Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Service of Words II

Thursday, August 14th, 2014


In an article, “The Friendliest Place in the House,” Amy Gamerman advised Wall Street Journal readers not to call a porch a deck. She wrote: “As porches have grown in popularity, ‘deck’ has become the new four-letter word of high-end home design. ‘We never use the word deck, it’s a pejorative term; we always use the word porch. It could be any covered outdoor space,’ said Stephen Vanze, a partner in Barnes Vanze Architects in Washington, D.C.”

deckArrogance aside, what puzzled me was that to me a porch doesn’t resemble a deck, a covered deck is just that, so why use the wrong word for the sake of fashion or to confuse?

I take words literally. I was studying the online catalog of a prominent NYC continuing education venue to promote appropriate classes to members of New York Women in Communications. I noticed that the prices were listed “From $385” or adult education class“From $485,” or “From $Something” so I called customer service. In that context, “from” meant that the prices started at $385 or $485 and I wanted to learn what might cause them to fluctuate upwards. The customer service person confirmed that these were the prices. I suggested he ask someone to delete the confusing word in every course description and he giggled and asked why—“if they have a question they can call customer service,” he said.

Do you change terminology after reading an article like the one about porches/decks? Have you questioned a word in instructions, regarding prices or a procedure enough to have to call someone about it?


Service of Full Measure II: Pay more and get less for health insurance, education and toilet tissue

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Full measure

I first wrote a Full Measure post in 2010, a topic very much related to the Service of Inflation series launched the year before and I risk little in predicting there will be more to come. An eye doctor appointment, results of New York city and state student tests and a newspaper article inspired today’s post.

Insurance strikes another black eye hitting doctors and patients where it hurts

Boxer punchingBefore seeing my doctor and his staff for my annual eye exam the receptionist gave me an agreement–a first. I would check one box if I was willing to pay $75 to be tested for refraction; another if not.

In a nutshell the form explained that most insurance companies will no longer pay for a doctor to test for eyeglasses.

This was the wording: “Refraction is the testing done with lenses to determine and correct the errors in the eye causing problems with both distance and near vision. This information is required to prescribe glasses. Insurance carriers do not consider refraction a medical procedure. Medicare and most commercial carriers will pay for covered benefits only. When you receive a service that is not a covered benefit, patients are responsible to pay for it.”

eye chartBut guess what? Staff told me that if you go to some optometrists–they mentioned a rip-off eyeglass store chain I’ve been warned by friends and colleagues to avoid–the insurance might pay for the test.

It’s easy to forget the precise differences between the training and expertise of an ophthalmologist and optometrist but it’s pertinent so I checked out “Ophthalmologists are physicians. They went to medical school. After school, they had a one-year internship and a residency of three or more years. Ophthalmologists offer …..Vision services, including eye exams; Medical eye care — for conditions such as glaucoma, iritis, and chemical burns; Surgical eye care — for trauma, crossed eyes, cataracts, glaucoma, and other problems; Diagnosis and treatment of eye conditions related to other diseases, such as diabetes or arthritis; Plastic surgery — for drooping eyelids and smoothing wrinkles.” [I didn’t know about wrinkles….hmmmm]. continues: “Optometrists are medical professionals but not physicians. After college, they spent four years in a program and got a degree in optometry. Some optometrists undergo additional clinical training after optometry school. They focus on regular vision care and prescribe eyeglasses and contacts.”

This course doesn’t lead down a healthy road. It means that the physician who chooses to become an ophthalmologist will soon be left only with treating eye disease, severely cutting into his/her income and customer traffic. I also wager that the nations’ eyes will suffer. On the rush to the $500 eyeglass frame counter in the chain, diseases that should be diagnosed and treated/controlled early may be missed. How shortsighted.

Taxing information

ClassroomNew York City spent $25 billion on education, the state $74 billion according to research by WOR 710 NYC radio producer Michael Figliola for the John Gambling Show, yet the results are not equally stratospheric. The state spends more on education than anything else.

