Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Homework already! It still the middle of August and September is still long off in the horizon!

September and its well known Labor Day weekend which is often referred to the holiday to celebrate the unofficial end of summer may be still weeks away. However for students of many school districts around the US in the recent years August has became the New September. Some students even start at the beginning of the month when the 2012 Summer Olympics is still ongoing. While schools around the country had historically started in the first week of September for many decades, ever since the late 1990s due to public criticism that schools around the country are under performing, individual school district supervisors, under pressure to improve test scores in schools around their districts, decides to make sweeping changes to the school system and its curriculum and most of all the school calendar. For example Multi Track Year round schooling, which staggers the time children attended school throughout the year, was experimented in the 1990s and 2000s however finding that academic performance is not better but the costs were too high and facing opposition from parents with children in different schools and teaching staff the concept of year round schooling rapidly declined in popularity and many districts decides to reduce or scrap it.  However it is replaced by the "early start trend" which also started in random districts around the country back in the 1990s instead gained momentum for schools with traditional calendars. As most states often schedule standardized tests in the months of March, April, or May school districts often try to move more of their school years before that date which often means starting in the month of August instead of September and maybe ending earlier for summer or with additional non holiday breaks added in the calendar. The trend often start from Districts start by moving the start of school year from after Labor Day to start a week before usually in the last week of August. Eventually the start of the year gets moved earlier and earlier as the years go by. However the trend rapidly made enemies with businesses venues, students, parents, and even the teaching staff as everyone's summer schedule had been compromised as it was cut into by the early starting schools. There has also been no proof that  test scores or school performance improved after school systems start early actually there had been proof that test scores actually lowered in some districts that adopted the earlier start calendar as opposed to to districts nearby that did not start earlier. In Minnesota there had been a trail in the last three years in which 25 school districts begin two weeks before labor day to see if test scores in spring would increase however after three years the scores had been found to remain flat compared to before the experiment as well as districts that start after labor day.  The issue gone so far that a number of states has put into legislation that schools cannot start before a certain date which currently ranges from third week of August as in Florida  to after Labor Day as the case with Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota. Believe it or not states often frown upon schools systems starting too early, the reason is due to the fact that it is actually tremendously expensive to operate schools in August when utility bills and other costs to operate schools are at its the highest of the year also tax revenues plummet from venues that depends on the summer holidays for profits in fact many such as aquatic parks have to shut down when school starts, with state budgets being tighter these factors becomes quite an issue. In reality starting schools earlier causes much more problems than solutions however just like knee jerk reactions leading to the plastic bag ban fad our elected representatives of our school systems still think that they are always right and that they are supreme rulers and tenaciously hangs on to this practice despite majority number protests of the population they are supposed to represent unless a higher authority, usually the state, intervenes though even if they do districts often seek waivers and are often successful. 

Lets take a look at the situation today many school systems around the country run under the one hundred eighty day, 1086 hour dual semester school year with each semester running about eighty to little more than ninety something days. One of the major problems administrators face with the tradition September to middle of June calendar is that the first semester stretches over the Christmas winter break and having exams in January which administrators claim students forget what they learned over the break. During the last fifteen years school districts begin various experiments to remedy the problem. Today districts experiment of shifting the pattern by moving the entire school year forward to make the 180 day calendar split evenly between when it starts, the December winter break, and summer. However they did not take accounts the flaws of the semester system itself which is just too long and overwhelms students with less courses down. Some schools have successfully implemented the three trimester system instead and shown success and school can start later while exams avoid conflicting with holiday breaks. However this issue is secondary for school administrators compared to main reason which is the pressure to place more days of school before the standardized tests in order to prepare students. Thats explains the reason why many school districts may start in August yet still schedule end of semester exams after Christmas break in January.  A study involving school years had revealed in 1993 about 51% of schools started before September 1 but in 1998 the figure jumped to (76%) Today you have to think more August than September for back to school as August, is now increasingly being used instead as a back to school month in school districts all around the US sometimes as earliest as the end of July Its sad because August usually the universal full month of summer vacation in much of the Northern Hemisphere. Actually in parts of the European Union its not so uncommon for employers to give workers "summer vacation" off on August as well. Now students in the US are missing out on the only month they might be able to have down time out of work and summer schools. The actual number of instructional days have not being changed [set by each state according to funding availability] instead the release date may have been moved to sometime in May instead of June or the lost days may have been made up with intersession breaks all at the individual discretion of each school district. The experiments by the school districts have not been successful according to educators and in fact the better performing school districts in the country still uses the traditional September to June schedule (not the year round or early start schedule). Overall scores of schools which started the year early actually declined instead of risen after they experienced with early starts. Today a growing number of states are actually tried to legislate school acts requiring non year round school districts to keep the year between September 1 and June 20 since the early starts school districts impose are not gaining more benefits than drawbacks and cost a fortune in state educational funding. According to a citizen organized coalition website Texans for a Traditional School Year and Tulsa World News on November 17, 2002 Tulsa Public Schools saved $500,000 in utility and other cost of operation by delaying schools from opening in mid August to after Labor Day. In Texas according to Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts electric bills alone were as much as $10 million a year higher as a result of early August starts of schools around the state. A shocking amount considering utilities in Texas are actually among the cheapest in the nation due to its generous supply of oil and natural gas. In addition to energy costs there is also the cost of back to school absenteeism which actually puts academics behind in a classroom. There are those who cannot make it back to school either for a preplanned family events but the most pressing are the migrant working students who return to their home countries such as Mexico where they often have to work until September 1. The good news is as of 2008 Texas now requires school districts receiving state funding to start no earlier than the fourth week of August and cracks down on waivers making them nearly impossible to obtain. 

