What If the Goose Is Going to Eat Its Own Golden Egg?

Or…The Real Story Behind the Fight over the ACA

 The Afffordable Care Act (ACA) or ObamaCare, as it is often known, is a blessing or a curse depending on whether you are a Conservative or a Progressive. While counterintuitive, the short-term economic objectives of the two camps are directly at odds. And, until there are more money machines on the horizon, we can expect Republicans to cling to their myopic market view. The trouble is…healthcare that is not allowed to keep us well efficiently will ultimately kill us in the economy, too.

Democrats and Republicans draw opposite conclusions from the same data on healthcare. And the harder the Progressive Democrats try to demonstrate that the facts are on their side with the ACA…the more the Republicans persist in their push for its repeal.

The ACA is reaching uninsured Americans, providing them healthcare, and lowering the inflation rate for that healthcare…all at the same time. And adding healthcare benefits for millions of workers has co-existed with jobs growth and lower unemployment across the US, the exact opposite of the doomsday predictions that bolstered Conservative opposition to the ACA. Where’s the bad news in that?

Well, if you are a Republican and all you have to show for your three decades of alleged supply-side economics is growth in the healthcare and real estate markets, efficiencies in either sector cause damage to their world views. My health economics rant from a few years ago summarized how healthcare costs crowd out other investments in our economy, yet are paradoxically embraced by conservatives because of all the short-term benefits of stock performance, employment, and strong multipliers.

For Conservatives, it is the story of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. For the rest of us, there is a sequel…the Goose that Ate Its Own Golden Egg.

There is no good end game to allowing healthcare to crowd out the rest of the US economy. And turning healthcare into a privilege that is inaccessible to growing numbers of Americans can only be seen as a failure in the market. But there seems to be no easy way to get Republican Congressmen, who are up for election every two years, to put aside their reading glasses and see the danger that lies ahead.

We need non-health-related investment opportunities to replace the healthcare sector as stock market darlings. And we need our keepers of capitalism to open their eyes to this need rather than clamoring to hang onto market inefficiencies in healthcare that are unsustainable. In the meantime, we must turn our disbelief into cynicism and add education about the future of our economy without management of the healthcare monster to the charts on the ACA. It probably won’t penetrate the collective consciousness of the Conservative brain distrust, but it may help motivate us keep our eyes on the prize in this very important battle for a strong economy and a healthy populace.

March 24, 2015 at 10:32 AM Leave a comment

Of Apples and Oranges – Privatizers Eye Bridge International Academies

Bridge International Academies in Africa and Asia are making a big splash among philanthropists and digital educators as a result of their brilliant success. Now the venture investments have begun to pour in. The bare bones schools have grown rapidly with a good combination of local market penetration and geographic expansion due to their low-cost, scalable model. Kudos to Bridge…but please don’t try to translate a good plan into profiteering, privatized schooling elsewhere. Especially not in the US.

I love the Bridge International Academies for what they are doing for the children of Africa and Asia who were not being educated. It is fabulous that they have the technology to leapfrog traditional textbooks to use tablets for content knowledge. And their pricing allows families to educate their children for pennies a day in a place where any more than that would be cost prohibitive. The founders are doing the right thing, and they are doing it with private money.

Despite the many reasons to celebrate Bridge…the model is not ready for prime time in the US, nor is the business ready to start delivering on profits. The schools are fledgling enterprises that have added a grade, sometimes two, each year since inception. They go through 7th grade now, and they have been adding schools at a break-neck pace on two continents. Challenges lie ahead as they fully assimilate their service mix at each location and achieve managerial effectiveness at the top. Growing beyond the middle school level may be stymied as teenagers are needed by their families for work or childcare. From a corporate perspective, quality assurance and entrepreneurship make odd partners as the business achieves a critical mass of customers.

Bridge International Academies offer a modest modular product, one size fitting all, and its services for diverse learners will need to evolve. Bridge Academies have great new tablet computers, but many of their tools date back to the abacus. For instance, younger children use slates and learn base 10 math using bottle caps and egg cartons trimmed to 10 wells, but that should not remain the state of the art. The worst news for Bridge would be profit-taking instead of continuing development of educational standards, services, and access.

Ten framesGeoboardsMapsScience kits

Back in the US, conservative politicians and policy wonks are citing Bridge to bolster privatization strategies, but they are not equivalent concepts. Education reformers find the option of throwing out our entire system and starting over to be alluring, but we are not ready to go back to primitive games with a ball and stick. We would be devolving backwards to little more than the one-room schoolhouse. The Bridge plan would not clear the markets in the US. They are winning in Africa and Asia where there is no public education to compete with. They are not comparable to US schools, and the cause of educational equity would not be advanced by stripping even the lowest performing rural or urban schools down to the Bridge basics.

Bridge International Academies blend the old and the new in a unique success story. It is a great work in progress…and a cause for reflection to benefit its own development. In the meantime, save the plan to import it to the US for the day when the children in Africa and Asia are given the educational opportunity of the best schools in the US suburbs. But by then I hope we are doing the same in our formerly troubled schools here.

