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Sunday
Aug032014

BFTP: Housing values

We put our house on the market this summer and re-read this old post with mixed emotions. I never thought selling a dwelling could be so emotionally taxing...

 

I dwell in Possibility,
A fairer house than Prose. 
     Emily Dickinson

Our house sits on one of Minnesota's 15,000 lakes and its screened-in deck provides a lovely view. Middle Jefferson's not the best lake in the state by any measure - shallow, mud-bottomed, and weedy until early July. But it is quiet and a refuge for pelicans, muskrats, ducks, leaping fish, herons, turtles, egrets, and the occasional eagle. The sunsets are glorious. Could be worse.

What got me thinking about the house was a story on public radio about how the "net worth" of so many Americans is completely tied up in their houses. And how the uncertainty in home values causes great unease among lots of people.

And here I naively thought humans bought homes for the quality of life they provide, not simply as a financial investment. As a nest rather than a nest egg. Were I to sell this house at a fiscal loss, I still would come out ahead considering the wonderful events it's hosted - holiday meals for the hoards of relatives, fishing and boating with the grandsons, graduation parties, quiet evenings with friends, and even summer department meetings. It's a congenial place that's value lies less in land, paint, and shingles than in memories and pleasant hours spent.

I was once asked if I knew the monetary value of a school library. Such a number is not that hard to calculate - add up building costs per square foot and the cost of resources, furniture, and equipment. I'm sure such numbers have importance to some people, but I have a tough time seeing any program that nurtures a love of reading, problem-solving, and learning in a safe and welcoming environment in purely dollars-and-cents terms.

Perhaps I am just getting sentimental in my old age. But I feel sorry for those who only see worth when dollars are involved in either homes or schools.

Original post May 31, 2009

Saturday
Aug022014

Test data - for kids or politicians?

When I go in for my annual physical every three or four years, the clinic collects a lot of data from me. Blood tests, EKGs, blood pressure, and polyp counts (butt let's not go there.) At the end of my exam, the clinic has a lot of potentially useful data.

So what if the hospital then took all those numbers, aggregated them with the numbers of other patients, and used the averages to evaluate:

  • the quality of the clinic
  • the quality of specific treatments
  • the quality of the physician
  • the quality of health care in the United States compared to other countries

but totally ignored what that elevated blood pressure might mean about my personal health?

Educators, is this how we are using the testing data we collect on students? Are we using it for everything but actually helping individual kids?

Until every student has an "educational health chart" used by a knowledgeable and caring teacher to individualize learning experiences, data is working for politicians, not kids, parents, or teachers.

Image source

Thursday
Jul312014

BYOD and the school supply list

... another dang school year started with my students not having immediate, continuous access to [the school's online resources and the Internet]. And the simple reason is that there still isn't a device available that's right for kids and schools. Where is the computing/communications hardware gizmo that:

  • weighs less than two pounds?
  • runs at least eight hours on a battery charge?
  • is 802.11x compliant?
  • can be dropped without breaking?
  • comes only with a full-featured Web browser for software?
  • has a screen that can be read for a long time without eyestrain?
  • sells at a price point most parents can afford -- let's say under $200?

from Disappointed Again, Education World, November 2006

For the first year ever, I may not be able to express my disappointment over the lack of affordable tools for student use. Chromebooks, tablets, and netbooks are reaching a price point "most parents can afford." 

Each year we send a letter to parents in the district advising them on what specs they should be looking for if shopping for their children who are students in our school. We don't recommend brands or models or even whether to go tablet or notebook, but we ask them to look for devices that, among other things, have "a full functioning, recent web browser (Firefox, Explorer, Chrome, Safari) that will allow it to access GoogleApps for Education tools and documents, the Infinite Campus student portal, Moodle 2.0, the state of Minnesota's ELM content databases, and the Destiny library catalog along with other e-resources the district provides."

While I am not promoting any product, Chromebooks seem to meet this criteria rather well. See the screenshot of a GoogleSearch on ACER 720s above. Not fast, not fancy, but they get the job done for the most part.

So here is my question: Why should we not put these on the school supply list, especially in our high schools. Before you suck in a fly with that enormous gasp of horror, consider other items we routinely place on school supply lists and their costs.

Fifteen years ago, I was required by my son's high school to purchase a graphing calculator from Texas Instruments that cost about $130. (The first was promptly lost so I got to buy two, the second which has gathered dust since the class ended.) Given inflation, a $200 Chromebook isn't that much more than that graphing calculator - and perhaps even less than all the notebooks, planners, pens and pencils, trapper keepers, and all the other junk that clutters backpacks and lockers if the device lasts a couple years.

One of the frustrations our teachers have experienced with BYOD is, of course, that students bring many different devices and on an unreliable basis. Having a specific personally owned device as a required school supply would go a long way in ending this problem. 

Anybody in a public K-12 system who has tried this approach to BYOD?

This came across my radar just after posting this entry:

According to the Huntington Backpack Index, parents can expect to pay:

  • $642 for elementary school children, an 11 percent increase compared to 2013
  • $918 for middle school children, a 20 percent jump compared to 2013
  • $1,284 for high school students, a 5 percent increase compared to 2013
HUNTINGTON BANK’S ANNUAL BACKPACK INDEX FINDS DOUBLE-DIGIT COST INCREASES FOR FAMILIES SENDING K-12 STUDENTS TO SCHOOL THIS FALL