Lisa Fleisher wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Less than 30% of the city’s third- through eighth-graders scored proficient in math and English Language Arts on the new exams, which are an attempt to measure whether students are on track to do higher-level work when they graduate and start their careers.”

Yoav Gonen of The New York Post reported: “The eye-opening passing rates for third- through eighth-graders of just 29.6 percent in math and 26.4 percent in reading reflected the first real measure of how many students are considered to be on the path to success after high school.”

One plus one equals 3Gonen continued: “Last year, before the exam standards were significantly boosted, 47 percent of city kids passed the reading exams and 60 percent passed math.” In a bulleted list he noted “New York City outperformed the state’s other ‘Big 4’ cities by leaps and bounds. Second-place Yonkers only had 16.4 percent of students pass in reading and 14.5 percent in math.”

What else is there to add?

Nothing to Sneeze At

Toilet tissueDesheeting doesn’t relate to making beds, operating sailboats, rain [in sheets] or drinking too much [three sheets to the breeze]. It’s how the tissue and toilet paper industry describes fewer sheets of tissue in a box or roll.

Serena Ng reported in “Toilet-Tissue ‘Desheeting’ Shrinks Rolls, Plumps Margins” that Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex packages contain 13 percent fewer sheets simultaneously claiming that each one is “bulkier” by 15 percent. Guess they know folks who want bulky tissue instead of lots of it when cold or allergies strike.

While on the subject, here’s some toilet paper trivia brought to us by Kimberly-Clark research via Ng: In five bathroom trips/day, Americans use some 46 sheets of toilet paper and according to Euromonitor International, companies sold $10.6 billion of tissue and toilet paper in the US in 2012.

Mayor Bloomberg, who watches NYC’s waistlines, would approve of some of the additional information in Ng’s article though as a consumer even he might expect the price to reflect less product which I’m certain it doesn’t. “Cereal boxes and bags of chips have in many cases become lighter over the years in what the food industry refers to as taking ‘weight out.’ A regular Snickers bar now weighs 1.86 ounces, down from 2.07 ounces in the past, which Mars says was done to cut calories to 250 per bar. Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice is now sold in 59 ounce bottles, versus 64 ounce cartons prior to 2010.”

I didn’t notice a decrease in my insurance premium to compensate for one less essential covered procedure. Does this new wrinkle smack of lobbyists at work along with insurance greed leaving men and women with limited incomes, their children and another specialty of doctor yet again in a reject pile? Have you examples of paying for and receiving full measure lately or the opposite–which seems to be increasingly in fashion?

More for less

Service of Language: Yale Alumni Magazine Cover Story Touts “Bad English”

Monday, July 15th, 2013


Homer Byington didn’t sleep well Friday night and it wasn’t due to the heat. My husband was disturbed by the cover story of his college’s alumni magazine, “Why ‘bad’ English isn’t.” The writer, Peggy Edersheim Kalb, ended the article in the July/August issue of the Yale Aulmni Magazine: “But by showing that different kinds of English are used almost everywhere in the United States, [Raffaella] Zanuttini and her team are determined to teach us that variation is the rule, not the exception. And grammatical differences should be celebrated, she says. ‘You don’t have to be ashamed of a local language.’”

Zanuttini is a linguistics professor at the school. The professor and some dozen undergrads and graduate students in the university’s Grammatical Diversity Project study the arrangement of words and phrases i.e. syntax, [not vocabulary]. The team “wants you to let go of your prejudices,” according to the article’s subhead.

East West North SouthKalb again quoted Zanuttini: “ ‘Certain people want to get rid of features that are stigmatized, but that’s certain people,’ says Zanuttini. ‘Some people want to get rid of any linguistic feature that marks them as coming from the South. Other people like to have their own identity’—and those who are proud of being recognized as Southern don’t want to homogenize their language to match other parts of the country.”

Identifying and recognizing colloquial turns of phrase is nothing new but suggesting that twisting the language is acceptable merely because someone might discriminate against the speaker—or the speaker might  feel discriminated against—makes little sense. For those “proud” of being recognized as Southern as Zanuttini said, or from New England, New York, New Jersey, the Midwest, etc., let them rely on their regional accent, but leave the language alone.

