Monday, September 28, 2020

Virtual Reality

The rhetoric around a return to in-class instruction is heating up in Dekalb. Hyperbolic comments (no risk is worth taking; blood on hands) are being made and hard-line stances (quit before I go back) have been taken. Some of this is emotional, perhaps the result of fear-mongering from some camps and some is political-after all, what isn't these days? In one sense this is a detachment from reality but in another this is all very real. And it suggests a very interesting thought exercise.

Let's take the "hell no, we won't go" teachers' position, take them at their word and see where that takes us. It may just be a better place.

If we accept that virtual learning is the exclusive modality until such a time as there is no risk of anyone, particularly teachers and their loved ones, falling ill due to SARS-CoV2 then what does that really mean? Even with a vaccine that meets the FDA sixty percent efficacy and given the presence of clandestine anti-vaxxers the condition for return-to-school will not be met for the foreseeable future, if ever. And now reports are emerging of a virus mutation that is even more contagious than the previous variant. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that all "learning" will be "virtual" from here on.

There is an issue on which teachers have been somewhat contradictory. In spring there was much concern about the effectiveness of virtual learning, about the difficulty (primarily for the teachers) and confusion around the technology involved. More recently in their push back against returning to the classroom protesting teachers are waving placards touting their skills: "I can teach online just fine." Clearly that needs to be evaluated and fortunately there is a "control" for comparison.

And this is where parents come into play. They've been exposed to classroom teachers pivoting to virtual but Georgia is blessed with several online/virtual academies. These operations were built from the ground up for exactly the modality that classroom teachers are (indirectly and inadvertently) demanding. It should be a straightforward comparison between a classroom teacher who seems to think a bitmoji classroom is critical vs someone who is a "virtual native." 

This brings us to the fun part of the thought experiment: what does the future hold?

For parents and their children it offers flexibility and mobility in the day-to-day and longer-term. Once education is virtual, why stay in DeKalb? The real estate market hasn't crashed, mortgage rates are low and a move to a lower-cost locale would free up cash to cover the cost of proctoring/supervision. If the wage earners are remote workers all one really needs is reliable, high speed internet. There is the issue of special needs students who cannot be remote but by removing a majority of students in-person facilities can be made safe for these students and their teachers and more resources will be available for their needs.

For classroom teachers the situation is a bit bleak. They may prefer "virtual learning" to what they dramatize as "certain death" but what hasn't sunk in is this means they are now remote workers. Begs some questions. Are they remote enough? Could we obtain more bang for fewer bucks with English teachers in Iowa and Math teachers in Massachusetts? Do they even need to be in this country? Many foreigners do quite well in English and are far more conversant in Math than the average U.S. K-12 teacher.

Which leads another consequence of virtual learning. Thinking that all you need to do is video conference or live-stream your normal classroom performance is wrong thinking. This is a major paradigm shift and, as classroom teachers are pointing out, this requires a completely different process. It also offers enormous opportunity. We all know most teachers hover around average and there are, as in any endeavor, some absolutely outstanding performers. With properly designed and managed virtual learning this sage can be on many stages, multiple times with lesser "guides by the sides" ensuring students stay on task, get answers to questions and have moderated discussions with fellow students. 

But even this is just polishing an old apple that is well beyond its use-by date. We have burned through twenty years of the twenty first century and the era of the little red schoolhouse ended decades ago. We are surrounded by technology that listens to us, responds to our queries and commands. We have cars that watch us drive and alert us when we're falling down on the job. Services understand us well enough to individualize services giving what we want, when we want it. They understand enough of us well enough to continually improve their services. Robots have entered the home as elder-care companions and child playmates. Handheld computers recognize us by face and fingerprint. Augmented reality is being used to entertain, inform and guide. 

