Monday, March 16, 2015

If You Want A Different Perspective On Education In Illinois, Go Judge a Regional Science Fair...

I have judges science fairs before for a neighboring school district that covers Naperville and Aurora but I had never done a regional fair before.  It was quite the eye opening experience.

The region I was a judge in covered the southern half of Cook and Dupage Counties and Will County...

It gave me the chance to see kids (middle school aged) from a variety of educational backgrounds. The students my team judged came from

  • A private school in DuPage county for gifted kids 
  • A Catholic school in Southern Cook County
  • A public school in Naperville
  • A public school in one of the poorest suburbs in the Chicago area...

The differences in resources available at home at school were obvious when looking at the projects and research produced by the students.

(I am being kind of vague here, specifically so people can't be identified)

One of the kids from what I suspect is an expensive private school (I know it is a private school) thanked three teachers and their tutor for their assistance on the project. (It had 15+ APA format pages of tangential research).

Another kid was able to get specific chemicals from their school for their experiment.

Another kid was able to spend at least $150 on materials (and that estimate may be low) for their tests as part of their project.

The kids from the public school in the poor suburb, thanked their teacher for letting them use the computer (giving the impression they didn't have access to one at home), didn't have any research in their paper, it wasn't APA formatted (all of which cost them points based off the judging rubric) and didn't appear to have gotten much if any guidance on the paper or their project.

Afterwards looking at the projects and the kids who did them got me thinking...

It first got me thinking about my own son (who qualified for state), how he had access to a computer, a dad who understood and could show him how to use Excel to produce charts and graphs and show him how to add them to his paper (that he had to redo in APA format since his school science fair didn't require APA format) and was willing to stay up until 11:30 the night before the fair to help him with computer issues.  He also has an amazing science teacher, who has a depth of education and a real commitment to her students.  He doesn't go to school in a wealthy district compared to some in the area, nor a poor district compared to others.  He also has parents who encouraged and is sometimes required with a 13 year old cajoled and ordered him to work on his project.

He has some advantages money provides, he has some advantage genetics and the backgrounds of mom and dad provide and he has some dumb luck advantages (for example his science teacher could be teaching at a different middle school in the district).

Some of the kids I judged didn't have any of those advantages, not through any fault of theirs, but it doesn't change the fact they didn't.  I don't see how tossing more money at their education addresses much of that. Doing a quick check the district in the poor suburb spends almost 3x my district per student on operational spending per student and 30% more on instructional spending per student than my district.  So if it takes that much money to get to that point, I am not sure what it is going to take to get to parity.

But there has to be a partial answer to what it is going to take besides money.. We may not be able to get every kid to the point of thanking three teachers and a tutor and I know not every teacher can be like my son's science teacher. But as a society, it is our responsibility to raise the platform as it were for some of those kids.  I know there are a people a lot smarter than me, some with vested interests, some without working on these issues.

But if we are going to try and make it easier for folks to move up in this world, we had to reduce the educational disparities in this state

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rauners' Plan

You have to show the pain in order to get anyone to pay attention....

I think his budget and recent actions are intended to show the pain, you combine that with a likely court ruling that they can't touch the pensions, you are then set up for a tax increase. Fundamentally no one seems really willing to do anything in Springfield (that isn't unique to Springfield) unless a full crisis is on.  This is making the crisis plain and real.

You may very well think I am nuts, but I think that is how it is going to break.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Other Big Question Of The Night...

Did someone invite Ronny Woo-Woo to Rahm's thing tonight or did he just show up?

The Timing Of The Obama Library Announcement

If they don't announce the location of the Obama Presidential Library before the April election it is going to go to New York IMHO...

Getting it would be a win for Rahm, not getting it would hurt him. So no announcement before the election, no library.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Why Union Station's Problems Are All Of Illinois Problem...

