Saturday, December 29, 2012

College Loans

Teaching our kids about debt is an important lesson we can provide them.  It is especially important that we coach our kids about college loans.  The laws were changed so that kids cannot shed college loans.  Heavy debt can follow a child throughout his life.  I remember reading one story of a lady who went through college and medical school on borrowed money and would not be free of college debt until she was in her 70's.  She said she would never be able to buy a house.  I did not save that article, but the theme is still around, as described in Student Loans: Debt for Life By Peter Coy, September 18, 2012 Businessweek.

Debt is dangerous and we need to inform and guide our children through the process of borrowing for college.  The truly wealthy can pay for college out of their regular cash flow, but even families with incomes in the top 5 percent cannot do that.  There is a huge difference between the top 5 percent and the top 1 percent.  Google for the Wall Street Journal article College Debt Hits Well-Off By RUTH SIMON and ROB BARRY, August 9, 2012 and you can read how the upper middle class is being squeezed out of the top tier schools by high tuition costs.  The financially astute can tell when the cost is excessive.

People in the middle income ranges sometimes cannot understand the consequences of the college loans made available to them and end up being crushed by the debt, as described in To Pay Off Loans, Grads Put Off Marriage, Children by SUE SHELLENBARGER, Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2012.  You need to Google for this article.

The poor often cannot understand the consequences of large college loans and are also crushed by heavy debt, as described in For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall by JASON DePARLE, New York Times, Sunday December 23, 2012, pages 1, 28, and 29.  (You can read it online by Googling for it.)  In this story, an expensive private college tells a poor student that she would be provided with enough grants and financial aid to put this private college within her reach.  But then the process of financial aid was too complicated for the poor girl and by bungling the financial aid process she ended up with large loans instead of large grants.  Three girls are profiled in this in-depth article.

We need to explain to our children how much debt they can afford to incur for college and to steer them towards good interest rates and safe loan programs.  There are a lot of bad loans looking for suckers.  It is heartbreaking to read about the plight of the poor and the uninformed.  And our children will be uninformed if we do not help them through the process.

Robert

PS: An explanation of why college tuition has sky-rocketed can be found in Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy - And Tuition by By DOUGLAS BELKIN and SCOTT THURM, Wall Street Journal, December 29, 2012, pages A1 and A10. You can read this article by Googling for it.  The online date is usually a day earlier than the newspaper date.  The gist of this article is that colleges have hired hoards of highly paid managers.

Microsoft Mathematics Instead of MATLAB

I tried to buy a student version of MATLAB for my son, but could not.  You have to go through a sales department and that process did not work when I tried it.  Maybe that company is not interested in single item sales of student versions.

Microsoft Mathematics is available for a free download.  You might want to google for the download site. Here is the URL for today:  http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=15702

You will want to read the system requirements. Microsoft Mathematics is nice.  You can help with math without having to learn to use your child's calculator, or to borrow it, or to look around for it. Microsoft Math will do linear algebra and solve equations.  Here is a review of it on the internet: http://www.remo-knops.com/review/microsoft-mathematics-4/

Here is a screen shot of the equation solver with an equation input:
Next, you hit the solve button.  This tool solves for x automatically.  You have to click next on the link that says "solve for y."
Next, you can click on the link that says "plot this equation in 2D."
Now you have the graph, but the equations seem to be gone.  They are still available on the "Worksheet" tab, to the left of the "Graphing" tab.  If your child is doing a science project, the graph can be exported as a picture file (I chose JPEG):
It is not a pretty graph for reports, but it is free and I don't believe you can export graphs to a computer from a handheld calculator.  I think if you want pretty graphs for reports, you will want a different tool.

Microsoft Mathematics is a nice tool to use for education, and you cannot beat the price.

Robert

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Where Can Our Children Go?

If there are not enough jobs in Texas for our children, where can they go to find employment?  If the rest of America is in no better shape than Texas, do they have to leave America?  The economy all around the world is in bad shape, so if our children have to leave America to find employment, where can they go?

