Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Public vs. Private School Debate: Are Vouchers Really Worth It?

Lately I have been getting a lot of spam on school vouchers, both for and against. As much as I am interested in the issue, I really don't like it when people kill trees to leave stuff on my front door. But it does show the importance of the issue of school vouchers, and how much both sides are dedicated to getting their way.

I've blogged in the past about the school voucher system as was passed by the State Legislature, with both the flaws and the benefits. But that is just looking at the funding, legality, and requirements set by the State. I have also seen the video as suggested by Jordan Gunderson in his blog, but I want everyone watching that to keep in mind that sensational journalism (i.e. yellow journalism) is there for the shock value, and needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

The core question here is whether or not there is real benefit to students entering private vs. public schools. That's the question that most pro-voucher organizations have not addressed, assuming that the school system in private schools are superior due to higher graduation rates. Anti-voucher organizations say it's because the same level of funding is not available for public schools, and that's the only problem.

So, I thought I would do what most people seem not to do when they come to a problem: Check the research. Because of the national attention the school voucher system is getting, it was quite easy to find some scholarly records both for and against vouchers, based on hard research. I will be looking at two in this blog, but if you are interested in viewing them all, I highly recommend you do a search in Google Scholar.

Educational Vouchers: Effectiveness, Choice, and Costs Henry M. Levin, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 17, No. 3, P. 373

Henry M. Levin asks three questions:
1. Will vouchers improve student achievement?
2. Who will choose and what are the education consequences?
3. What is the evidence on comparative costs of public vs. private schools and on the costs of a voucher system?

Now, in the article, Levin also points out that he has been a proponent for vouchers in the past, outlining the benefits of a voucher experiment in inner-city areas. But he also has pointed out that with the private benefits of vouchers, there is a social cost based on greater inequality and further deterioration of a common educational experience. So, now knowing his bias, he begins to outline the answers that he found based on the above three questions.

1. Will vouchers improve student achievement?
First, a disclaimer (which I find very significant): Levin outlines that controls are very difficult, because in making the choice between a private or public school the family willing to make the decision is very educationally minded, while most families that do not consider the decision are not. Family orientation on education has a huge impact on student success in any classroom. More on that point later. ^_^

The first study was made by Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore (1982) comparing Catholic private schools with public schools at the 10th grade level. Their findings saw slightly higher achievement in the private school sector (0.12 to 0.29 deviation points). Note that the standard deviation for any survey or statistical sample is generally between 0.05 to 0.008 (for highly rigorous statistical analysis). This should give you an idea of the degree of deviation. It was then quickly criticized, and a new study was conducted, as outlined by Goldberger and Cain in 1982. When Willms made adjustments for the statistical problems, the private school advantages were greatly reduced or eliminated.

The next evaluation, the Longitudinal results for students through their sophomore to senior years, found 0.1 as the standard deviation in achievement as an advantage. It resulted in only a 10 point increase in the SAT scores, which is not very significant. There was also an achievement overlap that gave 46% of public schools higher scores than private schools.

Levin then sites more recent statistical studies that have found no differences in achievement, or only minimal differences with comparable students in both private and public schools. His final word? There is no real benefit to private schools over public schools as far as achievement is concerned. The real impact came from school stability. Students moving from school to school tend to fair worse, while their peers who remained in the same schools tend to fair better. Did it matter which school? Not at all. Students in stable social environments within public schools were just as successful as stable students in private schools. That being said, parents do seem to have a higher satisfaction rate with their students in a private school than a public school, regardless of achievement numbers.

2. Who will choose and what are the education consequences?

Arguments for and against school vouchers argue that vouchers alone will allow for better market competition, and therefore force the education system to reform or perish. Levin argues that families choosing an educational institution are more advantaged both educationally (i.e. they generally have a higher education) and economically than non-choosing families. He also argues that the important criterion for choosers tend to be socioeconomic status of other students based on the more preferred schools, and therefore increases segregation. And finally, it is the peer and contextual effects of the higher socioeconomic students that have positive effects on achievement, which leads to a conclusion that inequalities in educational outcomes are likely to be exacerbated by vouchers.

