I am not a fan of privatization of government services; however, I strongly urge public school educators to look at their services through a consumer focus. School-aged children are not members of a captive market. Enrollment in many school systems has declined, sometimes quite precipitously, and consumer confidence must be won back to keep public education alive. And this will require changes that will cascade through the entire delivery system.
Political conservatives are all about privatization of schools to give parents choices for educating their children. And they make a fair point that children are owed better than what many struggling school systems have to offer. The liberal counterpoint tends to vilify the privatizers themselves and to recommend barriers to entry into the PreK-12 arena. For the good of the children, neither side should win. The children need public education that meets their needs – not those of private shareholders or adult stakeholders in public schools.
Consumers of public PreK-12 education services are the children and their parents or guardians. They have a wide variety of needs that must be taken into account to achieve free appropriate access to public education. For them, a strong, responsive education delivery system defies the confines of a nifty mission statement or TEDsplaining of beliefs. Instead a dynamic equilibrium must be maintained through a substantive on-going dialogue between educators and consumers.
School leaders are in charge of this this new parent-teacher paradigm, and their leadership teams should represent great depth in instructional services as well as a quality assurance function that ensures community satisfaction and persistent enrollment. The latter group is convened as part of the team for attendance, support services, and achievement in benchmark assessments as well.
This approach can be differentiated from that of reformers who cite the importance of parental buy-in with their value systems. In reality, they do not sell their plan to parents…they just exclude the parents who do not immediately agree with their mantra. Public schools must serve all members of the community and, frankly, be more flexible than that.
Going further, public schools need to be organized to deliver 12-14 years of education services that culminate in students becoming adult citizen with readiness for college and career development. Today, they are centrally organized with physical or virtual access to broad-based resources. That may change, but for the near-term school services should be available through neighborhood or regional access with transportation appropriate to age. Parents may decide to send their kids across town for a school, but the system should not be designed to require it. Walking to school for PreK-8 would be ideal.
In cases of poor education delivery, the school transformation process may take many forms – from reorganization to complete reinvention – but the problems implicit in this change process should not be exported to the kids and their families. Such projects should be managed for seamless transitions and timely communication. Voluntary change should be implicit in the contract between consumers and their service delivery systems – not contentious battles among stakeholders or regulatory intervention.
Back to the real world. No one seems to like change. But we need it. Building dynamism into the day-to-day discussion between teachers and parents probably means more highly skilled leaders as facilitators. And it will require greater autonomy from district oversight. The pay-off should be success for the children, a more robust model for problem-solving, and less need for blunt regulatory instruments.
Like I said, I am not a fan of privatization of government services, mainly because I think it distracts investors from better options for real economic development. In addition, ideal models for schooling generally offer exclusive services rather than general access. But we can take a lesson from the presence of competitors and learn to beat them by playing the game better.
Transgender men and women often find themselves stymied halfway through transition. Historically, hormone therapy and swapped out wardrobes marked the end of physical change, the goal being to look good enough to face society and hold down a job. The new frontier, however, is gaining access to bona fide gender reassignment and life in a much larger world. It doesn’t have to feel like the search for the Holy Grail…a little help, please.
Being the strong person in a marginalized community carries a heavy weight. Admirers gather because they think you’ve got it made, and they want to learn how to get there themselves. They come with a bottomless pit of need; if only they could feel like you do. They lose sight of the fact that you have the same fears they have, that you hate your body, and that you believe you were somehow marked for pain with no relief in sight. This is definitely not as good as it gets…but even your allies are pulling you down and keeping you from clarifying that vision of your future that will make it all worthwhile.
Many people crater emotionally after achieving milestones in their lives. Depression, if a recurring theme, is exhausting. The search for life and enduring love is at best sweet and sour. And success often gets redefined by the next challenge before one can fully enjoy an emerging victory. For a person going through gender transition, that trifecta is completed by an official diagnosis of gender dystopia. Hurray…you are officially in the wrong body. Now what?