I have read that engineers from Spain are finding work in Germany.  Perhaps our children who are trained in engineering and computers can find work in Europe.  I have heard that in America McDonald's pays higher wages to their managers than trained machinists can make running numerically controlled machines.  American companies have given up on manufacturing, but some of the European countries have not.  Where in Europe can our children go?  Certainly not Greece or Spain.  Maybe Germany, or maybe the Scandinavian countries:  Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland.

Norway is prosperous according to the Wall Street Journal article, They All Scream for Edvard Munch, but Oslo Can't Satisfy Demand by Saleha Mohsin, November 28, 2012, page A1.  Yet it seems that Norway is the most expensive country to live in  amongst the Scandinavians.  Sweden is much more affordable according to  Scandinavian On $125 a Day by Seth Kugel, New York Times, Sunday December 2, 2012.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of unemployment in Sweden, as described in the Wall Street Journal, Saturday December 22, 2012, p. A10, Jobless Swedes Heed Call From Booming Norway by Charles Duxbury and Kjetil Malkenes Hovland.

England is not a place for our children.  The English are moving out, as described in the book Time to Emigrate? by George Walden, one of whose children left Great Britain for Canada.  Australia and New Zealand might have opportunities for our children if they have the skills that are sought.  I did read of a skilled welder who left America and did well in Australia, although it did take years to get the paperwork approved to emigrate to Australia.

Technically, the American welder is a boilermaker.  You can read about his experiences by googling for this Wall Street Journal article: American Fills a Jobs Shortage in the Aussie Outback by JOHN W. MILLER, October 23, 2012

Of course, the best recourse is to provide good opportunities here in Texas for our children, which is why I have started the Texas Ascendant Campaign.  We need to work together to help our children have a prosperous future in America, in Texas.

Robert Canright

Follow-up:
The December 8, 2013 Wall Street Journal ran an article called, "A Move to New Zealand" by Susanne Ames (p. R7).  The on-line version is entitled "A New Life in New Zealand."  You can read the article by Googling on the title an author..  Don't ask my why the same article has two titles (print and on-line).  Ms. Susanne Ames moved to New Zealand from Washington state and enjoys life in Wellington, New Zealand.

The Tuesday February 11, 2014  Wall Street Journal ran an article called, "Badly Raised Kids? Sweden has a Word for That" by Jens Hansegard.  You can read it by using Google to find it.  The online edition of WSJ has a slightly different title:  "Is Sweden Raising a Generation of Brats?" by Jens Hansegard.  This article says that Sweden is a bad country to raise a family because the government has undermined the authority of parents and teachers.  So Sweden might be a fine country to work in, but you would not want to settle there to raise a family.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Texas Top 10 Percent Rule

Dear Friend,
You asked me about the Texas top 10 percent rule.  It is a rule created by the Texas Legislature.  It guarantees the top 10 percent of each high school graduating class admission to Texas universities.  When Texas thought that its current practice of racial discrimination was going to be declared unconstitutional, the top 10 percent rule was created to force the top universities in Texas to accept under-performing students.  The hope was that the racial and ethnic mixtures would be similar to those achieved through overt racial discrimination.  The top 10 percent rule was a success from that regard.  Yet it is a hazard to education in Texas, as will be discussed soon.

First, however, we should be aware that the universities in Texas added overt racial discrimination on top of the top 10 percent rule.  That is when Abigail Fisher sued (Fisher v University of Texas, No. 11-345).  Her case is finally reaching the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, October 10, 2012.  What has happened is that state legislators from districts with large numbers of under-performing students are helping the children of their constituents to cut to the head of the line by playing the race card.  The legislature is corrupting the ideal of an academic meritocracy by giving their kids special privileges.  The side effect is that the reputation of Texas universities is declining.

A friend of mine who interviewed for an engineering job up north was told that they almost rejected his resume because he was from Texas.  They told him they don't hire graduates of Texas universities, but they noticed he went to college in Ohio.  Seventy-five percent of the freshman class at UT Austin enters through the 10 percent rule, and many of them would not have gotten in otherwise because they are sub-par.  The legislature has been leaning on the universities to pass the under-performers, so we have social promotion from elementary school all the way through the universities.