3. What is the evidence on comparative costs of public vs. private schools and on the costs of a voucher system?

Levin has several arguments regarding costs and a voucher system, but as the arguments both for and against funding have already been extensively gone into with the Utah version of the voucher system his conclusions do not apply much to our situation. Rather, I would prefer if the reader referred to previous blog entries on the financials of vouchers.

School Choice and Student Performance: Are Private Schools Really Better? David N Figlio and Joe A. Stone, Institute for Research on Poverty discussion paper no. 1141-97, 1997

Figlio and Stone teach for the Department of Economics at the University of Oregon, and conducted an analysis on the benefits of public schools and private schools by looking at the previous research and fixing issues with the statistical sampling. The research was done with the question of whether or not there is a real difference between public and private schools, and if the difference was there, why. Their findings were really interesting:

1. Religious (primarily Catholic) Private Schools faired the best for ethnic minorities for education, or for high-income students because they choose more expensive and higher quality schools. But for all other educational options, they were generally equal to or behind public schools.

2. Non-religious private schools do tend to do better, scoring perhaps 29% higher at times. The findings were found, not in the difference in quality, but the different social environment and peer-support groups.

3. Finally, the findings are based on moving a single marginal student into an existing peer group within a private school. Vouchers tend to aggravate the social environment by changing the peer group within private and public schools. That means that achievement could deteriorate in both sectors, impacting the initally low-achieving, low-income students the most.

So, ultimately, the problem is not the quality of the instruction, but the social environment that is built within the school itself. Because most attendees of private schools have motivated parents that take an active interest in their student achievement, those students are more interested in achieving better. At least that is the evidence that I see in the research I have read so far.

So where does this place the whole voucher argument? Honestly, I think it will not have an impact on education one way or another. More money, fewer students? It's all about providing more financial incentive to move students around, and giving blame for educational failure on a system that is there to support the parent, not take the parent's place. In my personal opinion, parents should spend less time blaming the schools for bad grades with kids, and spend more time in their lives.

This is by no means scientific, but my parents were more interested in helping us learn, and teaching us how to learn on our own, than about which school we went to. Perhaps it was because we didn't have Cable, and there wasn't much else to watch but Public Television. Or perhaps it was because we didn't have a video game console. Our past time was discussing historical events, analyzing statements, and learning through experimentation. All without a private school or school vouchers.

So what should we really spend our money on? Perhaps resources for parents, synchronized with school topics. Let's get parents involved without providing segregation along class lines as suggested by Levin.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

New SEO Evaluation: Johndaughters.com

This week, off hours, I have been working on a new SEO evaluation. John Daughters, a hypnotist and hypno-therapist. He has been working on getting a web presence for his business, and has an excellent website. The only problem is, he needs more hits on his site.

He came to me and asked if I would take a look at his website and give him some pointers. The site is written beautifully, by a master web designer. But there are some things that could be added in order to increase his search engine optimization, and increase his search ranking.

Back Links
The website is beautiful, but is missing one major thing: Back links. While the website is designed well, according to the tools at SEOChat.com he does not have anyone linking to his website. Now, back links are a major need for any website and his website is no different. What can he do?

One thing that can be used is Web 2.0 technology. Blogs, Wikis, and other web presence options can be used to increase back links. One thing that I think will work for John is an entry in WIkipedia.org. Of course, the entry would need to be topical, and benefit the community as a whole (with accuracy).

Keywords on Website
Flash on a website is wonderful, but only if the flash is backed up with text on the page. John's main website is all flash, and as such it doesn't have many keywords in the body of the site for recognition. Luckily, his other pages do. That being said, he has plenty of meta tag keywords. Why are keywords in the body so important? Because Google doesn't utilize the meta tags for ranking. So page content is necessary. What counts for page content? Image Alt tags! And they are friendly to the American Disabilities Act. ^_^

Videos, Videos, Videos!
Search engine optimization is more than just getting to the top of a search. It's really all about bringing more traffic to the website. Two great ways to bring more traffic to a website is to post videos to YouTube, and/or to post podcasts regularly. If you are a performer this is ideal. It's like a free audition for your potential clients! You also want to make sure they are made well, with great angles and topical scenes. These then bring recognition to your website, and hence to your business.

