Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Next Future Leaders of the World

By Sean Scarpiello

Why do countries educate their citizens? In fact, it would probably be easier to not educate an entire population. The reasons that so many governments spend hundreds of millions dollars each year is not only to advance the human race’s technology and living circumstances, but also to lead future generations. We educate our children so they can uphold the same US government that is viewed as the leader of the world. Ever since the end of World War II the United Sates has been regarded as one of the world’s superpowers. But how long can the US sustain such a title? Over recent years, it seems as if the US hasn’t exactly dropped its status, but rather stayed the same and allowed foreign countries to advance. New power houses, such as India, China and South Korea have slowly emerged. But what is the quickest advancing country, South Korea, doing right which the US seems to be doing wrong? The article “USA could learn from South Korean schools” (link below) offers many statistics and insight on what exactly the US is getting wrong.

South Korea’s government runs their schools in a much more efficient manner when compared to the US. When distributing money for schools, South Korea evenly and equally spreads out their money. In the meantime, the US government gives more money to the schools with higher graduation rates. This only makes it difficult for cities with low graduation rates to improve education. Plus, it drags the rest of the country’s educational and world status with it.

The American Dream may possibly be this country’s down fall in the education field. In South Korea, parents will do anything to get their children to colleges and universities. Parents will even spend as much as 1/3 of their yearly income on their children’s education. In the US, parents will go out and buy the latest big screen TV or stereo system, regardless of the fact little Max is flunking his math class. For the US to remain a major superpower in the world, it is going to take much more than government action. Americans are going to have to do their part as well. If we use our resources efficiently, we could maximize the amount of class instruction for each dollar that is spent. This could even be as simple as having the upperclassmen of elementary, middle, and high schools tutoring the students below them. Each hour can be counted as volunteer work which looks great on any resume.

The last aspect of South Korean’s education system was their (on time) graduation rate of 93%. Too many American students just drop out, whereas South Koreans rarely drop out, if at all. The fix for this could be making the option of dropping out illegal. We could also raise age of being able to drop out of school. At age 18, students are just going through the motions until they can be on their own. So by making the age 20 or 21, students will most likely choose just to do the work and get through so they are not in high school during their twenties. For the US to maintain its role as a leading power in this world, it has to change.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Fixing New Jersey's Education System

Dr. David C. Verducci, superintendent of Glen Rock Public Schools, is yet another worker in New Jersey who has dealt with Governor Chris Christie’s budget cuts in the state’s attempt to lower the deficit. Christie’s cuts in funding have made it difficult for many of the school districts in New Jersey, but Dr. Verducci shared some of his ideas on improving education in New Jersey with Christie (link below). Here are some of my suggestions for improving the New Jersey education system.

A school is a business. Students are customers, teachers are employees, superintendents are CEOs and the school’s money is invested in other businesses in hopes to make more money. Schools are stockholders just like any other business and there’s money to be made with investing, and there’s money to lose. Unfortunately, your bank account wasn’t the only thing that took a hit with the recession; your child’s elementary school bank account did too. The only difference between your boss’s business and a superintendent’s business is that there will always be customers for the superintendent’s business, it’s required by law. If a school is going to invest its money, it should be in conservative stocks or mutual funds where an economical crash won’t doom the community. The point is that schools all across America have faced difficulty lately, but if everybody could run their schools in a more efficient manner, school districts like Dr. Verducci’s wouldn’t be in such frenzy.

Statistics have shown that Glen Rock School District spends about $16,387 on each student (1). Across the river in Pennsylvania, the Pennsbury School District manages to spend $12,056 on each student (1). When you do the math, 3 students in New Jersey go to school for the same amount of money as 4 Pennsylvania’s students. The difference may seem slight, but not when there are thousands of students. So what is Pennsylvania getting right? In Bucks and Montgomery County, where the populous is similar to New Jersey, school districts are beasts. Graduating classes of these districts are hitting close to 1,000 students. Across the river, bulk is better. The more students there are, the less they can spend on each student. It’s the same reason why buying a dozen doughnuts is cheaper than buying eleven. Plus, the larger schools offer more opportunities at cheaper prices than smaller schools. So combining school districts could act as a way to become more efficient.

Another alternative which is less drastic would be to lay off administrators and/or teachers. The average student to teacher ratio in New Jersey is 11:1. Is that really necessary? My high school’s ratio was 17:1 and I had never felt left out of a class conversation, even in a class of 25 students. Schools should be preparing students for college and ultimately the real world, both of which are places where individuals are not spoon-fed by their superiors. This recommendation would also get a chance to get rid of copious amounts of administrators. There really is no need for four administrators at a school with less than 2,000 students, a trend many New Jersey high schools seem to follow.