Today a diploma from the University of Texas at Austin does not mean much.  An employer has to look at the transcripts, examine the grades, and determine if the UT graduate is a product of social promotion.  Objective assessments like SAT and GRE scores must be examined.  Perhaps individual colleges within UT, like the College of Engineering, the Business School, and the School of Architecture can say that admission to the university does not guarantee admission to their school, but now they have to overcome the cloud of suspicion that hangs over the entire university.

The University of Chicago was founded about the same time as the University of Texas.  The University of Chicago is a world class university.  The University of Texas had a good reputation and was building it up, but then the state legislature shot it in the foot.  The world is becoming increasingly competitive and universities are part of the competition.  The Wall Street Journal ran an article, "Can U.S. Universities Stay on Top?" by Michael J. Silverstein and Abheek Singhi, September 29, 2012, page C3.  The last thing we should be doing in a competitive world is diminishing the quality of our universities.  The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said that if they adopted a top 10 percent rule like UT, the average SAT score of entrants would drop by 55 points ("Justices Face a Test on Race" by Jess Bravin, Wall Street Journal, 10-9-2012, page A3).

Education is vital for a competitive world.  After Germany was defeated by Napoleon in the Battle of Jena in 1806, Germany revamped its education system, developing some of the best universities in the world.  American research universities are modeled after the German universities.  Germany was tough to beat in World War I, tough to defeat in World War II, and is an economic powerhouse today.  Superior education is a key factor in Germany's competitive strength.

Superior education can be a key factor in making Texas more competitive on the world stage.  We must free our best universities -- U.T. Austin, Texas A&M, and Texas Tech -- from the academic damage inflicted by the Texas top 10 percent rule.

Robert Canright

Sunday, July 1, 2012

8th Grade Algebra 1 in Plano

I believe Algebra 1 is pivotal math course.  If a child cannot master Algebra 1, then the rest of the math curriculum is a struggle.  When Plano moved Algebra 1 down to 8th grade I was very concerned for my child's future.  I have friends who expressed great frustration with the 8th grade algebra experience.  I've been coaching my child for years on math, but ensuring my child mastered Algebra 1 while he was stuck in Connected Math was very worrisome.  I have been looking at Connected Math for years and I do not like it and do not trust it.  I am happy to tell you that I found a good solution and I will share it with you.

I entered my son in the Algebra 1 online class at Texas Tech University ISD.  It was a huge relief to me to have a curriculum I could trust.  My son would study 8th grade math at his Plano middle school, then at night he would work problems selected by an instructor from the TTU ISD.  He had a double dose of algebra.  The textbook used by TTU ISD was a traditional textbook with excellent examples.  My son could study the examples and solve the problems.  When the year was over he passed the end of course exam with a score that demonstrated mastery.  The TTU ISD experience was good for us and I am very grateful it was suggested to me by some of the sharpest people in Plano.  I want to share my good fortune by sharing this story with you.

I think you do not actually need to enroll your child in the TTU ISD if you are capable of reviewing algebra problems for your child.  You could just purchase the textbook and have your child work through it, with you checking the homework problems.   Assign 5 to 8 problems from each section and check the problems.

The textbook is Texas Algebra 1 by Allan Bellman, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-134021-2 and it costs around $90.  Besides Amazon.com, the book can be purchased from the TTU ISD bookstore.  The course covers chapters 1 through 10.  Chapters 11 and 12 are not tested in the Texas End of Course (EOC) exam.  However, chapters 11 and 12 are tested in California, so I assigned them to my child.  Chapter 11 is "Radical Expressions and Equations."  Chapter 12 is "Rational Expressions and Functions."  I think they are important chapters and should be covered.  Here is a link to a released test from California for Algebra 1.

Video

To allay my fears I also purchased a video course on Algebra 1 from the Teaching Company.  I do not think this was necessary, but it gave me peace of mind.  I did like the lecturer.  For important chapters we watched the video session covering that material.  It was expensive.  If you get on the mailing list for the Great Courses company, you could get the lectures on sale.  We used the textbook from front to back.  We used the video lectures occasionally.  There are free math videos at the Khan Academy online.