If this trend continues unabated famous line teachers say for decades for which the children love to hear at the beginning of their summer vacation which is "see you in September" would become a little more than a hollywood fantasy. Believe it or not the trend as of 2012 has finally penetrated schools around hollywood as Los Angeles Unified School District finally embarks on the early start trend in 2012 starting the school year in August 15 instead of after Labor Day breaking tradition for the very first time in its history for non year round schools. For some reason the district and many surrounding districts in the city as well as neighboring cities and towns in the metropolitan area including in Orange County stayed off the early start trend kept their start dates after labor day long after districts in rest of the state and country embraced the trend. I guess its due to the abundant amusement and entertainment industry influence as they need the revenue and the day labor. In other parts of the state and country amusement parks and local recreational activities have to greatly cut their operation once school has started. However as with everywhere else it was only a matter of time before the trend penetrates the area. Surprisingly according to a Redding.com news article back in 2006 that advocate that schools in the Redding area start after Labor Day instead of early August, nine out of ten best performing school districts in California start classes after September 1. Again it seems like everything else the administrators would always think their decisions are right even if they know they are wrong and its unlikely they would lift their policies even if no improvement or even harm is reported for years and more places and administrators would be lured jump off the same bridge. Therefore its important for members of the community particularly teachers, parents, and pupils to stand up as a community to make things right. In other words take the bull by the horn and show who the representatives are really representing and correct their mistakes and find better solutions to improve education. Think of how much school funding would be stopped from going down the drain if all schools in California started after September 1 which can be used to improve education. This is especially true when the state and its school system is facing ever so extreme budget deficits. 

Here are some links to privately formed coalitions, note there are some states not listed such as savecaliforniasummers.org






save florida summers

save sc summers

Save NC Summers

Save PA Summers

save sc summers

Friday, August 17, 2012

Just how flawed can San Francisco Bay Area transit agencies can get

Just how flawed can Bay Area transit agencies can get

The flaws of public transportation in the Bay Area.

