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Waiting for Superman September 24, 2010

Posted by Ken in Uncategorized.
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In a story over at the news/opinion website The Blaze, I commented on the current state of public schools and the promise of charter schools on a thread discussing the new movie “Waiting for Superman”, and since I spent a fair amount of time on the response, I thought I’d post it here for your enjoyment:

I live in NJ and work in public education (IT, not in the classroom), and I ran for the local school board a few years ago. I feel I understand both sides of the “teacher union debate”.

Once upon a time, teachers felt they were victimized by principals and the administration that could fire teachers at will (seemingly), unions helped remedy that fear, but their protections have in the minds of many in the community have gone to far. I agree with the community and feel that the teachers now run the buildings, and the pricipals are forced to sit by and tolerate bad teachers rather than dedicate countless hours to attempt to get rid of a bad teacher.

Once upon a time, teachers were poorly paid, earing less than similarly-educated professional earned, unions helped remedy that situation, demanding market-rate wages for teachers. In the minds of many in the community the compensation scale has been tipped to favor the teachers and over-compensate them. Starting teachers (those who, for example, just graduated from a teaching college with no experience beyond “student teaching”) earn $49K/year, and under my districts current contract realize 6-7% raises annually. I agree that the comensation levels are inflated and don’t reflect either short or long-term market realities.

Once upon a time, teachers either had no pension or their pension was very minimal – unions helped resolve those wrongs and current teacher upon retirement earn a lifetime pension that is calculated by taking the number of years in the union, divided by 55, and then multiplied by the previous three-year average salary. It is not unusual for a teacher with over 18 years in teaching to be earning $90K/yr, and if a teacher with 35 years teaching were to retire, the calculation would be:

35 / 55 * $90,000 = $57,272,72/yr pension

That seems like a fair, non-pauper pension – in fact it seems a bit generous to many, especially those in the community that do not have pensions in their jobs who pay taxes to fund these pensions. I agree with the community, and think the remedy lies in the adjustment of the pay scale first, and if needed a reconsideration of the divisor of the calculation.

Once upon a time teachers had poor healthcare coverage, but unions stepped in and adressed that so that now teachers enjoy (at least in my district, which is not special with regard to the scope of health care coverage for teachers) high-quality, low-co-pay health care coverage and (in my district) contribute a minimal amount towards the cost of their coverage. As healthcare costs have escalated and the community has experienced rising co-pay and employee contributions in their families, teachers have been blissfully immune in most cases, arguing that a cut in the scope of benefits or an increase in co-pay or contributions is in reality a pay cut. Teachers (at least in my district) negotiate healthcare benefits as a defined level of benefits ignoring cost. I agree with the community,a nd I am actively working with my school district to adjust their contract negotiations to handle healthcare benefits as a “benefits bank” where cost is negotiated on the basis of employer contribution levels, allowing the district to get a handle on the cost of healthcare coverage.

Are these pressures hurting the students, I’m not sure – I believe that higher pay and benefits attract better teacher candidates, but simply paying teachers ever-increasing salaries and premium benefits doesn’t guarantee a better experience for the child in the classroom.

Are Charter Schools the answer? Not sure, but they side-step a lot of the issues many community members have with the current situation and appeal to many. Charter schools offer a choice, and with that choice comes a certain amount of risk – parents choosing to enroll their children in a Charter School need to understand the risks and the possible benefits before deciding what is right for their child.

Link to story with comment on theblaze.com


The Project September 14, 2010

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I’ve just created a new blog (what, another one?!) called Ken’s Project Blog over on WordPress.com – it is a short-term exercise, more of a portfolio piece than anything else, I hope you’ll stop by and drop of a few comments (if you are so motivated).