March 20, 2015 at 12:07 PM Leave a comment

When Campaign Finance Becomes Treason

We may have crossed a line without knowing it. Politicians may be selling influence on the international markets without a trace of evidence through political action committees (PACs). And the appearance of conducting foreign affairs out of Legislative offices suggests a breakdown of the separation of powers owing to the Executive branch. This would seem like a case for the Supreme Court…if only they had not caused the problem in the first place.

Whoever is the keeper of the US Constitution is doing a shoddy job. Corporations and wealthy power brokers already have exerted undue influence over our democratic process with the blessings of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Once blurred, the lines of campaign finance may have been crossed again in the last Presidential election when Mitt Romney made three high-profile stops overseas for “fund raisers” in which “only the American participants” were allowed to write the checks. One of the stops was Israel, where Mr. Romney assured all in attendance that he would support the military decisions of the Israelis were he to be elected President of the United States. Fortunately, that promise was not put to the test.

Now Israel’s Prime Minister has been invited by the Speaker of the House to address Congress on his concerns over the State Department’s negotiations with Iran over nuclear weapons. And a group of US Senators has sent a letter to Iran warning that the next US President could overturn treaties with great efficiency.

It is time to start looking for the money trail. If this is treason…it must end now.

March 10, 2015 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

A Very Special Need – for Students Desperately Wanting to Be Different…from Themselves

High school special educators know a lot of students who ultimately identify in the LGBT community…students who are trying to shelter-in-place in a small group setting after the very traumatic experience of trying not to be themselves for a very long time. They often are medicated for ADHD and offered therapy for counter-intuitive behaviors in which they indulge in hopes of being accepted among students who identify as straight. PTSD is not just for warriors.

We don’t talk about this, but I wish someone would study it (maybe they have?)…so we can be informed and address it more appropriately. But I truly believe that there are a significant number of students among the Special Needs population who are misdiagnosed. They are anxious, appear hyperactive, have difficulty focusing in school, act on impulses that get them in trouble, and accept punishment in a manner that suggests self-loathing. They also are very bright and can think fast, produce fabulous school work, and excel in most endeavors in a very safe place. Let’s call their disability Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, for kids whom life had taught to wish they were someone else.

I want to say it is okay…you are going to be alright. And no, we cannot find the person who did this to you and made you different, but you are beautiful. But that often is not what the student who is engaged in an internal battle over his or her identity seems ready to hear, especially from an adult who could not possibly understand what a teen is going through. And the rest of the world is making some progress, but it is not fast enough. In the meantime, unnecessary pain and suffering continues as students try to recede among the wallflowers or jump out of their own skin in search of sameness with everyone else.

What can we do to create an authentically safe place in school? And what can we do to advance the cause of acceptance in the work place, on a park bench, or in the retail dressing room or public restroom? Sadly, our students expect the worst. And for some that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it might help to stop adding the Special Ed label and misguided interventions to an anxiety disorder that we might just be perpetuating. I am happy to offer a safe place. Just wish it were not a stop-gap measure for an all-too-imperfect world.

March 8, 2015 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

Finessing the Common Core

Here’s the deal. The Common Core was heralded as a new higher standard for college readiness in PreK-12 education that ¾ of the states adopted at one time or another. Now there is some buyer’s remorse because states want flexibility in implementation. Therein lays the mistake. The wholesale adoption of the Common Core by states was misplaced. What we needed in the end was a nationwide minimum standard (hint: the Common Core) for Interstate portability and absolute flexibility within the states to direct how they achieved the minimum as well as how they wished to raise the bar locally.

In politics, like marketing, there’s more than one way to achieve the desired result. Take for example, the pharmaceutical industry, which takes a two-pronged approach to selling a new drug…sell it to the prescribing physicians and/or sell it directly to the consumers to get them to ask their doctors for it. Likewise, the Nation’s political agenda can be legislated directly or bubble up through grassroots operations within a critical mass of states. Gay marriage offers a brilliant example of the bumpy road to victory and the legal altar. Anyway, back to the Common Core.

The Obama Administration believed in a national standard for education, but they hesitated to define it as such. Instead, they let the early adopters of the notion among state education chiefs develop Common Core State Standards and sell them to their colleagues across the nation. Then, they offered NCLB waivers as an incentive for states to adopt the Common Core themselves. But, rather than sell the idea to the Legislature when they had more favorable odds, the Administration made a strategic mistake of solidifying the agenda via the back door to the states. Instead of seeing the ¾ adoption rate among the states as a mandate for a national standard, they were satisfied with uniformity within the states…a straight-jacket that would eventually irk states’ rights advocates and more independent thinkers among the local education leaders.

The opportunity that remains would be to stop waxing eloquently about the new high level of achievement offered by the Common Core and begin to sell it as a good minimum standard for the nation…the starting point from which states would have great liberty in setting their own agendas equal to or greater than the national mandate. Because that is what the Common Core is. We forget that any standard to be achieved by “all of the children” is the new floor for achievement. Yes, our glorious Common Core, if successful, is actually intended to be the lowest common denominator.

