Archive for July, 2013

July 31, 2013

Quick Links – Our best students compared against the world; gifted 29-year old can’t find a job; Detroit’s high illiteracy rate

by Grace

Our best and brightest students don’t shine so brightly when compared to their counterparts around the world.

Compared with big urban centers, America’s affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world—in Finland and Singapore—very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

The problem America faces, then, is that its urban school districts perform inadequately compared with their suburban counterparts, and its suburban districts generally perform inadequately compared with their international counterparts. The domestic achievement gap means that the floor for student performance in America is too low, and the international achievement gap signals that the same is true of the ceiling. America’s weakest school districts are failing their students and the nation, and so are many of America’s strongest.

* * * * *

“My child is gifted. He’s also 29, unemployed, and living in my basement”

This parent believes “the idea that a kid should be forced to ‘get a job’ is abhorrent” and thinks it’s “pointless” for his 29-year old college-educated son “to be out working in a retail store or some other menial job”.  Better for him to live at home for free while he waits “to get the job he deserves”.

I confess I’ve sometimes feared turning into this parent.

* * * * *

 Among the 25 Facts About The Fall Of Detroit That Will Leave You Shaking Your Head

9) An astounding 47 percent of the residents of the city of Detroit are functionally illiterate.

July 30, 2013

Professional certification may sometimes help career growth

by Grace

The question of how much value certification adds to career growth has not been definitively answered.

Many professional certifications seem to add little value in terms of career opportunities.  I got a hint of that when I typed “certifications are” in the Google search box, only to see these four Autocompletes pop up.

certifications are useless
certifications are worthless
certifications are a waste
certifications are bullshit

Human resources certification
While the future of certification as an option to a college degree is yet to be decided, there is evidence that some types of certification programs may help.  Human resources is one area where this is true.

PayScale reviewed the impact of the PHR and SPHR certifications on the careers of HR professionals and found that acquiring the certification sweetened the careers of most HR positions. Either certification led to faster career growth and higher median pay. The positive impact of the credentials could be seen across job titles, industries, genders and geographies.

20130722.COCHRCertification2

Penelope Trunk thinks this could be explained by the overly cautious temperament of human resources professionals.

… I don’t know what to make of this, except that LinkedIn has research to show that human resources attracts people who are most averse to risk. So it makes sense to me that people who are scared of risk would need to trust a certificate rather than their instincts when making a hiring decision.

Another consideration is that the PayScale study, since it did not seem to correct for many other factors, may simply reflect correlation and not causation.  Perhaps the smartest, most capable human resource professionals are also the ones who tend to seek certification.

AOL CareerBuilder gives us a list of 8 Professional Certifications In High Demand, but while most seem legitimate I question how all of these made the cut.  It makes me wonder if sponsored endorsements were involved.

1. Professional project management
2. Foreign language
3. Corporate training
4. Desktop support administration
5. Personal fitness training
6. Professional sales
7. Web design and development
8. Certified clinical medical assistant

Sales?  Having some experience in the field of sales and marketing, I would be surprised to learn that many sales professional are relying on a certificate for career advancement.  Typically, sales professionals are judged by their numbers, not by proof of completing a certification process.

On the other hand, I know someone whose employer strongly values the Professional Project Management (PMP) credential.

July 29, 2013

With the rise of robo-reporters, what is the outlook for jobs in journalism?

by Grace

As more news stories are written using algorithms that compile data and format it for publication, what is the outlook for careers in journalism?  Or for many other writing jobs?

While journalism students have a right to be concerned, this particular technological disruption could be a positive step for those reporters willing to step up to the challenge.

… the use of algorithms on routine news tasks frees up professional reporters to make phone calls, do actual interviews, or dig through sophisticated reports and complex data, instead of compiling basic information such as dates, times and locations.

“It lightens the load for everybody involved,” he said.

Reporters currently involved in writing basic, mundane news stories may find themselves out of work.  Overall, the total number of workers in this industry may decline, perhaps partly offset by the rising number of computer scientists needed to create these programs.

Narrative Science, a pioneer in robo-writing, recently announced plans to expand into other business areas.  The idea is to turn data into insight.

As an example, think of customized end-of-day portfolio summaries instantly produced for upper management and investors, audiences that may want to see the same figures in different formats. Furthermore, rapidly generated texts can be produced at scale, such as individual portfolio summaries for firms with a long client list. Other examples included investment research, in one case producing 35,000 reports per month for a company that previously struggled to manually produce 10. The takeaway: “If you have data, we can tell a story.”