TTU ISD

I was very pleased with the TTU ISD.  Here is a link for enrolling in it.  Here is the next step after enrolling.  There is no real interaction.  You submit homework and it gets graded.  That worked for us.  The TTU ISD does not really have a category of enrollment for supplemental instruction.  If you enroll as a home-schooler, you cannot receive the final exam.  They want you to pay a college test facility to administer the test.  If you skip the final, I think they do not like that.  You might be better off just buying the book and going through it from cover to cover.  The advantage of TTU ISD is that there is some material in the book that can be skipped over and the TTU ISD guides you through that thicket of material.

The Importance of Algebra

Algebra 1 is the first step toward some well paying careers.  Algebra 1 is important for the SAT and ACT exams.  Algebra 1 is important for understanding finance and loans.  If you care about money, you should care about algebra.

8th Grade Algebra in Plano

I am very grateful to the Plano parents who shared with me their disappointment with 8th grade algebra in Plano.  I found a way to ensure a good education for this course, and I am sharing my experience with you.  Algebra was pushed down to 8th grade so calculus in 12th grade would be part of the normal progression.  Twelfth grade calculus is now common up North.  Calculus in high school has been common in Europe for decades.  Pushing algebra down to 8th grade makes sense.  Students who do not pass the Algebra 1 EOC can retest or take it in 9th grade.

Many Plano parents send their children to school in the evenings or weekend to give them a competitive advantage.  Many parents pay for math tutoring, so many parents are probably not worried about 8th grade algebra.  The Prentice-Hall textbook is a low budget alternative to parents who are proficient in algebra.

I will be happy to hear of your experiences with 8th grade algebra.  Comments must be reviewed before they are published, so be patient.

Robert Canright

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Next Step at TTU ISD

You have enrolled your child at TTU ISD (Texas Tech University Independent School District), what do you do next?  You need to order the textbook next.  The next day, you need to go to the Course Portal:

Log in to your account. Click on the icon for "Access Your Course Online."  There are explanations for the meanings of the icons. After you have clicked on "Access Your Course Online," then the browser takes you to another page and at the very top of the next page there is a link labeled "Start Here."  That has some information.  However, the link below that which says "Course Introduction" identifies the textbook for the class.  Order that book immediately.  There will be 2 books in the school bookstore.
The "Course Introduction" will tell you which book to purchase.

Further below are the assignments.  The assignments are the homework to be performed, scanned, and uploaded to the TTU ISD site.

Getting started is the hard part.  Once you are started, you become increasingly familiar with the website and how it works.  You just need to establish a schedule that will complete the course before it expires.

Good luck!

Robert

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Enrolling at TTU ISD

The Texas Tech University Independent School District is a treasure.  I will offer suggestions on how to enroll your child through the TTU website:  https://www.depts.ttu.edu/uc/ec2k/Heading.asp

I used TTU ISD to supplement my child's education, but the TTU ISD is not setup for this purpose, so registration is awkward.  If you say your child is enrolled at the Plano ISD, then they expect that the PISD has approved your taking a course from TTU ISD instead of at PISD.  We did not plan to skip the course at PISD, we only wanted to supplement it, which forced us to say we were home schooling.

You will need to create an account for your child.  I recommend you give your email and not your child's email so you can be better informed.  Once you have enrolled your child, there is no way to change the email you give them when you setup the account.  Now let us walk through the process of enrolling in a course.

Go to the catalog webpage, the link I gave earlier, and click on elementary, or middle, or high school.  Find the online class you want and click on it.  Review the description. At the bottom it says "Add to Shopping Cart".  There is a digital pad featured that is recommended.  If you can scan a homework assignment and turn it into a PDF file, then you do not need the digital pad.  Do not waste your time in reading about it.  Click on the "Add to Shopping Cart" button to add the school course to your shopping cart..

The list the price, which is $155 for a high school course.  That is very reasonable.  Next you click on "proceed to checkout."  Next you have to sign in or create an account.  They want the student's name.  Once you sign in or create an account, you have lost the shopping cart.  But look and you will see a link that says "view shopping cart".  Click on it and you are back to where you were.  Click on "Proceed to checkout."  Now you have a page where you enter your mailing address.  This is where you enter an email for the account.  This is where you should give your email, the parent's email.