We are immersed in sophisticated technology. Except in school. We have the capability, right here, right now, to create a system that provides individualized educational experiences that adapt in real time for each student in each subject. Constant adaption means constant evaluation and the end of high-stakes testing. AI analysis across populations drives ongoing improvement of various pedagogical techniques, modalities, and content creation and delivery. Technology makes every moment a teaching moment and eliminates boundaries between subjects and the arbitrary [mis]alignment of grade levels. Each individual learns each thing at their own rate in the manner best suited to that learner. 

If parents choose to pursue these goals, to push for this technological revolution, then thank a teacher-one of those who decided to step aside, making way for a twenty first century system.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Baby It's Cold Outside

At next week's Mayor's Meetup, where she will NOT explain her support for gutting the Village Overlay, Citizens will be treated to Dunwoody's Top Cop and Chairman of the Dick Pic Society.


And the turtles are frightened

But be there or be square. Bring photo ID for proof of residency and your camera-you never know what's going to jump out at you.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Anecdotes And Analogies And Adverbs

The back and forth bickering between teachers, who're getting jiggy with the whole work from home model and parents, who want a return to school because parents may not enjoy the luxury of "pay without presence" has become [en]trenched warfare. 

Parents want their kids F2F in the classroom and are using many of the tried and true arguments of the great importance of socialization among their cohort and the benefits of communal settings for "collaborative" learning. Parents know that their kids learn best when they're in a classroom with a teacher that "cares about them." There is no more hard data supporting these conclusions now than there ever was so it is only the anecdotal mythology that is being repurposed. DeKalb's parents are pointing to other districts with in-person classes with envy and increasing anger. Perhaps they should have made that comparison before they chose to live in DeKalb.

Teachers, spring's heroes and fall's traitors, were initially blindsided and faced a two-front battle. One was the ongoing "we don't get paid enough for this," with this being online, remote work. When confronted with the possibility that they would be required to get their asses back in the classes, teachers attempted a quick pivot to "hell no! we won't go!" Unfortunately, their new position is undermined by their age old, self-supporting arguments. 

What is missing are hard data, raw data. There is a surplus of opinion, narrative and misleading comparisons. You cannot even discuss the evaluation criteria of LMS-es without it devolving into citations of industry-self-promotional awards rather than quantifiable metrics of various systems under consideration. Those unhappy with the selection are equally at fault with nothing more than personal preference gilded with adverbs, anecdotes and vague references to everyone else. 

Teachers want folks to believe that being in a classroom with the same snot-nosed kids they embraced every year prior puts them in greater risk that Father Damien. They simply cannot put together a coherent argument because in the past their rationalizations were accepted without question. No longer. When they make the comparison that they are at far greater risk, because they are around so many others, than, say a Kroger employee, most folks, especially Kroger shoppers, roll their eyes. They try to trot out studies, which must be cherry-picked as there are as many that undermine as support their position. They undermine international comparisons, where F2F schools are in operation, by suggesting these countries have better leadership. Again, by some untold metrics. 

What it really comes down to is there has been a serious disturbance in the farce. Parents may still think their little precious is the greatest gift to mankind, but teachers are no longer willing to go overboard to support this notion or to leverage it to their own ends--give us more money. The pandemic has cured the Lake Wobegon Effect with parents now firmly convinced that their children are NOT going to the best school on the planet, that they are NOT getting the best education if in fact they are getting an education at all. Because they're not going at all. 

Teachers are angry at the notion they are "free daycare," which only makes sense if you never see your property tax bill. Silence from the parents confirms the daycare assertion but teachers' surprise is laughable. Schools have been touted, and repurposed, to address every societal ill except teaching and learning. In the spring the education industry predicted a tsunami of undetected child abuse because it is the teachers who are the [only] responsible adult in many children's lives and they've taken on the role of social worker. So why NOT daycare as well? Learning fell off the To Do list when teachers shifted from "Sage on the Stage" to "Guide by the Side" and prioritized "fun" over knowledge and skills acquisition.