Narrative Science uses Quill, an “artificial intelligence engine” that “discovers” ideas.

Businesses Need Insight, Not Just Numbers

Quill gives you the power to move beyond the numbers and leverage true insight. Quill is an artificial intelligence engine that generates, evaluates and gives voice to ideas as it discovers them in the data.

Let Quill Do the Writing for You

Receive Data
Quill imports your data and builds an appropriate narrative structure to meet the goals of your audience.

Create Story
Using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms, Quill extracts and organizes key facts and insights and transforms them into stories, at scale.

Deliver Insight
Quill uses data to answer important questions, provide advice and deliver powerful insight in a precise, clear narrative.

According to the BLS, the job outlook for reporters, writers, and editors is average or below average.

Related:  For a journalism job, consider majoring in economics or math (Cost of College)

July 26, 2013

Fiske lists best colleges for the money

by Grace

The Fiske Guide to Colleges Best Buys of 2014 was recently released.

PUBLIC PRIVATE
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Adelphi University
  • Iowa State University
  • Brigham Young University
  • New College of Florida
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Oregon State University
  • Clark University
  • Purdue University
  • Cooper Union
  • SUNY-Binghamton University
  • Cornell College
  • SUNY-College at Geneseo
  • Deep Springs College
  • Texas A&M University
  • Elon University
  • The Evergreen State College
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)
  • Northeastern University
  • University of Edinburgh (UK)
  • Olin College of Engineering
  • University of Florida
  • Rhodes College
  • University of Iowa
  • Rice University
  • University of Mary Washington
  • St. Olaf College
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • The College of Wooster
  • University of North Carolina Asheville
  • Trinity University (TX)
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • University of the South (Sewanee)
  • University of Oregon
  • Wabash College
  • University of St. Andrews (UK)
  • Warren Wilson College
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Xavier University of Louisiana
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison

Geared toward parents, counselors and college-bound students, the guide uses high academic rating, inexpensive or moderate price and the quality of student life on campus as criteria for its best buys. All of the guide’s best-buy schools, including 21 public institutions, fall into the inexpensive or moderate price category, and most have four- or five-star academic ratings.

Yeah, it’s another ranking system that has its flaws.  But if you’re seeking value in a college choice, it might be worth taking a look at this list.

I notice that New York, North Carolina, and Texas each have two public colleges on the list.  Many of the Fiske schools are also on Kiplinger’s list of best values in public colleges.

July 25, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – CONSISTENT GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS

by Grace

The importance of keeping consistent grammatical subjects is covered next as part of reviewing and revising the first draft of an essay.  It is one of the topics addressed before moving on from Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point. (This is my 12th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)


CONSISTENT GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS

The rule:  As far as possible, keep the same grammatical subject throughout your theme.

First, what is the grammatical subject?

The grammatical subject is the person or thing that does something in a sentence – does something or is something, did something, or was something.

Kerrigan explains further, using an example of an essay about students.

Keep the same grammatical subject.  That means start out talking either about a student or about students — or about you, we, I, or anybody or anything else.   But then in every sentence you can, keep talking about either a student or students, or you — in other words, don’t jump back and forth from one to another.  Of course, you can and should often call a student he, she, he or she, (to avoid sex bias), or students they….


Here are before and after examples of correcting for consistent grammatical subject.

Before revision, without a consistent grammatical subject:

A student who is not wealthy out to find a college with low costs.  In fact, if students sat down and figured all the expenses before they enrolled in college, he or she might avoid serious trouble.  An expensive school is not necessarily a good school.  Actually, what college gives you depends mostly on how seriously you do your work there, whether attending it is expensive or not.  If we loaf through school, no amount of money paid is going to make much out of us.

After revision, with a consistent grammatical subject:

Students who are not wealthy out to find a college with low costs.  In fact, if they sat down and figured all the expenses before enrolling in college, they might avoid serious trouble.  An expensive school is not necessarily a good school.  Actually, what college gives students depends mostly on how they do their work there, whether attending it is expensive or not.  If they loaf through school, no amount of money paid is going to make much out of them.

Keeping the same grammatical subject improves clarity.

Now the reason behind keeping the same grammatical subject is this:  it gives readers one target to keep their sights on and thus makes their job of reading simpler and less likely to be distracting or confusing.

Improves cohesion

“But by far the strongest cohesive force in the paragraph is the recurrence of the same grammatical subject, or its equivalent, from sentence to sentence.”
(Wilma Ebbitt, et al., Writer’s Guide and Index to English, 1978)

WHAT I LEARNED

Developing writers should check for a consistent grammatical subject as part of their first draft revision.

