Wethersfield Democratic Town Committee Elections

Tonight I will be attending the elections of the Democratic Town Committee in Wethersfield. This is a bi-annual event that few people outside politics know about or participate in. Yet this election is one of the most important events because being a member of the committee gives you a vote and voice in the direction of the local party. The party committee elects delegates to the larger conventions and also nominates candidates for local office. For anyone who wants to have a voice in the political process joining the committee is an important first step. Unlike Hartford or other big cities there is no competition for the town committee seats.

If anything interesting happens I’ll update this post later tonight. My prediction is that things will be pretty quiet. For better or worse the majority of the town seems to be unengaged and I think the biggest hurdle the committee as a whole faces is finding ways to get more people involved.

Cool Find of the Day — AfterTheDeadline

Sometimes when I write blog posts they are not quite as polished as my regular writing. I tend to view it as a stream of consciousness and I’ll sometimes go back and edit it a day or two later. However I recently discovered a neat tool called After the Deadline that can help provide some extra polish to that first or final draft. Not only does it check spelling but it also provides other hints and grammatical advice for your writing. WordPress provides it as a plug-in and you can also get it as a plug-in for Word or Google Chrome. They even have a website you can paste text from a word document into or an OpenOffice plug-in. It’s worth the installation if you are a writer.

Cool Find of the Day — DuoLingo (and the story behind CAPTCHA)

A friend of mine posted the following TED talk to facebook and I thought it was a great one to share:

At the end the speaker links to a cool new website that is going to launch soon and will help you learn a foreign language while translating content from the web: DuoLingo. It seems to be in private beta at the moment but I look forward to trying it once it comes out.

The Legal Job Market

Earlier today Daniel Schwartz tweeted a link to an article with a quote from the President of the American Bar Association where he fired back at the ABA’s critics:

"It's inconceivable to me that someone with a college education, or a graduate-level education, would not know before deciding to go to law school that the economy has declined over the last several years and that the job market out there is not as opportune as it might have been five, six, seven, eight years ago," [Robinson] said.

via ABA head has little sympathy for jobless lawyers.

After reading the article I could not help but think that the legal profession needs a figure like Jim Cramer to raise the alarm. In his famous rant Cramer criticized Ben Bernake for not having any idea how bad things are in the stock market. I wonder if the ABA President understands how bad things are for graduating law students. Many are having trouble finding jobs, even those from top schools. This post from the Freakonomics blog describes how attending law school is like the NFL draft and notes that big law has shed 15,000 jobs since 2008. Meanwhile the cost of law school continues to rise and graduates that do not get scholarships or attend public school like me become crushed under mountains of debt.

Law students and other critics of the American Bar Association want the ABA to take action to address this problem. Robinson may be placing the blame with the students but much like the housing crises both parties bear some responsibility. Students need to be aware of the state of the market and the choices they make. That is why I chose to attend public school. However the ABA should take steps to mitigate the rising cost of school and work to implement policies and programs that increase high-paying entry-level employment for recent law school graduates.

What policies and programs should the American Bar Association consider implementing? Some ideas that come to mind include a tuition cap as a condition of accreditation. Another is to build some kind of program that encourages legal entrepreneurship and creates mentoring opportunities for students who want to become solo practitioners after law school. Finally the ABA might consider paring down the number of accredited institutions so that the number of entrants into the depressed market is reduced and therefore give those that go to law school better odds of finding a job.

Update: I just saw this article from the ABA Journal and think it’s important reading as well.

On The Use of Technology in the Classroom & State Mandates

The New York Times today has an article about the use of technology in the classroom. It discusses requirements in Idaho for the use of technology in the classrooms:

Last year, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a law that requires all high school students to take some online classes to graduate, and that the students and their teachers be given laptops or tablets. The idea was to establish Idaho’s schools as a high-tech vanguard. To help pay for these programs, the state may have to shift tens of millions of dollars away from salaries for teachers and administrators. And the plan envisions a fundamental change in the role of teachers, making them less a lecturer at the front of the room and more of a guide helping students through lessons delivered on computers.

via Idaho Teachers Fight a Reliance on Computers - NYTimes.com.

I think that this shows what happens when you pit the policy makers against teachers and administrators. There is no question that to get most jobs or to succeed students must be literate with technology. However, students cannot become literate with the technology if their teachers are not. This means the teachers must be trained. Meanwhile, while the technology changes, people are still trying to figure out the most effective way to use it in a learning environment. By mandating the technology the policy makers seem to be creating problems and confusion instead of advancement.

I think that the worst part of technology in the classroom is the use of it as a glorified whiteboard. Typically a regular whiteboard will do. The money spent on most fancy setups is a waste when a portable projector and iPad or laptop is all a teacher needs to show a YouTube video to their class. The money is better spent on individual workstations for students to use on research or tools for their own independent learning.

Finally the independent learning component of technology is the part that the teacher in the story does not seem to understand. The content on the web can be used to learn and for many people it is effective. Companies like RosettaStone sell software that teaches individuals foreign languages with great success. Chris Anderson at TED gave a great talk about how video on the web is fueling innovation:

Yet students without access to broadband and powerful computers at home cannot harness this innovation. This is why we need schools and libraries to fill the gap. Computers might not make sense in a classroom setting but schools should be making sure that students are able to access them during free periods and after school. Otherwise the students without computers or broadband are at a disadvantage compared to those that have it.

Finally schools should be teaching students how to use these tools as part of their curriculum. It’s not enough to just put someone in front of a computer and have them search YouTube. They need to know how to do things like format their reports in Microsoft Word or calculate formulas in Excel. They need to be shown where they can find open courseware or how to more effectively use Google. If they do not know the answer to something they should know where to go to find it.

It is unfortunate that policy makers have resorted to a mandate to solve their problem. The mandate will not make their students smarter nor will it make teachers happy. Instead they should have worked with these technology companies to start pilot programs in the districts to bring in the technology and train the teachers. They should have worked to identify the needs of the teachers and students and find ways for the companies to fill the gap. After working with a few districts they could have learned from the successes and failures and adopted those to a larger state-wide program. That would have been a win-win for the state, the technology companies, teachers, and especially the students.

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