Teachers feel threatened and put upon. They're pissed and they are doing what they always do, at least in DeKalb: threaten to quit. 

Parents are equally if not more angry. Sure, in the past they deluded themselves into various beliefs that public schools were all good. Social skills. Best education anywhere. Athletics. There was some weird common, almost mass delusion, shared by parents and educators, all singing from the same hymnal, all preaching from a common text, speaking in tongues and spouting reflexive responsorial psalms. Hidden behind all this was a "social contract" that schools would always be there, that schools would care for (and about) their children and that they would be able to "have it all"--career and kids. 

Now teachers are rethinking their careers and parents are rethinking progressive philosophies that underpin public schools. Maybe both are heading in the best direction for all of society.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Cheese And Crackers For That Whine?

As it turns out it isn't just DeKalb County School teachers.  Teachers across the country are bowing up under pressure to go back to school. They are also pushing back on the onerous burden of learning. Learning how to use technology. How to prepare videos that actually work. Learning that you cannot pretend that Zoom is effectively projecting your in-class "learning is fun and entertaining schtick" on the students' screens and into their parents' sight. Even for rehearsed comedy sketches an audience is required for the taped performance. For improv the audience isn't the important thing, it is the only thing. So teachers feel confused and angry. Oh, yeah, and underpaid. They're mind-boggled at the notion that in-class students will be using the same paradigm as remote students though there is a simple explanation from folks who have been at this a while. Teachers see this as an indication of a strong "Day Care Are Us" component to their role. They are also beginning to learn, at least subconsciously, that video recorded teaching, when done properly, poses an existential threat. Excellent video lessons taught by top notch experts, perhaps the college professors that taught them, would be better, more effective, than the bottom four quintiles of current teachers. Many teachers would be replaced with parapro-s or in the extreme case by some of those pesky parents. 

But teachers are forcing change. Across the country they are retiring or quitting in significant numbers. Significant enough that some school systems are lowering qualification requirements for substitutes (for now) to align with what the community expects and demands from their school systems. And yes, that is day care. 

So. What to do? What about DCSD? Well a here's a few suggestions. Support, even encourage early retirement for teachers. This would be at reduced payout and help restore some financial stability to the retirement program. Allow teachers to quit without penalty. Consider it a CoVid Terror Escape Clause to the contract. Institute a rigorously enforced policy of no more than one non-classroom employee for every five classroom employees where classroom employees are those that actually have responsibilities that require their presence in classroom and their time outside the classroom is in direct support of classroom responsibilities. In the old days, before "educators", these were known as "teachers." Eliminate tenure for new teachers.

These measures would benefit the school system by reigning in operational costs and improving financial stability. Twenty percent G&A overhead should be more than adequate, and if not, perhaps greater turnover should be considered. Over time tenured teachers with no incentive to learn and innovate would be replaced by new, teachable replacements. Many current teachers would benefit by offering their services to the greater business community where their high degree of education, extensive experience and enormous talents would surely be rewarded by pay comparable to other, equally qualified professionals. 

Is that a win-win? Or, a whine-whine?

Monday, September 14, 2020

STEM-ing The Tide

The cat has completely escaped the bag: H1B visas are NOT about talent scarcity. And never has been. It is labor arbitrage. It is government overreach, taking money from workers and delivering it to high tech, high finance executives. What it isn't is a necessary tool addressing a shortage of qualified high tech workers. 

How do we know? 

Because each and every year we have more STEM graduates in the USA than we have jobs for them. By well over a hundred to one. So it really, really is NOT about a lack of home-grown talent. 

For a lot of high tech jobs the internet made it very easy to ship jobs overseas. But there were and are significant problems with off-shoring. Enter a compliant government with H1B visas. Jobs quickly came back home. Just not for the homies. 

