ESEA Compromise Bill Misses Mark on Student-Centered Accounting

Student-centered education cannot naturally transcend its current regulatory environment. The best intentions of educators will always give way to funding imperatives and enforcement of the rules. That is, unless the rules are changed. Today’s ESEA Compromise Bill does not do that.

The point of student-centered accounting for PreK-12 Education is the matching of weighted funding with the spending for the student as an individual. It is intended to be the driver for centering all information – financial, academic services, and outcomes – on the student in a case management model. What it is not supposed to be is a way to siphon off public school funds to private alternatives.

We currently fund districts, NOT students, and we manage district outcomes, NOT student outcomes. Unfortunately, the current ESEA compromise bill does not seem interested in a more rational approach that enables analyses concerning to whom and how we deliver education services. Rather than give districts an incentive to become better informed about mission-driven spending, the leadership in both Houses of Congress have used popular jargon inappropriately as a smoke screen for keeping districts flying blind on actual student services AND helping conservatives to get public money for private schools.

Commitment to bettering the schools would suggest new money guidelines for the public schools to help them revise their spending and service mix to improve outcomes. At some point, once the financial models are in place and validated, it would seem logical to have the money follow the student under extraordinary cases of private placements. But that is not the intent of student-centered accounting, nor is it in any way a top priority.

Further, the conservative approach to funding is to expand block grants, presumably allowing the states to manage their own money. This does not seem a bad idea in a naive world, but one only needs to examine the actual practices to see the flaw. Most states lack internal standards for charts of accounts, and the exceptions still miss the point. Perusing hundreds of pages of detail for education accounting in a given state never yields more than a handful of line items on Instruction. If you give them money in a block grant, they will spend it without giving themselves more than block grant details for resource allocation. It is not an informed approach.

Federal ESEA law must either (A) tell the states that they will get weighted student funding and must justify future funding requests based on how they spent the the money to teach each student, or (B) create a financial and cost accounting standard that guides states on how they can better help themselves. School districts will attend to the details in the data…and that definitely has nothing to do with actual teaching.

November 18, 2015 at 4:34 PM Leave a comment

ISIS Mass Grave for Older Women…and the G20?

ISIS has only one use of women – as sex slaves – and kills the rest if over 40. Indeed, a mass grave was discovered when Kurdish fighters recovered territory in Iraq held by ISIS since August 2014 that included the bodies of women, aged 40-80, who had been discarded for their lack of utility for the Islamic State. These Medieval war lords, intent on creating a new world disorder, cannot be allowed to drive world conversations into a sadly regressive series of skirmishes. Leadership must create opportunity to undermine despair.

As terrorism spread across Paris Friday evening, another important news item slipped to the inside pages of International News despite being covered by the BBC, the New York Times, and papers from Boston to Los Angeles. While the atrocities had occurred in the past, the existence of the mass grave for Yazidi women between 40 and 80 is another reminder that we are dealing with humanity’s lowest common denominator. As we sit poised on dystopia, the classically maternal nurturing response deserves a voice lest the martyrdom of these women presage the fall of civilization.

ISIS violates the social contract that we all have with one another…that we can pursue our individual lives in private and public places, secure in the knowledge that there are things we will not do to one another. Marauders who live by the invader’s motto of killing the men, raping the women, and burning the villages are so anachronistic; yet, we are living and dying with them in horrific fashion. And they wish to claim their place in the annals of world power.

The convergence of the G20 Economic Summit, Middle Eastern unrest, and the new age of terrorism in the Western World is unsettling. However, the context can and should help us find our way. A knee-jerk response to a vicious attack is overwhelmingly weighted toward a show of force in return. And the uncharacteristically militaristic action taken by France is understandable. Still, even as we stand by France, we must show restraint from the sidelines.

The world needs a new, healthy economy. The Middle East needs a path to peace. And the terrorists who are consolidating power in the vacuum created by political unrest, poverty, and powerlessness need a worthy competitor dealing in hope.

In 2001, the Bush-Cheney White House unwittingly acted like war lords in retrospect rather than leading the world as proactive preventers of terrorist. We have been caught up on the battlefield ever since. Unfortunately, this regressive posture is reinforced by the threat of the unknown in a new world economic order that is no longer centered in the West. We need to be fearless…but that does not mean warlike.

Each nation of the world must find its core strengths and economic balance in both its local and international posture. War-torn lands must be rebuilt. Factors of production and workers must re-emerge across the globe in modern, sustainable fashion, displacing 18th century techniques that are cheap, environmentally destructive, and imminently dangerous.

People who are not valued can be made indifferent in their allegiance to good or evil. A world response that sees possibilities for mankind can and must be grounded in a vision of peace and prosperity. Without that, our descent into chaos and disorder will render leadership irrelevant. The G20 may seem powerless for the moment, but they are deciding their own fate.