Map of the USPhrases such as “ain’t nobody a man,” “We might can go up there next Saturday,” and “You know, if you drank a half a drink, you might oughta go home and sleep it off,” are spoken in New York, Texas and Utah respectively according to one of the illustrations in the article. Could you have recognized the states of origin? I couldn’t. Doesn’t that water down the argument that people enhance their identity via quirky/incorrect turns of phrase that tie them to a region?

What happened to the melting pot concept here in America?

What would the professor say about those who feel pride in their mother country? If those of us first generation Americans mimicked the way our parent or parents spoke English there would be verbal chaos. What would happen to communications?

Shouldn’t we look to places like Yale to set the standard and help us all speak English correctly? Isn’t there enough satisfaction in being an American? There’s so much we can’t change about ourselves–our DNA, color, race, age–and much, such as language, that we can.

lower the barWhat benefits are there for individuals, regions and this country to lowering the linguistics bar? Why not raise the education bar? Are these linguists ashamed of their advantages because they attend or teach at a prestigious university? If you were to move to a foreign country, even if you couldn’t ace the accent, wouldn’t you want to learn to speak the language correctly?


Service of MOOCs

Monday, February 4th, 2013


I first heard about massive open online courses–or MOOCs–when I read Caroline Porter’s Wall Street Journal article, “College Degree, No Class Time Required.” Since then what Thomas Friedman called a revolution to hit universities in a New York Times op-ed piece a few days later has hit the mass media.

Porter wrote: “Now, educators in Wisconsin are offering a possible solution by decoupling the learning part of education from student assessment and degree-granting.

“Wisconsin officials tout the UW Flexible Option as the first to offer multiple, competency-based bachelor’s degrees from a public university system. Officials encourage students to complete their education independently through online courses, which have grown in popularity through efforts by companies such as Coursera, edX and Udacity.”

Scott Walker, Wisconsin Governor

Scott Walker, Wisconsin Governor

The state’s governor, Scott Walker, expects to join the program. He never finished earning his degree.

The purpose of the program is to strengthen the state’s workforce according to a university spokesperson. As noted in the title of the article, you can get a degree that’s equal to one earned in a traditional four year program without spending a moment in a classroom.

Time and money saved are obvious benefits as are recognition of bits of courses taken over a lifetime in addition to validation of on the job training. David Lando is the 41 year old whom Porter describes in the program who will take hours of tests at home so as to finish a degree “based on knowledge–not just class time or credits,” she wrote.

third-worldWell beyond Michigan residents, reporters address the impact of MOOCs from the fact that a professor who previously reached a few thousand students over a lifetime can potentially teach hundreds of thousands around the world in a semester. With a computer and facilitator, students in the poorest countries will take part in learning from recognized professors.

Porter quotes professors who warn about potentially watering down degrees. Do you think this might happen? Will traditional college degrees continue to be given to teens/20-somethings to give them a leg up so as to enter the workforce with knowledge? Or, will a college education become a dinosaur, a parking lot for the children of the one percent? Does the world benefit now that millions [who understand English] can benefit from learning from the best ? Should performance, rather than a degree, once again determine who is eligible for certain jobs as it was for the Wisconsin Governor?


Service of Cheating III

Monday, September 10th, 2012


Cheating is as old as the hills and will outlast us all.  I’ve written about variations countless times, from a high school student caught taking tests for others to grade inflation and from ghost writers of college and graduate student papers to winning at all costs. In fact the first in the “cheating series” on this blog was about an epidemic in America’s schools as reported a few years ago by Primetime on ABC.

The Pollyanna in me has a hard time understanding why the smartest among us feel they need to cheat. It doesn’t compute.

I first read about the 125 Harvard students in question on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend in The New York Times in “Harvard Students in Cheating Scandal Say Collaboration Was Accepted.” A few days later I read “Harvard Students Fighting Allegations of Cheating on Exam,” in Bloomberg News.

