Annals of Draconia

This website was crawled yesterday by the servers at TurnItIn.com, which bills itself as “the world’s leading plagiarism prevention system.” Their Technology FAQ explains their crawling as follows:

We have compiled a massive database of digital material by continually cataloging and indexing the entire Internet using automated web robots. Our robots retrieve millions of documents from the Internet every day— Turnitin.com has one of the most current and extensive crawls of the Internet available.

Using this Big Database, they can then compare academic papers submitted by professors or students, and create what they call an “Originality Report” which rates the possibility that the paper was plagiarised.

Not only that, but they say that they:

…archive all papers submitted to our database by registered users. Extended use of our service builds a comprehensive archive of papers and ensures that students will never recycle papers from previous classes.

I’m not a plagiarism advocate, but this sort of thing strikes a chill into my bones. If education has sunk so low that teachers need robotic assistance to gauge originality, then teachers have ceased to know their students, students have ceased to know their teachers, and education has become something akin to a chicken grading line. I can’t imagine why this approach to education is a benefit to society at large.

Comments

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on April 30, 2003 - 14:09

I’ve always thought that the dynamics of the classroom are way off. Let’s assume the average class size is between 25~35. Is it naive to think that the massive benefit to students of doubling our number of teachers (and therefore cutting class sizes in half), would have a healthy return on investment in the long run?

Raise my taxes and find out.

Alan's picture
Alan on April 30, 2003 - 14:33

In my first year at Kings in Halifax (1981 — 82), one student was given the boot for plagerism while others received “extraordinary assistance” from classmates to ensure all late papers were in before the final dealing in April ‘82.

I think the booted student just copied from an outside obvious source or maybe stole from a roomie without the roomie knowing. I am sure the other assistance given by friends was never known to the administration. Those helped are now medical and educational professionals. I have no idea what happened to the student given the boot other than the return to a small maritime town after an embarassed reloading of a pickup by family.

I never knew what the difference really was or the ultimate harm in the big picture. Fail the paper, sure. But to curse a 19 year old for an error like that is too severe. Making the process roboticized chills it further.

Lou Quillio's picture
Lou Quillio on April 30, 2003 - 20:52

Steven: “Is it naive to think that the massive benefit to students of doubling our number of teachers (and therefore cutting class sizes in half), would have a healthy return on investment in the long run?”

Can you believe anyone has the nerve to suggest that how to improve the quality of public education is a riddle? Nearly every symposium and think tank white paper on the subject (here in the U.S.) describes an irresolvable alchemy of variables and factors of implied equal weight. Cut class sizes in half. That’ll work, and everybody knows it.

Wilful denial of that fact reveals that the public education reform debate chiefly concerns money and ideology. Some oppose public education conceptually (voucher advocates, bible thumpers), some oppose organized labor and entrenched bureaucracies (there’s a faint validity here) … yet everybody *claims* to have the best interests of young people as Priority One. Frankly, that’s bullshit.

If you somehow slice all the waste out of American public schools the product improves marginally at best, relative to halving class sizes. We either want to fix this or we don’t. Sadly, it seems we don’t.

School taxes are not user fees, they are the funding mechanism for a critical social program. Supporting dissolution of public schooling because it’s deemed subpar or hopelessly inefficient (heh) misses the point: We have public schools because not having them wasn’t working, was keeping too many folks down by class and was an obvious drag on society. The return on one’s school taxes is measured in broad social benefit, not the direct benefit to one’s own children.

In a sense, public school isn’t intended to benefit my (or your) kids. Whomever you are, public school exists to serve other people’s kids.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on April 30, 2003 - 20:58

Yeah, what he said. I wrote my MP about it today.

Alan's picture
Alan on April 30, 2003 - 21:05

Education, unfortunately is provincial. Send a donation then a letter a week later.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on April 30, 2003 - 21:19

So who do I write about education, my MLA?

Alan's picture
Alan on April 30, 2003 - 21:22

yup — or the Minister of Educatation — Jeff Lancalot? Chester McGilligan?