But things are changing. Companies learned, quickly, from the Indian labor market that high quality advanced degrees are not what the jobs require. As it turns out India, outside of the most excellent IIT, has no problem self-certifying and pumping out diplomas at a rate not seen (or allowed) in the western world. Not so say that India hasn't produced many fine developers, but the simple fact is that very, very few are better than those produced in the USA. They're just cheaper. Or so it once appeared. Now it turns out that those sporting a US STEM degree, while superficially more expensive, are actually a very good value. Think "Brooks Law."

Now enter the pandemic. Travel restrictions suddenly make a LOT of sense. Even to the politicos who were sucking up to India with daily increases to H1B caps. 

Remote work suddenly became non-threatening. Previously front line managers in the US had legitimate fear that remote meant off-shore. Because it always had. Others in the management chain were insecure, assuming direct and indirect reports needed constant watching, and if they didn't maybe they didn't need a manager. Sort of what happened with off-shoring. Turns out constant surveillance was unnecessary. Most organizations found that workers were actually more productive, not less, almost as if supervision were unnecessary friction. 

Now we have entered a new, resurgent era. Where local talent is appreciated. Where productivity trumps tradition. Where American jobs are accessible to Americans who would otherwise be un- or under-employed. Where, as anyone who's spent much time developing with a global team already knows, quality will improve alongside reductions in missed deadlines.

Graduates with STEM degrees will no longer have to make the pilgrimage to the pacific coast to wave goodbye to their jobs. At least until the next round of lobbyists win the day.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

But You Don't Have To

The Seven Dwarfs, as part of their Village Pillage & Plunder campaign, have decided that what the Village needs to vitalize* it is more trashy signs. The trashier the better. The more the merrier. 

These changes have been in the works since early July in the Planning Commission, another part of the city's machinery that works exclusively for businesses' benefit. A staff member in the city's Community Development Department** had the balls to explain how this makes the Overlay more like the rest of the city. WTF???? What the hell does this overpaid bureaucrat think the Overlay is for in the first place? If budget times are tough this looks like an excellent opportunity to save some expenses. On that paycheck.

One of the Seven Dwarfs pushed back against minimizing the number of signs allowed even though it would still be more than the community desires and even had the unmitigated gall to say this reduced number might not benefit the businesses? Did the businesses elect this Dwarf? Or are they just making sure he benefits from business as usual? 

Yes, we need to vote these bozos out of office at the first opportunity. But we also must remember that because you can doesn't mean you must. More immediate action is to boycott any business that thinks insulting this community with their trashy signs is a good idea. 

*In a recent Blue Bag Rag article the city, who are really behind these articles, announced their consultants plans to "vitalize" Dunwoody Village. The use of "vitalize" rather than "revitalize" is neither accidental, nor accurate, nor cheap. The implication is that the Village is not now and never has been "vital" and only they, by implementing the plans supplied by their developer colleagues, can make the Village vital. Until their developer buddies break ground and make profit, the Village is just another shit-hole. To them anyway.

**How the hell many groups do we have at this city that serve no one but developers and businesses? Does this city do anything for residents? Is there anyway the charter can be fixed to stop this happy horseshit? 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Tall Dog Family


Martha And Her Deers

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Like Shingles...

You had a disease, thought you got over it but the virus was dormant, just waiting to come back. Stronger and more painful. 

Last go-round of Viral Developer Syndrome that popped up on Roberts ended with application withdrawal in 2019. That was for ten units. And it was just a brief remission. Now they (greedy developers) are back, with a demand for fifteen clutter homes and claiming a detention pond is a green space feature rather than the mosquito habitat we all know them to be. Normally this would just be another WTF moment with rumors of insider deals. But this is different.

This time the Developer's Authority is in on it. Openly. A partner on the project, Robert Miller, is a board member for the Developer's Authority. If any apologist holdout needed any evidence that city hall is of, by and for developer's, this is it.

And what of the Seven Dwarfs? Smart money says they'll rubber-stamp anything put before them and given the fix is in the only remaining question is "when does construction start?"