Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Avoid Excessive Over-Charges or Unethical Business Practices

Overview: Being on your guard for excessive over-charges, even fraud, is more important than ever in our fledgling economy. No one has extra cash to spend needlessly, nor want to waste time with the wrong, unscrupulous specialist. Even recognized professionals can devise ways of increasing payment returns and cash flow, especially when you are in a bind. Some go as far as fraud, as deception can be easily concealed in some industries that have layers of hidden technical know-how, and when problems are difficult to prove as malpractice or negligence.

Nothing is more upsetting than receiving a statement showing hidden excess billing charges or cheated by an unscrupulous dealer. No one likes to be taken advantage of.

They may be justified or unjustified surprises, some tantamount to being classified as unethical “rip-offs”. Unfortunately, some may be accidental accounting duplications; others may be embedded surcharges that you were not aware that you would be charged for like hotel usage. Others may be fraudulent or deceptive professional services.

The worst types are “scams” where unscrupulous charges are created intentionally, or planted. Some of the most notorious industries that can create excess charges are: hotels, hospitals, auto repair, veterinarians, dentists, plumbers, website designers, and computer repair technicians.

Initially, be aware how you present yourself, inadvertently announcing your income status. Walking in with a Gucci bag, driving a BMW, prices can escalate.

Coming from a frugal, small Dutch Iowa town, we were taught monetary principles ingrained generations back. Immigrating to the United States in the 1800s, the Hollanders wore velvet breeches and conducted business with gold coins. They soon found they were cheated wherever they went, and finally, resorted to an “unassuming-frugal-chameleon survival code”.

In other words, they learned not do display their affluence, or they would be charged more with business transactions. Currently, remaining unpretentious, few drive new high end cars and do not flaunt wearing expensive apparel with flashy accessories.

There is something to be said for this dictum, because if you look foolhardy, or appear pretentious with careless spending habits, you become subject to excess service rates. There is bias with older people, teens, and women, who become targets.

Or, if the proprietor finds that you are in an "emergency situation", you can be targeted, and unethical business practices may come into play.

Auto repair establishments, whether in a city or out “in the middle of no-where” like rural Utah, Kansas, or Wyoming, will double charge if they think they can “get away with it”, especially when you lack alternative options and need your vehicle.

We recently had our automobile towed from a near city’s hospital to a local repair garage. Then, the same week, our second car had severe mechanical problems, but luckily, happening near the garage we routinely use, so we drove the car in, limping all the way. The proprietor, knowing we were in a health-state emergency situation, gave us excessive double-cost estimates to repair the two autos.

Refusing to be victimized, the next day I called several other places to compare repair rates, and had both cars towed, a second time, from one garage to the next. I saved nearly one thousand dollars by being alert and on the offense.

One of the most surreptitious situations is when you unwittingly trust an unethical dentist. With many small and midsize towns becoming filled with dental competition, some find unscrupulous ways to create cash flow. They know they can get away with fraudulent work, because their colleagues will not acknowledge investigative inquiries regarding their missteps to the State Dental Board.

For some time, I was fortunate to have a reputable dentist, who did fine, professional work. When he retired, I went to an acquaintance who I thought was highly regarded. Then, a minor traffic accident unfortunately loosened four front teeth. Subsequently, to stabilize the fragile teeth, my new dentist inserted four posts without root canals, which would create abscesses. Much successive dental work would be then required, perfect cash flow. Conversely, the expected consequential plan would back-fire. The damaged teeth all abscessed simultaneously, rather than piece-meal.

Was this dentist merely a bad dentist performing shoddy work? At first, it was hard to determine.

Local consulted specialists were obviously appalled, but had little to say. They advised that they had never seen anything like that before, as root canals for posts were basic Dental 101. I would have to go to another state to get a true evaluation for corrective surgery.

I was further dismayed when I consulted a Dental School regarding the issue, and overheard students joking about how easy it was to practice unethical dentistry without fear of reprisal. And, make good money doing it.

To avoid your own dental horror story, if you question any work at any point of a procedure, find a reputable dentist, or dental school, in another state for a complete evaluation. A local second-opinion dentist will not want to reveal or try to correct any faulty work. Remaining professionally bonded with their local colleagues, they will refer you back to the dentist who created the mess.

The best way to avoid hidden fees and unethical business services is to:
1)      Research the person’s or the business’ background and reputation. Go online. Talk to people (not their references who may be shams) who have used their services. Inquire within other businesses, like real estate firms, if they have conducted work with them.
2)      Be certain you are working with the authorized decision maker or owner when making a purchase or arranging for services.
3)      Up front, obtain second, even third opinions regarding the work to be done.
4)      Ask questions. Obtain firm, descriptive cost estimates in writing, and establish specific guidelines up front.
5)      Be aware of your surroundings; read body language.
6)      Do not sign any document without carefully reading the fine print.
7)      Carefully review all billing statements and inquire if you note discrepancies.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Meeting the e-Learning Implementation Challenge"

Creating Successful e-Learning Practice:

Today’s educational marketplace is becoming flooded with educational e-learning programs and products. They each focus on student improvement in learning basic skills such as reading and math, or any subject matter imaginable. Classroom performance will now be measured with each individual learner, not as class averages.

