Operation Varsity Blue

Unless you’ve given up television for Lent, you’ve no doubt heard about the elite parents who allegedly conspired to get their kids into elite universities. Some schools are Ivy League, but not all were. They used a man who ran college prep center to game the college entrance tests and create fraudulent athletic histories to

This story and the one on people who allegedly got international students visas through the fraud of having imposters take the TOEFL English proficiency test. Neither story really surprises me, but nonetheless when corruption is revealed as fact, and your worst fears are exposed, I feel disgust.

When I taught in South Korea, an English professor gave his friend the questions for our school’s entrance exam. After this came to light, both men were arrested and jailed. The Ministry of Education (MOE) had contacted the university president had been told that there was cheating at our school, the president said that was impossible and didn’t help much with the investigation. Because the claim was proved, the president felt guilty for not believing the MOE and he resigned. I didn’t think the president should have resigned, but I was impressed with his sense of honor. I doubt that will happen with this case.

The stars involved are getting a lot of negative attention, which is part of the price for their crime, yet there are other millionaires who did worse. As many as 750 parents and coaches are part of this.

I hope most see the evidence and realize the right thing to do is to plead guilty and hope for mercy. It’s hard to say what a fit punishment should be, but we aspire to compete on a level playing field and these folks sought out an easier route.

It’s a shame. Some kids aren’t suited for a competitive college. If these kids needed to cheat to get in, how would they be able to stay in without cheating? College itself is stressful, so the stress of applying is no excuse to cheat. There is no excuse to cheat. There are other schools that would take these kids based on their own efforts and achievements. There’s no reason to Photoshop an applicant’s face on to the body of an athlete. How low would you go? Did the students see these fraudulent documents upload on their application? To what extent were the kids in on this?

The truth will out and it has. I hope colleges clean house now.

Operation Varsity Blue also reminded me of the discovery of rampant cheating that was reported with the English proficiency test where I worked in China. A couple of us reported the students and the agency they used to get higher scores. One girl took the TOEFL test in July and got an average of 45 (an 80 was needed). She paid a service $3000 in August and got a 98. No one’s English improves that much in a few weeks.

I reported this to the testing company and to my school, but while we were told an investigation was conducted. None of the four students suffered any consequences. We had recordings of students talking to the shady company that procured the high test scores and sent them to various agencies and newspapers. No one was interested. I submitted the information again this morning. I hope this fraudulent service is shut down.

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Weekend Coffee Share

wordswag_15073188796611453091488Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that the song’s from Guys & Dolls, which I saw yesterday at Northwestern University are playing in my head. “Luck be a Lady” and “A Bushel & a Peck” alternate in my head this morning.

Today was my Great Books Club meeting. We discussed Othello, a play I consider as not one of my favorites by Shakespeare. Yet meeting with a dozen smart folks to talk about Othello made me like the story more.

I did a good amount of editing last week of my own play. I hope to finish another draft by Thursday this week.

I went to the Lyric Opera’s Elektra, but didn’t like it as much as I hoped.

A friend sent me a copy of the anthology which includes a short story he wrote. I get so excited when someone I know accomplishes a literary goal.

I’ve finished two lessons from Hillsdale College’s free online course: Congress: How it Works and Why It Doesn’t.  It’s amazing. The professors are good communicators and researchers. They examine the US Congress as well as the UK Parliament and other legislatures. I’ve learned a lot including how the Parliament building’s structured with both sides facing each other support debate (better*) than all the other legislative buildings which are design more like theaters. Hence we get a lot of grandstanding and playing to the camera. Also, I learned that in the early days, the representatives and senators didn’t have offices. Their desk in their respective chamber was their office, which promoted further deliberation and community amongst peers. If you want to better understand US government, take a look at this free class.

*in my opinion

Weekend Coffee Share

wordswag_15073188796611453091488Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)!

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you that last night I went to my nephew’s Boy Scout Troop’s Spaghetti Dinner. It was a fun event and good to see the boys (and one girl) in uniform serving food and selling raffle tickets it looks like everyone had a good time and the scouts and their parents worked hard for a successful event.

Yesterday, despite some snowfall, the library was super busy and we had lots of time consuming questions and problems to solve. We’re glad to help and the time flew by. It was my first weekend at this branch and though I’m new I was the Librarian-in-Charge. So glad there weren’t any emergencies to handle. As it was, we were surprised that no one working that day knew the alarm code, which is needed at closing. I realized this midday so we did manage to find it.

I loved Northwestern’s production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, which I’d read in school. I’m lucky to live near a university with a strong drama department so I can get inexpensive tickets to see great acting and direction.