Gender reassignment remains controversial, mostly due to ignorance. Would-be supporters fear the costs, forgetting that all the data available is exaggerated by the burden of a long history of predatory pricing. Conscientious objectors often overlook that they defined deities and wrote the books on right and wrong as mere mortals who had not yet discovered the limbic system in the brain. Political fanatics decry the day that their government will force its citizens “to pay for sex changes for confused illegal aliens…” while they send their kids off to denial camps. Get a grip, guys. Someone’s life got too complicated a while ago; we can help sort it out if we get out of our own way. The path to accessible and affordable gender reassignment is not so complex. It simply depends on…
- Acceptance of transgender status and the appropriateness of medical and surgical intervention for gender reassignment;
- Protocols for gender transition with combined physical and psychosocial supports;
- Coverage in health insurance plans
- Establishing maximum allowable charges for procedures and other therapies,
- Making contributions toward coverage with reasonable copayments or coinsurance, and
- Screening providers for quality assurance and maintaining networks of caregivers for enrollees in need of transgender services; and
- Ensuring safety nets for those unable to pay for health insurance.
Broader access to care does not have to be financially catastrophic to individuals or 3rd party sponsors of healthcare financing. Inclusion of transgender procedures in insurance contracts would quickly eliminate much of the predatory pricing that characterizes the field. In addition, while there may be significant pent-up demand for transgender services, this would be a temporary phenomenon. In fact, employers who offer transgender coverage often report lower than expected initial demand.
Finally, appropriate healthcare for a transgender person cannot depend on personal wealth or employment. These two factors are inextricably linked and, often, neither is available in the midst of gender transition. Many transgender people have a very difficult time securing employment, and initial hormone therapy and cosmetic procedures rapidly exhaust personal savings. The surgical process may interfere with the patient’s ability to sustain employment due to complex, iterative procedures and the dearth of work places that offer true safe harbors for trans employees. In the meantime, the process of personal grooming each day, negotiating safe passage from home to the workplace, and achieving acceptance by their peers remains a devastating burden. No, this cannot be as good as it gets.
Note: This is the third in the series of Special Rants under the heading of Transgender Trilogy, a very personal cause that became unavoidably compelling after the recent death of my stepdaughter whose life as a transgender woman overwhelmed her. Posts #1 The Search for Life After Gender Transition & #2 A Useless Lament
Yesterday we honored our nation’s democracy as voters in state and local elections across the country. As we congratulate new or returning mayors, why not set aside politics and offer a few guidelines for education leadership?
1. Align schools to mission and benchmarks…
- PreK through 3rd grade
- Grades 4 through 8
- Grades 9 through 12
2. Manage education for balance between supply and demand…
- Students organized around equitable access to education and bridges to their communities
- Academics organized around student needs and instructional effectiveness
3. Streamline business functions around the mission of education…
- Student-centered funding and resource allocation – school as locus of control
- Information systems that integrate finance, teacher effectiveness, and student outcomes
- Matching of support services to student needs
4. Develop results-oriented approach to services for outliers in the system…
- Accelerated progress toward grade-level proficiency in Special Education
- Two-pronged approach to ELL with growth in literacy in 1st language translating into more rapid assimilation into English language content
- Level playing field in academics for students at risk
5. Reward leadership that…
- Achieves successful student outcomes
- Values continuous growth for professional staff
- Attracts voluntary enrollment
- Is responsive to all community constituencies
- Monitors key indicators of student satisfaction, service delivery, culture, and safety to anticipate disequilibrium and address it proactively
- Allocates resources effectively and efficiently
6. Seek alignment with evolving standards of information and technology to…
- Get the best data on student outcomes, teacher effectiveness, financial management
- Transcend the evolution from traditional media to digital tools for learning, communicating, and managing educational efforts
- Create a vision for achievement that relegates regulatory compliance to the lowest common denominator among educators
With achievement of each of these strategies, mayors could spend more time creating a legacy in education and far less time dealing with NCLB failures, Parent Trigger campaigns, union battles, or random disruptions to the business of running their cities or towns.
Children who perform well with access to a standards-based curriculum in the classroom also tend to do well on standardized tests in the same content area. Teachers who worry about test scores generally learn that they do not need to tailor instruction to the test. However, an insidious form of teaching to the test happens at the school-wide resource allocation level. And limitations in financial reporting allow administrators to fly under the radar with this practice.
There is no uniform chart of accounts for general education at the Federal level. Only a handful of states utilize such accounting standards within their borders. Accordingly, there is no objective or normative data available for resource allocation within the largest category of spending on education each year.
