Gas station without pumps

2010 July 28

Race to the Top finalists announced

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:39
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Thirty-five states and the district applied for part of the $3.4 billion available under the Race to the Top competition. The finalists are Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Carolina. [from an article by Stephanie Banchero in the Wall Street Journal]

It looks like California is still in the running, so our legislature will probably use the dream of one-time federal funds as an excuse to cut education further, and we’ll end up with neither state nor federal funds for our schools.

The chart that goes with the article shows California as having the worst test results of any of the 19 finalists except the District of Columbia.  Massachusetts, however, is on the top for both math and reading.  Is the difference in the education, or is it a demographic difference?  I know that school scores within California are highly correlated with the fraction of the school population that identifies themselves as Asian or white, with almost all the schools generally getting poor results with Hispanic and black students.  Will the RttT funds be used to push Massachusetts further ahead of the other states, or help the lagging states like California catch up?

2010 July 27

COSMOS talk on assembling genomes

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:25
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Today I gave a talk for the COSMOS program, the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science .COSMOS is a 4-week summer residential program for high school students interested in math and science. The kids are pretty bright and ask good questions, One of the kids in the class told me (after the class) about getting 4th place in the mathematics and software category three years ago in the California State Science Fair, when he was in 8th grade.  Another was wondering why he couldn’t find error-rate and read-length data for sequencing using graphene nanopores (I had to explain that no one had yet gotten nanopore sequencing to work—it is still a technology of the future).

I was talking not about protein structure prediction, which has been my main research field for the past 15 years, but about assembling genomes from shotgun sequencing data.  I’ve only gotten involved in assembling genomes in the past 8 months, but I was able to borrow a lot from the graduate class I co-taught on Banana Slug Genomics.

I started the lecture by explaining what bioengineering, biomolecular engineering, and bioinformatics are, and gave some advice about succeeding in STEM programs in universities (simple advice, like declaring one’s major immediately, and loading up with science and math courses in the first few years, rather than taking general ed first).

The talk was a bit rough, and the slides even more so, as big chunks of what I was presenting was material that had been presented in the course by my co-instructor, but I think I got the main points across to the kids, even though none of them had heard of the computer science idea of a graph before.  I did about a third of the talk on the whiteboard, which is more comfortable for me than pre-prepared slides.

2010 July 26

California standards vs. Common Core

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:38
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Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman have just published an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee, asserting that adopting Common Core standards in math would be a step backwards for California, as the K–7 common core standards are weaker than the current California standards, and would make 8th grade algebra more difficult to teach.

I have not had time to do a detailed comparison, but the reviews I’ve seen suggest that Evers and Wurman have a good point—the current California standards, which were adopted in 1997, are generally regarded as more advanced than the Common Core.  The California standards were instituted out of the same general dissatisfaction with poor math education that prompted the Common Core, but California did it quicker and, some believe, better.

So the question now facing California educrats, particularly the California State Board of Education, is whether having a nationwide agreement on what belongs at each level in school is valuable enough to accept some damage to what is currently the best of the state math standards.  The California State Academic Content Standards Commission thought so (with Evers and Wurman dissenting).

My opinion is that the whole notion of age-based grade levels is wrong and twiddling with the standards won’t fix that.  There is value to having standards that all schools and curricula must meet, but I wish that the standards were not labeled with grade levels.  There are students ready for algebra long before 8th grade, and students who are barely ready for it by the end of high school.  Having students progress through the standards based on mastery, rather than age, would be greatly helped by not labeling the standards with grade levels.

One specific criticism of the Common Core that Evers and Wurman raise, that there is a big jump at 8th grade because the K–7 standards are too weak to provide sufficient support for the 8th grade algebra standards, is probably a valid one and should certainly be considered by the State Board.

2010 July 25

Education Entrepeneurs

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 12:06
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Kathy Matheson has just written a story for Associated Press about new university initiatives to train people for selling to the education market.  The article is mainly about the Networking Ed entrepreneurs for Social Transformation (NEST) program at the University of Pennsylvania, but also mentions the U.S. Department of Education’s  Investing in Innovation fund and Arizona State University’s education entrepreneur summit.

There is a lot of money going into helping businesses extract more money from the education sector: Matheson reports that the U.S. Department of Education is putting up $650 million “to boost education innovation.”  One wonders how much of this will go to teachers and schools for actual education and how much will go to snake-oil edutech salesmen.  U. Penn seems to be betting on the snake-oil salesmen.

Like the University of California’s administrative fantasy of a quality online university the U. Penn NEST program seems to be more about business models and technology glitter than about education.  The winning proposal in their first competition was for a Digital Proctor that uses biometrics of typing to try to catch cheaters—not something that will improve teaching or learning, and probably not accurate enough to use in real-world testing situations.  Technological snake oil.

Spam on blogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 08:59
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The wordpress.com site has a spam filter for comments that seems pretty effective.  I was amused by one of the spam links they filtered out today, which pointed to a site saying:

Are you manufacturing or importing Math, sell Math by drop shipping wholesale. Bringing your Math suppliers online drop shipping distribution business.

Get more Math wholesale drop shipping merchandises on Math Software for Kids and Mathematics.

Note: I’ve deliberately dropped all links in the quotation and to the site as a whole, because I don’t want to encourage more spam.  Most of what I get on the blog is from a site that points to gas stations, but there are the usual penis enlargement and gambling ads also.

Even more mysteriously, there seem to be a number of “referrers”, which appear on my Dashboard claiming to point to my blog but which don’t. The target audience for this must be blog owners, rather than blog readers. I wish that wordpress would validate claims of referrers before cluttering up the list with spam.

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