I had lunch last Monday with a dear friend Kasia from high school. She introduced me to Polish cuisine. Though she’s half Polish, growing up she didn’t often eat Polish food. Now she and her husband have taken to exploring different cuisines. She thought that Ewa’s Pierogi was better than the place out by her house.

Wednesday my cousin and I had lunch at Venus Szechuen & Mandarin Restaurant in Park Ridge. It’s a Chinese restaurant, which used to be her favorite. I have high standards for Chinese fare and always thought it was average. This was the second time she came and they said their credit card machine wasn’t working. This inconvenienced us and the other customers. Most people expect to easily pay with a card. We’ve decided to take Venus off our list. It was odd that this happened twice.

I’m signed up to start an online course on Managing Information Systems through my community college. I was going to drop it if there was a group project. I’ve worked for years and have done many group projects for grad school so it’s not like I need to learn how to work with people. Gladly, there isn’t one. I’ll go over to campus and flip through the book. The syllabus makes it look like I already know a lot about the topic. If you’re guessing I’m on the fence about staying with this, you’re right.

41YzEFJi9tL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_As for books, I’m thoroughly enjoying Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale. It’s a 19th century novel with wit. Bennett looks at the foibles of small town life. I’m also reading Zola’s Money (L’Argent), which I love, but don’t have as much time as I’d like for.

I’ve had a tough time finding or making time to write. I plan to revise Act I of my play this week. So no lunches with friends and no giving other chores precedence.

The Education of Henry Adams

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Today our Great Books club discussed The Education of Henry Adams written by John Quincy Adams’ grandson (John Adams’ great grandson). It’s a memoire of Henry Adam’s youth with tales of a boy, who like many, didn’t see a lot of benefit to schooling.

Throughout Adams’ includes reflections on how he first thought everyone had presidents in their family, that that was no big deal. He spoke of how around his home his father Charles Adams, a diplomat, would discuss high-minded ideas with virtuous men. As you’d imagine his family socialized with the best and the brightest.

One story I liked was how one day while visiting his grandparents, little Henry refused to go to school. His mother was having no luck with the feisty Henry. Suddenly, the door to his grandfather’s office opened. John Quincy Adams put on his hat, took the boy by the hand and without a word delivered the boy to school. After that, Henry went to school though he didn’t feel it improved him much.

At one point his family moved from Massachusetts to Washington, DC. He was shocked an appalled by the state of things in this slave state. The streets were dirty, the place smelled and the poverty was shocking. He was overwhelmed by the injustice of slavery all around him.

When he was 16 he went to Harvard, of which he thought little. There were no admission standards at the time and the school was something of a club for the elite. He wrote of himself in the third person:

Adams debated whether in fact it had not ruined him and most of his companions, but, disappointment apart Harvard College was probably less hurtful than any other University then in existence. It taught little, and that little ill, but it left the mind open, free from bias ignorant of facts, but docile. The graduate had few strong prejudices. He knew little, but his mind remained supple . . . what caused the boy the most disappointment was the little he got from his mates. Speaking exactly, he got less than nothing, a result common enough in education.

According to Adams, and I generally agree, is that the more people you pack into a class, the less you’ll learn. I’m no fan of the lecture courses with 100 or more students, which is what Adams had at Harvard. I do think one on one or small group interaction. Adams was lucky to be born into a family and circle that had so many great thinkers I wasn’t surprised that Adams learned more at the dinner table than in a classroom.

The book was lively and a wonderful glimpse into an important era in U.S. history. Adams’ style was brisk and engaging.

Steer Clear of Eton House International School

While Eton House International School in Jinan may be a good first job for someone who’s desperate to work in China, I advise teachers to avoid it. I’m writing a short ebook with more details but for now I’ll share the undesirable aspects of the school, which brings in between $800,000 to $1,000,000 revenue a year. The school staff consists of very nice people, but the school’s policies and poor communication make it a poor workplace. For 2017-18 three teachers have backed out of the position open to teach kindergarten. I’m not surprised.