Subsequently, teachers having a classroom full of learning deficiencies will not be blamed for the class’s slow progress. My research demonstrated that with a class full of low auditory and visual memory learners, some of the students made gains latently, one to two years later. There were two types of control groups in the study.

Every classroom has several levels of learners for basic skills in reading and math. They will work at their own pace, possibly with peer partners with a new e-Learning program. Each student’s cognitive skills and learning styles will be recognized. The classroom will be managed with wide differentiation, but some effective training programs will be directed to the class as a whole.

Although continuously evolving as to “who and what” they measure, Performance Management Systems will be in place. Learning performance data will collect how much time each student spends on task and attending to the work flow process, and whether items are completed and answered correctly. This will be sent to the student’s own work assignment dashboard.

This is where benchmarks come into play. Each work unit assignment must be passed before going on to the next level. However, often these are multiple choice questions, which do not always measure a student’s actual performance accurately. This becomes a concern.

The proof-in-the-pudding is through written assignment evaluations. Although they take longer to grade, missteps are easily spotted by a trained eye. These written assignments should be sent home daily for parents to follow.

Easy-to-use data systems will be available to schools for effective instructional decisions. The data will be aggregated into a data base pool as to how the student is performing with each step of the learning process. Scores that are not met, the work will be reviewed and repeated. The benchmarked lessons will comprise program effectiveness summaries.

Parents will become more involved and supervise online learning sessions at home. Students will have their school computerized dashboard transferred to homework assignments. Supplemental online tutorial work – will be explored to high levels. Comprehension will be emphasized, and there will be alternative forms of recitation. Work process flow states will be introduced, and speed of work deemphasized.

Professional educator development will be instrumental in learning these new procedures and processes. The school culture will become one led to continuous personalized student improvement. In some cases, teachers may sign compliance agreements to ensure the accuracy of the instruction, so that student in-class learning time is highly functional. There will be more of “passing through the grades” with students winding up in secondary school unable to compute, read, write, and communicate effectively.

Schools will chose particular e-Learning programs based upon data effectiveness track records. Data will be aggregated according to student learning performance levels and demographic groups. Only the best e-Learning programs will survive, rising to the top and be in demand.

Determining the most effective e-learning programs through performance evaluations will be challenging.

School district administrators should consider a variety of ways for e-Learning data collection implementation; classes with a particular e-Learning training program, a class or two without any e-Learning, and classes with an alternative e-learning training program. This creates control comparison groups not only for the class achievement as a whole, but with individual learners.

A consideration would be to continue to collect the data from individual students for two years, then, switch around the e-Learning programs, and compare results for the following two years. It may be found that there are some results for many programs. School district administrators, educators, parents, and investors will be interested in the outcomes.

Unfortunately, this data measurement scenario will take a few years for complete evaluation outcomes.

Gradually, but purposefully, new research-based methodologies and systems will be put in place through e-Learning transfer. Educators will find their work increasingly exciting as they watch their students grow and excel to new heights. Students, seeing themselves, and their peer classmates excelling, will develop enthusiasm for learning, thus reducing behavior problems.

Consequently, the e-Learning implementation challenge becomes well-worth-the effort for educational practice improvement.

Erland, J. K (Fall 2000). Brain-Based Accelerated Learning Longitudinal Study Reveals Subsequent High Academic Achievement Gain for Low Achieving, Low Cognitive Skill Fourth Grade Students. The Journal of Accelerated Learning and Teaching 25 3 & 4.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"The Necessity of Understanding Procedural Instructions"

Why Students Do Not Perform Well in Science and Math

President Obama recently encouraged students to enroll in science in math, stating that it was "cool" to do so. What is not understood with this statement is that there is a tragic paradox. There is a reason many learners do not enroll in these subjects. Most do not have enough underlying memory capacity to learn the complex information and then apply it.

Furthermore, assuming this, students are unable to understand and follow procedural instructions basic to conceptualizing mathematical and scientific information.

Why is this? Numerical arithmetic is taught in grades 1-3, and there is a major shift in the curriculum in grade 4. Right-brain spatial numbers shift into left-brain sequencing with advanced concepts. National test scores show that math scores, including advanced concepts, drop off beginning in grade 4.

Understanding science requires not only doing simple experiments and reading scientific stories out of textbooks, but requires procedural, stepwise learning.

Procedural learning requires the mastery of learning step-wise procedures. Following directions is usually taught with simple question and answer worksheets, or now, with online question/answer assignments laced with cartoons.

Nationally standardized test scores do not change for the better. Textbook companies scratch their heads. Innovators come up with practice applications. Still, "No Go."