If you are interested in more SEO ideas and techniques, or want to understand how an SEO analysis can work, feel free to sign up for the SEO class at the University of Utah's Continuing Education website. I hope to see you in my class! ^_^

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Airship Progress: The Boiler Setup

This week has been rather stressful. My wife's family has been on alert for evacuation in San Diego (though thankfully they have not needed to evacuate), my Great Aunt broke her hip and had a heart attack, and my son has been ill all week. during all this, I found some time to test my boiler for my airship model.

The boiler is a test tube with a rubber stopper at the end. A tube will then be extended from there to the turbine buckets, and give the overall thrust. So, in order for this to work, I need to have both a lightweight engine with fuel source, and have a fuel source that is powerful enough to boil the water sufficiently.

Luckily, we have some old chaffing fuel canisters handy, so I ran a test. I filled the test tube half way with water, and then held the tube over the fire from that chaffing fire. The water started to boil within a minute. Success! But does it have enough power to push a turbine?

I conducted another test, using the rubber stopper. I filled the water up again, and then put the stopper at the end. There isn't currently a hole in the end for the tube, so I wanted to see if enough power could be built to blow the end off. I had hoped that it would pop to the end of the counter, but instead it popped clear across the room! That was really exciting. Enough power can be built with the boiler to move the airship. Now, I just need to build the gondola of the airship, the turbine and propeller, and the bladder for the helium. Of course, that will be after my prototype has been built (a hot air version).

Why a hot air version? Because it's currently cold enough in West Valley to support a hot air balloon, it's easier to afford because of the cost of the helium, and there is enough hot air from the chaffing fuel to create some lift. Once I test it out, then I will make the helium version.

Yay! I'm on to step three!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Book Review: War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

Ever since I was little, I loved the story of War of the Worlds. I saw the original movie (not the Tom Cruise version), I listened to the original radio production... I just never read the original book. For some reason best known to fate, I never read the classic version by H. G. Wells.

Well, I opted to rectify that this last week. I started the book, which was a gift from my parents over the weekend, and it was difficult to put it down. The story is written as an autobiography regarding the events starting one weekend in June, when Martians landed on Earth, and began their reign of terror upon the inhabitants of late 19th Century London. The story is classic, having been remade in various forms throughout entertainment. Aliens, killing men that resist, and eventually eating those that don't. Yes, it's a classic tale.

But other than the story, the real captivation into this world is the prose. It's been years since I have read anything from the turn of the century that wasn't a translation of a more ancient text. Description was heavy, palpable, almost visual in what was and was not included. Written in the first person (as it was a fictitious autobiography), you are brought along the adventures of a philosopher as he struggles to understand the world that was turned upside down by an alien force of immense power. Forced to accept his position as vermin in the new order that has apparently consumed him, he walks down levels and levels of emotion, with a new character taking a different route and getting lost. It's also interesting to see how the main character takes the events of the fall of the Martians, and the eventual restoration of Man as the dominant life form on the planet.

All in all, this book is fascinating, and keeps a hold of you by virtue of the prose alone. If you enjoy a good story, love good prose, and wish to have a non-supernatural book to enjoy for Halloween, I would highly recommend reading it.

Next up? I think I will find some Jules Vernes stories I haven't read. ^_^

University of Utah to Offer Certification Exams For Credit!

Today we have received official word that the University of Utah will be offering For Credit classes that are official training certification courses for Apple, Cisco, and Linux. Starting this Spring the School of Computing will be offering special topics for the Cisco Network Academy's CCNA Exploration course, Apple Support and Server Essentials, and the Linux Professional Institute courses for level 1 and level 2. INterestingly enough, there has been a lot of interest from the Engineering students on learning Cisco, and and the Business IS students for Linux and Apple.

These classes will be graded (not Pass/Fail for those worried about their GPA), and the courses are electives so anyone can take them from any department. That being said, there will be a hefty special fee to augment the cost of the labs, and the cost of the training materials. You would be surprised how much companies charge for their proprietary training materials.

CCNA Exploration Course
The CCNA course will be the latest course offerings (as of September 2007), and will be a 4 credit hour course. This is because of the large amount of information you need to get through, and need to study up on in your free time. It is not for the faint at heart, so you may want to take a Networking course first to prepare for it. It covers network connections, Frame Relay, Router setup, Switch setup, different routing protocols (RIP, OSCL, IS-IS, ect.), and will even have a wireless section.