The recent leaks at Union Station are just the most recent illustration of the general issues that exist at Union Station (the third busiest in the US), issues which in my opinion will have long term impact on economic growth as well as reduce the value of Illinois investment in "high speed rail"

Union Station:
As a long time Metra commuter on the BNSF line, I can attest to the continued degradation of the infrastructure at Union Station and how it has an impact on the overall rail experience.

On both the North and South ends of station water leaking onto the platforms in quite common during rain. During the winter you also end up with some really nice ice as well hanging down from the ceiling.  The platform between tracks 2 and 4 on the South side is a particular example, this platform has an additional metal ceiling to try and keep water (and other debris) of off trains and commuters with various levels of success.  The patchwork that is now the ceiling above those tracks (you can see where they have replaced various parts) illustrates how effective of a long term solution that is.

I suspect there are not a whole lot of commuter rail terminals that have street level storm drains, that drain directly onto rail tracks. This appears to be the case when it comes to track 2 at Union Station.

Outside of the platforms, the Grand Hall at Union Station can become an obstacle course when it rains due to the buckets and garbage cans set up to capture the water leaking from the ceiling.  I will say this, they have made some improvements in the Grand Hall, but the seem to be more focused at events than they are at commuters or Amtrak riders...

The Grand Hall...

Well it is a nice space in one way, if you have seen various movies shot in Chicago you have seen people ranging from Al Capone's henchmen to General Zod meet their end in the Grand Hall.  However I suspect Union Station is the only major rail terminal in the US where it's largest waiting area may be unavailable to train riders who might be waiting for a train because someone is hosting a reception in it's space.

It is the major issue in Metra's new plan for managing crowds during delays. If there is a major delay you could easily fit most folks waiting into the Grand Hall, but if the Grand Hall has an event going odds are not bad you may end up waiting outside for your train...

Air Quality..

Well this has gotten better over the last couple of years. There was a time when the air was bad enough that the smoke detectors inside the bathroom (with a closed bathroom door) would go off. But suffice to say there is a times a visible haze on the platforms.

Why This Matters
Well the quality of Union Station is going to have an impact on Metra rider experience and will likely lead to fewer riders in the longer term.  But what I think is the more likely and perhaps more interesting result is turning off the very riders (business folks) that 'high speed' rail in Illinois is meant to attract.  Would you go to an airport for a trip you could do by car (or from a different airport) if it meant waiting in a poorly heated (or air conditioned) waiting area that might be very crowded (you should see what the primary Amtrak waiting area at Union Station looks like) and while going to your train there was the very real possibility you might get rained on?  Part of 'high speed' rail is the idea of enticing folks who would drive and/or fly.  That is going to be hard when not only may the trip by rail take longer but it may also be a less pleasant experience.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Sorry Illinois Political Junkies, Most Folks Can Care Less Whou Rauner Appoints To Be Comptrolller..

Unless Rauner said he was appointing State Comptroller Atkins , most residents of Illinois can really care less who is in the role.

This isn't a slam on Leslie Munger, I really don't know enough about her to draw a conclusion one way or another, but  I just think the whole 2 year, 4 year thing and the rest of it all comes down a political fight by people who really care about that sort of thing, which by definition if you ask me excludes 99% of the residents of the state of Illinois.

So while the arguments about if she is a 'good' appointee or not will continue, when it comes down to it, until she is in the role, no one really knows.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is It Good To Be Paul Vallas Now?

Back in August, I had a blog post about how Paul Vallas was in a fairly good position win or lose.

Now I have to say I am not so sure, because Pat didn't use Vallas that effectively in the general. He used him a bit as an attack dog, but pushing the billionare thing it seemed more than anything else. Right now assuming Lisa isn't going to run for governor and I am starting to think she will not ever run for governor, than Vallas is your likely frontrunner for the office on the Dem side at this point, which isn't saying much.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Thought For The Day...

If you deal with a regulator or have licenses issued by some government entity a professional association membership can be worth 10x the price easy....