Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All about education

Hello! I have a trivia for you.

Did you know that the New York City public schools district is the biggest one in the nation? Did you know that if you gathered all students in the NYC public school system and told them to form a city, their city would be the 10th largest city in the US? I didn't know the answer to any of the two questions before attending our morning lecture by Steven Melzer.

A '05 Columbia grad, Steven now works as a special projects director with a focus on the arts, which is an area he has been passionate about since high school. After a brief introduction of the board of education and the system used in New York, Steven talked about various issues in education such as funding, budget cuts, and average class size.

This brings me to some other interesting facts I learned. Although New York schools have the most amount of students than any other city, its average class size ranges from low 20s for grade school to the high 20s for secondary school, which is lower than the average class size at my school.

However, the statistics Steven and his coworkers gathered about the impact of class size on performance proved that class size really does not matter much, at least not when the number is still in the 20s to low 30s.

Despite popular belief that smaller class sizes would enable students to have a more interactive and beneficial learning environment, the data shows that schools in the top 50 percentile have about the same averages as the schools in the lower 50 percentile.

He also debunked another popular myth about budget cuts. Although budget cuts often remove a significant portion of the school's funding, it is important to take that number and the total fund whollistically. Steven says that because so many of the costs are fixed, reforming education often takes a long time before effects are visible, simply because there is only so much that can be tweaked at once.

Also, Steven and the other members of the NYC Department of Education try their best to invest money in the more important sectors of education.

Going back to the fact at the top of this blog entry, our speaker informed us that although there are more students in the New York City public school district than there are people in San Jose, San Jose has a significant greater number of police officers.

Aside from talking about the education system, Steven also talked a bit about his Columbia experience. Before working for the Department of Education, he actually worked for a while as an admissions officer at Columbia. He gave us some tips about the supplemental essay which I have heard of before from other people but still found it helpful. At least now I know it is REALLY important! Because he graduated only 5 years ago, Steven also talked for a while about his college days.

Upon graduating from high school, he thought he knew exactly what he wanted to do -- study computer science and music -- so he could eventually build a robot that could compose music on its own, conduct, and help other children learn music.

However, after taking and failing his first computer science course, Steven realized that it wasn't the field he was cut out for and began to shop for other interests, before finally finding home in the economics department.

After talking to some people about the core curriculum at Columbia University, I gathered that most people either love it or hate it, but most people could agree that the core worked best for students who had already figured out what field they are interested in.

Steven, on the other hand, represented the other side. Because the core curriculum forces students to take certain classes in the various fields, students can use the required introductory classes (which about a third of the entire requirement) to explore.

Overall, I learned a lot from Steven's presentation. We have our final guest presentation on Friday. I can't wait to see what we'll learn from this one!

1 comment:

  1. Yueming,

    Did Steven happen to say what they considered the more important "sectors of education"?

    His information about the relationship of class size to productivity is interesting. I wonder whether it's been put up for per review and what experts in the field might have to say about it.