened was a near collapse of their education system. Graduation rates dropped dramatically and over all performance declined. It is easy to argue that there were confounding factors, but it is clear that the free market failed to overcome the challenges of educating a nation. A similar effort in Sweden has produced a thoroughly average education system, one that falls just behind The United States in world rankings.
Whether or not vouchers would help is a complicated issue. They have produced some success and some failure in the various locations in which they have been implemented, but it is clear that they are unlikely on their own to catapult our country back to the forefront of education. I do not presume to know the solution for this, but it is my feeling that a larger change is necessary. American schools are focused so much on 'performance' that they fail to educate. In Finland, which consistently places first or second in world rankings, the education system is absolutely different from ours. It is completely centralized, with a standardized curriculum across all schools and colleges, which are free. Kindergarten starts at age seven, following an extensive pre-schooling program, teachers are highly respected and becoming a teacher is highly competitive, not withstanding the pay being comparable to teachers here. There is little standardized testing, and grades are not even given until high school, and even then no rankings are established. The focus of the system is not on competition or performance, but on equality, ensuring that every student has as great an opportunity as every other. From an american view point, the whole system seems so european. But the results are difficult to deny, especially in light of the fact that Finland actually spends less per student than the United States.
Clearly it is not a question of money, or incentive, but in the culture of education. Somehow, in our race to outperform everyone else, we are leaving our children behind, even as we are being beaten by countries whose only goals are equality. If America expects to be competitive in the global economy, and if we desire to provide an equal chance to all children, we must learn from the Finnish model. We must accept that there is no single, simple, solution to such a complicated problem and begin to determine how we can go about completely changing the culture of education.

There are various sites I read in thinking about this issue, and I've referred to several of their findings, although with little specificity. In all honesty I ran out of time to do an effective bibliography, but for fairness here are the sites that I read and some of their main points: : Adjusted for economics and such, public schools generally perform better than private/charter schools. Finland the best school system in the world? avg private school cost 3000? avg private school costs 8500, non sectarian: 17,000 Some conservative arguments against vouchers

I also read a bit of Chile's free-market miracle: a second look. This is a good book on vouchers in Chile, it's on google. 

As a bit of an after though, it didn't quite fit into the paper, but I was thinking about how intelligence is portrayed in the public.  If we are going to continue to call intelligence elitism, attack higher education as secular, vilify teachers as incompetent and lazy, and remove all responsibility from parents and children for their performance, performance which is measured by artificial tests which don't necessarily translate into real knowledge, should we really be surprised that our education isn't the best?  

Monday, March 12, 2012

So if you're lonely

The plan was to do my homework, but I am mysteriously sleepy.  I'm going to blame taco bell, I don't know how that could have been a good idea.  I'm going to try to tell a linear story, we'll see how this goes:

A few weeks ago, I realized I needed to give myself a budget.  I had gotten a raise at the MTC, and I was falling into the habit of spending money because I could.  Zappos sent me a free vip membership, so I bought some shoes.  Threadless kept telling me about these great deals, so I bought several T-shirts.  Spencer (my cousin) tipped me off to a super cheap bike on KSL, so I bought it.  My computer broke, on account of being dropped, so I had to pay two of my friends gas money to drive me up to Salt Lake twice over the course of two days in order to have it fixed at the apple store.  Not withstanding having bought lots of really great things at really good prices, I realized I needed to control myself a little.

Then, I was checking ksl for scooters as I often did, and I the scooter I've been waiting for all this time.  It was a tiny bit more than I was hoping to pay (I wanted to pay around $450) but it was perfect.  And then the weather became perfect, and on a bit of a whim, I called the guy, and bought it.  Having never driven a scooter before, and not having a helmet, driving it home at night was one of the more nerve wracking experiences in recent history, but I didn't die, so that was a huge success.

The second day of owning a scooter was a bit of a trial of my scooter faith.  I realized I had to get it registered and  insured and deal with all these absurd laws and taxes and things that just don't exist for bikes.  Then I went to start it and I couldn't get it to start.  I tried with the kick start for about 20 minutes, and finally got it, and then turned it off to run in for my stuff, and then when I came back i couldn't get it to work for an hour or so.  I finally got a friend to jump start it, so that I could drive it to the inspection place so that I could get it registered, I got there and they failed it for the tire tread, and informed me that I needed a new tire.  I had already read that these people were a little over zealous in their problem finding and a little slothful in their problem fixing, so I kindly rejected their offer to fix the tire for $80.   Once again, I couldn't get it started, so I had to ask them to jump it, which they graciously did for free.  It was a beautiful day though, and driving my scooter home was basically amazing.  That day I was talking to my friend about it and he told me of a magical place that would pass scooter inspections in all but the most serious cases.  I had hope.

The next day I set off for the Sinclair on Center st.  Miraculously, my scooter kickstarted on the third try, and I drove it all the way there without any problems, then I left it running for about half an hour while they took care of everything, so as to recharge the battery.  And it passed, with flying colors.  I drove it back home, and bought some helmets, so that I would could stop tearing up (from the wind) and stop worrying about dying (from the road).  The next day was sunday, and after our weekly brunch I went to show a couple of the girls my scooter.  This was a big step in scooter ownership.  I tried to start it, but it didn't work, but then the kick start worked relatively easily, and it was lots of fun to give them rides around the parking lot.  I resisted the powerful urge to drive the scooter to church, and around town in the afternoon, since I still lacked license, registration, and a helmet.

Anyway, to wrap up: after the initial rocky start, it's been a dream.  I managed to take care of my license, registration, and insurance today, and my helmets are in the mail.  I had no idea how absurdly fun owning a scooter would be, it's totally worth the money I've spent,

Which brings us back to the budget.  Having been wholly unsuccessful in creating a budget, my new budget is that I'm not allowed to buy anything unnecessary during the month of march.  We'll see how much money I have when march ends, and then I might continue it through april.  We found a really good deal on summer rent though ($65 a month) so I'll catch up pretty quickly.

So that's the saga of how I spent way more money than I should have in the space of about a week, I'll put some pictures up once I take them.   That was supposed to happen today, but it got dark before I got around to it.  If you find yourself considering buying a scooter, my only advice is to do it quickly.  My main regret is that I didn't buy a scooter last year at this time when I was considering it; so much time wasted.