Points to Consider

  1. The principal lacks experience and has only worked at Eton House International School in Jinan. She’s an example of the Peter Principle, where everyone rises to their level of incompetence. She’s a nice, young woman, but can’t prioritize and is behind in her work. For a couple years the school’s been publicizing that they’re going to be an International Baccalaureate school. The principle hasn’t begun the application. She’s getting the tutoring she needs to fill it out.
  2. Eton House Jinan does not have you sign a contract in Chinese, which is required by Chinese law and in fact is the only contract that’s actually good in China. If they change this, you should have a person who’s neutral, translate the contract for you. Often the English and Chinese wording are quite different.
  3. After you sign the contract, you’re in for numerous surprises. For example, the contract says nothing about the teacher having to pay 4 months’ rent and taxes for the apartment. It simply says you’ll be reimbursed every month for your apartment. Later you’ll be told to bring $2,000 to $3,000 for your apartment costs. Most jobs provide housing so there’s no need for you to take one that requires you to take from your savings back home and then be in arrears for months. You can negotiate for the school to pay the 4 months rent, but when you do, expect to have to remind them and do a bit more persuading so they follow through. Get any negotiated benefits in writing.
  4. Communication is horrible. The Principal’s Assistant is an intermediate English speaker with little understanding of business, education and adult activities such as finding housing. She’s your main contact. The Principal is often busy or off campus. She’s the only staff member who can make decisions. Good luck.
  5. If you have a Masters degree, you’ll be the only one at the school with an advanced degree. I can’t imagine how a school that charges $20,000 a year for pre-school lacks trained professionals of the highest caliber. Thus the conversation and thinking in curriculum and teaching is at a subpar level. Teachers just don’t discuss issues the way professionals do, though some think they do. You’ll see signs in the school for the “writting (sic) table.” You’ll hear teachers talk about the Inquiry Unit on Self-Expression about the Gingerbread Man story, a story where the lead character does not express himself in any meaningful way and where the students don’t do work where they express or think much about their opinion of the story.You’re better off getting experience in your home country and then moving to a real international school, one that already is International Baccalaureate.
  6. All the good jobs, and even the bad ones, I’ve had overseas provided teachers with free housing. With Eton House, you’ll be on your own. You get a housing stipend, but unless you want to live in a hovel, it’s probably not enough. If you teach for Eton House in a major city like Beijing or Shanghai, it will be about a third of what you need. Then on top of the rent, they’ll tell you after a couple days of apartment hunting, that there’s a 50% tax and a management fee. So all the time you’ve been looking at filthy apartments, you don’t realize that you can’t afford them.
  7. The teachers in Eton House Jinan must use the same restrooms as the children. Yes, that’s against the law in most countries — including China. Space is tight in the school.
  8. Space is tight in the school and they’ll eventually move to a new building, but for now there’s no teachers’ room. Teachers have a few tables with computers in the corridor. This lack of space and delayed move to a building that’s of appropriate size appears to be another sign of the principal’s lack of leadership skill.
  9. The school is most concerned with saving money. If you miss your flight to Jinan from a larger city, the first thing you’ll be told is that you need to foot the bill for the next flight. Concern for you as weary, perhaps lost traveler is nil. In fact, money will be a big topic at Eton House. The administration’s main concern is money.
  10. A lot of the problems at Eton House Chengdu (see this review: http://www.gochengdoo.com/en/listings/item/eto_32240/etonhouse_international_school) are evident in Jinan. That review was eye-opening. The principal in Chengdu has advised Jinan on curriculum design. Imagine!
  11. While cheerful and imaginative, except for the blatant Eton House posters which continue to sell the school, the classrooms lack a good selection of books in English or Chinese. There are a few, but no where near enough for 15 children. Like in Chengdu, there are few copyright compliant teachers manuals. The only one’s I saw were infringed copies of manuals for phonics.

For-profit schools have their problems and many are on display at Eton House. It’s a decent job because the salary is okay for someone who is new to the field or just seeking a job in China. The sort of professional nomad. If you have a degree in education, I’m sure you can do much better.

Finished!

Yesterday when I pressed submit, I finished my library course on technology. I got a lot out of it and enjoyed the lessons and readings, but it still feels good to be done, to have one less item (or three or four really) off my weekly to-do list. I’m celebrating by doing some pleasure reading this weekend.

I’ve resumed Emile Zola’s The Killing, which continues the saga of the Rougon-Marquart clan as they descend on 19th century Paris, a city of corruption and excess.

Of course, I’m also grading homework, preparing quizzes and preparing for the end of my semester in China, which alas won’t end till Dec. 30th.

Code Academy

For my library class, I have had to complete three courses on codeacademy.com. These interactive courses are free, though you can get a premium account and get a certificate and more detailed instruction.

We had to do the first courses on HTML & CSS, a style sheet language, Building a Website and SQL, a database. The courses were well designed with a good mix of theory and step by step instructions. Code Academy did have some bugs, which get fixed if you report them. I had problems with the exercises. When there were two tasks and I’d complete one, I’d get an error message for not having done both lessons even though the second task is darkened so you can’t do it till you’ve run the first. It was a minor annoyance.

While I prefer Lynda.com courses because they have more insider information and more of a human feel, Code Academy is a good place to get your toes wet to see if you want to learn more.