I often find myself making grammatical subject mistakes in my blog, which I only catch sometimes.  However, sometimes I intentionally change the subject, as I’ve done in the last part of this post.

UPDATE:

An assignment is not included for this section, but one could easily be created by using the “before” example above, with the student then asked to make corrections.  Or, a paragraph from an article or book could be selected, then changed so that the grammatical subject is made inconsistent.  The student could then be assigned to make corrections to this paragraph.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

July 24, 2013

Quick Links – Children need facts to learn; parents read more to girls; a new blog

by Grace

‘Children can’t think if they don’t learn facts’ (The Daily Telegraph)

The academics who criticised rote learning are wrong – it is at the heart of all knowledge

Author and journalist Harry Mount responds to the professors of education who oppose Britain’s new national curriculum.  They claim it will ‘will place an overemphasis on memorising “endless lists of spelling, facts and rules”’, thereby robbing children of the “ability to think”‘.

Those academics think knowledge and thought are at war with each other in a zero-sum game; that you can’t have one without destroying the other. They say that rote learning is less important than “cognitive development, critical understanding and creativity”. How wrong they are – and how depressingly keen on the dreary, Latinate jargon of academese. You can’t be critical or creative, or develop, without knowing anything. Knowledge and thought aren’t chickens and eggs: knowledge always comes before a decent thought. Brilliant thinkers invariably know lots of things; and people who don’t know anything are usually stupid, unless they have had the cruel misfortune to have their natural intelligence stunted by an education system that prizes ignorance.

Daniel Willingham would further argue that we need “inflexible” knowledge , which is “memorizing with meaning”.  Rote knowledge, which is memorizing without meaning, is typically a precursor to flexible knowledge.

* * * * *

Why parents read more with their daughters

Girls get more reading time with their parents than boys do.

There Are Plenty of Reasons Why Parents May Read More With Their Daughters

One theory holds that girls might have a greater inclination toward such activities. (Theories suggesting innate differences between boys and girls and between men and women are hotly debated.) Another theory is that parents may be following cultural scripts and unconscious biases that suggest they should read with their daughters, and have active play with sons.

It is also possible, Baker says, that the costs of investing in cognitive activities is different when it comes to boys and girls. As an economist, he isn’t referring to cost in the sense of cash; he means cost in the sense of effort.

“It is just more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl because the boy doesn’t sit still, you know, doesn’t pay attention,” he says, “these sorts of things.”

* * * * *

Check out a new blog.

My son recently launched a new blog.  Occam’s Razor Scooter “is dedicated to news, pop culture, sports, and whatever else the author finds interesting”.  Politics is a particular focus, with a regularly updated guide to next year’s US Senate elections.  And the blog’s “dog of the day” feature is worth checking just for a daily smile.

20130717.COCDogOfDay1

July 23, 2013

Some careers not commonly considered, perhaps for good reasons!

by Grace

What is a great career path that kids in college aren’t aware exists?

The “wisdom” of Reddit generated over 12,000 replies to this question.  Here are the top ideas.

Crime-Scene Clean-up Technician — salaries start at $35,000 and go up to six figures

Best opportunities may be for those who are “experienced and live in an area with a lot of accidents/violent crimes”.

“It’s a very emotionally rewarding business and a very financially rewarding business,” he said. “It’s just extremely hard work and if you don’t have that switch where you can turn off your emotions, you can’t do it. It’s not for everybody.”

Funeral Director/Morticianmedian pay is $54,330 per year

This makes sense:  “The older directors are dying (sorry guys) and there is going to be a spike in the death rate since the baby boomers are starting to pass.”

Employment of funeral directors is expected to grow 18 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Those who embalm and are willing to relocate should have the best job prospects.

Land Surveyormedian pay is $54,880 per year

Employment of surveyors is expected to grow 25 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will result from increased construction related to improving infrastructure.


Other jobs suggested were mining engineer, air traffic controller, and court stenographer/reporter.  I would take all these suggestions with a grain of salt, but the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook is a good resource for checking out basic information.

Technology will continue to kill some jobs.

I know of a woman who has had a great career as a court reporter, with high job demand and reasonable working hours.  However, this job now seems ripe for a takeover by technology.  Here’s what the BLS has to say about court reporters.

Employment growth may be negatively affected by the increased use of digital audio recording technology (DART). Some states have already replaced court reporters with this technology, while some others are currently assessing the reliability, accuracy, and costs associated with installing and maintaining recorders.