Much of the lab will be virtual, and since the virtual environment software is open source you can implement your own test system on your computer at home. ^_^ The instructor is phenomenal, having taught professionally and in the Academic world for years. But, to be ready for any certification exam, you would need to take both semesters. This is similar to the program that Weber State University has in place.

Linux Classes
The Linux classes are being taught with the materials from our good friends at Guru Labs, and are excellent. The first semester is Linux Fundamentals and Enterprise Linux Systems. The books are geared to general Linux distributions, but have specific information for both Red Hat/Fedora and SuSE Linux.

The instructor is currently a programming manager that graduated from Boston University. He is very knowledgeable in Linux, and will also be teaching our non-credit vi class.

Apple Support and Server Essentials
For the first couple of weeks, Support Essentials will have the materials of 10.4, because Apple will not have the 10.5 materials ready until February. That being said, the concepts and contents of Support Essentials (first half of the semester) is almost identical to the 10.5 contents, and as the instructor I will be providing all the necessary 10.5 materials in training. Server Essentials will be all 10.5, and will be almost completely different from the 10.4 materials. There will be focus on Web and Mail (which is currently not covered in 10.4), and the Collaboration software (Wiki, Blog, iChat's Jabber server, and iCal Server).

And, at the end of the class, we will have an open sandbox period to let you play with the server setup that you want, without someone breathing over your shoulder should you accidentally wipe your file server clean. ^_^

If you are interested in any type of technology degree from the University of Utah, and need some additional electives, I would recommend the certification classes. Not just because I teach one, but because I think it's important to have some practical experience with the theoretical concepts that are out there. That, and all the EE students that we told about the CCNA program were excited (they didn't have to do to SLCC to take the courses anymore). ^_^

Hope to see some of you in my class!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Big News from Apple: Leopard Release and iPhone SDK

This week has been exciting with regards to Apple. They announced the release date of Mac OS X v.10.5 "Leopard", and the iPhone SDK for open and accepted developers.

I have been a proponent of Leopard for a long time, because the cool features within Leopard (and Leopard Server) have had me drooling. Not because they are anything new, but because many of the open source programs that are out there have a easy way to manage them. It also means that I get more training for the Apple Certification classes that are coming up in the Spring. All I can say is I can't wait to start playing with the OS once it's released. ^_^

iPhone SDK
Yes, Steve Jobs and his group finally saw the light based on the outcry of the iPhone 1.1.1 update that killed a lot of hacked iPhones. iPhone users want an Apple PDA, not just a phone with a new interface. Now, just as I had hoped, after the iPod Touch was released, the iPhone will be opened with an SDK to developers that are issued a specific key (probably, anyway).

The only problem I would have with it is: what are the criteria for the key? There are currently a lot of developers using the Jailbreak hack and SDK that was developed by hackers out there at the iPhone Dev Wiki. Will they be eligible for the key? Will it be handled the way the Widget program was handled, allowing just about anyone to develop as long as the software is virus free? I hope so. It would make life that much easier for the current developers, and will basically incorporate all the cool apps that already exist.

February will be an exciting time for Apple, if they do it right. Let's hope they do.

School Vouchers Revisited

On Monday, I posted my concerns regarding the school voucher program. Many were perhaps misguided because of the patchy information I had gotten on the issue. One reader (I have a reader?? Yay!) pointed out in my comments that there is a voter information packet located here: http://elections.utah.gov/Voter%20Information%20Pamphlet_2007.pdf. It provides an impartial analysis on the referendum, as well as arguments both for and against the referendum.

Admitting that I was not completely informed, I promised that I would read through it. I ignored the arguments for and against, and instead looked at the impartial analysis. Here is what I found regarding my concerns:

Current Private School Students getting Voucher Funds
The bill specifically states that the student needs to be enrolled into a public school in January 1, 2007 before they can be eligible. This means that the students that are currently in private schools are not eligible for voucher funds, and therefore will not be taking any money from taxpayers without giving some back to public schools. Good, that's one concern that is cleared up.

Standards for Private School Teachers
There are also standards set for private school teachers, meaning that the school must higher "teachers with at least a college degree or with special expertise". Again, there is no mention of any teaching certificate, any requirement for a teacher to have any knowledge of developmental psychology, educational theory, or teaching skill.