Notice that the child's name is listed for the credit card.  Change that.  Have your child's social security number handy.  They will want it.  List your child as being home schooled even if your child is enrolled in the Plano ISD.  This is assuming you are enrolling your child in TTU ISD to supplement your child's education.  You are not relying on the TTU ISD course being granted credit from the PISD.

When you see the contact info for the TTU ISD, you might want to copy that information.  When they have processed your credit card info, they invite you to buy a textbook from their bookstore.  Wait until you receive an email telling you which textbook to use. Then go to this link to buy the correct textook:
http://bookstore.mbsdirect.net/ttuisd.htm

I have found TTU ISD a good resource for educating my child.  They do not seem to be setup for supplementing your child's education.  They are setup for providing the one and only official course for your child.  If you select "Home School" then you must find a college testing facility that will agree to administer the final exam for your child's course.  We skipped taking the final exam from the TTU ISD course because my child gets credit from the PISD.  That might lead to problems with the TTU ISD.

I was very pleased with the textbook selected for Algebra 1.  I recommend using TTU ISD for math.

Robert

Saturday, June 2, 2012

International Baccalaureate Diploma Rates

My previous post was about the International Baccalaureate program.  A friend of mine pointed out that Plano has an above average diploma rate.  It turns out that not all graduates of the IB program actually receive an International Baccalaureate diploma.  In 2011 twenty-nine percent (29%) of the students failed to receive the diploma.  Nationwide the rate was 33% that failed to receive a diploma.  So if your child works through the program to the end, your child has a 1 in 3 chance of not getting the diploma.  I think that is worth knowing.  Here is a copy of the diploma rates in PDF.

Robert

Sunday, February 26, 2012

International Baccalaureate Program, Pros and Cons

A friend asked me about the International Baccalaureate program. I will share my thoughts and research with you. I will consider (1) what is the IB program, (2) why one would or would not enroll a child in the program, (3) is it better than the AP program, and (4) which local districts have an IB program.

What is the IB program?

The International Baccalaureate Program is run by a group in Europe. The IB program has its own curriculum, so your child will not be taking the regular classes that are part of the Texas curriculum. That might be appealing to some people, but unless you have had someone close to you go through the IB program you cannot know what the program will be like.

The best description is in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Baccalaureate_Diploma_Programme

Read the description of the IB math curriculum and you will see that the description for math is practically meaningless. There seems to be no way for a parent to evaluate the IB curriculum. Look at the International Baccalaureate Program website: http://www.ibo.org/
Listen to the video provided by the IB program and you can hear someone talking about turning your child into a citizen of the world. Some parents will like that, some will dislike that, but turning your child into a citizen of the world is a political goal, not an educational goal, in my opinion.

Technically, the IB program is 2 years long, but there is a pre-IB program that is 2 years long, so the pre-IB and IB program together are a separate high school program.

Why one would or would not enroll a child in the program

There are a couple of reasons to enroll a child in the IB program. One might agree with the political goal of creating a citizen of the world. The IB diploma will distinguish your child from others with regular diploma. One might believe the IB program provides a superior education, but that is only an opinion and might be wrong, as we will see soon. One might appreciate a more rigorous program of study available from the IB program.

A significant number of parents put their children in week-end school or provide private tutors. If you as a parent providing private tutoring for your child believe the IB program is sufficiently rigorous, you can quit paying for private tutoring and trust the IB program to do its work. If your child is already doing more work than the average student, then your child will be a good fit for the extra work in the IB program.

Many children who are not used to the level of work required by the IB program do become discouraged and disillusioned. Just Google "International Baccalaureate sucks" and you can read negative reviews of the program written by children who have quit the program.

Is the IB program better than the AP program?

One cannot say one program provides a better education than the other, but we can compare some numbers and decide which set of numbers you prefer as a parent.