November 16, 2015 at 9:14 AM Leave a comment

Financiers Exporting Own Risk Take Fees and Wreck the Market

The legal ability of banks to package their riskiest assets into blind investment instruments greatly reduced risk for the bankers themselves. Instead of managing risk, they simply exported it to their trust customers via paper transactions. To complicate matters, the act of reducing the penalties for risky behavior among bankers led them to engage in less prudent behavior, again creating a burden for the market…all the while collecting fees for this disservice to all but the industry’s most powerful clients. This behavior continues today as non-productive financial assets are proliferating, edging out real investments in capital assets and long-term shareholder value. Without external intervention this generously rewarded behavior will not change.

The US economy cannot flourish with distributor margins. A few decades ago, as a young analyst, I studied shareholder value creation while working for a hospital supply company. The CEO was leading the company through a change from a sales growth model to a profitable growth model that created real shareholder value. The firm was an industry leader, but its share price had languished despite double digit revenue gains for most of its history. A cornerstone of the strategy was vertical integration into manufacturing.

Fast forward to 2015, and we are faced with a dysfunctional US market that is looking for growth in all the wrong places…because they forgot what real shareholder value means. Having divested the supply function in almost every industry, Wall Street has hidden behind smoke screens of paradigm shifts and non-productive market activity while losing its footing in value added to the economy…and they will not change as long as we pay them to do this. At its gloomiest, one could question whether capitalism, or even the US economy, will actually exist when the cycle completes.

Manufacturers across the US divested their supply functions and replaced them with lower cost producers offshore. The co-existence of supply-side incentives in the US with the transfer of the supplier function left corporations and investment houses with excess cash. Banks diligently created new paper assets for trading, as if our money benefited from a sort of isometric workout in the absence of production in the US economy. And the fees for traders and brokers grew even as our economy stagnated. Indeed there is no incentive for the financial services industry to stop their cycle of spinning flax…for them it really does generate gold.

Dubious analysts were labeled as unclear on the whole global economy concept, and the other great paradigm shift – In technology – apparently justified underwriting bubble machines for technology stocks. In reality, the US simultaneously shifted from an industrial nation to a distribution economy AND moved product promotion and distribution to the Internet. Granted, it is a lot to digest; however, we have presumed new value creation that does not exist. Distributor margins put skid marks on profits that could not be offset by revenue gains. And the great promise of the New Economy on the Internet has thus far only yielded zero sum shifts from traditional advertising and sales outlets to virtual ones. Exceptions exist, but they have become overvalued and, eventually, sources of booms and busts on Wall Street.

Our retirement funds are not growing. Our jobs are not expanding in the right places. Our youth already reflect our future, polarized between the entitlement of wealth and privilege and the lean existence of the underemployed and profoundly indebted. No group better demonstrates the injustice and unsustainability of income inequity. And the market thrives…churning out transactions with no end game a sane person would want to explore.

I suggest investing in Sports Medicine…because capitalism’s Invisible Hands are severely broken, and whoever figures out how to fix them will make a fortune.

October 15, 2015 at 8:04 AM Leave a comment

In Favor of a Robust Design for Collaborative Instruction

Collaboration and teamwork are such great concepts. So why do educators feel the need to put them in strait jackets? Broad-based pedagogical awareness and ongoing support of diverse learning styles are essential in any classroom. The rewards are great…as long as educators take their feedback from the children rather than each other. Otherwise, we risk getting caught up in group think and regulating one another instead of relaxing constraints to get more flexible classroom dynamics.

Collaboration in education has become synonymous with all members of a team using the same short list of strategies in parallel while sharing an abridged vocabulary to create context for the students. It is the stuff of lowered expectations for teachers and students. Yet anyone who deviates from the plan is challenged for not being a team player. The rallying cry is that if the students hear the same thing from all of us…they will have to get it. We fail again and again but think that we only have to try harder.

A team is a collection of players with divergent skills brought together to solve a series of problems based on their complementary talents. Individual achievement and excellence get each member a place on the team; their ability to recognize one another’s strengths and weaknesses and choose to lead or to follow in any given situation makes the team function. Collaboration means handing the ball off to another player no matter how hard one feels he or she needs the score personally. Natural rivalries create demand for a coach.

Okay, so team teaching is not a run and gun sport…even if we move really fast there will not be time for each of us to be the star, nor will there be a likely win under such circumstances. The good news? Whether working sequentially or in parallel, anyone matching the right strategy to a child’s learning style can become a vital part of the winning solution.

We already seem to agree with the goal that each child achieve competence in essential skills and demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving across a large range of applied challenges. The trouble is that how we achieve these results cannot be set in stone in advance. And, in an industry that values classroom management, control freaks (and I use that term with endearment) tend to rule.