I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for about fifteen years. I notice while San Francisco do have a number of transportation options there is a lot of flaws with the system. Mostly the flaws have to do with the management of the system. While it is true that passenger train and rail transit lags behind in the US and around the state of California as compared to European and Asian cities there are some things I just find ridiculous and inexcusable.
Santa Clara VTA Montage.jpg
Take Santa Clara county Valley Transportation Authority for example, I noticed they always complained they are short on funding and have to cut back. However at the same time they keep expanding their "light rail" network which people often describe as the lightly used rail. The projects are quite expensive but they push on by compromising their existing service and laying off employees. The rail system was expanded from a history trolley system in downtown and into a full scale system in 1987 and continued to expand afterwards. The system was quite expensive to build and run sometimes needing expensive elevated structures such as the 3 mile long flyover above Great Mall Parkway in Milpitas. It is also subsidized more than bus service. For example VTA buses issue no free nor discount transfers meaning one would need to pay the full single ride fare currently $2 each boarding which can be hefty if two or three buses necessary to get to ones destination and its rare to not need to transfer. If you take three buses you might as well buy a $6 day pass. However for the light rail, which runs under the honor system which, unlike buses or BART, tickets are not checked to enter the train however it is expected to be retained for rare fare inspections by one of the five fare inspectors systemwide), one "single ride ticket" which is Good for light rail only actually allows unlimited rides and transfers on the light rail system for up to two hours. There is even a 8 hour $3.50 pass that is good for light rail only that bridges the gap between the 2 hour ticket and the $6 day pass. Therefore it is actually cheaper to take light rail than the bus. Also the system is lined up in a method that is quite useless to much of the population. I.e. they expanded the system toward the east side after heading to the north northside and Milpitas where there is low density homes, apartments, and big box stores, very few people would ride a system that is quite far for their house having to walk through neighborhood and big parking lots  and requires them ride in the opposite direction that they are going unless they want to head to Milpitas or North San Jose. If they worked in the cities of Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, or Mountain View they would need to transfer to another line at Baypointe or Tasman station. Nowadays VTA plans to extend the line down Capital Expressway all the way down to Capital light rail station which is even more useless as the population density near much of Capital Expressway is low and the light rail doesn't appear to go in the direction much of the population would travel. If VTA wants a rail system that would do good to the general population they should build to places that already has a high density population and high transit ridership. The Campbell line is the only line that kinds of meet this requirement as it links higher density cities and provides light rail to San Jose Diridon station the main station for Caltrain, ACE, and Amtrak. It would be much sensible have extended the existing light rail from its Mountain View terminus to Palo Alto downtown would had been a much better candidate for light rail as its European like neighborhoods encourages walking and transit which many residents already do. VTA should also had planned a line between the European styled shopping residential complex Santana row and Eastridge transit center thru San Jose Diridon station.  The line should go in a subway under Santa Clara street between Diridon station and 24th street where currently the busiest bus lines run nowadays and BART is already planned to tunnel there. It can work just like how Muni tunnel lines under market street in San Francisco at the same time eliminating the current light rail sidewalk crawl through downtown area. The light rail line should then travel eastward via 24th street and McLaughlin where there are many high density residential apartments, condos, and shopping as well as Story rd overpass to busy Story and King road Intersection and near San Jose Giants stadium, and down Tully Rd to Eastridge transit center which is also in a busy high density neighborhood with high bus ridership and many bus lines converge here. However the plan for light rail had been scrapped completely and in its place a Bus rapid transit corridor has been implemented as line 522 which runs parallel to VTA's busiest bus line line 22. Even more ridiculous is that VTA opened an "express light rail service" in Oct 2010 that skips stops in the fastest portion of the line when the light rail runs down the middle of the highway 87/85 corridor at freeway speeds but same fare and does not require upgrade to express fare unlike with vta express buses. However the so called "express train" only save 4 minutes through the skipping five stations between  Ohlone/Chynoweth and Convention Center in Downtown and still has to crawl through the downtown sidewalk at seven miles per hour and only this idea makes no sense at all. Not to mention in 2003 VTA scrapped its entire fleet of Urban Transportation Development Corporation Light rail cars that were barely more than a decade old with brand new Kinki Sharyo Co light rail cars on which is quite wasteful when they should have just added new ones to the fleet as needed. The new elevated platforms that provide level boarding for the new trains can make boarding the steps easier for the old trains. The old trains were compatible  as well as the height of the bottom of the door is the same for both trains this is proven by this picture Light-rail station

