[Beowulf] (no subject)

H.Vidal, Jr. hvidal at tesseract-tech.com
Mon Jan 30 20:57:38 PST 2006

Jim Lux wrote:
> At 01:32 AM 1/30/2006, Robert G. Brown wrote:

> <snip>
> 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.
>> 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.

This has awful consequences sometimes.

The math dept. in our high school spent two years courting a PhD candidate
from MIT to join the school after he completed his studies. He completed
his PhD, then took the job at the school, and at a salary significantly 
than the average starting salary for high school teachers. Now this fellow,
and his wife, were from Texas, where apparently you don't need about a
million dollars to buy a reasonable house (this is very nearly the case here
in NE NJ, near the GWB). So he stayed for about 6 months, then quit, and
returned to Texas.

The bottom line is that although you want excellent teachers in an
academically aggressive area (i.e. parents are well educated, and strong
earners, and want both of same for their kids), very often the teachers
drafted to lead this charge cannot afford to be in the area.

But personally, I think one of the real downward pressures on teachers
is their lack of excellence. This, coupled with the very low value ascribed
to education in this country, and you get a result where the benefit
of an excellent educational system is simply not all that relevant.
Or, that is, it's perceived to not be relevant.

Oh, sure, you get lots of parents that *talk* about how important school is.
You get lots of politicians that talk about how important education is.
But the bottom line is that the culture is largely at fault. Let's face it,
smart folks are largely marginalized until they learn to be aggressive 
to gain power (typically, by way of economic gain).

> 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 money grubbing VCs are a way out of 'poverty.' The big bell at the top
of the financial heap, once you get to ring it, you're safe. This is what we
perceive, and this is the reality (in this area, making $100K is really no
assurance that you will survive, which makes for some very odd outcomes
in your psychology compared to the folks just 60 miles away that think this
is a fortune).

>> 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
>> money.
> 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.

I disagree with this concept because it's the application that is important,
not just the simple reality of having lumps of cash, even regularly.

Take two examples: the dot-bust, where people threw money at us because,
to a large degree, it had become fashionable (where else would computer 
receive a million dollars from a VC, then blow half of it on a great 
party (not
fictional, happened just up the street from us..)).

Computing in schools. Yes, computing! Many of our affluent districts measure
their success by the number of machines they update/receive on an annual
basis, even though teachers and students alike are hard pressed to make 
usage of this iron. Do we really need tons of 3+ Ghz machines for word 
and net browsing?

So when you say endure, I think 'a plan first, a brilliant plan, then a 
over a long time.'

>>   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.

Ah, yes, the Oracles and Microsofts and Suns of the world. How we know 
them well......

> 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.

I'm sorry, and how is that?

Go ahead, ask me why I say that.

> 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)
> <snip>
> Anyway, an excellent discussion.
> jim
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