Of course, there are benefits to shared classroom practices that create structure and reinforce effective organizational strategies. However, these form the matrix for the learning milieu, not instruction itself. And teachers must plan every session to define the short-term goals and lay out the group’s common lesson, along with the flexible options for students as they engage in self-directed exploration or practice style. Then the kids get to take over.

Beyond the traditional classroom, learning labs can include online instruction or digital problem-solving opportunities as well as low-tech hands-on models. The key is to break down processes to a level at which the component parts can be mastered, then to facilitate learning opportunities that can be either synthetic or deductive. Frequent feedback is particularly helpful in the early stages of learning, but intrinsic ways to validate one’s own result should be built into each student’s expectations.

This may seem like a confusing a blend of competency-based instruction, multiple-intelligence-based design, and quiet chaos in the classroom. Hopefully the teachers are down with MIT’s kindergarten for grown-ups and the students have internalized Maria Montessori’s habit of putting things away after play. Sounds half-baked? We better collaborate to see who does what well.

September 10, 2015 at 7:15 AM Leave a comment

The Visible Hand of the Un-free Market

Corporations are not people. The people they represent are not necessarily US citizens. And their tax money shows their allegiance to foreign nations. Other than that, the Citizens United case decided by the Supreme Court in 2010 merely violates the balance of power between a free market economy and democracy as a core principle of the American way of life. Political corruption and economic tyranny can be the only outcomes in the end.

Until a corporation can register to vote and walk into a polling place to cast a single vote, it is not a person. In the meantime, however, we have a serious problem thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010 that determined that corporations were people. Since then, campaigns financed by corporate sponsors have controlled a significant number of elections in the US, effectively hijacking the democratic process from real people. Within individual states, outsiders are determining who will run for office to represent the residents in both houses of the Congress. And, at the national level, presidential politics have similarly come under the control of anonymous PACs of people.

The power money comes from multinational corporations. And their shareholders, to whom they hold allegiance, represent more or less every nation in the world. So, how can a corporate “person” promise us that it is an American citizen and only serves the interests of American people? Decades before the Citizens United case came to court, these same US corporations already had taken tax breaks for supply-side economics and used them to finance the transfer operations out of the US and create jobs in other nations. And this has not been their only odd way of saying thank you in the US.

Outsourcing jobs offshore was supposed to ensure low-cost supply functions, greater profits, and eventual payback in the US. Unfortunately, a lot of profits have remained pooled offshore. And worse, not all of these corporate citizens have been satisfied with their US headquarters. Indeed, the trend has been to find a nation with a lower corporate tax rate*, invest in a small company there, and transfer the corporate assets and headquarters to that foreign office, effectively renouncing US corporate registration. This process, known as corporate inversion, means that taxes on the profits from US tax breaks to support supply-side economics are actually paid to a foreign nation. Even your corner drugstore, Walgreens, had considered a corporate inversion recently, but yielded to political pressure to delay action.

Not to worry, our domestic representatives of these foreign corporations will continue to demand supply-side concessions in the wake of our sorry employment situation in the US. And, most ironically, they will continue to win elections supported by the Tea Party faithful and other Cretan Paradox sufferers under the banner of “taking back America.”

As I mentioned in my last post…

“The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.”

This mess really needs to be cleaned up in 2015. There will be too much at stake in 2016 elections for us to leave our destinies in the hands of the incredibly visible hand of the un-free market.

* Conservatives have used this discrepancy in corporate tax rates to call for lowering rates in the US. However, nations with lower corporate tax rates often have higher personal income tax rates to make up the difference. These same politicians are not likely disclose such details or to seek that balance.

July 21, 2015 at 8:26 AM Leave a comment

Why Isn’t America Enough?

Time to Wake Up & Restore Balance in Our Political Economy Under 1 US flag Only, Please

Apparently the crux of the matter that necessitated the Civil War has not been resolved. Pride in our nation and its basic constructs has not been enough…even 150 years later. Some significant number of Americans believes that their right to honor major proponents of slavery is more important than our belief that all men are created equal…that their right to celebrate Confederate “honor” supersedes the dignity and pursuit of happiness of people of color, people whose ancestors were kidnapped, displaced by an ocean, imprisoned, sold into slavery, and even forced to fight under a Confederate flag. Ironically, many offenders are political conservatives who seek to “take back America” while turning a blind eye to the deepest erosion of American values.

The American way of life is at risk. Corporations are people [sic] who dominate our formerly representative form of government based on democratic elections. Voting rights are no longer guaranteed to be free or accessible to all. More than half of American school children live in poverty, and most have no access to equity in education, both potent dream killers. Liberty and justice are mired in racial bias. And freedom of assembly carries more weight for white people than non-white people, for the rich more so than the poor. In short, our words are being undermined by our actions. All people are not born equal.