Now, I know there are a lot of people that think anyone can "teach". Well, anyone can stand in front of a group and spout out a bunch of facts. But teaching requires an organization of materials that build upon each other, leading the student to that moment of understanding. SME's (Subject Matter Experts) may be able to provide information, but they can't always teach. Teachers don't spend an extra year in college just for the fun of it, they are learning how to present their material in an orderly way, while appealing to multiple learning methods.

Impact on School Districts
The estimates on savings for school districts fall between 2.4 to 11.5 million dollars in the first year, and growing to 11 million to 28 million dollars by the program's 13th year. These estimates are State wide, but there is no mention of the distribution of private schools across the state, and which school districts will get the most benefit.

Then, of course, with the push to divide the largest school districts into East and West side locations, this becomes a scary situation for those schools on the West side of the Salt Lake valley. They are already suffering by a disparity in quality facilities, suffering because of the lower income locations they service.

These are areas that don't have private schools, because the families can't even close the gap between the voucher money and the remaining $12,000.00 a year required for private school tuition. Will these West side schools get additional funding? Not if the school districts are divided, because "each school district receives State funds under a formula based on the number of students enrolled in the school district... The Parent Choice in Education Program [vouchers] allows a school district to continue to receive a portion of the per-student state funding." To those of us living on the West side it sounds like a veiled attempt to increase funding to school districts in the richer areas, leaving the poorer areas out in the cold in the promised "more funding" argument.

Where do the Funds Come From?
This was a big concern, and it seems that the general State tax revenues are going to pay for the vouchers. That money earmarked for Education is not touched, so that is at least a relief. But, can it be sustained? We have a surplus now, but for how long? If the economy hits a rough patch (i.e. the housing market takes a huge dive to follow the nation), then most likely this program will be one of the first to get sacrificed for essential State funding.

Qualifications for Vouchers
To qualify, the student must" be born after September 1, 2001, be enrolled as a full-time student in a Utah Public school on January 1, 2007, not be a Utah Resident on January 2007, or be in a lower income family". Also, the student must be between 5 and 19 years, or if not graduated from High School, can extend to 21 years. So, out of state families that move into Utah could potentially be eligible based on family income.

This is a great move to increase a growing need for a labor force, but how do we know there will not be an overwhelming push on the private school system? More schools will need to be built, in more residential neighborhoods with little or no traffic assessments being made. Think I'm over-reacting? That's what happened in Bluffdale. Of course, this speaks to the poor planning and construction requirements in general, which is a completely different issue. ^_^

Constant Court Battles Over State Funds to Religious Private Schools
One glaring problem is the availability of State funds to religious private schools. Personally, I don't care if someone want's to go to a religious school. In fact, I think they will be better off over all. But Federal and State constitutions prohibit the use of public funds for religious purposes. This means lawsuits being filed, years of court battles, and State money being funneled into the courts to fight the suits.

Now, here is how I see it play out: It makes it all the way to the State Supreme Court, which will probably vote in favor of the program. Then it gets pushed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is notorious for reversing decisions like this from the State Supreme Court. If it eventually gets pushed to the US Supreme Court, they will most likely not even hear the case unless backed by other States looking to do the same thing. All that money, and I don't think it will be implemented anyway.

So, that is my take on the voucher system, now that I have had a more informed look at the facts. There is still no accreditation program for private schools (I'm sorry, but just issuing a student achievement tests isn't enough unless it is answerable to the State), no requirements for teachers to have any education background (that is education techniques, not their own education), and a huge problem when the voucher program hits the courts. But, funding looks better to the East Side of Salt Lake, and wealthy areas of the State.

But these are just my opinions. Someone else may read something else into the facts. If you do have any questions, please read up on the facts behind the voucher system from the link supplied above. If nothing else, you should be educated regarding the issues you vote on in as impartial a way as possible.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Vouchers, The Arguments

It's been a while since I have posted something about politics, and with Doran Barton and Jesse Stay posting about their views on private school vouchers, I thought I would post my concerns as well.