Another big issue is San Mateo County which is often known as the Peninsula.  If we compare the Peninsula and east bay its a no brainer that the Peninsula which consists of a corridor of relatively densely populated cities and town on the narrow strip of land between the coast range and the bay with US101 and El Camino Real runs right through the heart of all cities downtown a metro rapid rail system like Bay Area Rapid Transit or commonly known as BART with frequent headways and quick acceleration/braking capabilities would be the most suitable compared to a heavy rail train(caltrain) which has many operation limits therefore reducing frequency and takes much longer to get up to speed and stop. However due to bureaucratic issues BART had been banned from the Peninsula but built in the sprawling low density spread out east bay. Its hard to believe that places like Fremont, Dublin/Pleasanton, Concord, or Pittsburg having BART metro trains that runs every fifteen minutes all day yet in the more densely populated Peninsula where its city center after city center in a line and many employment opportunities they only have a diesel heavy rail train(Caltrain) that only runs hourly midday and most local non express runs takes more than an hour and half to complete the run. The express trains of Caltrain which skips stops only travel during commute hour, while it gets end to end between San Jose & San Francisco quicker, however it skips out most of the stops making it hard for many mid peninsula residents to ride. In the east bay the Bay Area rapid transit is usually only good for trips to San Francisco or Oakland unlike in the Peninsula which can be used for travel between local cities where many employment opportunities in addition to basic needs which a metro system is meant for.  Therefore under common sense a commuter train which was there before BART was built is more suited for east bay cities while BART is most suitable for the Peninsula. Though due to various bureaucratic issues now we have a frequent headway metro in the sprawling suburban east bay and a low frequency headway commuter train in the densely populated Peninsula which is quite dangerous as it had killed many people due to frequent grade crossings which BART does not have. Its only a matter of time before a major crash between Caltrain and a freight train to cause a major disaster in those densely populated neighborhoods. This is not to mention how locomotive horns disturbs the surrounding community which lowers the desirability of living in a transit oriented neighborhood. Also BART should had been built to serve more location in San Francisco than it currently does. Currently BART is the fastest means of transportation within San Francisco however it only serves a narrow corridor down market toward Daly City. It would be in the best interest of the public to have BART serve the corridor to west San Francisco in place of those sluggish Muni light rail street cars and serve the new central subway corridor. BART had originally planned a line to Marin County north of the Golden Gate Bridge however the county turned down due to the cost to the county. There should also be more BART lines traveling through San Francisco as a whole such as down Geary street and to other main residential areas of the city on the especially on the west side so they can commute at ease to the main business centers of the city which is now painfully slow with the existing Municipal railway and bus system.

Though the flaws is not just with public transit. Freeway and street design is also pretty bad throughout the bay area especially through the San Jose area where from narrow back streets to the largest throughfares the roads often have to both dodge residential and commercial development, farmlands, and other hazards resulting in constant merges. Many times roads narrow suddenly to dodge someone's house or yard therefore it is only a matter of time before someone runs into a house. Freeway lanes also suddenly disappear and reappear in stretches it seems like they never finish the job of widening the roadways resulting in constant bottlenecks. 101 through San Jose is a great example of this situation as well as 280 and 880. Its very hard and prohibitively expensive to change infrastructure once it is built. Therefore a lesson for all projects in any urban area is for urban governments to cooperate and think about the future rather than be shortsighted.

In a Republic running under the concept of Democracy what are normal citizens allowed to vote on and what can only be decided by officials

Here is something that really puzzles me. In a republic form of "democracy" who decides what legislations considered open for public votes as compared to those limited to voting within the government itself. In simple words what the public is or is not allowed to vote on or have a say. Apparently the population have little if any chance let alone getting a chance to cast ballets when it comes to passing of many driving related legislations in most juristications such as seatbelts that affect people's everyday lives as well as many other legislations such as whether styrofoam or plastic bags can be used in restaurants and grocery stores. However what is put into ballets usually include how money is spent in proposals to fund organizations such as transportation or school districts. Unfortunately most people either would not understand the complicity of the ballots or are not aware of what its intention so allowing them to vote on that issue is just not very practical its hard to understand them let alone to vote yes or now on those measures. Often the funding is not appropriately used after the ballot passes.   It seems like while governments in Republics often consider themselves for the people I often find them not representing the people as much of the population have no say in many things the politician decide for everyone to follow.  I always wonder why not let the population vote on issues that affect them the most and is easiest for them to understand. Otherwise what kind of democracy we have and what do are elected officials represent other than what he wants to represent.

Its important to know the subtle differences between republic and democracy. In a direct democracy all those with voting rights have absolute say over all things. In a republic however the minority's voice is heard as well as the rights of the minority is also to be respected.
In California surprisingly people are allowed to vote on Prop 8 which actually is a vote to change the constitution of California regarding marriage. Though California is officially a republic. A republic is a government that actually respect the rights of minorities as well. Republic essentially runs under the concept of liberty and justice for all therefore rights of the minority is actually a priority instead of mob rule in a democracy. Changing a state constitution certainly requires much more due process than just mob rule. Therefore a measure would require more hurdles than just 51% of "yes" votes. Another controversial  issue in California that people are allowed to vote on is the Three strikes law. Originally the intent is to lock away the most violent offenders kind of like lock them up and throw away the key mentality. However the three strikes law in California is wide open for abuse from overzealous judges as unlike other states with similar three strikes laws California allows a liberally defined any felony to count as a third strike instead of a violent felony. Abusive judges often illegally upgrade minor misdemeanors to count as felonies to get a repeat offender to be eligible for the third strike this is particularly true when these corrupt judges deal with African and Latin Americano groups. This has caused many disastrous consequences to the state as a whole such as prison overcrowding which forces real dangerous criminals back onto the streets, results in loads of state tax dollar funding be diverted to the prison system, results in third strikes criminals been even more dangerous as they have nothing else to lose and might do anything including killing and injuring innocents just to escape from being caught for a minor offense. Though many people might not understand the real issues of the three strikes law and the consequences they face as a result and might vote no on it being "soft on crime."