Even with the increased use of DART, however, court reporters will still be needed to verify, check, and supervise the production of the transcripts after the proceedings have been digitally recorded. Despite the cost-savings that may be associated with DART, some state and federal courts may still prefer the quality provided by highly-trained court reporters.

Related:  Technological advancements stunt job growth – ‘the great paradox of our era’ (Cost of College)

July 22, 2013

Careers can thrive even when the promotions slow down

by Grace

Most of us have no desire to occupy the corner office.

More than 3 in 4 employees say they have no desire to move up in their organizations, according to a 2011 survey of 431 workers by OfficeTeam, a Menlo Park, Calif., staffing service. Some have found equilibrium between career challenges and family stability. Others don’t like managing people or taking on tasks that don’t excite them.

It is probably more common to desire a rise in the ranks to end up at a certain “sweet spot”, where the work is interesting and challenging, but not too demanding that it cuts into enjoying other parts of life. And the reality is that the number of corner office spots is quite limited.  But there are pitfalls for those who casually cruise through a career without planning a strategic course of action.

  • Some companies espouse an “up or out” culture, leaving few options for employees who don’t want keep up a rigorous pace of increasingly challenging assignments.
  • Colleagues may view the person who does not seek regular promotions with less respect.  Younger workers in particular may wonder what went wrong his career.
  • A person who has held the same position for many years may be viewed as a “blocker”, preventing subordinates from upward movement.
  • A takeover or reorganization places the employee considered stale or expendable at a higher risk for downsizing.
  • Salary stagnation may be the price to pay for not pursuing constant advancement.

Don’t become the “old fogey” in the corner.  Here are some ideas for thriving while staying at the same level in an organization.

  • Making your boss look good never goes out of style.
  • Be honest about your value, and how that translates into compensation.
  • Cross training can be an avenue for demonstrating the benefit you bring to a company.
  • Madonna can be your role model, as constantly reinventing yourself can give the glow of a positive spotlight.  Maybe you can become the leader in pursuing a new line of business, take on the role of mentoring up-and-coming stars, or become the go-to person for a critical area of expertise.
  • Do not ignore office politics.

Ambitious young college graduates might want to bookmark this post for reading in five or ten years.

Related:  ‘jobs that pay the most for the least amount of work’ (Cost of College)

July 19, 2013

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – Revise the paper to add more details

by Grace

The next part in Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point calls for reviewing and revising the first draft of an essay to make it more specific and concrete (This is my 11th post about my project to study and learn the entire Six-Step method, first explained here.)  For a recap, here are Steps 1 through 4.

STEP 1. Write a short, simple declarative sentence that makes one statement. (Chapter 1, page 6)

STEP 2. Write three sentences about the sentence in Step 1—clearly and directly about the whole of that sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 2, page 18.)

STEP 3. Write four or five sentences about each of the three sentences in Step 2—clearly and directly about the whole of the Step 2 sentence, not just something in it. (Chapter 3, page 31.)

STEP 4. Make the material in the four or five sentences of Step 3 as specific and concrete as possible. Go into detail. Use examples. Don’t ask, “What will I say next?” Instead, say some more about what you have just said. Your goal is to say a lot about a little, not a little about a lot.  (Chapter 4, page 43)

Don’t stop with a first draft.
Most first drafts need review and revision to produce a better final piece.  This Kerrigan assignment calls for a thorough inspection of the previously written essay, with the primary goal of incorporating more concrete details and examples.

THE ASSIGNMENT (page 67)

What?  Who?  For example?  Be specific! … Guided by such suggestions, but not limiting yourself to them, go through every sentence of your paper, changing every term – if you can – to something more specific and adding examples where you can.

This is the the first draft of  the essay I wrote for the previous assignment:

X  A student must have a regular schedule of study..
1.  A student needs a study schedule to maximize academic achievement.
2.  A student needs a study schedule to accommodate his other activities.
3.  A student needs a study schedule to maintain good health.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

X  A student must have a regular schedule of study.

1.  A student needs a study schedule to maximize academic achievement.  Since his first priority is usually his schooling, it is important that a student find ways to improve his academic performance.  One way to do that is to plan and implement a study schedule that will put his school work at the top of his list of things to do.  If getting an A in a chemistry test requires three hours of reviewing notes and practicing problems, then that time must be set aside to take precedence over television, Facebook or daydreaming.  For example, sometimes scheduling 20 minutes a day to review vocabulary words is the only way to get a top grade in Spanish class.