The Voucher System: Funding and Class Size
Both Doran and Jesse have made good points in their arguments, outlining what the voucher system is designed to do. Basically, if your family is eligible, then the State will subsidize your tuition up to $3000.00. It is dependent on your income, of course, and the cost is higher than most private schools, but the argument is that students will be in a better learning environment and therefore benefit from the voucher. This goes back to the whole argument of public vs. private schools, which I am not in a position to contend. Ultimately, the idea is that class sizes will go down while school funding will go up for public schools.

The Problems
One argument for the voucher system is that the Public system is too strained to manage the students they have now, and will break in the near future. Therefore, those that can afford public schools should head in that direction now to relieve the stress, and those that can almost afford public schools should make the move as soon as possible with vouchers. Of course, the assumption is being made that students that can already afford private school are not already going, and that those that just barely can't make private school will be able to get the money they need from the voucher system to do so.

Supposedly the income requirements will keep those that are already attending private school from getting the voucher, and thereby taking funding from public schools without lowering costs or class sizes in public schools. Can there be a guarantee on that? I don't think anyone can say for sure that the process can protect funding for public schools from going into the negative.

So what do we need in order for this to work? Safeguards. But then, we will have students that have been going to private schools for years lose out on vouchers when their newly enrolled peers now become subsidized. Is that fair? Absolutely not! So if we issue vouchers to the students that have been going to private school for years, then we start taking money from the public schools without the promised class size reduction or funding increase per student. Ultimately, property taxes will need to be raised to balance out the difference, making vouchers almost negligible in their effect, while increasing the tax burden on property owners.

Is there any easy way to make this work? Only if private schools lower their tuition, at which point they are no longer a money-making proposition for investors, and have less available funds to spend on their students. At that point, they become a public school like facility (funding wise), but without any requirements for accreditation or teacher qualifications. Which brings up the second concern I have.

School Vouchers: Public Funding of Nonregulated Private Institutions
I voted for my county representative specifically because he voted against spending county funds to bring a financial boom, i.e. the Real Salt Lake Stadium, to a single city, i.e. Sandy. I saw no benefit for my city in West Valley, though my public funds would have gone toward the prosperity of Sandy. If funds are going to be paid from public coffers, they need to be spent for the benefit of all that pay into those coffers in one way or another.

So, the main question I have is whether or not public funds, i.e. property taxes being used to pay for vouchers, are being spent on organizations that benefit the community as a whole. There are two ways private educational institutions can benefit the community: either by providing outstanding citizenry that in turn benefit the whole (which we all hope happens regardless), or by providing some sort of monetary benefit to the public that will justify the whole.

How can that be quantified? It's a good question. Public education has been unable to make such quantified statements, nor has any other institution of learning with the exception of accredited Universities and Colleges. They can provide verified, direct benefit to a community based on the requirements of tenure, student educational rigor, and impact in the existing fields of study. So a big question is whether or not K-12 institutions should receive public funds without some sort of accreditation program in place.

Public schools have a form of accreditation through the State requirements. For those that are unfamiliar with the public school system, it is a State run institution. This is the same for every State out there, as education remains State governed as a result of State sovereignty. Is it a perfect system? Of course not! Just like every other system out there, there are those that try to squeak by with just the basic requirements. But overall, it has been a strong system with students from this State being well prepared to move ahead into the world.

To argue that teachers are afraid of losing their jobs and being out-competed against by private schools is not based on any form of fact in my opinion, as public schools are scrambling to get qualified teachers as it is. To suggest that teachers will be fired during a shortage is just not logical, because it would aggravate the teacher shortage currently, and remove any "benefits" of smaller class sizes by requiring fewer teachers to teach more students, and make null any promise of better pay raises for teachers based on the supposed increase in funds available. No, I can't believe that teachers are really afraid to lose their jobs to the private school industry. After all, they have a teaching certificate, where many private school instructors do not. That brings me to another sticking point of mine: accreditation.

Private schools are, as far as I am aware, completely free of any regulation outside of the funds coming in. Anyone who knows of a private K-12 accreditation program, please let me know! So, without any type of standard required, not even the State onus placed on public schools, they are pretty much free to teach what they would like to teach. Teachers can be anyone, not necessarily someone with a teaching certificate. Is this necessarily bad? Not really, because it can afford a lot of teaching variance, freedom with curriculum in a fast-paced world, and also allow for people to teach that have advanced degrees that do not want to spend the money to become certified as a teacher.