Stark comparison between two DC events September 1, 2010

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It is amazing to see how the National Mall looked after an event back in January, 2009 when you compare it with an event that occured last weekend. I have to question if the folks at the January, 2009 event have any sense of personal responsibility or even pride in their nations capital…

First, the video of the aftermath from the January, 2009 event:

Next, the video from the August, 2010 event:

Makes me feel a bit like the crying indian from that Public Service Announcement when I was a kid:

(Special Thanks to TheBlaze.com for bringing the first two videos to my attention)

Lies, Damn Lies, and Nielsen Ratings August 18, 2010

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While the linked-to article is about the performance of late-night TV show Red Eye, the included charts show the ratings (overall and in the 25-54 demograph) for the various news channels. Sorry Neil Cavuto, Fox Business news isn’t included – maybe we should demand it! Link to Mediaite article.

Reagan vs… August 18, 2010

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Here’s a great little video of some powerful statements by President Ronald Reagan, inter-cut with some more recent statements by our elected leaders:

Unemployment by county, 2007 – 2010 August 18, 2010

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Fascinating, disturbing video of the month-by-month increases in unemployment by county over the last three plus years, as depicted by U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor statistics.

Thoughts on the iPad August 11, 2010

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A couple weeks ago I bought an iPad, despite my opinion that it was a fairly limited device. My opinion of the iPad hasn’t changed much, but I can easily say I don’t regret deciding to buy it. Let me explain…

My thoughts when the iPad first came out revolved around the fact that it looked like a massive, almost cartoonish, version on the Apple Touch, and that it is geared more towards content enjoyment, not creation. That isn’t a bad thing, but it is a “thing”to be aware of. And, of course, there is the ‘no flash’ kerfuffle – much WWW content is flash-based, to the point that it really does impact your ability to enjoy a fairly large chunk of web sites. Sure, Apple/Steve Jobs has decreed that flash is no good, but that doesn’t change the reality of the web as it is today and for the next little while.

So what is good about the iPad? Well, the battery life is great – mine gets used sporadically, but I’ve never been surprised by the battery suddenly going dead on me. The battery life of this device suits my usage patterns, but I don’t really push the limits of this device, either. The display is glorious, the resolution and brightness never fail to impress others, and while I mainly use the iPad in dimly lit rooms or in an office environment, I can say that it serves my needs well. I honestly have no idea how well it would work outdoors, I assume it would be similar to an iPhone. The actual size of the iPad isn’t as big an issue as I would have imagined, but I must confess I tend not to take my iPad out on the town – it is used mainly at home or in an office. I wouldn’t want the iPad to be any bigger (then it would be like a clipboard), and any smaller and it starts to resemble my iPhone (which goes everywhere with me BECAUSE it is so small).

So then, what’s wrong with the iPad – not a lot, once you understand what it is (and is not). The iPad is NOT a laptop or a netbook – it is a tablet, with no dedicated keyboard (and the on-screen keyboard is only good for hunt-and-peck typists). To fully exploit the abilities of the iPad, you also need to buy in to the Apple iTunes/Store model of buying content from Apple to load up your iPad – there are other methods, but you can’t for example, save a PDF file from a website on the iPad by simply selecting and holding on it on a web page (like you can with, say, a picture). Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but a ‘thing’ to be aware of.

Then there are the Apps. Now understand, the iPad, like the iPod/iPhone has an app to do almost anything, and many are free. I like free. I like free so much that I refuse to pay for them – not for any reason other than I just don’t like buying apps when there are so many free ones available, and I really hate buyer’s remorse – that sinking feeling you just wasted $2.99 on a bad app with no real recourse. I’m not saying my feelings about paid apps make any rational sense, but they are my feelings…

It can be used as an iPod, but the form-factor precludes it’s use as such in nearly all contexts imaginable, save two – on a plane and to provide background music while using your ipad to enjoy non-audio content (ebooks, webpages, etc.).

In the final analysis, I don’t view the iPad as a ‘game changer’ or a ‘paradigm shifter’, but it is an answer to that desire for a bigger screen on your iPhone, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the iPhone remaining.