There are many unanswered questions in a about whether the officials actually represent the people who elected them or they seem to represent themselves or the organizations who are friends with them but enemies with much of the public. Why we have no say or vote on most traffic related issues. Why are we allowed to vote on marriage issues but not on what firearm or fireworks we are allowed to own or to use? Why are we allowed to vote on certain measures regarding schools but not the school calendar or curriculum in our neighborhood schools? Therefore I always wonder who or what determines whether a legislation change is open to voting by the general public as opposed to only in the Assembly or the Senate or in the Supreme Court of California?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why the Olympics is so important even when compared to other International events such as Expos.

Ever wonder why the olympics is so important even when compared to other world events such as Expos. 

Its now almost two weeks since the beginning of the 30th Olympiad that opened on July 27, 2012 in London. As expected the olympics has gotten the most media attention during these weeks. The most the most focused among events of all the athletic events in the olympics are Swimming and Gymnastics. With Gabby Douglas being the first African American gymnast to win the gold medal in the individual all around gymnastics. Also Michael Phelps officially becoming the worlds greatest olympian after encountering game starting hiccups yet in the end totaling more medals than Russian Gymnast Larissa Latynina with 18 golds and twenty two total medals. As always the olympics had been a very monumental event that countries spend an astronomical sum of investment usually equal to countless billions of US dollars. The 2008 olympic games in Beijing which was officially known as the games of the XXIX olympiad happens to be the most expensive olympic games in the history of the olympics. The games costed about an estimated of $46 billion US dollars which is many times that of other olympic games in the history of olympiads. The central government of China and the municipality of Beijing built 31 venues just for the olympics in addition to completing terminal 3 in Beijing airport which was rated the worlds largest airport terminal and costed 3.5 billion. The in addition to building venues there is also the cost to run the event particularly to through off a spectacular opening ceremony with many stage effects and fireworks. The Beijing opening ceremony alone costed $100 million. These figures are quite hefty for a place like China where the per capita income was about $6000 as of 2008 and the country was very poor before it flourished in the 2000s.

The importance of the olympics extends to matters far beyond the costs. The media attention of the olympics. How many people in the world would turn their attention to it. Also many changes had to be made to the hosts cities. In Beijing for example many older hutong neighborhoods had to be razed. Driving was limited to the day that is odd or even depending on the day of the month and the car plate number. Many older trucks were forced to be removed from service. Though what is truly amazing is that while Chinese drivers are always known for flouting the rules in traffic getting away with everything from driving on the shoulder or other prohibited lanes, driving on sidewalks bicycle lanes, flouting registration and exhaust emission rules, driving wrong way, and a long list. The boom in factories around Beijing create unimaginable pollution the urban area. In addition to driving Chinese often have many bad habits such as spitting in public and littering. However the mention of the olympics made great changes to people's pride in public decency. Making the new rules is actually the easy part having the population comply with it is the most difficult part even in a central communist style government in China. In the past most of the population would cheat official rules whenever the officials aren't paying attention. I was surprised that the Chinese did the impossible for 2008 olympics. I thought they would need to put concrete and steel barriers around all the olympic lanes to prevent cheaters and a bunch of red guards let olympic vehicles into and out of it but it seems unnecessary as people learned to respect them just like carpool lanes in North America.  For the first time ever Chinese actually observed the rules without continuous intervention from the police or the guards. It seems like when Chinese or other people take pride in something mission impossible can be done.

In conclusion people would say that the olympics is a chance for many countries to come together to compete their athletic achievements, it seems even countries that are usually hostile to each other leave their hostilities in the lockers in the olympics. The olympic event seems like a red cross hospital in the warfield where it is not to be attacked by any side as it contains your own people even if it contains enemies. While there are other major events such as the world expos. None of them can match the olympics in media attention they receive and the changes that cities need to host the event. Also unlike other events even those who are not normally fans of sports or athletic events would still be glued to the media during the olympics. For countries like China it seems like a great chance to for the Chinese show the world that "they can."