Over the same Labor Day weekend The New York Post ran a story, “History Lesson in how to cheat: Stuy kids have done it for years.” Stuy refers to Stuyvesant High School, one of the best public schools in NYC and among the hardest to get into.

studentscollaboratingBack to Harvard, John Lauerman wrote in Bloomberg News: “About 20 students and graduates have gone to the media to tell their side of the story, saying skipping classes, sharing notes and collaborating on tests were all tacitly condoned by the professor and teaching fellows of the course being probed, students who took the class said.” Students told Laureman there were 279 freshmen through seniors originally enrolled in the class.

congress2Ironically, Introduction to Congress is the title of the course.

Lauerman reported that Harvard undergraduate dean Jay Harris said punishment for cheating on exams [which in my day was almost always automatic expulsion] range from being “asked to withdraw for two semesters, or” [a student] “may receive a warning or be put on probation.” In the earlier New York Times story I read that some graduates could lose their degrees. Laureman wrote that Harris “wouldn’t say whether the board would consider taking away graduates’ degrees.”

The backstory:

The instructor was Matthew Platt, an assistant professor. Quoting a senior Laurerman wrote: “Platt said, ‘I gave out 120 A’s last year and I’ll give out 120 A’s this year.” The senior told him he was taking difficult courses and needed to get A’s.

In both the Times and in the Bloomberg article, Platt was said to have told the class that he didn’t mind if they skipped class. Laureman wrote, “Students frequently shared lecture notes, which probably contributed to the similarities in people’s answers, those who took the course said. ‘That’s how people understood this course worked,’ the senior said.

“Platt’s exam instructions say that ‘students may not discuss the exam with others — this includes resident tutors, writing centers, etc.’ That contradicts the way the course was actually conducted, students said.”

I’d like to point out that of those registered in the class, over 150 aren’t involved in allegations of cheating.

I don’t need to learn the outcome of the university’s administrative board to observe that whether or not they are reprimanded, the 125 students are cheating themselves. Why not get everything you can out of college? Isn’t that the point? Do I assume correctly that if you got into a place like Harvard or Stuyvesant High School you’re an exceptional student, so why cheat? What do you think about all this?


Service of Perspective II

Thursday, June 14th, 2012


You might see a child and a grownup walk down the street ahead of you and hear the adult exclaim, “Good job!” The child is licking an ice cream cone or holding the adult’s hand or crossing the street, nothing more.

I thought of this when Jim Roper, a friend and writer/editor, told me to listen to David McCullough’s commencement speech at Wellesley High School where McCullough teaches English. Dubbed the “You’re not special” speech by the media, it’s worth some 13 minutes of your time.

wellsleyhsHis message to the graduates was to “make for yourself extraordinary lives” and “selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself” and “do whatever you do because you love it and believe it is important” and “get busy, have at it, get up and get out, explore.”

To wake up the students he told them throughout the speech “Don’t get the idea that you are anything special.” He noted they were among 3.2 million seniors graduating from 37 thousand high schools this year which meant that there were 37 thousand valedictorians etc.

blue-ribbonHe also said:

** “If everyone is special than no one is

**If everyone gets a trophy then it has no value.

**A ‘B’ is the new ‘C’

**By definition there is only one ‘best’

**I hope you recognize how little you know”

The son of the author/historian of the same name, I get the feeling he shares this point of view with his four children, three of whom are teenagers.

I was surprised to hear John Gambling, father of three boys, former school trustee and a NYC morning radio personality who has consistently shared McCullough’s point of view, say that the media unanimously cheered the message. I’m not so sure that was the first reaction by them all.

Some considered his message a downer and questioned whether it was appropriate to the occasion. On “CBS This Morning,” Gayle King interviewed McCullough. She sounded tentative as she began: “When I first heard the speech, I rewound it a couple times and said to myself, ‘Did he really just say that?’ What was your intention, and were you surprised by the reaction?”

I’m glad his message went viral and feel that one reason service suffers is an overdose of people focusing more on how special they are than on their customers or the quality of their work.

Do you think McCullough’s “you’re not special” reality check/admonition was shocking for a high school graduation speech? Is there too much collective breath-sucking-in and finger-wagging when someone punctures a hole in the school of thought that we should praise people all the time and for no special reason?