2.  A student needs a study schedule to accommodate his other activities.  While academics are his first priority, a student must also fit in all types of other activities into his routine.  Eating, sleeping, sports, club activities, and simply relaxing are usually all important aspects of a student’s life.  Without a schedule, time is frittered away and a student may end up sleep deprived or being kicked off the track team for missing practices.  All these different activities can be planned so a student will be able to perform competently in school and as well as in other parts of his life.

3.  A student needs a study schedule to maintain good health.  Without a schedule, the elements of a healthy lifestyle will suffer.  If a student neglects to plan ahead for sufficient study time, then he may find himself up late at night cramming for a test when he should be sleeping.  He may find himself eating on the run, which often means fast food and cookies instead of healthier options.  This can lead to poor nutrition, weight gain, or more serious medical conditions.  Making time for adequate studying causes a student to feel well-prepared, while the opposite causes stress.  Sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and high stress can be avoided by a well-planned study schedule.

I already had included many details in the essay.
When I reviewed my first draft, I only found a few instances where I could add more details and examples.  After all, the previous assignment called for the writer to “be specific and concrete, far beyond what you feel necessary.  Go all out in this respect.  Go into detail .  Give examples.”  I had taken those instructions to heart, and included plenty of concrete information in my first attempt.  But here are the few changes (in red) I made to the final paragraph of the essay.

3.  A high school student needs a study schedule to maintain good health.  Without a schedule, the elements of a healthy lifestyle will suffer.  If a student neglects to plan ahead for sufficient study time, then he may find himself up late at night cramming for a his geometry test when he should be sleeping.  He may eat too many meals find himself eating on the run, which often means fast food and cookies instead of fresh vegetables and whole grains healthier options.  This can lead to poor nutrition, weight gain, or more serious medical conditions.  Making time for adequate studying causes a student to feel well-prepared, while the opposite causes stress.  Sleep deprivation, poor eating habits and high stress can be avoided by a well-planned study schedule.

As you can see, I added a few more details, including the change I made to all the X-1-2-3 sentences that made it clear the essay was specifically about high school students.

WHAT I LEARNED
A review and revision of the first draft is important, offering an opportunity to clarify and enhance meaning by adding details.  Of course, a third (or fourth, fifth, or sixth) look often reveals more ways to fix mistakes, cut out extraneous material, and make other improvements to a written piece.

You can check out all previous parts to this series by clicking THIS LINK to my initial post.

July 18, 2013

Don’t hold your breath for Oregon’s ‘free’ college tuition plan

by Grace

“Pay it Forward, Pay it Back”,  Oregon’s plan to let students attend college without paying tuition, needs a lot of work before it becomes a viable solution to making higher education more affordable.  First of all, despite the headlines, it’s not “free” tuition.

When an advertisement says “No money down,” an asterisk and some fine print typically follow. And it’s probably wise to look for that.

That seems to be the case with an Oregon proposal that has generated headlines such as “Plan would make tuition free at Oregon colleges,” “Oregon is doing free higher education the right way,” and “Oregon looking to eliminate tuition and loans for higher education students.”

Despite the headlines, the state didn’t suddenly abandon all plans to charge tuition. Last week the Oregon legislature took the first steps toward possibly implementing a plan that would allow public college and university students to forgo upfront tuition payments in exchange for paying a portion of their wages back to their alma mater for about 25 years following graduation. While it may mean no money down, it could still add up to large tuition bills.

One proposal calls for students to agree to pay “3% of their salaries annually for 24 years“.

Don’t hold your breath.

  • It is unlikely to become active for another three to four years at the earliest.  The bill still requires the governor’s signature, and many logistical issues need to be finalized before a possible 2015 pilot program.
  • The budget for implementation has not been approved, a significant hurdle given the current economic climate.
  • The plan faces strong opposition from many critics, particularly those who see it as transferring increased financial responsibility from the taxpayers to individual students.

A myriad of potential problems

Pay it Forward faces a myriad of potential problems.  It does not seem to address the problem of soaring college costs, but only defers payment to some future time of supposedly improved economic conditions.  In particular, with dropout rates approaching 50%, many who leave college without degrees may find it particularly challenging to pay back tuition costs.  There is also concern about how the program can be manipulated, with graduates taking on jobs that pay in cash to escape paying back their debt.  And then there’s the problem how this program would drive away many of Oregon’s strongest students, those with the highest potential to earn financial aid at out-of-state schools.  This would increase the percentage of low-earning participants, creating an imbalance that could threaten the financial stability of the program.

Related:  Oregon’s Very Radical and Very Terrible Plan to Make College ‘Tuition-Free’ (The Atlantic)

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