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on April 30, 2003 - 21:47

Doesn’t the minister of education already know they need more money and teachers? Who actually decides how much each department gets? (I know, I know, no one does)

Alan's picture
Alan on April 30, 2003 - 22:59

The same finance decisions that make a 30 million ATC to house government contractors does not spend money on reducing class sizes. Students do not vote. Teachers do not vote Tory. There is little constituency for improving education in a jurisdiction that has a cap on its stomach for a vibrantly democratic citizenry.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on April 30, 2003 - 23:22

I’ve been trying to dig up some statistics, but I’m having trouble. Can anyone help with estimates on what it would actually cost to double the number of teachers on Prince Edward Island, or in Canada?

Alan's picture
Alan on May 1, 2003 - 01:24

Start with the PEI government public accounts. http://www.gov.pe.ca/pt/index….. While the Treasury of the province is annually criticized for not including what it should in this document, the Department of Education’s part of the document surely must set out the wages for teachers in its details.

Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on May 1, 2003 - 01:55

Based on numbers from the Public Accounts of the province of
Prince Edward Island Financial Statements 2002 (Volume I)
(PDF):

Of the $200 million spent on education on PEI (which represents 20.7% of total government expenditures), about $120 million was spent on salaries.

Only 47.2% of all government revenue comes from taxes (most of the rest coming from federal transfers). Assuming the doubling of the educational staff would be funded by provincial tax alone; it would require a significant tax increase — something between a 25% and 30% provincial tax increase.

Of course, this is all EXTREMELY rough. For example, doubling the teaching staff would cost a lot more than simple doubling the budget for salaries (more physical space, etc.). This is still a worthwhile exercise.

Part of me keeps saying

Alan's picture
Alan on May 1, 2003 - 02:36

Steven Garrity The following is a statment planted in your brain by those who have misled you for reasons of their own:

Part of me keeps saying &#8220you don&#8217t know what you&#8217re talking about &#8211 smarter people than you with more information have already thought this through&#8221.

That being said, remember. Not all provincial revenues are income taxes on residents. Get the tourist smoking up and rake in the dough. Further, a lobbying effort in the process of establishing higher federal transfers along the line of “we’re too friggin’ thick to make our way out of the mess we made” might spring more buck or two for schools. Last, find a rare but highly valuable commercial use for red muck and silt, nationalize production and hire every B.Ed. between St. John’s and Saskatoon.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on May 1, 2003 - 05:00

If it was a choice between a 30% increase in my taxes, and a doubling of teachers, I would happily take my 30% and use it for activities that would actually enrich the life of my child, rather than hiring more jailers to staff his prison. Large class sizes can be a good thing: they help to dilute the amount of damage that teachers can do to any one young mind.

Lou Quillio's picture
Lou Quillio on May 1, 2003 - 06:53

Peter: “If it was a choice between a 30% increase in my taxes, and a doubling of teachers …”

Right, so there it is again. Public education isn’t for me, it’s for everyone else. How much will I agree to contribute to a social program whose goals are X and which meets them at Y percent? What’s the baseline that must be funded without regard to cost? What are the need-to-haves and the nice-to-haves?

To my mind, *no* public education is medieval and leads to common ruin. Carte blanche funding invites wasteful dabbling. Between is a consensus point, somewhere. Most agree that current outcomes are inadequate on average and getting worse, so improvement efforts must cut waste and spend more in some measure. The trouble is that while waste is real, it serves as a permanent strawman. “We’re not spending more until we know that every current funding dollar is fully utilized.” We’re never gonna know that.

But I know this: there weren’t twenty-five kids in my 1965 kindergarten class, but there were in my daughters’ in the 1990s. Single-earner families were common in my youth and aren’t any more. There is substantially less individual adult attention devoted to the average child’s education and there’s no getting around that.

Perhaps we’re getting what we’ve asked for. If we won’t spend or buy the time and attention we once did, public education will necessarily decline. How can it not?

Alan's picture
Alan on May 1, 2003 - 12:01

You know, there were at least 25 kids in my kindergarten in Mississauga in 1968 and I went to CEC in Truro with around 2000 students and, while I hated high school in a normal kind of way, of the grad class of 450 plus, a lot of people did really well. Sure many who did well did well based on family support as well but are they exclusive factors? I don’t think so. You need both.

The poor saps without the support in the system who got suffled in to the “general” stream didn’t have a chance. The poorest saps of all at university, however, were the private school kids from Upper Canada College, Ridley or Ravenscourt whose last names were either in the news or brand names for products we bought. They didn’t have the family backup — knew Roman authors before we did but hung on to us like survivors clinging to a raft. You need both.

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