The US is defined by a political economy based on democracy and capitalism. The balance they maintain is  essential to our freedom. Free market capitalism – not monopolies – are theoretically protected under our constitution. And, because one must have money to play in the free market, the democratic process allows for political will to be exerted over economic processes if poverty excludes too many Americans from the competition. Yet a bad Supreme Court decision has placed capitalists as the masters of both politics and the economy. This can only end badly if left unchallenged.

The skirmishes over Southern heritage and honor have become a smoke screen over the unseen concessions to the larger American way of life under the US Constitution. We cannot protect our deepest constructs unless we collectively embrace concepts of freedom for all, equal access under the law, and protection from economic tyranny. Instead, however, our society is becoming polarized and ethnocentric as we protect shrinking shares of wealth while economic and political power is increasingly concentrated for the 1% at the top of an oligopoly.

Why isn’t America enough for the Confederate flag wavers? The reflections of too many people over the past and their unrepentant obsession with the dubious tyranny of white supremacist thought are mind-boggling. Give it up. We face real challenges to our greater way of life. We can only rebuild our nation in the words of our founding fathers if we collectively walk the walk of the free and the brave even as we acknowledge the profound irony of the flawed society in which those words were written.

July 19, 2015 at 9:29 AM Leave a comment

US History and Other Little White Lies

It took an article by a Bostonian in 2015 to tell a Richmond, Virginia home girl just how bad the history of the city had been. Not even the nuns (ironically also from Boston) who were my first teachers 50 years earlier dared to reveal the magnitude of the slave trade that had flourished a century before just a couple of miles down the road from the school. But can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride in time to re-frame the future?

I thought things had gotten about as bad as they could when researchers confirmed evidence of cannibalism in the Jamestown Settlement where my ancestors had arrived in 1607. As something of a born-again Yankee, I am still reeling from yet another omission from my southern history lessons, stories that were at best dangerous half-truths, diluted by pretensions of grand ideas of brave white men and their ladies, and predicated on slavery of a scale that shocks me anew. Why had I not learned the story that Richmond, Virginia was second only to New Orleans as the likely slavery capital – of the world – in its day?

I had not looked back since leaving Richmond in 1973, somehow accepting that the worst of slavery happened in the Deep South…not my own backyard. I fear that is what many people were taught…a sense of plausible deniability that any of us were the true bogeymen. And with that, white southerners waved that Confederate flag and bought into a profoundly flawed sense of honor. Worse, that flag bolstered the racist acts of unreconstructed hate mongers who continue to plague us today.

The Civil War erupted out of an economic debate…could We the People continue to get free labor from enslaved men, women, and children in any state and still hold onto the virtues upon which our nation was founded? And there was an unresolved issue of State’s rights…with trading on human flesh at its core. In short, it was about slavery. Building the National Museum of Slavery in Shockoe Bottom is essential to memorialize the victims of slavery and to remember American History in its darkest days.

The issue had come to a head as the slave trade in Richmond alone had escalated to 350, 000 people in the 35 years before the end of the war in 1965, despite Federal laws in 1808 and 1811 that banned importing slaves into the US. Enforcement of the law was underfunded, and individual states elected to ignore the embargo. The brutality of the treatment of those who were enslaved further reflected the arrogance of slavers toward humanity and the basic tenets of their government. When Richmond burned as the Civil War was coming to an end, locals turned a blind eye. The scene of the crime was lost, and slave burial grounds eventually were paved over for parking lots or enclosed when an Interstate highway was built.

Efforts have been made to reveal some of the lies told in our history books. The real Christopher Columbus did not discover America…he was the white marauder who launched the first battles to conquer it. And the West was won, not as manifest destiny, but through theft of Native American land, sweated labor of immigrants on the railroads, and a general disregard for human dignity for non-white people. In our hearts we know that this is true. Yet we still hide behind the value of states’ rights in order to deny healthcare or hunger relief benefits to the poor or underemployed in an increasingly inequitable economy. And we cast wary glances upon immigrants seeking freedom within our borders.

Questions remain about our gumption to not just face our sordid past – from gifts of smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans in the Plimouth Colony to prisons filled by racism today – but to act on the grave necessity of re-framing our future. Can the descendants of the power elite, who were also the villains of our real history, handle the truths that strip them of so many points of pride now exposed as fairy tale versions of some truly dark conquests? The don’t-ask-don’t-tell white history of the United States is not working for any of us. We must face it to prevent its shadow from being cast any further upon our children.

July 9, 2015 at 9:57 AM Leave a comment

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