Service of Response

Monday, June 11th, 2012


I’m so grateful to readers of this blog who respond to my posts. It’s quite remarkable, especially when you consider the many instances of people whose job it is to take action or in whose best interest it is to reply–yet they don’t.

I asked Erin Berkery-Rovner, senior career advisor at Parsons the New School of Design, how she inspires students to respond. “Sometimes we scare them,” she advised. “Let them think that there are dire consequences if they don’t.”

studentfacebookShe observed that students don’t regularly check emails or the Internet, so she resorts to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and traditional posters along with emails and frequent website updates to reach them.

She noted that the readers of this blog might have confronted other roadblocks to communicating with students. When she was in grad school, some of her classmates confronted their social media addictions by using smartphone applications [apps] that disable all Internet connections for a period of time. “They lock themselves out so they can concentrate on work and not be distracted by beeps signaling a text or Tweet to read and respond to,” she said.

Even so, when she would like or requires responses, she takes action when she hears crickets. For example, she asks the students which companies they would like her to invite to Parson’s annual Career Day where they and the fashion companies explore internship possibilities and candidates, respectively. Parsons is considered by some-such as Eric Wilson of The New York Times-as “the premier design school for fashion in the United States,” referring to the perception of Seventh Avenue designers and European luxury conglomerates.

So if she doesn’t get a healthy response, she tells the students that they can’t be upset with the companies that participate in Career Day–“I warn them that I’ve asked who they wanted me to invite, and I sent out invitations based on feedback.”

womanmegaphoneStudents aren’t the only unresponsive people Berkery-Rovner deals with. She needs intern evaluations at the end of a semester and some company contacts neither send them nor react to three emails and two phone calls. “As a last resort, we send an email to the students with a subject line, ‘Possible incomplete on your internship.’ When we enroll students in this way,” she admits, “it works.”

When I request information from a group I try to make responses easy by giving them options in a mini survey. They can click “send” after noting “Answer B.” Most often, they add comments. At the least, I get enough responses to feel an accurate pulse.

What tips can you share to encourage people to respond to queries, surveys, emails and phone calls? We all know individuals who hide behind voicemail and are unresponsive to letters and emails no matter what, but as a whole, are people more unresponsive these days and if so, why?


Service of Time-Outs from School

Thursday, May 17th, 2012


Tom Brokaw, in a repeat of “In Depth” on Book TV–C-Span2–last weekend, took calls from readers about all his books, the most recent of which was “The Time of Our Lives,” [Random House Publishing Group].

In this book, and on the program, he addressed the benefits of drastically shortening two to three month student  summer vacations. He felt vacation time is wasted and detrimental especially to children in homes where both parents work and the kids hang out for months both unsupervised and uninspired. They lose the thread of what they’ve learned the prior year especially if their family doesn’t encourage them to continue to learn over the summer.

The long vacation originally came about because farmers needed their children to help with planting, farm chores and harvest. While this isn’t true anymore, think of the reaction of teachers, day and overnight camp owners and youth hostels that depend on these stretches of free time for rest or income.

tenementOne of the callers to the show said she was from the greatest generation-the title of another of Brokaw’s books. She was born to a family of seven children who lived with her parents in a one bedroom apartment in the Lower East side of Manhattan. She said she was calling from California, and a home with a view of the ocean. Education–free to her and her siblings–is what she attributed to their success.

This brings me to what a reader of this blog wrote to me the other week. After she found what she needed at a well regarded national discounter, she stopped a clerk to ask if the store carried paperbacks. He waved her toward the electronics section. She explained that she was looking for books and he stared back at her. She observed that his English was perfect, she put on her “best version of a good face and ran off to find customer service,” and concluded, “Sing praises to the wonderful school system!”

readingpaperbackI can hardly believe that the clerk, even if he was 18, used e-books throughout his stint in school because they haven’t been around that long. I wish I could figure out where he’s been. Although this didn’t happen in New York City, the next paragraph gives a hint about where the clerk hasn’t been: At school.

