Thursday, June 08, 2006

Better science ed, Hou #1's, competitive govt, energy boom, Blue Bell, post-Katrina census

Again time to clean out some miscellaneous items that have accumulated. Quite a few this time - should provide a solid weekend worth of reading material.
  • The NY Times had a great piece on a revolution in college-level science education, with many changes that all schools should take a serious look at, especially in the Houston area. Unfortunately, it's disappeared into their pay archives, but the Amherst Times has picked up the story and reprinted it. Excerpt:
Science education in this country faces two serious problems. The first is that too few Americans perform at the highest level in science, compared with our competitors abroad. The second problem is that large numbers of aspiring science majors, perhaps as many as half, are turned off by unimaginative teaching and migrate to other disciplines before graduating.

The science establishment explains these defections as part of a natural "weeding out" — a view flatly rejected by U.M.B.C. and a few other campuses where administrators are getting top performance from students who would ordinarily have become demoralized and jumped ship.
The Meyerhoff model shows that a vibrant, well-structured science program can produce large numbers of students who excel and remain in the field. It has also debunked the myth that academic excellence and minority access are mutually exclusive goals.

The university community needs to absorb these lessons quickly, so the country can begin to train scientists in the numbers that it clearly needs. Without them, America is unlikely to preserve its privileged position in an increasingly competitive and science-based global economy.
  • Houston was recently ranked #1 in Texas for manufacturing, with twice as many plants as #2 Dallas and four-times as many as #3 San Antonio.
  • Houston has also been ranked #1 for "cleanest city", based on the hard data-gathering work of counting the number of cleaning services vendors in the Yellow Pages. We came out ahead of LA, Manhattan, and Chicago - in that order. We are clearly a city of immigrant entrepreneurs.
  • A nice Reason post pointing out that the government gets a 27-to-1 payoff from competitive sourcing studies, i.e. looking at ways private industry can perform public services. That's one heck of a return on investment. State and local governments should jump all over this trend.
  • Joel Kotkin has a new blog at Inc. magazine (mixed with other authors), and this interesting post on The New Energy BoomTowns - mentioning Houston and Texas of course.
"Texas--- including big energy cities like Houston and Dallas -- seems certain to begin benefiting, as it did in the 1970s, from a looming energy crisis. The rest of us can find lots of people to blame for this -- our own wastrel selves, the Bush Administration's disdain for conservation and alternative fuels as well as the largely Democratic opposition to domestic energy development."

"But whatever the cause, I’d look closely at opportunities down there in the coming years. Energy, plus low taxes and housing prices, could prove a powerful economic elixir. The Bush sun may be setting, but the Lone Star may only now be ready to shine."
Blue Bell ice cream, to be specific, which is made in out-of-the-way Brenham and which many people consider the best in the country. So many people think so that Blue Bell, though sold in only 16 states, mostly in the South, and sold for a premium price, ranks No. 3 in sales nationally, trailing only Dreyer's (known as Edy's in some areas) and Breyers, ahead of the more widely available Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's. The 100th anniversary of Blue Bell Creameries — "the little creamery in Brenham," as it folksily and misleadingly describes itself — will be celebrated in 2007.
But Blue Bell is not all hat and no cattle, as they say of some things and some people in Texas. With clean, vibrant flavors and a rich, luxuriant consistency achieved despite a butterfat content a little lower than some competitors, it hooks you from the first spoonful. Entirely and blessedly absent are the cloying sweetness, chalky texture and oily, gummy aftertaste that afflict many mass-manufactured ice creams.
  • Finally, an in-depth Brookings report exploring the new post-Rita/Katrina census numbers. I posted on this topic yesterday with links the NY Times and Chronicle stories, but this report digs quite a bit deeper. As you would expect, metro Houston took in the vast bulk, adding 130,603 from July 2005 until Jan 2006, bringing us to almost 5.3 million. That puts us very close to bumping off Miami-Ft.L for the sixth-largest U.S. metro-area behind NY, LA, Chicago, Philly, and DFW.
Have a great weekend. See ya next week.


At 8:49 AM, June 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You comment about "weeding out" in science classes is well taken. I spent two years studying engineering at a major State university.

When I quit Engineering for English, I went from 300-400 person lecture classes taught by barely literate foreign grad students to 20-30 person classes, most taught by tenured profs.

Ironically, my work has brought me full circle to where I'm the only non-engineer in my group...I perform as well as they do.

It wasn't engineering per se that did me in, it was the macho "sink or swim" ethic where they did not care about the students.


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