[Beowulf] (no subject)

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Mon Jan 30 14:09:44 PST 2006

At 01:32 AM 1/30/2006, Robert G. Brown wrote:
>On Fri, 27 Jan 2006, Jim Lux wrote:
>>Entire state of CA: 35,135 lowest, 56,444 avg, 53,804 BA+60
>>Even districts with very low average family incomes don't have salaries 
>>that are a lot lower.  (The low income has other effects.. more is spent 
>>on supplemental programs for remediation).
>Ummm, it isn't really fair to use CA as an example of what is "typical".

Super-inflated property values add a certain baseline minimum to the
>cost of living there, even with rent control and the like (as in my
>brother cannot charge anything like the $7K/month or so that would be
>"fair market" rent for a ramshackle trailer).  The CA economy in the
>highly desirable living/affluent zones (like e.g.  the New York City
>economy) "works", but it is somewhat distorted compared to 90% of the
>rest of the country.

I suspect, though, that the ratio between software weenie wages and teacher 
wages is fairly consistent.

>Apparently NC's average salary is $43K, compared to $47K national
>average (available various places online).  However, entrance level is
>much lower and while it isn't by any means an absolute rule, "computer
>instructors" are a lot more likely to be young than old, and I'll wager
>that only a very small percentage of them have actual Bachelor's degrees
>in computer science.  Compare this to:
>   http://www.computerworld.com/departments/surveys/skills
>and you can see that a "help desk operator" makes more, on average, than
>a high school teacher in NC.  All the "real" computer jobs in NC make
>maybe $15-20K (on average) more a year than teaching high school, and
>let people start making this kind of money far younger than they would
>in teaching school.

Indeed, this is true, and teachers ARE undervalued.

>So OK, you got me, 4-5x was a bit hyperbolic.  The main point, though,
>is not -- there is and will likely continue to be a large and immediate
>marginal benefit to anyone who leaves a job teaching computer skills in
>high school and enters almost ANY sort of real IT position in industry
>or (even) higher academe (which pays less than industry but employs a
>lot of IT people, making the average a bit deceptive).  For young people
>just starting out in teaching the marginal difference of $10-20K can be
>a significant fraction of their original salary, and its MARGINAL
>benefit (factoring in insurance and retirement, taxes, social security,
>and the fixed costs to the family of mortgage and food) can be the
>difference between not so genteel poverty and some degree of comfort or
>the money required to start a family.  I know several people who used to
>be teachers but who literally couldn't afford to stay in the profession,
>at least if they wanted to remain married.

You're right.. you'll climb the scales faster in IT than in 
teaching.  However, folks who teach do it for the love of it, not for the 
money, so probably, it's not so much that you can earn a better living 
being an SA than a teacher, but that the career path for the average IT 
person doesn't encourage teaching as a profession.  I'll bet the average CS 
curriculum doesn't have much content in the "how to teach others to do 
computer" area, especially when the teaching target is rookies or 4th 
graders (CS grad students do discussion sections for undergrads, but 
that's, I'm sure, viewed as penance, dues paying, or something 
similar).  Likewise engineering, etc.

Hah.. maybe this is the solution to the world's problems, here on the 
Beowulf list:  it's not that we need writing classes, or teamwork classes, 
or more calculus, etc., it's that we need to encourage more engineering 
majors to take up teaching as a job, as opposed to being money grubbers 
chasing VCs.

>The interesting thing is that I think that everybody -- governments,
>school boards, parents, students, teachers -- understands that computing
>is one of the most important single things for an individual to master
>in school these days.  Computers are also expensive little suckers, they
>become obsolete in 3 years and decrepitly obsolete in 5 years, and the
>BEST INTENTIONED TEACHERS IN THE WORLD lag the mastery of the technology
>by more like 10.  The kids being taught, who have grown UP with
>computers, often understand them better than most of the teachers in
>their school, sometimes including the ones nominally responsible for
>teaching them about computing.  This creates a huge resource problem.
>You can't solve a school's computer problem by a single huge bolus of

The endowment idea... As I mentioned earlier (and you go through again 
below), you need a continuing source of money.  Doesn't have to be huge, 
but it does have to endure.

>   To do this properly, one needs to FUND computing with ROLLOVER
>REPLACEMENT of every computer the school owns, including those provided
>for all the teachers, every five years at the latest.

This actually is starting to be standard practice.  If only because 
supporting all the other things becomes difficult with highly heterogenous 
configurations.  It's actually the case that some (enlightened) schools 
won't accept donations of 3 year old computers (costs more to keep them 
running than the "free computers" are worth).

>   One has to FUND
>systems management for an entire LAN.  One has to FUND software.  One
>has to FUND teachers to teach computing, in the teeth of a 30% salary
>differential available for the asking to anyone competent and willing to
>work for IBM, or SAS, or Pfizer, or GE, or countless smaller companies.

The 30%, realistically, is going to be paid by love.  Sort of like folks 
working for NASA being paid in "space dollars". However, there does need to 
be some sort of payment.

>>So, get that endowment fund going.
>Interesting solution!  Of course this produces a sort of awkward
>plutocracy as far as setting curricula is concerned, where someone or
>some corporation (ahem, ahem) with lots of money (ahem) and an agenda
>(ahem) can endow a fund with strings attached and arrange to shape those
>young minds along the paths they select.

But this happens anyway, just in other areas (athletics springs to mind).

>Or they can achieve the same
>goal by donating equipment or software instead of money and avoid having
>to pay the taxes that might have ultimately funded the schools directly
>(but without the influence).  Beyond the corporate, often as not
>individual initiatives along these lines tend to push still more
>resources into schools in affluent communities while neglecting poor
>ones just because the poor ones don't have the wealthy donors, because
>parents have a hard enough getting involved where their own kids' future
>and opportunities are at stake, let alone kids in poor rural communities
>Down East (in NC, that would be the eastern part of the state, where
>there are whole counties that are very poor indeed).

This is a fundamental problem (and one which has resulted in interesting 
lawsuits, where some districts have a "share the donation wealth" policy)

Is it more inequitable than any other aspect of something as highly 
politicized as public school funding?  Probably not.  In California, 
decades ago, schools were funded almost entirely by property taxes within 
the district, leading to huge inequities.  They created what was called the 
"Collier factor" method (I think) which did some wealth transfer to 
equalize it.  Prop 13 resulted in a huge defacto change to state funding, 
but then, it's the legislature sticking their fingers into the money 
distribution: influenced by the feds, etc.  No matter how you slice it, 
public schools are viewed as a convenient mechanism for achieving social 
goals (it's pervasive, everyone's kids go, it's compulsory, etc.)

>optimization problem.  One might THINK that communities have the right
>to determine what school size is best for their own community's needs.
>Not according to the Gates foundation.

Communities have decided to do things in the past that are demonstrably 
inappropriate: segregated schools spring to mind. Local school boards are 
typically not educationally sophisticated, and tend to respond to loud 
voices, reasonable or not.  One hopes for a reasonably sophisticated 
professional infrastructure at the county and state that provides a decent 
framework within which a local school board can work. State textbook 
adoptions are a good example.  If you use the state textbooks, you get 
money to buy them.  (Mind you, textbook adoption is itself an interesting 
can of worms.  Read Feynman's comments on the process in one of his 
books).  California, for instance, publishes "framework" documents that 
describe an integrated K-12 plan for each subject (i.e. in Grade 4, we all 
talk about California history, and cover the following areas)


Anyway, an excellent discussion.


More information about the Beowulf mailing list