First, let's compare the number of National Merit finalists from recent results:
Plano Senior High: 37 Finalists
Plano West: 32 Finalists
Plano East: 21 Finalists
Allen High School: 12 Finalists

Now let's compare the number of IB diplomas at Plano East:
2011 = 76
2010 = 60
2009 = 44

So recent results show 76 IB diplomas at Plano East and 21 National Merit finalists.
Compare this to 32 National Merit finalists at Plano West, and no IB diplomas.

I interpret these numbers thusly: if your child can stomach the work for an IB diploma, your child can work for and obtain an IB diploma, but that IB diploma seems to reduce your child's chance of being a National Merit finalist.

Becoming a National Merit semi-finalist and finalist is subject to chance. It is a competition and the element of chance lies in not knowing how many students will rank above your child in the year your child is tested. The rigors of an IB diploma do not seem to advance your child's chance of a National Merit, but rather seem to divert your child away from a National Merit scholarship.

There is certainty in an IB diploma and there is an element of luck in the National Merit competition. But the certainty of an IB diploma hurts in the competition for a National Merit scholarship. Parents have to make the trade-offs and decide.

The AP (Advanced Placement) program is complicated. One needs to judge individual AP classes. Some AP classes are worth avoiding, like AP Biology. Scarsdale, New York, has one of the most prestigious high schools in America and they dropped the AP program in its entirety. Read this article from the New York Times: Rethinking Advanced Placement by CHRISTOPHER DREW, January 7, 2011.

In the Plano ISD a child must take some AP classes (or be in the IB program) to have a chance of being in the top 10%. That is a fact. If a child gets a 4.0 average taking "regulars" classes, then the grade point will be too low to be in the top 10 percent. This is because an A in an honors class earns more grade points than an A in a regulars class.

Which local districts have an IB program?

The Plano ISD has an IB program at Plano East. The Allen ISD has an IB program at Allen High School. The Frisco ISD does not have an IB program. The Richardson ISD no longer has an IB program because there was not enough demand for it. Read: http://www.risd.org/group/aboutrisd/AboutRISD_Docs/FAQ_Archive/FAQ-11.30.04%20PAC%20Meeting.pdf
and search the article for "International Baccalaureate."

Conclusion

Deciding for or against enrolling a child in the International Baccalaureate begins with considering the amount of work your child will do for the program, including free service hours. If your child is willing to do the work, then you and your child have do decide if the vague descriptions of the IB program sound exciting enough to commit to the program, realizing it might diminish the chances of earning a National Merit scholarship, but hoping for other scholarships because of the distinction of having an IB diploma.

I hope this helps you in making an informed decision.

Robert Canright
 
One of the comments below lists this URL for info on the PISD IB program.

Post Script in 2016
McKiinneyMom  made this comment in 2016: "I just don't see how there is any possible relationship between IB diploma and odds of being NMF."  I like logical arguments.  Here is another way to reword her statement:  "Why would the IB program, which was not designed to support the American National Merit exam (the PSAT/NMSQT), provide any significant advantage to the IB students?" I agree.  I do not see any reason to believe that enrolling in the IB program would provide any advantage in the PSAT/NMSQT exam.  Most likely being in a Texas school has a more positive impact on the National Merit exam than the IB program.  Here is a quote from the College Board about the positive impact of the Texas TEKS and the PSAT/NMSQT exam:  "There is a strong alignment between TEKS and PSAT/NMSQT in mathematics. There is a good alignment between TEKS and PSAT/NMSQT in reading and writing." URL 

Probably the most significant influence for a non-IB Plano student to excel in the PSAT/NMSQT would be parents who "place their chips" on SAT prep schools instead of the IB program.  I recall visiting the Karen Dillard school in Plano and seeing articles about Karen Dillard alumni with perfect SAT or PSAT scores.  I think this indicates a parent who hopes for a National Merit Scholarship might use an SAT prep school instead of relying on an IB program.

Many parents are pleased with the IB program.  If it appeals to you or your child, go for it!  Here is the URL for PISD IB: http://ib.pisd.edu/
Here is a URL from the IB program about their middle school program (MYP).  Maybe Plano will adopt it.  Here is a list of IB programs in Texas: http://www.texasibschools.org/members. Locally, Plano and Allen still have IB programs.