Intuitively, we suspect that school leaders intensified investments in math and literacy after the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Logically, this would have necessitated a shift in resources away from science, social studies, and elective courses. But we do not know how prevalent this practice might have been. We only know that US standings in science deteriorated globally over the same period. We cannot locate the smoking gun in the absence of detailed financial reporting.
The President has called for Federal incentives to improve STEM education. This will involve grant funding with some degree of regulatory tracking. However, total spending may actually become more obscure without consolidation of the dollars allocated between general and special funds and itemized accounts within categories. How new spending levels compare with historical patterns will remain unknown.
As I have stated previously, we would benefit from a more detailed standard chart of accounts at the Federal level. As the funding source, the US government plays a relatively small role in general education. However, as the data driver for the nation, federal regulators would do well to establish standards for record keeping that would allow periodic assessment of resource allocation.
Local education spending is highly flexible across academic content areas, and this may not be a problem. However, decision-makers need to own their choices in state and local reporting. And they need to be able to analyze student outcomes within the context of their spending patterns. This is unlikely to happen under the current data rules.
“How can you say I don’t love you…when I’m already crazy with grief over losing you?
When children “come out” to their parents, those parents must quickly make a choice. Will they look into their hearts and see the child they have nurtured since birth standing before them asking for validation of who they really are? Or will they become lost and overwhelmed by their own needs, focusing on their lost visions of who that child was supposed to be. In time, I hope most would do the right thing. The problem is how to sustain that son or daughter’s life while taking his or her primary support system through its own recovery loop.
My husband loved his transgender daughter. Unconditional acceptance of her had always been implicit in his parenthood. At her memorial service at the LGBT Center in the West Village, some of her friends from the local community approached him to ask him to do “Dad training.” Later a request came to “write a letter to my mother.” We were among survivors in a world in which staying alive had barely better than 50:50 odds. Who might be next?
The cause of death was suicide, not a random accident or a rare disease that attacks the young. We were all devastated, and we sought one another out for comfort. As the stories of seemingly bizarre parental behavior were shared, Jonathan suppressed, for the moment, his urge to shout, “What’s wrong with these people? For Chrissakes, their kids are still alive!
Of course people would be persuaded to be more accepting of their children if they realized their lives depended on it, right? We wished that we had known the risk of suicide was so high. With our “if only” list still growing, we thought about educating others as a way of coping. But obvious answers often draw counter-intuitive responses.
How can you mediate a truce and eventual acceptance between a child who is coping with his or her most difficult transition in life and a parent who can only ask, “Why is this happening to ME?” Did we even want to know such parents? Every day somebody’s child was going to give himself or herself the death penalty for failure to be accepted by society. Couldn’t they at least get validation at home?
The trouble is, for at least some of the parents, even the threat of suicide seems blunted by the loss they are already grieving. The son or daughter they had born was gone, along with the prepackaged collection of predictable events and experiences that come with gender role stereotypes. And their insecurities may have them panicking that, in lieu of sympathy, their friends and associates might reject them. They are so focused in their own introspection as to become clueless. Given the perilousness of the situation, you could call it temporary insanity.
A person going through gender transition carries too heavy a load to be asked to carry their families, too. But is it right to ask people struggling in uncharted waters to keep going without the well-known lifeline of their parents? Emotionally, no…but as a practical matter, the added baggage of one’s family may need to be set aside. Hopefully, it is a timing thing. Eventually, many parents will be able to reconnect with the core identity of their child in a transfigured body. But such parents must find their own sources of support. And they must know what a risk they could be taking in looking the other way while their kid – grown up or not – is going it alone.
We have met a lot of very kind yet sharp-witted overachievers in the transgender community. They are the courageous few who have believed in themselves enough to take on the world. However, their parents can still take them down in a thoughtless phone call. Never mind the threats of disinheritance or eternal damnation. They need our support and more general public acceptance because their families are not likely to be there for them when it counts. And if they are…it still might not be enough.
For now, the sad state of the art renders expectations quite low. We were incredulous when met with a tragic expression of gratitude. “Thank you for letting us grieve with you,” a privilege previously denied by next-of-kin, perhaps from another planet. No wonder crises of confidence are so prevalent in the trans community. We must do better than this.