Why do we fall behind other foreign countries -- how can these children encode-decode information while ours do not? Do they have more stringent learning practices requiring focus and sequencing of difficult material? Do they learn more foreign languages that require intrinsic symbolic encoding/decoding applications? Do they study more musical instruments that require focus, practice, with encoding/decoding? Both musical training and learning a foreign language trains auditory (listening) memory, critically needed for learning technical sequences.

What is missing?

If students are unable to listen to complex instructions (teachers spend hours daily repeating directions over and over), and students then work in teams where one member does the application "thinking" and fills out the responses - even on the computer, how are the others learning? Somewhat? Many are working in small tutorial groups with simple assignments far below grade level work.

The missing link is teaching students how to encode and decode sequential information, and expand their visual and listening memories an underlying requirement for conceptualizing formulas and mathematical equations.

This is done through cognitive skills training, although this is not available in the typical school classroom. Every student processes information differently, with different learning styles and capacities. The teacher can not begin to test and measure every child's cognitive skills, nor are they qualified to do so. It is also expensive and time consuming to have them measured and evaluated through private practitioners.

Assignments will not be learned as expected, and there is much time spent "How to take the interim benchmark tests, or "teaching to the test" for the final end-of-year nationally standardized achievement tests that include reading, math, and science scores. Classrooms spend hours teaching how to select and fill in multiple choice answers on the computer. Pressure is placed upon students who naturally lack the necessary "brain-power" to sequence and code instructions.

Is this fair? Of course not. We are training test-taking robots, not how to assimilate and learn science and math required for understanding and expanding our technological capacities.

How can we attack and get around this, if the necessary brain skills are not taught in schools or in most computer software skill drilling programs? Students are learning only pieces of the information, not complex series that are fundamental to learning science and math needed for technologies.

Parents can now help fill in this gap - the missing link. There soon will be more parent "how to" information readily accessible through internet learning. Applications will be pleasurable, scientifically tested, and learning will be fast.

The ability to encode/decode sequential information will be taught through specific, scientifically tested training regimens. It might be something for all of us to consider. Let's look to future possibilities.

Friday, April 29, 2011

"How To Understand Your Child's School Test Measurements"

What State Prescribed or National tests Will My Child Take?

Each State’s Department of Education decides which tests will be given in that state, although the "No Child Left Behind" act is a mandated federal law. Now, States must comply with Common Core Standards (CSS) that require that certain levels of subject matter be taught and subsequently achieved at prescribed grade levels.

Students receive multiple tests regularly in school. Not all tests are the same. Some are formal and nationally standardized which measure content knowledge with thousands of students taking these assessments in all geographical areas. These are typically administered at the end or beginning of the school year.

Reading and math Nationally Standardized Academic Achievement tests are given annually in grades 3 to 8, and at least once in grades 10 to 12 in all fifty states. Students are tested in science at least once during grades 3 through 5.

Many states give additional tests in social science, writing, and language arts in various grades. It will be up to you, as a parent, to discover what tests are given, and when; and where you can fill in by obtaining needed tests for your child.

What are Formative Tests? Other tests are informal measures of learned subject matter like classroom daily written assignments, a spelling test, or simple observations and checklists. These are ongoing on a regular basis to evaluate progress in learning. These informal measures are called criterion referenced and formative. Here is how a parent can be further engaged to help their child: 

How Parents Can Engage With Their Child’s Classroom:

1. Connect with your child’s teacher in the school.

2. Call the school office to ask for an appointment with the teacher.

3. Visit the classroom at the beginning of the year in September, and ask questions pertaining to your child’s daily classroom assignments and homework.

4. Ask to see samples of your child’s work, or request that they bring their daily work assignments home that were completed in class.

5. Ask when your State’s prescribed math and reading formative tests begin, how many will be given in the year, and what information is and will be available for your child.

6. Some interim tests may be called “testlets.” The purpose of the testlets is to guide future instruction to close gaps between current performance levels and target proficiency levels.

7. Although every state will design their own test schedules, generally, there will be two-four interim tests during the months of August, October, December, and February, and two final summative tests during February, March, and/or April. Ask when these tests are given at your school.

8. The initial August interim tests for grades 3-8 will show scores in the basic skill reading and math subject matter areas.Typically, all students begin with the same test level and receive baseline scores. Then, these test scores may be divided into three definitive ability areas: (hard, medium and easy).

9. Then, ask the teacher what test indicators are given and where your child fits into the criteria levels that have been assigned.

10. Ask to see the interim test results to define strong and weak areas, and also to help guide your student at home in weak areas with online learning applications.

11. Indicate that you would like to communicate with the teacher following each of the testlet time frames so that your child can show progress in closing gaps, and move up in the defined ability/achievement levels.

12. Ask, what can I do next to support and backup class work, and when can I visit and assist in the classroom next?

Now, you have begun understanding how your child’s class work is being measured and evaluated. This simple checklist is part of evaluating your child’s learning styles, strengths, weaknesses and personal interests. Once you determine these testing and measurement categories – you can begin identifying the right resources to help your child learn in just about every subject matter imaginable.