For now, we are mired in the false starts of treating standards as curriculum mandates, which they clearly are not, and thinking that states who wish to rewrite or modify the Common Core in their own words are wrong. It is time to let go of the rigid thinking and find the common ground founded in the Common Core.

February 27, 2015 at 10:48 AM Leave a comment

8 Essential Elements of Education Delivery System Reform

Just added a quick 1-minute PowerPoint outlining my continuing commitment to No-Fault Education Reform and rearranging my 7 Keys +1 to system reform…

Carving a System to Reveal the Beautiful Minds Within

February 26, 2015 at 7:09 PM Leave a comment

A Village of Leaders Trapped in Their Own Stories

The study of literary classics teaches us about characters – heroes, villains, and the rest – who are trapped in their respective stories. Paralyzed by karmic inertia, they often pursue flawed strategies in parallel, and the plot cannot be resolved without life-changing events that both unite and liberate them in a convergence of common causes and conflicts. Collateral damage is unavoidable, but children are rarely allowed to suffer tragic consequences in the end.

Accountability and blame are two sides of an unbalanced coin, or so it would seem in education. But accountability in a fair game could also be the catalyst for a much needed cultural change…inclusiveness among all teachers. Results-orientation is a good thing…something to strive for in a world of natural leaders who just happen to be teachers. And for that, traditional teachers, boot-camp “heroes” from the Land of No Excuses, and seasoned career changers need to merge their ranks and share talents with more mutual respect and less suspicion. Maybe then the lost children of failed schools would be saved.

I became a teacher through a mid-career transition program after 20 years in health care. As an ICU nurse, I learned quickly that failure was not an option to be taken lightly. Later, as an MBA working in the corporate world, being accountable for my personal, professional, and company goals was just business as usual. One agreed to a set of goals and met them. It wasn’t mercenary. The trickle-down theory of profit-sharing was just that – theoretical – to a young business analyst. But having a job and delivering results went hand-in-hand.

Similarly, the No Excuses teams of recruits have a common thread of achievement that links their mission-driven work. And many new teachers emerging from traditional teacher prep programs arrive in schools truly believing that they are their students’ only hope for success. Yet the schools were full of well-intentioned professional teachers before any of us joined their ranks. Why can’t we all get along?

Education has a long history of regulation, and a bureaucracy has grown around documenting rule-following behavior instead outcomes. Caught up in such distractions from the primary mission of educating the children, many career teachers are frustrated by newcomers who introduce an alternate agenda…like they invented it. And the cruelest irony is that each group seems to bank on gathering young, like-minded individuals who will all do it (fill in new leader’s name)’s way. “Watch me succeed and learn from me” is the battle cry. Great…another charismatic leader with a magic pill and a role modeling strategy for delivering change. And as the pendulum swings and time marches on…educators try every strategy from A to B.

The fly in the ointment is the idea that a universally adopted narrow agenda is a long-term solution. A novel approach in the classroom may yield a boost in performance for some, but it will grow stale and miss the mark for many. To reach all students, a broad range of learning strategies must be cultivated, and teachers need to be able to have the discretion to respond to students for whom the latest thing in education is not a good fit. Innovation is crucial, but it does not guarantee obsolescence of that which came before it.

And veteran teachers need to have their voices heard at least as well as any other group. True leadership fosters mutual respect among staff members, and professional development must be robust enough to keep all teachers vitally engaged in their mission over the course of a lengthy career.

A legacy of grudgingly tolerating teachers for the last 15-20 years of their employment is the self-fulfilling prophecy of the occasional bit of dead wood within the ranks of veteran teachers. In my first couple of years of teaching, I bought into the folklore of new heroes and old villains. But the closer I looked at many of the older teachers walking ghostlike, unseen by their younger colleagues, the more evident it became that their spirits had not died of natural causes. They were the victims of not-so-benign neglect, the designated scapegoats who were vital to the formula for a blame-based failure cycle.

School transformation has become a disruptive process that is driven by a presumption of guilt among some of the teachers. Individuals have been faulted for a bad system’s outcomes with little benefit to the children. Further, accountability testing itself is being targeted as an evil force as well. A truly bleak picture is emerging of eliminating accountability tests and turning out the spotlight on achievement so that the children will be allowed to fail without so much evidence…Mission not accomplished.

In an alternate ending to the story, breaking the failure cycle could mean transforming the people – students and staff – through a better system…not just new schools designed around closed systems of elite players who fit into a tight mold and forgetting the rest. Broad-based pedagogy and inclusiveness of all teachers and students would be essential to the ultimate plan for success. And accountability for student outcomes would be founded in a commitment to a minimum standard for literacy and mathematical reasoning as the base from which all students would pursue their goals as lifelong learners. For that, conversations will have to be moved beyond identifying individual culprits who can be excluded.

February 17, 2015 at 2:42 PM Leave a comment

Older Posts



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.