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Bernie Ziebart

The Engineering Perspective

The blog is a view of life, science, politics and education from an engineering perspective. As engineers, we are taught to view the world objectively. We can hope, believe and calculate a particular outcome, but natural laws are inflexible and pay no heed to who we are or what we believe. We must approach the objective dispassionately, while compensating for our own distorted perceptions. Balance is also a key element; balancing between the ideal and the pragmatic, balancing cost and functionality, balancing analysis with action, etc.

Scheduling routine critical self-analysis is the foundation to objectivity. If we do not fully understand and compensate for our own failures, tendencies, habits and skewed thought processes, we will not see the world as it is. Without a regular critical self-analysis we will see the world as we are and then fall prey to self-delusion.

Failure is a great teacher. When failure is coupled with perseverance, it produces the fruit of patience and humility. An engineer, fresh out of engineering school is typically set up for failure early and often. The failure breaks the new engineer of any ideas of self-importance, arrogance and book smarts. Only then can the new engineer be formed and molded into a productive element in the industry.


Virtual on-line schools

virtual schools

In the 2010-2011 school year there were 15 virtual charter school available to students in Wisconsin and they totaled about 4000 students in enrollment.

In June of 2011 twenty nine virtual schools were accepting students into their programs. The attendance at the virtual charter schools had jumped from 4000 in 2010 to 5250 in 2011.  Enrollment cap were still in place and thousands of students remained on the waiting list.  On-line groups applied political pressure to raise the cap limit. After Governor Walker removed the cap on the number of students who can use the state's open enrollment system to enroll in virtual charter schools, the enrollment increased by 40% in the 2012-2013 school year.

Some of the on-line learning organizations include:

Wisconsin virtual academy


K12 virtual academy

I Forward Charter school

JEDI Virtual school

Kettle Moraine Global charter  

Within the next 3 years the number of students in an on-line K12 program is expected to double.

Hagemeister, school administrator of the Merrill — Bridges Virtual School, said the school is in the process of hiring eight more on-line teachers but was admittedly unprepared for such a large first-year enrollment because it did no marketing.

“It started with just a local program that grew, and we didn’t really anticipate the response we were going to get,” he said.

Enrollment at eAchieve increased by16 percent, but it also spent more than $400,000 on marketing its new name.

Declining enrollment has substantially affected 30 of 51 school districts in south eastern Wisconsin. Mukwonago has seen a 2.9% decline. All five of the Ozaukee county school districts have seen at least a 2% decline. MPS saw a 1.4% decline. The decline is product of lower birth rates, open enrollment, school choice, an increase in home schooling and an increase in on-line learning.

The declining schools are struggling to stay afloat. A decline in enrollment equates to a decline in funding, because of the funding formula. But the schools still need to be heated and maintained, transportation is still required, administrators and teachers are still needed; but for fewer students. The result is that many districts are facing budget cuts beyond what they thought was a bare-bones budget last year. With declining enrollment, slowing economic growth, more retiring teachers and a cap on revenues, the schools will be facing budgetary issues every year for the foreseeable future.  The schools will cut programs and staff which serve only to push more students into an online school. This will, in turn, create even more cuts in the school. And a viscous cycle ensues.

However there are a few exceptions, Franklin, Greenfield and Pewaukee schools have seen about a 2% increase in enrollment.

The state loves the virtual on-line school because it costs much less to administer.  A traditional student costs the district and state about $12000, but an on-line student costs less than $5000.  The on-line student requires no transportation, no locker, no lunch, no desk, no floor-space, no heat, etc.   But virtual schools can't field a football team or offer drama, music and after school clubs.  Nor can it cater to special needs children.

Overall, the trend is clearly towards an on-line educational model and away from the brick and mortar school. The difficulty is getting school districts to come to grip with the changing educational climate and transform themselves accordingly. 


The number of retired teachers is overwhelming many school district budgets. In several New York school districts, there are more retired teachers than active teachers on its payroll. When the retiree pension program was created many years ago, this scenario was not envisioned.

The New York City school districts have the greatest liability because its health benefits are the most generous. It takes only 10 years of employment to vest for lifetime retiree health benefits, which begin upon retirement at any age and require no retiree premium contributions. They even reimburse retirees over age 65 for the full cost of their Medicare Part B premiums. A number of teachers have put 10 years of employment in multiple districts and draw pensions from each.

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