If laying off teachers also sounds too radical, I’m sure that teachers and staff would rather keep their job with the same salary than to then have to file for unemployment. Dr. Verducci claims that wage freezes wouldn’t be a remedy. In reality it would help, to run efficiently we have to save a little here and a little there. If you can save a few thousand dollars on things like instruction, maintenance and transportation, the savings add up to substantial sums of money. In addition, teachers could also pay a percentage of their benefits or insurance, just like the rest of the world. You also need to take into account that teachers are working nine months out of the year. Many of my former teachers have summer jobs where they could tack on another $10,000 to their already generous salary. These suggestions would definitely be a start to creating a more efficient school system where we could be more bang per buck.

Dr. Verducci's Letter:




Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Don't Atrophy This Summer, Achieve

By Sean Scarpiello

In “The Case Against Summer Vacation,” David Von Drehle reports on a group of entrepreneurs, volunteers, and teachers from Indianapolis Indiana that are targeting the students in their area that need the most help academically. Studies show that this group of students has a lower socioeconomic status and their summer breaks result in more atrophy rather than actual achievement. Since these students do not have the kind of money to drop on a fancy intellectual achievement program, these pioneers in the education field need to find a way to provide a quality education during the summer that is not only effective, but cheap as well.

The pros of these summer enrichment programs are that the pioneers are reaching out to the community to find ways to keep the low income students away from the mind rotting capabilities of Jerry Springer and Xbox. In my community there are so many empty public schools, churches, and community centers which seem to wither all summer. Even a small meeting place may benefit by having activities available at low prices for students. Each child’s small contribution will add up and could even just pay the air conditioning bill for the balmy summer months. Not bad for an otherwise empty air conditioned community room and/or wasted resource. Local businesses also benefit from this opportunity because program leaders are reaching out to places such as public pools to barter over a cheap price of admission for bus loads of students looking for fun in the pool and candy at the snack bar. Program leaders are also utilizing the idea of “stealth learning” which is also fantastic because not many elementary or middle school students want to learn during their summer vacation. “Stealth learning” is ultimately teaching students math and reading through everyday activities such as measuring ingredients for cooking or determining specific dimensions in simple wood working activities. Thus it is learning without realizing it. Students also are exposed to another seemingly unexploited resource - themselves. The mere fact that students socialize and spread ideas amongst themselves is brilliant. Plus, it keeps students out of trouble in a way that makes teachers smile as an improved group of students arrive in September. In all, the general concept seems extremely efficient and an overall success. But is there any cons? The only one I can think of is that every community in the US isn’t taking advantage of such a great idea to improve the education of America’s future.

Original Article:,8599,2005654,00.html

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Native Exchange Students

By Sean Scarpiello

Middlebury Language Schools, located in a small town in Vermont, can teach anyone about two years of a language in only nine weeks. The general concept seems interesting, but does the program seem like a prudent investment?

The idea of cramming two years of instruction into nine weeks sounds difficult, but made even more demanding considering a foreign language is the subject matter. Language is all around us, and this program takes total advantage of that opportunity. By making students pledge to use only their new language, students are dropped into a different country where practically everything except street signs and food labels are recognizable in students’ native language. The effect is ultimately acting as a foreign exchange student in your own country. The complete transformation of language is pivotal in such an accelerated learning process. Another benefit the program utilizes is keeping class time to a minimum and maximizing time with everyday activities such as sports and personal conversation. My friend Carlos, an exchange student from Spain, claims he had learned more of the English language from soccer practice as compared to his actual classes in school. This is merely because conversations were on the interests of any teenage male, thus lacking the classroom pressure and boredom. The language camp is smart for utilizing the use of personal interests as the everyday life of each student.

The problem with the language camp is that the target market for the program is mostly high school and college students looking to get an edge in their new school year or next occupation. From a parent’s perspective, it would be quite difficult to send a child to go learn a language for nine weeks out of their summer. Nine weeks is rough for the typical social teenager and even rougher on vacations and much needed family time. The bill for the language camp won’t help much either. For just under $10,000 the program is barely economical for parents who will be opening their checkbooks for college soon, if not already. On the contrary, one could actually view this program as a replacement for a full semester of studying abroad. In that case, parents could see their students during the school year and put a credential that drives college admission’s offices crazy. Ultimately, it comes down to the decision to throw down a pretty penny for a program which offers a fast track in learning a new and exciting language which is sure to give anyone an edge in this ever changing world.

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