The iPad I bought was the 64 Gig non-3G model (no cellular hardware built-in), because I envision loading this up with content for family trips, and the storage will come in handy (I imagine). I chose not to buy the 3G model because I don’t like the idea of buying hardware I might never use, since I also don’t like subscription fees for service. For ‘on-the-go’ Internet browsing my iPhone with it’s data plan usually suffices – when it doesn’t I can usually get on a real computer (net book, laptop, desktop) without too much effort. I decided to invest the money I would have spent on the 3G hardware ($120 -/+) on greater on-board storage.

As for traveling with the iPad, I feel pretty confident this would meet nearly all my computing ‘needs’ for several days, but I would have carry a so-called travel router, a device that plugs into an Ethernet Jack and transmits the Internet connection over WiFi. I’m not sure how I would get through a Terms of Service click-through screen, maybe it will just workout (the ToS screen might just make it through to the iPad browser).

All things considered, I’m happy with my decision to buy an iPad, but as I said earlier, that’s because I knew what I was buying, I understood it’s limitations, and I had a need I thought this device could satisfy. It is my hope that this brief write-up will help you, the iPad-curious, to come to your own conclusion.

POTUS on The View July 26, 2010

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So this Wednesday President Obama will make an appearance on ABC’s The View – ordinarily I wouldn’t be interested, but in reading the re-cap of his appearance as then-candidate Obama, I noticed he said the following when asked about Rev. Jeremiah Wright (his pastor of 20 years at the time):

“I didn’t have a research team during the course of 20 years to go pull every sermon he’s given and see if there’s something offensive that he’s said,” Obama said of Wright. (Source: ABC News)

It apparently never occurred to any of the hosts to ask then-candidate Obama what he was doing in Rev. Wright’s church for twenty years listening to sermons by Rev. Wright and even going so far as naming one of his two books after a sermon by Rev. Wright. Apparently, like his time in the Illinois Senate, then-Candidate Obama was neither for or against Rev. Wright’s sermons – he was merely “present.”

In a way, this reminds me of Rep. John Conyers “why read the bill” defense – Rep. Conyers is famous for not noticing his wife’s bribery activity in his own house and using his staff for campaign purposes, but he recently used his lack of researchers as a defense against reading the bills he’s asked to vote on in Congress.

Did Politifact Georgia make a mistake? July 22, 2010

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A recent PolitiFact Georgia “tweet” caught my attention, and after reading the analysis of the statement that “by 12th grade 3 out of ten girls have been pregnant” I drew a different conclusion – here’s my note to the author of the PolitiFact Georgia piece: (more…)

Jake asks, I jump ;^) June 18, 2010

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Jake, I was employed in IT for most of the last 25 years, and I’ve been on unemployment a few times (maybe four), but that is par for the course in the IT game. My last job was for a small business that made digital video recorders for casinos, but when they moved to Nevada, I choose to stay in New Jersey.

I was let go in July or 2006, and waited until October of 2006 to file for unemployment. Since then my benefits have been on again, off again, and I’ve been helpfully re-enrolled in each extension by the NJ Dept of Labor.

I’ve been working part-time at the local school district since January, 2008, which has “stretched” my benefits. I don’t collect full unemployment checks, there’s a complex formula wherein they take the base benefit amount youare eligible for, add an amount to it ($104?) and then subtract any earnings. cutting you a check for the remainder. (base benefit I’m eligible for is $521, I earn $275 each week, and I get a check for $350 – plus $25 in federal “extra” benefit).

I believe I will be extended again, but to be honest I’ve lost track of the various approvals…

In normal times my employer would likely have offered me a full-time IT job with the district, but with Gov. Christie and the budget fun in NJ (and the country), adding staff isn’t an option… But my boss may combine three part-time jobs to one full-time position – that negotiation is underway with the school board.

And, BTW, I fully support Gov. Christie’s 5% budget cut for all NJ public school districts, as a taxpayer I pay about $23K/year in property taxes. Also, working with teachers every day I can tell you they have no clue why the NJ taxpayers are so irritated… Of course, many of them live outside our district, and about half live out of state.

Anyway, that’s me in a nutshell, let me know if you have any other Q’s.