That being said, it's also disconcerting to think that there are no standards set globally as to the curriculum that is being taught, the level of education the teacher has, or the teacher's understanding of educational psychology. How do I know that the instructor is teaching with a constructivist method, instead of a behaviorist method? How can I be sure that my child is being prepared for the world, both through college and beyond? I can audit the classes, but considering how many private schools are out there it would take a couple of years to find the one I am happy with.

So, that's another sticking point I have with the voucher system. Public funding for non-regulated programs. Of course, the argument could be made that these are not really public funds, as these students will not be attending the schools for which the funds pay. But my argument to that is: Once you pay your taxes, the money belongs to the State, not you. You can't claim it is your money if it's already been paid to the State, regardless of what is funded.

Is There a Solution?
Anyway, those are my arguments. Nothing really new, since both sides have mentioned each grievance. Ultimately I don't really see Vouchers as "fixing" the funding problem with our public schools. Private schools will become overwhelmed with students as well, and we will be back in the same fire, but with a bigger problem.

Personally, I think that web-based learning can fix a lot of the class size issue, making classes hybrid in attendance (part time in class, part time online). Teachers will have fewer students in the classroom, while still being able to provide personal one-on-one coaching for those that really need it. Of course, it will mean more education for teachers, network facilities for the State schools, and possibly expand to provide curriculum guidelines for private and home school students if they so desire.

As far as providing public funds by way of vouchers to private schools, the big question I have is how can I guarantee that private school vouchers are going to an institution that has some sort of academic rigor? My son will only have one childhood, how can I be sure that he will be getting the most out of education should he go to a private school? These questions have yet to be answered to my satisfaction, and until they are answered I don't think I can support a private school voucher referendum.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

So Far A Good Week: Projects and Relief

This week has been a great one, as I have had a lot of time to experiment with some projects and I got some good news regarding my car. But first, the projects!

The Steam Air Ship
I finally got the necessary hardware for a prototype steam boiler. I'm not sure it's going to be the final boiler for the airship, because the parts are just too heavy. But at least I can experiment with the materials and see if that is what I want to use.

I purchased a 3/4 in. diameter copper pipe at 6 in. long. It's longer than I really need, but it was the smallest piece I could get from Lowe's (or any other hardware store). I can cut it in half if I need to cut the weight down on that part. I chose copper because of it's look, it's ability to conduct heat well, and because this pipe is used in high-pressure plumbing and survives easily. I think it will be fine for what I want to do with it. ^_^

I then purchased two cap ends for the 3/4 in. pipe. Unfortunately, it looks like they are exactly the same size as the pipe. Not being conversant with plumbing, I will have to rely on my father who has a lot of plumbing experience. If all else fails, we will just solder the caps on, and hope for the best. If nothing else, it would make a nice safety valve, being an expected exit point for high-pressure steam (if the pressure ever got that high).

I then purchased two saddle valves, which will clamp onto the pipe, and then puncture the pipe to make the opening. Why two? One for the steam, and one for the water. Also, to add water you need to have an exit point for air. The problem is, each valve weighs as much as the pipe and ends combined. So I have effectively tripled the weight of the boiler with the valves. The good news is that the valve weight is static, so I can move to a larger pipe with ends, and the valves will still work.

Anyway, that is the status on the boiler. I'm thinking of maybe going with a glass boiler in the final product. I think a large test tube will work wonders, and cut down on the overall weight. Of course the cost will go up, but it would be neat to see the boiler in action. Perhaps it will make a good science experiment for my son when he gets into school. ^_^

Mobile Lab In Action
I have also been working with my mobile lab, and it has been wonderful. I currently have it divided up into three classes, though right now each of them are working in the Mac environment. Still, the triboot issue was a success, and will be refined based on discoveries and requirements that have been made so far. Version 2 will be really nice indeed. ^_^

My Car Got Well!
For the past several months, my VW Jetta TDI has been sick. Sick? Yes, the check engine light has come on intermittently, and no one has been able to give me a definitive answer as to why. I have tried changing out filters, caps, and sensors, and it still has been coming on. It also has effected my fuel efficiency, knocking me down to the 50 mpg that I normally get to 42 mpg.