In “New Ad Campaign Will Fight Chronic Absenteeism and Truancy,” on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blog, he wrote: “…far too many students are missing school. In New York City, one out of every five students missed a month or more of school last year – that’s over 200,000. And those rates are highest in our high need communities where school offers students the best chance for a brighter future.”

What do you think of shortened school summer vacations and efforts to encourage children not to miss school? Is there hope?


Service of Creating an Edge

Thursday, March 29th, 2012


On “60 Minutes” in early March, Morley Safer reported about the trend for parents to redshirt.

Originally “a college athlete who is kept out of varsity competition for a year in order to extend eligibility,” according to Merriam-Webster, redshirting is also what parents do when they hold back children from kindergarten.

Parents redshirt for a variety of reasons. Some consider the date of their child’s birthday which, if on the cusp of eligibility, could make them the youngest, smallest and least mature in the class–possibly creating a lifelong disadvantage. Others want to give their child an edge so that he/she is bigger and more coordinated than classmates, a future sports star perhaps and hopefully head-of-the-class material.

easter-egg-huntThe Associated Press wrote about an Easter egg hunt in Colorado that was cancelled because intrusive parents pushed their way into the festivities to ensure that their little darlings got an egg. According to the AP: “‘They couldn’t resist getting over the rope to help their kids,’ said Ron Alsop, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up, which examines the ‘millennial children’ generation.”

The AP further reported that Alsop said : “‘It seems everything is more and more and more competitive, fast paced, and I think parents are going to see they need to do more to help their kids get an edge.'”

amy-conaboyAnd then there are those who sharpen their own edges. Take Amy Conaboy, whom I met at a mentoring hour when she was studying for her MBA at Baruch College. A graduate of Parsons School of Design in NYC, she was creative and artistic and she wanted to be equally skilled in business. Currently, she is honing her web development skills by taking classes at NYU while working fulltime and volunteering on several New York Women in Communications committees where she implements important initiatives. The organization recognized her contributions by awarding her Young Communicator of the Year in 2009.

Do you know people who create their own edges, like Amy, or who depend on others to sharpen their competitive advantage for them? Do you have suggestions for those who are on their own in this regard?


“Service” of Starving our Children

Thursday, January 5th, 2012


Children in public schools are being starved by the processed food served at lunch according to a range of articles and op-ed pieces: “Processed foods still dominate school lunches,” “Finally Revealed: Processed Food Rebates Dominate School Cafeterias,” and “How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid’s Lunch,” to pick just three. This is an especially shameful state of affairs because much of the food given schools is of the fresh variety, ruined of nutrients, if you’ll excuse the expression, in the process. 

But the school children here aren’t being starved only by nutrition-free food. According to retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor on “Bloomberg edu” and in countless articles since spring, Americans don’t know a whit about civics and the situation will become increasingly dire as many schools don’t teach it.

children2Schools receive Federal funding for math, science and reading programs through the No Child Left Behind Act, which also requires testing. They get $zero for teaching civics. Only half the states require that children study the subject. Justice O’Connor finds this alarming for the obvious reason that our government is designed for citizen participation.

On Bloomberg edu, the Justice noted that children spend some 40 hours a week in front of a screen-TV or computer. This is why she founded the icivics initiative and free its games and lesson plans that make learning fun for middle schoolers and easy for teachers to include in their curriculum.

children3In a December 27 article in the LA Times, “Sandra Day O’Connor promotes civics education,” Howard Blume wrote “Only about a third of American adults can name all three branches of government, and a third can’t name any. Fewer than a third of eighth graders could identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence.”

Blume reports that surveys by the Annenberg Public Policy Center find that “15% of adults correctly named John Roberts as United States chief justice, but almost twice as many (27%) could identify Randy Jackson as a judge on the television show ‘American Idol.'”

Might this be a reason so few vote in this country? As we approach a major election, does this alarm you? Do you think the majority of us realize how we are literally and figuratively starving so many children?


Get This Blog Emailed to You:
Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz

Clicky Web Analytics