Note: This is the second post in the series of Special Rants under the heading of Transgender Trilogy, a very personal cause that became unavoidably compelling after the recent death of my stepdaughter whose life as a transgender woman overwhelmed her. Post #1 The Search for Life After Gender Transition & #3 This is NOT as Good as It Gets
Our political system has become dysfunctional over the issue of access to healthcare for the people of the United States. Protectors of capitalism claim that the Affordable Care Act will undermine business. The keepers of our democracy claim that those without the money to pay the high price of healthcare have spoken, and the nation has heeded their call. The real problem is that capitalism has failed to fund a real winner in recent memory.
Healthcare inflation has been fueling our economic growth to far too long. It has accounted for expansion of private business, growth in employment, and favorable stock performance. The industry has been a rare goose that laid golden eggs. Unfortunately, it has been one that has crowded out investment in other factors of production, consuming an ever-growing percentage of our nation’s GDP. And the result has been an over-reliance on healthcare investments that paradoxically leave too many citizens of the US unable to afford to get well. The ACA seeks a cure for the latter, but Wall Street is totally freaked about losing the former.
The false dichotomy has become one of choosing between sick people and capitalism. But the real culprit is our new generation of pseudo-capitalists running the markets. We do not have a market economy that is funded by shareholders taking long positions. After three decades of supply-side economics the result has been a net divestment of the supply function. Out-of-control healthcare costs and real estate shenanigans have been the darlings for investors. Oh yeah, and serial monogamy in pursuit of each paradigm shift in tech stocks.
Today’s growth opportunities for investors on the margin are driven by boom-bust cycles in fool’s gold. Buy stocks or other financial instruments while they’re hot, sell at the right time before they crash and burn. We’ve been here before…in the 80s, a heyday of stock market gains based on insider trading. Today’s formulas are more complicated, the code among thieves more discreet, but the watchdogs must smell smoke by now. Healthcare stocks that celebrate $78,000 cures for ovarian cancer for the rich, on the other hand, seem virtuous by comparison. At least the assets are real.
The ACA is a done deal: legislated in Congress, signed by the President, and validated by the Supreme Court. But where is the strategic vision for real economic development in the US?
Privatization strategies for government services suggest greater efficiency through good economic decision making. However, there is no valid end game for shareholders. If the enterprise can make money, then profits can be gained in the short run. However, diffusion of better practices should mean cost reductions across the industry and containment of government spending in areas such as education. The only way shareholders have long-term gains is through maintenance of runaway government spending or choosing profits over service delivery to the children.
Privatization strategies for government services are as perennial as down cycles in economics. When perplexed by a gloomy economic outlook, pseudo-capitalists turn to short-term profit-skimming strategies. And Wall Street doesn’t mind. They get transaction fees on the way up and on the way back down. Such is the case with privatization of education services, and regulation accounting only makes it easier. Real gold and fool’s gold look the same if you only keep the books to track grant money.
Every government service would benefit from accounting practices that allowed sound economic analyses and prudent choices. Not-for-profit entities often shun good business practices, and they are not required by funders. The existence of charitable motives supersedes the need for efficient management practices. Besides, changing time-honored regulatory procedures is a lot of bother. School districts summarize their spending in five giant accounts, and school accountants worry a lot about ensuring nobody pilfers the money from the vending machines. How the hundreds of billions of dollars for “general instruction” gets divided up is unimportant. Why wouldn’t a few scoundrels jump in?
The problem is…if profiteers are able to create real shareholder value, they must be generating earnings growth into perpetuity. And this is not a good idea for education or for our economy. If the profiteers are running the business of education better and turn a profit, then the rest of the industry should be able to try their techniques, if valid, and use them to trim overall government spending. The profits should go away. If the profits don’t go away, they are either arising from wasteful government spending or from choosing to give money to shareholders instead of the kids.
The US economy does not need a new way for investments in government services that crowd out investments in real economic growth. Nor do we need for profiteers to be short-changing children in a Spartan industry that thrives on short-term economic gains. Further, we do not need another Wall Street darling that rises and falls with a net negative impact to the US economy of fees taken by the traders.
What we need in education is help from private industry in the form of management insight that teaches us how to be more effective and efficient managers of carefully contained education spending. And that does not have to mean union busting or parental surcharges. It means keeping the books in a more meaningful way. It means managing people in a better way. And it means assimilation of modern opportunities into an historically rigid structure. And it has to mean that a dollar saved…means another dollar that could be added to what we do for the kids in a better way.
And Wall Street needs to get back to finding real investment strategies in our long-run economic growth and real shareholder value creation.