But then it all just stopped yesterday morning. Why? Well, I think it was something to do with some bad diesel I put into the tank. I ran the car until I was on empty, and on empty for a while. The ride from my office to a diesel filling station didn't have the check engine light on. Well, that's happened before, and it wasn't a long drive, so I didn't think much of it. I then filled up, and took the long way home. The light didn't come on! I got excited, but thought it may have been a one day fluke. It's happened before. So I waited until this morning, when I watched my dashboard carefully. The light didn't come on.

So, with relief, I am happy to say that my car is no longer sick, and it appears to have been something it drank. ^_^ I will be more careful in future which station I fill up on, even if it is cheaper. You never know when you will get a bad batch of diesel.

Friday, October 05, 2007

A Steam-Powered Model Airship Project

Recently I started a new project. Many of my old projects may have gone by the wayside, but this one should stick. You see, I intend to build a steam-powered model airship, and have it be functional. I will be building this airship with parts I have around the home, putting them together, and then finally have it move under it's own steam power when I'm finished.

The Engine
I started by working out a design for the engine. The steam engine is perhaps the most important part of this project, as it will be the central power core. I based the design off of a model steam engine I saw for sale on eBay, and changed it from a piston engine to a turbine. Why a turbine? Because it's actually easier to build than a traditional piston engine, particularly at that size. ^_^

I originally intended to have the engine built together in the gondola, and then run a drive belt between the turbine drive axle an a new axle that would run the full length of the airship's envelope. That would of course require multiple gas bladders in the envelope, and make inflating very complicated.

The nice thing about the turbine is that it doesn't matter where the axle is located, as long as steam can get to it. So, I can move the turbine portion of the engine to the back of the air ship's envelope, as long as I have a tube running from the main boiler to the turbine.

Now the question comes to what power source to use. I had originally wanted to use a candle, but I am unsure if the head would be enough to build steam. There are a couple of other options, one of which is using an alcohol based fire. This is something that I will be working on this next week.

The Lift
Once the weight of the engine (and water, and fuel) has been figured out, I can calculate how much helium would be necessary. Helium has a lift factor of 1.113 grams per liter, meaning that it's weight is that much more lighter than air. So, from that I should be able to calculate how many liters of helium would be required to lift the engine and enclosing envelope. Then it is just a matter of building the envelope, and the gas bladder.

The Envelope
I intend to build a semi-rigid envelope, built out of paper-maché. The frame will be made with twine dipped in either starch or paper-maché glue. Either way, it will be roughly the shape of a Zepplin, though I reserve the right to make changes if necessary. ^_^

The rigid design will allow the turbine in the back to function with little addition to the weight of the air ship.

Future Plans
Once the initial design has worked, I plan to add a generator to the turbine (in a new design), and add electric servos and a radio control. That way, it will still be steam powered, but I can do more with it than move in one direction. I will also enclose the turbine, and recycle the steam into water, reheating it and making the engine more efficient.

Perhaps, once I can get the design worked out, I will hold a race with anyone else who is so inclined to build their own steam-powered airship. ^_^

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

University of Utah Technology and Gaming Fair

Today, instead of being in class, I'm representing our department at the University Bookstore's technology and gaming fair. Last year, it was called U MacWorld, but this time it was expanded out to include more vendors and appeal to the gaming market.

The event is pretty cool, though I was hoping for the same Mac presence we had last year. In fact, I was really hoping that there would be a sneak preview of Leopard here. Unfortunately, there isn't. They do have a dual boot Mac on display, but then I have a triboot Mac on display, so that shows them. ^_^

Other than that, we have Adobe here, AT&T, EZ Gear, Belkin, D&H Distributing, Dell, Douglas Stewart, El Dorado Trading Group, Health Sciences, iFrogz, Instructional Media Services, Logitech, M-Audio, Mobile Edge, Ricoh, Skulcandy, Sony, Starwest, STM, Sumo, University Federal Credit Union, Wacom, Western Digital, Laptops Unlimited, and NLU Body Guardz.

There are a lot of events going on as well, with cash giveaways, raffles, and the announcement of the University's iTunes U offerings (finally!).

If you are at or near the U, it's worth it to come check things out! There are a lot of really cool technologies here, and if you haven't had a chance to see a triboot Mac in action, stop by my booth. ^_^